BBC Wildlife Magazine.) But I can be just a bit concerned about what she covers in her short review. She makes it seem as if the main message of my book is that Jonas Salk was right to experiment on animals in the 1950s, and prehistoric cavemen were entitled to kill animals for survival. In other words, she seems to think I'm out to defend human prerogatives
But no, not at all. I'm out to defend animals from human disrespect and cruelty. I tackle hard cases like Salk and the caveman in order to be a believable advocate for animals. We know it's OK for a starving caveman to kill for food. But why? Another thing we know: when relief workers go into a disaster area, it's right for the first responders to save the humans first. Again, that's a very hard thing to explain, but we need to explain it. Otherwise, the whole idea that animals deserve respect and compassion will start to merge with an implausibly extreme egalitarianism.
The discussion of Salk comes from the 8th chapter of Animalkind, which begins with examples of medical research -- the good but also the bad and the ugly. I argue that Salk's research cannot be condemned if we think the caveman's survival hunting is ok. But that's not the main point of the chapter. I give lots of examples of horrific animal research, and I argue at length that lab animals are insufficiently protected under US law. The main point is quite clear -- that we owe much more to animals than we are now giving them, even if they do not have a status exactly equal to our own.
Besides the above concerns, I have a quibble or two. O'Connell says the number of monkeys killed in Salk's research was 17,000, but that was just in the first stage. I say the total number was 100,000. She says in the 50s "medicine had not advanced sufficiently to allow virus culture without live incubators." But I point out that by the 50s virus was being cultured in vitro, thanks to the pioneering work of John Enders in the 1940s.
Finally, a philosophical point. I ague in the book that different animals are owed different amounts of respect. There's more to respect in a dolphin than in a dust mite, so we must be much more careful to avoid killing dolphins than dust mites. O'Connell worries that if we think along these lines, we'll have to think sophisticated aliens would be justified in using us for food and experiments.
Perhaps she sees that as a reductio ad absurdum of my position, but I wonder if she could seriously embrace the egalitarianism she seems to be urging upon me. Does she really want to condemn the caveman, Jonas Salk, and the first responders who save humans first? If she approves of them, why? What makes their conduct not just understandable, but right? My explanation is that there are differences in worth that separate members of different species. It's not pretty to say so--yes, it sounds nasty and elitist. But that may be what we simply have to think, if we are willing to think about it.
And yes, if we think that way, then we have to accept that humans could get the short end of the stick if we were visited by super-sophisticated aliens. That's an unpleasant thing to contemplate, but it doesn't seem preposterous.
A more serious worry, to my mind, is that inegalitarianism about dolphins and dustmites could lead to a pernicious sort of inegalitarianism within our own species. People aren't as different from each other as dolphins and dustmites, but there are huge differences. After a natural disaster, the least capable people surely don't have to stand at the back of the line. I argue that egalitarianism within our species is required, even though egalitarianism between species is not. (For details, see chapters 5 and 6.)
If you're reading the book and have comments feel free...here or by email.