17
$\begingroup$

I wish to raise the attention on ethics and animals. It was fueled by https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/35902/producing-artificial-gunnison-prairie-dog-calls-or-scent-to-attract-the-prairie, which is a question that suspectedly deals with hunting on wildlife and/or the extermination of pests. A more common ethical issue in Biology is the (ab)use of animals for experimentation.

One of the comments placed is "Ethics are of no concern, this is science". Personally, I think this is too black-and-white. The Nazi Doctors called themselves medical doctors and scientists. The invention of nuclear fission led to the nuclear bomb. Science and ethics go hand in hand.

Also, there was a comment made on the shooting question that the use of hunting techniques, such as using mating calls to lure animals in, are all part of evolution. This is off. Not responding to mating calls is bad for reproduction and hence reduces fitness. Imposing a fake call on gunpoint to select the deaf ones out and shoot the ones with keen hearing does not improve fitness.

To generalize the discussion I wish to raise two questions:

1. Should we allow questions that ask for aid in slaughtering wildlife?
The point of discussion will likely include 'what is wildlife'. For example the pond question https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/35862/how-to-fix-a-small-pond-that-has-become-stagnant basically also asks for tips on extermination, but that would in my opinion be simply microorganisms and not much of an issue. Similarly, a rat-infested house will need to be cleaned up for sure (i.e., it concerns a 'pest'). But killing wildlife is a step too far for me, as one needs to actively seek them in the wild in their habitat (outside the urban environment) for the sake of killing them for fun.

2. Should we allow questions that deal with help in animal experimental procedures?
By answering such questions in general, folks may risk the vengeance of left-winged radicals. Moreover, the reason for the experimentation may be ethically questionable. Do we allow any animal experimentation question, or should we ban just-because-we-can-, just-for-fun- and questionable-purpose (testing make-up and the likes) animal-experiment questions?

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Those types of rodents are agricultural pests. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jul 9 '15 at 3:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @candianer - Thanks for explaining. In that case OP should define that in the question I guess. It appears to evolve around pleasure hunting. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jul 9 '15 at 3:40
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Well they can be pests, but I don't know whether the OP is asking for pest control or for recreation. The question could be edited to remove any mention of killing since it is really about attracting animals. I think that it could be closed as opinion based since I doubt there has been any scientific study about luring masses of prairie dogs into a field. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jul 9 '15 at 3:53
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer - thanks for your cool analysis. I may be overreacting. I know hunting is commonplace in the US (and Canada, or doesn't your user name has anything to do with the country :-). $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jul 9 '15 at 3:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There is a fine line between hunting for food and just "slaughtering". What would you call fishing? Is that also not slaughtering and extermination of wildlife. I am not even sure if the OP means hunting. Do people still hunt in the "civilized" world? $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jul 9 '15 at 5:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AliceD Since I am not sure that the OP means hunting, I have rolled back your tag edit. It induces some bias to see a "hunting" tag. The original tags were physiology and zoology. It is not right to label the question as "hunting" outright. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jul 9 '15 at 5:17
  • $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG - You are right. Thanks for that. I appreciate your comment to OP. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jul 9 '15 at 5:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AliceD This question is fine. We should have a discussion on topics that may clash with ethics. But I am still not sure if this is about hunting. I am not sure if prairie dogs are hunted, in general - just got to know that they are. If it is so then we should not be supporting such archaic and barbaric "sports" by giving suggestions. If you can include the aspect of experimental ethics as well, then this post can be of of broad relevance. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jul 9 '15 at 8:11
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ The prairie dogs were there long before the farmers, of course if farmers plant unnaturally large concentrations of highly nutritious crops in the natural environment of the prairie dogs, they're going to eat it. Responding to this by exterminating yet another beautiful species is psychopathic or barbaric at best. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jul 9 '15 at 10:39
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @gerrit and WYSIWYG: I trust neither of you eat any produce from a farm or ranch. I don't advocate the wholesale killing of any life, but the unfortunate truth is that the large human population necessitates agricultural pest control. To protect prairie dogs (which are in no danger of extinction, by the way) and other animals and habitats in general, we need less people. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jul 9 '15 at 15:31
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @canadianer We need less people, and/or build a prairie dog proof fence/wall around the crops. It's just a matter of money. I don't think danger of extinction is the only relevant point. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jul 9 '15 at 17:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG Chickens require feed, feed comes from crops. Anyways, I'm not sure that this discussion is very relevant at this point so I'm going to bow out. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jul 10 '15 at 7:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG "Do people still hunt in the civilized world?" Yes, definitely (without going into what constitutes the "civilized world")! Moose hunting is a huge recreational/traditional sport in sweden, as is hunting of deer and game birds. The same goes for many countries in western europe. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jul 10 '15 at 9:36
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ We don't need to ask if killing animals is right or wrong. We need to discuss our line in the sand, be it ethical or semantical, as what is on-topic for the site, or not. So far the answers seem to agree that it's not too big a deal whilst the community is the size it is and the questions that could be seen to involve possible animal cruelty are few and far between. $\endgroup$ – James Jul 13 '15 at 12:55
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Nature herself is "red in tooth and claw". Do civilized people hunt? Indeed they do. The severe problem with Lyme Disease in PA is in part due to the deer population. For this reason, I open my land to hunters every autumn; people are important. However, there's a rule at our house (always was): you eat what you kill. No hunting just for sport; no killing except for food. Yet I'm squarely in your corner; I became a kinda vegetarian/no leather/etc. because of inhumane treatment of agricultural animals. I guess I'm a flexitarian, because I will buy some ethically raised/butchered meat. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Jul 18 '15 at 2:00
13
$\begingroup$

Science is amoral, scientists are not.

@Remi.b raised an interesting point comments in the Prairie dog question.

This is science website. Ethics should not be of concern here. If one doesn't want to answer by ethics, then (s)he is free not to answer.

I completely agree that science is amoral by it's nature. But this site is also for scientists, who have a social responsibility to use and convey knowledge for the benefit of civilisation. Disseminating biological knowledge to the rest of the public has to be done in such a way that justifies any animal, or human suffering, for the benefit of other life.

Note that there are no real international restrictions on ethical experimentation, however many countries have developed laws and guidelines that mostly reach the same effect.

An important part of biological experimental design is taking into account the minimisation of suffering (otherwise known as the the three Rs). I therefore propose that questions involving extermination, hunting, or other experimentation that induce pain should require ethical justification in a less formal but similar way to how an experimentalist must acquire the relevant ethical approval. At the very least there should be an obvious beneficial context.

Possible Close Reason.

I'm uncomfortable being part of a community that tolerates unusual and cruel behaviour. I'm not articulate enough to formulate a well phrased close reason, but it could be something along the lines of:

This question promotes unjustified suffering, or unusual and cruel experimentation.

Perhaps someone could expand on this. We must be careful not to cast all animal testing questions as off topic.

The issue is that both topics raised can be on topic. It would be difficult to implement a close reason that would prevent questions that encourage or involve animal cruelty, but would promote and allow questions on ethical animal testing and reasonable pest control.

Divide in the community.

This is a precedent on SE. Ethics barely comes up beyond etiquette, privacy, and semantics in other SEs. It will undoubtably be controversial to propose ethical filtering on questions and there will be people on either side of the fence.

  1. On the one hand we should commit to scientific purity; we should not allow emotion to obscure knowledge and the process of discovery. Equally, subjective ethics has no place on an objective Q&A forum.

  2. On the other hand we should be very careful about condoning unethical experimental design, an important part of the modern scientific process - the traditional teleological science has led to atrocities beyond comprehension.

It must be said that most journals, part of the current scientific process, are very careful about promoting ethically tricky papers and will reject almost anything that involves inducing human pain. Any serious academic institution also has ethical guidelines on animal testing.


Personal stance.

I thought I would include a closing statement on my general stance on the animal testing so that you can get a feel for my personal bias.

As a computational biologist/bioinformatician I rarely have to deal with ethical considerations, and have never dealt with consent for animal testing. Generally though, like a lot of the scientific community I am thoroughly in support of responsible, safe, and ethically monitored animal testing whilst alternative methods are developed for modelling the human system. Recently a major stroke research charity restricted its grant money to non animal testing in the UK. Since strokes are a systemic disease this may not be the most responsible thing to do, and using animal testing ethics as a PR stunt could harm people (I hope this isn't what they were doing). It is important to remember that animal testing experiments, particularly in the EU, are now always justified and have saved countless human lives, which I personally believe are more important than animal lives (however I hope I have made it clear that I value animal lives too). I have never seen hunting, and uncontrolled extermination contribute to science or humanity in any meaningful way and in every case I know of which involved uncontrolled culling or extermination it has been generally detrimental to biodiversity and destabilising for ecological systems. That being said, I support projects like the armyworm project, which aims to increase food yields for humans by destroying this pest organism. It is being overseen by academics in the field in conjunction with local institutes, alongside educational programmes and extensive study. Responsible pest management is achievable within ethical boundaries.

Recommended reading.

A thoroughly fascinating book I came across is Pavlov's Dogs and Schrödinger's Cat: scenes from the living laboratory. It gives a reasonably thorough history of scientific animal testing through the ages, without discussing the ethics. One can see how bizarre and cruel tests were devised, and did advance biology.

Afterthoughts

I have looked around the Biology.SE and found very little that actually promotes or advocates animal cruelty.

I'm not sure if we should go to great measures to introduce a close reason since generally the community does a good job at highlighting the difference between animal cruelty and animal testing.

Our aim is not to be an ethical body. Although personally I and many others on the site disagree morally with hunting, we should not impose those beliefs on people who perhaps grew up with it as part of their culture and tradition, and we should engage responsibly with scientific biological discussion when biological science overlaps with hunting. However hunting, like broad uncontrolled extermination, seldom overlap with biological science and can be closed as off topic. Although I would prefer something more robust than semantics to close animal cruelty questions, given the low ask rate it should suffice for the time being.

$\endgroup$
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ +1 You made me rethink my comment! I am not totally convinced that it is out goal to judge bad from good but I would quite agree and it the same time I have to recall Descartes saying "Science without consciousness is but the ruin of the soul". I am not sure I'd wish a society were scientists and their personal appreciation of good and bad are in control of scientific knowledge. I'd love to read a good post on Philosophy.SE on this subject! I wouldn't know how to correctly phase the post. If someone feels like opening such post, please leave a comment to link to it :) $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Jul 9 '15 at 18:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Maybe a more general close reason could be along the lines of This question unethical or The intention behind the question is unethical. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Jul 9 '15 at 18:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Remi.b Although I think we have a responsibility to not condone cruelty, you are completely right that it is not our place to determine absolutes for good and bad. We should approach this close reason carefully, and I imagine each time this topic is raised it will have to be evaluated case-by-case. A general ethical close reason could be misused for example when discussing uncomfortable topics like gender, animal testing, or ethnicity, which can be biologically on-topic questions. The close reason I would like to see would specifically cover unnecessary cruelty. $\endgroup$ – James Jul 9 '15 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ You have sweet illusions about animal testing. This looks like cognitive dissonance. $\endgroup$ – Nicolas Barbulesco Sep 12 '15 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Remi.b - François Rabelais said "Science sans conscience n'est que ruine de l'âme" ("Science without conscience is only ruin of the soul"), certainly not René Descartes. Descartes was completely stupid about animals and biology. $\endgroup$ – Nicolas Barbulesco Sep 12 '15 at 19:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NicolasBarbulesco Oops... I should revise my french literature and philosophy. Thanks for the correction. I wouldn't go as far as treating Descartes as a stupid man though. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Sep 12 '15 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ @NicolasBarbulesco Stroke charity's often fund stroke research. "sweet illusions..." I'm not under any illusion. What part didn't you like? Here there is no cognitive dissonance, but rather I am presenting several possible views in one argument & that's not a bad thing in this case. Re: legal. That last paragraph moves on from the subjective argument to what practically the site should do as a minimum for letigous purposes. Hopefully that's clearer now? +1 Remi.b Decartes gave a lot of thought to animal rights & was certainly not stupid, although he clearly wouldn't agree with my views! $\endgroup$ – James Sep 13 '15 at 0:08
5
$\begingroup$

Generally, I think that both types of questions can be on-topic, with the modification "managing wildlife" instead of the strongly charged "slaughtering wildlife". However, to be on-topic questions must be framed in a biologically meaningful way, for instance by relating to processes, mechanisms and experimental procedures, but this is the case for all questions at the site.

1. Managing wildlife
Pest management is a scientific field in its own right (see e.g. the journals Pest Management Science and Journal of Pest Science), and the same goes for Wildlife management, which includes for instance hunting, human-wildlife interactions and conservation (see e.g. Journal of Wildlife management and European Journal of Wildlife Research). Both fields can also be seen as subfields of applied ecology (sometimes published in more general journals, e.g. Journal of Applied Ecology and Ecological Applications), and to disregard this competely and deem such questions as off-topic does not make any sense for a biological StackExchange. More personally, the research at the department where I'm currently working consists to a large extent of applied ecology, either dealing with pest management, wildlife or conservation biology. Therefore, I think questions regarding pest management (or wildlife management in general, including hunting) can be on-topic if they are framed in an appropriate way, irrespectively of being academic or of general/practical interest (we do not really make this distinction in other topics).

The issue of pest management is also not only dealing with insects in agriculture or forestry. For instance, management of rabbits in australia, bullfrogs, racoons and many rodents come to mind, but there are also many other examples. It is also important to remember that some pest species are introduced and/or cosmopolitan species that are also relevant for conservation biology, since they put pressure on rare indigenous species. Therefore, management of wildlife or pest species is not simply a black & white issue of "bad" human-centered management and "good" conservation biology.

2. Animal experimental procedures
Animal experimentation is used as a method in medical and biological research, so I do not see any reason to ban such questions. We allow all other types of questions that deal with biological research, so why should these be excluded? Generally, these methods are also legal in many/most countries in different forms, so to ban them would be strange from this perspective as well.

Regarding both topics, I can also think of questions that I would dislike strongly from a personal/ethical standpoint. However, I suspect that many of these questions can be closed for other reasons as well (too broad, poor background, opinion-based), and we should be able to deal with them on a case-by-case basis. For instance (using the example from @WYSIWYG), I struggle to see how a question in "favour of killing of endangered species" can be framed in a reasonable and biologically interesting way. I also think that @resonating has a good point in that the community can choose "to exercise its moral compass", and users can downvote and choose not to answer questions that they dislike from an ethical perspective. At the moment, I do not think that a custom close reason is needed to deal with these issues, since we have very few of these types of questions and I also think it will be tricky to formulate such a close reason that isn't subjective and/or doesn't exclude topics that should be on-topic for the site.

Slippery slope

If we start evaluating the ethics of individual questions on hunting, pest control and animal experimentation, we are on a slippery slope towards moderation that could easily turn subjective and inconsistent. There are many other topics that can be just as controversial as the ones mentioned above, for instance cloning and genetic modification. It would be extremely unfortunate if go in the direction of letting the ethical qualms of individual users guide the entire community. Also, as mentioned above, I think that most "unethical" questions will be closeable for other reasons as well.

In the same vein, I think the suggestion by @GoodGravy that "...questions involving extermination, hunting, or other experimentation that induce pain should require ethical justification" is misguided and impractical. If the ethical justification is to be evaluated, how can this be done in a fair and predictible way? To me, the evaluation would depend on the specific group of users that vote to keep open or close on each individual question. All close-votes natually has an element of this, but the effect is compounded if the evaluation is based on subjective elements such as the ethics of the questions.

Non-academic advice

Some of the comments and answers mention that only academic advice should be allowed as on-topic. I think that such a division between academic and non-academic is really hard to define, justify and uphold.

First of all, we get a large number of questions that are curiosity based with very little previous reseach from the poster. These can hardly be labelled "academic", even if the question mentions a couple of subjects or buzzwords. To start targetting "non-academic" questions would therefore change the site practices quite a bit.

Second, I don't think you can make a clear division between questions asking for advice and those that don't. To a large extent, this just depends on the exact wording of the question, and questions searching for advice can often easily be reworded in a more general form (the same goes for no-effort homework questions).

Third, I think we should encourage, not discourage, "non-academic advice" questions from professional working in fields related to biology, e.g. fisheries, agriculture, horticulture and forestry. They could be a great addition to the site if phrased in terms of relevant processes while clearly explaining the problem that has to be solved. In fact, if I would have to choose between one or the other, I would much rather have practically relevant, applied questions in these fields that requires answers based on biology than many of the top voted questions at BioSE. Brief examples of interesting applied question could be:

I'm trying to manage a population of wild boars, and am wondering how to best allocate the hunting effort. Should we focus on hunting the yearlings or older individuals that are reproducing? Wild boars live in tight social groups were only a few individuals reproduce. To target the dominant reproductive individuals therefore seems sensible, since it will drastically reduce the reproduction in groups. However, I've heard that such hunting practices can result in the groups splitting into several smaller groups each with reproductivly active individuals, which could lead to higher reproductive rates in the long run.

Without knowing this area particularly well, I know that such consideration has been an active area of research. Answers can be based on the social dynamics as well as the sensitivity of the population growth rate to changes in different vital rates (i.e. the same method that is often used in conservation biology, but from the opposite perspective).

I've read that biological pest control using natural predators can be an effective way to manage pests. I'm now considering using this more actively in my own wheat fields, by using wider unmanaged field borders or unmanaged plots within fields to support larger predator populations. However, to be able to weigh the pros (increased pest control) and cons (smaller planted fields) I need to know more about how large the added pest control really is (the effect size). What has been observed in previous studies? My fields lie in the northern part of Germany, and it is also worth mentioning that my "field margins" are relatively wide due to relatively small individual fields and wide ditches. Is it likely that I will observe a postive effect from additional measures to support biological pest control?

Answers to this question could be based on the large body of literature that has tried to quantify these types of effects in different types of landscapes, field geometries, crops etc, while also trying to weight the positive effect against the less effective management of more fragmented fields and smaller planted areas. Also note that both these examples could easily be posted by users from a non-academic background and perspective.

Postscript

Overall, I think that the premise of the question as well as several of the comments and answers are somewhat ignorant, especially to the fact that pest management is a huge established field of science, which most users of the site probably depend on indirectly for the food that is found on their plates.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Though pest management is allowed and is on-topic any advice seeking for personal reasons should be considered off topic. What you are saying is that we should allow academic questions on pest management, wildlife and animal husbandry, which I concur with. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jul 13 '15 at 4:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Good point on applied ecology in pest control. Thats something we should encourage. However, aren't I right in thinking that most of pest management involves responsibly managing insects without destabilising ecological networks, not shooting... Perhaps you could provide a link one of the hunting articles? I'm having a tough time finding one in google scholar that isn't discussing political and social benefits of hunting. $\endgroup$ – James Jul 13 '15 at 10:11
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG I don't really understand what the "personal" reasons is referring to. We generally dont make such a distinction in other topics, and lots (lots!) of questions we get are personal musings based on curiosity. As long as the questions are framed in a biologically relevant and meaningful way we allow them. Questions that are "too localized" are closed, since they will not be interesting to anybody except the OP. However, many questions on hunting and pest management will probably be highly relevant to other users and visitors of the site, especially if Qs and As generalize the issue. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jul 13 '15 at 20:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @GoodGravy A lot is dealing with insects, but there are many other issues as well. For instance, rabbits in australia, bullfrogs, racoons and many rodents come to mind. Many larger mammals can straddle the pest managment/wildlife hunting divide, in the sense of being relevant from both perspectives. Here in Sweden, wild boars have recently started to be viewed as pests, after being reintroduced in Sweden during the 20th century. They now number >300000 (97000 were shot in 2013, and the population is still growing) and cause quite alot of damage in agriculture. [cnd...] $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jul 13 '15 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ [...cnd] @GoodGravy Many pests are also introduced species that can be relevant from a conservation/biodiversity perspective, so the issue is not black/white with pest management as "bad" and conservation biology as "good". $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jul 13 '15 at 20:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater When you say that the Q/A should be in a generalized fashion you basically mean that the question should be based on biological mechanisms. I am saying the same thing. That is what I mean by saying that personal reasons and advice seeking are off-topic. When you have to define rules, you have to be exact. "No question should ask for an advice, unless it is academic" - this solves all the issues of how to frame a Q/A suitable for the forum etc. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jul 14 '15 at 4:32
  • $\begingroup$ Its obviously dependent on exactly what the questions ask. Surely we can all be in agreement that advocating unnecessary animal cruelty should be off topic. How do we separate responsible pest control from said animal cruelty? Votes, or a close reason? $\endgroup$ – James Jul 14 '15 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG We don't generally discourage advice (or label it as off-topic), with the exception of medical advice since that is not safe. From what I've seen, the community generally don't close questions for being asked for "personal reasons". All questions at the site must ask biologically relevant questions (e.g. asking for processes and mechanisms), that are generalized to some extent, and the same goes for questions on pest control and wildlife managament. However, I don't understand why they should be treated differently than questions on other topics. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jul 14 '15 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater I just proposed an option. Note that I said non-academic advice seeking should be considered off-topic, not any advice. You and I are saying the same thing- just in a different tone. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jul 14 '15 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG Maybe it's merely a question of tone. However, I think it is unaccurate to say that non-academic questions (or advice) will (or should) generally be closed. As long as questions are biologically interesting with some effort from the OP they are usually allowed. If all non-academic questions should be closed, quite alot of questions have to be closed. To me, saying that non-academic advice on pest management and wildlife management should be deemed off-topic is changing the normal practices of the site quite a bit, while targetting a specific subfield of biology. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jul 14 '15 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG To rephrase; I don't think questions from professionals working in fields related to biology (relevant here e.g. fisheries, agriculture, horticulture, forestry) that are asking for advice should be labelled as off-topic. As long as they are not extremely specific (i.e. too localized), phrased in terms of relevant processes and show the efforts/thought of the poster they could be a great addition to the BioSE. Maybe that is what you mean, but in that case I don't think that "non-academic advice seeking should be considered off-topic" is an accurate description. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jul 14 '15 at 22:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @GoodGravy I see some hunting as wildlife management. In most of the US, large predator species such as wolves, bears, or big cats have been wiped out, but deer have not. I think humans have a responsiblity to step in and take the place of these predators, because realistically we will not restore the original predator populations. But there is a big difference between the sustainable hunting of abundant species like deer and going after endangered species or hunting using methods that cause anymore pain and suffering than absolutely necessary. $\endgroup$ – user137 Jul 21 '15 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ @GoodGravy As a starting point, I think comments pointing out the problems and downvotes is a better way to handle this. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jul 22 '15 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater I agree that it is an agreeable solution whilst the ask rate on such questions is so low and our community is relatively tightly knit! (See my answer under heading "Afterthoughts") $\endgroup$ – James Jul 22 '15 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ @user137 I'm interested in why it would be unrealistic to reintroduce predators. Hasn't this been done in other countries with reasonable success? $\endgroup$ – James Jul 22 '15 at 14:27
3
$\begingroup$
  1. Maybe, but perhaps some should languish unanswered on principle.

This is an opportunity for the community to exercise its moral compass. If someone wanted advice on how to keep hamsters alive as long as possible while deep-frying them that would generate related questions that would be on-topic here, but I would not feel comfortable answering. Questions related to boiling a lobster are ethically very different but scientifically very similar. They're orthogonal axes, there's no easy way to say "all unethical things on that side of the line". If something is terrible, don't answer it. All SE sites rely on the judgement of their users. Use yours.

  1. Definitely.

Falls under "questions about techniques", defined as on topic.

We can make a stand and say "only ethical procedures according to this standard of ethics allowed, no questions about all the other horrible things" but that doesn't actually do anything. If someone wants to know what the most humane way to kill a deer is, should we turn them away because hunting and hunting-related things are off-topic? People who want answers will get them. Do we want people to get them from Bio.SE or the internet at large?

This is where the answers are. We can't stop people from doing unethical things to animals and each other, whether we allow their questions or not. What we can do, what we should do, is provide accurate answers and ethical advice. It prevents community isolation and it's the only way to actually cut down on bad things.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Re: "best way to kill a deer". We should be responsible for giving well informed advice in this. After all we perhaps have expertise on dealing with animal well being. However, we have to be clear on the impact of that advice, particularly in the context of hunting recreationally rather than scientific advance. For example, if we minimise suffering of one animal that an OP had in mind, we relieve some pain of that singular individual being hunted. But our tolerance toward hunting may cause the death of other animals. I might see this as irresponsible. It's a tricky area... $\endgroup$ – James Jul 10 '15 at 1:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's a balancing point between number of deer killed and suffering per deer, and in the absence of concrete numbers for either of those things, we as a community should let the individual answerer decide. $\endgroup$ – Resonating Jul 14 '15 at 20:30
3
$\begingroup$

This required quite some thought and these are my opinions on the question of ethics.


A note on ethics

Ethics, like morals, are subjective. What is right to a person or community may be wrong to the other. Therefore, the best option is to consider what is legally ethical. Now, even laws are different for different countries and since SE does not represent any country, our stand should not based on laws of a particular country.

Regarding Good Gravy's suggestion: "questions involving extermination, hunting, or other experimentation that induce pain should require ethical justification". I guess that may be interpreted that it does not require ethical justification to kill an organism that does not exhibit a response that we call as pain. Note that scientifically pain is just a chemical response and even plants elicit chemical signalling to injury. What is painful is also subjective. (Basically, you have to define pain. Many religions and cultures claim that their method of execution is the best because it is painless.)

So it is best to define some rules so that any such conflict of opinion may be avoided.

These are some categories that I think should be considered off-topic:

  • Questions explicitly in favour of killing of endangered species
  • Questions asking for any sort of advice regarding "pest" management. Questions asking for advice should be purely academic in nature.
  • Questions related to animal husbandry in non-science sectors (Though I am not sure if this is too rigid).

Questions regarding animal experimentation

Fearing that if we allow animal experimentation questions some activists may not like it, is like is saying that we should not talk about evolution because creationists would not like it. We should not be worried about any unscientific mob, however, it is important to follow some ethical guidelines while performing research.

So my opinion is that any question regarding animal experimentation should add a declaration that they follow the animal ethics guidelines of their institute. We cannot actually go back and investigate but we cannot be held responsible if the norms have not been followed.

Questions related to advice on animal execution, euthanasia or management should be considered off-topic as these are to be followed as per the institutional animal ethics norms.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of basing our morals on the laws, and your final statement is very good. I'm not sure that pain needs to be discussed too much. It's subjective to a degree, but if an animal has the ability to experience the sensation of pain, then we shouldn't cause it to suffer unnecessarily. Plants etc can respond to damage, but cannot experience the sensation of pain. $\endgroup$ – James Jul 10 '15 at 12:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You hit it on the head by saying questions should be purely academic in nature. I think questions about pest control and animal husbandry can be on-topic, but there's a right and a wrong way to ask them (ie scientific vs non-scientific). $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jul 10 '15 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ Also, we need to be careful about imposing our individual morals on the entire community and look at questions objectively. For example, a question about hunting or pest control shouldn't be closed because you have a moral objection to the practice but can be closed because it is not a scientific pursuit, depending on the question. This comment is not directed towards any specific person, just something for everyone to think about. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jul 10 '15 at 19:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @canadianer Yes I agree that personal opinions should not be a basis of closure but it is best to keep advice seeking on hunting/animal husbandry/pest control as off-topic. In other words people should not ask "what is the best time to hunt X". They can ask "what is the foraging season of X". It is difficult to argue on subjective matters. So the easiest option is to let the OP bear the onus of making their question on topic by making it sound academic. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jul 11 '15 at 6:02
  • $\begingroup$ I agree completely; $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jul 11 '15 at 6:03
  • $\begingroup$ +100 for "Ethics, like morals, are subjective." $\endgroup$ – Luigi Jul 11 '15 at 12:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Luigi I think we open a can of worms by talking about ethics and morals as one and the same. Ethics are rules that are defined by legal systems and institutional principles, whereas morals are much more subjective to a persons individual beliefs. Here is a nice breakdown of it. I'm not sure if this is the best example: I could not ethically steal bread to feed my starving family (it breaks some rules) but I could morally justify it. The confusion arises because you can agree or disagree (subjective) with ethics (objective). $\endgroup$ – James Jul 12 '15 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ @GoodGravy Both ethical and moral are subjective, IMHO. Only legal is definitive and that too is not universal. Laws are not necessarily the most correct solution. It is a solution that works for time being. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jul 12 '15 at 19:04
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Pest management is an established scientific field of biology (see my answer for more), and to exclude it from the site doesn't make any sense to me. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jul 12 '15 at 20:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater I agree with you. All I said is that seeking advice on these areas should be considered off topic. Seeking advice means - what should I do to eliminate bedbugs (and stuff like that). $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jul 13 '15 at 3:58
  • $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater I think you are talking about an entirely different kind of pest management. Here I think "pest" management is referring to megafauna that are causing no harm and are being exterminated for no particular reason, or for fun. Have I understood correctly? $\endgroup$ – James Jul 13 '15 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ @GoodGravy I haven't heard anybody refer to the things you mention as pest management (more accurate would be sport/recreational hunting or unnecessary killing), so I find that a very strange interpretation. If somebody talks about pest management I think it is most natural to interprete that as management of species that affect human activites negatively (i.e. pests). Whether the management measures are proportional or rational is another question though. [cnd...] $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jul 13 '15 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ [...cnd] Either way, both pest managment and hunting can (and should) clearly be informed by biology, so to label them as off-topic generally would be strange. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jul 13 '15 at 20:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater The original question is more what is mostly in debate. Pest management of Prairie dogs for no scientifically valid reason using a gun. I wouldn't bundle pest management and hunting together. You're right; pest management is underpinned by biology. $\endgroup$ – James Jul 14 '15 at 10:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG But personal medical advice is the exception (for a very specific reason), not the rule. Nowhere do we discourage advice in general, as long as it is not clearly opinion-based. We both agree that the question linked above is not ideal, but for the general case (which this discussion is arguably about) I don't think that discouraging advice is a good idea, nor in line with the help pages or the current site practices. Just because questions are framed in terms of advice shouldn't make them off-topic. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jul 22 '15 at 9:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .