Hokie students call on Virginia Tech officials to divest from Fossil Fuels

This is worth writing an unofficial blog post.

Remember that square of orange felt I wore Tuesday? That symbol of the divestment movement is the color orange, rather than green, to reframe the movement’s scope as much larger than an environmental issue. Divestment from fossil fuels is not a single-issue movement. This is a space where environmental justice, climate justice, and economic justice have come into contact. It means those who wear it understand they will not win the fight against the fossil fuel industry without confronting racism, classism, homophobia, and other systems of oppression.

At the convergence we began conversations about intersectionality and historical responsibility on an international scale.

Is Anything (even divesting VT’s 600 million dollars from fossil fuels) possible when you believe in it? When you take action because you believe in your and the collective ability to create it? These Virginia Tech students definitely do. Watch this student-created You Tube Video: 

Divest Virginia Tech 

Do you think a student movement can sway University officials to change their relationship with their endowment? Can we still make a reasonable return without investing in Exxon or Peabody Coal?

I am proud of the Hokies who have and are inheriting the spirit of being a Virginia Tech student. That is, we believe it is our responsibility to invent the (right) future.


The lab rat

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of animal testing is the rat; the white lab rat to be specific. There is no doubt that through television, word of mouth, and several case studies that this idea is stuck in my mind, and most likely many others too.

Lab animal testing = white lab rat

example: in the movie I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, in his basement laboratory he has a testing facility for his concoctions. What animal does he test them on? The lab rat, and they are ALL WHITE. It’s just a modern idea that the white lab rat came to be through many representations.

Rats have been a part of humans lives for thousands of years. Whether they be in our cities, sewers, manage to find their way onto our boats, or other scenarios, they are always in close contact with humans (obviously not by the human’s choice). Rats are considered filthy, disgusting creatures in most societies.  There is no doubt however that this is true due to their dwelling situations.

You can’t talk about rat history without bringing up the Plague. Carried by these nasty vermin, this disease wiped out millions of people. It got to the point where people were afraid to even bathe, claiming the disease was carried in water. (could you imagine living in a society where staying un-bathed was more helpful than cleaning yourself?)

Back to scientific testing on these bastards: I am a huge animal rights advocate. I believe in good treatment of all (ehem, most) animals. But for some reason I can’t find myself being in advocate for the rat? Personally, what benefits does a rat have, living in the wild, scavenging for food at all times of the day? At least in a scientific lab they are fed, watered, nurtured, etc. Yes, I know some of the testing is inhumane, or outrageous. But ladies and gentlemen, we live is an extremely modern world, where new products are being created EVERYDAY. So what would you rather have, a defective product that’s potentially harmful to humans because it was never tested, or a few dead lab rats that have lived a good life so far, never having to worry about food or water, and a safe product? I know this might sound like it goes against my other posts (I have an extreme post-domestic mindset, according to Bulliet), but this just seems like the right idea.


Oh yeah, did I mention I didn’t like rats at all?

Food, Pest, Pet…Research Subject

Jonathon Burt’s introduction to Rat prompted many of us to think long and hard about why our 21st-century American reactions to a ubiquitous rodent are so strong and so negative.  Looking at the rat in other contexts provides a somewhat different perspective.  For example, the Rat is the first animal of the Chinese horoscope cycle. Rat - Ai WeiWei's RatThe Rat conveys many positive qualities to people born under its sign, including leadership, charm, passion and practicality. Year of the Rat people might also be cruel, controlling and exploitative, which reminds us that good and evil are inseparable.  One requires the other, and problems arise when balance is disrupted.

Other cultures have a more practical approach to mice (which belong to the same sub-family of the rodentia order as rats — the murinae).  In Malawi poached mice on sticks (captured in freshly harvested corn fields) are considered a culinary delicacy.mice

But I find that rats and mouse brethren get especially interesting here in the West in the late 19th / early 20th centuries, when creatures mainly seen as “vermin” join the ranks of pets and then become the first purpose bred laboratory animals.  Why and how did this transformation come about and why do rats still evoke such complex and strong responses from us?  Bill’s fabulous post noted that “there is no species whose narrative has been as forever altered by contact with humanity as the rat.”  I’m wondering what would happen if we inverted the query:  Where would we be without rats and how has the human condition changed as a result of our interactions with this creature?  (As you know, this is a central question of the research projects, and I am looking forward to learning about how everyone sees this issue in terms of the species they’ve been working with throughout the semester.)

Our readings by Karen A. Rader and Kenneth J. Shapiro present us with a good analytical framework for thinking about how the process of domestication shaped human-rat (mouse) interactions over the last century or so.  Camilla and Ben have some excellent insights about how rats double as humans, serving as models for humans in biomedical experiments, and anthropomorphic citizens of parallel societies in young adult fiction.  Ai Wei-Wei’s zodiac rat, pictured above, portrays the ambiguity of the rat-human divide more powerfully than many words could. Disney’s Mickey, the world’s most famous mouse has long provided scholars with insight about a creature, who in Karen Raber asserts “redefines or challenges conventional zoological and social understanding” (p. 389).  Stephen J. Gould’s 1979 essay on neotony still provides an excellent jumping off point for those wanting to learn more.micearmyweb

I’m intrigued by the nexus of domestication, affection, revulsion, and technology we find in contemporary American attitudes about rats and mice.  Connor makes some good points about the importance of these rodents to scientific research, and I agree that the contribution to human welfare these animals have made is significant.  I think it’s important, however, to consider Shapiro’s and Raber’s analysis closely – regardless of what one thinks about the ethics of animal testing.  In Shapiro’s article, we find a nuanced dissection (sorry!) of the synergy between the development of the concept of the “lab animal” and the domestication of rats for that purpose.  The application of selective breeding, specific kinds of socialization, and the creation of new “habitats” / confinement systems facilitated the emergence of the domestic lab rat (from the Norway rat) and articulated and shaped the meaning (social construction) of those animals for researchers and human audiences outside the lab.  Shapiro’s assertion that rodents make poor models for humans, especially in psychological research presents us with some uncomfortable questions, as does Donna Haraway’s concept of the “cyborg” animal, which is equal parts nature, culture, and technology (think OncoMouseTM).

Finally, for all of their negative cultural baggage, stigma as vermin and unwilling contribution to scientific research, rats can be that most favored of American creatures – the domesticated pet. Rats are clean, sociable, and come in a rainbow of colors.  Unlike other rodents sold in pet stores, they rarely bite, and are excellent companions for young children. Ginger and Snap 2004 The first two rats our family adopted were rescued from the snake food tank at a local pet store (our enthusiasm for raising domestic animals to feed captive wild animals would also be worth thinking through more carefully).  In their two years with us they provided endless hours of entertainment and companionship, loved nothing more than to snuggle into a pocket for a nap, and displayed remarkable calm in the face of the cat’s obviously predatory intentions.  If they could write about their histories with us, I wonder what they would say?

Of Mice and Men (not Steinback)

After so much reading on the subjects of rats and rats in the lab I now understand how little I knew about this species.  Right off the bat I was surprised that laboratory rats were called heroes and how often rats and humans were compared.  I was also surprised at extreme emotional spectrum that rats elicit, namely because I have never given them much thought.  In one instance the word rat itself apparently produces an almost disgusted response in humans and in the next we revere their contributions to medical research in the lab.  At first I was not convinced of the similarities between humans and rats especially in Rader readings regarding Mickey Mouse and the supposed intentions of Disneyland.  As I read and learned of how effectively and efficiently rats evolve I began to understand this connection.  It seems to me and based on these readings that rats have suffered the least from human expansion.  Not only are they evident in almost every man made structure, they actually thrive from it.  When one compares the presence of rats in human life with other animals, besides those that we intentionally make a part of our environment, they are in a class of their own.  In fact a rat in a city may be one of the only wild animals you can see apart from birds and other rodents.  Perhaps this is why pigeons are referred to as rat with wings.  Not only are they present in large numbers as well as rats but they are part of the small group of wild animals able to survive in man-made environments.  The adaptive ability of the rat cannot be repudiated but I find it doubtful that they will ‘inherit the world’ someday.  The other similarity between rat and human that I would have never made is the selfishness of these two species in regard to other animals.  Just as we exploit animals for our benefit with little to no benefit to them, depending on your standing on such issues, rats exploit us with little to no benefit on our part.   I found this fact really interesting because I can think of no other animal that has been able to ‘pull one over’ on humans like this.  I believe that this is a main contributor to our dislike of the rats in addition to many others.

                To dislike the rat because it exploits us would certainly illustrate the hypocritical nature of human beings but I can’t help but feel some used.  In earlier times I could easily see the frustration our ancestors had towards the ever present rat.  The presence of the rat is magnified because no other species is so unintentionally integrated into human life.  I almost see it as an annoying little brother following an older brother around, reaping from his successes.  It could almost devalue such progress if it becomes apparent that even a small rodent could match the same feet.  What I mean is imagine humans overcoming a pretty significant barrier such as water due to our innovation of a boat.  Now imagine conquering something that could not have been accomplished before and then realizing that freeloading rat can also cross an entire ocean simply because they hoped aboard.  I would definitely lose some pride if I stepped foot on an unmanned island and turned around to see rats marching the beach as well.  I know this is a selfish view but I feel like it is human nature and understandable if not acceptable.  Another reason for human distain towards rats given in the reading is their reversion to cannibalism if resources are low.  I wish this was highlighted more in the reading simply because in all the similarities between humans and rats, this is one stark contrast.  I feel like the contrast is so great that rat cannibalism should be credited as the main source of our distaste for rats.  Of course there are exceptions but cannibalism is and has been such a taboo in our species.  It is not such a stretch of the imagination then to picture an ancestor of ours coming across a group of rats eating a fellow rat and being disgusted by the sight.  This brings me to the next major point of why we dislike rats, the way in which they eat their food.  In naming them the Latin root comes from the word gnaw.  Being named after the way in which they eat clearly marks our intrigue in this part of their lives.  Again I can picture an ancestor of ours being disgusted by the way in which a rat ate simply because it is so different from the way in which we eat.

                One point that Bart made in which I did not agree was in regards to his explanation of the view of rats changing from thief to dirty.  He claims that as we put filth away from sight and rats then moved into this filth, that they are still clean themselves and so this is not a substantial theory in the transition of public opinion.  I feel like Bart needs to give this stance more support even though rats themselves are still clean.  Think of the toilet, it is one of the cleanliest parts of the house yet it is not regarded as such and shares a negative public human opinion with the rat.  Perhaps an ancient reason for the negative view of rats is their resemblance to locust.  As I read Burt’s passage regarding their sheer number and willingness to eat anything and everything in their path I could not help but compare them to locus.  And as so much of this class and our history as shown, if something can be drawn back to religion it can be given a lot of validation as a reason or cause. 

                In the Rader reading I was very surprised at the resistance Little met in trying to connect the field of medicine and genetics.  Today these are so incorporated that it is hard to imagine them ever being distinguished from one another.  In the Shapiro reading I mostly understood the reasoning behind the treatment and attitude towards lab animals.  It is necessary to forget the individuality among a species used to better the human race.  In regards to behavior and psychological testing, however, I feel that much more emphasis must be placed on the individual because these are much more variable.  Just as with humans, I believe that animals are more than just the sum of their individual biological processes.  Giving an animal a name and a personality could help keep this in mind while conducting experiments.

Rats, Mice, and Lovecraft

I completely geeked out when I saw an H.P. Lovecraft story referenced in our reading. I absolutely cannot pass up an opportunity to attempt a blog post with semi-legitimate academic merit that includes as much Lovecraft as I can fit.

Before I dive in, I’d like to put a disclaimer here: I had trouble  finding a topic to really hone in on. Our readings (and please correct me if I’m wrong) don’t seem to render much of an opinion. Ideas and themes are certainly examined, but I couldn’t really find many opinions to contest and disagree with. So I apologize if my post is a little haphazard and meandering; much like the readings, I have things to say, but I really don’t have a serious and defining opinion.

Let’s talk about aliens for a while. I’d like to discuss the theme that’s floated around in the readings that rats are more or less a foil of humanity, or that rats serve some equivalent or base analogy to human nature. And to piggyback on Burt’s Rats in the Walls example, here’s another Lovecraftian story – At the Mountains of Madness. For a quick summary, just think Ancient Aliens. Antarctic explorers discover the ruins of an alien civilization. Through a series of vague murals, the explorers discover that all current species of Earth, particularly humanity, were created as a joke, an afterthought. Humans were exploited by these aliens throughout deep history for labor and experimentation, while also being loathed and treated like vermin.

I’m not entirely sure how this fits in, but I feel there’s something to be said for a broader look at Lovecraft’s rat/human relationship, particularly in light of how Burt interprets such relationship: “It is intriguing to find scientists commenting that rodents will inherit the earth after humans have died out. This feels like the antithesis to Lovecraft’s devolutionary notion that the basest figure is the rat, the bottom of the animal pile as it were.” I would actually argue that science fits right in line with Lovecraft’s thesis. The Madness story continues with the alien creators dying out through foreign attack and self-destruction, and humanity picking up in the realm of factual history – sounds pretty similar to our reading predictions, right? Between Burt and Rader, we can kind of pick up on this idea of the rat being both the pinnacle and base of evolution, success, and morality through the lens of comparison between rats and humans. Lovecraft’s origin story firmly puts humanity in the position of a rodent – through extermination, adaption, and survival.




Of Mice and Men

This was my second time reading Of Mice and Men and just as it had been the first time, I found the book to be emotional moving, more so than many others that I have read.  The parallels between the beginning part of the book and the end of the book create such a dramatic climax that really draws in the reader.  The tragedy is magnified due to it taking place in the same place Lenie and George had drawn up hope and plans for the future.  The differences in these two scenes really illustrate the theme of the loss of innocence that is prevalent throughout the book and ultimately embodies the death of Lenie.  When George and Lenie first happen upon the river they disturb the wildlife which quickly flees from their presence.  Lenie’s second trip to this place was not as disrupting to the wild life and his approach is even compared to that of a creeping bear.  It was almost as if the events that had unfolded in the book had caused a change in the way Lennie was received by the wild.  Perhaps his inability to escape his simple primal wants made him more wild and animal like than human.  Just as the water snake swam helplessly to its death at the beak of a heron, Lenie’s need for soft, warm comfort led to his death.

Seeing as how this reading is assigned in a class on domestication I really struggled to find themes and meanings involving domestication within the story.  To begin, I noted the effect George and Lenie’s presence had on the wildlife surrounding the river.  This led me to believe that a possible theme incorporating domestication of this book may be the negative effects humans have on animals.  The way Lenie stroked animals until the point of death certainly could represent the negative outcome excessive human control has on animals.  In the part of the book where Crooks, Candy, Lenie and Curley’s wife are present in Crooks room, the way in which Curley’s wife reduces Crooks to nothing, and his defensive mechanism of retreating within himself really reminded me of some of our discussions on human-animal relations.  Her flaunting of complete control reminded me of how livestock are striped of identity.  As I continued reading it seemed more likely that an underlying theme of the book was simply animal-human relations and not just the negative outcomes of such an association.

I was really intrigued with how Slim was conveyed to the reader.  His description was conveyed as pure and he is even said to have “God-like eyes.”  With such a righteous character, it seems that any actions of Slim are assumed to be correct or right.  His drowning of the puppies, therefore, cannot be compared to the other deaths of animals that did not deem his approval.  The death Lenie’s pup and mice were out of ignorance while the drowning of Slim’s pups were out of necessity because according to him the mother would have not been able to take care of all her offspring.  So does this mean that not all dominating control over animals results in negative outcomes for the animal?  The killing of a dog’s pups is essentially playing God from her perspective, yet if Slim had not done this what would the outcome for mother and offspring have been?  The killing of Candy’s dog also shows to me that some dominating control of animals by humans is actually beneficial to them. 

                At the same time, I couldn’t help to associate the way that all the characters were cramped in a small space, forced to chase unlikely dreams just to keep their insanity with the lifestyle of livestock.  Most of the characters shared their aspirations of a better life where they control their fate and can actual say something is there’s.  Perhaps animals can be capable of feeling this lack of freedom, and yearn for it on some level.  Again this may be forcing the animal-human relations issue but I am just trying to see what relevance this novel has to our class material. 

                One of the final lines of the book convinced me that an underlying theme of the book is not only the ignorance to the innocence of Lenie, but the ignorance of the innocence of animals: “Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin them two guys?”  This shatters the concept of good and bad and shows that there is a gray are to which people can be ignorant to.  Some things act by nature with no malice intended and people must be aware of this.  I found it very interesting that Curley’s Wife was never given a name, perhaps sealing her fate as an antagonist. 

                My favorite line of the novel is: “As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment.  And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.” 

Rats, us, and my weak attempt at comedy.

I think there is no species whose narrative has been as forever altered by contact with humanity as the rat. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a life for them without us. Without the excess of our bloated infrastructure to thrive on, I believe that the modern rat would resemble an entirely different creature. Whether or not we’d like to admit it, human kind probably lives closer to rats than to dogs. In that sense the rat is as much a domesticate of ours as we are of it. Where there are people, there are rats. And where there are rats, there are usually people.

We have always had a relationship with rats to some degree. They live in our cities and are for the most part considered to be vermin. They carried the plague, and while the rest of England stopped bathing, fearful that the illness could carry itself in water, the rats thrived as they have done around us for centuries. A common theory regarding cat domestication is that cats were first brought in to kill mice, and cats comprise most of the internet today. So really, rats have already contributed more to the global consciousness than we ever will. This relationship is illustrated in the following pie chart:

Rats Global Consciousness

Our living with rats extends into the modern era, with whole professions and minor Batman villains dedicated to the practice of catching the elusive rat.


Right up there with Condiment King.

They are vermin, we say, and should be controlled. We have an aversion in our culture to rodents. They are everything filthy and, along with the fly, go wherever there is decay. And yet, they are evidently clean animals, though the places they live are not. Isn’t that an awful lot like us, though? We place tremendous importance on personal hygiene but I wouldn’t eat off the streets of New York.

Our narratives bleed into one another. It’s no secret that writers have connected people and rodents for a long time. The mouse in the maze. The metaphorical cheese as a goal for the protagonist. The expression, “Like a rat in a cage”, referring to someone who feels like they’re trapped in a situation. The common theme for all of these ideas? Our relationship with the rat today is fully eclipsed by its role in science. They are a reflection of us. Of our progress and our struggles in a modern world. They are a microcosm of our macrocosm in which our great metal skyscrapers become towering maze walls to confuse and preclude us. We see our similarities; thus we extend sympathy to the rat in these situations that it does not find anywhere else.

When we start to talk about animal testing, the rat transforms, in some ways, into an ubiquitous object of modern scientific progression. Perhaps that is fitting; man and rat inventing the future together. A romantic notion, but true nonetheless. I wonder how many discoveries would have gone undiscovered without animal testing. But that raises another question; one that gets pushed to the side more often than not, a question that many people believe is a pointless one. Do the lives of animals injured or killed as a result of animal testing have any weight? Or rather, is animal testing ethical? I haven’t read anyone else’s post yet so I don’t know if someone has already sparked this controversial topic. I’ll do it here in any case. Do we even have an obligation to these animals? Should scientific progress bow to animal rights or are animals a necessary casualty of modern science? Are animals used in testing domesticates or something else? I would fall under the human-centric persuasion that it is a fair, if unilateral, price to pay for the knowledge attained as a result, beauty products and psychological evaluations not included. I simply mean to say that there are legitimate and illegitimate reasons to test on animals and that we should apply our best judgment to decide which is which.


Happy Earth Day, domestication scholars! Celebrate on campus during Earth Week at Virginia Tech. Now, to the RATS.

In 9th grade I memorized this monologue from the Miracle Worker Anne Sullivan when she explains her experience in the asylum, “Rats, why my brother Jimmie and i used to play with the rats because we didn’t have toys. Maybe you’d like to know what Helen will find there, not on visiting days? one ward was full of the old women, crippled, blind, most of them dying, but even if what they had was catching there was no where else to put them, so that’s where they put us. There were younger ones across the hall, prostitutes mostly, with T.B., and epileptic fits, and some of the kind who- kept after other girls, especially young ones, and some insane. Some just had the DT’s. The youngest were in another ward to have babies they didn’t want, started at 13,14. they’d leave afterwords but the babies stayed and we played with them too, though most had-sores- all over, from diseases you’re not supposed to talk about. The first year we had 80, 70 died. The room Jimmie and I played in was the dead house, where they kept the bodies until they could dig the graves.

I can’t recall the entire piece from memory but, I know it begins powerfully with “Rats,” and that word, the idea of the animal sets the stage for the sickness and death descriptions of a wretched place that follows.

I found the readings about rats very interesting. I’m not sure if I consider them a “domesticated” animal but our evolutionary relationships with them are clearly (and sometimes not so clearly) significant.

At this point in my “human-animal relationship” analysis career I have come to the understanding that if we follow the expansion and movement of humans we will too find close behind their domestic animals. To understand human development and expansion was to know domestic animal development and expansion and vice versa. This relative rule of thumb is true for the rat. The animal I associate with the bubonic plague. Or as Burt summarizes it in The Multiple Meaning of Laboratory Animals: Standardizing Mice for Cancer Research, “The rat is, as some writers have phrased it, a twin of the human, and their mutual history is dark.”

Rats were not understood to carry disease until the mid 19th century. Seen as thieves and pests to eradicate, Burt discusses the question of how rats came to have such low status, since they were not hated or feared. 

Is it because it is associated with danger in our perception? Our relationship to the rat is not just a physical one but one of perception and ideas. The idea that our relationship with an animal can be influenced by simple perception might have serious effects on the next era as humans today do not interact with the animals they eat.

Yet, we admire rats. “The lascivious, greedy and cannibalistic rat…” engages in acts of human sin. They thrive in our gullies and sewers surprisingly manage to avoid toxic pollution exposure. They are smart, adaptable, and even, for some, beautiful.


effluvia  plural of ef·flu·vi·um N. An unpleasant or harmful odor, secretion, or discharge.

The reading proposes the idea that rats survive on the effluvia of human society, thinking of rats as our mirror species. This thought means then rats do come from the dark place (discussed in it being the devil and similar things) but are essential to it. The rat in its harboring of disease and other participation in dark things, has an influence on humans, the rat can be thought strongly as a synonym to human destructiveness. 

At the beginning of the 20th century human associations of rats was that of fear and that relationship to the natural history of the rat is from the many experiments done with the purpose to eliminate and control.

Reading “the multiple meanings of laboratory animals” I’ve got to say it makes sense that our hate and diastase for the mouse (and.. rat) led them to be our object of experimentation.  “MWAHAHA” (sorry, I could not help myself). The reading highlighted just how much our culture and institutions shape our perception, treatment and relationship to mice, rats, and all other animals we interact with in general. It’s a simple understanding yet the many evolutionary, genetic, cultural, and psychological dimensions are complex.

What do you think when you think about Rats?


This is also cool: Once every 48 years, bamboo forests in Northeast India go into flower, and black rats descend upon them, like a plague. Watch it here.




Rats and Mice: Scientific Heroes

After reading the Burt’s piece I can’t help but feel bad for rats. By doing what it is that they need to do to survive and reproduce, they have given themselves a reputation as evil, disgusting creatures. Many other species of animals have habits similar to or far worse than rats, but as the rats live in such close proximity to humans, they are the ones that we seek to destroy at all costs. They are almost like our roommates. It doesn’t matter who your roommate is, it is simply the fact that they are always around that makes them so bad. Many of the early reasons for hating the rat such as the filth and excessive reproduction were wrong or greatly exaggerated which sounds like the exact story you hear from someone who is angry at their roommate. Deep down they are just annoyed and tired of being around the person but in order to justify their anger to others they seek out things to explain why this person is so bad, whether it be made up or exaggerations of little things that occurred. The rat has just evolved to thrive around human habitation and as a result it is one of the most universally hated creatures today.

Although I do sympathize with rats and mice, it is hard to deny that they do pose problems to humans. They are known to carry diseases and disrupt food supplies among other things which are valid reasons to set up methods to remove them from close proximity to humans and to control their numbers. I think that our hatred of rats is a bit excessive and irrational in modern times as many of the diseases they can spread are curable, and better construction methods developed in recent history can do a decent job at keeping them out of our foodstuffs, but many people still see them as insatiable pests that must be destroyed. It seems to me that at some point we just have to live with the fact that rats and mice aren’t going anywhere and we might as well do our best to try to get along with our perpetual roommates.

The first stepping stone to getting along with our little mammalian enemies is likely their use in scientific research. As a biochemistry major many of the experiments that come up in my studies involve the use of mice and rats. Without these experiments, the creation of drugs and treatments to cure the most threatening diseases for humans in the past and today would be far fewer. Their similarities to humans in structure and genetic makeup along with their small size and quick reproduction make them prime candidates for testing different methods of curing and/or preventing diseases in humans. It is by no means a perfect system as in many cases the effects in mice and rats are different than in humans but it is better than no testing at all. In the Shapiro reading, there was a lot of discussion about the use of laboratory animals that highlighted the negative aspects of experimenting with animals. I was not particularly fond of a lot of the arguments presented in this piece. I love animals, always have, and whether it is my dog or a mouse that we find cleaning the garage or a tiger at the zoo, I hate seeing animals hurt in any way from physical damage or separation from their families or torment by some curious toddler.  However, I have come to realize that in some cases, in order to benefit our own human species, some animals, often mice and rats, have to take the bullet. As much as I don’t want to see a mouse injected with a deadly virus or cancer, if that mouse helps to find the cure for someone’s ailing relative, I think it is usually worth it despite being very unfair. Shapiro seems to be saying that what we are doing with animals is largely without any real benefit scientifically, at least in the cases he discusses, and argues that laboratory animals are treated like machines, using the terms deindividualated, despecified, and deanimalized. I think that the cases he uses to argue his points are poor representations of animal research as a whole, and I feel that he is swaying data to prove points that don’t have a lot of validation. I understand that animals cooped up in cages by themselves are not in the best conditions, but they are not treated like machines. There are people who care for and feed the mice on a daily basis who genuinely care for the animals in most cases. Even knowing that the end result for many of them is likely death, they still want them to live comfortably for as long as possible. I have talked to many people who have worked with mice in their research and they all do their best to keep the animals as happy and comfortable as is possible in their experimental circumstances. I know they are arguably not as happy as their wild counterparts, but that is a small price to pay to save human lives. I am all for any new methods that will improve the conditions for lab animals, but I think that their importance to scientific research justifies their use.

Especially in the case of rats and mice, I find it hard to comprehend how people can despise a creature like a rat and go to great lengths to kill them whether it is with traps or poisons, but then as soon as they hear that a lab rat is being kept in a cage and injected with a virus to test out a new treatment it is inhumane. Humans have spent their history trying to destroy the rat because it was foul and useless to us but now that they can be helpful before they are killed, it is somehow crueler than murdering them by the thousands in the wild. All in all, I do feel for the animals that give their lives to science, but contradictory to Shapiro’s arguments, I think they are dying for a noble cause and greatly advancing modern science. They are saving more and more lives every day and should be considered heroes for giving their lives to do so. Anyway that was a bit of a rant that is heavily influenced by my scientific background and hopefully I didn’t set anyone off haha. And just to cover my tail I would like the record to show that I LOVE MICE AND RATS! And all animals for that matter…except for spiders maybe.


I look forward to reading all of your blogs and discussing these readings on Tuesday. See you all then!

Rats as Humanity’s Twin

This week’s readings were very interesting.  One would think that things as ubiquitous as mice and rats deserve consideration and thought.  I’ll admit, though, that before these readings I never thought very much or very hard about rats or mice, and I now realize how little I knew about them.

The idea that I found most interesting out of these readings was the idea that rats and humans are very closely linked.  The Burt reading introduced the idea of rats being humanity’s twin in many ways.  While crazy at first, this idea really appealed to me.  Rats are very tied to us.  They go where we go because they live off the networks that we create.  They come with us even to places where they would not be able to survive on our own, and they survive off the food and shelter they get from us.  War and imperialism took rats all over the world.

Rats also resemble us in their ability to adapt.  They can live almost anywhere, just as we can.  They can evolve relatively quickly to adapt to new environments.  They can dominate an environment in a way few other animals can.  They seem so similar to us, that at first I wondered where our distaste for rats came from.  I assumed that our hatred for rats was a holdover from their days as plague bearing embodiments of filth.  The Burt reading revealed the flaws of this idea.

First, rats are apparently clean animals.  They live in dirty places, but apparently the rats themselves are relatively clean.  I find this hard to believe, but I’m not the expert.  Secondly, while rats were associated with disease, people did not know that rats themselves could bring disease.  Intense distaste for rats started, as so many other intense distastes for things, in the Victorian era.  Disease and dirtiness were not nearly as lamentable as the rats insatiable appetites for food and sex.  Rats’ excesses made them an object of hatred.

Burt also described the relationship between rats and humans as almost parasitic.  Rats gain so much from their association with humans, food and shelter, but humans gain nothing.  The rats exploit humans for their own gain.  This is so radically different from humans’ relationships with other animals.  Humans exploit the animals, not the other way around.  I was intrigued by this relationship because it challenges the idea of humanity as a master of nature, because, try as we might, humans can’t kill all the rats.  The rats’ exploitation of humanity, in my mind, shows that humans are a part of nature, not above it, as many people want to think.

Here are some other questions for us to consider in our discussion on Tuesday:

How do changing attitudes toward rats help explain changing cultural values and vice versa?

In what ways is humans’ relationship with rats similar to our relationships with other animals?  Is the way rats exploit humans similar to the way humans exploit other animals?

Have scientists turned laboratory rats into a commodity?  What effects does this have on the rats?  What are the moral implications of such a process?  Is this different than any other domesticated animal?

How do laboratory rats differ from other domesticates?

Shapiro talks about the deindividuation of laboratory animals.  Does a similar process take place with other domesticated animals?