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A Talk With
Patrick Bateson [4.23.00]

JB: You seem to always have a lot on your plate. What are your main activities now?

BATESON: I am currently doing four things. I am head of King's College, a Cambridge College with a wonderful choir and world famous chapel which requires constant attention and fund raising efforts on my part. I'm a professor at Cambridge University and still ply my trade in the study of behavior. I'm the Biological Secretary of the Royal Society, which requires me to look after the biological side of Britain's major scientific academy and its research side which employs 17 research professors and 350 research fellows.

Finally, I am doing some work for Lord Burns who is running a Government inquiry into hunting with dogs. We have been having a big debate about hunting in the UK. The government asked Lord Burns, a retired civil servant who had been the head of the Treasury in Britain, to bring some sanity into the debate. I did the report on the welfare aspects of hunting deer with hounds. There will be a seminar about this when I get home and it is very much at the top of my mind.

JB: How does this relate to your work?

BATESON: Since I study animals in my own work, I've been interested in some of the ethical issues involved in the use of animals in research as well as those involved in hunting. So often these debates become intractable. You get two groups implacably opposed to each other, and they simply don't see any point of intersection between what they believe and what their opponents believe: either you're with us or you're against us. Both debates have been like that. My sense about the use of animals in research is that the welfare and the science issues are at right angles to each other. It's possible to treat animals well and also do good science. We are not necessarily treating animals badly because we are working with them. Indeed, in behavioral work it would be counter-productive to treat them badly. When I first got into the stag-hunting debate, I thought that it might be possible to preserve some of the traditions of hunting while minimizing the suffering.

JB: It seems as if the animal people hate some humans more than they love some animals.

BATESON: I believe that is right. Some of my scientific colleagues and their families have been subject by activists to a level of stress that would be regarded as intolerable if inflicted on animals.

JB: Why do you think people imbue certain animal species with a kind of human consciousness - that has the same kind of emotional feelings that humans have?


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