I read a little snippet from a magazine about some scientists who implanted electrodes in the brains of tiny little zebra finches to discover if they could anticipate the next song the bird would sing, siting it to be used to eventually employ a futuristic ‘text by mind’ paradigm that humans can add to their repertoire of communicative skills. (As we all know this is really important because we certainly want to step away from actually speaking to each other.) The electrodes were interfaced with neuron and blah, blah blah. I say ‘blah, blah’ with no disrespect (OK- sort of) but my topic of conversation is not about how they did it, I am more concerned with the fact that they did the research to begin with. However, if you really want the information on the bells and whistles you can find it at the website of University of California, San Diego and in an article in MIT Technology Review (Sorry, the snippet did not give the date of publication, but I am guessing it is somewhat in line with the date of this post.)
My question doesn’t arise from some lack of appreciation for technology. Technology can be used to improve the lives of all animals-and plants for that matter, although one really has to ponder on how wise it would be too just let our thoughts about one another indiscriminately post as a text- TO THAT PERSON! Doesn’t seem like a good idea to me, but what do I know?
My question is this. Why are they picking on these cute little zebra finches anyway?
The age old adage of using non-human animals to further our own agendas- i.e. ‘for the betterment of man’ -no longer holds true. Medical science is turning to computer modelling for practical experience for surgical procedures and petri dishes can be used to demonstrate the effects of drugs on cell division to name a few. Forward thinking, responsible teaching and research facilities have implemented these changes because of student outcries of ‘wishing to do no harm’ to another living Being. (See? We, as a society, are making progress.) For some reading this, it is going to seem too much, too ‘over the top’ to be concerned about a little bird when science is improving the lives of people. But it is not.
Many individuals are becoming more aware of the moral conflict of imposing our will on innocent Beings are making decisions based on those ethical and moral concerns. There simply is no longer a need to abuse animals in medical/research labs because science has already proven that technology can simulate the same conditions provided by the nonhuman animals that is actually more accurate. Inflicting harm is no longer ‘the cost of doing business’. ..and there are other methods to gain volunteers when needed.
Take the case of our little zebra finch. I propose using human volunteers. How many ‘subjects’ would show up if a flier was sent out? Maybe they would announce something like, ‘hey, do you want to make $5,000.00 dollars this weekend? We have to shave your head but hey-$5,000.00!’ They would get enough volunteers I think because people like money. That has been apparent for quite some time validated by our response to environmental concerns that may require us spending money to keep Mother Earth healthy. (But I digress. I will save that topic for another day).
Paying volunteers for research has the advantage of having a victim- I mean subject- agree to the parameters of the test and therefore release the researcher from the moral conflict of inflicting harm on an innocent victim. Researchers would have to monitor their patient and provide anesthesia, pain control and explain possible risks of postsurgical complications or even death. Given the legalities and cash outlay, human volunteers could prove to be expensive for research centers and certainly make them more accountable for their actions.
But then, maybe that is just the cost of doing business.