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Whatever side of the vivisection debate you are on, this book is worth reading and paying attention to. "The Monkey Wars" calls attention to the need for discussion and understanding between researchers and animal-rights activists - something that is rarely happening. Intolerance, she shows, is leading to much suffering - both human and animal - and it is rife among both communities. The idea that scientists who experiment on animals are all foaming-at-the-mouth maniacs, cackling and eager to cause suffering with their array of sharp instruments may occasionally be nearly true (see the sections on Harry Harlow). But Blum's book says that the majority of vivisectionists are dedicated to working for the good of people - at the cost of other animals (in this case, non-human primates). They believe this is fully acceptable - humans take priority and we must do what we can to help our own. Here lies the real debate - what gives us the right to inflict this suffering on these animals for the 'good' of mankind? What makes it acceptable? And how much good does it really do us, anyway? Animal rights activists generally think it's NOT accaptable, and many doubt that much of it has any merit after all (see the chapter on baboon-human organ transplants). They (we) have a horrible reputation amongst researchers, so much so that at the first mention of 'animal rights' causes many of these people to close their ears and eyes and hum a silly tune until it's all over. While there HAVE been cases of pointless destruction and horrible threats to researchers in 'defense' of lab animals, the majority of animal activists are peaceful, reasonable people who want to ease suffering - including that of humans - not cause more. Through a series of articles about and interviews with a whole spectrum of people involved, Blum shows us both sides of this sometimes hopeless 'debate' - and she does show us some hope as well. There are people on either side of the fence willing to listen and work with those who may not see things in exactly the same light. What's important, "The Monkey Wars" shows, is that we all be willing to listen to and consider others' arguments before making assumptions about the intentions of 'the other side'. This may not solve the entire debate and wipe out all suffering on earth - but it's a step in the right direction.
This book is an invaluable learning tool and reference source for anyone interested in helping primates used in research,or hoping to eventually eliminate their use. Blum makes it clear that not all primate researchers are monsters (though some are!) and that vilification of, rather than communicaton with "the other side" can hinder progress towards a kinder medical world. I write from an animal advocacy perspective. I believe, however, that Blum makes a similar point to those who support research - she helps to dispel the myth that all animal advocates are unreasonable fanatics. Yes, her book was hard to read in one or two places; I found the descriptions of repetitive, superfluous, studies on infant abuse particularly upsetting. But they are important for animal advocates to know about. For the most part, however, The Monkey Wars read like a fascinating scientific novel. I couldn't put it down.
Reviewed in the United States on September 23, 2008
It is a bit curious that this book as been described as balanced. This book, as another reviewer mentioned, does not question whether science done on animals and especially primates has produced much valuable, life-changing, society-changing research. She has very few examples of the ways in which animal testing has resulted in useful discoveries with the exception of polio, which she shows nearly decimated an an entire monkey population for the sheer number of monkeys imported for use. Science, as an institution and discipline, is treated with kid-gloves here. The amorphous thing of scientific curiosity, regardless of the suffering it causes and the lack of useful result, is posed as an inalienable human right. The balanced approach that the book purports to take seems a product of a desire for a happy ending--those for and against animal testing really can get along!
I have already commented on another of her books, so I hope it is permitted to do so on this one, as well.
That being that once one has justified cruelty against non-human creatures, to do so against people, all that is necessary is to dehumanize them. (an example; Dr. Josef Mengele, a German (SS) officer and physician in Auschwitz, or here in the US, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments ) If you don't support cruelty towards *any* living creature, then other people are probably better off, as well.
Let's look at the reasoning brought up in this book;
Experimentation is acceptable on primates because they are inferior (different) than people. But that difference would make the results and comparisons useless.
The results are helpful and relevant because primates are so much like us (but still inferior) But that would mean that testing is cruel and unethical.
My final point is this; Whatever small amount of knowledge we think we might have gained is not worth the loss of our humanity.
"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men." ~St. Francis of Assisi