Saturday, July 09, 2005

Scientific threats.

Over at telic thoughts, Mikegene wonders why scientists don't seem to be giving vigorous opposition to animal rights activism and their generally disgusting tactics.
Thus, by factoring in the activity of the animal rights movement, we can help to perceive the ID movement in its larger sociological context. Where, on the scale of “threats to science,” does it truly rank? Each person must decide for himself, but to make a decent decision, plenty of information comes in handy.
Animal rights activists at least have a valid point. Science has done some horrific things to animals in the past in the name of research and these things, have painted it with the use of animals to this day. Of course, do you do research on animals Mike Gene? Are you aware of the ethical and similar requirements that are required? Additionally, the anmal rights movement, like the intelligent design movement, has its strongholds. The sort of opposition you have named is really prevalent in England, partly because it’s the birth place of the anti-vivisectionist movement and their very first defeat as well (a gaff in a trial ironically ended their ability to stop all animal testing).

Where I am, there is almost no such extremist opposition to animal research. Nutball groups in the US and England are the primary motivators but everyone knows that despite their threats, they will never be able to stop animal research because court decisions struck them down a long time ago. Ultimately, there are uses of animals that are borderline even know, do you agree with lobotomising a rat and then putting in electrodes into the brain to deliberately stimulate certain regions? Some that are perfectly necessary, such as common immunology/microbiology uses of rats and mice, where these animals are experimentally infected with pathogens then killed to extract lymphocytes to analyse immune responses to them?

Both of these are routine today and both can be argued on their merits to if they are ethical or not. What colours a lot of animal rights opposition is the use of animals that people associate best with, namely dogs, cats and rabbits. Additionally, as I pointed out, many of these groups have legitimate points against animal research especially due to the gross uses of primates in psychology- brutal experiments that I’m not going to bother describing as they were nothing short of inhumane. Anyone who wants to understand, even emphasise with these people should look up what was done.

And again, I come from someone who works with experimental animals and has direct experience in this area.

PETA are, ultimately just completely crazy and are not widely liked nor supported. Of course, it’s interesting that you’ve tried to make out that anti-IDists have a ‘pet’ obsession with ID as a big threat to science while ‘ignoring’ other aspects. Well actually, I’m particularly interested in the anti-GE lobby and have often engaged in debate with the anti-GE lobby here in New Zealand. I see the anti-GE lobby as a large threat to good science because they miseducate the public on basic facts about the technology. They move around and destroy research crops and threaten scientists. In many respects, they are the ‘real’ analogy for me between the animal rights movement so prevalent in England.

I spend much more time arguing with this lot than I do the IDists, but I do that in the forums where it counts (in New Zealand) because that is a ‘real’ threat that I can see. ID is largely American. At the same time, I regard these groups as a threat not just because they are crazy extremists, that is something the law will deal with, but because they attempt to miseducate the public. They miseducate the public in how research is carried out, they manipulate facts and shamelessly lie. Like any form of anti-science nonsense and particularly they directly target Children with gross distortions of truth (see Greenpeace books on GE aimed at kids, with golden gems that frog DNA if inserted into a banana will turn the banana into a frog/banana hybrid).

Another lobby I spend a lot of time arguing against is the abstinence only (no sexual education though) lobbies and those sort of groups. Another group is the anti-vaccination lobby which again, also has a presense here in New Zealand. I again, spend a great deal of effort arguing with these people. How about I look at these groups and compare them with ID (why don’t you?). Anti-vaccination lobbiests attempt to miseducate the public, they don’t directly threaten scientists or force the shutting down of labs however. Yet, I take a considerable interest in them and so do a large amount of other individuals. They present a threat to public education and if unopposed could potentially be a threat to public health- just not immediately.

Should I ignore them Mike and focus on ‘immediate’ threats as a priority? I don’t think that would be a good idea because it’s only after they’ve made ground that any problems become apparent.

So why do I regard ID as a threat then bearing in mind you’re rather correct that ID proponents do not try to cease research in evolution. You’re also correct that unlike the animal rights/anti-GE movement IDists do not try to shut down labs or similar. Now that I think of it, neither does the anti-vaccination lobby, the HIV denial lobby, or the lobby that doesn’t want to have sexual education taught in schools but abstinence only. Gee Mike, I should cease my opposition immediately to one form of anti-science simply because it doesn’t have instant ramifications on anything! Brilliant logic! You’ve successfully proved the anti-vaccination, HIV denial and sex-ed lobbies are perfectly fine because they are not whacky extremists on the far end of a scale like PETA.

I regard ID as a threat simply because they use similar tactics. Going through courts, misinforming the public and attempting to subvert education. These are tactics common to all pseudoscience movements Mike, they aren’t unique. The difference is that ID doesn’t go as far as the extremists who are usually extremely left wing and believe that vandalism, threats against scientists are legitimate forms of getting their way. Again, why don’t you make a distinction between the psychology of the majority left ‘animal rights’ and ‘anti-GE environmentalists’ that make up the ones that destroy labs and burn crops? The ID movement, anti-vaccine, anti-sexual education (or abstinence only) groups for but three examples are either more right wing (Christian religious groups) or more either or (you can find ‘naturalist’ nuts in the anti-vaccine group, who are very definitely left wing).

In your persecution complex (common of creationists too) you regard opposition to ID as being absurd because there are other threats to science from extremist nutters. I disagree, I think opposition to ID and the tactics they employ needs to be actively criticised and shown up for what it is. The threat that ID proposes to the public in terms of the misinformation and miseducation campaigns (slowly been dismantled and all major media outlets see through the facade, like CNN) is just as much as any other pseudoscientific group. There is no ‘threat’ level Mike, it’s all the same and all of it warrants the opposition from the scientific community.

I tend to put my efforts into the anti-genetic engineering and anti-vaccination groups. Others have different preferences but they represent what I see more often than other things. ID just turns up for me because it’s so prevalent among the internet forums that I visit and it nearly always turns up in the creationism threads (hence, where my interest came from).

But again, and I want to cover an underlying point that through all this you remain blissfully oblivious too: Many scientists can sympathsise with the basic ideals of animal rights activists. Maybe you don’t understand this point because you don’t work with experimental animals yourself, but it’s not something that I enjoy when I’m dissecting something I knew was a living animal that I’ve seen grow and associated with for several months. I also concede the gross and cruel use of animals in the past by science, which many of these people are afraid of.

I also understand that we (as scientists) have caused this opposition ourselves and given groups like PETA ammunition. We refuse to make public the uses of animals, leaving many in the public to swear we are hiding something behind our doors that is reminiscent of the hideous experiments done even a mere 50 years ago. As scientists we fail to properly educate the public in how we undergo research with animals and because of this the public falls to miseducation from the likes of PETA easily. This is exactly the phenomena seen in the anti-GE lobby and I will refer you to one of the most blatantly ridiculous anti-GE books:

Everything you need to know about GE… but the government won’t tell you. Charles Drace. Raven Press. Christchurch New Zealand.

Ultimately my point is you’ve set yourself up and argued against a wonderful strawman, but I don’t buy it. I regard anything that attempts to miseducate the public, which if you follow ID enough you can certainly see they do and promote an agenda (no matter what it is, religious or otherwise) as an equal threat. All of it deserves to be answered.

Your primary mistake and why this is a completely irrelevant strawman, is that really, most of us who argue against ID (and be aware, I’m talking about ‘teach the controversy’ ID here) also do argue against most other forms of pseudoscience/anti-science as well, often more vigourously. ‘Teach the controversy’ ID isn’t held on a pedestal as ‘the threat’ because there will be different opinions on that, but it is ‘a’ threat.