Thursday, 11 September 2014

Zoology: India gets it wrong again

You really could not make it up. I read in Science (15 August 2014):

India bans dissections
A campaign to bar dissections in India's university classes has scored a major victory. India's University Grants Commission, which sets India's standards for university education, has banned the dissection of animals in zoology and life science university courses. That follows a decision in March by the Medical Council of India to prohibit animal dissection in undergraduate medical courses; it may extend the ban to postgraduate courses. The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has argued that computer models and simulations can replace dissection and that several frog species are now endangered due to large numbers of zoology students collecting them for experiments.

I actually looked at the issue date to check that it was not 1 April. For a country that has made and continues to make bad decisions for the protection of its wildlife I really thought this report was a joke. Future Indian biology and medical students (not, sadly, necessarily the same thing) are to be handicapped for life while the tiger and dhole continue to decline. While in the old (i.e. my) days I argued that the value of dissecting a whole range of invertebrate and vertebrate types was afforded too much importance in schools and universities, I would still regard some dissection as an essential part of being and learning to be a zoologist, medic, dentist or vet (veterinarian, to American readers). In silico and in plastercasto cannot replace the knowledge, experience and sheer nous that will be needed in their future careers gained from handling organs and tissues in freshly killed animals and seeing how and why animals have come to be constructed. With hindsight, I did learn than just the morphology from afternoons spent over a stinking formalin-preserved dogfish digging out the afferent and efferent branchial arteries and the cranial nerves.

Incidentally, to rebut the final point in the report, there is actual evidence that heavy collection of amphibians for laboratory use had no effect on the population*. In search of a soft target, The Unthinking Green religion also forgets the human food trade and the frogs that fill the markets in southern Asia, and the three real causes of the decline in amphibian populations: Overpopulation; Overpopulation; Overpopulation.

I am afraid that India's ban will achieve nothing, other than the perpetuation of ignorance.


*Cooke AS, Morgan DHW, Swann MJS. 1990. British Herpetological Society Bulletin 33 9-11.