‘Zero Dark 24′: Is animal testing really necessary?
By Victoria Martindale Notebook, Science & Technology Friday, 1 March 2013 at 4:50 pm
It has been described as ‘vile and immoral’ and refers to the small dark hours of the night when we are assumed to be asleep but while the suffering continues in shadowy secrecy. You can be forgiven if you think I’m about to condemn the film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’. No, I’m talking about another form of torture endorsement: the institutionally embedded secrecy that surrounds animal experimentation. The movie has proven hugely controversial for its normalisation of torture, Section 24 wages controversy for its cover up of torture. Both offer a glimpse into the dark heart of the state that employs extreme security to shield its actions from democratic accountability.
Section 24 is known as ‘the secrecy clause’ of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act and allows scientists to automatically hide anything and everything behind this wall of secrecy: it makes it a criminal offence to reveal any detail even to Parliament. But now that the latest EU Directive 2010/63 has been transposed into UK law, our government is obliged to review this section in mind of the fundamental tenet of the EU Directive of public accountability and access to information. As it stands, Section 24 offers a feast for abuse, regulation breaches and lack of accountability and campaigners are calling for its abolishment.
But whereas the movie may be just that (a movie not even a documentary) and Bigelow has pleaded her right to spend private largesse to ‘create works of art’, Section 24 is about scientists using public money and resources to research our health. It is understandable, then, that a little more accountability is expected from our scientists than from block buster movie makers. More pertinently, where films such as these are fast paced dramas appealing to our emotions and sentimentality, science is directed by the impartial standards of rational and reason where the facts, if permitted, speak for themselves. Above all, in science’s search for truth it depends critically upon rigorous scrutiny and evaluation of all the evidence from all sides. This can only be possible if we are granted access to information.
Yet, the fascinating length animal researchers go to deny access to information that cover up some quite grotesque acts inherent in animal testing has something in it of the tragic sense of life. If scientists are able to perfectly master the art of breaking a spine before taking a tea break or coolly dispense with a lethal shot of chemical and then light a cigarette. They should be able to justify what they do all in a day’s work. But it would seem openness is exactly what is so difficult for a sector where security is ‘top priority’. Theirs is apparently a campaign for furtive concealment and prohibition ours for openness, fairness and answer ability.
Their PR machine replaces the word ‘killing’ with ‘sacrifice’ and the public is reassured that procedures such as poisoning, electrocuting and gassing are practiced ‘humanly’ and in accordance with ‘high animal welfare standards’. As if brutal and enduring violence when practiced by scientists can become any more painless and humane. Methods to induce a state of learned helplessness like allowing a creature to struggle in deep water until he is on the point of drowning, subjecting animals to repeated electric shock treatments or forcing them to exercise until they collapse from exhaustion (point 4) are unimaginably macabre. ‘Conditioning’ techniques to them, torture to everybody else. Is all this propaganda or just science language?
It is almost possible to hear the relentless dull drumbeat of tension resonating from the laboratories and academic institutes across the land as section 24 undergoes scrutiny. But for any reason why scientists are anything but forthcoming with the details, there are far more very valid reasons why science should never be allowed such artistic licence, nor such repression of the truth.