Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dear Editors of "Animal Behaviour"

I’m grateful for your decision to have my book Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good (Macmillan, 2006) reviewed (vol. 73, p 737). However, it was unfortunate that you chose a poultry scientist to review it. Given that I argue ultimately for a more compassionate ethic in our treatment of animals, and that poultry science is invested in the continued exploitation of what is numerically the world’s most abused species, namely the domestic chicken (>300 slaughtered per second in the US alone), Graham Scott’s review wasn’t likely to be positive. Sure enough, he provided a dismissive, insubstantial critique.

Scott dismisses as an assumption my claim that the scientific community is reluctant to acknowledge that animals feel pleasure. How, then, does he account for the complete absence of any books or scholarly journals dedicated to animal pleasure? There are many journals and reams of papers on the equally “private” experience of pain, yet “pleasure” rarely if ever appears in the index of an animal behavior textbook.

Scott sums up my closing chapter as a consideration of “the joie de vivre of animals shown in TV documentaries.” I can only guess that he didn’t read it. Chapter 11 is an attempt to place animal pleasure in a broader moral context, including a discussion of the significance of individuals (species don’t feel things), recent ethological evidence that nature is more virtuous and cooperative than once thought, and the suggestion that ethologists take on the study of animal pleasure (hedonic ethology).

Scott suggests that “the author’s denial that ‘Nature is red in tooth and claw’ relies on the [single paragraph] anecdote that he, a cyclist, enjoys bicycling to and from work in the face of the ‘predator’ cars.” In fact, I spend five pages arguing that our popular portrayals of nature offer a skewed view by focusing on its competitive aspects and its edge-of-seat violent episodes.

Finally, Scott glibly states that I “do not really present good evidence for any of [my] arguments,” and that I have a “tendency to flit between anecdotal examples and poorly supported arguments that lack scientific evidence.” I intentionally sprinkle the book with anecdotes to make it more appealing to “popular science” readers, but that was not done at the expense of reference to scholarly sources, of which more than 300 are cited in the 30 page bibliography.

As a contributor to, long-standing member of, and manuscript reviewer for Animal Behaviour, I was hopeful that Pleasurable Kingdom would be given a better showing. Of course, none of these factors should influence how a book is reviewed. It is the merits of the book itself that are in question. It is as the first book dedicated to a broad subject with enormous potential for future avenues of ethological research that I thought it would be welcomed by Animal Behaviour. Finally, I have no idea if an ABS editor chose a reviewer with strategic intent to undermine my book’s goals, but I do hope it considers selecting reviewers more carefully in future.


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