Aug 8, 2013

The Scalpel and the Butterfly

by Deborah Rudacille

I go through periods of interest in certain non-fiction subjects, and then read all the books I can get my hands on around that- usually finding other titles of note in the resource lists and continuing on a spin until my interest flags, with more books noted than I originally started with! Over the past years, the subjects most often include field studies of wildlife behavior, but also things like ape language experiments, king arthur legends, the art of falconry, adventures in sailboats, the slow food movement, Charles Lindbergh (spurred by a school project) and animal-rights issues.

Of all the books I read on the animal-rights front, this one seemed the least biased, carefully stating facts from both sides. The author presents a 150-year history of the conflicts between scientists using animals in biomedical research, and the activists seeking to protect animal rights, concerned for their welfare. There are detailed chapters showing personal stories from both sides. On the one hand, it is pointed out that many advancements in medical science would not have been possible without research and testing using animals. On the other hand, the cruel practices and suffering of animals is exposed- not only from activists trying to shut down labs and threatening violence to specific scientists, but also more subtly, people working from within the system to try and improve things yet keep the labs functional.

I don't think reading this book changed my mind any, but it certainly taught me a lot. It's a pretty compelling read, even if it does stray from time to time into philosophical asides- which I mostly glossed over. In the end, it appears that the author's stance (even though she tries to be neutral you can feel which side she leans towards through the writing) is that research is a necessary evil- we would not be where we are today without it, but things can and must be greatly improved.

Rating: 4/5   .......  389 pages, 2000


  1. This does sound interesting and a little disturbing.

  2. Yes, it was rather disturbing. More educational, though.


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