An analysis of ethics and emotion in written texts about the use of animals for scientific purposes


Ethical debate about the use of animals in science is argued within different ethical frameworks; mainly utilitarianism, deontology, relativism or emotional ethics, with some debaters preferring particular frameworks. Stakeholders to the debate are veterinarians, scientists using animals, animal welfare groups and the general public. To estimate the balance of ethical frameworks used, we ran a discourse analysis of written texts by each stakeholder (5 per stakeholder). The discourse analysis targeted the description of animals, instances of emotional language and language associated with utilitarianism, deontology and relativism. Frequencies were compared using ANOVAs and Tukey tests. All stakeholders used words associated with all frameworks but emotional language was the most used (39.4%) followed by utilitarian (26.7%), relativist (14.4%) and deontological (4.88%) language. Emotional language was used in texts from the general public (64.5%) more than in texts from veterinarians (24.9%) and scientists (17.8%; p = 0.0028) and animal welfare representatives (50.1%). Animals were mainly described in a utilitarian way (31.6%), more frequently by scientists than the general public (p = 0.025). All stakeholders preferentially used negative emotional language (6.6%) when referring to animals than positive (3.6%), and all stakeholders prioritised human interests over animals (6.7%). Not surprisingly, a mixture of ethical frameworks were used to assess the ethics of animal experimentation. However, the language used in texts from animal welfare groups and the general public suggest that those two groups preferentially build arguments with emotion rather than utilitarianism, a framework that is privileged by veterinarians and scientists since they primarily use animals.


Abstract only, animal ethics, emotions, animal experimentation, science, animal ethics committees, Discourse Analysis


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The author:

Dr Laura D'Olimpio