The Sound of Science

Fridays 9am – Sheffield Live! – 93.2FM

Show 67 first broadcast on 11th September 2009


This weeks programme is devoted to pain: the pain that factory farmed animals suffer to be exact. One philosopher wants to take away one component of that suffering has a controversial idea. I talk to him and then take comments from two senior academics – an ethicist and a animal ethologist.

Factory farming without animal suffering? Not quite.

Factory farmed pigs
Factory farmed pigs

Our featured interview this week is with philosopherAdam Shriver’s new paper on the idea of alleviating animal suffering by genetically modifying factory farmed animals so that they feel the sensation of pain but do not find in unpleasant. Adam explains the neurophysiology and plausibility of this idea on the programme. The question then is whether or not this is the right thing to do.

Adam’s heart is clearly in the right place. He has been a commited vegetarian since he was 5 years old and his mother read “Animal Liberation” by P.W. Singer. His arguement is that while he dislikes factory farming of animals it seems that it is inevitable into the forseeable future. So we should do what we can to reducet he suffering. But as he well knows his views are not without critics.


Adam Shriver is a graduate student at Washington University Philosophy Department in St Luis, Missouri. He was the  winner of the  William James Award from the Society of Philosophy and Psychology in 2006 for his paper”Minding Mammals” and so his career is off to a great start. We talk about his recent paper in the journal Neuroethics (he was also interviewed in the week’s New Scientist). It is wise to read the actual paper rather than relying on an interview to decide on the ideas.


I set his view in context with interviews with ethicist Professor Colin Allen (Indiana University) and animal ethologist Professor Marc Bekoff.


First up is Professor Colin Allen from the department of The history and philosophy of science at Indiana University. He  was previously interviewed on the programme about his book Moral Machines: robot rights and wrongs. Colin cut his ethical teeth in the area of animal ethics and is author of the paper Ethics and Animal Minds. While he likes Adam’s work, he has some sharp criticisms to offer.

Colin is author of Species of Mind (MIT Press, 1997) and coeditor of The Evolution of Mind (Oxford University Press, 1998), Nature’s Purposes (MIT Press, 1998), The Cognitive Animal (MIT Press, 2002), and Philosophy Across the Life Sciences (MIT Press, in press). He is also co-editor of a special issue of the journal Biology and Philosophy (Dec. 2004) on animal cognition, in which he has a paper titled “Is Anyone a Cognitive Ethologist?” and a forthcoming special issue of the journal Synthese on “Representing Philosophy” covering the applications of digital technologies to philosophy.


Next up is Professor Mark Beckoff who does not like the idea at all and is highly critical in a carefully considered manner. Marc was first interviewed on the Sound of Science about his fascinating book on animal morality: Wild Justice. He is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and a former Guggenheim Fellow. In 2000 he was awarded the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society for major long-term contributions to the field of animal behavior. Marc is also an ambassador for Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program, in which he works with students of all ages, senior citizens, and prisoners, and also is a member of the Ethics Committee of the Jane Goodall Institute. He and Jane co-founded the organization Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Citizens for Responsible Animal Behavior Studies in 2000

Breaking News – Turing apology

Two weeks ago we ran a piece with John Graham Cumming about a petition of his to get an aplogy for the great mathematician and founder of computing Alan Turing about his ill treatment as a criminal from being gay after he had served the UK so well in war and peace.  Success, the UK prime minister Gordon Brown has apologised on behalf of the government and the British People.

Next Week: how the body shapes the way we think

We will be talking to world renowned AI and robotics expert, Professor Rolf Pfeifer, Director of the Zurich AI labs, about  a revolutionary approach to AI that devolves some of some of the computing to the body.  He argues that it is not processor speed that we need for human-like intelligence but a human body.


September 11, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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