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The Role of Scientists in the Debate About Animal Welfare

The Role of Scientists in the Debate About Animal Welfare


– Hello, everyone. I want to say a few words
about the place of science and scientists in the
debate about animal welfare. Scientists, in general, tend to stay away from political and ethical debates. But more and more political
and ethical questions, especially in the 21st century, depend on scientific knowledge, on knowing the scientific
facts and theories. Examples range from global warming to the rise of artificial intelligence and genetic engineering. You can have different
opinions about these matters but if you don’t know
the scientific facts, your opinions shouldn’t count for much, and as a scientist, should accept greater political
and ethical responsibility. They should know that in this context, silence is also a political statement. If scientists know something important, which is relevant to a
current political debate, and they chose not to say it publicly, this is also an ethical choice. Of course, science cannot
decide ethical questions, it’s not the role of science, but science can decide factual questions. Science never tells us what is good. It can only tell us what
is real, what is true. Unfortunately, far too
many ethical discussions, especially about animals, get stuck on the level of facts. And science can therefore be very helpful in helping these discussions move forward. In the debate about the
welfare of farm animals, such as cows and chickens and pigs, two-key factual questions are can animals suffer at all and secondly, do animals
suffer in practice? For example, do dairy cows suffer when they are separated from their calves? You often hear people are
engaged in this ethical and political discussions
saying things such as Cows cannot experience pain or Cows aren’t sad when you
separate them from their calves because they simply
cannot experience sadness, this is a human emotion, and it’s humanizing the cows
to say that they can be sad. Or sometimes people say, If you think that cows
can experience pain, then what about lettuce? Maybe lettuce also experiences pain so we shouldn’t cut lettuce
and we shouldn’t eat lettuce. Such statements which can often be heard in the debate about the welfare of animals reflect scientific ignorance. There is certainly a place
for different ethical views concerning our treatment of dairy cows but only on the basis of scientific facts. People are entitled to
have their own views but they are not entitled
to have their own facts. Consider the question Is it okay to inflict pain on cows in order to provide
pleasure for human beings? You can have different ethical
views about this question but arguing that cows just
cannot experience pain is no longer a legitimate
part of the discussion. Not in 2017. So, as of 2017, to the best of our
scientific understanding, what are the facts? But first and most important, the scientific understanding in 2017 is that all mammals and all birds, and probably at least
some reptiles and fish, and other organisms are conscious sentient beings. They all have the capacity to experience sensations and emotions. In contrast, we have
absolutely no evidence and no scientific reason to think that lettuce or tomatoes can feel pain or can experience fear. Another important fact is
that mammals and birds, they can feel not just, you
know, pain and pleasure, but they have a very complex world of sensations and emotions. Emotions are not something that God gave only homo sapiens in order to write poetry or to appreciate music. Emotions is something
that natural selection evolved in all mammals and other animals in order to make decisions in life. Think for example a baboon standing somewhere in the African savanna, and the baboon sees not far
away that there is a tree with bananas on it, but there is also a lion nearby, and the baboon needs to make a decision whether to risk his life
for the bananas or not. Should I run to the bananas and risk that the lion will eat me or should I run away? Now, how does the baboon
make this kind of decision? In order to make a decision, the baboon needs to gather
a lot of information about the situation. What is the distance to the bananas? How many bananas are there? Are they’re big or small? Are they’re green or ripe? The baboon also needs
information about the lion. How far is the lion? How big is the lion? Is the lion asleep or awake? The baboon needs
information about himself. How fast can I run? How hungry I am? The baboon needs to take all
these pieces of information, analyze them, and within a split
second, make a decision. Now, how does the baboon do it? Now, the baboon does not take
out a pen and piece of paper, and a calculator, and
starts making calculations. No. What we call sensations and
emotions are the mechanism that natural selection gave on mammals, humans and baboons, to make such decisions. The senses of the baboon, the sight, the smells, the voices, within a split second, the baboon will experience
a storm of sensations and the result of all these
information coming together will be an emotion. If it’s too risky, the
baboon will feel fear. If it’s a good idea, the
baboon will feel courage. His chest will puff up
or his hair will stand. He will feel Yes, I can do it and he will run for the bananas. Emotions like fear and courage, they’ll not unique to human beings. They’re common to all mammals and probably to many other animals because they’re practical tools for animals to make decisions. It is, of course, likely
that some emotions are unique to humans. For example, guilt, as
far as we know might be an emotion which only humans have and not baboons or cows, or chickens. It is also likely, of course, that there are some other
emotions that are unique, say to whales, and that humans
don’t have these emotions, and we just have no idea what they are. However, the basic emotions like fear are probably common to
all mammals and birds. Another very important and
common emotion is motherly love, the bond between mother and offspring. Without a strong emotional bond between mother and offspring, no mammal can survive and reproduce. Whether you are a giraffe or a baboon, or a dolphin, or a mouse, if there is no bond between
the mother and the offspring, in this case of mammals, the offspring will not survive because they depend on the milk and on the care of the mother for at least a few weeks, if not months and years. Yet even though science
now tells us very clearly that this emotion of mother-offspring bond is common to all mammal, we ignore it outside
the scientific context, in the context of industrial farming. The entire dairy industry is built on breaking this most basic bond
of the mammal kingdom, the bond between mother and offspring. A cow will not give milk unless
you first get her pregnant and it gives birth to a small calf, but then if you allow
the calf to stick around and drink the milk, you won’t have anything
for the dairy industry. So, the entire dairy industry is built on getting cows pregnant and then when they give birth, separating the mother from the offspring, usually fattening up the
calves and slaughtering them, and milking the cow until she dries up, and then you get it pregnant again and start another cycle. To the best of our understanding, this is likely to cause a lot of misery, a lot of emotional pain, to both the mother and the offspring. So, another fact that science now supports is that when we wish to understand, when we examine the
condition of farm animals, we should take into account not only their basic material needs like the need for food
or the need for water, we should also take into account
emotional and social needs. You can argue, of course, to what extent the emotional and social
needs of cows and chickens are fulfilled in industrial farming, but you just cannot argue
that cows and chickens have absolutely no emotional
and social needs at all. Finally, there are good
scientific reasons to think that the emotional and
social needs of farm animals are systematically ignored and frustrated in industrial farms. Take for example the social need to play, which is, again, common
to many young mammals, such as human children
and puppies, and calves. The urge to play has very deep evolutionary roots. In social animals like wild cattle, animals that live in groups, play is a vital method for
the young members of society to learn the rule of conduct, how to fight, how to make peace, how to cooperate, how to caught. If a young calf, for some genetic reason, was born, say without the urge, without the desire to play, this calf will not learn the
rules of the cattle society and will not be able to
survive and reproduce, at least not in the wild. Domesticated cattle, of
course, do not need all that because humans provide them with food, humans protect them from dangers, and humans use artificial technology to control reproduction. But an emotional or
social urge like playing that develop in the wild doesn’t disappear in domesticated animals, it is still there. The animals still feel it. It’s the same with humans. Why, for example, do we gorge on chocolate when it’s not good for us? Because we are still driven by desires, by emotions, by urges, that evolved hundreds of
thousands of years ago in the African savanna. When it comes to humans, we indulge our desires and urges even if they are unnecessary today. But when it comes to animals, we tend to ignore them, and this causes tremendous
suffering to the animals. A calf which is separated from his mother and from other calves, and is locked in a small cage, without any opportunity to play will be extremely miserable, just as a child or a puppy
will be extremely miserable under such conditions. And yet this is the faith
of millions up on millions of calves everyday across the world. So, to conclude, I hope
scientists will take a far more active part in the ethical and political discussion about the welfare of animals. They can’t decide the ethical questions but they should clarify the facts, and they should lay to
rest ignorant claims such as cows can’t feel pain or other animals don’t have emotions, only humans have emotions. Scientists who know the facts but choose to remain silent should know that they
are not being neutral. Silence in the face of
misery is an extreme and very unfortunate ethical choice. Thank you.

Comments (38)

  1. Thank you so much for standing to this precious cause!

  2. Albert Einstein was not only a scientist. He also expressed his ethical view.. so others can do it as well..

  3. Many thanks for your talk Yuval. I'm interested to know if you are a vegan or do you choose to eat organic free range meat? There are enlightened Buddhists who rear free range cows that remain with their calves and they take a small amount of milk from the mother cow. I agree the emotional cries of a mother cow when she is separated from her calf is unbearable. People ought to taken to see these horrific factory farm practises which need to be outlawed.

  4. By speaking out his mind on many sensitive topics, Yuval is risking his wide popularity among many audiences. He is a living example to the bravery needed by scholars today in order to counter the destructive routhins humanity acquired. Whether you agree with an opinion or not, you must know the facts and be ready to test any opinion with scientific tools. Otherwise, we're just wasting our time, and we'll learn nothing that could be of to help to us in the future.

  5. I would like to volunteer to translate this video into Portuguese(BR), is it possible to you enable the CC for collaboration or can I make a copy and translate it? *Update* just saw it is translated automatically, but with the title in english, only english speakers will reach it, what we can do is share in social networks, if I could download and put another subtitle would be much better, let me know if I can do it.

  6. bravo yuval
    keep up the good work

  7. Well said, Yuval – https://www.facebook.com/groups/OneBillion.co/

  8. Thanks a lot! 🌸🙏🏻🌸 I’ve found a perfect explanation. Finally☺️

  9. Harari's argument needs further development, because scientific "facts" are often probabilistic, conjectural, and revisable; those cannot serve as solid foundations for adjudicating matters of public choice. ("All exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation." — Bertrand Russell)

  10. The decision to eat or otherwise kill animals for certain purposes is an aesthetic decision, not a moral or ethical decision.

    Pain is not inflicted on cows for pleasure, rather, they are slaughtered for food. And meat is more or less liked by those who eat it, which is an aesthetic matter.

    Hindus don't eat meat…some might eat poultry and fish, but that's not the norm. Not eating meat had little if any positive effect on the Hindu people….their history is one of constant conflict, corruption and then of course the caste system. The Buddhist rejection of Hinduism included rejection of prohibition against eating meat. That rejection had no real, long term positive effect….maybe fewer people starved, but Buddhist history in Asia is one of war, war, war.

    If evolution had taken a different turn, perhaps a more quickly advancing creature would be dominant over homo sapiens and might eat them, especially if they tasted good. Tigers in India manage to snag a human from time to time, about 1 per year, and they'd snag more if they were not isolated into wildlife reserves.

    Human guilt over eating meat raised in modern settings may be a result of over-active guilt centers in the brain.

  11. I would like to translate this video to spanish

  12. I like the facts. I don't care about the cow's feelings. I care only about sapiens feelings.

    Thank you Prof. Harari.

  13. Thanks yuval noah harari love your work

  14. silence is compliance.

  15. Thank you very much for this excellent video. Is there a good website you would recommend that summarizes scientific evidence addressing the most common arguments used in the debate on why we should eat animals or not?

  16. THE VIOLENCE OF SILENCE. This is how the industrial model of farming makes money through being completely devoid of compassion. The senseless suffering of factory farmed animals will continue until a new generation with a new level of consciousness can rise up and put a stop to this insane level of cruelty.

  17. thank you for this so important video!

  18. Thank you, Mr Harari, for pointing out the difference between facts and ethics. In Denmark we are recently having a public debate where these two concepts obviously constantly are getting confused. Over and over and over again "facts" like "cows and their calfs don´t have feelings" are being used as arguments for choices like "I need to have my cheeseburger, milk, Café latte etc" – bottom line is that this sort of reasoning is NOT based on facts. The choice these people are making are based on their ethical decisions. THANK YOU so much for pointing this out so clearly and explicitly! The world needs academics of your caliber to emphasize strongly that using bad excuses are no longer based on facts. Science are proving them wrong. And people that are making ruthless and violent choises have to face THE FACT that it´s their own ethical choice to hurt, torture and kill sentient living beings. They can no longer do this in the bliss of ignorance!

  19. I am very proud of you, Yuval. Hope your message can bring more scientists to animal cause.

  20. Yuval, I've submitted a translation to brazilian portuguese! Please, accept my translation, I want to share your video with more brazilians!

  21. I appreciate Yuval thoughts, but this is were he is losing his battle. You know – chicken breasts, pig, cows, goat meat etc will not be of any use but in my plate. Deal with it vegans! We evolved to that point where we have a deep respect for animals we eat. We prepare them in a beautiful way, transforming them in magnificent dishes, a point where animals can only be jelous how we enjoy them. And that is something more deep about life, more than any scientific projection. In life is also easier tho to deal with vegeterians, but vegans have that fixed mind, usually flooded with emotions and pathethic view on organic life.

  22. Whoa. Emotions unique to whales. How arrogant am I to have never considered that possibility. Thank you.

  23. Thank you for this video! We need it translated into Russian language too! Everybody should go vegan 🌱

  24. I just can’t get enough of watching Yuval videos!!! Thank you 🙏 🙏 😍

  25. To every meat eater – try vegan22.com

  26. Great . You have struck my emotional chord . I completely agree with you Mr Harari

  27. the scientists in general lack balls

  28. this should be made into an awareness campaign. We also need to be aware of the cruelty of eating eggs turning a natural process into a factory of feathered slaves– even backyard hens. There is no way to ethically eat dairy and eggs. If meat animals are given pasture, allowed to raise their young and treated well, I have no problem with that.

  29. perhaps we can genetically engineer animals so they only have minimal brains so they feel no pain or emotions?

  30. Thank you for explaining this all so eloquently and simply!

  31. This is a great and terrible video: great in that it illustrates a truth that most of us in our hearts already knew but may not have had the chance to reason out coherently. Terrible in that cuts away the delusions we have cast about our minds to protect us from the gap between the ethics we think we have and the facts about what we do.

    Sincerely an omnivore

  32. Thank you for talking about this. I am now in my seventies and due to health I eat far less animal products than I used to earlier in my life. I grew up in and around a farming family in the humid pampas of Argentina. I learned to process most animals into food. We were taught to be grateful for the food we were about to consume. Later on when killing an animal prior to butchering I would thank the animal for feeding us. Now I know I would be incapable of ever killing another animal for food. I know i would kill it if its suffering was unnecessary. I m divulging this to all my friends and family who have enjoyed processing and eating all meats.

  33. Everyone should GO VEGAN🌱
    한국어로도 자막이 생겼네요 감사합니다💜

  34. I agree with most of what you said, except that people can have different ethical views. People can have different moral views, but ethics is objective. A person that for example thinks rape is ethical is objectively wrong.

  35. I call them (homo stultus.) the hominid race is not (sapient/wise) it is stupid (stultus), most of them can’t life even in Harmony with his environment .

  36. And that’s why I’m vegan. Thank you!

  37. Brilliant, compassionate and truly enlightened!!!

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