112 thoughts on “A word to the unwise from a peeved (and tipsy) scientist

  1. Ha ha I saw that on FB tonight & wondered if it were real. Too bad about some little typos but the reply is still better than mine if I were tipsy.

      1. One boring day many years ago when I was at university, I was home alone with nothing to do. There just happened to be a full bottle of whiskey sitting on a side table and dart board hanging on the wall. That’s when it came to me. Everything needed for an important ground breaking experiment.

        So, I gathered together paper & pencil, a shot glass and my darts. After thinking about it I decided on 301. I figured cricket would take to long. Then I commenced, one shot then one game, another shot another game. Meticulously recording each throw and each shot of whiskey.

        By the end I was of course slobbering drunk so I had to wait till the next day, the next afternoon actually, to analyze the data. I then created a graph which I framed and hung on the wall. Wish I still had that graph, but I lost it somewhere over the years.

  2. RAMEN!

    It brightens my day to know that the person who wrote said rant is an immunologist — that’s exactly the attitude the professionals in that field need.

    And I still say that immunizations should be involuntary, performed by force if necessary, with only valid medical excuses permitted (severe allergies, compromised immune system, etc.).

    Hooya!

    b&

    1. Ben (or anyone):

      Do you know if there is any movement afoot to make vaccination required by law? Creationism and other modern bits of ignorance are laughable and anti-intellectual, but as you commented once about a prominent anti-vaxxer, “this lady has a body count.” Seems to me that some lawmaker somewhere would react.

      1. Do you know if there is any movement afoot to make vaccination required by law?

        And the consequences? Where are you going to put the recrudescent idiots?
        We’ve got a reasonable number of uninhabited offshore islands with sufficiently horrible weather and lethally cold seas to not need a lot of guarding. Oh, I suppose that there’s plenty of such islands in the Aleutians. I doubt the Canadians would be too keen to sell you a barren rock, but they might have one available.

        1. That’s why I favor just sticking needles in their arms. Problem solved — and a lot more cheaply than shipping them off to some barren rock, let alone the ammunition expended when they attempt to leave.

          But, Mark, no, I don’t know of any such movement.

          Proof of immunization is theoretically required for children to attend public schools, but there are more exemptions offered than there’re holes in a Pastafarian’s colander, and private or home schooling is available for those wishing to opt out of public education altogether. And I don’t think there’s ever been any requirement for adult immunization, aside from certain job-specific cases.

          Frankly, it’s never been necessary in the West before. Only recently have people turned into complete and total blithering fucking idiots on the matter.

          Cheers,

          b&

          1. let alone the ammunition expended when they attempt to leave.

            I did specify “lethally cold seas”. I’m a relatively hardy body, and not unfamiliar with keeping it together while suffering from hypothermia ; I wouldn’t try swimming more than a few hundred metres in the North Sea – maybe a half-km in the Atlantic.
            Let them try. It’s good crab food.

            1. Well, I suppose you’ve got a point, there…

              …but there’s still the rescue attempts by their fanatical cohorts, not to mention the fuel to get them there in the first place…and were we going to supply and / or resupply them?

              b&

              1. and were we going to supply and / or resupply them?

                I didn’t mention any such considerations did I?
                Sending them to Coventry, I’d give them a supply of ards (human-drawn ploughs, they leave quite distinct marks in the soil – I’ve excavated such), a few bags of seed (barley and/ or oats for the Hebrides ; what seems appropriate for other locations). Maybe some string. If I’m feeling generous. If I’m feeling really generous, some light lumber and a tarpaulin to form the roof of their shelter. Perhaps a bag of seed potatoes, to sow both next year’s food and some dissension.
                If they want to go back to the mesolithic, then I’m perfectly willing to pat them on the backs and push them off the boat onto the shore. (If they want tatties though, we might have to go for “Famine chic”, or find an island off the coast of Chile.)
                Of course, we could try running it as a hilarious piece of reality TV : “And this week on the island, we’ve an epidemic of measles and people are competing for one dose of vaccine and a handful of peas.”
                I don’t think I’ll give up the day-job for a career in scripting popular comedy.

              2. Hmmm…there is a certain type of black comedy appeal about making a TV show out of it…and it’d probably pay for itself, too.

                Of course, then you’ve go the matter of how to get the camera crews onto and off the island alive, and you’re now back to the cost of bullets…but maybe a fleet of drones could be used instead of live camera crews….

                b&

              3. Fixed cameras. Much cheaper than humans. Exploding fixed cameras, if you find the population getting a bit high.

              4. Oh, there’s a lot more than just the transmutation to enjoy…the Bikini Islands are proof positive that nukes are the gift that keeps on giving!

                b&

  3. Nice rant. Pity it won’t work. Anti-vaxers are immune to facts and logic. I’ve sat down with a couple of them and walked them through Andrew Wakefield’s paper, laying out everything that is wrong with it. Only outcome: they now know I’m part of the international conspiracy by Big Pharma to discredit Wakefield’s work. I wish someone had told me earlier, as this was news to me.

    And by the way, Big Pharma, I’m still waiting for my bribe money. Cough up.:)

    1. And by the way, Big Pharma, I’m still waiting for my bribe money. Cough up.:)

      Nasty cough you’ve got there. Hows your jabs. (Which reminds me to remind the Boss that I’ll need to update my Yellow Fever jab within 12 weeks now.

  4. Yea…! What the immunologist said.

    Seriously, this is at least in part the fault of the scientific community in not effectively relating to the “civilian” community about what it does. I had similar “discussions” about paleontology and the age of the Earth here in South Carolina when I was at the State Museum. Unless we tell people how we know what we know, and why we do what we do, we are viewed by the general public as “Ivory Tower” types with no real grasp of reality (their reality).

    1. “. . . we are viewed by the general public as “Ivory Tower” types with no real grasp of reality (their reality).”

      The cliche characterization of the scientist who is out of touch with reality, so common in literature, film and TV, has always struck me as ridiculous. Equally as bad, and inaccurate, as the “evil scientist” trope.

      Scientists, and this should be fairly obvious, are much more likely to be more in touch with Reality, at least some specific aspects of it, than non scientists. That is after all what science evolved to do, get us in touch with reality, and it has an impressive track record of verification plain for all to see. If they are capable of a little clear thinking anyway.

      As you indicated the real gripe is that scientist’s aren’t in touch with “their reality”. I view this kind of thing as a typical human response to competition for social hierarchy standing. I understand this kind of motivation, I feel it myself as most people do, but I wish “we” could learn to better deal with these motivations so that we can better prevent them from leading us into such divisive, firmly held irrational and clearly counter-evidenced positions.

  5. There’s another equally-valid response.

    If you were to saw open somebody’s skull and cut out a hunk of her brain, you’d be guilty of an unimaginably heinous crime.

    But when a brain surgeon removes a tumor, she’s one of the greatest heroes imaginable.

    Immunologists are the brain surgeons of the immune system. They know what they’re doing; they work miracles; and they’re heroes.

    Cheers,

    b&

    1. If I just grabbed some random dude’s pecker and shoved a Q-tip down it, I’d hate to think what I’d be charged with. Good thing my colleagues are stuck with that job.

      (Actually it’s gotten a lot simpler than that recently. Couldn’t resist the joke, though.)

  6. Man I hate how veganism or vegetarianism are often seen as somewhat related to the kind of idiotic unscientific people that are anti-vaxers and such. Just not true…

    1. Prescisely. I find the anti-veganism of thayt response rather unsettling, and at least as irrational as the anti-vaccine stance it is trying to oppose.

      Personally, I think we humans have no ethical right to breed most sentient vertebrates for eventual killing. I am yet to hear a rational ethical argument against this which does not amount to “But what’s so different about plants?” I leave finding the flaws with that as an exercise for the first commenter who rediscovers it.

      1. Why wouldn’t there be a correlation between the idea of veganism and vaccines, seeing how vaccines are as of yet made out with the help of animals and their eggs? I don’t know if anyone has looked at it, but so far there are plausible anecdotes:

        “The issue of vaccines has been a much debated one in the vegan sub-culture and is one of the areas in which I think well meaning vegans can have rational disagreements, some fully support getting all recommended vaccinations, some selectively vaccinate, and others choose to abstain. Unfortunately while researching this post I came upon a shocking number of vegans citing the misinformation about mercury and “toxins” as a reason they choose not to vaccinate.”
        [ http://skepticalvegan.com/2010/12/07/vaccines-vegans-autistic-puppies/%5D

        I can’t get the linked page to work, but I think it is a screenshot of this one:

        “For this week’s question to the Council of Vegan Parents, we decided to stir the pot a little and address something we’ve gotten a few questions on but were, frankly, a little hesistant to ask about: what about vaccines?

        There are various controversies around them (though one of the largest seems to have been discredited recently,) but perhaps more importantly from a vegan perspective, there are animal products in most vaccines and they’ve all been tested on animals at some point. Where do our Council respondents stand on this one?”
        [ http://stayingvegan.com/2010/03/vaccines-and-your-vegan-family/ ]

        “Personally, I think we humans have no ethical right to breed most sentient vertebrates for eventual killing.”

        If such practices help avoid deaths of humans (say vaccines, or as it seems from epidemics that a mixed diet results in the longest life and taking fishes as sentients) we have no ethical right to abstain from them.

        More generally, ethics are rationalizations of morals and as a matter of fact humans have not yet a universal morality re animals. Most have started to include husbanded species into an extended family (pets et cetera), so there we can start discuss ethics I think.

        Interestingly, to me, this is also the area where we may have the largest moral problems. If we include these species in our morality, we can’t stop breeding them because that would be tantamount to genocide if they can’t survive in nature. (Pigs and chickens may survive, I’m fairly sure cows wouldn’t but have no observations in that regard.) And we can’t have them in zoos, re Jerry showing how cruel that is.

        So what to do? A minimum of meat eaters, which certainly will be with us for the time being, is fortunate in that regard. At least husbandry has rules against cruelty (where I live). Or has the vegan movement already a better response to this conundrum?

        1. Also, I seem to remember an age old observation re husbandry: these animals are healthier and survive longer than their wild types.

          So it is quite alright to keep them in husbanded conditions vs release, in that regard. Maybe even the future moral thing to do.

          So far they pay their own keeping. But maybe it will end up with us keeping these species indefinitely on special “morality” funds.

          1. I don’t believe it is “fair” (for lack of a better word) to enslave animals so they live longer. I’m not saying I’m against domestication or that every animal owner is cruel, not at all, many are very well treated indeed and I’m glad they can go through that.

            Now to the point of your first post: As you definitely must know it depends on where we sit in the spectrum of veganism. As a vegetarian myself, intending to switch to veganism soon enough, I have yet to found justification why I should abstain from things like honey and vaccines, and as much as it saddens me, I know some research with animals has been necessary.

            What we seek, or should seek at least, is the biggest conscious reduction of animal suffering and use in all of our industries and practices. There are some aspects that still more or less require the involvement and sacrifice of animals, it’s a shame, but we ought to accept it and make the best of it, having the animal in our best intentions. Perhaps someday we can nearly completely abstain from them. Very little suffering is, of course, better than lots of unnecessary suffering.

            I also believe, as a biologist, that a form of veganism should be the correct stance of any honest scientist. We have enough evidence to support that our farm animals are well capable of suffering (whether you want to debate if they are conscious about it or not). It is also a fact that a vegan or at least vegetarian diet is quite less wasteful and destructive than the opposite, while yielding larger amounts of food. A scientist, or any educated person indeed, should know the importance of those realizations and act accordingly. Even if we cannot be 100% sure our farm animals suffer and feel sad and depressed and have a certain understanding of it, I think it is very fair and safe to state it is not a scientist’s job to merely suppose otherwise because of lack of 100% conclusive evidence, and with our current knowledge we should all give animals the benefit of the doubt and abstain from causing avoidable suffering/harm upon them until we have more evidence for or against it. Nothing bad could come from that – a responsible stance regarding animal use based on a continuum of our ethical obligation to animals regarding their intellectual capacities side-by-side with a continuum of ecological obligation regarding the environmental impact of exploiting them.

            On a personal note (I’m sorry), I couldn’t yet find a reasonable explanation why Dawkins, or Coyne* for that matter, aren’t vegan or vegetarian. I remember Dawkins very much agrees with the premises but gave an excuse such as “fear of social suicide” for not being vegan/vegetarian to Peter Singer in a discussion. That’s just as valid as using that excuse for not coming out as an atheist, i.e. not really valid at all.

            * You and your ugly boots! 😉

            1. “…intending to switch to veganism soon enough…”

              This does strike me as an odd thing for someone to say while making the case as you are.

              1. Why? I am not going for full-blown no-honey no-vaccines veganism, the main difference will be abstaining from dairy and eggs.

              2. Why? Because if you actually believe that position they why aren’t you already practicing it?

              3. Can’t reply to the last post, so I’ll reply to this one. I’m not yet doing that because I currently don’t have the resources or cooking knowledge to feed myself well without those ingredients. I’m sure it can be done, many people do it and my nutritionist agrees, but I don’t yet know how to – not as well as I’d like to. Also, I live with omnivores, I’d like to try that when I move to my own house, so as to not be a pain in the ass for the rest of them.

              4. I guess that kind of makes my case…. Dietary decisions are complicated and I think that nobody can really be fully consistent. We are, after all, animals with an omnivorous evolutionary history. It his hard to escape biologically-driven inclinations even though we can do it when we try. More or less.

              5. Yeah I’m more or less with you, though I just think whatever difficulties I have in my diet are quite a lot more due to how my society eats/produces food*, than what my biology requires.

                * which may well have been shaped to a significant extent by our biology.

            2. “I also believe, as a biologist, that a form of veganism should be the correct stance of any honest scientist.”

              Quite right. I find it surprising more biolgists (and other scientists) do not take this position. Other than the obvious, which is that it is simply not in one’s interest (at least initially).

            3. What we seek, or should seek at least, is the biggest conscious reduction of animal suffering and use in all of our industries and practices.

              For a long time I have proposed – with zero expectation of actually having any real effect – a ban on commercial butchery. If you want to eat meat – fine : go to the farm, choose your doe-eyed venison, have it shot in the back of the head with the humane killer, load it in the back of the car and drive it home.
              Most people would gain a much more … visceral (le bon mot?) … understanding of what meat is. And I strongly suspect that al ot less of it would be consumed.
              I spent years in the animal rights movement – and thoroughly believe that morally they’re in the right. But I also became very jaundiced about how much of a unlithified coprolite most people give about following their self-proclaimed “principles.” And frankly, I got tired of taking the hassle that goes with it.
              I understand where you’re at on your journey from vegitarianism towards whatever degree of veganism you’re personally comfortable with. Unlike 95+% of people (and perhaps a majority of the people on this website), you’re really thinking about your actions and their consequences.

              1. (I should point out that slaughtering is relatively skilled – and I don’t propose that to be banned. But once the beast is dead meat … let the amateurs get up to their knees in blood and guts – the worst they can do is kill some gut microflora and/ or multicellular parasites.)

        2. “If we include these species in our morality, we can’t stop breeding them because that would be tantamount to genocide if they can’t survive in nature.”

          With all due respect Torbjorn, this is a tired rationalization for raising animals for our palate’s (and other kinds of) benefit. Genocide means killing things already living for the purpose of their extermination. So, raising animals to kill them is genocide, if anything is ‘non-human animal genocide’. You can’t commit genocide against things that are not alive, so if we end animal husbandry and allow the animals to die naturally and humanely, deciding not to breed future animals into existence is (obviously) not genocide.

          Saying we’re not ready to bring other animals into our morality (except dogs and cats and horses, which is arbitrary since people also keep pigs for pets and slaughter dogs to eat them) is another rationalization to maintain a certain lifestyle. If we recognize we are doing something that harms a sentient creature, we are ready to except that creature into our morality (by simply refraining from harming them). Analogous arguments have been made about our not being ready to except blacks and women into our morality, children, and any other ‘other’.

          You are right to note, however, that there are genuine conflicts of interest between human and other animal suffering. Do we allow another animal to suffer for a chance of finding a cure/vaccine? I think it should be on a case by case basis, though experimenting on other apes should be banned outright, and we ought to have to make a fairly good, scientific case for our belief that experimenting on an animal is not only necessary (due to no alternative) but also has a high chance of yielding beneficial results.

          1. The fundamental disconnect from the Vegan Patrol is in the equation of slaughtering food animals and cruelty.

            Factory farming is an ethical quagmire, yes — de-beaked hens, cows confined to pens so small they can’t turn around, pigs never free from their own filth.

            But a great many farmers give their animals lives of luxury, with plenty of pasture space and clean, warm indoor pens when the weather turns inclement. No red jungle fowl ever lived a life of luxury anything like that which the hens at Vital Farms enjoys, and no wild bovine has had it as good as a Strauss Dairy cow.

            Death is inevitable, whether or not it is cruel. The choice in this matter is what happens before death. And there we have a choice between giving these animals good lives that they never would have had without human farms; mistreating them the way that happens too often in industrialized farming operations; and destroying entire species outright.

            Vegans are advocating the latter, which I consider the most horrific of the three options.

            b&

            1. That, and this…

              I have never understood how one can get so worked up about the death of domesticated animals but not be equally distressed by the miserable deaths suffered by nearly every wild animal on the planet. It seems that the logic that can result in the complete elimination of, say, domesticated cattle doesn’t apply to the elimination of lions or bears or wildebeest. Should carnivorous species be eliminated because they cause such horrible deaths to prey animals? How can we stand by and just watch all that slaughter?

              1. What could we do? It seems to me that would be an exercise in futility. We simply have no way of removing all suffering and horrible deaths from the planet, so I don’t see much point in worrying a lot about that. It’d be nice if we could avoid all deaths in the wild but there isn’t such a thing, so I don’t stress over it. Of course I can’t help feeling a little bit bummed for a second by the antelope I see getting ripped apart by lions on TV, but expecting something else is like expecting natural selection to have a touch of emotion. I go against abusive treatment of domesticated animals (in which I include milking, even though I’m not yet past it) for the mere fact it is avoidable and human-caused. I understand such a distinction is of little help to the animal in the wild, but I tend to value freedom and if we can avoid being another source of animal suffering, that’d be good.

                Even if we could shelter all animals and not abuse them, perhaps feed all carnivores with laboratory meat, would that even be desirable? Why do I prefer to value freedom?

              2. What we could do is to recognize that the life in the absence of death is impossible and that evolution has created conflicts of interest that we have to live with. Even a carrot doesn’t want to be pulled up and eaten, but we eat or we die. Well, more correctly, we eat and we die. IMO it is better to base the ethics argument on how to minimize environmental destruction and how best to protect the planet for future users, both human and non-human. That means eating less meat, etc. But no matter what we’re always going to have edge-case moral issues to contend with. I can’t take ideological positions (like those from PETA) with much seriousness.

              3. That’s pretty much what I meant by “a responsible stance regarding animal use based on a continuum of our ethical obligation to animals regarding their intellectual capacities side-by-side with a continuum of ecological obligation regarding the environmental impact of exploiting them.”

                I have no trouble accepting death, I just don’t like to cause it to sentient beings – or cause suffering for that matter. The carrot thing really doesn’t come into play since a vegetable has no interests in the sense we are talking about.

              4. The carrot would disagree but is incapable of expressing this in ways we recognize. All living things are interested in being living things.

              5. The difference is that when domesticated animals are mistreated, it is by humans who have the ability to recognize that their actions are wrong and change their behavior accordingly.

              6. gbjames: “Even a carrot doesn’t want to be pulled up and eaten”

                How does something that has no cognition ‘want’ anything?

              7. Also, presumably you think humans should not overtake other humans in order to have sex with them against their will. But if you are concerned about that and think we humans shouldn’t do that sort of thing, are you also concerned about all the times this happens among other animals? If not, then by the logic of your argument you somehow have an inconsistent position.

              8. Becky said:

                “…by the logic of your argument you somehow have an inconsistent position…”

                My point is that WE ALL have inconsistent positions on the subject of diet and our relationship with other living things. Myself included. And you, too.

            2. “mistreating them the way that happens too often in industrialized farming operations; and destroying entire species outright.

              Vegans are advocating the latter, which I consider the most horrific of the three options.”

              Why is not living (i.e. being a member of a species that has gone extinct, due to some hypothetical phasing out of domesticated farm animals that can’t survive on their own) worse than living in constant and endless suffering until you die? Species come and species go. This is evolution. What seems far more egregious is “mistreating” animals while they are here and capable of experiencing suffering.

              Also, I’m not sure what specific examples you have in mind of “vegans advocating destroying entire species”, but it is wrong to lump all people of a group into one stereotype. Some vegans advocate bad things, some don’t, some are stupid and hypocritical, some aren’t, just like everyone else.

              1. A flaw in your argument is the “constant and endless suffering” bit. This is often the case but it is not an inherent component of animal husbandry.

              2. But James, if that’s so, you can substitute the “constant and endless suffering” to just how much suffering you agree happens, and the argument still holds water: Whatever mistreating of these animals by humans is unwarranted when it can be avoided (even if it means killing an entire industry – one that’s not very beneficial in any other way I might say).

                “What seems far more egregious is “mistreating” animals while they are here and capable of experiencing suffering.” – This is an important point.

              3. Then I guess, Youssarian, that you have no ethical qualms about raising animals for food as long as they are treated well during life and killed suddenly and quickly without being aware of their immanent demise. Right?

                I’m fine with that, I suppose, except that it violates the ethical reason that I don’t eat meat… the resources that go into a pound of meat far exceed the resources that go into a pound of lentils and rice.

              4. As much as that would be a better way to do it than the current situation, no, I’m not for that and nor do I see what made you think I’m in favour of it.

              5. gbjames- That is not a flaw in my argument. I was responding specifically to *your* claim about the mistreatment in factory farms, in which the animals do live their entire lives in constant suffering, which you said was not as bad as us not having cows and pigs around as a species.

                If animals are not mistreated, then by definition that practice is not immoral.

                However, on my view killing sentient creatures to enjoy the taste of their flesh is mistreating them. But I also agree that killing them quickly and painlessly after a decent life of being well-treated is much better than the factory farming bit.

              6. Becky: I don’t think I made such an argument. I’m opposed to factory farming. I said that all animal husbandry is not like that. Perhaps you have me mixed up with someone else?

                Yossarian: What made me say that is that your position was based on suffering of animals. Perhaps there was more that you didn’t mention.

            3. Plants have evolved many defenses against being preyed upon. I don’t see any reason for this to happen except to keep themselves alive a while longer.

              As for your (Becky) comment:

              “The difference is …, it is by humans who have the ability to recognize that their actions are wrong…”

              So your position is not really about animal suffering, it is about human guilt.

              1. Plants have defence mechanisms against being preyed upon because those who didn’t, didn’t make it this far. It has nothing on the conscious debate and in no way means they have a meaningful interest in staying alive. They just do, because they’re good at it.

                And I’d say every decent vegan/veggie’s position is against avoidable animal suffering, specially if it’s caused by humans precisely because those are mostly avoidable.

              2. That is not a virtue simply of vegans and vegetarians. The same can be said for every decent meat-eater. They, too, care about suffering.

                The question of motivation in plants and animals is complex.

                How concerned are you about the countless animals that lose their lives every time you brush your teeth? How worried are you about the pain of a mosquito when you slap it. Is it wrong to ignore the pain suffered by parasitic worms when they are killed during treatment. They, too, are animals.

              3. Simply being animals doesn’t reward them all the same deserved treatment. Again, I see it as a continuum (or should I say gradient) where our moral/ethical responsibility increases as the animal’s neurological complexity increases. In that aspect I don’t have reason to care for insects as much as I do for mammals, and I really don’t give a shit about bacteria. On the other hand there is also an environmental responsibility continuum/gradient of sorts, where even beings incapable of suffering (like plants) or barely able to recognize pain in any significant way (like insects I suppose) may “be awarded” a higher level of human preoccupation/responsibility based on their impact (and the impact of exploiting them) on the environment;

                You’re right about the virtue also being applicable to meat-eaters, but I don’t think it’s in a meaningful enough way (that is, it doesn’t lead to action) in most of them, sadly.

              4. “So your position is not really about animal suffering, it is about human guilt.”

                No, it is about the fact that (most) human beings are capable of understanding that their actions have effects on others and changing their behavior accordingly. As far as we know, lions, etc. can’t do this. So it is absurd to hold them to any moral standard.

                So, I am merely suggesting that we take responsibility for our actions. No, we can’t end all suffering. But when we are the ones perpetuating it, we should stop at least that. If we can prevent it elsewhere, that would be good too (though killing all omnivores and carnivores is absurd, for one thing it is practically unfeasible and for another thing it would destroy ecosystems, causing further suffering, and the willful extermination of that much life itself would be morally suspect, to list a few reasons).

              5. Yossarian: “I see it as a continuum”. Yes, of course it is, probably a multi-dimensional continuum. Which is why it is a not a simple matter for us humans who, riven with ethics, must negotiate an imprecise path. And we all end up being in one way or another inconsistent. You’re not worried about bacteria. And not much about insects. Where it might get dicey for you is if conditions conspired to have your home infested with rats. They are very smart animals, sentient. There are, I recon, conditions where your boundaries will shift.

              6. Becky: Taking responsibility for our actions is fine. I doubt anyone would take issue with that goal. But I think your position is still all about guilt… that other animals, without particularly human ethical frameworks, can be excused for creating suffering in other critters. This position is all about guilt and when it is appropriately referenced. We know better, so if we cause other animals pain we are guilty of having wrongly done so. The universe’s total quantity of pain is the same, but not worth worrying about unless humans cause it. Amirite?

              7. “But I think your position is still all about guilt… that other animals, without particularly human ethical frameworks, can be excused for creating suffering in other critters. This position is all about guilt and when it is appropriately referenced. We know better, so if we cause other animals pain we are guilty of having wrongly done so. The universe’s total quantity of pain is the same, but not worth worrying about unless humans cause it. Amirite?”

                I’m trying, but I don’t see why you think it is all about guilt. Perhaps that is your own projection. Guilt is relevant in the sense that guilt is relevant in any case in which we do something immoral- e.g. I suppose one could say that then it would be appropriate to feel guilt (though I don’t think it is necessary). Or perhaps we can’t help but feel guilty whenever we think we did something wrong. But I fail to see why you’re overplaying the notion.

                Of course anything without ‘an ethical framework’ or the ability to both understand their actions have negative effects on others and change their behavior accordingly must be ‘excused’ from causing pain to others. That’s not a moral claim, it’s just the way it is, by definition of ‘moral agent’ and ‘non-moral agent’.

                Why, as you say, is the universe’s total quantity of pain the same if suffering is reduced?

                I didn’t say pain that humans don’t cause is not worth worrying about- I said we should at a minimum stop what we are actively doing to cause suffering. Then, if we can do more, we should. For instance, we don’t actively cause each other to have diseases (usually), but we have the ability to prevent/cure/mitigate their effects, and therefore we should. Etc.

                Regardless of guilt, we ought to be able to recognize when our actions negatively affect others and understand that that is undesirable and change our behavior accordingly. The focus should be on the effect in the other, how/to what extent we are responsible, how/to what extent we have the ability to prevent/end their suffering, and then change our behavior as so. Guilt seems fairly irrelevant, unless someone is incapable of acting ethically without feeling it.

                If you mean to say that guilt is the issue because ‘when person x does something wrong they are guilty of that thing’, and if by ‘guilty’ you mean ‘x did something wrong’, then you are saying that ‘when x does something wrong they have done something wrong’, which is true but uninformative.

              8. I’ll try to make this my last comment.

                “I’m trying, but I don’t see why you think” and “I suppose one could say that then it would be appropriate to feel guilt” aren’t comparable thoughts. And I think you get my point despite denying it.

                When you frame it the matter as a need for humans to reduce the suffering of domestic animals above all other considerations (food, for example) and simultaneously accept the suffering caused by non-human animals on on one another, then you are focusing your attention on human involvement, not on the overall situation. That makes it a guilt-driven concern. Imagine humans have no domestic animals at all. The world would still be loaded with suffering animals. But you don’t seem concerned about that misery.

                I’m not making a case for mistreatment of animals. I’m not even making a case for eating meat (I don’t myself, as I’ve mentioned before). I AM making the case that making the extreme case against all use of animal products, for purposes of reducing pain, is neither simple nor systematic. We are all going to have to deal with edge cases and there is no reason to expect that we can come to agreement on where the edge is.

                For me it is much better to think in terms of securing long term sustainable life on our little rock. That means greatly reducing, but not eliminating, animal husbandry. That goal is more satisfying to me. It is more achievable, I think, than “eliminating suffering” although there will be less animal suffering as a side effect.

              9. “When you frame it the matter as a need for humans to reduce the suffering of domestic animals above all other considerations (food, for example) and simultaneously accept the suffering caused by non-human animals on on one another”

                I made no such claim but will not continue repeating the claim I did make.

                ““I’m trying, but I don’t see why you think” and “I suppose one could say that then it would be appropriate to feel guilt” aren’t comparable thoughts. And I think you get my point despite denying it.”

                *I* do not see how my position is based on guilt. I was simply trying to suggest ways in which *you* may have been thinking it was. Also, as I tried to exemplify, what you mean by ‘guilt’ is still unclear. Do you mean the subjective feeling of guilt? Do you mean the fact that guilt=wrongdoing? As I said, the latter is a tautology. The former is irrelevant. Why you keep insisting my position is *based* in guilt is confounding and unclear.

                “I AM making the case that making the extreme case against all use of animal products, for purposes of reducing pain, is neither simple nor systematic.”

                I certainly agree with you there.

              10. OK… my last shot at this, I promise (he says to himself… )

                “Do you mean the fact that guilt=wrongdoing”

                I mean that the prime referent here is the human, not on the hurt beings. It is focused on the responsibility of the human when failing to prevent suffering in domestic animals. It is inward-focused because equivalent concern isn’t accorded to non-human-generated suffering.

            4. gbjames- you’re right, I was replying to ben green, who made that argument, and was not paying attention to who was who in the thread… my apologies for that!

    2. Prescisely. I find the anti-veganism of thayt response rather unsettling, and at least as irrational as the anti-vaccine stance it is trying to oppose.

      Personally, I think we humans have no ethical right to breed various sentient vertebrates for eventual killing. I am yet to hear a rational ethical argument against this which does not amount to “But what’s so different about plants?” I leave finding the flaws with that as an exercise for the first commenter who rediscovers it (yes, I have heard that argument even on this website).

    3. Yes, that dig against veganism seemed random and off point to me, and I’m a pretty shameless omnivore myself.

      There are a few vegans who raise concerns about the use of animals in vaccine production. As far as I know this is a fringe position within the vegan community.

      And that was not brought up in the original scare talk about vaccines or addressed in the response, so it seems unrelated to the real issue. No sense alienating people who might otherwise be open to the pro-vaccine case.

    4. Well, perhaps just not completely true. I’ll wager there is some correlative relationship, however. There are different motives for being vegetarian and/or vegan. Sometimes the motives are religious. And sometimes they are fear-based and people avoid animal products for fear of being contaminated by toxins. This latter motive is the one that would correlate with antiVax mentality.

      Many (most?) vegetarians/vegans eat the way they do based on ethical reasoning. And often (usually) this reasoning is kind of haphazard. Many vegetarians refuse to eat meat but are just fine wearing leather shoes or driving a car with leather seats. Some (like me) don’t eat meat but make an exception for some kinds of seafood. Few vegans that I know worry about wantonly killing obnoxious insects. I doubt that many would object to the destruction of parasitic worms. These, too, are animals.

      IMO, we are all somewhat arbitrary at the edges of the rules about what we’ll eat and what we won’t.

      1. I worked with a very thoughtful, very consistent vegan for a few months. He avoided food dye from cochineal and food grade shellac from Kerria lacca. Finding candy he could eat was a research project unto itself.

      2. I can never understand how someone becomes a vegetarian for reasons other than health and does not abstain from buying leather clothes and such. It’s always been fairly obvious to me that a failure to do so is hipocritic.

        That said, yeah I believe I should accept that many vegetarians or vegans are in it for what I think are the wrong reasons, kind of like being atheist by anger against god, instead of all the good, reasonable motives.

        I guess I just hate how that makes the rest of us look like utter crazy hippies.

        1. Oh and on the topic of other crazy shit some fellow vegetarians/vegans say, by Jove the other day I met a girl who believes period blood has miraculous healing abilities… It makes me sad.

        2. I have a friend who rationalizes being vegetarian while using leather by saying that the leather is just a by-product and not the “real” reason for using animals. Of course the same case could be made for any part taken in isolation. It makes little sense to me.

            1. I’m sure he does, but it is probably irrelevant. Jelly is generally made from agar these days, not processed hooves as in days gone by.

              1. Hey I didn’t have that information, do you have a source or something you can link me? I live in Brazil and I’m pretty damn sure out jelly is still made of processed hooves and the like…

              2. I suppose this varies a lot by location and where you buy your food. (I tend to shop at coops and such.) Here is an article about the use of agar.

                (Googling indicates that Jello brand jello, which I haven’t bought in years, is still made from animal collagen.)

    5. Hi Yossarian

      A few questions/hypotheticals from an omnivore if you have the time:-

      Is it expensive to buy vegan [for a city dweller with no garden]?

      I note that vegan websites promote mothers milk for babies, is it fairly easy for the mother to test that her milk is balanced correctly?

      Do you think it is practical & safe to raise a child from year dot to eighteen entirely in a vegan lifestyle?

      The best [or only?] source of animal protein is animals ~ what’s the vegan position [if there is one position] on farming insects?

      1. Hi Michael, I’m sorry I didn’t see your message before. I’m afraid I’m not qualified to answer your questions in the best possible manner, but I’ll try.

        I eat vegetarian (not a vegan yet) very easily, and quite a lot cheaper than when I consumed meat, it just can be a bit of a pain in the ass reading every food package but you get used to it and it’s good information. 3 years ago I visited my nutritionist a few times and she helped me make a table of the sort of stuff I absolutely need to eat, and in what quantities, for a healthy vegetarian diet. I derive a lot more pleasure from eating nowadays. Oh and I don’t have a garden either.

        Since I live in a small city in Brazil, I don’t really get industrialized vegan-specific products, but there’s still a LOT of stuff you can eat or prepare from the basics, no way to get tired or bored of repeating the same things over and over. I see you’re from the UK, a friend of mine was living in Market Drayton for a few months this year and she sent me pictures of so many cheap (in the good sense) vegan industrialized stuff that she could find on the market, I was very interested, as I’ve never even had daiya, veganaise, none of those beauties.

        About breastfeeding, I really can’t tell you if there’s some kind of test to check if the milk itself is healthy, but I guess all the mother needs to do is get her blood tested to see if her own nutrition is good. More information on that: http://www.vegansociety.com/lifestyle/parenting/vegan-babies-and-children/breastfeeding.aspx

        I’m sure it is completely safe to raise children as vegans or vegetarians, you just need responsible parents that know the basics of nutrition and don’t neglect stuff like B12 supplementation. I imagine that’s not too impractical, I’ve had a few discussions with my girlfriend about this (she’s a vegetarian too, also wanting to become a vegan) and we are invariably more “concerned” about if it’s ethical to raise a child like that (we agree it is. I was somewhat concerned about this because I’m against religious indoctrination of children, so…) than the feasibility of such a diet from the start.

        Positions vary wildly about insects, I’ve met everything from people who really don’t care about them, to people who’d never consume anything related to them, though I don’t know how they cope with all the food colouring and stuff.

        Sorry for not having a lot to say, you might want to browse these two interesting subreddits: http://www.reddit.com/r/vegan
        http://www.reddit.com/r/Vegetarianism/

  7. I doubt the claimed scientist really is an immunologist, because she or he makes several errors someone who knew about vaccines wouldn’t make. I wish they would have used better, scientifically accurate examples.

    There isn’t currently a standard recommended vaccine for TB, so anti-vaccine advocates aren’t responsible for “skyrocketing TB.” (There used to be an ineffective vaccine, but it isn’t recommended anymore, at least in the vast majority of the developed world). Also there isn’t a standard recommended vaccine for smallpox. Some first responders and members of the military get it, but that is because of concern for bioterrorism. There isn’t a worry that smallpox will come back simply if people aren’t vaccinated against it.

    Vaccines are one of the greatest public health achievements of all time, I just wish the ‘immunologist’ would have been scientifically accurate, instead of saying things that are simply not true.

    1. To be fair, maybe the immunologist is from a country that does use the BCG vaccine for TB, but it isn’t a standard recommendation in the English-speaking developed world, where a lot of the anti-vaccination nuts live. The vaccine is important in places like Asia and Africa, so I shouldn’t assume the scientists was from the US, UK, or Canada. Anyways, TB deaths are not skyrocketing like the ‘scientist’ claims, according to the WHO between 1990 and 2012 the TB death rate dropped 45%.

      1. The US spelling of ‘sulfate’ and the UK spelling of ‘aluminium’ suggest to me that the speaker is from neither part of the world.

      2. To be fair, maybe the immunologist is from a country that does use the BCG vaccine for TB, but it isn’t a standard recommendation in the English-speaking developed

        I don’t know if that has changed for the UK since it was a question for me. I responded appropriately to the first probing jab (but since one grandparent had died of TB when I was 1 … that was no surprise), so it was evident that I’d successfully defeated wild TB at least once. Then I was tested again before and after working in a TB testing lab. And 2 (or 3 ; I forget) times since when I’ve been working with people who’ve subsequently been diagnosed with TB, I’ve been checked and found non-infected. My last TB test was for Norwegian regulations in early October.
        But vaccination for TB is absolutely routine for people who travel. I’d have to read my vaccination passport (“yellow book” ; allegedly the symbol for “I’ve got plague aboard my ship” used to be a yellow flag when approaching harbour – a plea for food, water and quarantine) to check when I next get stabbed for TB.
        The big concern for TB is not lack of vaccinations ; it’s the development of Multiple-Drug-Resistant and eXtremely-Drug-Resistant strains of TB through people not completing their course of treatment. That’s scary.

      1. He does use the past tense “was part of many vaccines”.

        Thiomersal was phased out of vaccines in the childhood schedule.

        I believe it is still used in adult vaccines including the adult flu vaccine. And why not?

      2. “thiomersol (US spelling)”

        Huh? Not in my experience. Lots of people think it’s thimerosol, but of course it’s thimerosal. And why’d you move the “o?”

        1. In fact it looks like you have it backwards; per Wikipedia, “Thiomersal (INN), commonly known in the US as thimerosal…”

    2. I wish I could get a booster for my small pox vaccine. I got it when I was a baby and of course don’t remember getting it but it left this cool scar & I feel ripped off that it won’t protect me anymore.

      1. I’m too young to have gotten the vaccine, though I did get chicken pox and I’ve had the shingles vaccine.

        Still, I’d definitely not turn down the chance to get a smallpox vaccination. Anything happens to those last remaining samples, and it won’t be possible to manufacture vaccines fast enough to prevent massive death.

        Of course, actively attempting to find the vaccine would likely earn me a “free” trip to Guantanamo….

        b&

  8. I seriously doubt the anti-vaxer got their info from “Yahoo Answers”. At least on computer maintenance issues, they’re highly reliable!!

  9. I’m not really a fan of drunken rants that sound like drunken rants. I sympathize with his frustration but I’m not sure how much this aids the cause.

    1. Does that really read like a drunken rant to you? If the author hadn’t stated that he / she had be drinking I would have never guessed from reading their comment.

      As far as aiding the cause, I’d bet that if it has any measurable affect it will be positive. Gentle, polite reasoning is certainly not any more likely to work.

  10. What’s a good intro textbook on immunology? Chemistry and biology background I’m not worried about. I’ve been meaning to read one to have more resources in conflicts like this one?

    1. I’m not sure what you mean by “intro”, but Janeway’s Immunobiology has a fairly understandable text (if you have a science background), and some good diagrams.

    2. I used Parham’s The Immune System in med school and thought it was very good for the basics. It’s definitely not as thorough as Janeway though.

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