Is a “life worth living” a concept worth having?

7 04 2013

We discussed this incredibly thoughtful, thorough & analytical paper on Wed. at Behaviour Group. It reviews & expands FAWC’s recent call for captive animals to be given lives worth living (LWL), not just lives free of the worse welfare problems. It essentially asks us to apply the same standards to farm and lab animals as we do to our pets. It had a wonderful suggestion that animal-derived food should be labelled according to whether it came from animals with “lives worth living” or animals with “lives not worth living’: what a storm that would create! (Though, confusingly, maybe it’s better to be responsible for the death of an animal whose life was not worth living than one whose life was?). One section considered the merits of creating non-sentient animals (lives without experience, LWE). This idea got us quite worked up, although we recognise a paradox: that we like the idea of anaesthetising animals to avoid short-term suffering, but we don’t like the idea of permanent unconsciousness as a way of avoiding lifelong suffering (partly because it seems a perverse solution to welfare problems, partly because we’re not sure that it would work practically). The paper also raised very interesting questions about how good and bad experiences combine to affect overall welfare: how does the maths work, & does anyone know? Definitely a PWR (paper worth reading).

If only we could give these to mink…

7 04 2013

Excellent find from Jamie:

Sex, parasites and penis bones

3 04 2013

I forgot to write that last month one of our collaborators, Albrecht Schulte-Hofstedde, gave a good talk in IB: “Sex and parasites in wild mammals.” It was entertaining, and peppered with enough wild mink and bacula to keep us happy, but best of all as hanging out with him, and his spending time with Maria to discuss the PCA analyses she needs to do next on her “mink mate choice” data. Thanks Albrecht! The below is taken from his “40 under 40” award interview. albrechtSchulteScreen shot 2013-04-03 at 9.29.41 AM

There’s nothing like a good argument (she asserted)

2 04 2013

I’m a bit behind with reporting these, but two weeks ago we discussed the basic building blocks of arguments, as well as things that that sound like arguments but aren’t. We learnt that an argument is defined by its structure (in which reasons or premises lead to a conclusion, although sometimes the conclusion might be stated first). Some of the premises might be unstated, in which case they’re assumptions. Getting someone to unpack their assumptions is therefore often a useful starting point or even a good question at conferences (and if you disagree about whether they are true, you could discuss this or just agree to differ and carry on from there). A sound argument is based on true premises and has a valid logical structure (so an argument can, weirdly, be valid but false).

What about non-arguments: the use of assertion, sophistry and rhetoric? Assertions aren’t arguments – they’re just unsupported statements of belief. As Nigel Warburton eloquently put it “merely asserting something, no matter how loudly, does not make it true”. I bet we all know people who do that… Sophistry is fake argumentation: a catch-all term for a variety of sham arguments involving wordplay and displays of apparent cleverness/pseudoprofundity designed to dupe or bewilder. Rhetoric may be similar, or it may not pretend to be argument at all. For example, using jokes or moving stories about your old gran could all be forms of rhetoric, but they would not be pretending to convince by argument (they would be trying to persuade by other means).

The million dollar question of course is, could we spot these in real life, and if so how quickly? (My current reaction time has gone down from days to hours, but minutes to seconds would be handier). So, I have promised anyone from my group a bottle of champagne if they ever publicly, speedily and correctly challenge someone — not me though — for making an unjustified assertion, or using sophistry or rhetoric. (I should maybe limit this to one each, since I sense some are getting rather good at all this…).

Lauren’s paper on “bunks” for mink accepted today!

2 04 2013

Never tire of the AABS “Pleased to inform you” email! Lauren Dawson (now doing a PhD with Lee Niel) did her Masters project with me, providing nursing mink mothers with an elevated shelf or “bunk bed” so that they can rest away from their kits when they need a break. This simple enrichment made them less stereotypic & reduced signs of mastitis. (Misha Buob replicated this on a larger scale the following year & found that bunks reduce infant mortality too).