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Basic Research and Magic Spells

Many advances in medical health have derived directly from basic research.  Curiosity about the external effects of vacuum tubes led to the discovery of X-rays, which is the most used medical diagnostic device today.  The physics of nuclear magnetic resonance led to the development of magnetic resonance imagingUltrasound was first developed for the detection of large floating objects in the sea and to detect flaws in metal hulls of ships.  Today, it allows the noninvasive monitoring of the health of your baby during pregnancy and to diagnose a myriad of other conditions.

None of the scientists involved in these discoveries had in mind a medical application for their discoveries.  They were just curious about the natural world.  They produced accurate theories of the phenomena they were interested in, and this knowledge found applicability in human medicine and beyond.

These facts are undeniable.  The lesson is straightforward.  The more we know about Nature the better positioned we are for devising new imaging, diagnostic and therapeutic devices that will benefit all of us (humans and animals alike).

These examples illustrate is that even basic research that did not involve the use of animals can generate crucial knowledge that translates into improved medical benefits for all of us.

Now, here is where things get strange.  If your search for Nature’s secrets happens to involve animals in any way, then an obscure magic spell is cast upon you immediately.  The curse is one that calls for any results derived from your research to be scientifically invalid, and that nothing you learn from such experiments will find applicability in human health.  Nothing.  Ever!   [your evil laugh here].

I think belief in such broad claims is readily accepted by some activists because it provides a way out of an obvious ethical dilemma -- the one to be faced once they admit animal research has in fact saved, and continues to save, thousands of lives every day.   

Belief is such a claim is what allows activists to so egregiously disregard, for example, the fact that the lives of thousands of premature babies are saved every single day due to the discovery of lung surfactants in numerous dog experiments.  

I am sorry, but you have to accept it --  thousands of dogs died so babies can live today

If you had a premature baby that had to be treated for respiratory distress, you probably owe your baby’s life to these dogs.  This can’t simply be ignored by appealing to magic spells that help reduce your cognitive dissonance.

I respect those that oppose animal research because they feel that all animal life deserves equal moral consideration.  I disagree with this tenet, but I respect those that hold such opinion and live their lives fully consistent with such principle.  

I feel, as I think most of you do too, that the crux of the disagreement among those that support and oppose animal research is really rooted in our ethical positions.  So why don’t we leave these nonsense magic spells aside, accept the existence of an ethical dilemma, and start discussing the ethics of animal research?  

Shall we?


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