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Science Books

November 2, 2007

Elephants On Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments
Alex Boese (2007)

If people on acid see pink elephants, what do elephants that take acid see? The mind boggles. Science historian Alex Boese writes that in 1962, Tusko the elephant was administered a large dose of LSD - 3000 times higher than a human would normally take - so that scientific researchers could observe how an elephant behaves on LSD. Why? Well, that's a good question. If the answer is: "so that we can see an elephant frantically run around its enclosure and then keel over dead," then the scientists got the result that they were seeking. But a doped-up elephant is just one of a number of wacky and questionable science experiments to which Boese, The Museum of Hoaxes and Hippo Eats Dwarf, devotes his investigative and analytical talents. Other experiments, from the outrageous to the comical, that modern scientists just had to conduct revolve around quandaries such as why we can't tickle ourselves, whether your average dog can be as helpful as Lassie, and whether the dead can be reanimated. The latter experiment most certainly falls into the macabre category, and gives new meaning to the phrase "dance of the dead." On January 17, 1803, before an audience of the Royal College of Surgeons, Giovanni Aldini hooked-up a freshly executed 26-year-old male to an electric current, and watched as his body writhed, twisted, and contorted. Unlike Dr. Frankenstein, however, Aldini never got to utter the words "It's alive!" There is something for everyone in Elephants On Acid, and Boese's tongue-in-cheek approach makes it a delight to read.

Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals With Compassion And Respect
Marc Bekoff (Author), Jane Goodall (2007)
ISBN: 1590305221

Sixteenth-century rationalists such as Descartes considered animals to be little more than machines without feelings. In other words, kicking a dog or a cat wasn't considered an act of cruelty. Thankfully that kind of thinking has fallen by the wayside, but if the presence of this book is anything to go by there's still plenty of room for improvement. Not that Bekoff, who specializes in animal behavior and minds, adopts a preachy or condescending tone in Animals Matter; rather he poses a number of ethically challenging questions that assist in how we perceive our non-human animal friends. Bekoff, who cofounded Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals with renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, continues on from his earlier work The Emotional Life of Animals, where he argues in favor of a more responsible and equitable approach to all animals. Do animals suffer? Are they capable of happiness? Can they be hurt? One particularly curly question Bekoff asks is whether some species are more valuable or more important than others? Instinctively we may answer that livestock, such as sheep and cattle, and non-human primates are more important than other animals. But this kind of anthropocentric response triggers the deeper question of "valuable" and "important" to whom? Bekoff also does a first-rate job of analyzing current debates on topics such as animal sentience, vivisection, and animal relocation. Animals Matter is an easy read, both in style and complexity, but this important book often raises controversial issues and dilemmas that are difficult to answer satisfactorily.

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