An incredibly stupid move for one who is otherwise a crusader against anti-science

Sep 02 2009 Published by under Animals in Research, Conduct of Science

Sorry Sheril, but I have to take you to the woodshed on this one.

Have you ever taken a picture of bears nuzzling in the field or kissing fish? How about a provocative pair of human subjects? (With their permission!) Are you interested in having an image credited to you in a science book debuting next Fall? If you're a photographer with intriguing pictures of kissing and cuddling [no higher than PG-13 content please], email me before September 14 at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

No, no, no NO! Bad Sheril!!!!!!!!

Here's the problem. Those animals are not humans. In particular there is no evidence whatsoever that their depth of inter-individual affiliative experience that we humans associate with "kissing" is even within several orders of magnitude of the human experience. Perhaps, just perhaps, there are behaviors that are within affiliative, grooming line that are at least in the same zip code as human kissing.
Your book, apparently, is going to be about the depths of human emotive experiences which are unique and complex and fascinating, I have little doubt. The tentative title includes the word science? And you are seeking to illustrate this with what are effectively scientific lies?
Bad enough right there.
But as you perhaps do not fully realize, the scientifically unbased anthropomorphizing of animal species is a very strong contributor to the feelings people have against the use of animals in research. Now, I will admit that it is entirely unclear which direction we should assign causality. Is it a reflexive anti-animal-use cant that drives people to assign all manner of human-like qualities to animals that the best-controlled studies cannot find evidence for? Or is it a belief in those nonexistent qualities that drives the feeling that we should not use animals for research purposes? Given the overt arguments are based on the latter, I will credit this as being a significant issue if it is not the only issue.
Therefore, Sheril, to illustrate your book with images designed to perpetuate inaccurate anthropomorphizing of animals is not just an insult to the idea that the book is about scientific understanding but a specific attack against animal research.
I encourage you to reconsider this illustration strategy.

82 responses so far

  • daedalus2u says:

    It isn’t just incredibly wrong, it is incredibly dangerously wrong.
    http://www.savebears.org/bear_news/comgettalk.htm

  • Greg Laden says:

    In the wild, chimpanzees do something a lot like kissing (keeping in mind that human 'kissing' is a pretty diverse phenomenon) (and no, I'm not talking about kissing as a metaphor for oral sex in bonobos!)
    In captivity, some chimps totally "get" human social kissing, it would seem. Of course, in captivity chimps seem to "get" a lot of things. They could probably "get" blogging in a snap if given the chance, now that I think about it...
    I tend to agree, though, that random cute animals poking their noses at each other and slobbering (which is what a bear does just before it eats something) is counter productive. A picture of a slobbering bear could of course illustrates the question you bring up here, and it is probably a good idea in a book on human kissing to talk about these boundaries.
    I find it very annoying that everybody thinks their pet kisses them.
    You do have a larger scale problem here, though. That is the conflict between animal-based research and animal conservation with respect to f-f-f-fr ... fra.... fra.. framing. Definite conflict.

  • jope says:

    Oh, please. Don't you have anything more substantive to complain about? *eyeroll*

  • Dude, I think you are taking a very dangerous tack if you are going to argue that justifying animal research depends on the animals that are used not being able to experience affiliative emotions as "deep" or "intense" as those of human beings.

  • mmr says:

    Gonna have to agree with jope and Comrade Physioprof. Your reaction seems odd-- there are better ways to defend the reasonable use of animal research. Besides, are you going to claim there is no evolutionary history for behaviors like kissing? I'm not sure what your point is. If you're just railing against anthropomorphism, why not rant about LOLcats.

  • Greg Laden says:

    ping
    Oh, CPP: Good point. This is the old 'be careful what you ask for' trick, sort of.

  • Greg Laden says:

    there is no evolutionary history for behaviors like kissing?
    We do know something about that, and I assume Sheril is covering that in her book. But I would say that human kissing is relatively derived, with the caveat that it is not just one thing.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I think you are taking a very dangerous tack if you are going to argue that justifying animal research depends on the animals that are used not being able to experience affiliative emotions as "deep" or "intense" as those of human beings.
    I am not entirely certain that this is what I did. I suggest that one of the arguments against animal use is that they are just like humans in these properties. Real evidence so far fails to justify this argument.
    I did not, however, argue the converse, i.e. that animal research is justified because of this difference on what humans consider to be emotional affiliation.
    Did I?

  • I don't think you did, which is why I used the phrase "going to argue", as it did seem as if you might be tending in that direction.
    Regardless, there is a severe fundamental rhetorical flaw in your argument. The fact that anthropomorphizing cute-looking shit that animals do might contribute to the credibility of animal rights wackaloonery is one single consequence of out of an infinite universe of such possible consequences. Ignoring for the moment that you haven't the faintest clue in what specific context Sheril is going to use the pictures she is soliciting, and whether she herself is going to argue that such animal behaviors are more or less similar to the human ones they remind us of, there might be extremely beneficial reasons for her to make such arguments.
    You are focused on one particular possible consequence because that consequence is very, very important to you personally. Not everyone necessarily prioritizes possible consequences of anthropomorphizing cute animal shit the same as you.

  • DrugMonkey,
    I'm very disappointed to read this.
    Considering you have no notion of the context with which the photographs will be used--not to mention the book isn't even complete yet--calling me 'incredibly stupid' in a public forum is uncalled for.
    It is also a particularly surprising move considering you have criticized others for passing ill-informed opinions in the past. I hope you will at least wait until the book comes out before name-calling and passing judgment.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    If you are telling me that I am inaccurate and that there is no chance whatsoever that your use of such seemingly-kissing photos of animals will result in further anthropomorphizing of animals* I retract the charge of "incredibly stupid". And I am delighted to have you apply it to me in return.
    If there is such a chance, then I stand by the charge.
    _
    *no matter what your intent might be.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Not everyone necessarily prioritizes possible consequences of anthropomorphizing cute animal shit the same as you.
    True enough which is why there is a comment thread here, not to mention blog platforms at wordpress and blogspot for the usin'.....
    there might be extremely beneficial reasons for her to make such arguments.
    My imagination fails me....such as?
    there is a severe fundamental rhetorical flaw in your argument. The fact that anthropomorphizing cute-looking shit that animals do might contribute to the credibility of animal rights wackaloonery is one single consequence of out of an infinite universe of such possible consequences.
    "infinite" is vastly overblown even for you PP. Nevertheless, since you admit that I have identified one credible consequence I fail to see how this is a "rhetorical flaw". I am advancing my hypothesis. You seem to feel it is an unlikely, albeit possible, outcome. Where's the "flaw"?

  • If there is such a chance, then I stand by the charge.

    In that case, it should be very clear that your charge that it would be "incredibly stupid" to draw parallels between human and animal behavior is in relation to one single possible consequence that is personally very important to you, and that it might be "incredibly smart" to do so in relation to other possible consequences that are personally very important to other people.
    Seriously dude, I am surprised that you are engaging in this kind of "But what about the children!?!?!?" form of hand-wringing wackaloonery.

  • becca says:

    DM has finally gone off the deep end. Or is he just looking for a fight?
    Dude, I don't know what kind of sublime/holy/surpassingly eloquent kissing you think you do, but I'm pretty sure non-human primates are entirely capable of Aunt Martha's peck on the cheek to indicate affiliation. There is overlap in human behavior and animal behavior. To claim otherwise based on science is impossible. In fact, the only folks I know who makes the claim in earnest cite another authority entirely.
    I'm with mmr. If anthropomorphism upsets your delicate sensibilities, go after those atrocious LOLcats. Or the sick people who dress up toy poodles.
    Also DM, you're whole "If there is even a CHANCE of this occurring, I am Teh Right!" strikes me as advancing arguments based on paranoia on par with Cheney's 1% doctrine. Except he at least set a threshold.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    other possible consequences that are personally very important to other people.
    such as?? help me out here, what's the upside?
    and oh yes, becca, we shall be dealing with LOLcatz, yes we shall...

  • Dude, if you start fucking with LOLCats, we're gonna have a motherfucking civil war on hands at this fucking blog.

  • Siamang says:

    Hey, here's an idea. Why don't you wait to see what her ideas are before you criticize them?
    I'm not a fan of SK, by any means. But I do know that she hasn't said how she plans to use them.
    "My imagination fails me....such as?"
    The failure of your imagination isn't an actual limitation on what Kirshenbaum may write.

  • bob koepp says:

    ... not to mention that one needn't anthropomorphize when looking for commonalities in the behaviors of humans and other animals, starting with the four Fs.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Why don't you wait to see what her ideas are before you criticize them?
    Because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
    becca's link- interesting point on the "dominion over animals" front. does that recommend exploitation, paternalistic oversight or what?
    The failure of your imagination isn't an actual limitation on what Kirshenbaum may write.
    no but objective reality is. I notice you don't provide any speculation on the topic yourself...

  • PalMD says:

    Oy.
    Dude, I love my Brother Drug, but c'mon. There are, even in my limited imagination, a bajillion ways to have a fantastic story to tell using pics of people kissing and animals doing whatever the fuck they do.
    Add to that the fact that cute pictures of animals (and to a lesser extent, people) brings people to the conversation (whatever that conversation is going to be).
    I actually think the idea is potentially brilliant. We do love animals (pets or food, dig?) and talking about how fercute they are is OK---even if we're about to braise them in butter, or use them in animal research, or turn them into sneakers. Human-animal relationships can be yummy, but also cute.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    I'm not a fan of SK, by any means. But I do know that she hasn't said how she plans to use them.

    No, she basically said, "You'll have to buy the book." No lessons learned, then, from the promotion of Unscientific America about adopting the marketing tactics of the woomeisters.
    It's also worth noting that she appears to be soliciting free photos to use in her commercial work. That's not necessarily an issue, but neither is it clear from her post, on which no one can ask for clarification because the comments are closed.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    No, she basically said, "You'll have to buy the book." No lessons learned, then, from the promotion of Unscientific America about adopting the marketing tactics of the woomeisters.
    oh, CRAP! I totally fell for it, just like PZ, right? I'm so pwned....

  • Roadtripper says:

    Interestingly, comments are closed on the post in question over at The Intersection.
    (Waiting for SK to clarify the issue, and DM's retraction ...or not.)
    Rt

  • becca says:

    1) Wooohoo! LOLcat civil blogwar!
    2)does that recommend exploitation, paternalistic oversight or what?
    Probably it will be interpreted to recommend/justify whatever the prevailing socio-cultural milieu is.

  • Siamang says:

    "no but objective reality is. "
    In my experience, a human being's potential to write something isn't limited by objective reality.
    "I notice you don't provide any speculation on the topic yourself..."
    Because I don't write speculative fiction.
    'No, she basically said, "You'll have to buy the book."'
    Well, libraries probably will still exist when she's done.
    Anyway, I'm Siamang, you're Drug Monkey. We're both athropomorphizing some primates here. I'm going to put on my clown-hat and get on my tricycle and ske-daddle.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Just wait 'til you see the chapter about you, DM.

  • Name totally withheld says:

    There's going to be a chapter on this! I know it!!!!

  • Those animals are not humans. In particular there is no evidence whatsoever that their depth of inter-individual affiliative experience that we humans associate with "kissing" is even within several orders of magnitude of the human experience. Perhaps, just perhaps, there are behaviors that are within affiliative, grooming line that are at least in the same zip code as human kissing.
    Ummm ... maybe this is the point that Sheril is planning to make in her book ...

  • David says:

    agreed that non-primates don't kiss, and non-human primates kiss in ways that are only vaguely similar to human kissing. photos of animals "kissing" isn't a real demonstration of animal affection. photos of other animal behaviors would be.
    mammals as a group are remarkable for showing affection, and physical behaviors that demonstrate affection and increase bonding. All mammal mothers are kind to their offspring and most have behaviors such as stroking, licking, or cuddling. There's clear evidence that maternal affection is necessary to support normal brain development in monkeys (think towelmonkey). Mammals all share the neuroanatomic and neurochemical substrates of emotion and bonding. Prairie voles are monogamous for life, and quite cuddly, mostly due to a single DNA base. Humans, engaged in self-interested calculation and negotiation, become more trusting when exposed to a little extra oxytocin.
    Somebody should write a book about the "expression of emotion in man and animals." Perhaps such a book, filled with field observations by an astute biologist, would be a good guide to understanding this issue. Oh, wait, somebody did write such a book... over a hundred years ago. Not much in it about kissing, but it's still a great read.

  • foo says:

    Haha! Since when did this site become Fuck You, Penguin!

  • Goatfucker says:

    ...Unscientific America about adopting the marketing tactics of the woomeisters.

    Oh, for fucking shit SZ. Seriously?

  • daedalus2u says:

    The reason we should oppose the anthropomorphizing of animals is because it is scientifically wrong and leads to an incredibly dangerous and stupid and idiotic and harmful and worse than useless ways about thinking about animals. Animals are not humans. Animals should not be thought about in human terms. Animals should be thought about in animal terms that are correct for that animal, not weird-ass distortions.
    It is scientifically illiterate to think about non-humans in anthropomorphic terms. To put pictures of non-humans in anthropomorphically suggestive pictures is just like finding pareidolia in rock formations and use that to suggest that the rocks had spirits in them. Or use pareidolia in trees to suggest that trees had spirits in them. Non-humans in anthropomorphically suggestive poses is pareidolia. People will think that it means that animals have human-like spirits in them, that those animals can be understood by imputing a human-like spirit to them, and that animals will act as if they have a human-like spirit in them.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Yes, Goatfucker, seriously. It's one of the marks of a book full of woo that any questions are met with "Read the book. It's all in there."
    This doesn't mean that any book where the author does this is full of woo, but it does mean that, at least at that point in time, the author is prioritizing selling the book over disseminating the information within it. That decision is up to the author and publicist, but they should know that playing it close to the vest will give them a reputation as unserious on the topic among audiences who are wary of the hard sell. It certainly happened with Unscientific America.
    I know I pay a lot of attention to publishing, but is this not transparent?

  • BerkLen says:

    The fact that most "animals" do not act like humans makes me admire animals all the more. Your distinction between homosapiens and all other animals is particularly unscientific.
    Your entire blog seems to exist as a defense for your professional life. If you really are all steamed up about LolCats in this insanely violent world, then I think your priorities are askew.

  • Letraix says:

    Call me cynical, but it seems that ripping into fellow science communicators is a great way of generating traffic for one's own site. One wonders where DM could have learned such a dastardly trick? It would also, hypothetically, (and even more cynically) be a great way to advertise one's shiny new book. If one had one, of course.
    Animals kissing? I do cringe every time I see that "Sunday Snog" thing. It reminds me so much of that awful "Barnyard" movie. You know, the one with rolling hectares full of lesbian cows, where the entire male bovine gender doesn't exist. Sure, city kids won't even notice, but I bet it caused a lot of confusion among farm folk.
    Kissing is interesting in its human context. Dunno how it's relevant to animals - I imagine that's what the book is about. Can't say I'm wildly intrigued, but I am already looking forward to the sequel, which will presumably deal with animal interpretations of other gratuitous human socio-sexual practices. Anyone wanna make a list?

  • Heraclides says:

    I suppose she could disclose the full purpose of the photos (after all she says that DrugMonkey has no idea, so I presume no-one else does either) and any copyright issues associated with her wanting them.

  • Yes, Goatfucker, seriously. It's one of the marks of a book full of woo that any questions are met with "Read the book. It's all in there."

    So lemme see if I've got this straight:
    A book author who is also a blogger asks her readers for photos related to an unpublished book that is still under preparation. Another blogger goes totally apeshit on the basis of almost zero information and tells the book author/blogger that she is BAD!ELEVENTY!!!11!!111 and is doing something INCREDIBLY STUPID!!11!!11!!ELEVENTY!11!!! And now you are saying that the book author telling the apeshit blogger to calm the fuck down, stop making assumptions, and read the book is a "mark of a book full of woo".
    This is some pretty abject dumbfuckery for someone who claims that her "field" is "communication" (although not at all surprising to me given what I know about your actual--as opposed to claimed--communication skills). Would *you* allow the rants of an apeshit blogger with a very specific agenda that you don't necessarily share to drive the dissemination of pre-publication information about *your* book?

  • Ian says:

    I'm no fan of Kirschenbaum or Mooney after the debacle over their last book and their behavior in "defending" it, but it seems to me like you're doing exactly the thing of which you accuse Kirschenbaum in that you're making a judgment about something for which you have no useful evidence, namely judging a book which not only you haven't read, but which hasn't even been published yet. You can't possibly know what she's planning on asserting in this book. Don't you think your censure is rather premature?
    Not only do you do this once in regard to Kirschenbaum's book, you repeat the same behavior in your comments regarding the anti-vivisectionists in asserting that their lack of acceptance of animal experimentation arises from misguided anthopomorphizing. Where is your evidence? Perhaps you have some, but for a science blog to host what ostensibly is an anecdotal claim with nary a reference in sight is rather sad, don't you think? I see this all-too-often in Sci Blogs. It does nothing but encourage those who would make similarly unsupported assertions for pseudoscience.
    I'm sure there are some people who view animal experimentation the way you claim, but what if there are other people - perhaps the majority for all I know - who harbor disdain for this because these people know exactly what pain and fear feels like and do not wish it to be imposed on other organisms which feel the same thing? We know they do feel the same thing because they share our evolutionary roots, and pain and fear are universal survival traits.
    This is neither to support nor argue against animal experimentation; it's to point out what seems obvious even to a non-scientist like me: those who blog about science really need to ensure that their blogs meet a certain standard, lest the blogger be accused of hypocrisy or double-standards themselves. I think that's worth some thought.

  • Sigmund says:

    "Would *you* allow the rants of an apeshit blogger with a very specific agenda that you don't necessarily share to drive the dissemination of pre-publication information about *your* book?"
    You make it sound like a Nature article in review.
    Its "The Science of Kissing" for fuck sake - I think we're somewhat closer to an Oprah topic than a serious peer reviewed study.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Nice quote mining, CPP.
    No, I wouldn't. But I wouldn't elevate the status of the argument by jumping into it myself. I'm not silly enough to respond to bad reviews of my writing, either. The only appropriate response is, now as always, "I'm sorry you don't like it."

  • Mark P says:

    I think I just learned something here: humans aren't animals.
    I wonder what they are?

  • Here comes the shark. Now, where is Fonzi?

  • Josh says:

    I have to echo some of the other thoughts mentioned here. I'm no fan of Sheril due to the many different fiasco's that have occurred, but this just doesn't fit.
    DM jumped to a conclusion and based a post off of that. A much better approach would have been "a cautionary warning", "please tell me you're not doing this." Instead the post jumped off with an insult and went from there.
    Sheril's response of "wait for the book and read it" does echo of the same woo-like attitude she had with UA, but that doesn't excuse bad behavior on the part of the opposition. I don't want to defend her here, but I do think the suggestion might be made that it could be that she doesn't even know yet how she's going to use such pictures.
    This is an unfortunate incident all around, but it never would have happened if Chris and Sheril's attitudes with UA had been different.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I think I just learned something here: humans aren't animals.
    I wonder what they are?

    I think what you need to do is read for comprehension. "These animals are not humans" is not equal to "Humans are not animals".
    Where is your evidence? Perhaps you have some, but for a science blog to host what ostensibly is an anecdotal claim with nary a reference in sight is rather sad, don't you think?
    If you read the comment threads following maybe a half dozen animals-in-research related posts here, at AiE&S and elsewhere around Sb you will immediately find the evidence you seek. You might otherwise Google up some ARA wackanut sites and you will not have to search hard to find the assertions.
    do not wish it to be imposed on other organisms which feel the same thing? We know they do feel the same thing because they share our evolutionary roots, and pain and fear are universal survival traits.
    You are wrong. I mean, yes, people feel this way and this is what I am addressing here. You are wrong in your assertion that any species "feel(s) the same thing" that humans do. Pain sensation is reasonably quantifiable and reasonably conserved in the more closely related species. but the subjective emotional reaction to pain, fear and the totality of the human experience? Not so much. Same thing with affiliative grooming/nuzzling, mothering behavior, etc. Same thing with communication/language. In many of what we think of as human-distinguishing traits there is a reason for that- because humans are vastly different from the other species.
    Along these lines I'll recommend this post:
    http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2008/02/insightful-animal-behavior-a-sufficiently-advanced-technology

  • David says:

    DM, if you've ever lifted a stick while near a junk-yard dog, you'll see it cringe. If you look closely you'll also see piloerection, and I'd bet that if you measured catacholamines you'd find a surge. All mammals share a range of behaviors that are supported by similar (if not identical) neuroanatomic substrates and neurotransmitter systems. What's different between humans and the rest of phyla mammalia is the involvement of a cortex supporting abstract cognition, symbolic language, and a complex theory of mind.
    There was a time when scientists needed to express caution to dampen anthropomorphism, and they did so with vigour, as you are doing now. Decades ago that kind of caution was appropriate. But the pendulum swung too far. To claim that animals don't feel emotions that are similar to human fear or love flies in the face of much of what we know about mammalian physiology.

  • DSKS says:

    "Its "The Science of Kissing" for fuck sake - I think we're somewhat closer to an Oprah topic than a serious peer reviewed study."
    I think DM's argument is a little off kilter, but I can sympathise with the gut instinct to be adversarial towards this kind of book for precisely the reason expressed in the quote above. As if we need more lightweight pop science cluttering up the discount section of Borders and causing the legs of coffee tables the world over to buckle under the strain of yet more ill-considered impulse-driven Christmas purchases.
    Is there even an established "science" relating to kissing from which to base a discussion of the topic in the first place? Because if this Huff Po article is anything to go by, the current level of research is pretty bloody flimsy with respect to Homo sapiens, let alone bears and fish (and this is from research in 2009!).
    Of course, judging by that article, and a similar one, regardless of the comical vigour of the 'science' involved, it 's the kind of dross that mainstream media laps up like a lolcat haz milk.

  • Stephanie W. says:

    Dodging around any arguments regarding parsimony and emotion (fascinating as I normally find them) to ask if anyone's planning to submit a pic of kissing gourami.

  • Kermit says:

    I really don't care about SK and her book. But I do note with interest the enthusiastic assertion that what appears to be kissing on the part of social mammals isn't really, not in any way, shape or form. I am old enough to remember when some behavioral scientists insisted that non-human animals didn't wage war (except for ants). They didn't make tools. They couldn't speak - at all. They didn't use math - at all. They've rather backed away from those positions now. While humans have a way of taking derived behavior and making it more complex, more multi-dimensional than other animals, I think it reasonable - even parsimonious - to consider that any behavior we do which looks like behavior other social animals do *may be derived or otherwise related.
    A lay tendency to anthropomorphize is no excuse to go overboard the other way. You did say "Perhaps, just perhaps, there are behaviors that are within affiliative, grooming line that are at least in the same zip code as human kissing". I should think any competent scientist who investigated the nature and origins of human kissing would want to discuss this.

  • Greg Laden says:

    I started a comment but it turned into a blog post. PING

  • Anonymous says:

    "I think what you need to do is read for comprehension."
    Bullshit. You're trying to hide behind a strained interpretation of your own words. "These animals are not human." Sure, that's true, but it's a basic "so what?" statement unless you think that humans are uniquely different, and that is the anthropocentric argument. In a scientific sense, anthropocentrism is no better than anthropomorphism.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    statement unless you think that humans are uniquely different, and that is the anthropocentric argument. In a scientific sense, anthropocentrism is no better than anthropomorphism.
    let me point out first that this blog is not written for anyone who is confused over the fact that humans are contained within the animal set. So I don't constantly specify "nonhuman animal"..I assume you can grasp this. If you do not, this blog is not written for you or you are playing sillyass semantic games instead of addressing substantive points. second, I am pointing to specific areas in which the quality of human behavior and experience makes them differ in highly significant ways from the similar behavior in other animals.
    Greg, nice try but you are attributing all sorts of motivations and beliefs to me that I have not communicated and may not hold. You go apeshit if anyone does this to you. just sayin. you are also conflating conservation goals with the reality of how a species behaves- nice dodge.
    They didn't make tools.
    yeah? and I'm old enough to remember
    "tool-using species AHA!" giving way to "uh, actually it is a transmitted learned behavior unique to troops, not species" and "nuh-uh, we didn't say it was all chimps" (when in fact they did). What's your point? I'm reasonably careful to say the controlled evidence doesn't support the contention that nonhuman animal experience of kissing is "just like" humans' experience. Did I say it couldn't possibly be so and could never be demonstrated to my satisfaction? no.
    Decades ago that kind of caution was appropriate. But the pendulum swung too far.
    really? how so? There are plenty of reasonably good scientists who believe they are on to something trying as hard as they can to demonstrate all sorts of human-like qualia in nonhumans. (You don't have to go far, just look at all the Alex-the-wonder-pigeon credulous blogging around the Sb parts...)
    So if some similarity is there, it will be found. The pendulum has not swung so far as to prevent such inquiry. I make my case for exactly why I think caution is still needed- because a "pendulum too far" misunderstanding of the present state of understanding in the general public powers an anti-animal research agenda.
    As I have said repeatedly, I have considerably less problem with ARA types who admit the fundamentally theological nature of their objection and don't try to base their arguments on misrepresenting reality. Factually mistaken arguments, those I have a problem with.
    What's different between humans and the rest of phyla mammalia is the involvement of a cortex supporting abstract cognition, symbolic language, and a complex theory of mind.
    Right. Similar but different. All we are debating is the qualitative nature or quantitative magnitude of the difference between human and other animal species.
    Josh @44: I take a much more sympathetic view on the UA book shilling behavior. This blogging stuff is not really a direct part of my job and career. Book writing and selling is an integral part of Mooney's and Kirshenbaum's careers. They are, no doubt, listening to people who tell them how to maximize sales and reach. Good for them. If they intentionally trolled up a fight with PZ and the rest of the anti-framing aieee! blogosphere to generate buzz for UA, good for them. If I am falling into the same marketing trap set intentionally or otherwise, good for them. So I have a quibble here and there...overall they are doing good things on the promotion of public understanding of science front.

  • Greg Laden says:

    So I don't constantly specify "nonhuman animal"..I assume you can grasp this.
    Just so you know, most educators would consider that bad pedagogy.
    Greg, nice try but you are attributing all sorts of motivations and beliefs to me that I have not communicated and may not hold.
    I can't think of any way in which I'm doing that, and it certainly is not my intention. I think what you are trying to do is to avoid fueling ALF-ites and their ilk with ammunition. I agree with you on that, but I think your method of doing it sucks donkey dicks.
    you are also conflating conservation goals with the reality of how a species behaves- nice dodge.
    Actually, I'm not. I am merely pointing out a conflict in the use of fuzzy wuzzies. There are people out there who are conservation scientists, etc., who are happy to see the use of the spotted owl or nemo to promote conservation, or at least open the door to the discussion. How is that not in conflict with what you are saying?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I think what you are trying to do is to avoid fueling ALF-ites and their ilk with ammunition. I agree with you on that, but I think your method of doing it sucks donkey dicks.
    I gathered. You have, however, erected the strawman that PP was gathering materials for. I have said the "they are just like humans" argument against animal use in research is not valid. What I have not done is to assert that the fact that nonhuman species do not kiss is the only (or even a major) argument in support of using animals in research. The argument I am at risk of "losing" as you put it, is the one you have inaccurately attributed to me.
    How is that not in conflict with what you are saying?
    Take your great ape example. Which, btw, are not used in any great numbers in biomedical research. If we take your uninformed speculation about what my perspective might be out of the equation, one can still point to a more general attempt by you to suggest that just because one might draw a hard distinction between humans and other great apes on some property this means that person is insensitive to the conservation goal. A classic conflating of arguments and a distraction technique. Just like the ARA tactic of conflating research with cosmetic product testing. A dodge.

  • Greg Laden says:

    the only (or even a major) argument
    Well, you sure pulled that one out of your ass, but yes, if I ever implied that your argument for using animals in research is buttressed mostly or entirely by the "fact" (which I remind you is not entirely true) that they don't kiss then I regret having made that implication. Indeed, I assume that your concern about kissing puppies is probably somewhat down on your list of things to worry about in the rhetorical game with the Animal Liberators.
    If we take your uninformed speculation about what my perspective might be out of the equation, one can still point to a more general attempt by you to suggest that just because one might draw a hard distinction between humans and other great apes on some property this means that person is insensitive to the conservation goal.
    I have not speculated on your perspective. In fact, as I wrote the bit in my post about the apes, I wondered what your perspective might be on that issue.
    A classic conflating of arguments and a distraction technique.
    Yes, I know a distraction technique when I see one. Why not just admit you went over the line and make up with your victimized colleague?
    Oh, and QE-fucking-D on the primary point of my post. You have created a conversation in which people who already agree on some very important issues are nitpicking with each other (you especially) instead of making forward progress. YOU'VE RUINED IT FOR EVERYONE again!
    Jeesh...

  • AK says:

    I'm not going to get into the discussions about motivations. But I'll point out w/re animals rubbing noses that with the exception of some primates (including humans) most mammals have functional vomeronasal organs which likely are more sensitive to liquid-carried scents, and are well-known to focus on pheromones. This means "kissing" by any process that involves transfer of body fluids into the nose slit has an important (potential) function in such animals that it doesn't in humans (or other great apes).
    Regarding anthropomorphism, IMO what's important is to remember, in potentially "homologous" behavior, that the human version evolved out of whatever behavior common ancestral mammals had, and thus the animal behavior should be evaluated on its own merits, without any reference to the human behavior, then parallels can be drawn by looking at the human behavior in terms of the animal behavior.
    Tool use and other "traditions" in great apes is a good case in point: whatever tool use was present in the common ancestor is probably reflected in non-human apes, while humans appear to have developed both a de novo territorial instinct towards hand-carried property, probably driven by tool utility, and substantial sophistication regarding tools driven by levels of language probably unknown among the other great apes.

  • Spartan says:

    Factually mistaken arguments, those I have a problem with.

    But you also seem to have a problem with anyone who provides fodder that can then be misconstrued by these people who are making factually mistaken arguments (leaving aside what has already been mentioned, that you have jumped to a conclusion on how Sheril is actually going to use these pictures, based on clairvoyance apparently). The fact that some will look at these kissing animal pictures and reach or buttress the erroneous conclusion that 'animals are just like humans and therefore shouldn't be experimented on' isn't her responsibility. Unless you think that myriad authors who have published the picture on the moon of the astronaut standing next to the flag that appears to be waving share culpability for the crazies who think that proves that the moon landing was a hoax, based on factually mistaken arguments.
    For all the talk of 'the human experience' and what-not and how obviously humans are different than animals, don't people who protest animal experimentation rely mostly on things we do know that are not essentially theological and not anthropomorphizing, namely that animals feel pain and suffer? I don't doubt there are many who do make factually mistaken arguments beyond that, but it seems to me that the scientific fact that they experience pain is a pretty good starting point for their protest. Not that I'm against responsible animal experimentation, I'm just not familiar with what specifically you are referring to with the mention of anthropomorphizing and 'scientific lies', as I believe there are arguments that involve neither of those.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The fact that some will look at these kissing animal pictures and reach or buttress the erroneous conclusion that 'animals are just like humans and therefore shouldn't be experimented on' isn't her responsibility.
    I disagree and I think it should be. Which is why I commented. Is this not obvious?
    don't people who protest animal experimentation rely mostly on things we do know that are not essentially theological and not anthropomorphizing, namely that animals feel pain and suffer?
    Yes and no. The vast majority of studies that use animals do not involve any "pain". There are regulations and procedures. Many acutely painful procedures must include pain management. There are actually studies that were used in developing the procedures that are used. Studies to find out if there was any way to detect that a rat, for example, is in "pain" after a given procedure.
    The ARA PR message works very hard to mislead about this and to give the impression that laboratory animals are in constant pain.
    Once you correct this, they immediately start slipping off into handwaving concepts of "suffering". Mostly by analogy of "how would you like to be in a lab rat's position". Again, you can start down the chain of "what is the evidence that this animal is expressing anything that looks like the type of suffering we are talking about". Also by arguing about different species "innate capacity for suffering" often (not always, often) without dealing with specific research environments and protocols. and always, always, trying to imply that all or the vast majority of animal use is identical to the best real example they can come up with.
    You very quickly back your discussant on the ARA side into the corners of "I would be suffering under those conditions so therefore the animal must be, even if we can identify no evidence for this" (anthropomorphizing) and "It is making them suffer and the failure to identify this with objective measures shows that you are conducting the investigations to hide such evidence" (theology).

  • Spartan says:

    DM, thanks for the background on the ARA's tactics and clarification on what you meant by anthropomorphizing; you don't seem to be saying that any objection to animal testing is just invalid anthropomorphic projection which I agree with. I do have to disagree with you here:

    I disagree and I think it should be. Which is why I commented. Is this not obvious?

    It's not obvious because I was unclear until now whether your objection is to just the pictures, or what you inferred the request for pictures meant as far as what she was actually going to say about them and kissing animals. Let's say Sheril includes these pictures in her book and yet clearly explains that there is no evidence of what I think you are concerned with, that these kissing animals are 'in love' just like humans are and have the emotional content, et al (and I think I'm being a little generous here; I would not be surprised if the origins of kissing came roughly from our animal ancestors doing what animals today are currently doing when they 'kiss'). She could specifically say that what these animals are doing is not at all what humans do when they kiss. You sound like you still object to this, because the ignorant may just look at the pictures and not read what she wrote.
    But that tack gets silly very quickly. You dodged around my analogy to the moon landing hoax believers; again, do you think authors publishing pictures about the moon landing are responsible for how conspiracy theorists then misuse them? Haven't countless people reached factually mistaken conclusions based on Darwin? I assume you think we should still allow his books to be published despite this. I just find this idea that scientists or authors are responsible for other people being factually mistaken concerning their work, barring something that directly misled them, to be obviously wrong, and that the blame falls squarely on the person who is actually mistaken.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Spartan, due consideration of impact and care of presentation is sufficient responsibility in my view

  • Mark P says:

    "second, I am pointing to specific areas in which the quality of human behavior and experience makes them differ in highly significant ways from the similar behavior in other animals."
    You are begging the question. Perhaps logic was not your best subject.
    There is a continuum of characteristics in the animals. We are closer to apes than we are to dogs. Dogs are closer to us than they are to cockroaches. But you blast all differences into insignificance with your claims to uniqueness. There are important (very important) areas in which we share a great deal of our characteristics with many other animals. Maybe kissing isn't one of them, but obsessive behavior is.
    You appear to be unable to back out of the corner you have argued yourself into. If you will just admit that your views are anthropocentric, we can all quit trying to be logical and go eat dinner.

  • Spartan says:

    Fair enough, if that's as specific as you'd like to get. Since you have no information about what Sheril has and has not considered and she hasn't even presented anything yet, it would appear that your harsh post is just a tad premature as you haven't even given her a chance to demonstrate whether she is being irresponsible or not.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    There is a continuum of characteristics in the animals. We are closer to apes than we are to dogs. Dogs are closer to us than they are to cockroaches. But you blast all differences into insignificance with your claims to uniqueness.
    Not all, no. I am talking about one in particular, i.e., the expression of inter-individual affiliation that we associate with human kissing.
    But since you state your continuum so boldly (and falsely), it is worth taking up another example which is perhaps better known. or "known" I should say.
    Language.
    Read up on the best we know about innate communication among birds, canids, primates, whales and any other semi-characterized species. From a linguistic perspective, not just a "gee-howdy they communicate ain't that fancy maudie" perspective. Do they have the *characteristics of a human language? Anything even close?
    Familiarize yourself with the stories of Washoe and Nim and the Premack apes. With Kanzi and Koko and Alex the African Grey. Not just the gee-whiz DiscoverChannel presentation but with the actual descriptions of what they were and were not able to accomplish. Read up on the painstaking incremental training histories that brought them to their state of accomplishment. Read up on the less-famous peers who, despite similar and sometimes improved training, never reached the levels of the more famous individuals. Alex the wonder bird was particularly unique.
    then.....after you've done all that. spend some time with normally developing human toddlers through the language acquisition period. spend some time with what we think of as significantly developmentally disordered children such as those with Down syndrome and consider their language talents.
    Next spend some time with adult humans acquiring languages of other formal character. Spoken languages and symbolic ones. Computer languages, music, maths.
    My conclusion is this. Nonhumans do not have language. Period. ...unless we are going to create a new name for what we do. Nonhuman species communicate, yes. Develop amazingly large semantic repertoires in some cases, yes. Can be trained to use some artificial (to them) symbolic communications. They lack, however, the flexible grammatic structure, verbs in many cases, neologisms and the multi-pronged parallels to the same goal of human language.
    Things that human toddlers acquire near effortlessly (see the Premack and GSU-LRC apes for your developmental environment criticism). Things that even significantly challenged human toddlers acquire-- imperfectly but with the obvious trappings of normal human language.
    In the case of language, there may be a continuum but if so it has one startling and dramatic discontinuity. Between humans and all other known species.
    It is a situation in which even the very most accomplished exemplar of the seemingly most accomplished species are more similar to, say, fish waggling their fins at each other in communication than they are to human language. A case in which you have to go to unbelievably artificial measures (wild child of aveyron type stuff) to *prevent* human children from acquiring language and even then they can sometimes recover.
    You don't have to take my word for it either. Get one of these animal-language scientists** in an academic setting (instead of the Discover Channel setting) and they will rapidly confirm my position. Oh, they might fight a little but ask for the data, training history and all that and they'll appropriately limit their description of what is being demonstrated.
    _
    *caveat on the state of extant knowledge. Again, I am not insisting that it is impossible and of course we do not know everything there is to know about the communication within all species. extant understanding, however, does not support an interpretation of human-quality language.
    **and yes, I have personally had the opportunity for greater than one of the famous language nonhuman / researcher groups.

  • Mark P says:

    Your claim that there is not a continuum of characteristics among animal species is absurd, unless you want to falsely claim that it must be continuous; that is, a smooth, unbroken, constant curve connecting all animal characteristics. That is obviously not true, and equally obviously not what I mean. That is like the creationists insisting that there is always a "missing link" despite the nearly unbroken chain of fossils between ancient and modern animals. You suggest that I observe various animals and then observe infant humans. I suggest you do the same, only with an open mind. If you do so, you will recognize quite a few similarities in behavior.
    Language = red herring+strawman. Perhaps if you read more widely you would realize that the question of non-human "language" has been thoroughly investigated by linguists, who generally agree that non-humans do not have what we call language. Nice try, but totally irrelevant.

  • Mark P says:

    This has been fun, but let me back up a little. We got way off course. The original question was whether you went a little overboard when you took the sledge hammer to Sheril. I think you did because you assumed she was going to go all mushy over kissy animal pictures and talk about how they are just like us, only with fur. But maybe she was going to say that when you think that animals are doing the same things as us for the same reasons, you are usually wrong. But, at the same time, looking at what (other) animals are doing, and why they are doing it, can enlighten us about what we do and why we do it. And maybe we aren't doing it for the reasons we think we are. But we won't know why she's asking for those pictures until we read the book.
    Actually, I won't know until someone else reads it and reviews it.

  • becca says:

    "uh, actually it is a transmitted learned behavior unique to troops, not species"
    What, like blogging? Or maybe that is a regressive learned behavior.
    "I have considerably less problem with ARA types who admit the fundamentally theological nature of their objection and don't try to base their arguments on misrepresenting reality"
    I have a considerable problem with scientist types who don't admit the fundamentally theological nature of their positions that humans are special.
    I mean come on...
    "People will think that it means that animals have human-like spirits in them, that those animals can be understood by imputing a human-like spirit to them, and that animals will act as if they have a human-like spirit in them."
    Human-like spirit? I call invisible pink unicorn.
    'Our language = qualitatively different than other animals communication' isn't much better. What is the special element, the linguistic phlogiston, that is unique to humans?
    (I'm willing to concede orders-of-magnitude *quantitative* differences in many things humans do compared to many other examples. Our eyes compared to planarian eyespots? No contest. However, I'll also argue that we think things like language are important precisely because they are what we do well. If our relative evolutionary success corresponded with being the bloodhounds of the animal kingdom, we'd be arguing that our sense of smell is qualitatively different from that of other creatures)

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Nice try becca. The things that dissociates theology from science in this application are as any other. non-falsifiability, special knowledge that is not available to others, suspicion and outright denial of the available evidence, pronounced unwillingness to entertain the notion one might be wrong. None of these things characterize my position.
    I make it quite clear when I refer to humans being unique that I am referring to specific behavioral traits, not some nebulous concept of uniquity such as that you are attempting inaccurately to paste onto me.
    your phlogiston crack is likewise nonsense. first it betrays a sort of dualist ignorance of brain-behavior relationships. if there are unique differences in a trait like language, heck yes, it will be based on the structure and function of the brain. second, it tries to deny the evidence at hand (behavior) by saying if we do not know precisely enough for your liking what the brain mechanisms are, this must obviate the behavioral observation. try to stick to the discussion at hand.
    orders of magnitude quantitative differences versus qualitative differences eventually become a semantic quibble, do they not? what part of orders of magnitude differences between humans and nonhumans and considerably less difference between nonhumans is inconsistent with my original point? do we need to draw a graphical representation?
    What, like blogging?
    sure. do you actually read the discussion or just quote mine for snark? I was responding to the contention that just because scientific understanding has changed in the past, this in and of itself means that I am incorrect now. I was pointing out is that on at least one popular "how similar to humans" topic, the historical shifts can move in both directions. Not to mention slipping in a bit of evidence for how the behavioral approach triumphed yet again over the essentialist comparative cognition nonsense. cautionary tales on the conduct of science and all that.

  • Spartan, due consideration of impact and care of presentation is sufficient responsibility in my view

    Dude, you went totally apeshit on Sheril--"No, no, no NO! Bad Sheril!!!!!!!!" + "take you to the woodshed" + "incredibly stupid move"--without *any* information whatsoever concerning Sheril's degree of "consideration of impact and care of presentation".
    It's time to sack up and admit that you reacted precipitously on an insufficient factual basis to something that is emotionally salient to you. Continuing to dig in your heels is making you look foolish.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    you reacted precipitously on an insufficient factual basis to something that is emotionally salient to you
    from you this is hilariousness itself. I read your blog, dude.
    Look I said quite clearly that if I am mistaken I retract the charge and am happy to have an accusation of "stupid move" returned. Sheril can take care of this quite simply by giving a brief overview of her intended use of the pictures with an assurance that she is in fact sensitive to the anthropomorphizing issue and does not plan to exacerbate the problem. Absent that, I will await the actual book and we can decide at that point if my concerns end up not applying.

  • Sheril can take care of this quite simply by giving a brief overview of her intended use of the pictures with an assurance that she is in fact sensitive to the anthropomorphizing issue and does not plan to exacerbate the problem. Absent that, I will await the actual book and we can decide at that point if my concerns end up not applying.

    I am very concerned that you are TORTURING KYOOT KITTEHS IN YOUR BASEMENT! BAD DRUGMONKEY! NO! NO! NO!!!! I am going to TAKE YOU TO THE WOODSHED!!
    You can take care this quite simply by giving a brief overview of what goes on in your basement--including photographs of any possible KITTEH TORTURE APPARATUSES and explanations of what you are legitimately doing with those possible KITTEH TORTURE APPARATUSES--with an assurance that you are in fact sensitive to the KITTEH TORTURE issue and do not plan to exacerbate the KITTEH TORTURE problem. Absent that, I will maintain my concern that you are TORTURING KYOOT KITTEHS IN YOUR BASEMENT, and we can decide later if my concern ends up not applying.

  • It makes me feel sad when mommy and daddy fight.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    PP, dude, if you had some sort of affirmative evidence at all on that, you might have a point. Sheril solicited animal-kissing pictures in the explicit context of planning to publish them in a book on kissing. I pointed out concerns I had about this. She responded with "you are a big meanie" but didn't address the substance.
    nobody is making sheist up out of whole cloth around here save you. perhaps this is because you hold an irrational emotional attachment to LoLCatz anthropomorphizing? and you don't want to do the hard work of analyzing whether your harmless amusement might actually be antithetical to other goals you may (or not) support? so you deflect this with a version of "why you gotta get all hysterical?" and "it's no big deal" and "you are taking this out of context" and.....
    see, we can all make shit up to distract from the point at hand..

  • JohnV says:

    If we outlaw lolcatz then only outlaws will have lolcatz. Please, think of the lolz.

  • ildi says:

    Isis @71 wins the thread. I'm going drinking now.

  • Danimal says:

    Hmm. DM vs CCP. Interesting.

  • Hmm. DM vs CCP. Interesting.

    What would be really interesting is you shutting your gibbering boring-ass tedious motherfucking mouth.

  • PP is in rare hilarious form around the tubez today.

  • Danimal says:

    What would be really interesting is you shutting your gibbering boring-ass tedious motherfucking mouth.

    HAAAHAAAHAAA. Funny. You made my day.

  • Prometheus says:

    Why does it not surprise me that Kirschenbaum inadvertently comes up with a proposition that has all the sophistication of giving circus chimps cigarettes before proceeding to an incompetent defense of her plan.
    If it reaches a complexity beyond "Shut up!" or "Quit being mean to me." I will get out the popcorn and find a comfy char.

  • Spartan says:

    DM, this is an ancient post, but I was just curious as I saw this article and photo today and thought of this post:
    http://tinyurl.com/yz5yosn
    It's a photo of, what appears to be, chimps mourning the death of another chimp, along with an article describing other evidence of their grief. I was curious to what extent the publishing of this article merits the same objections you raised in this post, if at all. Is it not objectionable because there is more evidence that some animals actually experience grief, more than there is for 'kissing', and therefore fair? I would think that a photo and article like this dwarfs anything that could possibly be said or shown about 'kissing' as far as anthropomorphizing.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Spartan, I don't find this picture objectionable. It depicts the Chimpanzees gazing on the scene. Nothing more, nothing less. There's a bunch of anthropomorphic interpretation foofraw in the article that I might question but the depiction does not, in and of itself, show this alleged "mourning".
    I would differentiate this from depicting lip to lip (or beak to beak or wtfever) contact in the context of a book on kissing, you bet.

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