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Posted
21 June 2005

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Verisimilitude

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Science Shows That Whales Are Purdy

So our illustrious environment minister Ian Campbell is saving the whales. It's hard to argue with the intent here, but some of the words being used by him (and others) just makes me cringe. I have an intense dislike for terms such as "majestic animals" and "great apes of the sea" being used as a justification for public policy decisions. The implication of course is that we should only care about the pretty animals and all the ugly ones can go and get stuffed. Or get a boob job. Or something.

On to specifics, and on Radio National this morning Campbell describes his two main arguments against whaling: their numbers are too low, and current whaling techniques are inhumane. Again, you get no disagreement from me about either of those, but check out the way he conflates the two under the guise of science:

The only peer-reviewed, serious scientific work on these issues shows that whale stocks are under enormous stress; whale populations were taken to the brink of extinction only twenty years ago, [and] they're only beginning to recover. The science also shows that there is no humane way to kill a whale.

(My transcript of this RealAudio stream)

By all means, lets appeal to legitimate research into whale numbers as a justification for a ban on whaling, especially given the bogus justification of current whaling practices as scientific research. But don't try to imply that the same degree of scientific rigour has been (or can be) applied to determining humaneness.

We can possibly know how much pain an animal suffers when it is slaughtered in a given way, but it's highly unlikely to be the subject of serious scientific research (let's hope not anyway). And anyway even if we were able to quantify the pain suffered by the animals, this isn't the only factor in determining whether the animals are being killed humanely or not. Ultimately it's a matter of ethics, which is a subject that clearly cannot be studied through scientific investigation.

7 Comments

Posted by
Chris
2005-06-21 15:32:34 -0500
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Couldn't agree more with your opening 'graph here. Such language plays directly into the main Japanese argument, that our attempts to ban whaling is just cultural imperialism: "how would we react, " we are rhetorically asked, "if the Japanese wanted to ban the slaughter of that majestic creature, the cow?".


Posted by
Matt
2005-06-21 15:32:34 -0500
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Maybe that's why the Japanese have to kill so many whales for scientific purposes; they're trying to figure out how much various slaughter methods hurt.

There have been a bunch of apparently serious studies that have tried to determine how animals feel pain; these guys sting fish's lips with wasps and so on. I suppose from that you could make some scientific guesstimates about how much slaughter hurts, which in most cases would probably come down to how long it takes, though stuff like how much tissue damage were involved might also come into play (according to Willard Price they used to use explosive harpoons to blow big holes in whales; electric harpoons are arguably more humane).

The "majestic" tag really gets my goat too, though; and I can understand the Japanese guy they always get to say "You guys kill like ten million cows every year, why are our 500 whales so much worse than that? You even eat kangaroos, the great apes of the outback!"

But you know where I stand on the whole issue!


Posted by
Sunny
2005-06-21 15:32:34 -0500
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I think you've got a great idea for a comic book bad guy in there: Professor Payne: Doctor of Painology. He'd have a stethoscope and one of those reflecty thingies on his head.

Also: Fear the cow.


Posted by
Alan Green
2005-06-21 15:32:34 -0500
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Posted by
Alan Green
2005-06-21 15:32:34 -0500
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err... your blog ate my url. Try clicking on the "Alan Green" in this comment.


Posted by
alastair
2005-06-21 15:32:34 -0500
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Urk, a bug in markdown. Will fix your comment and report the bug. And click your link. :)


Posted by
tv shows
2005-06-21 15:32:34 -0500
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Why do people kill the whales anyway? Do people actually eat whale?