Whenever I think of rats, I can’t help by picture the evil rat threatening the baby on Lady and the Tramp, or even the Rat King in The Nutcracker, but very seldom do I spend time pondering over the lab rat, or even the tiny mice used in experiments.
The reading by Burt explores the various reasons why people view rats as dirty and a menace, as well as refutes some of the false assumptions associated with these useful little vermin. One of the main reasons people began to view rats as disgusting, beyond the typical notion that they carry disease, is that they represent “unbounded sexual reproduction.” However, many animals not typically viewed as disgusting or evil fall under this same category. Some animals, for example ducks, whose males often violently rape the females, could even be viewed as sexually immoral, when the duck is a symbol of spring and even represented in Easter, not evil and filth. Furthermore, adorably bunnies, also associated with spring and Easter, are known to reproduce at an extremely rapid rate, yet many would not be too disappointed to happen upon a bunny.
Furthermore, Burt goes on to point out that rats can in fact be viewed as a “parallel” to humans and actually are pretty clean and intelligent. He notes that rats can represent both human achievement and destructiveness; they are extremely useful in science, for example testing efficiency with the maze experiments, yet they can also bring forth disease, much like humans. He quotes Donaldson, who even suggests that the rat may be the “sped of version of humans.”
In Rader’s excerpt, he focuses more on the use of inbred mice for cancer research as opposed to the history of rats described in Burt’s article. Though his writings spent too much time focusing on the ups and downs of Little’s professional career for my taste, I really enjoyed the section titled Institutionalizing the Organism. As a business major, I am always wondering what the economic impacts of a particular industry are, and I loved how Rader linked Little’s rollercoaster career to various financial problems they faced. The message from this article that resonated most with me was the fact that Little met the most success when he focused his lab more on making profits off selling the mice to other researchers instead of putting all his resources into his own research at the time. Why did he do this? He began to lack arguably the most important resource; money. This represents a common issue one faces when he tries to achieve his dreams, whether it be curing cancer or climbing Mt. Everest. Without sufficient funding, one may find himself as a “sell out,” temporarily abandoning his dreams to simply sustain his income. Luckily, Little was eventually able to gain enough support for his research.
Lastly, I want to point out Shapiro’s comments on the decline of individualism with lab animals. He points out that these experimental pets are not seen as individuals because there are tons of each species used for the experiments, the animal is replaceable, they are seen as organisms sometimes instead of animals, and they are caged up and become very habitual. However, he also points out that they actually do have some extremely complex behavioral patterns (why else would one use them for psychological studies?), the animal rights movement have changed the mentality towards the “replaceable organisms,” and lastly he notes an “inevitable bond” between the researcher and the lab animal.