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.