Polling Attitudes on Animals in Research: The Lie of the Truncated Distribution

Apr 23 2009 Published by under Animals in Research

I'm happy to be a poll crash nimrod and point you to one being run on the LA Times blog piece covering the UCLA Pro-Test demonstration (start here, here).
They are asking if you endorse:

  • Yes -- and I support it if the animals are treated well
  • No -- it's inhumane by definition and I don't support it
  • Not sure

Only 67 votes as of this writing? I think this thing needs a larger sample size, don't you? I'm all about the science, you know. Just trying to help out.
Now, there's little need to get too worked up about web polls that don't do a good job of covering the likely response space, right? They all fail on this. I mean, yeah, I'm a little ticked about the concern trolling inherent in "if the animals are treated well", but that's not a huge deal.
Nevertheless, consideration of the poll options says something critical about the discussion. Somthing that people who constantly want advocates of animal research to "meet them in the middle" need to consider.
This is only part of the distribution of viewpoints, the middle and only one extreme.


Let us assume that much like many other human attitudes and traits, views on animal use in research are expressed in a distribution. For argument's sake, a normal distribution or bell curve.
Now, where might we place the LAT blog poll questions along the axis? Where might we place various discussion topics that have arisen on this blog, on Janet's and elsewhere?

BellCurve-AnimalUseAttitudesSm.png

(okay, okay, they didn't actually ask for the ARA terrorist response depicted on the left but they should've.)
I would argue that the vast middle of the distribution is captured by people concerned with Animal Welfare in some manner. Those concerned with Animal Rights are in fact already pretty far out on the distribution. The fact that the discussion, such as it is, is dominated by these two perspectives overlooks completely legitimate and arguable parts of the spectrum. [By "legitimate", this does not mean that I agree with them. In the sense that I consider them to be part of the discussion as much as the animal-rights perspectives are. Something to discuss, not something we necessarily endorse.]
The evidence is pretty clear that the not-discussed part of the distribution exists. Animal fighting came to huge awareness with the Michael Vick episode. You can sniff out certain "man has dominion over the animals" perspectives associated with religions. If you grew up rural you for sure know a certain mindset that is not overly concerned with the welfare of animals. I would argue that these are relatively rare positions and, please note, it is a distribution of attitudes. By the time we get to what we might consider an utter disregard for animals altogether we are pretty far out there on the tail.
Animal research science as an enterprise and the vast majority of scientists in my direct experience inhabit the middle zone of being very concerned about animal welfare. Firmly inhabit this zone. And most of us are as concerned about the complete-disregard-for-animals tail of the distribution as we are about the ARA nutter who firebombs a researcher's car.
Where do you place your marker on the distribution? Who are you asking to "meet you halfway"? Why is it not your extreme position that requires moderation?

11 responses so far

  • neurolover says:

    "If you grew up rural you for sure know a certain mindset that is not overly concerned with the welfare of animals."
    Are you quoting personal experience here, DM? I've always found farmers/animal owners to have the similar understanding of animals as those who work with animals in research. Yes, horses, dairy, and even chickens are working animals, and they will eventually die, but their health usually matters. Historically, at least, that would be expected of farmers.
    Not sure exactly what happens in the "factory farms." But, I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that abuses are policy rather than an abuse of policy (any more than I would do so in a research lab).

  • DrugMonkey says:

    If you grew up in rural regions you are simply more likely to observe the full distribution of attitudes because of opportunity provided by regular proximity to various animals. That's all I was saying.

  • cashmoney says:

    The LAT poll has recently shaken off a challenge mounted by the anti-animal-research voters. Still a close thing. Where are the poll crashers? Use multiple browsers!!!!! Keep voting!

  • claire says:

    You don't have to use multiple browsers if you have Firefox, just hit ctrl+shift+del to clear your cache and refresh šŸ™‚

  • Mr. Gunn says:

    Up to 1700 responses now, looking more and more like the distribution illustrated above.

  • Cashmoney says:

    What? They poll-crash too? Ha! Keep voting people- multiple browsers, clear the cache, ...... Just do it!!!

  • eric mills says:

    Animal research is rather like waterboarding: Results at any cost, ethics and valid results be damned.
    As G.B. Shaw said, "Anyone who vivisects wouldn't hesitate to lie about it."
    Is everyone aware that more than 90% of the animals used/abused are exempt even from the minimal standards of the Federal Animal Welfare Act? Which is nearly useless to begin with, as it does not cover the experiments themselves, only housing, vet care, etc. Does not apply to rats, mice, birds, farm animals, etc. The research aside, most lab animals never see the light of day or set foot to earth. That in itself is abuse.
    We'd better pray that karma isn't true, else a hard rain's gonna fall.

  • Paul Browne says:

    Those of you wishing to make a more robust show of support can sign the Pro-Test petition at http://www.amprogress.org/site/c.jrLUK0PDLoF/b.5110163/k.1CA0/ProTest_Petition_Show_Your_Support_Research_Advocacy.htm
    Eric, DrugMonkey himself has shown in previous blog posts that your implication that most animal research is completely unregulated is a lie.
    http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2008/08/animals-in-research-iacuc-oversight

  • Pinus says:

    I wish that everybody who wanted to talk about animal research had to sit through all of the lectures and training that I have to. Moreover, I wish they could sit in my office with me for the time that I am not allowed to do any experiments on animals because I haven't got my protocols approved. I would provide a comfortable chair, as it will likely be another month, maybe more.

  • cashmoney says:

    Check out all the polls by this poll author at polldaddy.
    http://answers.polldaddy.com/user/392313/
    Most of them get a couple of hundred votes, this one is at 72,316 with 90% voting in favor of animal research.
    Whichever of the ARA groups was trying to poll crash, they just couldn't click fast enough to stave off the numbers on the side of research. They really are a fringe element, even on the intertoobz.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Thanks Paul. I've also explained that the Helms amendment which excepted purpose bred rats, mice and birds from the AWA provisions does not in practice reduce oversight and regulation to any large extent. This is because of other sources of overlapping regulation and procedures adopted to put AWA into practice for the covered species tend to be applied to the Helms species as well
    http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2009/03/animals-in-research-mice-and-rats-and-pigeonsoh-my
    "nearly useless...as it does not cover the experiments themselves"? Sounds like an interesting parsing or willful ignorance. The AWA is here
    http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/downloads/awa/awa.pdf
    go read. takes me matter of seconds to scroll down to 2143.a.3.A

    for animal care, treatment, and practices in experimental
    procedures to ensure that animal pain and distress are minimized,
    including adequate veterinary care with the appropriate use of
    anesthetic, analgesic, tranquilizing drugs, or euthanasia;

    or 2143.a.3.E

    that no animal is used in more than one major operative
    experiment from which it is allowed to recover except in cases of--
    (i) scientific necessity; or
    (ii) other special circumstances as determined by the
    Secretary

    and that's just a starter. Of course, as with most Federal law dealing with regulating, there are other regulatory bodies which are responsible for putting the Act(s) into practice. Those regulations come to have the same authority as if they were in the law.
    for example the USDA regulations expand and extend the provisions of the Act
    http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/downloads/awr/awr.pdf

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