Animal Rights: A Very Short Introduction

By David DeGrazia | Go to book overview
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Chapter 7
Animal research

For seventeen years, beginning in 1960, scientists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City conducted cat sex experiments. In these experiments, the researchers mutilated cats in various ways such as removing parts of their brains, destroying their sense of smell, and deadening their sense of touch by severing nerves in their sex organs and then evaluated their sexual performance in different settings. Thus, for example, researchers calculated average frequencies of ‘mounts’ for cats deprived of their sense of smell. Although funded by the (US) National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health (NIH), how this work might have benefited children, or any human beings, was difficult to fathom. Then again, the museum's director, Thomas Nicholson, apparently did not feel any such promise of benefit was required: ‘If anything has distinguished this museum, it has been its freedom to study whatever it chooses, without regard to its demonstrable practical value. We intend to maintain this freedom’ (quoted by Burns). While many scientists may have felt similarly in the days of this controversy, they apparently did not find this work significant even from a purely scientific standpoint; of the twenty-one articles published on the basis of the cat sex experiments, few were ever cited in the scientific literature. Nor did the public care for Nicholson's laissez-faire attitude about animal research, once they learnt about the experiments through the efforts of activist Henry Spira (as described, along with the


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Animal Rights: A Very Short Introduction


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