Irritating but interesting

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–  or possibly interesting but irritating.

Kelly Lambert is ‘a Professor and Chair of Psychology’ and spends a lot of time with rats.  Her book includes material about rat behaviours and neurological developments in various early years conditions, mating behaviour, motivation and reward behaviour, upbringing of rat infants and the maternal imperative, and consequences of different types of stress.

The lessons to be learned from neurological activity in rats may or may not be fully transferable to human contexts, but some of them sound horridly plausible – for example, the stress responses in rats when their lives are out of their own control.  The author draws the parallels and this is indeed a major purpose of her book.

One of the things she professes is fascination with and respect for her rats, but there is an elephant in the room:  very little reference is made to the ironmongery introduced to their brains during life, and their inevitable end on a slab.  This is no book for anti-vivisectionists to read.  Leaving aside the principle itself, I’d have liked to know how she mentally accommodates her respect with the ongoing slaughter.

The irritation?  Well, quibbles in a way.  But I could do without her matey all-pals-together tone.  It felt intrusive, like someone who starts giving you proprietorial pats when you’ve only known them five minutes.  And the writing was sloppy.  For example, a professor of anything, not to mention their publisher, ought to know the difference between ‘diffuse’ and ‘defuse’, especially when the context is not in the least metaphorical but refers to land mines.  Alas for the demise of the reasonably-educated copy editor!

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8 responses »

  1. Thanks for the warning! I’ve read several too many books that try to stretch animal studies a little farther than they really go as a way of explaining human behavior. And fairly or not, sloppy wording (or proofreading) makes me wonder if the author’s thinking is equally sloppy.

    • That’s the thing – especially in more formal scientific writing – it brings the whole book or article into question. If they are careless about this, what else have they been careless about? Using auto-correct is a big mistake of course – and many publishers expect authors to proof-read their own work now, which is a task for which they are not trained at all.

  2. …could the sloppy thinking be extended to the author’s failure to spot her own ambivalent attitude to the rats she claim to respect?
    I’m with Douglas Adams when it comes to experiments with rodents…remember the white mouse experiments in the Hitchhikers trilogy?

    • 🙂 Yes, I remember all right! I don’t feel entitled to throw too many stones as I am not fully vegetarian myself. There’s something about harvesting brains, though, which makes one feel a little queasy, however irrational that is.

  3. Constantly having to cut up rats whilst a medical student turned me into a vegetarian and supporter of animal rights. we mostly learnt nothing other than how many scientists hold animals in contempt. We also had Pete Singer at our university which made things even less acceptable. cheers.

    • I can well imagine. In fairness, the research described in the book was examining things like toxic or healing chemical responses in the brain and attempting to quantify the creation or destruction of neurons in various circumstances, which couldn’t be done without slicing up some brains to have a look, and I’d rather a rat’s brain was sliced than mine. And with a plague of dementias upon us, one could argue for the validity of the research. In ethical terms I’m a bit on the fence. But it certainly isn’t pretty.

  4. Well, anything can be rationalised if the urge is great enough. A jolly approach can be just a way of trivialising and/or de-sensitising more serious issues, can’t it? I’m with the rats – if the aim is to investigate human behaviour by drawing parallels, then why not just deal with humans, give the rats a break. Maybe having said all that, I should have not said it, and should just read the book.
    (Barb Drummond – lucky you to have had Peter Singer’s presence. I’ve just read ‘In Defense (sic) of Animals – The 2nd Wave’ and was mightily impressed.)
    Agree with all other comments on spelling. The other day I was compelled to right two the BBC after reeding a narticle on the BBC News webpage where ‘loose’ was used instead of ‘lose’. I was tempted to sign as ‘Discustard of Tonbridge Wells’. Harroomph.

    • Yes, I think you’re right – or it can also be a way of speaking du haut en bas.

      Spelling – our hearts obviously beat as one. I was literally writing my new post on that theme as your comment popped up. Perhaps I could sign it Even Disgusteder of Tonbridge Wells. I’m going to proofread it again now – I really hope I haven’t left any typos in it!

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