Don't ban chimp testing

post by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-01T17:17:15.623Z · score: 15 (31 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 105 comments

The October 2011 Scientific American has an editorial from its board of editors called "Ban chimp testing", that says:  "In our view, the time has come to end biomedical experimentation on chimpanzees... Chimps should be used only in studies of major diseases and only when there is no other option."  Much of the knowledge described in Luke's recent post on the cognitive science of rationality would have been impossible to acquire under such a ban.

I encourage you to write to Scientific American in favor of chimp testing.  Some points that I plan to make:

I also encourage you to adopt a tone of moral outrage.  Rather than taking the usual apologetic "we're so sorry, but we have to do this awful things in the name of science" tone, get indignant at the editors who intend to harm uncountable numbers of innocent people.  For advanced writers, get indignant not just about harm, but about lost potential, pointing out the ways that our knowledge about how brains work can make our lives better, not just save us from disease.

You can comment on this here, but comments are AFAIK not printed in later issues as letters to the editor.  Actual letters, or at least email, probably have more impact.  You can't submit a letter to the editor through the website, because letters are magically different from things submitted on a website.

ADDED:  Many people responded by claiming that banning chimp experimentation occupies some moral high ground.  That is logically impossible.

To behave morally, you have to do two things:

1. Figure out, inherit, or otherwise acquire a set of moral goals are - let's say, for example, to maximize the sum over all individuals i of all species s of ws*[pleasure(s,i)-pain(s,i)].

2. Act in a way directed by those moral goals.

If you really cared about the suffering of sentient beings, you would also care about the suffering of humans, and you would realize that there's a tradeoff between the suffering of those experimented on, and of those who benefit, which is different for every experiment.  That's what a moral decision is—deciding how to make a tradeoff of help and harm. People who call for a ban on chimp testing are really demanding we forbid (other) people from making moral judgements and taking moral actions.  There are a wide range of laws and positions that could be argued to be moral.  But just saying "We are incapable of making moral decisions, so we will ban moral decision-making" is not one of them.

105 comments

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comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-02T10:29:10.388Z · score: 14 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Saying chimps should be used "only when there is no other option" is the same as saying chimps should never be used. There are always other options.

No, it isn't the same. The meaning that is expressed by the authors and understood by most of their intended audience obviously includes a certain level of 'not entirely unrealistic or impractical' in what it takes to qualify as an 'option'. The authors are not entirely stupid and are clearly expressing something different to 'should never be used' when making that assertion.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-02T21:20:47.848Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The meaning that is expressed by the authors and understood by most of their intended audience obviously includes a certain level of 'not entirely unrealistic or impractical' in what it takes to qualify as an 'option'.

The problem is that everybody has a different idea of what that level should be. Thus the authors are effectively relying on the illusion of transparency to make their proposal sound more reasonable then it is.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-03T00:35:20.804Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think I agree with that much.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-04T03:27:49.835Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You would hope so - but I think you would be wrong. Even if the authors intend that, and even if most of their readers understand that at the moment they read it, in practice people regularly go off and re-interpret those words de dicto when applying them.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-02T10:39:43.069Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My version: Don't Ban Testing On Poor Undergraduates Who Want The Money - Rah Economics!

comment by DuncanS · 2011-10-01T21:58:19.362Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wouldn't want to go further than to say there should be some sort of ethical process that measures the benefit of the experiment against the suffering it may cause.

It's silly to ban experimentation on chimps completely. To give some sort of context, we experiment on human babies (in certain harmless ways) all the time. Even I've done it. When I was a kid I experimented on my baby sister. (When she saw my face right side up, she smiled - when she saw it upside-down, she started to cry. Made several repetitions to check!). There are plenty of far more sophisticated studies.....

Increasingly it probably makes sense to restrict the invasive stuff, I'd say.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-04T02:43:39.441Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted because anecdote made me laugh. Not having object permanence must be so confusing!

I agree with your stance here, and I'm self-admittedly probably one of the very few people on the site who extends ethical weight to the mindstates and experiences of nonhuman animals -- not all experiments are necessarily harmful, and some research in primatology is relatively benign.

Same time, it takes a certain kind of obliviousness to deny that these beings suffer horribly, on a routine basis, in the course of much research. I've got a friend in primatology who calls it "nightmare stuff" -- the kinds of invasive and painful experiments conducted even today are frightening, and chimps have very long lives.

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2011-10-01T18:19:13.172Z · score: 8 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Phil,

  1. What evidence or arguments can you offer to support the claim that "Much of the knowledge described in Luke's recent post on the cognitive science of rationality would have been impossible to acquire under such a ban"? I agree that much of the knowledge described in that post was gained through testing on chimpanzees. It doesn't follow, however, that this knowledge could not have been obtained in ways involving no experimentation on those animals.

  2. I don't quite understand your third point above. Suppose it was true that "Banning chimp testing should thus be done only in conjunction with allowing human testing." Why are you then opposing the ban on chimp testing, rather than advocating a lift on the ban on human testing? In the absence of further elaboration, your position smacks of status quo bias.

  3. Chimps are morally relevantly similar to human babies and toddlers. Since you defend experimentation on chimps, you should also, I believe, defend experimentation on human babies and toddlers. Do you?

  4. More generally, I think we should be cautious of endorsing the conclusions that we reach by considering the merits of arguments for and against animal experimentation. As humans, we have a deep-seated bias against members of other species. It is likely that this bias has influenced our views on issues involving widespread use of non-human animals. Since we also have a strong tendency to rationalize the views that we find ourselves subscribing to, it seems advisable to correct for this potential source of bias by being extra skeptical of arguments that appear to show that animal experimentation is morally permissible.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-10-01T20:05:00.210Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Chimps are morally relevantly similar to human babies and toddlers

This is only true for a small subset of moralities.

comment by Jack · 2011-10-01T20:46:31.519Z · score: 1 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But true for a large subset of Less Wrong posters' moralities.

Edit: Why downvotes?

comment by DanPeverley · 2011-10-01T22:19:22.418Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You made a statement with undue confidence, and the votes would appear to indicate that at the very least, this large subset is not monitoring this thread.

comment by Jack · 2011-10-01T22:22:36.456Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Last I checked utilitarians of various sorts were pretty common in these parts.

comment by Nornagest · 2011-10-01T22:35:14.992Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Utilitarian ethics don't necessarily imply the moral equivalence of a chimp to a toddler. That's more a question of personhood criteria, which you can easily express in utilitarian or deontological terms.

I do think LWers would be a lot more likely to make that equivalence, but I suspect that's more because for various reasons we tend to think of personhood mainly in terms of cognition rather than pattern-matching against appearance and behavior.

comment by Jack · 2011-10-01T22:51:30.687Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They aren't necessarily related but for lots of reasons animal rights is associated with utilitarianism. In particular, utilitarianism tends to recommend a much lower threshold of intelligence for an animal to be due our moral consideration- since the only requirement is experiencing pleasure/pain or having desires. Personhood is usually an epiphenomenal category in utilitarianism- referring to whatever class of entities we should be morally concerned with. It is often an essential category in deontology and it's confines much stricter- see Kantianism. Utilitarianism and expanding the sphere of moral concern are historically associated as well- Jeremy Bentham, Peter Singer etc. It is not unreasonably to infer from the popularity of utilitarianism here that animal rights is also popular.

Your reason is a good one too, though. And I'm not speaking from total ignorance here, either. I've been around these parts for a few years and I've seen plenty of upvoted comments about animal rights and had one or two discussions that bare on the subject. Someone is welcome to make a poll but I don't really think making the observation is worthy of downvotes.

comment by Emile · 2011-10-02T08:12:40.918Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For what it's worth, I don't care that much about animal rights; I think humans mostly care about humans; when they care about animals it's as a side effect of virtues whose primary purpose is to facilitate cooperation and peace between humans (and caring about animals is a good way of signaling those virtues).

(and I don't think intelligence and "personhood", whatever that is, have that much to do with each other.)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-04T03:12:05.115Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

when they care about animals it's as a side effect of virtues whose primary purpose is to facilitate > cooperation and peace between humans (and caring about animals is a good way of signaling those virtues).

Hmm. Last I checked, I do care about animals, regardless of signalling -- indeed, I often take a bit of a signal-hit when people see me help beetles safely across a street, or spend time cosing up to an orangutan through the glass at the zoo (thereby rendering him less-viewable by the other patrons, even though he's primarily responding to a familiar presence and displays no interest in anyone else).

There's very little sense of signalling virtue -- I'm not a vegan or vegetarian, I don't adhere to any religion with specific rules about the treatment of animals; I certainly don't find it to enhance my cooperation with other people (some people admire it, but an awful lot of them find it a bit weird or kooky).

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-04T03:28:43.848Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I learned something new in the process of finding you a bit weird and kooky, and thereby no longer do. So, upvoted.

(I wasn't sure if beetles even had brains, which seemed somehow relevant to their moral standing, so I looked it up- and what do you know, nociception has been demonstrated in insects.)

(And beetles do have brains. Sort of.)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-04T03:35:58.003Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, insects have brains. And pain. Many have some degree of personality differentiation, even if the space of possible variance is pretty narrow compared to humans. I certainly can't prevent most of the insects of the world from experiencing what is, to them, a hideously painful death (and indeed, have sometimes hastened that process for crickets when feeding them to pet mantises), but when I see a little dermestid beetle crawling around where it'll certainly be hit by a car, my impulse is to save it. To the extent I'm interested in justifying that, it's that I can make a difference here and now for this organism, and want to do so.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-04T04:07:45.728Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Many have some degree of personality differentiation, even if the space of possible variance is pretty narrow compared to humans.

Me, internally: No way that's true. But, well, just in case...

(five minutes of googling)

I'm learning all sorts of new stuff today!

To the extent I'm interested in justifying that, it's that I can make a difference here and now for this organism, and want to do so.

That sounds like a perfectly valid reason to me.

comment by Emile · 2011-10-04T07:49:07.839Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm a bit fuzzy about what counts as signalling and what doesn't, but I think it covers more cases than those involving conscious planning.

But anyway, I'd say you care about about animals because you're a kind person, but that humans tend to be kind mostly because evolutionarily it's been a benefit by facilitating cooperation and reciprocation. I don't know whether evolution just implemented "be kind to everything" instead of just humans because it took less lines of code (kindness to animals as spandrel), or whether kindness to animals was deliberately implemented because of it's signaling value (it may not be hard-coded, but just learnt as children).

(For what it's worth, I tend to save small bugs and throw them out of the window instead of killing them, which my wife would prefer. This device is convenient for safely and easily catching bugs, and observing them!)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-04T08:02:19.737Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have misunderstood your initial comment -- it sounded to me like you were saying humans don't really care about animals, but often find it desireable to signal that they do. Thanks for clarifying!

comment by Larks · 2011-10-03T16:10:01.210Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

About 35%, two years ago.

comment by Raemon · 2011-10-01T20:19:59.589Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

True, but if it's not the area in which Phil judges moral relevance, then I want to know why he thinks chimps and humans are different.

I was going to use the comparison "Humans born mentally handicapped to the point that their cognitive function is equivalent to chimps." (This avoids the potential issue of "babies grow up to be average humans.")

If you're not willing to advocate testing on humans who are similar to chimps, I want to know why.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-02T11:04:46.952Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was going to use the comparison "Humans born mentally handicapped to the point that their cognitive function is equivalent to chimps." (This avoids the potential issue of "babies grow up to be average humans.")

Along similar lines I was going to propose that it should be considered moral to test on "Low IQ Jocks as soon as they finish High School". After all they have finished their glory years and are different to me in similar ways to how I am different to a chimpanzee. But I decided not to post because I decided it was dangerous to go anywhere near a space including "different" and "less moral consideration".

comment by Raemon · 2011-10-02T17:09:05.228Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that it's dangerous, but I think any remotely productive use of this thread is going to have to. If we're not asking that question, we're not asking the right questions.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-01T21:20:58.210Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

True, but if it's not the area in which Phil judges moral relevance, then I want to know why he thinks chimps and humans are different.

I do think chimps and humans are different; but most members of PETA probably believe they are more different than I do. I think you're reading positions into my post that aren't there.

If you're not willing to advocate testing on humans who are similar to chimps, I want to know why.

I advocated alternatively testing on humans like myself.

comment by Raemon · 2011-10-02T17:13:46.677Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I apologize, I was focusing on a lot of the comments and missed that you had made that point.

I don't currently know what the rules are for human testing. I think it should be theoretically possible for humans to submit themselves for whatever testing they want, but I also think that as soon as that market exists, there will be those who attempt to exploit it in ways I'd consider unethical. That's a complex issue that I don't have an opinion on yet.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-10-01T20:24:26.418Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was going to use the comparison "Humans born mentally handicapped to the point that their cognitive function is equivalent to chimps." (This avoids the potential issue of "babies grow up to be average humans.")

It is not clear to me how that avoids the issue of including the future.

comment by Raemon · 2011-10-01T20:38:25.994Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It avoids the issue of including the future of particular people. Some people care about that, others don't, but it reduces the range of reasons you might object to the comparison.

From what I know, I personally weight chimps as maybe 1/3 times as morally significant as humans. I'm sometimes willing to sacrifice humans to save other humans, and I'd sacrifice a chimp to save about 1/3 as many humans. (I'd also sacrifice a human to save 3x as many chimps). This is mostly an intuitive belief. I can imagine myself changing the number to something as low as 1/10th, maybe even as low as 1/100th (I don't expect to drop it that far).

It's important to note, though, that I DON'T sacrifice humans on a 1-for-1 trade off without their consent. I don't want to live in a world where someone can sacrifice me without me having a say in the matter. There may be cases where I'm willing to consent to sacrifice. I'm not sure if I can identify them right now.

There are still circumstances where, while pissed, I'd grudgingly accept that the Mastermind doing the sacrificing was right to do so. (If they had to divert a train that was going to kill a lot of people, for example. Probably more than 5 though). The number of lives saved to be worth it also has to consider how perfect the information is, and the likelihood that the sacrificer isn't running on damaged hardware.

So theoretically, I'm okay with sacrificing chimps to save arbitrarily large numbers of people, but because the chimps CAN'T consent, I'd have to be willing to sacrifice somewhere between 1/3 and 1/10th as many humans to accomplish the same thing.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-02T02:32:29.723Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read your post and tried to come up with an 'exchange rate' of my own, and it was much more difficult to do than I thought it would be before I tried it. I thought that it would be along the lines of thousands/hundreds of thousands of chimps == 1 human, as I couldn't conceive of letting one human die in exchange for any smaller number of chimps, but then I realized that it would be much easier to think of dead chimps as an opportunity cost, and was just reacting with instinctual revulsion. This is assuming that dead chimps can't be used (to the same extent) as live chimps to aid in medical research.)

So, what is the current value that we place on the life of a chimp? If after m (successful) studies each using n chimps, we can save l human lives, then (assuming in worst-case that each study kills n chimps): (mn)(The value of a chimp life in utilons) = l(The value of a human life in utilons) So: (mn)/l = The value of a human life/The value of a chimp life

This estimate is going to be higher than in real life, as we don't kill all the chimps used in a typical study. The difficulty would be in quantifying the number of studies necessary to save a human life, or the number of lives saved by a particular discovery.

However, thinking this way, I would place my 'exchange rate' on the order of 200-300 chimps to 1 human life; if necessary, we should let 1 human die so that 300 chimps might live so that their value as test subjects could be used to save other humans.

I just don't think chimps are intelligent enough to have significant lives on the same order of magnitude as that of a human's life; I think that 1/3 or 1/10th of a human's life is much too high a value.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-02T02:58:13.087Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

However, thinking this way, I would place my 'exchange rate' on the order of 200-300 chimps to 1 human life; if necessary, we should let 1 human die so that 300 chimps might live so that their value as test subjects could be used to save other humans.

I just don't think chimps are intelligent enough to have significant lives on the same order of magnitude as that of a human's life; I think that 1/3 or 1/10th of a human's life is much too high a value.

Have you corrected for your estimate of p(chimps are uplifted in the next fifty years)?

Edit: Okay, if it makes a difference I only realized the Planet of the Apes reference after I posted, I was making a serious point about the difference between human toddlers and chimps as it relates to the possibility of future personhood.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-03T13:38:01.008Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hadn't considered the possibility that chimps could/would be uplifted in the near future (50 years or mean chimp lifetime is a good rule of thumb); I think it's entirely possible that the technology would be there, but I don't understand the motivation for wanting to uplift chimps. I guess the reasoning is that more sapient beings == more interesting conversations, more math proofs, more works of art, so more Fun, but I'm not sure that we would want to uplift chimps if we had the technology to do so.

If we had the technology to uplift a species, I think it would be likely that we had the technology to have FAI or uploaded human brains, which would be a more efficient way to have more sapient beings with which to talk. Is it immoral to leave other species the way they are if transhumanism or FAI take off?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-10-03T13:43:48.468Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we had the technology to uplift a species, I think it would be likely that we had the technology to have FAI or uploaded human brains, which would be a more efficient way to have more sapient beings with which to talk.

This seems strange to me. Can you expand on your reasoning? Uplifting seems to me to be potentially a lot simpler. The take level to identify the genes that are most responsible for human intelligence is not that much beyond our current one. And the example species you've used, chimps, are close enough to humans that it is likely that for at least some of those genes, simply inserting them into the chimp genome would likely substantially increase their intelligence.

Uplifting seems orders of magnitude easier than uploading at least.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-03T15:50:40.149Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll concede that you are probably right about uplifting being easier.

This was my reasoning: Properly identifying which gene encodes for what and usefully altering genes to express a particular phenotype as complex as human-level intelligence would require (in any reasonable amount of time) at the least a narrow AI to process and refine the huge amount of data in the half-chromosome or so that separates us from chimps. Chimps are close to humans, yes, but altering their DNA to uplift them seems to me to be the type of problem that would either take years of Manhattan-Project level dedication with the technology we have right now, or some sort of AI to do the heavy lifting for us.

I think I'm way out of my depth here, though, as I don't know enough about genetic engineering or AI research to know with confidence which would be easier.

[Edited for typos.]

comment by ahartell · 2011-10-01T20:46:22.216Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the following is very wrong or morally abhorrent, please correct me rather than downvote. I'm trying to work it out for myself and what I came up with seems intuitively incorrect. It is also based on the idea that the mentally handicapped have chimp-like intelligence, which I don't know to be true but is implied by your comment.

So basically, what makes us homo sapiens is our ancestry, but what makes us people is our intelligence. An alien with a brain that somehow worked exactly equivalently to ours would be our equal in every important way, but an alien with a chimp-like intelligence (one that for our purposes would essentially BE a chimp) wouldn't. It would deserve sympathy, and it would be wrong to hurt it for no reason, but I wouldn't value an alien-chimp's life as highly as a human's or an alien-human. So it seems to me that it follows that the mentally handicapped (if they indeed have chimp-like intelligences) don't in fact deserve more moral consideration than alien-chimps or earth-chimps (ignoring their families which presumably have normal intelligences and would very much not approve of their use in experiments). If there are no safer ways to get the same results as we do from chimp studies, which I believe to be the case, then it the best option we have for now is to continue studying them. Studying the mentally handicapped would be as bad-but-acceptable but I wouldn't advocate for it since it would be so unlikely to ever occur. Testing on the mentally handicapped seems very wrong but only for "speciesist" reasons as far as I can tell.

comment by Raemon · 2011-10-03T16:43:17.164Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is also based on the idea that the mentally handicapped have chimp-like intelligence, which I don't know to be true but is implied by your comment.

I specified "people mentally handicapped to the point that they are equivalent to chimps." There's a lot of ways one can be mentally handicapped.

For the record, I'm a vegetarian. I measure morality based off median suffering/life satisfaction. Intelligence is only valuable insofar as it can improve those metrics, and certain kinds of intelligence probably result in a wider and deeper source of life satisfaction.

I don't think chimps contribute dramatically to universal flourishing, but I'm not sure that the average human does either. I think that it's best to have a rule "don't harm sentient creatures", but to occasionally turn a blind eye to certain actions that benefit us in the long term.

i.e. the guy who invented the smallpox vaccine did something horribly unethical, which we should not allow on a regular basis, especially not today when we have more options for testing. Occasionally, doing something like that is necessary for the greater good, but most people who think their actions are sufficiently "greater good" to break the rules are wrong, so we need to discourage it in general.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-10-03T17:10:51.457Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"don't harm sentient creatures"

This is a nice rule in principle, but in practice becomes tough. First, how do we define sentience? Second, what constitutes don't harm? Is there an action/in-action distinction here? If is it morally unacceptable to let humans in the developing world starve do we have a similar moral obligation to chimps? If not, why not?

. the guy who invented the smallpox vaccine did something horribly unethical, which we should not allow on a regular basis, especially not today when we have more options for testing

I'm not sure what you are talking about here. Can you expand?

comment by Raemon · 2011-10-03T21:07:18.955Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is a nice rule in principle, but in practice becomes tough.

Oh in practice it's definitely tough. Optimal morality is tough. I judge myself and other individuals on the efforts they've made to improve from the status quo, not on how far they fall short of what they might hypothetically be able to accomplish with infinite computing power.

In my ideal world, suffering doesn't happen, period, except to the degree that some amount of suffering is necessary bring about certain kinds of happiness. (i.e. everyone, animals included, gets exactly as much as they need, nothing more.

I don't know to what extent that's actually possible without accidentally wreaking havoc on the ecosystem and causing all kinds of problems, and in the meantime it's easier to get public support for helping other humans anyway.

Smallpox

I'm working from old memories from middle school, and referencing what is probably a bit of a "folk version" of the real thing, but my recollection was that Edward Jenner tested his smallpox vaccine on some kid, then gave the kid a full dose of smallpox without his consent.

SOMEBODY had to try that at some point, and I think Jenner had reasonable evidence, but I don't think that sort of thing would fly today.

comment by asr · 2011-10-03T22:36:16.294Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

SOMEBODY had to try that at some point, and I think Jenner had reasonable evidence, but I don't think that sort of thing would fly today.

I agree it wouldn't pass muster today, but that may just be because we aren't facing a disease as deadly as smallpox.

There's a good moral case for experimenting on somebody without their consent IF: 1) Doing the experiment has a high probability of getting a cure into widespread use quickly 2) Getting consent for an equivalent experiment would be difficult or time-consuming 3) The disease is prevalent and serious enough that a delay to find a consenting subject is a bigger harm than the involuntary experiment.

comment by Raemon · 2011-10-03T22:43:29.200Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-03T20:51:52.622Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that it's best to have a rule "don't harm sentient creatures"

Unless they have it coming! I consider it unethical to not harm sentient creatures in certain circumstances.

comment by Jack · 2011-10-01T21:02:59.620Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you think our moral concern should follow intelligence then it follows that chimps and the mentally handicapped are not morally equal to humans of normal intelligence. Depending how much differing intelligence results in differing moral consideration this could justify chimp and mentally handicapped testing.

But while some level of intelligence does seem to be necessary for an animal to suffer in a way we find morally compelling it does not follow that abusing the slightly less intelligent is at all justified. It is not at all obvious that the mentally handicapped or chimpanzees suffer less than humans of normal intelligence. Nor is it obvious mentally handicapped humans and chimpanzees don't differ in this regard. But intelligence is almost certainly not the same thing as moral value. There are possibly entities that are very intelligent but for which we would have little moral regard.

comment by ahartell · 2011-10-01T21:09:04.098Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right, that makes sense. I guess if something can suffer and notice it's suffering and wish it weren't suffering then it should be as morally valuable as a person...maybe.

But while some level of intelligence does seem to be necessary for an animal to suffer in a way we find morally compelling it does not follow that abusing the slightly less intelligent is at all justified.

I think dogs are "capable of suffering in a way I find morally compelling" though, and I would sacrifice probably a lot of dogs to save myself or another human. Is that just me being heartless?

There are possibly entities that are very intelligent but for which we would have little moral regard.

I mentioned that the hypothetical aliens would have brains that work just like ours, not that they would be just as intelligent.

comment by Jack · 2011-10-01T21:12:03.900Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your method should be to figure out what it is about humans that makes them morally valuable to you and then see if those traits are found in the same degree elsewhere.

comment by ahartell · 2011-10-01T21:13:35.253Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-01T21:17:57.860Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What evidence or arguments can you offer to support the claim that "Much of the knowledge described in Luke's recent post on the cognitive science of rationality would have been impossible to acquire under such a ban"? I agree that much of the knowledge described in that post was gained through testing on chimpanzees. It doesn't follow, however, that this knowledge could not have been obtained in ways involving no experimentation on those animals.

Knowledge of brain responses can not currently be obtained in other way than by observing brain responses. If you want the results to apply well to humans, you often have to observe either great apes, or humans. It usually isn't practical to observe humans, because the restrictions on human experimentation are even tighter.

I don't quite understand your third point above. Suppose it was true that "Banning chimp testing should thus be done only in conjunction with allowing human testing." Why are you then opposing the ban on chimp testing, rather than advocating a lift on the ban on human testing?

A. There isn't a ban on human testing; it's just very difficult to get approval for anything with any degree of invasiveness.

B. My post says, "Banning chimp testing should thus be done only in conjunction with allowing human testing." Your question doesn't make sense as a response to that.

Chimps are morally relevantly similar to human babies and toddlers. Since you defend experimentation on chimps, you should also, I believe, defend experimentation on human babies and toddlers. Do you?

Definitely. We've learned a lot of important things about human cognitive development from experiments on human babies and toddlers. These are harmless experiments. (Well, since the 1980s, anyway.) Can I assume, for example, that you oppose allowing someone to show different objects to a baby, and measure which object they spend more time looking at? Because these are among the types of experiments that the editors would like to ban.

Since we also have a strong tendency to rationalize the views that we find ourselves subscribing to, it seems advisable to correct for this potential source of bias by being extra skeptical of arguments that appear to show that animal experimentation is morally permissible.

I agree. And I already do that. Doing so does not imply that you will always conclude that animal experimentation is not morally permissible.

Let me ask you a question: Do you ever eat pork?

comment by handoflixue · 2011-10-05T00:55:36.188Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because these are among the types of experiments that the editors would like to ban.

Would you be okay with a compromise ban that says great apes can be experimented on only in similar circumstances to those we allow for experiments on toddlers?

comment by Jack · 2011-10-01T20:43:54.181Z · score: 6 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Um, I doubt any of our knowledge of cognitive science comes from biomedical testing on chimpanzees. I'm not closed off to the possibility that chimp testing really is that important. But my threshold for being okay with this:

By the time he was 19 he had been anesthetized more than 250 times and undergone innumerable biopsies in the name of science. Much of the time he lived alone in a cramped, barren cage. Bobby grew depressed and emaciated and began biting his own arm, leaving permanent scars.

on a widespread scale is really high. No doubt ethics restrictions can be excessively burdensome and slow progress unnecessarily. But this seems like the area where ethics restrictions are most likely to be too weak since chimpanzees are, in general, not considered as morally valuable as their similarity to us justifies.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-01T21:04:58.640Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Bobby "grew up at the Coulston Foundation, a biomedical research facility in Alamogordo, N.M., that was cited for repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act before it was shuttered in 2002." There are already laws in place to prevent such terrible treatment of chimps, and they have already been used to save Bobby from that treatment.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-04T02:49:34.729Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure if you've ever been through any kind of lasting or intense traumatic experiences, but that stuff stays with you. It's not just a question of suffering in the moment -- chronic or acute stress, endured over a wide enough interval, changes brain chemistry and structure. It impairs cognitive function and leads to all kinds of really maladaptive behaviors that drive the suffering in deeper. This is when you're not just left a shivering wreck every so often, develop psychotic or self-harming symptoms, or just wind up unable to pass socially among a peer group (and for a nonhuman ape in these conditions, the odds of getting anything even vaguely like a normal socialization vanish dramatically once they become an experimental animal -- this is torture when we do it to humans, and our closest relatives are no different).

Great apes live a long time -- they get to carry that around with them long after the last experiment. It's kind of hard to talk about "saving" someone who's gone through many years of that kind of treatment -- at best, you've simply put an end to the inflicting. I wonder what conditions Bobby lives in now, and whether he can be said to be truly thriving there...

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-04T04:03:18.285Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What you say is true. But what happened to Bobby ten to twenty years ago should not be brought up in an editorial that claims to want to improve conditions for chimps today, because we already have laws against such treatment. They should provide examples of the treatment that they think is bad, that is going on today, that their proposal would stop. Reaching instead for something more emotionally-engaging is pure Dark Arts manipulation; it has no relevance to the debate they claim to be engaged in.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-10-05T00:45:41.842Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or they're making the very valid point that apparently the existing laws are failing horribly at actually protecting the apes, as clearly illustrated by their choice of example...

Arguably they should focus on being stricter about existing laws, but it's not abnormal for a society to say "okay, clearly the people doing X are abusing it despite our regulations, so we're just going to take away X except in very rare, carefully licensed and justified exceptions."

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-04T04:34:21.688Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

it has no relevance to the debate they claim to be engaged in.

Someone's citing that case makes me think they have nothing similarly supportive of their argument from within the past decade.

comment by jennyal · 2011-10-10T16:57:44.415Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here are 14 violations in 2009-2010: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/move-of-14-older-chimps-to-texas-research-lab-raises-questions/2011/08/12/gIQAYkAuDJ_story.html

"Saying chimps should be used "only when there is no other option" is the same as saying chimps should never be used. There are always other options.": -

If there "are always other options", then why are we having this rediculous discussion. Ban it, "there are always other options" and research facilities are not following regulations as recent as this year.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-10T17:23:33.894Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think one of those options is to do research much more slowly and speculatively.

Those 14 violations were at one facility. If violations are concentrated among a few similarly monitored facilities, that implies the problem is specific facilities. If they are evenly spread, it implies the problem is an inevitable consequence of using them. Do you have evidence either way?

Two of the violations were deemed “serious”: A baboon briefly escaped its enclosure, as did a rhesus monkey, which “gained access to an outdoor area of the enclosure at night when temperatures were below freezing.” Institute staff found the monkey “moribund” and euthanized it.

What were the non-serious violations? How many serious violations occur annually?

Those serious violations were nothing like the Bobby case. The animals merely escaped. My original suspicion is slightly more confirmed.

comment by jennyal · 2011-10-11T18:56:03.603Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't work for the government, I do not have access to violations. Only what leaks to the press. But, a violation is a violation. The guidlines and laws are not being followed.
You asked for some in the last decade, I gave some. That was th point of the link. There are violations, even serious ones. If you all would lieke to find out more just google it. It took me about 2 minutes to find this article. If you want to find out the answers to what the serious violations were, ask the author. Point is, they were serious. So, chimps being used are not being treated right and there are alternatives to the testing. "They should provide examples of the treatment that they think is bad, that is going on today, that their proposal would stop. " That was the point, right? So there is an example from today.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-11T20:46:14.503Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You asked for some in the last decade, I gave some.

I asked for evidence to persuade me that option (a) banning testing, is preferable to (b) living with the amount of violations that would otherwise be expected to occur. I expect advocates to present what they think would be their most persuasive case considering the time they have decided to spend presenting a case.

An advocate of banning telling me that she and third party investigators do not have direct access increases how representative her single example is, since it is chosen from a smaller pool of examples than someone with access would have. You certainly subconsciously realize the importance of this as you led with it.

It took me about 2 minutes to find this article.

This is very relevant. The less time it took you to find a serious violation, the more prevalent violations probably are.

there are alternatives to the testing.

You are doing exactly what you should be doing considering I am weighing options (a) and (b) , you're telling me that (a) is not as bad as I might have thought and that (b) is worse than I might have thought.

You are perfectly excellent at arguing for a point, like most humans, and using evidence correctly. However, at this site an enormous, excessive by many people's standards, amount of time is spent trying to understand how evidence works. I am saying explicitly that at finding, determining, and using the most relevant evidence you are basically just as skilled as I am because I want to distinguish it from one skill at which I think you are not as strong. that skill is understanding why you make the correct choices you do when arguing about things.

So when you are arguing for the point you know exactly what is and isn't valid evidence. But in the special case of describing the relationship of evidence to conclusions, I don't think you know how to describe it well. Your arguments about how the evidence you present should be interpreted and the extent to which it is strong I basically think are wrong, unlike your arguments directly about chimp testing and indirectly about why your arguments are relevant. As an analogy: like a master carpenter who doesn't know how to build a hammer very well because non-wood is such a major component in it.

According to my understanding of evidence, "That was the point of the link." isn't true - at least, you have correctly understood one point of the link but I argue that the exclusivity implied by "the point of" isn't true. I think the link has several points, and the piece of evidence I am attempting to assimilate is not and should not be "the link" alone. It is rather (1) that an advocate of (a) over (b) (2) took a short time to find a (3) leaked case of (4) violations that led to chimps escaping.

Factors (1) and (4) make the piece of evidence - your presenting that article when and how you did - more something that supports (b) for me. Factors (2) and (3) make it more something that supports (a) for me.

That was the point, right? So there is an example from today.

Whether it's actually a good idea or not (according to any individual's preferences, which generally include both animals not being harmed and medical research not being hampered, and relevantly here, my preferences, which value both things) has nothing to do with how clumsily I may have phrased a request for more information. Of course, interpretations of my requests must be factored in when people present evidence to me.

The difficulty of finding cases of serious violations, the absence of evidence for the suggestingon that serious violations occur, is evidence violations do not occur to the extent to which were there violations, there would be less difficulty of finding cases of serious violations. If information is hard to get, then the difficulty of finding cases of serious violations is reconciled with the possibility many violations occur by the secrecy. Subconsciously you certainly understand this, which is why you brought up difficulty of access. What that means is that my original question was extremely important, and you have a suitable answer.

It is difficult to remember to, but important, to always be in "truth seeking" mode rather than "seeker of evidence that supports my conclusion" mode. The question "where are the cases?" is the sort people temporarily (both modes are temporary, though the first is always best) in the latter mode fail to see, even (because) when they have an answer to the question.

I didn't intend my comments as attacks and hope they aren't interpreted that way.

Welcome to LW if you choose to comment more or lurk!

comment by jennyal · 2011-11-09T13:24:39.297Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I am an advocate. I was googling and came across this blog and I stopped and read it and read all the comments and found that I needed to say something on behalf of those that cannot.
Thanks for your feedback on making my point clear and educated. I will need it on my journey.

One Love and Peace.

comment by Jack · 2011-10-01T21:09:23.281Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well what conditions are chimpanzees in fact living under when they are part of biomedical research? The editorial seems to suggest that Bobby's experience is representative. I don't see how the question is resolvable without knowing this.

comment by ahartell · 2011-10-01T21:11:59.548Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Shouldn't they be arguing for better treatment though, and not the banning of chimp testing?

comment by Jack · 2011-10-01T21:15:22.923Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They are.

We accept that others may make a different moral trade-off. If the U.S. elects to continue testing on chimps, however, then it needs to adopt stricter guidelines. Chimps should be used only in studies of major diseases and only when there is no other option. Highly social by nature, they should live with other chimps and in a stimulating environment with room to move around. And when a test inflicts pain or psychological distress, they should have access to treatment that eases those afflictions.

But part of the poor treatment of the chimps is part of testing. Being infected with a disease, given experimental treatments and undergoing surgery is likely to cause suffering.

comment by ahartell · 2011-10-01T21:17:17.813Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right, right. I guess I still disagree with the following:

Chimps should be used only in studies of major diseases and only when there is no other option.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-01T23:30:06.237Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wait. Is the problem him being tested on, or is it how he's held?

comment by Jack · 2011-10-01T23:33:07.564Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Both?

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-02T00:18:22.076Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My point is that it sounds like how he's being held is the bigger issue. Instead of stopping chimp testing, they could just treat them better.

comment by Jack · 2011-10-02T00:49:57.681Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right, and the editorial goes into how, if the US doesn't decide to stop testing on chimps they should at the very least do more to protect chimps from being held that way.

But they also, I assume, think the testing itself is morally troubling. It isn't as if being given diseases and possible cures is a pain free process- at least it doesn't seem to be and it isn't obvious how you could make it one. That's all I meant by "Both?".

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-04T02:54:16.745Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mmm, depends. What are they testing for?

You can't test certain things without a non-negligible chance, or even a near-certainty, of inflicting harm. Insisting on ethical treatment standards will pretty much rule out many forms of biomedical testing on chimps; you're essentially looking at reducing the window of possibilities to those that don't involve surgery, infectious diseases, willful infliction of pain in any way...

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-04T03:12:40.331Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I meant that holding them better would probably give most of the benefit of stopping chimp testing with little of the cost. I didn't mean treat them better as in don't do surgery.

How much harm would surgery do anyway? They use anesthesia, right?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-04T03:29:51.834Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How much harm would surgery do anyway? They use anesthesia, right?

You ever had surgery? General anaesthesia is pretty hard on a body, and causes brain damage over time. Even local anaesthesia isn't trivial, and then you get to deal with being bound and restrained.

Because human patients find it intolerable to be in agony for weeks on end after an operation, they get prescription drugs to dull the pain. These often also impair performance, they don't work perfectly, and chimps don't necessarily get them.

Surgery hurts -- after the fact, and sometimes even during (anaesthesia is not always reliable, and it includes everything from "conked out and not feeling it" to "I feel the pain but I kinda don't care.") It doesn't last very long past the operation. I just spent a month recovering from relatively minor surgery; it included the most profound pain I've ever experienced, even with access to vicodin. And I get to go in for round 2 this week.

Bottom line: if they have to cut you open, you're going to feel it one way or another.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-04T05:03:50.438Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had a foot or so of intestine removed when I was ten, spent a few months not moving around much. Oddly, I minded what the morphine did to my head more than the stabbing pain. The nurses gave me weird looks when I didn't use up my allotment of dispense-happyjuice-button pushes. Then the stitches tore and the incision reopened, took another month+ to heal. I don't recommend it.

Worst part was the NG tube, actually. Eugh, I hated that thing.

TL;DR: Surgery sucks, you guys.

Edit: Wow, what kind of mood was I in when I wrote this? I'd apologize for dribbling my gooey self-disclosure on the thread, but I seem to have been upvoted (?), so ok then.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-04T04:38:49.923Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had local anesthesia recently and I could feel what they were doing even though I felt no pain at all.

Any idea what was going on?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-04T04:46:31.871Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Local anaesthesia specifically targets nociception (pain sensory pathways) within a narrow area; other sensations often aren't interfered with directly, or at least not entirely inhibited. Often ou only need to target a few nerve clusters to numb a typical human to pain in a given area of their body (but vibration, pressure and so on are unimpeded).

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-04T05:11:51.127Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks. It was creepy, they should warn patients about that.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-04T06:00:45.702Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think they don't, for the same reason they say "this won't hurt" when it will -- clumsy or not, they're priming a response rather than conveying factual information (though some of them might believe it), under the belief that the reaction garnered will be better than that you'd get from an honest statement.

I dunno how effective it actually is, either on the general population or on the subset of people who are more skeeved out by the lie or omission and the unplanned sensations than the knowledge it'll be unpleasant.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-04T06:30:24.085Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Someone needs to tell them about the conservation of expected evidence. There's no way for them to consistently provide evidence that it won't hurt when it will.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-04T07:09:21.336Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, if they were correct in the assumption that telling a patient "It won't hurt" when they get a shot or blood draw will relax them long enough to get to the critical phase, then it mostly comes down to how much you resent the lie.

They're not trying to convince the patient; they're trying to render them more tractable so that the patient doesn't panic, flinch (which could cause an injury) or drive themselves to heights of anxiety. The question is how well it works.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-04T18:23:25.085Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why would it render them more tractable if it doesn't convince them?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-04T18:34:18.721Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because humans don't just process the truth-aptness of natural-language statements?

Have you ever had to comfort a crying child, calm an animal, or put a nervous person at ease? What you say is often less important than how you say it, and what you do. Tone of voice, body language, behavioral scripts...these things have a direct influence on cognition and emotion. It may be the channel through which a lot of squicky things operate (what many LWers call "The Dark Arts"), but it's also a channel for more benign forms of interaction and influence as well.

I worked in a daycare center for a while and kissing the bandage after mending a scraped knee was just something we adults did. It has no medical value, but it's a comforting gesture -- it makes the child feel better. So does talking in a calming voice before you wash it with an antimicrobial wipe, which is going to sting a bit.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-04T06:05:55.186Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My response was to freak out.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-04T07:16:24.438Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I certainly did when I was a child -- later on, an accident that destroyed several of my teeth forced me to self-modify so I could get through the deplorable amount of root canals and other dentistry I've been subjected to.

Since that time, I've learned enough mental hacks for dealing with pain and fear, which wasso worthwhile. I have a marked needle phobia and a seriously low pain threshold, yet have routine blood draws without incident and have been pierced with large-gauge needles and tattooed for up to 1.5 hours at a sitting.

Still, I can empathize with the surprise and squick reactions. Some of the experiences you have during surgery are never talked about, so nobody knows it's even a possible experience until it happens to you.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-02T10:32:46.916Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My point is that it sounds like how he's being held is the bigger issue.

Being anesthetized and biopsied 250 times doesn't strike me as entirely pleasant either. "Both" seems to be a rather good answer to my mind so I have no idea why that is downvoted.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-01T19:35:49.904Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also encourage you to adopt a tone of moral outrage.

I don't think that's a good idea. That would make them act defensive. I can't remember where it was, but there was an article on here that talked about how if you claim someone is an idiot for believing in God, they can either believe they're an idiot, or believe you're wrong. People don't like to believe they're idiots. People don't like to believe they're harming uncountable innocents either.

Incidentally, the position I take with animal research is to just have a fine that's as costly as the pain to the animal. If it's worth doing, they'll be able to afford the fine. If it's not, they won't.

comment by Jack · 2011-10-01T20:45:59.304Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That would make them act defensive.

You're not trying to convince the editorial board. This is politics, throw out your white hat.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-01T23:28:43.029Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right. Forgot about that.

Debates where you try to convince the other person are very different than ones where you try to convince the audience.

They haven't made up there mind yet (at least, almost all of the ones that you'd convince), so they won't feel like they'd be harming innocents.

comment by Cons · 2011-10-01T19:42:52.054Z · score: 3 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hello! I usually read LessWrong posts, however, I'd never felt the need to create an account because I thought I needed to make some comment. However, when I read this one, I saw that, after so much time visiting LW without creating an account, I needed to create one to comment on it.

We have a strong bias in favor of human interests. But when we try to get rid of them we can see things in a different light. The magnitude of the harm humans cause to other animals really is significant and overwhelmingly bigger than the benefits humans obtain from it. It's very likely that in the future we will increase this gap between the magnitude of the harms we inflict on animals and the significantly smaller benefits we obtain. Therefore, debunking speciesism is a very important task we need to engage in if we want a future with more wellbeing and less suffering.

Experimenting only on nonhuman animals reflects the idea that human interests are more important simply because they are humans. This is a view we must oppose. And banning chimp testing actually questions this idea. For this reason, we should welcome very much such a ban. Campaining against may have terrible effects. The gains that might be acquired by harming chimps would be greatly outweighed by the significantly negative effect that the promotion of a speciesist viewpoint has. All this, of course, setting aside considerations regarding whether all the harm entailed by chimp testing is really going to prove so beneficial.

Given all this, my recommendation is that those who read this write to Scientific American to show their support of the ban on chimp testing.

comment by Emile · 2011-10-01T21:28:26.893Z · score: 11 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Experimenting only on nonhuman animals reflects the idea that human interests are more important simply because they are humans. This is a view we must oppose.

Why? I consider that human interests are more important simply because they are humans. What's wrong with speciesism, beyond the superficial analogies to racism?

comment by roystgnr · 2011-10-03T20:20:11.802Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The theoretical problem with speciesism is that there is no such thing as a species. The traditional proposed equivalence relation of "ability to interbreed" doesn't work because it isn't transitive: every organism would satisfy this relation with respect to its parents, but we have common ancestors with a squid if you just go far enough back. Every animal (and plant, etc...) on Earth is basically part of a single ring species, except that the "rings" of our species are only clear if you picture them arcing through space-time instead of just space. While the ethical status of individuals must have something to do with their biology, there doesn't seem to be anywhere we can put a bright non-arbitrary cutoff line for that status.

The practical problem with speciesism is that we may soon be getting a lot more "species" to worry about, and it would be good to have an appropriate ethical framework for that ahead of time. What kind of modifications can we give to ourselves or our kids before their "post-human interests" lose importance relative to the unmodified? How much more intelligence can we give to our domesticated animals before we should start feeling concern about treating them like slaves? What if general artificial intelligences start passing Turing tests without any underlying biology at all? Does it matter if their instructions are a priori vs emulations of copied biological brains?

From an intuitive perspective, it seems obvious that human interests are more important than chimp interests, which are more important than pig interests, which are more important than fish interests... but at that point I get stuck, because I don't see how we quantify "how much more important", robustly, as the categories start to proliferate and blur.

From an outside perspective, the non-superficial analogy to racism is simple: the human intuitive perspective on ethics is lousy, often leads us to atrocious behavior that we and our descendants regret for generations, and ought to be supplemented by something more reliable if possible.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-02T10:37:31.621Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Experimenting only on nonhuman animals reflects the idea that human interests are more important simply because they are humans. This is a view we must oppose.

I must? I reject any such obligation. You can oppose it if you wish. But as far as I'm concerned I'm free to support or oppose any combination of experimentation on human or non-human animal that I like.

comment by scientism · 2011-10-01T23:52:24.277Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't buy the argument that we only favour humans because of 'speciesism.' There's a qualitative difference between humans and other animals and that difference is due to language. Consider:

  1. A doctor tells you that he's going to do something that will cause you pain but that the pain will pass and it will improve your health.

  2. You're locked in a room and told you'll never be allowed to leave. You're told that your family will be killed and there's nothing you can do to stop it.

These scenarios are not available to other animals because they don't have language. The quality and type of suffering in each scenario is dependent on what is said. We can't reassure an animal that a pain will be short or for its own good but equally we can't convince it that a pain will be prolonged or inform it of a harm that is not immediately apparent. These distinctions are simply not available to non-human animals. Morally, they are therefore in a qualitatively separate category from us.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-02T04:13:40.541Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a qualitative difference between humans and other animals and that difference is due to language.

It isn't due to language. The difference you describe is based on imagination and the ability to understand future consequences. We wouldn't consider a moral difference between those examples and cases where the subject was able to arrive at the same understanding based off observation, reasoning or memories of past experiences. Language is relevant in only in as much as it is one of the ways that people can arrive at the models of reality and understanding of the future that we consider important.

comment by Raemon · 2011-10-01T20:21:12.215Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My feelings are slightly mixed when it comes to medical advances, but basically this. Humans are not inherently special. I might sacrifice a chimp to save the life of a human, but it is a sacrifice, the lesser of two evils, no better than sacrificing a mentally handicapped human.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-03T13:55:48.099Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I might sacrifice a chimp to save the life of a human, but it is a sacrifice, the lesser of two evils, no better than sacrificing a mentally handicapped human.

I would consider it a sacrifice as well and I do care more about humans than other animals.

Much like if I have to choose who the trolley runs over I prefer it be a random cute young girl to my cute little young sister, I prefer it run over the chimp rather than the human.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-01T21:27:33.358Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We have a strong bias in favor of human interests.

Agreed. But there are many less-destructive ways of promoting this bias. Far better to become a vegetarian. If you aren't, then I don't think you're entitled to write that letter to Scientific American on that basis.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-02T10:23:40.336Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. But there are many less-destructive ways of promoting this bias. Far better to become a vegetarian. If you aren't, then I don't think you're entitled to write that letter to Scientific American on that basis.

It is not remotely reasonable to declare people not entitled to write letters discouraging abusive treatment of chimpanzees because they happen to eat meat. People are not obliged to care about all animals equally. Caring a lot about chimpanzees perhaps means you should be a non-chimp-eater, not a vegetarian. Even then it is not at all inconsistent to have a moral aversion to ongoing painful treatment of a creature while considering it ok to breed the same creature for food.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-04T03:38:21.334Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is not remotely reasonable to declare people not entitled to write letters discouraging abusive treatment of chimpanzees because they happen to eat meat.

It is possible for some hypothetical person to have a well-worked out and consistent ethical system that allows them to eat the meat found in restaurants and supermarkets in the Western world on a regular basis, and also oppose experimentation on chimps. I have never met such a person. I therefore encourage all non-vegetarians to re-calibrate their attitudes towards chimp experimentation in light of their attitudes towards raising animals in much worse conditions and then slaughtering and eating them. And if I say that someone who eats meat and opposes chimp experimentation is inconsistent, I expect that statement to have many more true positives than false positives.

Even then it is not at all inconsistent to have a moral aversion to ongoing painful treatment of a creature while considering it ok to breed the same creature for food.

Enough of our current methods of raising animals for food cause them pain - I would guess greater pain than that caused by chimp experimentation - that I don't buy this argument. If you claim that you can be ethically consistent in opposing chimp experimentation, yet eat pork without knowing where it came from and how it was raised, you have an unusual, and very finely-tuned ethical system.

comment by Cons · 2011-10-01T22:25:37.933Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The replies to the arguments opposing chimp testing haven’t tried to show why the defense of such testing is right from a nonspeciesist viewpoint. Rather, they’ve assumed that viewpoint.

Explaining all the arguments against the idea that speciesism is wrong would require lots of space. So I’ll just say here that if we are concerned with wellbeing it is arbitrary to take into account only some of them simply because they are possessed by certain individuals, rather than other ones. Of course many people are arbitrary, and found their moral views on such arbitrariness. But that isn’t really the approach that someone who’s aiming at getting rid of bias should accept.

The main argument that has been provided here in favour for this arbitrariness seems to be: “Don’t you eat animals too?”

I don’t eat animals, and I certainly agree that promoting vegetarianism is a crucial way to question speciesism. But asking whether one is vegetarian or not is not a reply to the problem we’re dealing here. I've met people who just didn't have the willpower to change their food habits even though they agreed speciesism is wrong. I think it's obvious that those who oppose speciesism should encourage those people to do things that reduce the impact speciesism has (such as writing a letter to Scientific American).

There are many people who do things I don't consider right, that's not a reason for me to say they aren't entitled to do good things because that would contradict their previous wrong doing.

comment by Emile · 2011-10-02T08:06:34.376Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Explaining all the arguments against the idea that speciesism is wrong would require lots of space. So I’ll just say here that if we are concerned with wellbeing it is arbitrary to take into account only some of them simply because they are possessed by certain individuals, rather than other ones. Of course many people are arbitrary, and found their moral views on such arbitrariness. But that isn’t really the approach that someone who’s aiming at getting rid of bias should accept.

"It's arbitrary" isn't a sufficient reason to dismiss a preference or a social norm; for example the choice of which side of the road to drive on, and the rules governing right of way at intersections are arbitrary too, yet we're better off with such "aribitrary" rules than without them.

I have a preference for humans over chimps, mostly because I'm a human myself, probably also because there is little use for a "social contract" or reciprocation between a human and a Chimp - I don't need to be nice towards chimps in the expectation that it will make them nicer with me in the long run (if we shared earth with another species with our level of technology and knowledge and power, it would make sense to treat them as equals and care about them in the expectation that they'd do the same about us). People rarely spell out those reasons explicitly because doing so signals one is cold, calculating and selfish, but I suspect it mostly boils down to that.

comment by Cons · 2011-10-02T09:42:51.792Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Regarding what MinibearRex pointed out, I think some humans, because of their cognitive abilities, are more capable of making the universe a better place than either chimpanzees or other humans are. Many humans lack those cognitive capacities, others will use them in ways that will do more harm than good.

But an important question here is: What makes the universe a better place? In my view, to put it briefly, the universe becomes a better place if there is less suffering of sentient beings in it, and, additionally, more enjoyment of sentient beings in it.

So, given this, Emile, I have reasons to reject arbitrariness. I care for sentient beings. That's not an arbitrary criterion, since they are the ones who can suffer and enjoy.

This is the key issue, in my view, underlying this debate. I have presented some reasons to reject the idea that promoting chimp testing will make the world a better place. The arguments I've been presented have opposed my view by implicitly or explicitly pointing out that what makes the world a better place is what makes it a better place for humans. But in my view, if in a universe A there is more suffering and less enjoyment of sentient beings than in universe B, A is worse than B. It is so even if some of those beings are better in A than in B. I don't need to know who are those beings. They may be humans or cats, it doesn't matter for me, I'd still consider A to be worse than B.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-04T03:44:19.358Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are pattern-matching it onto the readily-available pattern of "Let's do whatever the hell we want to to animals, because they are lesser beings and don't matter, or at least can't stop us." This may map well onto many of the replies in this thread, but not to my original post.

The problem with banning chimp testing is that it prevents us from making morally correct decisions. If you want to make the universe a place where there is less suffering of sentient beings, then you should want to make it a place where people are allowed to decide what will cause less suffering to sentient beings. This means that either option A (do any and all conceivable experiments on non-humans), and option B (ban testing on chimps), are off the table. These are both immoral (or at least amoral) options, because they both avoid making decisions about whether a particular experiment will cause more or less suffering in the world.

comment by Raemon · 2011-10-02T17:06:16.631Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for saving me the effort of saving exactly this.

My only caveat is that I'd place higher priority on universes that include some degree of abstract reasoning, imagination and ability to plan, because those universes have a higher probability of dramatically improving.

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-10-01T23:39:19.148Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Welcome to LW!

The replies to the arguments opposing chimp testing haven’t tried to show why the defense of such testing is right from a nonspeciesist viewpoint. Rather, they’ve assumed that viewpoint.

Explaining all the arguments against the idea that speciesism is wrong would require lots of space. So I’ll just say here that if we are concerned with wellbeing it is arbitrary to take into account only some of them simply because they are possessed by certain individuals, rather than other ones.

I do indeed hold what you call a "speciest" viewpoint. Chimpanzees are worthy of moral consideration, but a human does have moral worth than a chimpanzee. Chimpanzees, likewise, have a greater moral worth than a lizard, and I would willingly experiment on lizards in order to improve the lives of Chimpanzees.

Additionally, Humans aren't treated as more special because of a completely arbitrary reason: they have more moral weight because a human, because of its intelligence, is more capable of making the universe a better place than a Chimpanzee is. Sacrificing a Chimpanzee to save a human is a similar ethical question to the trolley problem.

comment by jamesevans · 2011-10-06T02:07:34.569Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you ban chimp testing, you are forbidding people from making moral decisions. If you really cared about the suffering of sentient beings, you would also care about the suffering of humans; and you would realize that there is a tradeoff between the suffering from those experimented on, and those who benefit, that is different for every experiment.

Banning testing on our closest living relatives is a powerful moral decision in itself. By resisting a ban, you are forbidding people from making moral decisions. You may as well apply your argument to any bans whatsoever. When something is generally wrong, we ban it. Prohibiting painful and invasive testing on chimpanzees is quite consistent with attempting to minimize suffering across species. Not only are there alternatives, but experimenting on chimpanzees is logically inconsistent with a number of ethical theories. Since we have status quo bias and tend to rationalize self-interest it is right to be skeptical of chimpanzee testing.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-14T16:33:06.777Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When something is generally wrong, we ban it.

"Wrong" means something like "does more harm than good". To decide whether something is wrong, you must add up the good and subtract the harm. You want to look at the harm and ignore the good. This means you aren't interested in whether an act is wrong.

Alternately, demonstrate that chimp testing generally does more harm than good.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-10-06T02:41:48.592Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When something is generally wrong, we ban it.

I think this is a pretty dubious generalization.

comment by handoflixue · 2011-10-05T00:50:39.209Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

get indignant at the editors who intend to do harm to uncountable numbers of innocent people

There are factors here beyond just "harm" - namely the idea of personal liberty/rights. As a society, we've generally come to the conclusion that kidnapping innocent people against their will and forcing them to endure great personal risk, even if it is for the "greater good", is the domain of super villains. (Ostensibly we also make an exception for politicians who wish to draft soldiers for war, but at least in the US it's been decades and was widely opposed the last time)