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Death by Decapitation: A Case Study of the Scientific Definition of Animal Welfare

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Assessments of animal experience and consciousness are embedded in all issues of animal welfare policy, and the field of animal welfare science has been developed to make these evaluations. In light of modern studies of the social construction of scientific knowledge, it is surprising how little attention has been paid to date on how crucial evaluations about animals are made. In this paper, I begin to fill that gap by presenting a historical case study of the attempt to define the pain and distress of one common practice in animal research-the use of the tabletop guillotine to decapitate laboratory rodents. I describe the negotiations involved in reaching consensus on the meaning of the available data and caution animal care and use committees that they should always work with the realization that our scientific knowledge of what animals experience is partial and provisional knowledge at best.



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