Cost-Benefit Analysis: What is the implicit value that Animal Rights Activists Place on a Mouse's happiness?

Scientists have created the world’s first schizophrenic mice in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the illness. . . . .

Animal rights campaigners have condemned the research, saying that it is morally repugnant to create an animal doomed to mental suffering.

The mice were created by modifying their DNA to mimic a mutant gene first found in a Scottish family with a high incidence of schizophrenia, which affects about one in every 100 people. The mice’s brains were found to have features similar to those of humans with schizophrenia, such as depression and hyperactivity.

“These mutant mice may provide an important new tool for further study of the combinations of factors that underlie mental illnesses like schizophrenia and mood disorders,” said Takatoshi Hikida, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, a leading researcher. . . . .

One the one hand you have a disease that reportedly affects one in a hundred people. Even say that it is just people in Europe and the US who are affected, so we may be talking about say 8 million out of 800 or so million. On the other hand, possibly say 8,000 mice will be breed with this mutant gene (admittedly it may be fewer, but I am just picking an easy number here). Let us also assume that this research will only lead to a cure with a one percent chance. That means that animal rights activists would have to place a ten fold greater weight on the happiness of these mice than they do on people. My guess is that my numbers here are greatly weighted in favor of making the animal rights activists look reasonable (especially regarding the number of people affected by the disease), though on the other hand I may be too optimistic on this approach solving the problem (I really don't know). If you believe that the probability of this approach curing people is only one-tenth of one percent, the animal rights activists would be placing an equal weight on the happiness of both mice and people. Is this really serious thought? I don't even know that the term happiness applies to mice since it requires that they be self aware and I guess that I have a hard time believing that is the case.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I honestly do not believe that analyzing this in a purely pragmatic fashion really captures the intent of the animal rights movement nor the argument posed by the scientists. This is just not that simple.

7/29/2007 4:57 PM  
Blogger John Lott said...

OK, anonymous. So what does capture it? Whether they admit it or not, the animal rights activists are at least implicitly putting a relative value on the humans and the mice.

7/29/2007 9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John wrote:

"Whether they admit it or not, the animal rights activists are at least implicitly putting a relative value on the humans and the mice."

Absolutely, totally correct. Your take on the consequences of their opposition is exactly right: saving a few research animals is more important than saving thousands of humans.

The central premise of AR "ideology" is that humans and non-humans are of equal moral value, that to discriminate on the basis of differences between species (speciesism) is as morally reprehensible as to discriminate on the basis of differences between race (racism).

In short, if it is morally or ethically wrong to do something to a human, it is equally wrong to do it to a non-human. So you don't hunt animals, or use them in experiments, or use them in service (guide-dogs) for humans, etc.

If you understand this, you'll understand ALF sympathizer and former ALF spokesman, Prof. Steven Best, who is famously on record as saying he'd save his dog from a burning building before he'd save a human stranger: since both lives are of equal value, he'd save the one that brought him pleasure. (The "Me First" ethic -- woe to you if the stranger were your child, wife, parent or friend.)

In practice, the AR people would sooner see the devastation of habitat, due to deer overpopulation for example, than to cull the deer herd by human hands, even though that devastation would include the destruction of the means of life for many other animal species.

More to the point, AR people would ban biomedical research outright if it involved using animals, irrespective of how many human lives would be saved, irrespective if spin-offs saved countless animal lives as well. Unless the animals could give consent, which they obviously cannot.

(Parenthetically -- AR advocates strongly support spaying and neutering of dogs and cats, and rich PeTA regularly kills a far greater percentage of animals taken into their shelter than impoverished shelters in their region. If animals and humans are of equal moral worth, AR activists are either violating the central tenet of their beliefs, or they would be willing to spay and neuter humans -- or kill them -- for the same reason they do animals. How chilling is that?)


7/30/2007 12:53 PM  
Anonymous Nimrod45 said...

"A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy"...

7/30/2007 3:59 PM  

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