Chinese scientists have put human brain genes in monkeys—and yes, they may be smarter | MIT Technology Review

Human intelligence is one of evolution’s most consequential inventions. It is the result of a sprint that started millions of years ago, leading to ever bigger brains and new abilities. Eventually, humans stood upright, took up the plow, and created civilization, while our primate cousins stayed in the trees.

Now scientists in southern China report that they’ve tried to narrow the evolutionary gap, creating several transgenic macaque monkeys with extra copies of a human gene suspected of playing a role in shaping human intelligence.

“This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model,” says Bing Su, the geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology who led the effort.

According to their findings, the modified monkeys did better on a memory test involving colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop—as those of human children do. There wasn’t a difference in brain size.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/613277/chinese-scientists-have-put-human-brain-genes-in-monkeysand-yes-they-may-be-smarter/

An Elephant’s Personhood on Trial | The Atlantic

Forty-seven years ago, the Asian elephant now known as Happy was one of seven calves captured—probably in Thailand, but details are hazy—and sent to the United States. She spent five years at a safari park in Florida, time that in the wild would have been spent by her mother’s side. Then she was moved to the Bronx Zoo in New York City. There Happy remains today, and since the death of an elephant companion in 2006, she has lived alone, her days alternating between a 1.15-acre yard and an indoor stall.

For a member of a species renowned for both intelligence and sociality, the setting is far from natural. In the wild, Happy would share a many-square-mile home range with a lifelong extended family, their bonds so close-knit that witnessing death produces symptoms akin to post-traumatic stress disorder in humans. It would seem that Happy, despite the devotions of the people who care for her, is not living her best life.

In considering Happy’s circumstances and what might be done to improve them, should something more than animal-welfare laws and zoo regulations—which the Bronx Zoo has not violated, but arguably are inadequate—be invoked? Should Happy be considered, in legal terms, a person? Which is to say, an entity capable of possessing at least some rights historically reserved for humans alone—beginning with a right to be free?

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/12/happy-elephant-personhood/578818/

Gene drives promise great gains and great dangers - On the extinction of the species

Extinctions are seldom cause for celebration. Humans are wiping out species at a frightening rate, whether hunting them into history or, far more threateningly, damaging the habitats on which they depend. But occasionally, the destruction is warranted. Smallpox was officially eradicated in 1980, and no one laments the fate of the virus that caused it; campaigns to save the virus that causes polio are thin on the ground. How, then, to think about a new technology that will make driving a species to extinction far easier?

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/11/08/gene-drives-promise-great-gains-and-great-dangers

If elephants aren’t persons yet, could they be one day? | Aeon Essays

Have you ever stood in a field full of cows? It’s obvious that they’re aware of one another, but in a minimal kind of way. They tend to stay loosely clumped together as they graze, and they don’t deliberately knock into other members of the herd. Shouting gets their attention, but it tends to elicit a flickering inspection at most, which subsides into cud-munching indifference when they realise you represent neither a threat nor a treat. Cows don’t gauge how to respond to sights, sounds and smells by carefully studying the subtleties of one another’s reactions (which is why they can startle each other into stampeding). When you’re with a herd of cows, you’re basically alone. 

Stand or walk among a herd of elephants, however, and you’ll appreciate how different the experience is. Even the most peaceful group feels electric with communicative action. There’s continuous eye contact, touching, trunk and ear movements to which others attend and respond. Elephants engage in low-frequency vocalisation, most of which you can’t hear, but you can certainly see its effects. If you’re fidgety, for example, all the adult elephants will notice and become uneasy. Typically they take their cues from their female leader, the matriarch. When you’re with a herd of elephants, you’re not alone at all; you’re in a highly charged atmosphere, shimmering with presence and feeling. To an outside observer, elephants appear to have highly responsive minds, with their own autonomous perspectives that yield only to careful, respectful interaction.

https://aeon.co/essays/if-elephants-arent-persons-yet-could-they-be-one-day

How Much Pain Should Animals Endure for Science? - The Atlantic

Each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, roughly 820,800 guinea pigs, dogs, cats, and other animals covered by the Animal Welfare Act are used in research in the United States; of those, about 71,370 are subjected to unalleviated pain. These stats don’t track the millions of mice and rats that are used in lab experiments and excluded from the animal protection law (although the rodents are covered by other federal regulations). Scientists and their institutions say they’re committed to keeping pain or distress to a minimum in lab animals where they can. But how do you know how much pain a mouse or a zebrafish feels? And who decides how much pain is too much?

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/06/how-much-pain-should-animals-endure-for-science/562268/

Confronting a manifest injustice: chimpanzee rights | Impact Ethics

The New York Court of Appeals recently denied a motion for permission to appeal submitted by the Nonhuman Rights Project in their effort to see two chimpanzees, Kiko and Tommy, who are currently living alone, transferred to an adequate chimpanzee sanctuary. I was a co-author, in addition to sixteen other philosophers, of a philosophers’ brief that supported the Nonhuman Rights Project’s motion. Though it was denied, Judge Eugene Fahey, one of five judges who ruled on the motion, submitted a striking concurring opinion to explain his decision. Here are some of the details.

Judge Fahey’s decision to deny the Nonhuman Rights Project’s motion was not based on the merits of their case. Indeed, he indicates his discomfort with the initial ruling of the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court. Judge Fahey implies that, had he been a judge charged with making the initial ruling, the legal journey may well have been quite different (with, presumably, a more favorable result for Kiko and Tommy).

https://impactethics.ca/2018/05/19/confronting-a-manifest-injustice-chimpanzee-rights/

Court ruling denies appeal for chimpanzees Tommy and Kiko, but not their rights | Big Think

On May 8, 2018, the New York Court of Appeals Decision once again denied the Nonhuman Rights Project’s (NhRP) petition to appeal a lower court’s ruling on the fate of chimpanzees Tommy and Kiko. Though nominally a defeat, the remarkable concurring opinion by the court’s Associate Judge Eugene M. Fahey constitutes a major step forward, a victory in and of itself. The NhRP characterizes it in its press release as “an historic mark of progress in the fight to secure fundamental legal rights for nonhuman animals.” The opinion begins: "The inadequacy of the law as a vehicle to address some of our most difficult ethical dilemmas is on display in this matter."

The NhRP has been trying to convince New York State courts that the two chimpanzees have a right to habeas corpus protection, and has been seeking permission to have the two relocated from the small, squalid cages in which they’re being held to the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Florida. The court’s problem has been that habeas corpus protection is available only to persons. Given that there are only two possible classifications for the chimps from a legal point of view—as either persons or things—the NhRP has been so-far unsuccessfully trying to persuade the court to bestow legal personhood on Tommy and Kiko. After all, as Fahey writes in his opinion, "While it may be arguable that a chimpanzee is not a ‘person,’ there is no doubt that it is not merely a thing." The judge says further, "The reliance on a paradigm that determines entitlement to a court decision based on whether the party is considered a ‘person’ or relegated to the category of a ‘thing’ amounts to a refusal to confront a manifest injustice." 

http://bigthink.com/robby-berman/court-ruling-denies-appeal-for-tommy-and-kiko-but-not-their-rights

Should a Chimpanzee Be Considered a Person?

“They used to bark at me when I walked into the courtroom,” lawyer Steven Wise said in the Sundance documentary Unlocking the Cage, which debuted on HBO last month. His use of the word “bark” is literal.

Wise, founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, has spent his entire legal career preparing to represent the first chimpanzee plaintiffs in the U.S. court system. While he’s no stranger to having his life’s work—of attempting to get certain animals recognized as persons—poked fun at, he’s found that the courts have taken him seriously.

The distinction of “persons,” not “people,” is important. Part of the apparent absurdity is that on the surface, arguing for personhood might sound like saying a chimpanzee should have the same rights as an adult human, like the right to own property and vote in elections. Instead, the category of “person” is a legal one referring to a being entitled to certain fundamental rights. The case of the chimpanzees, Wise said, is about their right to bodily liberty—recognizing the animals as legal beings instead of “things.”

http://gizmodo.com/the-fight-to-recognize-chimpanzees-as-persons-could-sav-1793156040

If Animals Have Rights, Should Robots?

As the details of [Harambe's] story gathered in the press, he was often depicted in a stylish wire-service shot, crouched with an arm over his right knee, brooding at the camera like Sean Connery in his virile years. “This beautiful gorilla lost his life because the boy’s parents did not keep a closer watch on the child,” a petition calling for a criminal investigation said. It received half a million signatures—several hundred thousand more, CNN noted, than a petition calling for the indictment of Tamir Rice’s shooters. People projected thoughts into Harambe’s mind. “Our tendency is to see our actions through human lenses,” a neuroscientist named Kurt Gray told the network as the frenzy peaked. “We can’t imagine what it’s like to actually be a gorilla. We can only imagine what it’s like to be us being a gorilla.”

This simple fact is responsible for centuries of ethical dispute. One Harambe activist might believe that killing a gorilla as a safeguard against losing human life is unjust due to our cognitive similarity: the way gorillas think is a lot like the way we think, so they merit a similar moral standing. Another might believe that gorillas get their standing from a cognitive dissimilarity: because of our advanced powers of reason, we are called to rise above the cat-eat-mouse game, to be special protectors of animals, from chickens to chimpanzees. (Both views also support untroubled omnivorism: we kill animals because we are but animals, or because our exceptionalism means that human interests win.) These beliefs, obviously opposed, mark our uncertainty about whether we’re rightful peers or masters among other entities with brains. “One does not meet oneself until one catches the reflection from an eye other than human,” the anthropologist and naturalist Loren Eiseley wrote. In confronting similarity and difference, we are forced to set the limits of our species’ moral reach.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/11/28/if-animals-have-rights-should-robots