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Italian animal activists' threats

Italy was the homeland of Galileo Galilei, the father of science as we know it.

I have to remind you of this ironic fact because in the past, I've discussed several stories that painted a very different picture of Italy. Nuclear energy was banned in the country while seismologists were sentenced to 6 years in prison for their blasphemous inability to prophesy a particular earthquake.

Unfortunately, we are just witnessing another battle between Italy and science.

The cool young woman in the video at the top is Caterina Simonsen. She is 25. She has suffered from a quadruplet of rare enough pulmonary diseases. In 2009, she was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder causing a shortage of alpha-1 antitrypsin, a protease inhibitor. This anomaly has harmful consequences for the liver and the lungs. She spends 3-6 hours a day with curing, including 7-9 aerosol exercises. Frequent hospitalization is a part of the package.

These difficult conditions – she was hospitalized again at the end of 2013 – haven't prevented her from lots of work on her degree in veterinary medicine. She is defending experiments with animals because she is convinced that without these parts of the medical research, she would have died as a small, nine-year-old girl; see The Sydney Morning Herald.

Some people aren't touched by her courage, achievements, and the clear implications of her life story so far. I am talking about a subgroup of the radical Luddites, the animal rights activists. Among other things, they have flooded her Facebook page with personal, hateful, and anti-scientific junk. The number of abusive messages was said to be 500; a whole cesspool of Woit-like subhuman junk.

I have only been to Milan once. Nice. A pigeon sh*tted into my shorts from an impossible vertical angle. I decided that our Tyl Theater in Pilsen is prettier than La Scala.

The Science Magazine was one of the small number of English-speaking news outlets that have informed us that the campaign by the animal activists in Milan, Italy reached Nazi proportions this week. (I think that the official name of these activists, Nazi animalists, coined by Caterina Simonsen, is accurate. It's not just an analogy. Nazis' opinions about these matters were identical and they established the modern environmental movement. The policitian who has introduced the world's first nearly complete ban on medical experiments with animals was called Adolf Hitler. Sadly, the Jews didn't enjoy the animal rights.) Posters including physiologist Edgardo D'Angelo, parasitologist Claudio Genchi, pharmacologist Alberto Corsini, and Maura Francolini, a biologist were distributed in Milan. The researchers are called "murderers" and photos, home addresses, and telephone numbers of these researchers are used to encourage the Luddites' soulmates to "call these executioners and tell them what you think of them."

Don't get me wrong. I respect animals. And I love cats, including adult ones, and puppies etc. Adult dogs and horses are OK, and so on. ;-) I had trouble while killing a spider a few days ago. (It's silly that these remarks "have" to be added all the time: the battle in the Italian media is between vegans who love dogs and support the animal testing and sick people who would be helped by better medicine but who oppose animal testing.) And I surely do have problems with unnecessary death or torture of animals. But after my 7th birthday I understood that death is a part of the life cycle of animals including us. Equally importantly, by doing this kind of research, we are gaining the abilities to save many more lives – of humans and animals – that arguably compensate the sacrifices of the individual animals, martyrs of science.

Genchi, one of the targets, isn't "scared" but "feels uneasy" about the witch hunt. Some politicians have expressed sympathies with the researchers. So do I. And I encourage the animal activists to peacefully relocate to a jungle which is free of similar murders – and other signs of civilization; their staying in Italy proves their stunning hypocrisy and cowardliness. Europe hasn't been a jungle for many centuries or thousands of years and it's time to get used to this fact.

I admire Caterina Simonsen for her relentless struggle – combined with life and studies she can place on top of that – as well as for her refusal to be satisfied with a compromise with the anti-scientific scum. They say that her life is less valuable than 10 rats. Well, the opinions of rats and Nazi animalists don't count. Her life is more valuable than those of 1,000 Luddites – and unlike theirs, my order-of-magnitude estimate does count.

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snail feedback (23) :

reader Honza said...

The hypocrisy surprises me. People who actually believe,
that those scientists are "murderers and executioners" should be
hardly willing to meet them face to face. If they believe what they are saying,
they should strive to avoid them at any cost. ;-) The very fact that that they
are willing to harass them should be taken as prove of their believe in extreme
pacifism of named scientists.

reader Bob Felts said...

On the one hand, you claim that science can't answer questions about morality; on the other hand, you claim that "her life is more valuable than those of 1,000 Luddities"? On what are you basing your statement, since it can't be science?

reader Gene Day said...

I hope that when the end comes for me I will be able to honestly say that the world is a better place for my having lived in it. There is not the slightest doubt that Caterina is making the world a better place for us all and that those who would return us to the dark ages are making it a worse place.
Science or not, do you have any doubt about our host's comparison?

reader Bob Felts said...

What you have to say about your life doesn't really count. It's what other people say, isn't it?

In any case, I greatly enjoy Lubos and his posts. When he tears into the anti-quantum zealots, he provides hard reasons for why he's right and those who disagree with him are wrong. But here it appears he's painted himself into a corner. He has said that science cannot answer questions about morality. So I want to know the basis for his claim.

Science or not, do you have any doubt about our host's comparison?

No, I don't. But that's hardly relevant, is it? So far, all you've done is enshrine your personal preference "in stone" by using positive comparisons in one case "a better place for us all" (which, by the way, is at the expense of other inhabitants of this planet. Why do we have a privileged position in the grand scheme of things?) and pejoratives in the other case ("dark ages", "a worse place"). Surely morality isn't decided by group size, is it?

reader Shannon said...

Between morality and science there is plain common sense.

reader Gene Day said...

Making the world a better place for mankind ("us all") is at the expense of the other inhabitants of the planet? You sound like one of the eco-nuts, my friend.
This is not a zero sum game and it is perfectly obvious that “we” are in a privileged position on this planet. That is exactly as it should be.
Of course what i say about my life doesn’t count for very much but I will know. I really will know.

reader Wanda said...

It's hard to believe the Italians used to be the Romans.

reader Peter F. said...

This world would be a dull place without full-blooded, extraordinary, passionately truth-seeking - and of course alongside it all highly emotional - people; like, _not least_, Luboš!

reader Diana Z. said...

I too have your spider guilt problem. To avoid it, trap the spider under a see-through container, stick a sheet of paper underneath, and take it outdoors. You won't have to deal with remorse. :)

reader Eugene S said...

Well, I can say that you've made a difference in my life. More than once, I've asked myself WWGNS (What Would Gene Not Say?), in catching myself before writing or saying something rash and intemperate. (It doesn't work all the time LOL.)

reader Gordon said...

This says it all:

reader Luboš Motl said...

Hi, it was of course a joke. I don't believe that such numbers mean anything. I don't believe they are scientific. They're subjective opinions but yes, I have expressed mine and I am convinced that it's much closer to everything good about the mankind's achievements and values than theirs.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Diana, I always do it as the first solution - sometimes even with flies. One needs to have a nearby paper and cup and in this case, I didn't want to risk that the spider would disappear before I find the tools because it was fast.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Right! But much of it is really due to social habits. For example, it was determined that the Greeks today are genetically almost identical to the ancient Greeks, also surprising. ;-)

reader SteveBrooklineMA said...

Dear Diana- That's what I do usually. Or just pick it up with tissue, they almost always survive.

But what do you do when it's freezing out? I caught a couple wasps in my apartment in Minnesota once, in the winter. I took them outside, turned over the jar, and they were dead before they hit the ground. "Oh well, that's Nature," I thought.

reader Rkv said...

I fully agree, but don't put it like a battle between Italy and Science: it's always a small, dirty subgroup. Italians are equally able to discover science and to prevent it, and this was especially the case in Galileo's time. I'd rather say that the variance is huge.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Sounds nice but I am not able to believe it is a small group. In my opinion, it is a majority of the society.

reader Rkv said...

We don't need to guess anymore. I found two surveys (for italians, in italian): .

The first one (2003) shows that "only" 39% would avoid animal testing in any case (while an 8% only on the "most evolved animals"). The second one (2004) is a bit mixed: the 52.8% agrees with using animals in medical research, but when the question states explicitely "experimenting drugs on animals" the percentage drops to 44.9%; on the other hand, if the tested drugs are potentially "life-saver" then the 61,3% would happily sacrifice animals.

reader anna v said...

Not so surprising. Do you know the story of Aristedes in ancient Athens? "An illiterate voter who did not recognize Aristedes went to him and asked him to write for him on the shard ( ostrakon) that was the ballot of the time the name "Aristedes". And Aristedes asked, why, if you do not know him, you want to ostrcize him? the answer? " I am tired of hearing how just he is".

reader Rene Henc said...

Luboš, fortunately, it's not a majority of society :-)

I don't remember the statistics exactly, but it's like smaller tens of percent (which is way too much, anyway).

I could find it for you, but it would take some time (my business is market research therefore I sometimes need data on these topics).

reader Rene Henc said...

I think that those "activists" should lead by an example and should publicly promise that from now on they will boycott all drugs and other products where experiments with animals have been involved in their development or testing.

And they should also make their medical records publicly available for independent control.

I wonder how long would their determination withstand :-D ...I generally think that almost all such people are utter hypocrites.

reader Pavel Krapivsky said...

These extreme animal rights activists are disgusting and they pose a danger for scientists. E.g., in most medical research facilities experiments with animals are confined to areas which can be reached only by people working there, many of those researches hide their addresses, etc. Needless to say, using medicine and criticizing animal research is hypocrisy. Still, there are experiments and experiments. Here are two examples (admittedly not a scientific evidence).

In a book ``Sync'', Steven Strogatz describes tons of interesting experiments devoted to the understanding of the sleep patterns. Many experiments are even on human subjects, in the past volunteers would go to caves and spent months there often coming out a bit mentally disturbed. A set of experiments which I cannot forget involved rats. The idea was to identify the part of the brain responsible for circadian rhythms. More than 100 years ago doctors already knew that it was in the hypothalamus as patients with tumors in this area suffered from irregular sleep-wake cycles. But Curt Richter, a biologist at Johns Hopkins University, was a meticulous guy, so he devoted 60 years of his life studying this in depth. Strogatz writes: ``In an arduous and gruesome series of experiments, Richter blinded rats and then systematically removed their adrenals, pituitaries, thyroids...; induced convulsions; administrated electroshock, alcoholic stupor, prolonged anesthesia. After sewing the rats back up and returning them to their cages, he found that none of these horrific interventions altered their rhythms... Then he cut their brains in one location after another, testing whether any individual lesion disrupted their circadian rhythms. None of the nicks made any difference. The rats went right on feeding, drinking... except when the lesions were placed in the front part of the hypothalamus. Then the rats became arrhythmic.'' Strogatz is quick to point out when the research helps to treat patients, but nothing in this particular case. He writes that in 1970s the specific area was determined much more precisely and essentially noninvasively (using radioactively labeled amino acids injected into eyes of rats).

The only time I attended a seminar mentioning experiments with animals, they were also driven by totally irrelevant (and horrific) curiosity. The title was related to the Ginzburg-Landau equation, the author reported simulations, but then switched to his newest collaboration with brain scientists. It started with attempts to utilize Ginzburg-Landau equations, but quickly moved to more basic research. They figured out the parts of brain responsible for the working of the index finger, middle finger, and ring finger, these parts were adjacent to each other, and then they asked, What would happen if the middle finger is removed. Well, they found that the middle part in the brain responsible for the middle finger starts helping two other parts, the attached halves were involved in respective helping. They performed many experiments removing middle fingers of monkeys, they probably needed to have good statistics to claim the discovery...

It seems plausible that the fraction of sadists among the guards in jails is substantially higher than generally in the populace. Who knows, maybe there is a similar (even if weaker) correlation regarding people involved in the animal research.

reader Antonio said...

It's sad that my country (that once as you said was the homeland of respected scientists) now is behaving so irrational and anti-scientific. I also agree that these Nazi-Animalist (or Nazi-ecologist, which is another interesting set of people) should come back to the jungle where their life expectancy would drop down to few minutes. Anyway I guess that these irrational process occurs not only in Italy (unfortunately), I am living in Spain since few years and I see something similar happening. Sad.