The scientist behind the “personhood” chimps

Science Magazine has published a very interesting profile of Dr. Susan Larson. She is the scientist whose work involves the two chimpanzees at the center of a lawsuit brought by the Non-human Rights Project (NhHRP) who is seeking to grand Hercules and Leo personhood. A decision by a judge on the legal status of the two chimps will be rendered soon and Dr. Larson has remained silent until now. She wanted to discuss her work and the kind of effects the litigation is having on her work. I will highlight some points of Dr. Larson’s interview:

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.

Q:What do the experiments involve?

A:We do three types of experiments: motion analysis, which involves painting nontoxic white markers on the chimpanzees’ limbs so video cameras can accurately track their movements; kinetic analysis, where we look at the forces generated by the animals as they walk over force plates; and electro myography, where fine-wire electrodes inserted into the muscles tell us how they contribute to the motion we’re studying. We don’t do anything with these chimpanzees that we haven’t done on ourselves.

Dr. Larson also weighed in on the lawsuit seeking to give legal personhood to Hercules and Leo:

I think giving them personhood status is a sham. If anyone treats them like people, it’s us. We don’t treat them like prisoners; we only work with them when they’re willing. But we have to be cognizant that these are chimpanzees—not people. They can’t provide for themselves; they need human care and protection. They are remarkable animals, and we should respect what they are and what they need. You don’t have to pretend something is a person to treat it justly.

You can read the entire interview here.

If NhRP is successful then a court decision granting an animal habeas corpus protections can open a can of worms. If the chimps are used for medical testing then any animal used used for that purpose in New York could be given constitutional protections. That could also apply to even circuses or other forms of domesticated animal ownership. To animal rights organizations, any form of animal ownership is considered cruel. It is one thing if the chimpanzees in question were treated harshly, but according to Dr. Larson they clearly are not.

Individual rights are not based on a being’s capacity to feel pain, as some animal rights groups (like NhRP & PETA) allege, but are based on a being’s ability to think. It is mankind’s ability to think and reason that makes humans nature’s favored species. Animals lack any rational faculties in which their primary means of survival is predatory instincts. While I do not condone cruelty toward animals, however, so-called animal rights groups’ definition of cruelty just like their views on when rights apply and activities like litigating cases like this is only geared to destroy individual rights in order to eradicate human existence.

It was very brave for Dr. Larson to come forward and allow herself to be profiled. Sadly, she can be subjected to harassment and a variety of other violent actions on the part of animal rights groups. As Dr. Larson points out, her research is vital for understanding the evolution of bipedalism. Vivisection is also used for many other medial uses such as brain research and to test for drugs and therapies that can cure illness and enhance human life. The symbolism of NhRP’s lawsuit and activities of organizations like PETA and Animal Liberation Front demonstrates they prefer the savagery of the animal kingdom over the civilization of man.