Saturday, 30 October 2010

Animal Testing Blog: Some interesting reactions

Yesterday, I put this up.

Originally a spoken piece for the Pod Delusion, I thought it wise to put a written version up as well. Obviously, I made it as provocative as possible (in the title at least) to get attention, and also to vent a bit at the violent campaigners who feel it's fine to intimidate and threaten people in my profession.

And it is the violent, law-breaking, threatening ones I a talking about, not the respectful, organised, official campaigners. They're generally all right, I agree with them on most issues as well. I thought I'd made this clear in my piece. Apparently not. My bad, I suppose. Some of the responses have been quite interesting.

A lot of the traffic is coming from Metafilter. My piece has come under a lot of criticism, but primarily (at least at first) because they don't think it's funny. Fair enough, other people do, and they have credited me with far less self-awareness than than I do in fact possess (e.g. I'm fully conscious of the fact that making meat-based references in an animal-rights rant are neither 'edgy' nor particularly original), and if you listen to the Pod Delusion episode I hope you'll pick up on the sarcastic tone with which I make the aforementioned jokes. But then that's the problem with text; inflection is hard to get across. But no matter.

The comments on the blog post are a joy to behold, feel free to scan them. From interesting, considered criticisms to insane religiously-inspired condemning of me and my soul. And again, a lot of people feel that attempts to insert comedy into my rant nullifies the points I'm trying to make. An understandable viewpoint, but not one I agree with. I've learned first hand that inserting humour into serious things makes people MORE likely to listen and take it in, not less. Hence The Daily Show and its ilk are seen by many as the most reliable news source in the states, and Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell in the UK are arguably the most popular and respected pundits on all manner of subjects; they can take hard truths and unpleasant facts, and deliver them in an incredibly amusing, entertaining fashion. I would never claim to be capable of their standard of writing, but I'm willing to give it a go.

Also, this has always been a comedy blog, which has developed a worrying number of regular readers. A deadly-serious, passionate rant about such a controversial subject would be incredibly jarring. So I tried to stay 'in character', as it were.

Now, the fun begins.

My blog was lifted wholesale and posted on the animal activists website named 'negotiation is over'. The title alone shows what their stance on the issue is. I believe the lovely devout Lisa who bemoaned my toxic heart in the comments section is there. I do like the way it's put up as if I actually voluntarily sent them the piece to put up like a prick, and I love how I'm introduced as 'Mutilator Dean Burnett', but seriously, check out the website comments if you want to see extreme vitriol and a complete disregard for Godwin's Law.

Interestingly, my old school headmaster was called Mister Godwin, and he was a bit of a racist right-winger if memory serves. Life's weird like that sometimes.

And finally, the emails. I've had a few. Some have been supportive. Some have been critical but nice with it, some have been like this. Being a shameless attention seeker, I can't help but reply.

Subject: france
Date: Sat, 30 Oct 2010 11:39:22 +0000

i'm french and i FUCK YOU, you says "go fuck" to animal lover ?

Come to see me in Marseille, i will show you, who will fuck who ... may be your mother want to come ? i will fuck her too !!!


Thank you, Anonymous French person

Maybe it's a translation thing? At no point did I say "go fuck" to animal lovers, I'm not sure that even works as a threat or a command in English, but what I was trying to say was "go fuck yourselves" to people who think it's OK to threaten and intimidate people doing essential scientific research. Most animal lovers don't do that, so telling them to "go fuck" would be pointless.

I've never been to Marseille, is it nice? I'm actually quite busy at the moment, but I'll see what my mother is up to if you like, she's due a vacation.

Cheers again for the email, it will make an excellent addition to my blog.

All the best

I really Like to be a part of your blog thanks You !!!
Essential reSearch ?? CAN i laugh ? Essential money may be You want to say !

I don't like what i've readed when You speak about vivisection, and Marseille is not Nice ... Don't take vacation here, it's very dangerous.

Please link me your blog, this Will may be give me some buzz !!!!!! Thanks!!!


Anonymous French person is named Nico, as it happens. He/She doesn't like me and my kind. Fair enough, it's just nice to get the attention.

To: humourology
Date: Sat, 30 Oct 2010 17:25:43 +0200
Date: Sat, 30 Oct 2010 17:25:43 +0200
Thank you, Anonymous person in South Africa

Thanks for the email. Not sure if it's a formatting thing, or if you meant it to be written in such a massive font, but rest assured that I read it fine, especially as I have a particularly large computer monitor as well

I'm sorry you didn't laugh at my article, that's the problem with comedy, it's very subjective, and it is a tricky subject to make jokes about. A lot of the crap jokes were deliberately inserted to lighten the tone in a self-depreciation style, but it's tricky to get this across in print.

There are many reasons for me being out of a job, partly because I'm an average Doctor of Neuroscience, not a great one, and partly because my wife's job means I'm geographically limited. Believe it or not, the inability to make random strangers in other countries laugh is not seen as a handicap when applying for scientific vacancies, so I tend not to mention it on my CV.

Cheers for the email, it will make an excellent addition to my blog.

All the best
To: humourology

That last part is quite a strange thing for stranger who felt it necessary to abuse me via email to say, when you think about it.

And then it got serious

Diana Meinor

Mr. Burnett -

I am writing after having read your recent blog post at Science Digestive in
which you defend caging and killing nonhuman animals. I believe that this
will be appropriately interpreted by many as an open call to violence on
your part against nonhumans. In other words, it's an act of aggression.

In the course of the post you acknowledge being "trained and experience in
animal testing" and that you are "not ashamed". This means that you are not
a mere advocate for violence against the innocent but also an assailant.

I suspect that none of what I am saying comes as a surprise to you. Suffice
it to say that you have not gone unnoticed.

Diana Meinor

Diana Meinor

Thank you Diana

My post also contains the following phrases

"the conclusion that 'innocent creatures suffering is bad' is a very hard one to disagree with, and I won't attempt to do so"

"Huntington’s life sciences did terrible things to animals all those years ago, nobody is disputing that. If they are, they need to be escorted to the nearest padded room as soon as possible."

"I've worked in animal labs, and I've yet to meet anyone who, despite the accusations and implications, actually enjoys animal experimentation. Pretty much everyone who does it manages to develop a necessary sense of detachment, but it's never easy. As I always strive to point out, the vast majority of scientists are actually people, and we don't like psychopaths or sadists any more than the next person."

"A suffering animal is, scientifically, pretty much useless"

"the logic of scientific research means it's essential that animal subjects experience as little discomfort as possible."

"if there was an effective substitute that offered the same complexity and sophistication offered by a living organism, we'd be using it."

"Someone once asked me 'what gives us the right to decide how and when an animal dies?' I genuinely don't know, nor do I know if we can be said to have the right to anything we do as a species"

All of these phrases clearly advocate and support the ethical treatment of animals, for reasons of scientific research and basic morality. The fact that you have chosen to take select quotes and jump to wide conclusions that you use to make thinly veiled threats to me suggests that you have no interest in rational debate or discourse.

I doubt this will make any difference to your views, but as depressing as it is to have to resort this, I have forwarded your email to the relevant authorities such as the police.

I hope we can remain civil about this

Dr. Burnett

There's always someone who has to ruin it by making actual threats. I'll put up any further interesting ones if/when I get them.

People have described me as 'brave' for saying what I did. I don't think so, I'm just an attention seeker. But it's nice to know it's having some effect, as the responses clearly show. Fun times!

Email: Humourology (at)
Twitter: @garwboy


Nameless Cynic said...

That was an awesome podcast. You're right, though, the written version is a pale comparison to the spoken. Any chance you have access to just your portion, perhaps in an embeddable player? I'd love to feature it on medium-sized co-blog (and my own extremely small-time one, as well).

(There is, of course, no profit in this for either you or me, except the chance to spread your voice a little wider.)

Excellent piece - something I've been saying for years, altough without your insider view.

Dean Burnett, Neuroscientist said...


No problem, drop me an email at the address above and I'll send you the original mp3 file.

Fat Roland said...

SCREW YOU, ANIMAL MURDE-- oh wait, I got rather caught up in the moment there. Thank you, Dean, for a couple of hugely intelligent and enlightening blog posts. Animal testing is something I try not to think of, in the same way I don't like to think of where my meat comes from, but actually your humour, self-deprecation and carefully balanced reason is a credit to your profession. Cracking stuff. And stay strong: the internet is full of loose talk from bored loners who like to swear a lot at computer screens because it's easier than getting to grips with their own sense of self-loathing.

Shalashar said...

Hmm. I have to say you're a braver man than I for going up against the the hardline animal rights groups.

I agree with your comparison between them and the pro-life movement, tbh I'd never really considered the parallels, but the site you point to "negotiation is over" really does read like a US based far right "pro-life" group.

Thankyou for providing such a thought provoking, not to mention amusing post and follow up.

Kate said...

Holy shit, I hope your address isn't anywhere on the web.

To Diana who emailed you: How is threatening violence against a human any better than what you think Dean does?

One of my best friends is vegan but also not a nut case, she disagrees with the meat industry, as do I, but I'm too lazy and unprincipled to change my behaviour.

There's so much absolute codshit that goes around about what is actually involved in animal testing, thank you for making this clearer.

Kate xxxx

Karen said...

@Kate....please tell me where Diana called for any type of violence against humans!
The true and serious ARA calls for "NO violence against any life-form whatsoever, this meaning animal and human!"
We are not looking to harm the individuals performing these acts, but instead we want the acts to cease altogether...
As in every movement there are going to be those who throw violent threats around like candy at a parade, however if you are aware of what the Animal Rights Movement truly stands for then you will know, that these people making threats are merely attention seekers and not the serious ARA...

Shalashar said...


The threat is implicit in the following:

"I believe that this
will be appropriately interpreted by many as an open call to violence on your part against nonhumans. In other words, it's an act of aggression."

"Suffice it to say that you have not gone unnoticed."

Are you really going to try to explain this away as being anything other than a threat?

Robin said...

@ Shalashar

A threat on whose part?

Nameless Cynic said...

Don't know if you noticed, but after me and a kiwi calling himself "punkscientist" spoke up in your defense, the whole site is now down.

I'm not saying the two are related, but I think it's funny.

Dean Burnett, Neuroscientist said...

I did not notice, but it is amusing indeed. I genuinely haven't looked at the site since the brief period when I was on it, I really don't have the time or the inclination to wade through that level of hysterical bile on a daily basis.

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