The first thing I thought of when reading about human attitudes towards rats was the above scene from Inglorious Basterds. As Colonel Hans Landa points out in the clip, it’s all a matter of perspective on how prized are the attributes of a rat. Rats can be seen as man’s best friend more so than even dogs (or at least, as man’s constant companion), considering that anywhere man goes, rats go too. Rats are certainly as evolutionarily successful as humans, spreading across the globe and absolutely dominating native populations wherever they go. Rats can also mirror the dark sides of humans, constantly gnawing at their environments and turning on each other when competition gets too fierce.
When examining the rat it’s almost like one of those optical illusions that appears to be two pictures in one. Depending on how you look at them, they’re either one thing or another. The classic example is the old woman and the young lady. Just like those illusions, depending on how you look at them rats are either tough little creatures that survive in a hostile environment, or filthy, disease carrying vermin.
When discussing the reduction of individual identities of lab animals and in particular lab rats, it is important to note that the concept of “interchangeable parts” in the sense that one rate could be substituted in for another is crucial towards the application of science. Scientific progress hinges on reproducibility – if I performed and experiment claiming that my rats are immortal due to green gatorade and then Tanner tried doing the same experiment using the same conditions and his rats died, we could safely assume I’m wrong. To better create conditions in which variables that might account for differences in reproducibility are removed, the subjects (the rats) of those experiments must be as uniform as possible. Ideally all the rats involved would be the exact same clone, but as that’s too expensive to perform on a practical scale the closest thing we can come to it is the idea of interchangeable rats.
The Rader reading told the story of C.C. Little and his battle for the acceptance of inbred mice as animal models in science. Ignoring the scientific debates and reasons for using mice as the most common animal model, I found the cultural and social aspects of Little’s struggle fascinating. Little essentially had to convince not only his peers but the general public that mice were the way of the future and research involving their breeding needed to be funded. There are a lot of parallels with that today, especially with the state of funding in most scientific fields. Grants and funds are extremely competitive today, and the opportunities for almost anyone to receive funds are relatively bleak. I’ve met with scientists who consider heading into the scientific field to be a bad career move for a young scholar, as jobs, research opportunities, and grants are all drying up. Today, just like in Little’s time, researchers need to convince both their peers and the general public of the validity of their work. There’s a stark contrast between those scientists who easily and effectively utilize public opinion and media outlets and those that can’t or won’t.
I do believe that the view of mice has drastically changed in the past 100 years. It seems that originally mice were essentially associated with rats in almost every level. But now I think that most people do seem them as heroic or tragic figures, sacrificing their lives for the progress of science and the good of humanity. Treatment of scientific animal models is heavily regulated in the United States, and any projects that involve mice require a vast amount of training and certifications, in everything from physical handling of the mice to the ethics and moral guidelines involved with animal testing.