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Is the knowledge we have the knowledge we need?


An argument in favour of animal experimentation
Francis Crick Scientist
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The monkeys after all, in the wild, in their natural state don’t lead exactly pleasant lives. I mean, they… they at least have freedom, but they don’t necessarily get enough to eat, they maybe have short lives due… because of predators, which is a normal thing, or they may suffer from diseases which are not treated. Animals in laboratories are now much better treated partly due to the Animal Rights Movement and so on. They are properly fed, if they have some infection it’s dealt with and… and they… great lengths… people go to great lengths just in these experiments to see that the monkeys don’t suffer pain. It’s very fortunate that when, as we know from human beings, if you put an electrode… you take off the skull, which is a painful business, but once you’ve taken off the skull, if you put an electrode into the brain to pick up the signals, there are no pain receptors in the brain or no… you don’t feel it at all, you don’t know the electrode is there, so presumably we… we think it appears to be the same for a monkey. The monkey… the operations which cause pain are done under an anaesthetic and even if you’re working on an alert monkey… and the monkey actually is glad to do the experiments because he gets a bit bored in his cage even if he’s given television. He gets a bit bored in his cage and they quite like to work away, in fact they get impatient, they do get rewarded with a bit of orange juice… they get impatient if somebody comes in the room and they’ll rattle the key because they want to get on with the experiment and get a bit more orange juice, so I don’t think the monkey has such a bad time and I think the knowledge is important and it is therefore worth doing those things.

[Q] But isn’t it… well, isn’t it… it is intellectual curiosity which drives you?

No, well it is in my case but remember that… that all this work on the brain will have medical implications so that if you want to make a really strong defence you have to say that what we find out will be important in medical terms and for understanding various illnesses like schizophrenia or depression, for example, will probably be illuminated the more we discover about the brain.

The late Francis Crick, one of Britain's most famous scientists, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. He is best known for his discovery, jointly with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, of the double helix structure of DNA, though he also made important contributions in understanding the genetic code and was exploring the basis of consciousness in the years leading up to his death in 2004.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Animal Rights Movement

Duration: 2 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: 1993

Date story went live: 08 January 2010