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Considering Humane Science

When I learned that the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT) was celebrating its 25th anniversary, I knew we had to write a story. I hadn't even heard of the center until then, and the work its scientists were doing sounded valuable, especially for an institution like Johns Hopkins, which conducts a substantial amount of animal research. It also seemed successful, one indication being that, though groups from both sides of the animal testing debate aren't always happy with CAAT, they do stay in the discussion — no small feat considering how fraught an issue this is. We knew we'd need to tread carefully, but we believed this topic would be of interest to our readers.

For the sake of full disclosure: It would be fair to call me an animal lover. I rarely eat meat, unless I'm sure it was raised humanely and organically. I can't go out to dinner without first stopping home to give my 16-year-old diabetic cat his insulin injection. I've literally wept watching Animal Planet (embarrassing but true). But I also value research, and I couldn't honestly argue against sacrificing the lives of some animals in the search for a cure for, say, cancer. My father was diagnosed with bladder cancer a year and a half ago, and he's alive today because of a Hopkins physician. Did an animal die for that research? I don't know. But animal testing has ultimately spared someone else's father, I'm sure.

As we approached the story, I wanted to make sure the magazine was sensitive to both sides of the issue. To his credit, writer Jim Duffy navigated those waters deftly, and brought his usual thoughtfulness, balance, and skill to the job. Illustrating the story proved more difficult: Do you show real animals or illustrations? Do you put them in a lab, or do you avoid that all together? We decided to hire Serge Bloch because his illustrations, which combine real-world objects with line drawings, always manage to handle subjects seriously, but without seeming heavy-handed.

If it's true what Gandhi said about the greatness of a society being measured by the way it treats its weakest members, then maybe the way a society treats its animals is also a worthy measurement. That CAAT has been asking this question seriously for 25 years — and that, as you'll read in the article, it has created a field of study that didn't exist in this country before — says a lot about the center, and about Hopkins.

-Catherine Pierre

Return to November 2006 Table of Contents

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