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Oh, rats

Thank you for an honest attempt to report both sides of the issue of protection of lab animals ("Of rats, mice, and birds," SN: 11/18/00, p. 334). Please consider this hypothesis: Within the next millennium, extraterrestrial life forms considering themselves far superior to humans discover our planet and easily put us at their disposal, including use in experiments. Unless our lives are recognized as inherently valuable, we could be considered as expendable as rats, mice, and birds were to the research community. Try rereading the article substituting "humans" wherever rodents and birds are mentioned. You might gain a perspective other than one based on monetary considerations.

Barbara Cox

St. Louis, Mo.

The animal researchers have one serious fight on their hands. As scientists have worked away in their respective fields, much has changed politically in the past decade. Americans used to believe that if you had a case, it went to trial and was settled. Now, the court is the end in itself, a constant tool with which to bludgeon your opponent into submission. Trial lawyers now write the laws via settlements that restructure entire industries.

Now, it's the sciences' turn to face the monster Animal rights zealots see this as a religious war. Estelle Fishbein was absolutely correct to say the antivivisection groups' goal is to wear the researchers down through costly measures. (That larger-cage ploy will resurface--it works well.) The animal rights credo is "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." I wish this were all a joke, but it is a nightmare come true. Researchers using animals must immediately find white knights with deep pockets, unite (and avoid squabbling), join and assist other similar fights in society, and, most important, inform the public so it gets on the researchers' side.

Barry Andrus

Ada, Mich.

For the small comfort it offers, it is good that the Department of Agriculture has agreed to classify as warm-blooded animals rats, mice, and birds, as intended by the Animal Welfare Act of 1966. Their smaller size does not diminish the suffering of the 23 million of these animals used every year in labs. The hidden snag to this step forward is that it does not address the fact that using animals to gain knowledge of human conditions is unreliable. Because there are so many interspecies differences--some on an anatomical level, others on cellular and molecular levels--results on other species apply to humans only coincidentally.

Bina Robinson

Swain, N.Y.

It is heart-warming to see the efforts being made to ensure that laboratory mice, rats, and birds are kept in a clean, stress-free environment with proper nutrition, adequate space, and good ventilation. I suggest that the imposition of these guidelines be withheld until they have been implemented with respect to researchers and university faculty. Graduate students might also fall under these rules. But, that may be carrying things a bit too far.

Jef Raskin

Pacifica, Calif.
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Publication:Science News
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Jan 6, 2001
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