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If in a fantasy world there was a think tank for research of all kinds, but there were rules like you can't test something like a mind wipe on an unwilling person, how would test animals be handled? In our world, we use mice and monkeys before things are approved for human trials. Would it be acceptable to experiment on animals in a world where a speak to animals spell exists?

This works by the human being able to comprehend and verbally communicate with the animals, but the animals are limited by their intelligence. Think more of you meowing to your cat and being able to understand each other, but it still only has the intelligence of a cat.

The spell itself is cast on the person wishing to speak to the animals. There is no effect on the animal.

The setting for the world would be typical medieval high fantasy.

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    $\begingroup$ Wait... You need a spell to speak to animals? Guess I've been doing magic for years! $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Dec 14 '16 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ Could you expand on the "speak to animals" thing? Do you speak animal and have them answer in their animal mindset or can you have a full human-like conversation with them? $\endgroup$ – PatJ Dec 14 '16 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ You can comprehend and verbally communicate, but the animals are limited by their intelligence. Think more of you meowing to your cat and being able to understand each other, but it still only has the intelligence of a cat. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Green Dec 14 '16 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Bryan. Our format works somewhat different from most discussion forums. Particularly, you are encouraged to edit your posts in order to add additional information, including information requested by others in comments. I have edited your question for you to incorporate the additional information; please do so yourself next time. You can ping e.g. @PatJ (@ followed by the user's name, without whitespace) with a comment to let whoever asked for the additional information know that you have made an edit. Comments can be deleted for almost any reason, so should be considered ephemeral. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Dec 14 '16 at 15:41
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After some pondering, building off of @Werrf's answer:

You've hit the point in your answer best, I think: "Think more of you meowing to your cat and being able to understand each other, but it still only has the intelligence of a cat." If you already don't mind experimenting on cats before you could speak to them, then nothing has changed with the cat. The ethics do not change. I'm not arguing pro or con, I'm just saying that the ETHICS do not change.

One's PERCEPTION of the process, however, may change completely. Lab animals who experience pain during an experiment already communicate it, via vocalizations, body language, etc. The ability to hear those vocalizations as speech, however, would end up giving a higher impact to it, because we would hear the experience articulated like a human would do so. I can imagine scientists using speech spells in animal testing burning out quickly, or becoming further immune to the suffering of fellow humans, simply as a coping mechanism.

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Qui-Gon Jinn: You almost got us killed! Are you brainless?

Jar-Jar Binks: I spake!

Qui-Gon Jinn: The ability to speak does not make you intelligent.

Just because you're able to communicate with an animal does not mean that the animal is intelligent or aware. Even if you found that the animal was intelligent and aware, you could not be sure that it wasn't the spell that made it so. So the answer is going to depend on some details.

Is the animal intelligent when you speak to it?

For example, if I ensorcell a mouse, does the mouse continue to sniff around the table going "Cheese? Smell cheese. No cheese. Look for cheese. Danger? No danger. Sniff. Cheese?", or does it stop, look at me, and say "Oh, I say, that was most impolite. Don't you know you're supposed to get permission before you cast a spell on a chap?"

Does casting the spell change the animal?

After I've lifted the spell, does the animal's behaviour return to normal - still sniffing for cheese, still freezing at any sign of danger - or does it sit down and start reading my mail? If the former, you can probably say that it's just the spell that makes them behave as if they're intelligent. The latter, it changes them to make them intelligent.

The answer applies to more than just experimentation

You've asked in the context of animal testing, but the thing is that if you decide that animals can refuse to be experimented on, why can't they refuse to be eaten? To be harnessed to carts? To have their skins worn?

Most likely you're going to need to find a stable middle ground. It is unethical to even use the talk to animals spell unless necessary, and it is unethical to mistreat an animal after casting the spell on them (just in case). If the spell does change them permanently, ethics would dictate that one must provide a comfortable existence for them after the spell has been cast.

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  • $\begingroup$ I have added more info in the question. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Green Dec 14 '16 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ You've hit the point in your answer best, I think: "Think more of you meowing to your cat and being able to understand each other, but it still only has the intelligence of a cat." If you already don't mind experimenting on cats before you could speak to them, then nothing has changed with the cat. The ethics do not change. I'm not arguing pro or con, I'm just saying that the ETHICS do not change. $\endgroup$ – Zoey Boles Dec 14 '16 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ One's PERCEPTION of the process, however, may change completely. Lab animals who experience pain during an experiment already communicate it, via vocalizations, body language, etc. The ability to hear those vocalizations as speech, however, would end up giving a higher impact to it, because we would hear the experience articulated like a human would do so. I can imagine scientists using speech spells in animal testing burning out quickly, or becoming further immune to the suffering of fellow humans, simply as a coping mechanism. $\endgroup$ – Zoey Boles Dec 14 '16 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ @ZoeyBoles If you could put your two comments as an answer, I would accept it. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Green Dec 14 '16 at 19:46
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In The Real World (TM), we have these things called institutional review boards (IRBs). Whether at a university or private institute, before you can perform research using human or animal subjects, you must submit a plan to the IRB, answer any questions the board may have, and get approval. The IRB is concerned with maintaining ethical standards, staying within legal boundaries, and ensuring the safety of the subjects.

For human reaserch, among the ways that an IRB enforces these concepts is through requiring a consent form. The form must spell out exactly what the subject is agreeing to do or have done during the research project, and what risks might be involved. By signing the form, the subject positively consents that they are voluntarily agreeing to these terms and conditions.

In the case of animal study, a consent form is not possible. However, the IRB will still require the applicants to provide ample proof that they will be giving the animal subjects the best possible care, and if there is any risk of death or injury, it will be dealt with humanely.


In Bryan Green's World, where communication with animals is possible, the job of the IRB becomes a bit more complicated. However, I think the idea of informed consent can be extended. Perhaps a rat is not able to read a form, nor hold a pen to sign it. The IRB can still require the researcher to prove that each rat has at least a basic comprehension of its circumstances and has agreed to participate.

The researcher's job is also likely to get more complicated. Now every geneticist, pharmacologist, and cosemetician will have to learn how each type of animal they work with thinks and communicates. Are some animals more visual, or more intuitive, or able to use abstactions (i.e. words) just like humans? However they do so, they will have to satisfy the IRB beyond reasonable doubt, that each animal does completely understand and consent.

Similarly, the researchers now have the added challenge of finding willing subjects. Real World scientists must merely reach in a cage, grab a rat, proceed. In Bryan Green's world they must strike up a conversation with the rat, spell out the study parameters, explain the risks, then start over each time the rat declines.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think animals in general could comprehend or understand the complexities of some experiments. The animals are still limited by their intelligence. If they can't understand the risks, would that mean that the IRB can't be satisfied? $\endgroup$ – Bryan Green Dec 14 '16 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanGreen - A good point, not all experiments are simple, and I guess I was thinking in fairly simple terms -- "Mr. Rat, we want you to eat this burrito, then chew this pill. We think the pill will prevent you from getting gas. We're pretty sure it will prevent you from getting gas. But it might also turn your fur green with purple polka dots and cause smoke to come out your ears. Probably not, but maybe. Are you willing to chew the pill? Either way, you're welcome to the burrito." $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Dec 14 '16 at 16:22
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TLDR; Either it depends, or no.

Even today, animals are used as human substitutes that can communicate with humans. In order for animals to speak, they would need an intelligence level to understand what that sort of communication entails.

In modern research, chimpanzees are sometimes used as test subjects, despite their intelligence, and the current ethics of using them is a debated topic among many. Depending what side of the argument we're looking from, using animals you can't talk to is unethical. As PETA notes, there's plenty of alternatives to using animals in testing, and carries some pretty valid weight. As PETA notes:

SOME ALTERNATIVES TO THE USE OF ANIMALS IN TESTING INCLUDE

  • in vitro (test tube) test methods and models based on human cell and tissue cultures
  • computerized patient-drug databases and virtual drug trials
  • computer models and simulations
  • stem cell and genetic testing methods
  • non-invasive imaging techniques such as MRIs and CT Scans
  • microdosing (in which humans are given very low quantities of a drug to test the effects on the body on the cellular level, without affecting the whole body system)

The flip side of that argument is using humans as a test subject. In Nazi Germany, some of the leaps forward in medicine were a result of direct human testing on unwilling subjects. Although completely unethical, some of these medical advances in the knowledge of the human body could be argued to have saved many lives since the tragedies of that time period. As a site on human experimentation notes:

Investigations following the war uncovered many atrocities, such as studies in which subjects were immersed in very cold water to gauge how long it would take to die of hypothermia.

In the end though, the ethical nature of using verbally communicative animals in testing relates to the willingness of the animal*. Regardless of current stance on animal testing, if an animal gives it's willing cooperation for the advancement of science, that's a choice made by them and gives a different light to ethics.

* I'd like to note, I am not arguing for or against animal testing. I understand many advances have been made as a result, but I also understand the importance of treating animals well.

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If we knew, we wouldn't need spells

The thing about what we do to animals, is that we don't really know how they feel about it. Many people honestly say that they don't believe animals can suffer or feel pain, and that's why it's all justified. Others enjoy the benefit of the doubt.

If we could speak to animals, we could know for sure how they feel and decide accordingly. A moving speech from a cow would probably make many people go vegan (others would argue that these animals wouldn't even be born if it wasn't for us needing them for food). If they turn out to be feeling-less, we would use them even more.

So the real question is, what would they say.

What would they say?

I believe what they would say is exactly what they say now, in actions and demeanor. When my dog says "woof" I know what she means. It's not complex ideas, mostly emotions and basic needs. I doubt an animal would evolve the complex skills of symbolic thinking without being able to use it. I also highly doubt that they can express emotions without feeling them, as some think (I doubt that's even logically possible)

So lab animals would probably say "I'm scared", "I'm in pain", "I don't like the person in the white coat" etc. Nothing we couldn't have guessed already.

To conclude

  • They might say what we would expect them to feel (fear, hunger, etc), so no real new information there
  • They might turn out to be feeling-less zombies, so we could use them more
  • They might totally surprise us and be able to articulate complex thoughts and ideas which would not only change the way we treat them in science, but everywhere, and perhaps change the whole dynamic between species on this planet.
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