Weird Science: PETA is no Friend of STEM

Original Article

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) makes no moral distinctions between humans and animals, believing, as its alpha wolf Ingrid Newkirk put it once, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” The organization opposes any instrumental use of animals—no matter how beneficial to human thriving—insisting that they are “not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.”

PETA’s adamant opposition to animal research puts it squarely in the anti-science camp. Not because they are ethically opposed to such experiments—although that marks the group as anti-human in my book—but because the organization routinely slanders animal researchers as cruel and sadistic and persists in its false and dishonest claim that animal research provides no medical or scientific benefit.

Given PETA’s unyielding antipathy to a crucial scientific sector, one might reasonably wonder why the USA Science and Engineering Festival—which touts itself as “the nation’s largest celebration of STEM” (science, technology, engineering, math) would welcome PETA2 (the group’s youth division) to propagandize children against the centrality of animal research in the medical sciences. But there the group was at the April 7-8 festival in Washington, in booth 1144, pushing an initiative called “the science of saving animals.”

As part of its contribution to the STEM festival, PETA distributed a comic book entitled A Rat’s Life, a diatribe against animal research and researchers. The comic first seeks to humanize rats—animal rights groups often anthropomorphize—by stating, for example, “If no one forces them to live in an unclean cage, their skin has a nice perfume-like scent.” PETA forgot to warn the kids not to smell the rodents too closely, as rats can carry dangerous diseases such as leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can cause serious liver and kidney damage. The comic book also tells its young readers, “Rats are smart, curious, and friendly. They can be as outgoing and gentle as any human.” And they can bite and chew humans, too, though that part didn’t bear mentioning.

Having established that rats are people too, the anti-science propagandizing begins. A girl named Sally introduces herself to Sam and his mother, who have just moved into the neighborhood. Sally has a dog she loves, but Sam has a “rat friend” named Sunshine, who was rescued from a “cruel test at a college in North Carolina” where “she didn’t have a name, just a number.” In the next few panels, the comic seeks to upset its young readers with tales of gruesome research, accompanied by cartoon images of a monkey with its brain exposed and dogs being gassed in military experiments.

Upset by what she has been told, Sally asks, “Isn’t it illegal to test on animals? I saw a movie where animal testing was banned.” Sam replies, “In the real world, animal testing is still allowed. There is no law to stop any experiment, no matter how ridiculous or harmful.”

No, Sam: In the real world, animal experiments are closely supervised by ethicists and governed by mandatory rules and voluntary laboratory accreditation guidelines. There have been abuses and mistakes—and when they happen there are often serious legal consequences. But overall, the animal research sector is well regulated and dedicated to the ethical pursuit of important research.

The comic next invokes the authority of Sam’s mother against disease-fighting charities. When Sally mentions she wants to raise money for the American Cancer Society, Mom warns her that the society, the March of Dimes, and the American Heart Association “hurt animals.” She adds, “Animal experiments really won’t help save anyone’s life. In fact, a lot of animals will suffer and die for nothing. Animal testing just uses money that could be spent helping people, not hurting animals.”

To coin a relevant phrase, rat poop. Almost every significant medical breakthrough in recent decades required animal research. Computer programs and cell lines allow a reduced use of animals in research—a good thing—but they certainly don’t eliminate the need. Not only does experimentation on animals—mainly rats and mice, but also larger animals, in more advanced testing—provide basic biological information, but at some point, a new drug, surgery, or more innovative treatments must be tested on living organisms for safety and efficacy before being tried on human beings. After all, if the research is going to cause harm—and sometimes it does—better that it be to rats or monkeys than to human beings.

PETA does what zealots do: It pursues its ideological cause by almost any means short of violence. In that light, A Rat’s Life is par for the course. The real mystery is why a proudly STEM-promoting convention—held, in part, to spark a love of science in children—would rent a booth to sworn enemies of biological science so that they could propagandize against that vital goal.

Cross Published from The Weekly Standard

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.