Animal Ethos: The Morality of Human-Animal Encounters in Experimental Lab Science

Animal Ethos: The Morality of Human-Animal Encounters in Experimental Lab Science

by Lesley A. Sharp

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What kinds of moral challenges arise from encounters between species in laboratory science? Animal Ethos draws on ethnographic engagement with academic labs in which experimental research involving nonhuman species provokes difficult questions involving life and death, scientific progress, and other competing quandaries. Whereas much has been written on core bioethical values that inform regulated behavior in labs, Lesley A. Sharp reveals the importance of attending to lab personnel’s quotidian and unscripted responses to animals. Animal Ethos exposes the rich—yet poorly understood—moral dimensions of daily lab life, where serendipitous, creative, and unorthodox responses are evidence of concerted efforts by researchers, animal technicians, veterinarians, and animal activists to transform animal laboratories into moral scientific worlds.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520299252
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Lesley A. Sharp is the Barbara Chamberlain & Helen Chamberlain Josefsberg ’30 Professor of Anthropology at Barnard College, Senior Research Scientist in Sociomedical Sciences at Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and Fellow at the Center for Animals and Public Policy of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine of Tufts University. She is the author of several books, including theThe Transplant Imaginary: Mechanical Hearts, Animal Parts, and Moral Thinking in Highly Experimental Science; and Strange Harvest: Organ Transplants, Denatured Bodies, and the Transformed Self, which won the Society for Medical Anthropology’s New Millennium Book Award.

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The Sentimental Structure of Laboratory Life

Experimental scientists inhabit a world bereft of both a lexicon of affect and venues for expressing emotions for laboratory animals. In contrast, among animal technicians and lab veterinarians, "compassion fatigue" (Kelly 2015; Scotney, Mclaughlin, and Keates 2015) — especially in response to animal "sacrifice" or euthanasia — has garnered attention, and terms such as "grief," "loss," and "anger" alongside "pain" and "distress" figure prominently in associated literature, workshops, and symposia that target lab animal caretakers. When I ask lab researchers about the emotional burdens associated with lab animal suffering, without fail they reference the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), their in-house ethics boards (known as institutional animal care and use committees or IACUCs), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements, alongside disciplinary bioethical codes of conduct, to underscore that proper experimental design and animal management prevent acts of undue harm (and, thus, by association, their own emotional distress). Such responses are not unique to animal research: they echo those that typify physicians' responses to the subject of patient "suffering" in clinical settings (Sharp 2009a). Actions that cause excessive or unwarranted harm are deemed unethical.

This black-boxing of suffering does not preclude affection and concern for lab animals, however. As I learned during my previous research on artificial heart design, experimental bioengineers rarely regard the research calves and sheep with whom they work as mere work objects. Rather, many develop strong emotional attachments to creatures they recall fondly decades later, their personal histories as scientists entwined with those of long-deceased research animals (Sharp 2013). More recently, while working in a range of other laboratory domains, I regularly encounter affective responses to myriad species ranging from zebrafish and mollusks to rodents and monkeys. In essence, laboratories are affective menageries.

Throughout this chapter I navigate the complexities of interspecies intimacy in experimental science, focusing on the muted presence of affective registers as evidenced in researchers' actions and thoughts regarding animals. (In subsequent chapters I consider the sentiments of animal technicians and veterinarians.) Early in their careers researchers become well versed in standards of animal "welfare" and "enrichment" while simultaneously mastering emotional detachment when working with a range of species. Their personal actions and private concerns nevertheless reveal that research animals engender strong emotional responses. Procedures and protocols that require injuring, culling, or killing animals are especially significant in shaping what I reference as the sentimental structure of experimental science.

In my efforts to discern affect and sentimental structure in laboratories, I ask: How do the moral practices associated with animal welfare extend beyond the boundaries of mandated and standardized ethical codes of conduct? How are various species imagined? That is, how might animal categories, certain species, or hierarchies of value and preference shape responses among scientists? How does one master detachment, and what are its consequences? How do encounters with at least some animals perhaps foster a sense of kindredness across the species divide? As I demonstrate, wider public sentiments for certain kinds of animals have had a profound effect in shaping animal welfare legislation. These ongoing reforms are dialectically entangled with laboratory practices, a process that informs — and transforms — scientists' personal responses to animals they understand as falling under their care.

Harm and Animal Value

Human-animal intimacy is a variegated domain of quotidian laboratory life. In an effort to bring order to this complex realm, I pause here to map out the overall logic of my analysis. To begin — although the term itself is rarely, if ever, spoken — the notion of "harm" is an inescapable aspect of laboratory research, where standardized protocols might involve depriving animals of sleep, water, nourishment, bedding, room to move, and companionship. In addition, death is widely accepted as the inevitable outcome of many experimental procedures. Researchers and their staff are regularly involved in culling and killing animals through selective breeding; in response to illness, injury, or failure to thrive; and as a precursor to necropsy at the conclusion of an animal's experimental involvement. Many procedures bear the very real potential for causing physical injury or emotional distress to animals by way of, for example, injections, incisions, surgeries, handling procedures, restraints, housing practices, aural stimuli, and weaning protocols. Even very basic procedures associated with numbering systems — including ear notching, toe clipping, and tattooing — harm or mar animals' bodies. In response, ethical lab science requires extensive training in and a keen awareness of how best to prevent, dampen, or respond to pain, fear, and suffering in animals, where enrichment strategies are key. As all researchers know, animal welfare is central to ethical experimentation. When put into practice, it defines the core of moral science too.

Public awareness of (and sometimes outrage over) this peculiar conflict — that quality research often necessitates harming animals — has proved pivotal in shaping lab animal welfare reforms in the United States, especially since the 1960s. Various iconic species — most notably non-human primates (NHPs) and dogs — dominate widely publicized efforts for legislative and regulatory reform. My aim here is not to provide a comprehensive social history of lab animal activism, welfare initiatives, and associated legislative outcomes (but see Jasper and Nelkin 1991, 1992; Lederer 1992; Ritvo 1987, 125–66). Instead, I am intrigued by how public sentiments for certain kinds of animals, as evidenced in the discourse of welfare reforms, loop back (Hacking 1995) and transform researchers' own professional practices and, more significantly, their personal moral frameworks.

The widespread use of animals as experimental subjects is based on a "model" approach in which animals stand in as human proxies. Within this framework, decisions to work with particular species demonstrate a standardization of animal preferences, where researchers' choices are informed by scientific principles that shape understandings of which animal model provides the best match for solving a particular experimental problem. Standard parameters include, for instance, body mass or overall size, life span, reproductive capacity, anatomy, mutations achieved through selective breeding and genomics, and species temperament. A range of overarching principles drives the model approach, namely, that working with animals avoids causing harm to humans; that because animals are captive subjects, scientists have greater control over conditions that can influence experimental outcomes; that short gestation periods, rapid maturation, litter size, and histories of domestication render many animals ideal lab subjects; that animal studies are more economical than those involving humans; and that, presumably, animals are easier to manage than are human patients. More broadly, contemporary, federally mandated research protocols generally require extensive animal research before new surgical methods, drugs, and other procedures can be attempted on human beings. The fact that many experiments conclude with euthanizing animals (a procedure that is often understood as done for the animal's welfare to prevent future or further suffering) precludes human experimentation.

Yet, as I demonstrate throughout this chapter, researchers' personal preferences for particular species likewise shape choices regarding which models to use. This private logic is most often informed by a researcher's personal history with different sorts of animals, and it surfaces as one of both preference and aversion. For example, one researcher might find crab- eating macaques more manageable than rhesus monkeys, her career marked by decades of working with the former even though colleagues in the same field typically employ the latter. Others may flag "sentience" as a reason for choosing certain experimental paths that enable them to work with say, dolphins, ferrets, or crows over flies and fish; still others express an aversion for these same species because they equate sentience with the animal's ability to anticipate physical harm, and thus they consider it immoral to employ them in experiments. Young, inexperienced researchers especially express a strong dislike for mice, whose skittishness or social habits under duress trouble them, and so they gravitate toward rats because they find them more affectionate and trainable. Certain species, however, stand out as generating the strongest personal, moral struggles: throughout my interviews, NHPs, dogs, and, though lagging in third place, pigs surfaced regularly as species with whom researchers often faced the toughest decisions about whether to use them in experiments because of "sentience," a term that elides intelligence with self-awareness and, most recently, an animal's capacity for empathy. Another determinant involves the sentimental attachment to pets at home, an experience that often precludes a researcher's ability to work with these same species (most frequently, dogs) in the lab. Within the broader framework of ethical scientific practice, affective responses flag the existence of a personal and private moral register.

Throughout my fieldwork I asked researchers not only about the species they considered ideal models, but to explain if and where (or when) they might draw the line to exclude animals with whom they would not work. As I learned, whereas the former discloses the logic of modeling as a standardized scientific practice, the latter uncovers eclectic and personal forms of animal preference and sentiment. Although I had anticipated that NHPs would surface as a common exception, in fact dogs proved more significant as icons of moral practice (a sentiment shared, interestingly, by both researchers and animal activists). With this discovery in mind, throughout this chapter canine lab subjects will serve as important guides in my efforts to navigate the moral landscape of experimental science.

A core concern of this chapter is how species preference informs the sentimental structures of science. I begin by considering the significance of affect and sentiment as analytical principles, turning next to a discussion of how public notions of harm — as evidenced in animal welfare legislation — have reconfigured researchers' moral frameworks. As I demonstrate, certain "iconic" species have proved pivotal in facilitating reforms by invigorating public awareness and, in turn, altering scientific practices. Here, dogs figure prominently. I then pause to consider how researchers develop "best practices" in experimental science. This involves, most notably, an ability to master emotional detachment when performing tasks that injure lab animals, demonstrated by a novice research assistant based in a mouse vivarium. In turn, I explore what building a successful working partnership between a human researcher and non-human experimental subject entails, in this instance with a rhesus macaque. By way of conclusion, I loop back and focus on the laboratory's favorite working canine, the beagle, who has long been a choice species of scientific research and the flashpoint for long-standing political battles over humane care in labs.

Affect and Sentimental Structure

In my efforts to expose researchers' obscured affective responses to animals, I argue for the need to focus on the "sentimental structure" (Needham 1962; Wilson 1971) of laboratory science. I employ this expression in a distinctly anthropological sense. Earlier schools of British and French anthropology were marked by lively debates over the significance of "sentiment" in human relations (most often in reference to marriage rules) when individual feelings and desires successfully circumvented jural, normative, and sanctioned codes of conduct, enabling unorthodox, undesirable, or forbidden unions. As Rodney Needham, Peter Wilson, and others demonstrated, emotional attachment could trump, redirect, or short-circuit orthodoxy (Evans-Prichard 1929; Lévi-Strauss 1969a; Needham 1962; Radcliffe- Brown 1952; Wilson 1971; see also Hutchinson 1996, 237–70). Notably, Wilson was especially sensitive to the flexible, temporal nature of affect and sentiment, in which the social station of the actor, the context, and relational factors both mattered and could shift over time (1971, 207). I argue that similar patterns emerge in contemporary laboratory contexts: on the one hand, standardized methods of animal care codify proper decorum, yet on the other, researchers nevertheless regularly reframe ethical standards in ways that can incorporate private moral codes of conduct. As such, the concept of "sentimental structure" is especially helpful because it provides a clear path for realizing the emotional power of human-animal encounters to reconfigure laboratories as not merely ethical but moral domains.

Burton Benedict, who displayed a lifelong interest in the values assigned to captive subjects (1983), encouraged anthropologists to consider how the study of human societies might translate to animals' worlds. Benedict was alert to the affective dimensions of social relationships; he was troubled, though, by the ineptness of the popular term "bonding" to capture the complexity of affection, asking, "Yet what is it that makes up the bond?" (Benedict 1969, 211). Benedict asserted that relationships fall "at least in pairs" (1969, 204) — a basic social unit that served as a building block of sorts for mapping the structure of affection — and that dyads were central to both human and animal behavior. As he explained, "to discuss the behavior of an alpha animal implies that there is at least a beta. To discuss the role of a mother implies the existence of offspring" (1969, 204). Within the laboratory (what Benedict might well have considered an intriguing "novel situation" or "context") (1969, 206–07), the same might be argued for encounters across the species divide.

Much has been written in recent decades on human-animal encounters in science (Franklin 2003, 2007; Friese and Clarke 2012; Svendsen and Koch 2014; Taussig 2004), most notably in response to Donna Haraway's inspiring scholarship. As Haraway demonstrates, scientific research frequently necessitates very particular forms of intimacy between humans and animals (1989, 1991, 1997). As such, an affective framework pervades much of her work (most recently that on companion species) (2003). I confess, however, that I balk at the playful "promises" (1992) borne by dyadic human-animal encounters as imagined by Haraway. This is because her celebratory assertions at times overshadow the serious realities that pervade lab animals' lives, whose emotions remain elusive, for whom "sacrifice" or killing is an inescapable endpoint, and whose needs are eclipsed regularly by those of researchers.

Anthropologists have long been interested in the affective qualities of human-animal partnerships, work that predates Haraway, of course. Classic scholarship includes Evans-Prichard's analysis of the bovine idiom in Nuer society (1940); Leach's marvelously playful essay on verbal abuse (1964); and the work of French theorists, from Mauss and Hubert to Lévi-Strauss, who were intrigued by the importance of animals in totemism and exchange systems (Hubert and Mauss 1964 [1898]; Lévi-Strauss 1963). Indeed, anthropologists have long recognized that pastoralist societies especially are marked by richly fluid forms of sociality among humans and animals (Ingold 1980). Yet another longstanding interest concerns the social consequences of the human domestication of ungulate, canine, porcine, and other species (Marshall Thomas 2010; Morey 2006, 2010; Schwartz 1997; Zeder 2012).

I reference this older literature to underscore that, as an anthropologist, I am by this point in my career hardwired to think of animals in social terms or, at the very least, as domesticates, a sensibility, I intend to demonstrate, that lends itself well to the laboratory. A significant aspect of Haraway's interventions is her astute assertion that interspecies intimacy defines an inescapable tension in scientific contexts, where encounters bear possibilities of transformation for each party across the species divide. Thus, when I employ the concept "sentimental structure," I entangle two registers of knowledge: the first involves professional notions of species proximity (as embedded, for example, in the "animal model" approach as a specialized form of domestication), whereas the second concerns individual or private forms of animal favoritism. This first register is structural, the second affective. As I will show, certain species are especially effective (and affective) at occupying both registers, most notably dogs (more particularly, beagles), who have long been simultaneously favored research subjects and house pets, and who bear significant moral weight (a finding that certainly resonates with Haraway's own dogged pursuit of this species) (Haraway 2003). My intent, then, is to delve into the hidden crevices of ethical science to consider how the complex logic of animal value loops back and informs an individual researcher's private sense of moral worth.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Moral Entanglements in
Experimental Animal Science
Accessing Animal Science
Everyday Morality in Laboratory Practice
The Boundaries of Interspecies Encounters
The Parameters of Ethnographic Engagement

part i: intimacy
1. The Sentimental Structure of Laboratory Life
Animal Welfare and Species Preference
Modeling Human-Animal Intimacy
The Intimacy of Laboratory Encounters
Affective Politics
Conclusion: Sentimental Values
2. Why Do Monkeys Watch TV?
A Monkey’s History of Visual Media
Primetime for Primates
Macaque Care in Practice: Welfare as Domestication

part ii: sacrifice: an interlude
3. The Lives and Deaths of Laboratory Animals
Animal Erasures
Beyond the Trope of Sacrifice
Managed Suffering and Humane Care
Reimagining Moral Frameworks of Care
Conclusion: The Limitations of Humane Death

part iii: exceptionalism
4. Science and Salvation
The Politics of Animal Suffering
Specialized Practices of Animal Welfare
Eclectic Forms of Animal Exceptionalism
Conclusion: Totemic Creatures
5. The Animal Commons
The Ethos of Sharing
Uncommon Creatures
The Animal Commons
Conclusion: Other Animals’ Fates

Conclusion: The Other Animal

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