The Blood Harvest of Horseshoe Crabs is a Moral Fiasco

At a time when we are dealing with a viral pandemic that began with our exploitation of other animals and nature we continue to abuse other animals to solve the very problems we create. In this case it is the horseshoe crab whose blood is used in biomedical research and now being considered in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine despite the availability of a synthetic alternative. Hundreds of thousands are ‘harvested’ for this purpose. Horseshoe crabs have existed on earth for over 450 million years, predating dinosaurs and flowering plants – as well as surviving five mass extinctions. Yet it is unclear if they will survive our exploitation of them in a highly lucrative biomedical industry.

In our latest essay entitled The Blood Harvest of Horseshoe Crabs is a Moral Fiasco, I am joined by Dalhousie University philosopher Andrew Fenton as we explore the ethical justifications used to defend this use of horseshoe crabs. We conclude that the welfare and conservation of these animals is being compromised for the sake of convenience and that the blood harvest is a moral failure.

Read the essay here.

Kimmela Center Launches Scholar Advocacy Webinar Series

The Kimmela Center has launched a webinar series on scholar advocacy, an empowered professional path that combines scholarship in various fields with advocacy (for animals in this case).

The main reason for this series is that students, especially those in the natural sciences, are often led to believe that academic scientists should not engage in animal advocacy. They are often told that they can either be a scientist or they can be an advocate, but that they cannot (or should not) do both.

Similarly, working scientists who advocate for the animals they study are often criticized for their advocacy work. The claim is that “science is objective.”

It is true that the process of scientific inquiry and methodology needs to be rigorously objective. But how scientific data are employed to create change does not have to be neutral. Indeed, it is anything but neutral in advocacy for humans – for example in relation to children, patients and homeless people. And there is no reason why this should not apply equally to advocacy for animals. It takes advocacy based in science and scholarship to drive the cultural shift that’s taking place in how we relate to nonhuman animals. Animal advocacy is becoming mainstream.

The Kimmela Center is at the forefront of the movement to promote scholar advocacy for animals.

This year we initiated a live webinar series on scholar advocacy beginning with Scholar Advocacy in Neuroscience and Psychology. Dr. Lori Marino of The Kimmela Center was joined by Dr. Greg Berns of Emory University, Dr. Syd Johnson of Upstate Medical University, Dr. Bob Jacobs of Colorado College, and Dr. Becca Franks of New York University, as they discussed their professional paths as neuroscientists, neuroethicists, and animal psychologists who also advocate for animals in different ways. Greg Berns talked about how he advocates for animals as a neuroscientist by limiting his research to non-invasive and non-coercive studies. Becca Franks discussed how she engages in animal welfare research and teaching. And the whole group provided valuable advice to students in the webinar audience who are navigating the often-complex world of academic neuroscience and animal advocacy.

Our second live webinar, Scholar Advocacy in Marine Mammal Science, featured Dr. Marino, Dr. Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute, Dr. Deborah Giles of Wild Orca, Kara Elizabeth Henderlight of the American Cetacean Society, and Mariah Kirby, a biology educator. Together, they talked about why they believe it is important to advocate for the protection, conservation and rights of marine mammals, both free-ranging and in captivity.

Upcoming webinars will focus on scholar advocacy in animal law, farmed animal protection, and many other areas.

Please go here for updates on upcoming scholar advocacy webinars and news about other activities and events sponsored by The Kimmela Center.

And thank you for making these good things possible. Your tax-deductible donation, large or small, helps support young scholar-advocates, develops scholar-advocacy professional programs, and empowers scholarship-based animal advocacy efforts of all kinds.

Webinar: Scholar Advocacy in Neuroscience and Psychology

The Kimmela Center will hold its first webinar on Scholar Advocacy in Neuroscience and Psychology on Wednesday June 3rd, 2020 from 3–4 pm Eastern Time.

For more information and to register, go here.

Scholar-advocacy is a professional path that promotes the connection between scholarship and animal advocacy. It takes various forms but has at its core the foundational concept that there is no inherent conflict between scholarship (specifically, science) and advocacy for other animals.

In the neurosciences and psychological sciences, this means advancing research that does not involve coercive, invasive or terminal methods, being sensitive to and supportive of students who want to be academic scientists but not vivisectionists, and using research findings to advocate for better protections for other animals.

In this webinar we will explore scholar advocacy with six scientist-animal advocates:
L. Syd Johnson (Upstate Medical University)
Greg Berns (Emory University)
Becca Franks (New York University)
Bob Jacobs (Colorado College)
Elric Elias (University of Colorado, Denver)
and Kimmela Executive Director Lori Marino (formerly Emory University).

Each panelist will talk about their “journey” as a scholar advocate and answer your questions online.

Join us whether you are a student or established scientist who wants to be a neuroscientist or psychologist studying animals while also advocating for their protection.

The Psychology of Blaming Others During the Time of COVID-19

Humans are emotionally invested in ensuring that, whatever happens, the spotlight of blame never shines directly on us. So we blame wet markets in Asia for the spread of COVID-19 instead of ourselves.

This article was originally posted on Sentient Media.

The Pakistani author and artist Raheel Farooq says that “ugly truths are the biggest source of indigestion in humans.” During this pandemic, his words remind us that the ugliest truth of all lies within ourselves.

The current consensus about the origin of COVID-19, sans conspiracy theories, is that it originated in a wild species of mammal, such as a pangolin or bat, typically found in wet markets—places where a wide range of wild and domestic animals are confined in small, stressful, and unsanitary conditions. Animals at wet markets are sold to customers who either have them slaughtered on the spot or take them home to eat, sometimes alive. The wet market where COVID-19 first spread to humans was located in Wuhan, China. None of these facts are disputed by reputable epidemiologists or disease experts. Because the epicenter of this pandemic is located in another nation—a “foreign” nation—some humans in Western countries have been desperately trying to find a way to blame someone else—anyone else—for our predicament.

The Chinese wet markets are indeed places where viruses like COVID-19 are hatched. They are places of heinous cruelty towards other animals and deserve to be banned. But pandemics also originate on factory farms, both in the U.S. and other Western countries. A multitude of authors, including Stubler and Sebo, have recently reminded us of this fact. Yet, while residents of Western countries are busily pointing fingers at the wet markets of Asia, we are unable to look in the mirror at ourselves. The public mistakenly views factory farms in the U.S. as places where animals are concentrated, but in sanitary conditions and not treated like the animals in Chinese wet markets. Pigs, chickens, sheep, and cows are all killed away from the public eye, given antibiotics, and looked after by certified veterinarians. The USDA assures customers that it monitors the safety of the meat from these animals; consumers in supermarkets buying pork chops or chicken thighs have little information that suggests otherwise. But most of all, humans in the U.S. are psychologically unable to come to terms with the fact that our eating other animals from factory farms is on the same continuum as shopping at wet markets in China. Both practices are equally dangerous and cruel.

People in the U.S. are psychologically unable to come to terms with the fact that our eating other animals from factory farms is on the same continuum as shopping at wet markets in China.Humans are emotionally invested in ensuring that, whatever happens, the spotlight of blame never shines directly on us; we are loath to give up the pleasures of eating meat. As I point out in my recent essay in Aeon magazine, humans “are masters at erecting psychological defenses and justifying behavior that we know is not ethical but feels good, such as pleasuring the palate.” Bluntly, our species is very good at ignoring the suffering of animals in slaughterhouses and the health risks of eating animal products, all for a juicy T-bone. As long as humans continue to “bat away” the spotlight of interrogation in regards to eating animals, and keep pushing that spotlight onto other countries and other people, we can continue to erroneously believe that we can have our steak and eat it, too.

Many psychological defense mechanisms come into play when humans try to mount excuses for actions that we want to continue despite ample evidence that we should stop. Some well-known defenses particularly relevant to the COVID-19 situation and meat-eating include Denial, Displacement, Rationalization, Compartmentalization, and Projection.

Denial is the refusal to accept fact or reality. It is a primitive defense mechanism and the most common psychological defense. “I don’t believe that COVID-19 exists” is Denial in action.

Displacement is the redirecting of thoughts, feelings, and impulses onto another person or object, usually an “easy” target. “If it weren’t for the Chinese / Bill Gates / Republicans / Democrats / Trump / drug companies, we wouldn’t be in this mess!”

Rationalization is putting something into a different light or conjuring a different explanation for one’s perceptions or behaviors in the face of a changing reality. A common rationalization of meat-eaters is, “Eating a pig or a cow is different than eating a bat or a dog—cows and pigs are meant to be eaten.”

Compartmentalization is separating some parts of one’s awareness from other parts and behaving as if one part has a separate set of values. “I’m an animal lover but I love my spare ribs!” exemplifies Compartmentalization. Finally, Projection is the misattribution of a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings, or impulses onto another person who does not share those same sentiments Projection sounds something like, “Those Chinese are incredibly selfish for causing animals to suffer just for their pleasure.”

Given the strong psychological currents underlying humans’ desires to eat meat, relying heavily upon voluntarism or “moral awakening” to end factory farming and wet markets is not likely to be effective. Humans tend to seek the paths of least resistance, or most pleasure, instead of challenging themselves to do the “right” thing. And we are well-equipped, psychologically, to stand our ground.

To meaningfully change our collective habits, I recommend two simple objects—a carrot and a stick. We can use the stick to end meat-eating through strong legislation and enforcement of consequences for violations. Legal protections for other animals, including the granting of legal personhood and other rights-based approaches, are another branch of the stick. At the same time—here comes the carrot—we can continue to provide more positive incentives that entice consumers and businesses to substitute plant-based foods for meat in stores and restaurants.

I once asked my sister Deb, an omnivore who is leaning toward vegetarianism, what it would take for more of the public to order a plant-based meal instead of a meat dish at restaurants. She said: make plant-based options abundant on the menu, affordable, and most of all, tasty. Can’t argue with that logic. Sounds much more appetizing than chronic indigestion and ugly truths.

Other Animals Are Not Humans’ Sacrificial Fall Guys

This article was originally posted on Sentient Media.

Using lab animals to solve human-made problems amounts to more of the same hubris that spawned the COVID-19 pandemic in the first place.

James Gorman, in a March 14th article in The New York Times, states insightfully that humans “get diseases from other animals, and then we use more animals to figure out how to stop the diseases.” Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, research labs around the world are scrambling to find the appropriate “animal model” for a treatment or vaccine for the virus. Right now is an especially bad time to be a mouse, as labs attempt to genetically engineer and produce mice who are susceptible to COVID-19 and, crucially, get sick from the virus in the same way that humans do.

And so it goes. Humans create a dangerous situation by treating other animals like commodities and then force some animals to shoulder an even greater burden as part of our “remedy” to the problem. Let’s be clear: the root cause of the COVID-19 pandemic is humans’ consumption of other animals—in this specific instance, bats and possibly pangolins. Humans like to say that the virus “jumped” from bats to pangolins to humans, as though our exploitation and consumption of these creatures has nothing to do with the “jump.” Humans invite the spread of pandemic viruses in by valuing only our base appetites and expressing little concern for the wellbeing of other animals.

The worst epidemics in recent history have been caused by humans capturing, marketing, killing and eating other animals.The worst epidemics in recent history have been caused by humans capturing, marketing, killing and eating other animals, not just wildlife but also domesticated animals like chickens and pigs. One of the worst viral diseases, bird flu, originated in the Chinese chicken markets in 2003 and 2013; in these markets, animals are crammed together with other species and sold “warm and wet”—i.e. alive or freshly killed—making the chickens superb reservoirs for viral mutation and reproduction. Another viral disease, the swine flu of 2009, was caused by intensive factory farming of pigs in the U.S. and Mexico. Zoonotic diseases are not new, or even rare.

Gorman highlights the possibility that once research labs have enough mice to begin initial research, they will move on to “ferrets, hamsters, and monkeys.” Some labs are already intentionally infecting rhesus macaque monkeys with COVID-19. Chimpanzees who have been abandoned by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may be another target. Nearly four dozen chimpanzees at a biomedical primate facility in New Mexico have been turned down for transfer to sanctuaries, ostensibly because they are “too old and sick to move.” Chimpanzees at other federally-owned or -supported biomedical primate facilities also may not retire to sanctuaries. Will these individuals “sitting on the shelf” be used for medical research if humans get desperate enough? In an interview that aired on PBS in 2012, Dr. John Vandenberg of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute—a vivisection lab in San Antonio—stated, in a blunt plea to keep chimpanzees in research labs, “I think of the chimpanzees in the same way that I think of a library. There are many books in the library that will never be used this year or next year… But we don’t know which ones will be needed tomorrow, next year or the year after.”

Using other animal species to solve human-made problems amounts to just more of the same hubris and human exceptionalism that spawned the COVID-19 pandemic in the first place. Until our species learns to respect the lives and wellbeing of members of other species, plagues will continue to occur. The next pandemic may be even worse. As long as humans continue to use other animals as the “fall guys” when disasters strike, ignoring our own behaviors that directly cause these crises, we will always falsely believe that other species’ purpose is to provide a “safety net” for humans. Never taking full responsibility for the consequences of our actions may ultimately be the downfall of Homo sapiens.

Coming Soon: a Generation of Scholar Advocates for Animals

When I gave a TEDx Youth talk at the Nueva School for gifted children in California, last year, I met Aton, a 10-year-old who loves science. Aton is not only a brilliant student; he’s a passionate advocate for whales and the oceans, and he told me he studies biology and other subjects at Nueva so he can help make the oceans free of plastic and healthy again.

Only a few years ago, Aton would have had to make a choice at the end of high school: He would have had to decide whether he was going to become a scientist OR an advocate for animals.

That’s because being a scientist and an advocate would not have been an option.

To become an accredited scientist, Aton would have had to give up his advocacy, since scientists were expected to be entirely neutral when it came to morality. And if his priority had been to make his voice heard on behalf of the animals, he would have been expected to forego an advanced degree or the kinds of academic positions traditional scientists occupy.

He could have become a scientist or an advocate, but not both. But all of this is now changing. And the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy has been at the forefront of this change.

That’s because our mission is to bring academic science and animal advocacy together.

When I visited the Nueva School again recently to give a talk in one of Aton’s science classes, I told his mother that her talented, empathic son has a very bright future ahead of him as a true scientist/advocate.

It takes advocacy based in science to drive the cultural shift that’s taking place in how we relate to other animals.

The scientific papers we produce at the Kimmela Center bring the best scientific findings to the cause of animal protection. For example, our Someone Project (with Farm Sanctuary) presents cutting-edge knowledge of cognitive, emotional, personality and social complexity in farmed animals in our peer-reviewed and white (popular) papers:

  • Sheep Never Forget A Face! Our paper on “Intelligence, Complexity and Individuality in Sheep” offers robust scientific evidence that sheep are highly intelligent, individualistic and socially complex beings with personality to spare.
  • Eating Someone! Our essay in the popular online magazine Aeon explored the psychology behind why humans continue eat animals despite knowing they suffer in factory farms.
  • Dissection Hurts Everyone: In talks and interviews like this one, I explore the harmful effects on students when they’re required to conduct dissection and vivisection as part of their biology curriculum. It’s all part of an outdated belief that science should be a cold and dispassionate exercise in which there is no place for recognition of nonhuman animals as autonomous beings with the right to live according to their nature.
  • Bringing Science to Animal Law: Science has an important role to play in legal and regulatory efforts on behalf of nonhuman animals. Kimmela has been contributing to the growing field of animal law for many years, and we are now developing academic courses and scientific training for animal law students, beginning in the United States and Canada.

This coming year, the Kimmela Center will announce new initiatives and collaborations to build bridges between scientific institutions and animal-advocacy organizations, along with podcasts, conferences and professional education in order to accelerate our goals.

Your tax-deductible donation, large or small, helps support young scholar-advocates, develop scholar-advocacy programs and meetings, and empower animal advocacy efforts of all kinds.

Thank you for being part of this work, and I wish you a very Happy Holiday and a good year ahead.