Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Hypocrisy from Vic shadow agricultural minister

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-02-03

Victorian shadow agriculture minister John Vogels is an idiot and should be sacked.

He wants to stop rational bioscientists from learning essential skills, claiming that experimentation on anaesthetized rabbits is cruel, while ignoring the far greater cruelties inflicted on many more animals when they are bled to death, without anaesthetic or rapid destruction of the brain, to satisfy the irrational whims of religious zealots.

He claims that pharmacology and physiology students can learn all about the effects of various drugs on the blood pressure by watching a video.  Perhaps he thinks that watching Cate Blanchett a few times makes you a great actor, or that watching "The Italian Job" should qualify you to drive a car?

Frankly, if watching a DVD is enough to make you a skilled bioscientist, then why watch the DVD at all?  It’s quicker to read a textbook.

Vogel has no understanding that the ability to regurgitate the effects of propanolol or adrenaline on the blood pressure is not the main reason for doing these undergraduate experiments.

  • Manual skills need to be developed dealing with the vagaries of both tissue and monitoring equipment.  (It’s easy to misplace a needle in the thin-walled arteries of small mammals).
  • A key part of biology is the development at an instinctual level of individual variation, even if you won’t end up as an experimentalist.  (During human dissections, we recorded things like brachial arteries that split in the upper arm, feeding this into databases that give surgeons a better idea of what they can expect).
  • Inculcating the attitude required to get things right the first time (because you don’t get a second animal if you screw up, and have no results to write up).

I’ve sacrificed lots of animals in my time, and always gave them due respect if they were warm-blooded (I’ll admit to being less caring about the comfort of cane toads, drosophila, and anything that grew in a petri dish).  With each experiment on live mammals, my empathy for them increased, and it became obvious that the more stressed the animal, the less reliable were the results.  Such experiences led me eventually to give up eating the flesh of mammals – although I have no problem drinking milk, or making best use of cows that have been killed by wearing leather.

We desperately need more and better-trained bioscientists, for the direct treatment of people and animals, and for a body of people capable of research in academia and industry.

Vogel places the search for truth and the development of skills required to decrease suffering of animals and humans below the cruelty demanded in the name of religion.  Imagine a world without the biosciences versus a world without Abrahamism!  Which is the better world?

Perhaps he should also think about banning the slaughtering of livestock.  At least biologists use anaesthetic.  Banning the eating of lamb and beef would decrease cruelty, lead to a healthier population, as well as improving the environment.

PS: If university staff think that watching a video is an option rather than a real experiment, that the knowledge of the effects of a particular drug is the key educational objective of the experiment, they are just as bad.  Shut the lecture theatres, publish the notes or a reading list on the web, mark the exams – what do we need a university for?

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