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The great cat mutilation: sex, social movements and the utilitarian calculus in 1970s New York City

  • MICHAEL PETTIT (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

In 1976, the animal liberation movement made experiments conducted on cats at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) one of its earliest successful targets. Although the scientific consensus was that Aronson was not particularly cruel or abusive, the AMNH was selected due to the visibility of the institution, the pet-like status of the animals, and the seeming perversity of studying non-human sexuality. I contextualize the controversy in terms of the changing meaning of utilitarian ethics in justifying animal experimentation. The redefinition of ‘surgeries’ as ‘mutilations’ reflected an encounter between the behavioural sciences and social movements. One of the aims of the late 1960s civil rights movements was to heighten Americans’ sensitivity to differing experiences of suffering. The AMNH protesters drew inspiration from a revived utilitarian ethics of universal organismic pain across the lines of species. This episode was also emblematic of the emergence of an anti-statist, neo-liberal ethos in science. Invoking the rhetoric of the 1970s tax revolt, animal liberationists attacked Aronson's ability to conduct basic research with no immediate biomedical application. Without denying the violence involved, an exclusive focus on reading the experiments through the lens of utilitarianism obscures what ethics animated Aronson's research.

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References
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5 On the role of controversies in crafting publics see Marres Noortje, ‘The issues deserve more credit: pragmatist contributions to the study of public involvement in controversy’, Social Studies of Science (2007) 37, pp. 759780 .

6 The most detailed account is Singer Peter, Ethics into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998, pp. 5574 . See also Fox Michael Allen, The Case for Animal Experimentation: An Evolutionary and Ethical Perspective, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986, pp. 107110 ; Jasper James M. and Nelkin Dorothy, The Animal Rights Crusade: The Growth of a Moral Protest, New York: Free Press, 1992 ; Rudacille Deborah, The Scalpel and the Butterfly: The Conflict between Animal Research and Animal Protection, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000, pp. 129133 .

7 Singer, op. cit. (6), p. 56.

8 Spira Henry, ‘Fighting to win’, in Singer Peter (ed.), In Defense of Animals, New York: Basil Blackwell, 1985, pp. 194208 .

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12 Livingston Julie and Puar Jasbir K., ‘Interspecies’, Social Text (2011) 29, pp. 314 .

13 On the shifts in the economy and culture of science c.1970 see Shapin Steven, The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008 .

14 Neo-liberal science refers to the attack on disinterested knowledge in favour of measurable outcomes, accountability, commercialization and applicability. See Mirowski Philip, Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011 .

15 See Burghardt Gordon M. and Herzog Harold A. Jr, ‘Beyond conspecifics: is Brer Rabbit our brother?’, BioScience (1980) 30, pp. 763768 .

16 See Benjamin D. Sachs to Beach, 12 November 1976, Frank A. Beach papers, Akron, OH, Box M1283, Folder 5; Gordon M. Burghardt to Aronson, 5 February 1981, Department of Animal Behavior, American Museum of Natural History, Unprocessed Collection, Box 3. Singer held that scientists targeted by animal liberation were not ‘especially evil or cruel people’ but were representative of ‘the mentality of speciesism’. See Singer Peter, Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals, New York: New York Review of Books, 1975, pp. 3536 .

17 On the persistence of antivivisection (albeit in more diffuse forms) during this era see Lederer Susan E., ‘Political animals: the shaping of biomedical research literature in twentieth-century America’, Isis (1992) 83, pp. 6179 .

18 See Aronson to Donald E. Clark, 3 February 1977, DAB, American Museum of Natural History, Unprocessed Collection, Box 11; Director Thomas Nicholson spoke about ‘our bout with extremist and irrational anti-vivisectionists and animal rightists’. Nicolson to Gordon M. Burghardt and Harold A. Herzog Jr, 3 December 1980, DAB, American Museum of Natural History, Unprocessed Collection, Box 3.

19 The movement was strongest in Britain, culminating in the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act. See French Richard D., Antivivisection and Medical Science in Victorian Society, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975 . On the moral economy of the British vivisectionists see Boddice Rob, ‘Vivisecting Major: a Victorian gentleman scientist defends animal experimentation, 1876–1885’, Isis (2011) 102, pp. 215237 .

20 Pearson Susan J., The Rights of the Defenseless: Protecting Animals and Children in Gilded Age America, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011 .

21 On the intersection of feminism and antivivisectionism see Lansbury Coral, The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers, and Vivisection in Edwardian England, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985 .

22 See Singer, op. cit. (16), pp. viii–ix. For a critique of 1970s animal rights theory on these grounds see Donovan Josephine, ‘Animal rights and feminist theory’, Signs (1990) 15, pp. 350375 .

23 Dewsbury Donald A., ‘Early interactions between animal psychologists and animal activists and the founding of the APA Committee on Precautions in Animal Experimentation’, American Psychologist (1990) 45, pp. 315327 .

24 On the theological roots of this attitude see Thomas Keith, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England, 1500–1800, London: Allen Lane, 1983 .

25 See the telling slip in W. Pallin to J.H. Galliger, 25 January 1896, Walter B. Cannon Papers, Countway Medical Library, Boston, MA, Box 24, Folder 289. Hereafter cited as Cannon Papers.

26 Massachusetts Medical Society, 24 February 1896, Cannon Papers, Box 24, Folder 289.

27 H.P. Bowditch to J.H. Gallinger, 12 June 1897, Cannon Papers, Box 24, Folder 290.

28 On the adoption of mice due to concerns about pain see Rader Karen, Making Mice: Standardizing Animals for American Biomedical Research, 1900–1955, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004, pp. 3536 .

29 On animal control as governance see Wang Jessica, ‘Dogs and the making of the American state: voluntary association, state power, and the politics of animal control in New York City, 1850–1920’, Journal of American History (2012) 98, pp. 9981024 .

30 C.F. Hodge to Harold Ernst, 28 February 1906, Cannon Papers, Box 261, Folder 313.

31 On the Flexner Report see Starr Paul, The Social Transformation of American Medicine, New York: Basic Books, 1982, pp. 118123 .

32 Cannon to Harvey Cushing, 28 November 1908, Cannon Papers, Box 28, Folder 334.

33 Dewsbury, op. cit. (23), pp. 320–324.

34 Cannon to Yerkes, 22 January 1924, Cannon Papers, Box 77, Folder 1043.

35 On the influence on antivivisectionists on medical writing conventions see Lederer, op. cit. (17).

36 Milam Erika, Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010, pp. 5479 .

37 Pettit Michael, Serykh Darya and Green Christopher D., ‘Multispecies networks: visualizing the psychological research of the Committee for Research in Problems of Sex’, Isis (2015) 106, pp. 121149 .

38 Aronson to Beach, 27 April 1948, DAB Unprocessed Collection, Box 3.

39 Aronson to Edward Henderson, director, 22 March 1948; Aronson to Schwenk, 28 December 1948; Aronson to Tislow, 11 January 1952; Tislow to Aronson, 21 January 1952, DAB Unprocessed Collection, Box 12.

40 Cf. Shapin, op. cit. (13), Chapter 5.

41 Aronson to Beach, 4 June 1947, DAB Unprocessed Collection, Box 3, DSCF2962-63.

42 See Mitman Gregg, Reel Nature: America's Romance with Wildlife on Film, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999, pp. 5984 .

43 See Aronson to Tislow, 11 December 1952, DAB Unprocessed Collection, Box 12.

44 John O'Reilly, ‘What makes a tomcat howl? Scientists try to find the answer’, New York Herald Tribune, 26 April 1949, Central Administrative Archive, AMNH, Box 1196.1, Folder 1948–1952.

45 ‘Cats and their owners’, New York Times, 14 November 1871, p. 5.

46 ‘An opening for cats’, New York Times, 6 May 1883, p. 8.

47 Grier Katherine C., Pets in America: A History, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006, p. 37 .

48 ‘Meow! Eow! Spat! No more’, New York Times, 30 June 1893, p. 12; ‘She's a defender of cats’, New York Times, 20 July 1893, p. 9; ‘Her work not appreciated’, New York Times, 6 October 1893, p. 9; ‘Mrs. Edwards means to fight’, New York Times, 7 October 1893, p. 9. Her trial occurred as the ASPCA was successfully lobbying for legal authority over the city's lost and stray animals. See Wang, op. cit. (29), 1009.

49 Paul Montgomery, ‘Hard times for alley cats’, New York Times Sunday Magazine, 12 April 1964, p. 49.

50 On vermin and necropower see Mavhunga Clapperton Chakanetsa, ‘Vermin beings: on pestiferous animals and human game’, Social Text (2011) 29, pp. 151176 .

51 Jones Susan D., Valuing Animals: Veterinarians and Their Patients in Modern America, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003, pp. 115140 ; Grier, op. cit. (47); Haraway Donna, When Species Meet, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007 .

52 Richard Attridge, ‘Cats can take people or leave them alone’, Saturday Evening Post, 27 March 1954, pp. 10–12.

53 Such relations were not unique to the AMNH. See Todes Daniel P., Pavlov's Physiology Factory: Experiment, Interpretation, Laboratory Enterprise, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001 .

54 Beach to Aronson, 6 June 1947, Unprocessed Collection, Box 2.

55 Milton MacKaye, ‘Biggest free show in New York’, Saturday Evening Post, 28 February 1953, pp. 22, 59–67, 64.

56 Lederer, op. cit. (17), pp. 63–64.

57 MacKaye, op. cit. (55), p. 64.

58 Beach to Aronson, 6 June 1947; Aronson to Beach, 3 November 1949, DAB Unprocessed Collection, Box 3.

59 Aronson to Beach, 3 November 1949, DAB Unprocessed Collection, Box 3. Such vaccinations only became a routine aspect of pet care starting in the 1950s. See Jones, op. cit. (51), 132–134.

60 Aronson to T.D. Luckey, 24 July 1952; Luckey to Aronson, 23 September 1952, DAB Unprocessed Collection, Box 7.

61 On the ideal of animal welfare see Woods Abigail, ‘From cruelty to welfare: the emergence of farm animal welfare in Britain, 1964–71’, Endeavour (2012) 36, pp. 1422 .

62 Aronson to Keith David, 6 February 1973, DAB Unprocessed Collection, Box 2.

63 See Milam Erika, ‘“The experimental animal from the naturalist's point of view”: behavior and evolution at the American Museum of Natural History, 1928–1954’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (2009) 99, pp. 157178 .

64 Ethel Tobach interview by Alexandra Rutherford and Wade Pickren, Psychology's Feminist Voices Oral History and Online Archive Project, 13 November 2006, at www.feministvoices.com/ethel-tobach.

65 Finison Lorenz J., ‘Psychologists and Spain: a historical note’, American Psychologist (1977) 32, pp. 10801084 ; Rutherford Alexandra, Vaughn-Blount Kelli and Ball Laura C., ‘Responsible opposition, disruptive voices: science, social change, and the history of feminist psychology’, Psychology of Women Quarterly (2010) 34, pp. 460473 .

66 Lester Aronson to David Bass, 18 March 1952, DAB, Correspondence, Administrative Records, American Museum of Natural History, Box 3, Folder 1.

67 For his contemporaries' concerns about Aronson's overemphasis on animal individuality see C.R. Carpenter to Frank A. Beach, 29 March 1957; Beach to Aronson, 14 February 1957, C.R. Carpenter Papers, Pennsylvania State University, Box 7.

68 Aronson Lester R., ‘Behavior resembling spontaneous emissions in the domestic cat’, Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology (1949) 42, pp. 226227 . The journal's editor insisted on the revised title. See Calvin Stone to Aronson, 29 November 1948, DAB, American Museum of Natural History, Unprocessed Collection, Box 7.

69 See Rosenblatt Jay S. and Aronson Lester R., ‘The decline of sexual behavior in male cats after castration with special reference to the role of prior sexual experience’, Behaviour (1958) 12, pp. 285338 . On avoiding individual names see Lederer, op. cit. (17), p. 73.

70 Milam, op. cit. (36), p. 77.

71 Aronson Lester R., ‘Levels of integration and organization: a reevaluation of the evolutionary scale’, in Greenberg Gary and Tobach Ethel (eds.), Evolution of Social Behavior and Integrative Levels, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1988, pp. 5781 .

72 Nathaniel Sheppard Jr, ‘Cats’ mutilation laid to Museum’, New York Times, 19 July 1976, p. 31.

73 Peter Gwynne and Stephen G. Michaud, ‘Cat fight’, Newsweek, 8 November 1976, p. 100.

74 Wailoo Keith, Pain: A Political History, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014 .

75 Scott Daryl Michael, Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche, 1880–1996, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997 ; Jackson John P., Social Scientists for Social Justice: Making the Case against Segregation, New York: New York University Press, 2001 .

76 See Murphy Michelle, Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty: Environmental Politics, Technoscience, and Women Workers, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006, pp. 6264 .

77 Peter Singer, ‘Animal liberation’, New York Review of Books, 5 April 1973.

78 Singer, op. cit. (16), pp. 36, 42, 49.

79 Aronson Lester D. and Cooper Madeline L., ‘Letter’, Science (19 November 1976) 194, pp. 784786, 786.

80 Suri Jeremi, ‘The rise and fall of an international counterculture, 1960–1975’, American Historical Review (2009) 114, pp. 4568 .

81 Haraway Donna J., Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science, New York: Routledge, 1989, pp. 133185 ; Mitman, op. cit. (42), pp. 157–179; Zelko Frank, ‘From blubber and baleen to Buddha of the deep: the rise of the metaphysical whale’, Society and Animals (2012) 20, pp. 91108 ; Vicedo Marga, The Nature and Nurture of Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War America, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2013, pp. 4368 .

82 On ‘post-citizenship’ social movements see Jasper James M., The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 78 .

83 Zelko Frank S., Make It a Green Peace! The Rise of Countercultural Environmentalism, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 161230 .

84 On this tension between environmentalism and other 1960s social movements see Rome Adam, ‘“Give Earth a chance”: the environmental movement and the Sixties’, Journal of American History (2003) 90, pp. 525554 .

85 Zelko, op. cit. (83), pp. 231–274.

86 At the same time, the United States was instituting unprecedented levels of incarceration. See Thompson Heather Ann, ‘Why mass incarceration matters: rethinking crisis, decline, and transformation in postwar American history’, Journal of American History (2010) 97, pp. 703734 .

87 Moyn Samuel, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012 .

88 Jean-Pierre Clavel, ‘Torture, an official way of life in 30 countries: nations are now exchanging expertise and equipment’, New York Times, 4 August 1974, p. 155; Jonathan Kandell, ‘Church group reports torture of Chilean prisoners’, New York Times, 17 May 1974; Jeri Laber, ‘Torture and death in Uruguay’, New York Times, 10 March 1976.

89 On ‘solitary confinement’ see Schneirla in ‘Annual Report, 1956–1957’, DAB Unprocessed Papers, Box 2. On ‘sensory deprivation’ see Aronson in ‘Animal Behavior: Annual Report – 1961–1962’, DAB Unprocessed Papers, Box 2.

90 On the influence of psychology on subsequent interrogation techniques see McCoy Alfred, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror, New York: Metropolitan, 2006, pp. 2159 ; Raz Mical, ‘Alone again: John Zubek and the troubled history of sensory deprivation research’, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (2013) 49, pp. 379395 .

91 See Vicedo, op. cit. (81), pp. 95–120.

92 New York Times, 2 July 1976, p. 44.

93 ‘Stop the cat-torture at the American Museum of Natural History’, New York Times, 3 May 1977, p. 33.

94 Aronson to Donald A. Dewsbury, 27 November 1979, DAB, American Museum of Natural History, Unprocessed Collection, Box 2.

95 ‘200 stage protest at Gracie Mansion over cat research’, New York Times, 22 August 1976, p. 41.

96 Spira, op. cit. (8), pp. 206–207.

97 Montgomery, op. cit. (49). On the relocation to Central Park see John C. Devlin, ‘Cats take over bird sanctuary’, New York Times, 31 December 1963, p. 16.

98 The great American animal farm’, Time (23 December 1974) 104(26).

99 Steven Greenhouse, ‘Dogs and cats – a $2-billion market: pet food produces in gourmet race’, New York Times, 27 January 1974, p. 135.

100 Grier, op. cit. (47), pp. 12–13.

101 See May Elaine Tyler, Barren in the Promised Land: Childless Americans and the Pursuit of Happiness, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995, pp. 181210 .

102 ‘The only perfect relationship in this fickle world’, New York Magazine, 24 March 1975, pp. 49–55. The only couple depicted in the photo essay were the hosts of a pet care radio show.

103 ‘Cats in Central Park fare well’, New York Times, 6 September 1976, p. 21; Lena Williams, ‘ASPCA shelters 9 cats and helps destitute owner, 81, too’, New York Times, 4 October 1977, p. 41.

104 Cited in Spira, op. cit. (8), pp. 206–207.

105 ‘Stop the cat-torture’, op. cit. (93). See also ‘Your money is paying for torture at the American Museum of Natural History’, New York Times, 30 September 1976, p. 62.

106 On ‘moral shocks’ as recruitment tools see Jasper, op. cit. (82).

107 For example, the 1950s Reece Committee had targeted Alfred Kinsey. See Solovey Mark, Shaky Foundations: The Politics–Patronage–Social Science Nexus in Cold War America, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2013, p. 143 .

108 See Edmund Smith to Aronson, 24 April 1952, DAB Papers, Box 3, Folder 8.

109 ‘American Museum pinched for funds’, New York Times, 16 February 1976, p. 19. In 1975 the AMNH selected a new president based on his fundraising skills among private donors. See Geoffrey T. Hellman, ‘You've simply got to go out and raise the scratch’, New Yorker, 18 October 1976, pp. 45–69.

110 On the tax revolt as social movement see Martin Isaac William, The Permanent Tax Revolt: How the Property Tax Transformed American Politics, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008 .

111 Rodgers Daniel, The Age of Fracture, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011 .

112 See Mata Tiago and Scheiding Tom, ‘National Science Foundation patronage of social science, 1970s and 1980s: congressional scrutiny, advocacy network, and the prestige of economics’, Minerva (2012) 50, pp. 423449 .

113 William J. Eaton, ‘Proxmire aims new punch at “love machine”’ (1975), unknown source, Elaine Hatfield Papers, the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Inc., Bloomington, IN, Box 1, Series II, Folder 2.

114 William Proxmire to Elaine Walster [Hatfield], 3 April 1975, Elaine Hatfield Papers, Box 1, Series II, Folder 3.

115 Solovey, op. cit. (107).

116 Fleming Joyce Dudney and Maxey David, ‘The drive of the pure researcher: pursuit of intellectual orgasm’, Psychology Today (1975) 8(10), pp. 6877 .

117 See Shapin, op. cit. (13).

118 Wade Nicholas, ‘Animal rights: NIH cat sex study brings grief to New York Museum’, Science (8 October 1976) 194, pp. 162167, 162.

119 The published version of the SCI first appeared in 1969. See Garfield Eugene, ‘The history and meaning of the journal impact factor’, JAMA (2006) 295, pp. 9093 .

120 Wade, op. cit. (118), p. 164.

121 Beach to Science, 1 December 1976, in Garfield Eugene, ‘Citation analysis and the anti-vivisection controversy: Part II. An assessment of Lester R. Aronson's citation record’, Essays of an Information Scientist (2 November 1977) 3, pp. 316325, 324–325.

122 Sachs Benjamin D., ‘Letter’, Science (19 November 1976) 194, p. 786 .

123 Garfield Eugene, ‘Citation analysis of the anti-vivisection controversy’, Essays of an Information Scientist (25 April 1977) 3, pp. 103108, 104.

124 Garfield Eugene, ‘Is citation analysis a legitimate evaluation tool?’, Scientometrics (1979) 1, pp. 359375 . See also Wade Nicholas, ‘Citation analysis: a new tool for science administrators’, Science (2 May 1975) 188, pp. 429432 .

125 Garfield, op. cit. (121), p. 323.

126 Power Michael, The Audit Society: Rituals of Verification, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999 .

127 See Klüver Heinrich and Bucy Paul C., ‘Preliminary analysis of functions of the temporal lobes in monkeys’, Archives of Neurology (1939) 42, pp. 9791000 .

128 Aronson Lester R. and Cooper Madeline L., ‘Amygdaloid hypersexuality in male cats re-examined’, Physiology & Behavior (1979) 22, pp. 257265 .

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