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Homo Denialus: Mice Aren't Animals, Climate Change Is Real

Humans are incredibly adept at denying anything we choose to oppose

Mice and rats aren't animals but climate change is real

I've long been interested in how humans can deny anything they want, often in very self-serving ways. In Rewilding our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence I wrote about Homo denialus to make just this point. I also recently had a conversation with a researcher who said he was shocked that people questioned whether climate change was real. I agree and asked him how he felt about the notion that mice and rats aren't animals, and he was shocked to hear this. Well, it's a sad "fact" according to the U. S. Federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). 

In a recent essay I noted that the Federal Animal Welfare Act does not recognize rats of the genus Rattus and mice of the genus Mus to be animals (please see "The Animal Welfare Act Claims Rats and Mice Are Not Animals" and links therein). The bottom line is that researchers still accept the idiocy of this claim and these (and other "non-animals") can be used in the most horrific ways in all sorts of invasive research. I asked, "Where are all the scientists who know that rats and mice are sentient animal beings? Why aren't they protesting the idiocy of the AWA?"

Mice can smell the pain of other mice

During the past week, I received notices about two important studies with mice and rats that add to the growing database about just how emotional and smart these rodents are, regardless of whether the AWA recognizes them as "animals."

In the first study it's reported that mice can smell the pain of other mice. The research by Monique Smith, who works in the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience at the Oregon Health and Science University, and her colleagues published in Science Advances called "Social transfer of pain in mice" has understandably received broad international coverage. The abstract reads:

A complex relationship exists between the psychosocial environment and the perception and experience of pain, and the mechanisms of the social communication of pain have yet to be elucidated. The present study examined the social communication of pain and demonstrates that “bystander” mice housed and tested in the same room as mice subjected to inflammatory pain or withdrawal from morphine or alcohol develop corresponding hyperalgesia. Olfactory cues mediate the transfer of hyperalgesia to the bystander mice, which can be measured using mechanical, thermal, and chemical tests. Hyperalgesia in bystanders does not co-occur with anxiety or changes in corticosterone and cannot be explained by visually dependent emotional contagion or stress-induced hyperalgesia. These experiments reveal the multifaceted relationship between the social environment and pain behavior and support the use of mice as a model system for investigating these factors. In addition, these experiments highlight the need for proper consideration of how experimental animals are housed and tested.

So, in a nutshell, bystander mice feel the pain of others and these researchers claim their results "support the use of mice as a model system for investigating these factors." Well, if mice aren't animals, how can the researchers make this claim. Note that this research was conducted in the United States. 

Tool use by rats

In the second study by Akane Nagano and Kenjiro Aoyama called "Tool-use by rats (Rattus norvegicus): tool-choice based on tool features," we learn these animals can be quite adept at using tools. Similar to the study of shared pain in mice, this research has received broad and global coverage. An easy to read summary by Agata Blaszczak-Boxe can be seen here

Homo denialus rules

Why aren't scientists outraged by the exclusion of mice and rats from the animal kingdom, and how can they accept climate change and deny what, in some ways, is more of a fact? When I put this question out to a few colleagues I received a fairly standard response that went something like, "It works well for researchers to deny that mice and rats are animals because then, any sort of research can be conducted."

Where have all the scientists gone?

Clearly, this sort of hypocrisy is self-serving and is a wonderful but depressing example of how some members of Homo denialus view the world: Let's keep mice and rats (and some other animals) out of the animal kingdom and we can use them however we please. And, although we are learning that they are sentient beings, let's just continue to use them however we choose. 

Some good news came my way over the past few days when I learned that there are indeed people trying to get the AWA revised to reflect real biology, the kind we teach to youngsters and others, namely, that mice and rats are animals after all. 

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce) will be published in early 2017.