Debate: animal experiments

“World Wars, the Holocaust, nuclear weapons, the Cold War, and the failure of socialist experiments drastically undermined our confidence in our own species,” asserted the Vice-President of the Institute of Animal Technology in Veterinary Practice [UK] in November. Dr Fiona McEwen argued this has contributed to a lack of appreciation of human superiority over other species, and an unjustified level of social concern about the use of animals in laboratories. Read my critique and her subsequent response in the Jan. 2012 edition of Vet Practice, here.

Animal ethics article shortlisted for media award

I’m gratified to report that an article ‘Cognitive relatives yet moral strangers’ by animal ethicist Judith Benz-Schwarzburg and I has been shortlisted for a 2011 Voiceless Media Prize. Voiceless is an independent non-profit think tank dedicated to alleviating the suffering of animals in Australia. It has awarded over AUD 1.2 million to Australian animal protection projects since 2004.

Voicless media prizes ‘recognise the most accurate and influential print, online or broadcast features’ relating to animal protection and ethics. The 2011 judging panel included J M Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature; the Honourable Bob Carr, former Premier of New South Wales; and Emeritus Professor David Weisbrot AM, Former President of the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Our article was published in the first edition of the new academic Journal of Animal Ethics, produced by the Oxford Centre of Animal Ethics, earlier this year. It effectively updates the case for animal rights. By summarising the most recent scientific discoveries about the remarkable behavioural and cognitive characteristics of birds, dolphins and primates, we explore their capacities for culture, language and Theory of Mind. We argue that stronger evidence exists than ever before for widening the circle of moral consideration beyond humans, and for the granting of basic rights, akin to fundamental human rights, to such species.

Copies of this article may be requested from me. Judith’s PhD also explores these issues in greater depth, as will her 2012 book. Our article is effectively a 28 page summary of both of these.

We were deeply honoured to be considered for this prestigious award, which we feel also reflects the standards of the Journal of Animal Ethics. On this occasion though we were ultimately unsuccessful. In the end the award was presented at a gala cocktail event in Sydney on 30th November to the authors of an animal law publication, to whom we offer our sincere congratulations. Further information about the 2011 Media Prize is available here.