Staff Profile: Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D.: Making a Case for Kindness
PCRM ethologist Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., has made a striking case for moving research away from animal use. In a review study published late last year in Contemporary Topics in Laboratory Animal Science, Dr. Balcombe showed that even the slightest contact with laboratory personnel cause measurable physiological stress in mice, rabbits, rats, beagles, and other animals used in experiments.
An interest in and concern for animals was evident in his early childhood. At nine, he wrote an essay detailing the tribulations of life for baby salmon.
“I had a natural empathy for them,” Dr. Balcombe says. “If there’s a gene called ‘fascinated with animals,’ I was born with it. From my earliest memory, I was exploring the backyard, gazing at anything that crawled or squirmed.”
Since December 2002, Dr. Balcombe has worked with PCRM, conducting research and writing about ethical and scientific problems with animal experiments. In his monthly column for the PCRM Web site, “Beyond Animal Research,” he’s called for an end to disturbing and sometimes bizarre animal experiments—from blasting guinea pigs with ear-shattering noises to study hearing loss, to force-feeding tree frogs and then launching them through the air to investigate motion sickness. “Ethical concerns notwithstanding, what scientific justification could there be for such experiments?” he wrote in a recent column.
When he’s not working for PCRM, the research scientist finds time for his hobbies—bicycling, drawing, bird watching, and playing the piano and organ. And he continues to pursue the writing career he began at such a young age.
In his new book, Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good, slated to be published by Macmillan in 2006, Dr. Balcombe makes the case that animals’ lives are much more than a struggle for survival. After all, other creatures revel in daily pleasures, just like humans.
And Dr. Balcombe has kept a close eye on humans’ attitudes toward animals, too. “Without question, the overall trend in humankind’s awareness toward animals is positive,” he says.