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On Taking Account of Public Opinion

A PHARMACIST AND POLITICIAN was the author of the Thirtieth Stephen Paget Memorial Lecture. Sir Hugh Linstead, O.B.E., LL.D.. F.P.S., M.P., delivered the Lecture on Tuesday. 21st November, 1961, in the Physiology Lecture Theatre.UniversityCollege.Gower Street,London. W.C.I. The President of the Research Defence Society, the Right Honourable the Earl of Halsbury, was in the Chair.

The President said that Sir Hugh Linstead was a distinguished parliamentarian who started life as a pharmaceutical chemist. He was an old friend and past colleague, who was chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee at the time when he was one of the vice-chairmen. He had earned a name as one of the select band of those in Parliament who had had a scientific training and made that a foundation for his parliamentary career. When members and visitors had heard him speak, they would know why that career had been the success which it had been.

 

On Taking Account of Public Opinion

By SIR HUGH LINSTEAD, O.B.E., LL.D., F.P.S., MP.

 

To be asked to give the Stephen Paget lecture is an honour I much value. When I look at the names of those who have done so in the past I am conscious of my lack of qualifications to follow them for most of them are eminent in medicine and so specially qualified to speak of Paget's work and enthusiasm in the development of medicine and medical research. Two things however encouraged me to accept your invita­tion—the kindly persuasion of my friend Dr. Lane-Petter and the example of my old colleague Richard Fort. His premature and tragic death deprived the House of Commons of a Member who combined brilliantly experience of industry with a scientific training and outlook. He followed me as chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee and I had the privilege of following him as the House of Commons member of the Medical Research Council. It is with grateful memories that I follow him also in this place.

 

When I decided that I would speak to you about the power of public opinion I had not read Richard Fort's lecture, which he called Irrationality. When I did so it was with relief to find that we were not to cover the same ground. Nevertheless, it is significant that two politicians, looking at Stephen Paget's crusade and the work of the Research Defence Society inde­pendently, should both have felt that the irra­tional element in public opinion was a significant factor to bring into the account.

 

Up to a point I want to act as advocatus diaboli in defence of irrationality, for it sometimes appears as if behind all the irrational emotion of human beings, of which science is so rationally critical, there may well reside a hard core of reality which science can ignore only at the risk of being unscientific. Science is today pushing back the frontiers of ignorance at a speed that leaves the onlooker breathless. There seems no reason to set any limits to what it can achieve. Judged by what it has already done, there need be no mystery that it cannot claim the right to expose and no phenomenon that it cannot ultimately explain. It needs no great imagina­tion to foresee that when biochemistry and biophysics, genetics and psychology have done their best or worst, homo sapiens will stand revealed as little more than a quivering mass of oscillations. If such a revelation is to be our fate, then at least we are entitled to ask whether.

when science has reduced us to a formula, she has told us everything? Faced with such a brave new world, are not we humans entitled to grab back the last rags of our disintegrating personalities to protect our nakedness? Is it entirely an act of faith on our part to assert that when everything has been explained away, something still remains: that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts: that behind the chance permutations of the electrons, behind the irrationality, the ignorance and the emotion that characterizes the behaviour of the individual human being, or especially of any collection of human beings, there resides something valid—we need not seek a name for it—which science ignores at its peril? Such a belief has at least this to support it, that it constitutes the foundation stone of parlia­mentary democracy, even when it is expressed in some such hearty form as that 50 million British (or if you prefer it 150 million Americans) can't be wrong!

 

Public opinion can be described as the crystallization of the sentiments of a group of people upon a given subject at a given time. It need not be expressed. Some of the most deeply held opinions of the public may be formed and yet lie dormant. When they find expression it may be with a violence that surprises even those who might be supposed to be most attentive to what is taking shape in the public mind.

 

The characteristics of the opinions and beliefs of the public considered as a group were examined by Gustave le Bon in his book La Psychologie des Foules. It was written some seventy years ago but is still rewarding reading. He uses the term "crowd" not merely to describe a group of people in physical proximity. For his purpose any group of people subjected to the same influences, even a whole nation, can constitute a "psychological crowd". The most striking peculiarity of a psychological crowd, according to Le Bon, is its mental unity. He writes.

"Whoever be the individuals that compose it, however like or unlike be their mode of life, their occupations, their character, or their intelligence, the fact that they have been transformed into a crowd puts them in possession of a sort of collective mind which makes them feel, think, and act in a manner quite different from that in which each indi­vidual of them would feel, think and act were he in a state of isolation. There are certain ideas and feelings which do not come into being, or do not transform themselves into acts except in the case of individuals forming a crowd."

 

Of the reasoning power of crowds, Le Bon says this:—

"The characteristics of the reasoning of crowds are the association of dissimilar things possessing a merely apparent connec­tion with each other, and the immediate generalization of particular cases. It is arguments of this kind that are always presented to crowds by those who know how to manage them. They are the only arguments by which crowds are to be in­fluenced. A chain of logical argumentation is totally incomprehensible to crowds, and for this reason it is permissible to say that they do not reason . . . Astonishment is felt at times on reading certain speeches at their weakness, and yet they had an enormous influence on the crowds which listen to them: but it is forgotten that they were intended to persuade collectivities and not to be read by philosophers."

 

I cannot think of better illustrations in this country of the manner in which the opinion of the crowd, that is public opinion, is formed and behaves than the controversy for and against corporal punishment and capital punishment.

Corporal punishment as a judicial penalty for adults was virtually abolished in 1861.   There have since then been two authoritative reviews of the use of corporal punishment judicially and both led to the same conclusion.   The Cadogan Committee, which sat during 1937 and 1938, reported that they could

"find no body of facts or figures showing that the introduction of a power of flogging has produced a decrease in the number of the offences for which it may be imposed, or that (such) offences have tended to increase when little use was made of the power."

After an exhaustive survey they recommended that the use of corporal punishment as a judicial penalty should be entirely abandoned and this was enacted by Parliament in 1948.

 

Since then there has been a number of attempts to secure its reintroduction and in 1960 the Home Secretary asked the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders to consider whether there were any grounds for bringing it back. The Council duly reported and summarize their findings in the following terms:

"In view of the great conflict of opinion on this subject it would have been surprising if, at the outset of our enquiry, some of us had not thought that the reintroduction of judicial corporal punishment might be justified as a means of checking the growing increase in crime generally and in offences of hooliganism in particular. That was in fact the case, but, having studied the views expressed to us and the available evidence, we consider that the findings of the Cadogan Committee are still valid, and have come unanimously to the conclusion that corporal punishment should not be reintroduced as a judicial penalty in respect of any categories of offences or of offenders."

One would assume that no reader with the capacity to follow a line of reasoning and to assess by no means complicated statistics could dissent from this conclusion. Yet there are many thousands of people prepared to accept neither the reasoning nor the statistics nor the conclusions of either of the two investigations. For them it is beyond argument that corporal punishment should be available either for all offences or at any rate for all offences involving violence against the person. In their advocacy they ignore not only the findings of the enquiries, they reject the experience of modern penal science and the philosophy of the reformative treatment of offenders. They are seemingly content that the penal clock should be put back a hundred years to before the Act of 1861.

 

Why? To listen to advocates of "bring back the birch" is to realize how small a place argu­ment plays in their assessment of the case they advocate and how much their conclusions are dependent upon the formation in their minds of vivid images of assaults upon innocent and unprotected persons and upon assertions sup­ported may be by tradition but incapable of proof—"an eye for an eye". "why sympathize with the thug instead of the victim?", "such a fellow deserves to be whipped", "give them a taste of their own medicine" and so on.

 

The existence of this body of opinion was of course recognized by both the Committees in writing their reports. Rational argument being out of the question as a means of influencing it, recourse could only be had to those visual images which, as Le Bon recognizes, are most apt to impress themselves upon the mind of a crowd. The Cadogan Committee found it desirable for the purposes of their Report to describe in detail the manner in which corporal punishment was, up to 1948, administered to adults and to juveniles. The Advisory Counci1 an the Treatment of Offenders twenty years later wisely reproduced those paragraphs ver­batim. The Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, reporting in 1953, described graphi­cally how the sentence of hanging is carried out. All three bodies seem to have realized that it is only by such images, if at all, that some im­pression can be made upon that collective mind of the crowd which we more respectably name public opinion.

 

What can happen when the rational element in a situation is brought into direct conflict with the emotional element is illustrated by the Homicide Act, 1957. In 1948, the House of Commons inserted a clause in a Criminal Justice Bill suspending capital punishment. The House of Lords, supported by public opinion as it manifested itself at that time, threw it out. A Royal Commission was then appointed to consider if it were possible to devise a scheme to limit capital punishment to certain types of murder only. They reported that it was not. However, under pressure from the abolitionists on the one side and the maintainers on the other, the Homicide Act, 1957 was passed, purporting to do exactly what the Royal Commission said could not be done. This collision between reason and emotion produced an Act lacking any sort of legal principle or moral basis. Two examples furnished by Mr. Gerald Gardiner, Q.C., illustrate this.

"1. If a man kills his wife with the nearest weapon to hand, and if this is a gun, he commits capital murder: but if the nearest weapon to hand is a hatchet, it is non-capital murder.

2. If a man rapes a girl, strangles her and takes her handbag, this is in practice capital murder; if he does not take the handbag, it is not."

The Act is patently bad, a sorry monument to the strength of the emotions that can be roused by the taking of human life. As it stands, it is compelling evidence for the abolition of capital punishment, for it shows that no compromise is possible. And yet, overwhelming though the case now is in my view for the abolition of capital punishment, one cannot avoid recognizing the strength of the public sentiment obstinately arrayed on the other side, the sentiment that the account between the murderer and society cannot be balanced until life has paid for life.

This then is public opinion and this is how it works. How far can it be controlled or guided or changed? This question is a terrify­ing challenge to statesmen. As a condition of governing at all a leader must “carry the people with him”, as the saying goes.   And to do that his primary appeal cannot be to reason. It must be to those things that strike the imagination and rouse the emotions of crowds. Le Bon very wisely wrote that "a knowledge of the psychology of crowds is today the last resource of the statesman who wishes not to govern them —that is becoming a very difficult matter— but at any rate not to be too much governed by them."

 

Romesought to find the answer by bread and circuses. Absolute monarchs used fear—the Tower or the block or the stake. To-day the new techniques of mass propaganda are being employed to supplement the old ones. All are irrational and all amount to a confession that education has so far failed to furnish in any community any sufficient number of citizens competent to stand aside from the crowd and take objective views and individual decisions based on argument and not emotion.

Is the answer not to be found at all in the realm of politics or education but rather in the realm of religion? That is a window that can be opened but not a vision to be pursued today.

 

We can however fairly ask, what contribution can science make to the shaping and controlling and guiding of public opinion? The authority which science has established for itself in the public estimation over the last quarter of a century may not be fully understood even by scientists. At first sight science seems to have little in common with the emotions of the crowd, for the great virtues of science—integrity, objectivity, truth—are alien to the things that move the crowd. And the methods of science diverge fundamentally from those of politics. The scientific method is mainly deductive, moving from observation to conclusion. Politics is by contrast mainly inductive, seeking by means that are often empirical and pragmatic how it can advance towards a pre-determined goal. Science moves by weighing and measuring, politics by feeling—by le sens du possible, the feeling for what can be achieved. One is science, the other mainly an art. Yet the findings of science are of the most intense importance to the politician to guide him to a wise conclusion within the limits of what may be politically attainable.

 

For the scientist who finds himself caught up in the maze of politics there is one prudent resolve to make: he must be the referee and not the player. Those of us who are daily engaged in the political arena are inevitably jacks-of-all-trades. Yesterday we were immersed inMiddle Eastoil, to-day it is heavy water, to-morrow it will be school milk.   And over a large part of the political field there are highly specialized scientific factors to be assessed. We can only turn for that assessment to scientists and we can only pray that they will be honestly objective in the advice they profer. Indeed if they are not, they forfeit the title of scientist. In this scientific maelstrom in which we live we have no one upon whom we can rely for objectivity and integrity in many fields save the scientist. If he lets us down then the damage to science and to the community is irreparable.

 

He should not do so, for there is no such thing as Socialist physics or Conservative chemistry; life peerages even threaten to remove genetics from the political arena. Yet the temptation to incline to the right or to the left is very great on occasion and even scientists are human. Julien Benda, before the first war, in the first edition of his Trahison des Clercs, set out the standards by which the scientist should seek to be animated and the dire results that follow if he abdicates his responsibility. Benda ascribes the build-up of our Greco-Christian civilization to the activities of a numerically small group in the community whom he names the clerks, the intellectuals. These are the writers, the teachers, the formers of public opinion. With the passage of centuries there has come, says Benda. a gradual acquisition of political power by the masses of the population and with it an increas­ing temptation for the clerks to seek favour where power lies. When he published his second edition he could declare that by the time of the Second World War that process was complete.

"Today the game is over. The layman has won . . . Indeed all humanity has be­come lay, including the intellectuals."

 

Hence, le trahison des clercs, betrayed by the intellectuals. Benda did not accuse the scien­tists: his target was the writers and the journalists, but for the scientist as for the publicist the temptation to play politics must sometimes be most strong. It may take the form of a claim that the scientist has a right to a decisive word in the uses to which his discoveries are to be put. Such a claim is difficult to resist and yet it should be resisted. If pressed then it should be pressed with great circumspection. If the scientist is unduly active in advocating the political aspects of science he can hardly avoid in our bi-lateral political system allying himself with one side or the other in the argument and the moment he does so his influence as a scientist is weakened. He has abandoned the impartiality of the referee for the partisanship of the player and he must not be surprised if the weight of his opinion is thereby depreciated.

There fall at this point very aptly some wise words from a private communication from Lord Halsbury to myself which I have quoted before but which will bear repetition:—

"The responsibilities of scientists for the moral consequences of their work must be shared with the community. Any discovery can be put to good or evil use. It does not appear to me that scientists can do more as scientists than explain as clearly as possible to the rest of the community where the possibilities for evil latent in any of their discoveries really lie. The issue is, therefore, whether they do this effectively or ineffectively. I believe scientists would do this more effectively if they .could speak on political issues with more authority. I believe this authority would come best from the exercise of a self-denying ordinance in political matters, namely by dissociating themselves from any political party whatever and behaving as public servants are expected to behave."

Assuming then such a self-denying ordinance, there is a role of intense importance for the scientist not only in the formulation of policy in the fields where science and politics interact but in the formation and guidance of public opinion in those fields.   In this technological age the scientist has joined the priest and the doctor as someone singled out for special veneration. He has it in his power to call down destruction.   He moves in a world apart. He talks a language comprehended only by the elect.   He can move mountains, put a girdle round the earth in 89 minutes, map the infinitely remote or the infinitely small. Indeed, to-day the scientist is, in Kipling's phrase, if not God, at least His visible presence. His word therefore carries weight and authority.   Because the public cannot follow his reasoning but can only accept or reject his conclusions he carries heavy responsibilities also. His first responsibility must be of course to the standards of science. They demand from him integrity, honesty, objectivity—in other words, devotion to scientific truth. The corollary to that is that in the public exposition of science he shall be guided by those same virtues both in his selection of his facts and in the conclusions that he draws from them.   Whether or not Benda's accusation against the clerk can be sustained, we can be grateful that no similar indictment has yet been drawn up in this country against the scientist.

 

So much then for the nature of public opinion, for its impact upon politics and for some indication of the role of the scientist in developing and in controlling it.   Whatever its nature may be, its influence in politics is immense. It cannot be dismissed merely on the ground that it is the product of imagination or emotion. It is one of the hardest of hard political facts. Will you bear with me for a short time longer to examine the operation of public opinion in the area of medicine that most concerned Stephen Paget and that concerns today the Research Defence Society, namely the use of animals for the purpose of medical and surgical research and in the course of the preparation and control of medicines? It is a field in which; there has been great controversy, although today it is less than it was in the past. That the activities of the anti-vivisection societies have become increasingly less harmful to the development of medical science is almost certainly due to a wider understanding among the public of the objectives and results of experiments involving the use of animals.   In this educational process the Research Defence Society has played a distinguished part.  The recently published collected papers given at a symposium on the Hazards of the Animal House[1] are an excellent example. They are dominated by an evident concern for the welfare of the animals and they do not hesitate to reveal errors and weaknesses and show how they can be put right. Yet it must be realized that it is not simply the telling of the story by the Society and others with clarity and conviction that has brought this about. The story itself has won acceptance by its own overwhelming cogency. The mental image of the suffering animal by which the anti-vivisectors sought to win the support of public opinion is to-day being replaced in the public imagination by the image of the child restored to health or protected from harm. The weight of emotion is being in­creasingly transferred to the other pan of the balance as the evidence becomes spread more widely.

 

That however is not to say that the other side of the case is ceasing to carry weight. The onus of proof still lies on the research worker using animals to show that the balance of advantage lies heavily on the side of his experiments. There can be no question in the minds of anyone in this audience that he can fully discharge this responsibility. Yet one can neither escape nor ignore the fact that to many thousands of people his situation is not clear. Ignorance, or con­fusion or, more often, a sheer and simple affec­tion for animals is partly the reason for this attitude.   With some, it is a matter of principle rather than emotion: the belief that human beings have no prescriptive right to use the animal world to their advantage and its apparent detriment. Whatever may be the motive in any particular person there can be no doubt that the feeling is still widespread and, however irrational and difficult of objective assessment, it remains a social and political fact which cannot be disregarded.   Where does its strength lie?

 

Let us put the case for anti-vivisection as high as it reasonably can be put: vivisection is to be condemned because it involves the inflic­tion of disease, physical injury, pain, loss of life, upon animals. Let us put the case for vivi­section equally highly: the saving of many hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of human lives: the prevention of great human suffering; enabling many thousands to live happy and useful lives; the pursuit of pure knowledge to the ultimate great benefit of both human beings and animals. These are the broad alternatives between which a choice has to be made when animal experimentation is at issue. It is a hard choice but it is essentially the sort of choice that man has to make. It is not essentially different from the sort of choice that a statesman—at least until now—had to make when he committed, his country to war.

 

We would of course all like to have it both ways: to cure disease without painful experi­ments or crippling surgery; to win victories without casualties; to see right triumph without evil processes being set in motion. But that is not the world in which we live. Choices have to be made and as often as not to refuse to choose is equivalent to making a choice. And what is more, the choices are not always between good and. bad. They are sometimes between two goods, often between two evils.

 

There are many decisions that are difficult to take only because we have not taken the trouble to assemble all the available data. If we knew all the facts we would often find that they point inescapably to one conclusion. I have some­times felt that many parliamentary controversies depend for their vitality upon the contestants keeping well within the region of generalities and as remote as can be from the field of facts. If the disputants were brought around the traditional round table and faced with the relevant facts and statistics, many a bitter dispute would be resolved by an inescapable conclusion. But as we have already seen public opinion can often be contemptuous of facts, particularly when the facts point in one direction and the emotions pull in the other.

 

In the controversies that surround experiments on animals many of the facts are there for all to see in the Registrar-General's Morbidity Statistics and in the Annual Reports of the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health. But a great part of the controversy over the use of animals in veterinary and medical research hinges upon considerations removed from statistics. The principle in dispute was stated in its clearest and simplest form by Lord Dowding in a speech in the House of Lords on 14th October, 1952 in these words: "... even should it be conclusively proved that human beings benefit directly from the suffering of animals, its infliction would nevertheless be unethical and wrong ". The main weakness of the anti-vivisectionists' case is their unwillingness to base their argument fairly and squarely on this principle. They insist upon seeking to meet every scientific argument with another and every set of statistics with counter-statistics, when at almost every point their arguments are both invalidated by the facts and discounted by the practical experience of hundreds of thousands of normally intelligent human beings and their statistics are open to challenge on the most elementary grounds. Lord Cohen of Birken­head, in his Stephen Paget Lecture in 1957, gave vivid examples of facts taken out of context, generalizations drawn from isolated cases, question-begging assertions, suggestio falsi and complete lack of perspective.

 

For a sad example of blindness in the presen­tation of statistics one has only to look at the chapter headed Diphtheria and Immunization in the book More Spotlights published by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection in 1960. The table of deaths from diphtheria on page 29 stops with the year 1947 when the figure was 244. Why 1947? By 1960 the figures for the next decade, 1947-1957, were available. By 1950 the deaths had fallen from 244 to 49, in 1953 they were 23, in 1955 thirteen and in 1957 six. Why were they not added to the table?

 

There is however little to be gained from controverting their facts or querying their statistics, for in spite of the voluminous material put out by the anti-vivisectionists in the name of science, they confess frankly that they are not prepared to accept scientific evidence.   As is said of typhus vaccine in More Spotlights,

 "an examination of the evidence recorded in favour of the vaccine must be deferred, but it can hardly affect the attitude of those who not only find the preparation utterly repugnant in itself but are convinced that, accompanied as it is at every stage of its manufacture by experiments on animals, the final result to mankind cannot prove beneficial."

That may be true. But at the present stage of our knowledge it is utterly beyond proof and all the evidence is to the contrary. Such a statement may well be an article of faith but it should have no place in a discussion which, as the Introduction claims, seeks to lay stress "more on the scientific than on the ethical side."

The scientific pretensions of most of this literature cannot be taken seriously save as a contribution to a study of "the blind spot", but I cannot forbear to record this gem of purest ray serene from the dark, unfathomed caves of the Medical World:

"The literature on the subject appears to be almost entirely American, and we need say little more than that ..."

However, when one has examined a represen­tative sample of this literature one is almost awed by the power which can be exercised by illogical argument and selective statistics when they are reinforced by savage indignation. The arguments may be worthless and the con­clusions indefensible, yet one feels that behind them and in spite of them there is a driving force independent of fact and argument yet not to be ignored. From where does it draw its strength? Is it from some instinctive feeling of kinship with the rest of the animal world heightened and sharpened by the fact that some species—the horse, the ox and the ass, the cat and the dog— have lived in community with man since time immemorial and have both given to him and received from him a certain imprint of famili­arity ? There are few of us who are not moved by the sight of cruelty to animals whether it be active or passive—it may be the stoning of a rat in a gravel pit or the sale of a bunch of live starlings on the bridge atIstanbul, their legs tied together with cotton. We should be hard put to it to explain why we feel as we do but it is a feeling shared by many millions of people and often the more highly civilized a country the more sensitive are its inhabitants to just that sort of thing.

 

It is here that the real strength of the anti-vivisection campaign resides and it is here that public opinion can most readily be rallied to support them. I recall some fifteen or more years ago taking a deputation to see the then Home Secretary on the perennial question of the destruction of stray cats and dogs at a time when medical schools and research laboratories are in grave difficulty in obtaining them.  It was a strong deputation including a future President of the Royal Society and a number of leading physiologists. The case put was, on any logical basis, unanswerable. But the phrase in the Home Secretary's reply to us which summarized the case for his refusal had the essence of the whole matter in it, as well as a particular cogency for any Member of Parliament. "What", he asked me, "would it cost you in lost votes at the next election if you were to sponsor a Bill providing for stray cats and dogs to be handed over to the laboratories? " Politically speak­ing, that places the subject in focus. About 200,000 stray cats are destroyed annually inLondonalone. About 11.000 others are used experimentally. Yet it is of little avail to urge that these 11,000 are sacrificed needlessly, merely going to swell by that number the total of those destroyed. The image of the laboratory has become so firmly associated in the public mind with pain and cruelty, against the truth, that this quite needless sacrifice of animal life continues.

 

Perhaps public opinion is not quite so firm to-day. It would be interesting to re-assess it. The virtual wiping out of diphtheria and the control of tuberculosis and poliomyelitis are now .so well accepted as achievements of modern medical science that there is an increasing likelihood that more and more of the public will "accept at its face value what the scientist has to say about them. Recent advances in medical science could indeed have so impressed them­selves on public opinion that the tide of emotion could be on the turn and the same forces that have refused concessions in the past may be found to be advocating them a short time hence. But so far evidence for this is lacking. No, politics has always had to come to terms with emotion and so must science.

My personal impression, based on visits to a number of establishments at which animal experiments take place, is that the conditions under which animals are kept and used in this country are good. That they have improved to my own knowledge over the last thirty years is not a little due to the great influence now being exercised by the Laboratory Animals Centre of the Medical Research Council at Carshalton. The beneficial influence of its example and advice and publications has extended widely beyond this country. I am sure too that our system of licensing and inspection is on the right lines, depending as it does so much on personal contacts, persuasion and suggestion. It achieves by these means far more than it would by rigorous codes and sanctions.   Accepting the necessity for the use of animals, I do not think that any­where you would find a more satisfactory form of administration nor a series of laboratories more humanely and healthily maintained than can be found inGreat Britain.

 

The weakest link is partly beyond our control. It is the conditions under which some animals are transported to this country. This applies of course as much or more to animals imported for other purposes than research. But even here great improvements are being rapidly made and the conscience of the carriers has been roused to their responsibilities, while, more practically, precise advice is being given about travelling needs and conditions both to carriers and to staff accompanying animals on their journeys. Taking a comprehensive view of the whole situation, the improvement in conditions has been rapid and is continuing.

 

When all that can be done to put our whole house in order and to meet every justified criticism has been done, we still have with us the question which must be at the basis of this controversy. How far is the human world entitled to use the animal world as a tool in its own evolution? Public opinion is not prepared to regard animal bodies simply as highly organ­ized machines but it would not go so far as Lord Dowding in maintaining that even if human beings benefit from the suffering of animals they have no right to inflict it. Most of us are willing parties to the consumption of immense numbers of animals as food. A majority of the public are prepared to tolerate what are provocatively called blood sports. They will flock to zoos, menageries and circuses. As against that, public opinion may not be able to explain why it reacts sharply to the death of a hunted stag at the hands of hounds or of monkeys in transit fromIndia, but react it does and that reaction is as much to be taken into account in politics and in social life as any more rational phenomenon. It is the outward and visible sign among civilized people of an unquiet conscience.

 

It may be that the public are trying to have it both ways. Probably they are. They are human. They want the startling benefits that have come from the use of polio vaccine without the nagging thought that they must be bought at the price of importing plane loads of monkeys fromIndia. But it is not a bad thing that the public conscience should be tender on this account for it means that those most directly concerned are themselves kept alert to their responsibilities.

 

Does this perhaps supply a clue to the answer to the question how far are we entitled to use animals   for   our   benefit? Is the answer basically that it depends upon the intention in the mind of the experimenter? Few of us would accept as permissible the grotesque approach of a Russian physiologist quoted in Lord Dowding's speech to which I have already referred: "The true vivisector must approach a difficult vivisection with joyful excitement. He who shrinks from cutting into a living animal, he who approaches vivisection as a disagreeable necessity, may be able to repeat one or two vivisections, but he will never be an artist in vivisection." Somehow or other that just will not do.

 

Of course the public wants to feel that those who undertake animal experimentation on its behalf are conscious of their responsibility, competent in their performance and judicious in assessing when the probable benefit justifies the expenditure of animal life. But it wants something more than that: the assurance that those who are handling animals over the wide range of experiments which in total are so beneficial to mankind are not deficient in the qualities of sensitiveness and humanity. I have had an association extending over many years with those engaged in this work and insofar as my experience entitles me to speak I can say that in Britain the public can be given that assurance with scarcely a reservation.

 

We live in a brutal world and here at least is a field where we can use some of our diminishing stock of gentleness. Ultimately the public must rely upon the personal integrity of the men and women who do this work as the safeguard against undesirable practices. Nothing can take its place and I am sure they themselves are most sensitive to this. Life—even animal life—is a wonderfully delicate thing and he who has life and death under his control has both a responsibility to his own conscience and a wider responsibility to the public, for he is one of the custodians of the standards of a civilized community.

 

*      *      *      *      

 

Dr. J. M. Barnes said it was a privilege and pleasure to have the opportunity of trying to express the thanks of the Society to Sir Hugh Linstead for his Lecture. Sir Hugh had told him something of the work he had done in pre­paring his lecture. Some people thought that politicians just got to their feet and the words came out: it might indeed be considered danger­ous for a politician to think: but Sir Hugh had delivered a serious paper with all the gifts of a politician. Dr. Barnes recalled when he and Sir Hugh were on the Poisons Board and the chairman was a magistrate who used to look to Sir Hugh for guidance. He would now say that no-one could understand the poisons law unless they had read Sir Hugh's book.

 

It had been very good to hear a lecture under this title. Dr. Barnes referred to the advertise­ment in The Times for a new research fellowship to be given to those who could contribute to medical research without the use of animals. The fellowship was named after Lawson Tait. One wondered whether "animals " included the human animal, used so extensively by Lawson Tait. Dr. Barnes concluded: We should go ahead in our work of trying to educate public opinion to take a more rational view of our activities.

 

The vote of thanks to Sir Hugh Linstead was carried with acclamation.

 



[1]Hazards of the Animal House”. Collected Papers Vol. 10 (1961). Laboratory Animals Centre, Carshalton,Surrey.


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