While I only caught the last part of the episode, it seems that the second season of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit! started with a bang :
One of the unwritten rules for winning an argument against an inflammatory, irrational opponent is to calmly adhere to a loftier set of rhetorical standards. Penn and Teller showily throw this notion out the window. On tonight’s episode, they compare PETA co-founder and president Ingrid Newkirk to Adolf Hitler, cutting from shots of Newkirk at an animal rights conference to stock footage of Hitler’s youth. “Cheap shot?” says Penn in the narration. “Well, you bet it is. It’s beneath us, but we’re not the first to use the Nazi analogy.” The show then takes PETA to task for its 2003 “Holocaust on Your Plate” action campaign, which juxtaposed images from concentration camps with images of industrial meat processing. I’m not sure which makes me more uncomfortable, PETA’s manipulation of a genocide or Penn and Teller’s breezy character assassination, but the moment made me pine for a less sensational approach. I’m more accustomed to professional doubting Thomases like Skeptic Society director Michael Shermer, whose wonderful book Why People Believe Weird Things manages to debunk all kinds of bad thinking?including that of Holocaust deniers?without resorting to calling anyone a Nazi.
But as P&T: B! wore on, I began to appreciate the show’s street-fighting style. Measured rationality is a powerful tool, but sometimes a well-placed “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” works even better. When Newkirk compares animals in the Western world to slaves, Penn can barely contain his incredulity. After noting that there are still millions of human slaves in the world today and invoking the legacy of slavery in our country, he says, “Do you really want to equate that worldwide shame … to chickens?”
If Penn & Teller: Bullshit! were all bluster, it wouldn’t be as effective or as entertaining. Thankfully, the show is surprisingly good at balancing its histrionics with facts. Using PETA’s public tax records, tonight’s show links the organization to Rodney Coronado, who admitted to firebombing a Michigan State University lab that used animals in its research. Penn and Teller also do a nice number on a PETA vice president whose treatments for Type II diabetes were developed using research on dogs.
For a group that specializes in hyperbole and emotional appeals, it’s funny to see PETA getting a taste of their own medicine. PETA’s tactics are pretty much the same as those of the pro-life movement : emotional appeals and propaganda while eschewing a sensible middle ground. For a good example of this, see this part of PETA’s animal testing FAQ :
?If we didn’t use animals, wouldn’t we have to test new drugs on people??
The choice isn’t between animals and people. There is no guarantee that drugs are safe?even if they have been tested on animals?because the physiological differences between humans and other animals prevent the results of animal tests from being accurately extrapolated to humans. Some drugs that have been approved through animal tests can cause serious and unexpected side effects for humans. A 2002 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that in the last 25 years, more than 50 FDA-approved drugs had to be taken off the market or relabeled because they caused ?adverse reactions.?
Based on that, you’d almost think that the AMA was against testing on animals, huh? Well, not quite :
H-460.979 Use of Animals in Research.
(1) Researchers should include in their protocols a commitment to ethical principles that promote high standards of care and humane treatment of all animals used in research. Further, they should provide animal review committees with sufficient information so that effective review can occur. For their part, institutions should strengthen their animal review committees to provide effective review of all research protocols involving animals.
(2) The appropriate and humane use of animals in biomedical research should not be unduly restricted. Local and national efforts to inform the public about the importance of the use of animals in research should be supported.
(3) The development of suitable alternatives to the use of animals in research should be encouraged among investigators and supported by government and private organizations. The selection of alternatives ultimately must reside with the research investigator.
Our AMA: (1) Our AMA opposes the addition of new United States Department of Agriculture regulatory requirements concerning the care, treatment and reporting of laboratory rats, mice and birds;
(2) supports working with Congress to establish a uniform method to assure a prompt, unbiased review by scientific peers of federally funded research projects before grant or contract monies can be withheld from any investigator or institution;
(3) supports working through Congress to oppose legislation which inappropriately restricts the choice of scientific animal models used in research;
The AMA: (1) reaffirms its unequivocal endorsement for the humane care, treatment and proper stewardship of animals in research as reflected in current laws and regulations;
(2) supports continued work with other organizations to develop programs to educate physicians and the public regarding the benefits of the use of animals in research;
(3) supports continued efforts to defend and promote the use of animals in meaningful research, product safety testing, and teaching programs;
(4) condemns illegal acts by the so-called “animal liberationists”;
(5) supports the policy of obtaining animals for medical research and education from animal control units, and the studying of ways to ensure that the animals used are indeed unwanted and abandoned;
(6) affirms its commitment to the pursuit of alternative models for research where appropriate; and
(7) encourages physician involvement in public policy issues concerned with the use of animals in research in order to insure the optimum environment for the creation of new knowledge to better diagnose, treat, and prevent disease.
Even if PETA didn’t mean to imply that the AMA is on their side, I’m gonna stick with the experts on this one. The fact is, animal testing is an unfortunate, but necessary evil. Most people are have made their peace with this, but for PETA, even the death of one animal for the greater good is too much :
?Would you support an experiment that would sacrifice 10 animals to save 10,000 people??
No. Look at it another way: Suppose that the only way to save 10,000 people was to experiment on one mentally challenged orphan. If saving people is the goal, wouldn’t that be worth it? Most people would agree that it would be wrong to sacrifice one human for the ?greater good? of others because it would violate that individual’s rights, but when it comes to sacrificing animals, the assumption is that human beings have rights and animals do not. Yet there is no logical reason to deny animals the same rights that protect individual humans from being sacrificed for the common good.
By the way, humans are sacrificed for the “greater good” every day. It’s called “war”, and sometimes it’s necessary.
Now I don’t want to create the impression that I’m against animal rights organizations. I’m just against the views and tactics of PETA, which as far as I’m concerned are extremist in nature. If animal rights was one of my pet (no pun intended) issues, I’d support an organization like The Humane Society. For the record, here’s their view on animal testing :
Safety tests are conducted on a wide range of chemicals and products, including drugs, vaccines, cosmetics, household cleaners, pesticides, foodstuffs, and packing materials. The safety testing of chemicals and consumer products probably accounts for only about 10% to 20% of the use of animals in laboratories, or approximately two to four million animals in the United States. Yet the use of animals in safety testing figures prominently in the animal research controversy. It raises issues such as the ethics and humaneness of deliberately poisoning animals, the propriety of harming animals for the sake of marketing a new cosmetic or household product, the applicability of animal data to humans, and the possibility of sparing millions of animals by developing alternatives to a handful of widely used procedures.
The Animals in Research section is committed to promoting alternatives to the use of animals in product testing as well as in biomedical research and education. Alternatives are scientific methods that accomplish one or more of the “Three Rs”: They replace the use of animals in a scientific procedure, they reduce the number of animals used in a procedure, and/or they refine a procedure so the animals experience less pain, suffering, or discomfort.
That’s the “sensible middle ground” I was talking about.