Alternative Medicine, Vivisection, and Scientific Racism

As I have grown more interested in alternative healing over the years, I have dutifully hit the scientific journals to verify if particular products are actually evidenced to work. This is necessary given that the natural healing industry has been known to make all number of unverified promises with little governmental regulation to protect consumers. It has also come under fire for targeting the especially vulnerable (such as sick, disabled, and older persons).

As is more commonly known, many Nonhuman Animals (like rhinoceroses and tigers) are exploited and killed in the production of alternative medicines in Eastern cultures to fulfill fantastical claims, but lesser attention is given to this same systematic oppression in the West. As it turns out, many romanticized natural cures (like essential oils and even salt rock lamps) are examined in gruesome laboratory tests as companies recognize that such tests can add value and credibility to their products. Thus, products may be labeled “natural” and lobbed at alternative lifestyle communities, but it does not follow that the products’ claims are ethically-sourced.

I think it is safe to say that most consumers fail to consider the possibility that their natural care products were developed through the harming of other animals, and when it does come to their attention, it is assumed that any testing is done out of necessity. The vast majority of vivisection, however, does not relate to life-or-death research, but instead serves the medical-industrial complex and has little utility in determining health consequences for humans.

More than a profit-making venture, however, vivisection also relies on white-centric ideologies. In the case of alternative healing, Western science’s deep distrust of all things Eastern or indigenous spawns much of this oppressive animal testing in an effort to “prove” what marginalized communities have known for generations without having to resort to forcing mice to swim to death (to test the impact of a natural supplement on endurance) or decapitating rats to inspect their brains (to measure the influence of exposure to rock salt lamps).

Scientists refer to these cruel, lethal, and unjust tests as “sacrifice,” as though nonhumans were not being tortured or murdered, but were rather offered up in the service of the greater, necessary good by scientists who have no alternative. As a scientist myself, I am deeply committed to the principles of systematic observation, but I also recognize that Western science’s deep-rooted racism automatically de-legitimates the systematic observation already undertaken by non-white, Eastern, and indigenous communities. Should we commit to institutional inclusivity and start lending credibility and dignity to those marked as “other,” we could have science without the sacrifice.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the politics of science, race, and speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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