Human Exceptionalism

Protecting NIH Chimps Is Anti Science!

The NIH has restricted research on chimpanzees, and now is likely to retire all but fifty of available chimps to a sanctuary. From the Nature News story:

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) should dismantle a decades-old colony of 360 chimpanzees, retiring all but roughly 50 of the animals to a national sanctuary, the biomedical agency was told on 22 January in a long-awaited report. The report, from a working group of external agency advisors, also counsels the NIH to end about half of 21 existing biomedical and behavioural experiments, saying they do not meet criteria established in a December, 2011 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report. “Clearly there is going to be a reduction in the use of chimpanzees in research,” says working group co-chair Kent Lloyd, the associate dean for research at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis

By protecting these chimps we will be forgoing sources of new knowledge and biological testing!  Some things we might have discovered will now not be known, or known later than would have been had we used the chimps. And as we all know from various science policy debates, that which restrains or inhibits scientific progress is anti-science!

Actually, it isn’t. Science cannot ever be permitted to become the be all and end all. Science is an incredibly powerful method of gaining and applying knowledge. But it is amoral. It can be a life saving tool or a lethal weapon. That is why a beneficent and properly functioning scientific sector requires ethical parameters to prevent it from becoming monstrous. In other words, the “duty” side of human exceptionalism–in this case, adhering to proper animal welfare principles–sometimes trumps naked science. And that’s a good thing.

Thus, those who have pushed so hard over many years to protect research chimps are no more anti-science than those who have pushed to protect embryos in research and wish to prevent human cloning, which are also ethical issues. And that’s the point of this post. 

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