Science-Up the Schools with....Mink?

Great Job on the DonorsChoose drive, folks! The DrugMonkey Blog Science-Up the Schools Challenge is doing well with $422 raised from 16 donors. This latter makes me very happy since we're hanging in there in the top three on the ScienceBlogs board in terms of number of donors. We're in difficult times and my readers are often grad students and postdocs who don't have a lot to give anyway but I love to see people getting involved and endorsing the importance of science in elementary and secondary education. Keep it coming! Every $5 or even $1 donation moves a project closer to funding. Some of them are backed by matching funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation so you might even leverage your kick-down.

I mentioned that I'd be giving out some Donor Appreciation Awards from the DM cafepress shop, so you can look like these cool people. In addition, the ScienceBlogs homeworld is kicking in some incentives:

For those of you who are participating in the DonorsChoose Social Media Challenge, please let your readers know, if you haven't already, that they can forward their donation receipt to for a chance to win some Swag Bags from ScienceBlogs, complete with Seed moleskin notebooks and tote bags, ScienceBlogs mugs and USB drives, and books from Yale University Press and Oxford University Press - we'll draw a winner ... every week in October.

Today I wanted to give you a little extra food for thought as you consider your donation, by highlighting the When are We Going to Dissect project. This is from a high-poverty magnet high-school located in North Carolina and the proposal reads:

Biology is a state tested EOC course. Students must score a level III or IV in order to graduate. Teaching at a high-need school with a limited budget has resulted in a lack of supplies. As a result, I must find alternative ways to perform labs. Sometimes these labs are successful and other times they are not.
In order to show cell specialization and body systems, my students need to complete dissections. I have not been able to complete dissections every year due to the lack of preserved organisms. My students need preserved minks for dissections in order to simulate an important goal in the Biology curriculum.
Your help will ensure that my students will understand the concept body systems and cell specialization. In addition, your help will assist students in gaining the knowledge and experience with laboratory equipment for Advanced Placement Biology and Human Anatomy/Physiology.

Mink, eh? Well, I jumped to the obvious conclusion and did some Googling to confirm. I won't post the links but the ARA websites certainly seem to indicate that these mink are sourced from fur farms. The vendor, Carolina Biological Supply, page on the dissection specimens does mention "ranch raised".
Although it is not absolutely confirmed*, for argument's sake let us consider these sourced from post-fur-harvest mink. I'll come right out and say that I do not have any need whatsoever for mink fur clothing, this is not something I support. However, the industry exists. The animals have been raised and killed for their fur...what next?
It is an essential part of many approaches to the responsible use of animals in research that we do what we can to maximize the outcome of each animal that is used. It is a long tradition for people to seek out other scientists who can use the animal tissues post-mortem, if your root project is only an in-vivo one. It may not be for every project but it happens frequently. Particularly when it comes to the more charismatic, USDA regulated species.
This maximum-use principle leads me to support the additional use of animal specimens which might otherwise simply be discarded, for creating dissection kits for school biology labs.
How do you view it, DearReader DearDonor?
*I was unable to get an email response to my question as to whether the specimen mink were the same individuals from whom fur had been harvested. As I said, the ARA sites seem to indicate that this is true.

No responses yet

  • becca says:

    The question is, would the operating costs of fur farms be higher (presumably leading to increased costs of fur and decreased consumption) if they did not sell the leftovers to Carolina Biological?
    I'm always torn on whether I should eat gelatin containing candy too (well, aside from the issue of the inherent grossness of gelatin, if you actually think about it).

  • Cleveland says:

    point to becca....

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Suppose I finish up a drug self-administration study in a group of rats from which the behavior was the primary goal. I then find someone who can make use of the brains, someone who wants to look at heart valves, etc and donate the tissues post-mortem.
    This makes those studies cheaper, encouraging even *more* use of animals with the saved money. It allows (in some views) an improvement in the animal use calculus resulting in back patting in some quarters. etc.
    By your logic, coupled with generic ARA objections, this multiple-use is *less* ethical because it perpetuates research science using animals? Do I have that right?

  • I have a hard time imagining that the profit made by selling shaved (skinned?) minks to biology teachers is anything more than a drop in the bucket compared to the profit from fur sales. Stop the teachers from buying minks for dissection, and maybe the cost of each coat will increase... by what? Twenty bucks? We are talking about items that cost close to a thousand dollars for something relatively small and uncomplicated like a shawl. Large coats can cost many thousands of dollars. I doubt that a small increase in their cost will dissuade many buyers. Additionally, for an item that's basically the embodiment of conspicuous consumption, you could even make the argument that a higher price would encourage people to buy fur.
    If I bought into the idea that ending mink dissection would seriously harm the fur industry, then maybe I would get behind it. I think that all you'd really do, though, is ensure that a huge pile of mink corpses just rots away without anyone benefiting from them. I don't see the point in that.

  • becca says:

    DM- No, you haven't got it quite right, if you donate the animals to other researchers. That means they have extra money to do more science- some of which might be animal research based, but at least the science is driven forward. But in any case, I'm not coupling it with ARA arguments. I never said I had a problem with researchers subsidizing researchers. But grade schoolers subsidizing fur farms? I'm iffy on that.
    In a perfect world, fur farms would be looking to donate to this cause, freeing up donorschoose money to go toward one of the other worthy causes.
    @thoughtcounts Z- Yeah, that's why it's analogous to gelatin for me (people buying steaks generally aren't going to notice the drop in the bucket that gelatin use might make). The economic impact would be more valid argument against consumption of leather.

  • Rob says:

    Okay, I admit I went eeeww when I read the initial proposal because I have seen biology/science = dissection too much lately. Now I see they want to dissect minks. Double eeewww. Like mink is a representative mammal in the first place.
    How about keeping an animal alive? These days that is the _real_ biological challenge.

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