Many millions of animals suffer and die every year in the name of science. How can this practice be justified? Public debate usually centers on the moral issues.
Proponents of the practice argue that the benefits to humans of live animal research are so great that the practice is justified. Opponents argue that no matter what the benefits, the practice is morally odious. Rarely are the scientific benefits of the practice questioned, and when they are, the critique is underdeveloped.
Brute Science fills a long neglected gap in the debate by offering an innovative analysis of the scientific benefits of animal research. Although they do discuss basic research, the main thrust of LaFollette and Shanks’ argument is directed against applied biomedical research–in particular the use of animals to predict the courses of disease, the efficacy of new treatments, and any harmful side effects that might accompany the latter.
The practice of testing new drugs and procedures on animals prior to clinical trials is compulsory in many countries and arguably accounts for the greatest proportion of the live animals used in research.
The term “animal rights” poses vexing definitional issues, and these issues are complicated by the imprecision with which the term is so often used. Many people loosely associate “animal rights” with the idea that people have a moral, legal, or custodial duty to treat animals humanely. Such a gloss allows the notion of rights for animals to appear mainstream and to elicit support across a broad spectrum.
Peter Singer, who first articulated the ethical basis upon which much of the contemporary animal rights movement rests, prefers to avoid the use of the word “rights” altogether. “The language of rights is a convenient political shorthand” Singer wrote in his seminal book, Animal Liberation (Singer, n.p.).
“It is even more valuable in the era of thirty-second TV news clips than it was in Jeremy Bentham’s day; but in the argument for a radical change in our attitude to animals, it is in no way necessary.” (Singer, n.p.)