Chapter 1. An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
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Emma Bowman In a small, sparse makeshift lab, Melissa Malzkuhn practices her range of motion in a black, full-body unitard dotted with light-reflecting nodes. She's strapped on a motion capture, or mocap, suit. Infrared cameras that line the room will capture her movement and translate it into a 3-D character, or avatar, on a computer. But she's not making a Disney animated film. Three-dimensional motion capture has developed quickly in the last few years, most notably as a Hollywood production tool for computer animation in films like Planet of the Apes and Avatar. Behind the scenes though, leaders in the deaf community are taking on the technology to create and improve bilingual learning tools in American Sign Language. Malzkuhn has suited up to record a simple nursery rhyme. Being deaf herself, she spoke with NPR through an interpreter. "I know in English there's just a wealth of nursery rhymes available, but we really don't see as much in ASL," she says. "So we're gonna be doing some original work here in developing nursery rhymes." That's because sound-based rhymes don't cross over well into the visual language of ASL. Malzkuhn heads the Motion Light Lab, or ML2. It's the newest hub of the National Science Foundation Science of Learning Center, Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) at Gallaudet University, the premier school for deaf and hard of hearing students. © 2015 NPR
Link ID: 21107 - Posted: 06.29.2015
By Kiona Smith-Strickland Are crows the smartest animals of all? Many scientists think that corvids — the family of birds that includes crows, ravens, rooks and jays — may be among the most intelligent animals on Earth, based on their ability to solve problems, make tools and apparently consider both possible future events and other individuals’ states of mind. “There’s a lot of research that has been done with both ravens and crows because they are such intelligent species,” said Margaret Innes, an assistant curator at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. Even in humans, defining and measuring intelligence is difficult, and it’s more complicated in other species, which have very different body shapes and have evolved for their niche in the environment. However, scientists who study cognition have defined a few measures of intelligence: recognizing oneself in a mirror, solving complex problems, making tools, using analogies and symbols, and reasoning about what others are thinking. For a long time, biologists expected most of these mental feats to be unique to primates. The great apes — chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas — succeed at nearly all of these tasks, from making and using tools to learning large vocabularies of symbols, as well as recognizing themselves in mirrors. A select few other mammals also meet most of the accepted criteria for intelligence. Dogs and dolphins, for instance, are very good at tasks involving social intelligence, such as communication, conflict resolution and reasoning about what others are thinking. Dolphins are also capable of basic tool use — for instance, carrying sea sponges in their mouths to shield their noses from scrapes and bumps as they forage on the ocean floor.
By ANDREW HIGGINS WIJK BIJ DUURSTEDE, Netherlands — The hiss of gas, released by a red lever turned by Arie den Hertog in the back of his white van, signaled the start of the massacre. The victims, crammed into a sealed, coffin-like wooden case, squawked as they struggled to breathe. Then, after barely two minutes, they fell silent. Glancing at the timer on his cellphone, Mr. Den Hertog declared the deed done. “Now it is all over,” he said proudly of his gruesomely efficient handiwork, on a gloriously sunny day beneath a row of poplar trees on the banks of the Lower Rhine. Reviled as a Nazi by animal rights activists but hailed as a hero by Dutch farmers, Mr. Den Hertog, 40, is the Netherlands’ peerless expert in the theory and practice of killing large numbers of wild geese. On his recent outing to Wijk bij Duurstede, a village in the Utrecht region southeast of Amsterdam, he killed 570 graylag geese in his portable gas chamber, fitted with two big canisters of carbon dioxide. That brought his death toll to more than 7,000 for the week. “It is not fun, but it has to be done,” he said of his work. The Dutch authorities insist it must be done, too. They pay Mr. Den Hertog to keep a ballooning geese population from devouring the grass of cow pastures and flying into planes taking off from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, a major hub in Europe. He is the unpleasant answer to what has become a problem on a grand scale for the Netherlands. Geese populations here have skyrocketed, buoyed by a 1999 ban on hunting them; farmers’ increasing use of nitrogen-rich fertilizer, which geese apparently love; and the expansion of protected nature areas. That combination, plus an abundance of rivers and canals, has made the country a “goose El Dorado,” said Julia Stahl, head of research at Sovon, a group that monitors wild bird populations in the Netherlands. © 2015 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 21048 - Posted: 06.15.2015
By David Grimm In 2013, the Nonhuman Rights Project filed a series of lawsuits asking courts to recognize four New York chimpanzees as legal persons and free them from captivity. The animal rights group, which hopes to set a precedent for research chimps everywhere, has yet to succeed, but in April a judge ordered Stony Brook University to defend its possession of two of these animals, Hercules and Leo. Last month, the group and the university squared off in court, and the judge is expected to issue a decision soon. But the scientist working with the chimps, anatomist Susan Larson, has remained largely silent until now. In an exclusive interview, Larson talks about her work with these animals and the impact the litigation is having on her studies—and research animals in general. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Q: Where did Hercules and Leo come from? A: They were born 8 years ago at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. They were among the last juveniles New Iberia had. We've had them on loan for 6 years. Q: What kind of work do you do with them? A: We're interested in learning about the evolution of bipedalism by actually looking at what real animals do. Over the past 30 years, we've looked at 17 different species of primates, including 11 chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are the best model because they are so close to us. When we compare how they walk to how we walk, we can feed those data into computer models that may help us understand how early hominids like Lucy moved around. The work we're doing with Hercules and Leo is the most important work we've done. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 21040 - Posted: 06.13.2015
Anthony Kulkamp Dias, a 33-year old Brazilian bank worker, performed a Beatles classic for the team of surgeons operating on his brain tumour. The video shot by one of the medical team shows Dias horizontal, strumming on a guitar and singing the Beatles’ iconic song ‘ Yesterday’. The lyrics, “yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…” had added pertinence considering the unique situation Dias found himself in. There was a medical explanation behind the impromptu singsong with doctors keeping Dias awake in order to conduct ‘cerebral monitoring’, which a spokesperson reportedly said is “important to prevent injuries that occur in the sensory, motor and speech areas of the brain.” Through his performance, Dias was able to provide real-time feedback about how the surgery was affecting his brain. © independent.co.uk
Link ID: 21019 - Posted: 06.06.2015
John Bohannon “Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine (“Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily”, page 128). Not only does chocolate accelerate weight loss, the study found, but it leads to healthier cholesterol levels and overall increased well-being. The Bild story quotes the study’s lead author, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., research director of the Institute of Diet and Health: “The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere.” I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I’m a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website. Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.
Link ID: 20995 - Posted: 05.28.2015
Krishnadev Calamur Two research chimps got their day in court — though they weren't actually present in the courtroom. Steven Wise, an attorney with the Nonhuman Rights Project, told Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe that Hercules and Leo, the 8-year-old research chimps at Stony Brook University on Long Island, are "autonomous and self-determining beings" who should be granted a writ of habeas corpus, which would effectively recognize them as legal persons. The chimps, he argued, should be moved from the university to a sanctuary in Florida. But Christopher Coulston, an assistant state attorney general representing the university, called the case meritless. The Associated Press reports that he said granting chimps personhood would create, in the words of the AP, "a slippery slope regarding the rights of other animals." "The reality is these are fundamentally different species," Coulston said. "There's simply no precedent anywhere of an animal getting the same rights as a human." Jaffe, the AP adds, didn't make a ruling Wednesday but called the proceeding "extremely interesting and well argued." NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reported on the story Wednesday for our Newscast unit. He says: "Past judges have struck down this lawsuit since it was first filed in 2013. But the current judge at the Manhattan Supreme Court is ordering the university to defend why it's detaining the chimps." © 2015 NPR
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20991 - Posted: 05.28.2015
George Yancy: You have popularized the concept of speciesism, which, I believe was first used by the animal activist Richard Ryder. Briefly, define that term and how do you see it as similar to or different from racism? Peter Singer: Speciesism is an attitude of bias against a being because of the species to which it belongs. Typically, humans show speciesism when they give less weight to the interests of nonhuman animals than they give to the similar interests of human beings. Note the requirement that the interests in question be “similar.” It’s not speciesism to say that normal humans have an interest in continuing to live that is different from the interests that nonhuman animals have. One might, for instance, argue that a being with the ability to think of itself as existing over time, and therefore to plan its life, and to work for future achievements, has a greater interest in continuing to live than a being who lacks such capacities. If we were to compare attitudes about speciesism today with past racist attitudes, we would have to say that we are back in the days in which the slave trade was still legal. On that basis, one might argue that to kill a normal human being who wants to go on living is more seriously wrong than killing a nonhuman animal. Whether this claim is or is not sound, it is not speciesist. But given that some human beings – most obviously, those with profound intellectual impairment – lack this capacity, or have it to a lower degree than some nonhuman animals, it would be speciesist to claim that it is always more seriously wrong to kill a member of the species Homo sapiens than it is to kill a nonhuman animal. © 2015 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20990 - Posted: 05.28.2015
Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh has opened heads, cut into brains and performed the most delicate and risky surgeries on the part of the body that controls everything — including breathing, movement, memory and consciousness. "What is, I think, peculiar about brain surgery is it's so dangerous," Marsh tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "A very small area of damage to the brain can cause catastrophic disability for the patient." Over the course of his career, Marsh, a consulting neurosurgeon at Atkinson Morley's/St. George's Hospital in London since 1987, has learned firsthand about the damage that his profession can cause. While many of the surgeries he has performed have been triumphs, there is always a risk of leaving the patient severely disabled. In the memoir Do No Harm, Marsh confesses to the fears and uncertainties he's dealt with as a surgeon, revisits his triumphs and failures and reflects on the enigmas of the brain and consciousness. Despite his decades on the job — or perhaps because of them — Marsh says that much of the brain remains beyond his grasp. He likens the mystery of the brain to that of the big-bang theory. "We're all sitting on an equally great mystery within ourselves, each of us, in this microcosm of our own consciousness, and I find that a quite nice thought," he says. You can nick the liver, you can remove bits of the lung, you can remove bits of the heart and the organ goes on working. But with the brain, although some areas can suffer some damage without terrible consequences for the patient, in general terms, it's very dangerous. Which means the decision-making is very important and ... in my experience over the years, when things have gone wrong, it's not because of [we] cut the wrong blood vessel or dropped an instrument or something like that. The mistakes made — the mistakes are in the decision-making — whether to operate or when to operate. © 2015 NPR
Link ID: 20987 - Posted: 05.27.2015
I’m fairly new to San Francisco, so I’m still building my mental database of restaurants I like. But this weekend, I know exactly where I’m heading to for dinner: Nick’s Crispy Tacos. Then, when I get home, I’m kicking back to a documentary I’ve never heard of, a Mongolian drama called The Cave of the Yellow Dog. An artificially intelligent algorithm told me I’d enjoy both these things. I’d like the restaurant, the machine told me, because I prefer Mexican food and wine bars “with a casual atmosphere,” and the movie because “drama movies are in my digital DNA.” Besides, the title shows up around the web next to Boyhood, another film I like. Nara Logics, the company behind this algorithm, is the brainchild (pun intended) of its CTO and cofounder, Nathan Wilson, a former research scientist at MIT who holds a doctorate in brain and cognitive science. Wilson spent his academic career and early professional life immersed in studying neural networks—software that mimics how a human mind thinks and makes connections. Nara Logics’ brain-like platform, under development for the past five years, is the product of all that thinking.. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company includes on its board such bigwig neuroscientists as Sebastian Seung from Princeton, Mriganka Sur from MIT, and Emily Hueske of Harvard’s Center for Brain and Science. So what does all that neuroscience brain power have to offer the tech world, when so many Internet giants—from Google and Facebook to Microsoft and Baidu—already have specialized internal teams looking to push the boundaries of artificial intelligence? These behemoths use AI to bolster their online services, everything from on-the-fly translations to image recognition services. But to hear Wilson tell it, all that in-house work still leaves a large gap—namely, all the businesses and people who could benefit from access to an artificial brain but can’t build it themselves. “We’re building a pipeline, and taking insights out of the lab to intelligent, applied use cases,” Wilson tells WIRED. “Nara is AI for the people.”
Link ID: 20967 - Posted: 05.23.2015
An octopus filmed off the coast of Kalaoa in Hawaii has shown that even cephalopods can get into a game of peekaboo. In the footage, shot last month by the GoPro camera of diver Timothy Ewing, the octopus bobs up and down behind a rock as a Ewing does the same in an effort to take the animal's picture. It's clear from the video that the octopus is wary of Ewing and his big, light-equipped camera — but the animal is also very curious. “Octopus are one of the more intelligent creatures in the ocean. Sometimes they are too curious for their own good. If you hide from them they will come out and look for you," the diver wrote in his online posting of the video. Ewing explained to CaliforniaDiver.com that the encounter wasn't limited to the time captured on his GoPro. "I was interacting with that octopus for about 10 minutes before I took the video," Ewing told CaliforniaDiver.com. "I normally mount my GoPro to my big camera housing, however I always carry a small tripod with me to use with the GoPro for stationary shots like this or selfie videos." The octopus, found worldwide in tropical, subtropical and temperate areas, is known for its smarts and striking ability to camouflage itself. When it feels threatened, pigment cells in its skin allow it to change color instantly to blend in with its surroundings. The animals can also adapt their skin texture and body posture to further match their background. © 2015 Discovery Communications, LLC.
by Ashley Yeager New Caledonian crows are protective of their tools. The birds safeguard the sticks they use to find food and become even more careful with the tools as the cost of losing them goes up. Researchers videotaped captive and wild Corvus moneduloides crows and tracked what the birds did with their sticks. In between eating, the birds tucked the tools under their toes or left them in the holes they were probing. When higher up in the trees, the birds dropped the tools less often and were more likely to leave them in the holes they were probing than when they were on the ground. The finding, published May 20 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows how tool-protection tactics can prevent costly losses that could keep the crows from chowing down. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: For most of her life, Cole Cohen had a hard time with all kinds of things. She'd get lost all of the time. She couldn't do math to save her life. The whole concept of time was hard for her to grasp. Her parents took her to doctor after doctor, and there were all kinds of tests and experiments with medication, but no real diagnosis until she was 26 years old. Cole Cohen got her first MRI and finally, there was an explanation. There was a hole in her brain; a hole in her brain the size of a lemon. Her memoir, titled "Head Case," is a darkly funny exploration of what that discovery meant to her. Cole Cohen joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us. COLE COHEN: Thank you for having me, Rachel. MARTIN: Let's talk about what life was like before this revelation. I mentioned your propensity to get lost. We're not talking about being in a new place and getting confuses as a lot of us might do. You got lost in, like, big box stores that you had been to before. Can you describe that sensation, that feeling of not knowing where you are in a situation like that? COHEN: Yeah. I know that sensation every time I go grocery shopping. You know, you want to get a jar of peanut butter. You have a memory of where that jar of peanut butter is, and I just don't have that in my brain. I don't store that information. So it's like a discovery every time. MARTIN: I'd love for you to read an example of one of the symptoms. You have a hard time with numbers, even references to numbers. And you write about this in the book when you're taking driver's ed. Do you mind reading that bit? © 2015 NPR
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20942 - Posted: 05.18.2015
Barbara J. King Last Friday in the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer asked which contemporary practices will be deemed "abominable" in the future, in the way that we today think of human enslavement. He then offered his own opinion: "I've long thought it will be our treatment of animals. I'm convinced that our great-grandchildren will find it difficult to believe that we actually raised, herded and slaughtered them on an industrial scale — for the eating." Krauthammer goes on to predict that meat-eating will become "a kind of exotic indulgence," because "science will find dietary substitutes that can be produced at infinitely less cost and effort." I don't often agree with Krauthammer's views, and his animal column is no exception. His breezy attitude on animal biomedical testing does animals no favors. (It's perhaps only fair to note that I have similar concerns about Alva's conclusions on animal testing from his 13.7 post published that same day.) But, still, Krauthammer does a terrific job of awakening people to many issues related to animals' suffering. And he's not alone. On April 17, I joined other scientists and activists on the radio show To the Point hosted by Warren Olney, to discuss this question: Is Animal Liberation Going Mainstream? In the 34-minute segment, we discussed the public outcry against SeaWorld's treatment of orcas, Ringling Bros.' plan to retire elephants from the circus in three years, and the rightness or wrongness of keeping animals in zoos — all issues brought up by Krauthammer in his column. © 2015 NPR
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20935 - Posted: 05.16.2015
Robin McKie The European parliament will on Monday debate a call – backed by a petition signed by 1.2 million people – to scrap animal research in the EU. The proposal has alarmed scientists, who worked for six years to set up the 2010 European directive that controls animal experimentation and welfare in the EU. Researchers fear that the petition, which was drawn up by the Italian-based Stop Vivisection European citizens’ initiative, could sway many newly elected MEPs who would then press the European commission into scrapping the directive which, in the UK, is enshrined in an amendment to the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act. “Without the directive, research using animals would be blocked and that would have terrible consequences,” said Nancy Lee, senior policy adviser at the Wellcome Trust. “New medicines for Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer and other conditions could no longer be tested. Similarly, new drugs for animals would also be blocked.” This view is backed by Dame Kay Davies, director of the MRC functional genomics unit at Oxford University. “Removal of the directive would be a significant step backwards both for animal welfare in the EU and for Europe’s leading role in advancing human and animal health,” she said in last week’s Nature. Other citizens’ initiatives, which require a minimum of a million signatures before they are heard by the European parliament, have included calls for improved water supplies and stricter speed limits in Europe.
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20905 - Posted: 05.11.2015
By Dialynn Dwyer @dia_dwyer Warning: The above video contains graphic images. Steven Keating says he fought his cancer with curiosity. The MIT doctoral student was diagnosed in the summer of 2014 with a baseball-sized brain tumor, and during his treatment he gathered his health data in order to understand the science behind what his body was going through. He even filmed his ten hour brain surgery. And though his surgery was performed and filmed last summer, it gained attention recently when Vox wrote about Keating and his surgery. Through his experience, Keating became passionate about more transparent health records. “Healthcare should be a two-way road, patients alongside doctors and researchers as a team,” he says on his website. “The future will be driven by networked healthcare, support communities, and I believe patient curiosity. I do believe learning, understanding, and access can heal.” Keating has given public talks about his experience, and he has shared all his findings, including the condensed video of his surgery, through his website for anyone to study.
Link ID: 20884 - Posted: 05.05.2015
By Gretchen Vogel BERLIN—A German neuroscientist who has been the target of animal rights activists says he is giving up on primate research. Nikos Logothetis, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, says he will conclude his current experiments on macaques “as quickly as possible” and then shift his research to rodent neural networks. In a letter last week to fellow primate researchers, Logothetis cites a lack of support from colleagues and the wider scientific community as key factors in his decision. In particular, he says the Max Planck Society—and other organizations—should pursue criminal charges against the activists who target researchers. Logothetis’s research on the neural mechanisms of perception and object recognition has used rhesus macaques with electrode probes implanted in their brains. The work was the subject of a broadcast on German national television in September that showed footage filmed by an undercover animal rights activist working at the institute. The video purported to show animals being mistreated. Logothetis has said the footage is inaccurate, presenting a rare emergency situation following surgery as typical and showing stress behaviors deliberately prompted by the undercover caregiver. (His written rebuttal is here.) The broadcast triggered protests, however, and it prompted several investigations of animal care practices at the institute. Investigations by the Max Planck Society and animal protection authorities in the state of Baden-Württemberg found no serious violations of animal care rules. A third investigation by local Tübingen authorities that led to a police raid at the institute in late January is still ongoing. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
By Emily Underwood NASA hopes to send the first round-trip, manned spaceflight to Mars by the 2030s. If the mission succeeds, astronauts could spend several years potentially being bombarded with cosmic rays—high-energy particles launched across space by supernovae and other galactic explosions. Now, a study in mice suggests that these particles could alter the shape of neurons, impairing astronauts’ memories and other cognitive abilities. The concern about cosmic rays is a long-standing one, prompting NASA (and science fiction writers) to spend a lot of time discussing ways of protecting astronauts from them. (A buffer of water around the spacecraft’s hull is one popular idea.) But scientists don’t really know how much of a threat the radiation poses. It’s not feasible to study the effects of cosmic rays on real astronauts, such as those living in the International Space Station, because many variables, including the stress of living on a spaceship, can affect cognition, says Patric Stanton, a cell biologist at New York Medical College in Valhalla. It’s also impossible to control the level of radiation astronauts are exposed to, making it difficult to do rigorous experiments, he says. To overcome those challenges, several NASA-funded research groups are testing cosmic radiation on mice. In the new study, published today in Science Advances, Charles Limoli, a molecular biologist at the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues took male mice to a particle accelerator at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory in Upton, New York. There, they catapulted oxygen and titanium ions down a 100-meter transport tunnel and into the restrained rodents’ brains at roughly two-thirds the speed of light. The dose of high-energy particles resembled the radiation likely to pass through the unprotected hull of a spaceship over the course of a mission to Mars, Limoli says. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Link ID: 20873 - Posted: 05.02.2015
By Laura Sanders Studying the human brain requires grandiose thinking, but rarely do actual theatrical skills come into play. In her latest stint as a video star, MIT neuroscientist Nancy Kanwisher does not buzz saw her skull open to give viewers a glimpse of her brain. But she does perhaps the next best thing: She clips off her shoulder-length gray hair and shaves her head on camera. Kanwisher’s smooth, bald head then becomes a canvas for graduate student and artist Rosa Lafer-Sousa, who meticulously draws in the brain’s wrinkles — the sulci and the gyri that give rise to thoughts, memories and behaviors. All the while, Kanwisher provides a voice-over describing which areas of the brain recognize faces, process language and even think about what another person is thinking. The video is the latest in Kanwisher’s occasional online series, Nancy’s Brain Talks. Pithy, clever and cleanly produced, the more than two dozen videos she has made so far bring brain science to people who might otherwise miss out. In another neurostunt, brain-zapping technology called transcranial magnetic stimulation makes Kanwisher’s hand jump involuntarily. These demonstrations capture people’s attention more than a dry scientific paper would. “I think scientists owe it to the public to share the cool stuff we discover,” Kanwisher says. Her own lab’s discoveries focus on how the brain’s disparate parts work together to construct a mind. Some brain areas have very specific job descriptions while others are far more general. Compiling a tally of brain regions and figuring out what they do is one of the first steps toward understanding the brain. “It starts to give us a set of basic components of the mind,” Kanwisher says. “It’s like a parts list.” © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015.
Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 20853 - Posted: 04.28.2015
Brendan Borrell A campaign by animal rights activists to establish the legal personhood of chimpanzees took a bizarre turn this week, when a New York judge inadvertently opened a constitutional can of worms only to clamp it shut a day later. On 20 April, New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe signed an order forcing Stony Brook University to respond to claims by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) that two research chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, were being unlawfully detained. The Coral Springs, Florida, organization declared victory, claiming that because such an order, termed a writ of habeas corpus, can only be granted to a person in New York state, the judge had implicitly determined that the chimps were legal persons. An eruption of news coverage on 21 April sparked a backlash by legal experts claiming the significance of the order had been overblown. By that evening, Jaffe had amended the order, letting arguments on the chimps’ detainment go forward but explicitly scratching out the words WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS at the top of the document. Nature takes a look at the episode’s significance in the campaign to give animals legal rights and what it means for the research community. What is the basis for the idea of giving chimps personhood rights, rather than improving animal treatment laws? The NhRP stands apart from typical animal welfare and animal rights groups in that it narrowly focuses on getting the most intelligent, autonomous, self-aware animals recognized under the law as “persons” with specific rights, rather than things. “We are only asking for one legal right and that’s bodily liberty,” says the organization’s executive director, Natalie Prosin. Animal welfare laws in New York already allow people and organizations to obtain relief from the courts when animals are being abused or kept in poor conditions. The organization’s petition to the court, filed with affidavits from animal cognition researchers, states that keeping chimps in captivity is unlawful, independent of the conditions in which they are kept and whether animal welfare laws are being violated. © 2015 Nature Publishing Group,
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20834 - Posted: 04.23.2015