Pro-Test: Standing Up For Science
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31/07/06

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Recent debates

Debating Matters Final – “Inspiration Lecture: Pro-Test: Standing up for Science”

On 30 June, Pro-Test Committee members Tom Gartrell and James Panton took part in an “Inspiration Lecture” at the national final of the Institute of Ideas’ “Debating Matters Competition” at the Wellcome Trust in London. The competition gives A-level students the opportunity to argue over important ideas and current affairs. The Inspiration Lecture, “Pro-Test: Standing up for Science”, was intended to encourage an audience debate over the principles of animal testing, as well as demonstrating to students that the ideas they argue out in the debating chamber can have a very real impact in the public sphere. Considering that Pro-Test’s founder Laurie Pycroft is the same age as the Debating Matters participants, Pro-Test are clearly an inspiring model for how intellectually engaged youngsters can make a political impact.

Tom Gartrell introduced the event, explaining why Pro-Test was set up and forwarding both the scientific and ethical arguments for animal testing. James Panton then highlighted some of the broader and more controversial issues surrounding animal testing, including issues such as primate testing. The debate was then opened up to the students, who were able to question, dispute and develop the arguments already made, as well as raising ideas of their own.

Interestingly, the scientific arguments for animal testing were disputed by only one audience member. Otherwise, all appeared to accept the objective fact that animal testing works scientifically. After all, animals and humans have a lot in common in terms of their biology, so the former can serve as a very useful model of the latter. The main point of conflict for the students was whether animal testing is justified – given that it works and that human beings benefit from it. Since many anti-vivisectionist groups wrongly challenge the scientific validity of animal testing in order to further what is really an ethical position, it was refreshing to engage in a genuine debate over the real issues. Students challenged Pro-Test’s representatives with questions such as whether it would be justifiable to conduct scientific tests upon orphans or severely disabled people, whether life has objective value and whether humans are more important than animals.

The perceptive questions and comments raised by Debating Matters competitors are indicative of the some of the most important issues surrounding vivisection and how these arguments are largely ethical in their nature. Pro-Test and others campaigning in support of science would do well to engage in these arguments and promote this side of the public debate further.

Pro-Test at the Boyd Group

On 19th July, Pro-Test presented their ideas to the Boyd Group – a UK-based forum which discusses issues concerning animal research. The Group brings together scientists, antivivisectionists, philosophers, representatives from animal welfare charities, government members and others, allowing for a dialogue which clarifies the positions and concerns of these diverse parties, and to push for common goals where consensus exists. For Pro-Test to present their position in this context may seem unusual, since Pro-Test, while aiming to promote public debate concerning vivisection, does not seek common ground with those opposed to animal research. While Pro-Test recognises the right of antivivisectionists to hold their views, we entered the debate in order to inform the public about the importance of animal testing and win their support for it. However, the Boyd Group recognises that consensus may not always be possible and, in such cases, aims to highlight key areas of contention between different parties. It hopes that this will allow for a more informed public debate, rather than letting rhetoric rule the day. While Pro-Test has organised two noisy demonstrations, we are not about rhetoric and certainly support reasoned debate. The marches, as well as being shows of solidarity with scientists and the academic community at Oxford, were attempts to draw attention to the important issues which we want discussed. It was therefore useful for Pro-Test to contribute to the Boyd Group in order to highlight these arguments.

Tom Gartrell from the Pro-Test Committee spoke to the Group of Pro-Test’s aims and activities, and made the scientific and ethical arguments for animal testing. A wide ranging debate followed, raising issues such as whether human consciousness and the ability to test on animals make it justified, the differences between testing and torture, and whether, in so-called “marginal” cases, humans should be tested upon. The Group also wondered whether Pro-Test’s “extreme” position detracts from the “middle ground” and finding commonalities between both sides of the debate. Some scientists at the group certainly view some animal experiments as unnecessary and felt that humans should discriminate between “useful” and “useless” experiments. Pro-Test, however, supports open-ended research that may not be directly relevant to developing new treatments, since such tests often lead to a greater understanding of various biological processes and can, in turn, lead onto the discovery of useful treatments. We do not support needless cruelty to animals – such acts are a poor reflection of our humanity and amount to torture. However, we do not view animal testing for scientific purposes as needless, since it allows many human beings to benefit from medical progress, as well as increasing our understanding of biology generally.

Originally Posted by Lee.

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