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Why Pro-Test Won't Win a Fair Debate

Robert Bass, Ph.D.

May 8, 2006

[opinion from American Chronicle]

In a provocatively titled piece in Spiked, "Animal rights protesters: don't ban them, beat them," James Panton makes a powerful and effective point in favor of free speech. Rightly, he argues that the only way to really defeat the animal-rights demonstrators is to win the debate. Suppressing them, making protest impossible or illegal will only rouse public sympathy, focus attention on their cause and case, and generate resentment at the unfair tactics. Moreover, though Panton doesn't mention it, legal suppression may be self-defeating, for it may attract support to the few extremists who argue that violence is the only recourse when one's cause is systematically denied a hearing.
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Suppose the animal study can be expected (after all uncertainties are taken into account) to give an extra fifteen healthy years to a thousand cancer patients over the next ten years. That would be a substantial gain. On the other hand, even scientifically conservative organizations like the American Cancer Society peg dietary and lifestyle choices as the cause of 30-40 percent of cancers. Could the so-and-so many millions of dollars be spent on nutrition and lifestyle education instead, with equal or greater impact? Or on something else that would add as many healthy years? There isn't an a priori answer, but it seems that often the answer will be Yes -- and when it is, the lives and suffering of the animals used in the experiments will be entirely wasted. They need not have been sacrificed at all for that human benefit. Responsible funding agencies will take that fact into account in deciding what projects to fund. Any agency that does not take that kind of possibility into account is not being responsible with the funds, often collected from taxpayers, that have been entrusted to it.

These are the reasons the Pro-Testers are unlikely to win a fair debate. They have to win every one of three key debates -- and they're not likely to win any. Does that mean the Pro-Testers won't win? Unfortunately, it doesn't, for they might well win the one debate that will make all the difference: They might win the political debate. Appealing to popular prejudice and ignorance, with support from deep-pocketed corporate lobbyists and corrupt politicians, they might very well get their way, even if the lose all the key intellectual, moral and public policy debates. That is the Pro-Testers' best shot at winning -- but they should be ashamed of winning that way.

Robert Bass, Ph.D, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Coastal Carolina University. He specializes in ethics and game theory, and is especially interested in moral questions relating to the environment and our treatment of animals.

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    You do not settle if an experiment is justified or not by merely showing it is of some use. The distinction is not between useful and useless experiments, but between barbarous and civilized behavior. Vivisection is a social evil because if it advances human knowledge, it does so at the expense of human character.

    - George Bernard Shaw

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full story:
http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?articleID=9221

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