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Alice’s Adventures in Animal Experimentation

by Eva Amsen

In 1875 Lewis Carroll wrote “Some Popular Fallacies About Vivisection” for the publication Fortnightly Review. Carroll was strongly opposed to vivisection, but I think that if he were alive today, he would not have so much of a problem with current animal experimentation procedures.

In “Some Popular Fallacies About Vivisection” Carroll takes several statements used by 19th-century pro-vivisectionists and argues against them. Interestingly, he starts out by saying that the golden mean is somewhere between the statement that vivisection is justifiable and the statement that it is never okay. So already he admits to not being entirely opposed to animal research. What he takes issue with is purposely inflicting pain on animals, not so much killing itself. He gives some examples of cases which he considers over the top examples of avoiding animal deaths, and the first example nicely illustrates how far animal rights have come in the past century. Carroll, who was obviously a fervent supporter of animal rights, believed in 1875 that it was a bit over the top to not kill some puppies if the litter is too big:

“Never may we destroy, for our convenience, some of a litter of puppies—or open a score of oysters when nineteen would have sufficed—or light a candle in a summer evening for mere pleasure, lest some hapless moth should rush to an untimely end! Nay, we must not even take a walk, with the certainty of crushing many an insect in our path, unless for really important business ! Surely all this is childish.”

Several fallacies that Carroll argues against involve the morality of the scientists doing the research. He points out that while they say that it’s necessary to use animals to advance medical research, many scientists actually just do the research to satisfy their own curiosity.

“As one who has himself devoted much time and labour to scientific investigations, I desire to offer the strongest possible protest against this falsely coloured picture [that science is unselfish]. I believe that any branch of science, when taken up by one who has a natural turn for it, will soon become as fascinating as sport to the most ardent sportsman, or as any form of pleasure to the most refined sensualist. “

He does have a point here: curing diseases might be the goal of the research, or at least that is what you write in your grant application, but in the end scientists do the work because they want to do research. But Carroll extends this to wanting to hurt animals, and that’s not the same thing. Maybe “doing research” is a goal in itself rather than a means for the goal of “curing diseases”, but “animal experimentation” is still only a means for the goals of “doing research” or “curing diseases” and not a pursuable goal in itself. Carroll would probably agree that if a scientist had a choice between animal research and non-animal research resulting in the same information, they should choose the option without animals. He also mentions that, despite not supporting vivisection, he is not opposed to legislating it either. (“(…) the risk of legislation increasing the evil is not enough to make all legislation undesirable.”)

If Carroll knew that more than a century later scientists have to go through rigorously monitored procedures to get permission to do anything involving animals, that there are alternatives involving cell cultures, fake animals, or computer modelling to reduce the need for animals in research or teaching to the absolute minumum, that any animals used are better cared for than many pets, and not purposely hurt, would he approve?

I think he would. I think all of his concerns are dealt with, and what’s more: nobody would even dare kill part of a litter of puppies for convenience!

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Jeff Huang September 27, 2007 - 5:04 PM

Hi Eva, thanks for the interesting blog on Carroll. I think Lewis Carroll might approve of the way research is conducted today since there are so many alternative models, and in vitro and in silico systems (although anti-vivisectionists rarely compromise from my experience). Those who are against animal experimentation often fail to see that scientists today are in fact looking for and using alternative models for research, and that doing research to satisfy one’s curiosity does not mean one is likely to abuse animals.
My partner who is very outspoken on the issue of animal welfare (not the same as animal rights) always says to me that research for the benefit of human health is of course important, and it is inevitable that some animals will be used as models for research. BUT when the suffering of an animal (from experimentation) outweighs the benefit of using that animal for research, one needs to question whether that animal model should be used at all. I face that dilemma all the time as I regularly perform neurosurgeries and create brain lesions on anesthetized rats. It’s never pleasant, and I wonder sometimes whether these experiments will actually lead to a better understanding of human disease. I hope so. I am also actively looking for alternative models (that could be as or more informative) for my research to reduce having to do such invasive surgeries.

Eva Amsen March 11, 2010 - 10:32 AM

I know this is an old post, but I got a comment by e-mail about it just a few weeks ago, and got permission to post this here:
Lewis Carroll perhaps addresses the vivisection issue in “The Hunting
of the Snark”. Search in http://www.snrk.de/snarkhunt/ for “lace”.
Lace making is the main activity of the “Beaver”
In the text you will find, that the “Barrister” blames the “Beaver”
for that. Lace making surely is not evil. So why the Barrister’s
I think, that the “Snark” addresses Charles Darwin. And Darwin
describes the use of lace-needles for dissection.
(Search darwin-online.org.uk: http://holiday.snrk.de/lacemaking.cgi)
With best regards from Munich
Goetz Kluge * http://holiday.snrk.de/Vivisection.htm

Goetz Kluge May 29, 2015 - 10:54 PM

Carroll’s Some Popular Fallacies About Vivisection seemingly has been removed from animalrightshistory.org. But it is available in the appendix to http://www.academia.edu/9962213/.

Best regards from Munich

Goetz Kluge May 29, 2015 - 10:56 PM

Whoops. The correctly clickable link is http://www.academia.edu/9962213/

Austin Elliott March 11, 2010 - 11:26 AM

Talking of Charles Darwin, I wrote about his attitude to animal experimentation in my post about Darwin and the Physiological Society (which was in fact, founded in the late 19th century as a direct response to the controversies about vivisection)
PS Forgive the plug!

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