TED Conversations

Elena Montrasio

translator, Mare Verticale Edizioni


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Showing experiments on live animals to young kids, regardless of what kind of animal, can be considered part of an educational program?

Several comments on this talk, http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/the_cockroach_beatbox.html, were removed from the panel because the administration received a lot of complaints about their not being pertinent to the topic of this talk. The talk is part of the TED Educational, and the comments were basically stating that showing a vivisection experiment, live, to a group of kids, was not what they considered "educational". I would like to know what you think.


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  • Don Walsh

    • +20
    Mar 13 2012: The talk simply performed vivisection at its worst. In the past, similar 'experiments' had cats and dogs on the table with an audience amazed at the skill and insight of the investigator.

    As a science teacher, and a lover of the Earth, I am offended that such insensitivity to another life form would be allowed, and glorified, by so many. The youth in the audience will definitely go home with a message of the objectification of non-human life.
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      Mar 13 2012: I couldn't agree more. I am extremely passionate about inspiring children to learn more about scientific discovery. However, I believe it can be just as effective without also teaching them to disregard the well being of other life forms. The uncomfortable reactions that many of these kids displayed were completely normal. They should be uncomfortable with this type of demonstration. However, trivializing the fate of non-human animals in this way, takes that natural reaction and teaches them to ignore it. Sure they're inspired, but I'm not sure it's worth it at that cost.
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        Mar 13 2012: Couldn't agree more with yours and Don Walsh comments. Are kids supposed to enjoy the demonstration because it was "just" a cockroach? I guess they showed a much deeper sensibility than the organizers and the performer of this "lesson", and I hope they will not lose it growing up. I don't consider this kind of approach educational by any means. Respect for any living creature on our planet is the first lesson children should be taught, and I'm thinking TED should know better.
      • Mar 14 2012: I'd be surprised if their discomfort was to do with harming the cockroach per se. Partly it's just the "eww" factor, but I suspect it was more to do with how close-up and personal it was. The experiment both personalised *and* objectified the cockroach in question. "He's chillaxing, he's anaesthetised." Then the snip and, "don't worry, it'll grow back."

        That makes the entire process morally confusing. Their reaction was, in part, a way of processing the moral dichotomy - go on, sympathise, but we're pulling off his leg anyway. I'd argue against that approach with young kids.

        However, those same kids would hardly think twice about spraying a cockroach with insecticide or swatting a fly. Most people wouldn't. So I wouldn't be surprised if, after seeing this presentation live, some of those kids went home thinking, "woah, that's messed up" and think twice about spraying them next time. Some will, some won't.

        What mostly made it uncomfortable was confronting the mix of of personalisation and objectification. Stick to one or the other, no problem. Do both, and what you're saying is cruelty is sometimes ok - in the name of science. Completely the wrong message in my view.
        • Apr 28 2012: Reading your comment - I find that he had an more honest approach. He admits empathy for the roach, but does the experiment, because its amazing. It would be much more unsettling to completely shut down his feelings for the sake of science... or just pretend so.

          I agree though with the part that people (children and grown ups) rarely think twice about using insecticides and the like - so they should learn to be honest too, and not pretend to care.
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      Mar 13 2012: It's a cockroach, for God's sake! Have you ever dissected a frog in biology class?
      • Apr 28 2012: Come on, it's completely NOT the same thing.

        You're not dissecting a LIVE frog in biology class. The frog won't get up and hobble around afterwards minus a leg. And I know a lot of people object to even dissecting a dead one in class - because the frogs are killed simply to do an experiment and are then thrown away.

        At least compare apples with apples.
    • Mar 13 2012: I agree, as well. It preposterous that this type of presentation is condoned. This is the type of propaganda that objectifies non-human animals and allows the indoctrination of little kids to become insensitive to factory farms and vivisections laboratories when they get older and make their own consumer choices.
      • Mar 16 2012: If you are going to take this moral high ground than I suggest you definitely refuse ALL forms of modern medicine when you next get sick or injured. At some point along the lines a non-human animal was most definitely harmed trialing it. This "dark side" of science, occasionally a cockroach will be sacrificed for the greater good.
        • Jun 6 2012: So "the greater good" is wowing an audience about freaky things cockroach legs can do? The greater good is teaching children apathy towards other living beings? We are a creative species, I THINK we can figure out how to excite people about science without pulling an animal's limbs off in the process.

          By the way, I am 14 years old, totally into neuroscience, and have never dissected or even killed anything in my life. The lesson to that is: kids truly into neuroscience will not need to see a bug get tortured to find their passion. If that is what attracts them to neurobiology, maybe it's not a good things they're into it...
    • Mar 13 2012: I believe the suffering of the cockroach was balanced by the benefit of the lecture. If you think no benefits can outweigh suffering, than you should never remove any parasites from your body.
      • Mar 14 2012: Its not simply the suffering of the cockroach, it is the example it sets which says animals are okay to be manipulated how humans please. In other words, it sets a precedent for speciesism in the eyes of these children. The state of animal exploitation today in vivisection laboratories and factory farms is simply staggering and appalling, and it is because of exactly the attitude exemplified in this talk. Whether or not this specific cockroach could feel his leg being pulled off is not the most important thing. What is important is that its interests were not at all taken into account, just as with all food and vivisection animals. It is the same mentality that condemns animals to torturous exploitative acts around the globe, and its seed starts in childhood. Don't give me this "it's just a cockroach." We're just human, and we have no right to do this, just because we can. Further, what 'benefit' was there to these children. Half of them probably went home and starting vivisecting the nearest ant and tried to hook it up to the electrical socket.

        To put it more clearly, my concern is not only with this specific cockroach, but the message this sends that animals are less than humans, and the idea of their suffering is non-important in the face of human interests, even if they are benevolent interests, such as to learn. My concern is also about how this attitude affects more sentient non-human animals, such as pigs, cows, ducks, chickens, dogs, cats, and monkeys, which most definitely do feel pain as we do and are subjected to worse than this daily and by the billions each year in legally sanctioned universities, factory farms, corporate slaughterhouses, vivisection laboratories, circuses, puppy mills, fur farms, etc... sentenced their by consumer ignorance and indifference who continually create demand for products who's production involves such places.
      • Apr 28 2012: > I believe the suffering of the cockroach was balanced by the benefit of the lecture.

        Not so, if you consider the following:
        a) The cockroach could have been freshly dead, not still alive.
        b) The presentation could have been done in some other way.
        c) You'd change your view if it was a different animal, like a dog or cat.

        Simply, it was not *necessary* it be a live, anaesthetised insect for the lecture to be of benefit. Therefore I feel one should default to the most humane approach. Why not?
        • Apr 28 2012: I feel compelled to briefly reply to your points since you structured your reply so neatly.

          a) You think killing animals for scientific purposes is better than maiming them. I don't.
          b) This says nothing.
          c) I would. The animal being a cockroach is fundamental to my evaluation of levels of suffering. If it were a human, I would find it imbalanced, if it were a fish I would be doubtful, if it is an insect - very low suffering level. (why? e.g. insects do not have memory)
      • Apr 28 2012: I can't reply directly to yours above.. but to clarify.. :)

        a) Don't generalise. In this case it is preferable as the "suffering" aspect is eliminated (ie. it doesn't wake up with a leg missing).
        b) I meant it could be a normal talk with diagrams, or a person being lightly prodded with an electrode, not pulling a leg off an insect. It's easy to explain muscles and electricity without doing damage.
        c) So picking the wings off flies is fine with you? You missing the point - I'm talking about what we are telling children about behaviour to other creatures in general! Kids are impressionable and imaginative.
    • Craig S

      • +13
      Mar 14 2012: All this 'save the cockroach' rhetoric is a joke right? These things are everywhere and as far as we know, are not conscious of pain. I can understand why dissecting a live monkey brain would raise eyebrows but complaining about this video is ridiculous.
      • Apr 28 2012: You miss the point. It's not about the cockroach, it's a discussion about what is ethically correct. Ethics is a *major* consideration in scientific research, so why is a discussion of it suddenly not relevant here?
        • Craig S

          • +1
          Apr 29 2012: I get the point, ethics is important. You would have to argue that the lack of regard for the cockroaches life will, in the children's mind, extend to other more intelligent creatures capable of suffering. I don't think you can prove that to be true. And if you want to talk ethics then you have to also consider the positive effect of stimulating the minds of potential future scientists and the benefits they may bring. But if you ask me this is overcomplicating a relatively simple issue - it is a damned cockroach. You think kids don't use fly spray around the house?
      • Apr 30 2012: I can't reply directly to your reply below...
        "You would have to argue that the lack of regard for the cockroaches life will, in the children's mind, extend to other more intelligent creatures capable of suffering. I don't think you can prove that to be true."

        Surprising you'd say that. It's well known that children who exhibit cruelty to animals will very often extend that to human beings. I argue that showing an experiment like this on a live creature *discourages the concern for suffering*. However you spin it - saying "oh it's just a cockroach" - that is not the right message to send to kids.

        Arguing that it "stimulates minds of future scientists" is a straw man.

        As for using fly spray, what other option is there? Nothing's perfect. Personally I try to throw them outside if I can. But don't tell me you don't feel slightly bad if you happen to see a cockroach dying slowly from fly spray. It's human. My point is we should not be discouraging that reaction.
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          May 1 2012: I am trying to understand your argument. You claim that it is OK to kill bugs if they bother you, so long as you feel bad about doing it... but it is not OK to use bugs to demonstrate science, even if they are used humanely and aren't killed.

          You also state we are exhibiting cruelty to animals, which I don't believe to be the case. We make sure to anesthetize all our animals when we do experiments, and we explain this to students. We actually don’t know if insects feel pain, but we do make the assumption that they do, which is why we anesthetize them in the first place. Whether the cockroach feels pain when it wakes up from the surgery and detects a missing leg, we do not know. All we is know is that the wound heals, the cockroaches are walking around within hours, eating lettuce, making more cockroaches, and if they are juvenile, the leg grows back.

          It’s very important to avoid anthropomorphizing the cockroach with thoughts like “If I do not want my own leg cut off, then the cockroach does not want its leg cut off.” We recommend the following RadioLab show that extensively interviews an entomologist describing his own problems anthropomorphizing insects:


          Finally, stimulating minds through hands-on experiments and activities is not a straw man. There are are a number of studies that have been published over the past several decades noting the "hands-on" teaching is an improvement on lecture based teaching. See:

          Stohr-Hunt P. (1996) An Analysis of Frequency of Hands-on Experience and Science Achievement. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 33: 101-109

          Geier R, Blumenfeld PC, Marx RW, Krajcik JS, Fishman B, et al. (2008) Standardized Test Outcomes for Students Engaged in Inquiry-Based Science Curricula in the Context of Urban Reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 45: 922–939.
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    • Mar 24 2012: You make the mistake of thinking all life is equal.

      He did enough to make sure he wasn't being cruel, plus he explained why he wasn't being cruel, so the kids got an idea that science doesn't just experiment without rules on the living.
      • Apr 28 2012: In that case, he was lying to the kids on top of it. Science does terrible experiments on live animals *all the time*. From monkeys in space to intentionally infecting mice with horrible diseases, to cosmetics testing.

        All for the sake of humanity, of course. Do you think none if it should ever be questioned? And why would we draw the line, questioning one practice but not another?

        It's very possible that the protests here are a kind of reaction to all the other things we know goes on with animal experimentation.

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