“Animal research… much harm with very little benefit” – Neuroscientist Dr Katherine Roe from PETA – Sentientism Episode 147

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Katherine is chief of Science Advancement and Outreach (SAO) at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). SAO aims to change the paradigm of biomedical research by promoting the development and implementation of cutting-edge strategies in biomedical research and training and eliminating the use of animals in experimentation. Katherine earned her bachelor’s degrees in biology and psychology from Syracuse University and her Ph.D. in experimental psychology and cognitive science from the University of California–San Diego. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University, she went on to become a research fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health, where she stayed for eight years. Over the course of her research career, she studied the neural correlates of linguistic, spatial, and memory processes, working with children with early focal brain injury, adults and children with schizophrenia, and individuals with Williams syndrome and related genetic disorders. Katherine has more than 20 years of experience conducting brain and neuroimaging research with humans and is an expert at experimental design and data analysis. She has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and has presented her findings at national and international industry conferences.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” The audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:

01:29 Katherine’s Intro – from neuroscience and the NIH to PETA

  • “About half of biomedical research… involves very invasive procedures with animals”
  • “It became clear to me that that assumption… that the harms we were doing were justifiable… fell apart… the harms were much greater than I realised but also… there’s a lot of species differences that make data from these labs difficult to translate into benefits for humans.”
  • “Then the question becomes… well what are we doing?”
  • “Trying to make sure people realise how sentient these animals really are… they have their own needs & wants & desires”
  • Previous episodes with Ingrid Newkirk & Aysha Akhtar

04:55 What’s Real?

  • “Religious but not deeply religious” parents – Anglican, episcopalian Christians
  • “It never really took”
  • Not needing external reasons for “wanting to cause as little harm as possible and to live in harmony with the world around us”
  • Learning about animals through science “started to change the way I viewed them”
  • Starting with food – then questioning zoos, horse racing & much later scientific research
  • “I don’t think of myself as religious today”
  • Unitarian if anything… the principles that are consistent across & beyond religions
  • “I would love for something more supernaturalistic to take place in my own life”
  • Open minded about things science can’t (yet) explain
  • The comfort of believing there’s someone out there that cares about us
  • Problems with science “scientists – all of them – are fallible… the pressure to publish”
  • Retractions, corrections, fraud, replication failures
  • “Many scientists have lost sight of their original goal… to get accurate answers”
  • “Scientific integrity is in a crisis”
  • “That’s what science is – it’s supposed to constantly evolve”
  • Denial, scepticism, gullibility (to grifters on YouTube)
  • Critical judgement & assessing sources
  • Polarisation
  • Science needs to be “treating the public as intelligent”. Honest & transparent. Not over-simplifying
  • Provisional & probabilistic credences (vs. binary beliefs)
  • @dailymail ‘s awful “X causes cancer… X cures cancer” pattern

24:54 What & Who Matters?

  • “Increasing your circle of empathy to include everyone and everything…”
  • “Every animal who feels pain or fear or can suffer matters… every person matters”
  • “Humans… tend to consider ourselves the superior species… & that everything around us is here for us… instead of being here with us”
  • “There’s always a consequence… every decision you make doesn’t just impact you”
  • Compassion & thoughtfulness
  • JW Concerns about #teleology “we’re all here for a purpose… us humans normally assume that we’re the point!”
  • “Part of an intricate network… interacting with the purposes of those around you.”
  • “Reject this notion that humans are the purpose”
  • “Our capabilities… may be different – but they’re not superior”
  • Sentience as the justification “most people can understand… elicits an empathy… I’m not sure it guides my own behaviour”
  • “They don’t want to suffer any more than you do”
  • Reading the horrific methods sections of papers based on animal research “it can be devastating… putting ourselves in the position of another”
  • “The best way to go through life is to assume that what would hurt you would hurt somebody else”
  • Previous conversations with Frans de Waal, Walter Veit, Mark Solms on the nature of sentience
  • The most fundamental needs are the ones we care about the most and the ones we share most widely “we all want to avoid pain & suffering”
  • Evolution & natural selection “pain usually – not good”
  • Panpsychism, illusionism or “shut up and do the science”?
  • “I do think of it as a survival level drive”
  • Putting sentiocentrism into practice “A series of lightbulbs… starting out with vegetarianism”
  • “Just the visual imagery of what was going on in these farms was enough…”
  • Veganism, but no activism
  • The San Diego zoo. Thinking “is this OK?” Imagining a human zoo – needs met, but autonomy constrained
  • Horse-racing and hearing about fallen horses being “put down”
  • “That just started me thinking about anywhere that animals were being used”
  • It’s easier to condemn things we’re not complicit in “safe things to reject… and I started with the easiest things”
  • “Once I had to start about my own behaviours… that was where the challenge came in… animals exploited for science was the last frontier”

46:49 How Can We Make a Better Future?

  • “There was a protective bubble around animals used for science… I was part of that community.”
  • Most people thought “animals were treated well… minimally harmful… only if necessary… going to benefit humans”
  • Misinformation even within the scientific community
  • “Animals suffer incredibly in laboratories – and that’s just baseline… taking an animal out of the wild or buying an animal from a breeder and keeping them in a cage for their entire lives – it’s harmful”
  • Tumour grafting, cutting into brains, inflicted with diseases, given chemicals, neurological damage, tissue damage,
  • The use of “cute” animal imagery in the media to depict animal research
  • Science has demonstrated the psychological (fear, stress etc.) & physical harms
  • Scientists saying “how interesting!” about animal ethics, morality and emotions… but not caring
  • Gini the dog makes an appearance 😊
  • Scientists claim non-human animals are similar to humans re: research validity but ignore their similarity to humans re: sentience, emotion and social bonds
  • “The other myth I would like to debunk is that any scientific research that uses animals is benefitting to humans – that is flagrantly untrue”
  • Very high failure rates in drug development (92-95% of drugs declared safe in animals will go on to fail human safety tests. Nearly 100% failure rates for sepsis, HIV, Alzheimer’s, cancer)
  • Public relations and press re: “promising new result from animal experiments” without mentioning their almost inevitable failure
  • “Is it OK to hurt a few mice to benefit millions of humans?” – that isn’t the actual question. “The question is – is it OK to kill tens of millions of animals each year forcing them to live a life of misery & suffering… on the off-chance that this might benefit a human 20 years from now?”
  • Is there a spectrum of animal research from more to less justifiable? “Once you come to adjust your mindset that animals are not here for us… they are sentient… it’s not justifiable at all”
  • “However, when you’re working to change a system… sometimes you do need to work along a gradient”
  • Much research is purely curiosity driven & has no possible justification re: helping humans
  • Risks of motivated reasoning even when our motives are good!
  • “If you’re using animals in harmful procedures for science you’re going to convince yourself that it’s going to benefit somebody somewhere… the people who can’t do that are the ones who get out…”
  • “Are there non-animal, non-harmful ways to answer some of the more important questions? – there are.”
  • Developed because of animal ethics concerns but also purely because of the science “they’re concerned about the quality of the science… we’re so different from non-human animals… the diseases we’re trying to treat are often non-existent in non-human animals”
  • Imaging tech to see human biology, organs on chips, human organoids “often derived from the patients themselves…” so perfectly individualised
  • “We are wasting an enormous amount of time and energy and money – and harming… hundreds of millions of animals each year – on a paradigm that isn’t working”
  • “The ethics of the harm & the lack of benefit make it so important that we change”
  • Coalitions: patient advocacy groups, animal rights groups, the scientific community “People are starting to find this common ground”
  • Motivating law makers and policy makers: The FDA Modernisation Act now passed! The FDA can use non-animal methods now
  • “People need new drugs… faster… cheaper… ineffective animal tests make it costlier”
  • PETA’s Global “Research Modernisation Deal” evidence-based phase out plan “Our motivation is the animals… but the science supports it 100%”… “ending animal experiments where we know they don’t work…” training so scientists can transition, methods evaluation frameworks…
  • “It’s a win-win-win”
  • Can people working to transition animal agriculture and animal research learn from each other?
  • Transparency… “challenging people’s assumptions… engrained beliefs about these industries”
  • Using imagery “people don’t like it… but we will show them”
  • The biggest challenge is not just changing people’s mindset… but that a lot of the ways animals are exploited… have benefitted people monetarily.”
  • Breeders, animal importers, animal experimentation equipment, scientists… “There’s a lot of people making a lot of money off these industries. It’s important to make sure that the public knows that some of the messaging they gets is from those folks”
  • “Our motivation is questioned all the time… but we’re not making money off of this… but there are people who are.”
  • JW “Getting the facts straight and winning the ethical argument just isn’t enough… we need to find ways of presenting really attractive, easy opportunities for everybody involved… in their terms presenting a better way”
  • Livelihoods, identities and cultures are “generationally engrained” in these harmful industries. Need for a compassionate #JustTransition
  • “We’re not taking money away from the research community… we’re just moving it slightly… and the research community is very good at following that carrot.”
  • “Help them want to do it then help them actually do it”
  • Redirecting subsidies towards transitioning
  • “Questioning everything… whether it is harmful to anyone”
  • PETA Research Modernisation “PETA literally has more scientists on staff than any other animal rights organisation”
  • “Get the animals out of those labs, keep the scientists employed and get the patients the cures and treatments they desperately need faster and cheaper.”
  • Science Advancement and OutReach @SAOScience on Twitter
  • “Animals who are stressed out and lonely give bad data”
  • “I have no philosophical label for myself so if you want to give one to me based on this discussion… I think I like Sentientism”
  • Persuading 8 billion humans to agree with “evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient beings” through YouTube and podcasts 😊

… & much more!

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info.

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Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

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