This journal – and this Association – focuses on three topics. Indeed, this issue contains good examples of all three – animal welfare, ethics and law – in some cases in the same papers. This multi- and inter-disciplinarity is why the newly developed author instructions still allow authors flexibility to choose the style that best seems to fit the discipline. It’s also why the journal is moving to have sub-editors for each discipline. But what do we mean by each of the three topics?
The first is “animal welfare science”. “Animal welfare” is, of course, wider than animal welfare science: one can study animal welfare in non-scientific ways (as we do to assess the welfare of our own animals and patients at home, on farm and in the clinic). These measures are based on observations (e.g. of behaviours), and some are even quantitative (e.g. biochemical parameters) but they are not necessarily “scientific” (or at least very “weakly scientific”. In any case, n=1). Nevertheless, it is animal welfare science that holds a legitimate sway over policymaking, in order to provide a degree of objectivity (and perhaps conservatism) in matters that may affect large numbers of animals and humans. (While we’re on the subject of animal welfare, it should be noted that the journal will henceforth require submissions describing experiments using animals to conform to ARRIVE guidelines).
The second is either “animal ethics” or “animal welfare ethics” – the comma is ambiguous. But the distinction is important. Animal welfare ethics concerns the philosophical unpinning of animal welfare science, helping to define research questions and how we should utilise its results. Without animal welfare ethics, animal welfare science would seem a rather esoteric offshoot of biology. Of course, that animal welfare ethics is often tacit – we do not commonly ask why stress, pain or disease are bad or worth avoiding, but it’s there. In comparison, “animal ethics” is much wider. Not because it contains concepts such as animal rights, caringness, naturalness, integrity, death and telos, since (forms of ) these can all be considered within animal welfare ethics. For example, we can have welfare-based rights (a right not to suffer) and Bernard Rollin’s concept of telos often seems to come close to collapsing into a concept of feelings based welfare (or perhaps we should say it’s the other way round). Rather, animal ethics is wider because it concerns values other than what is good and bad for animals. Some appear animal-focused, for example affording animals a right to life that trumps avoiding suffering (although it seems absurd to afford someone a right to something against their interests.). Others are strictly human focused, with animals almost “incidental”, for example the human utility and human rights used to justify many forms of animal use. Including these other values is important – in particular because we still lack any agreed (and unbiased) way of comparing and balancing these with animal values. (While we’re on the subject of ethics, it should be noted that all opinions expressed in articles are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the AWSELVA or editors.)
Finally, animal law – or, again, animal welfare law. Here the wider scope reflects the legal fact that matters of human interests, not least property rights, are inextricably intertwined in many laws, including within animal welfare law (arguably one role of ASPA and the New Directive is to define legitimate animal experimentation). But again, it is important that our legal and jurisprudential considerations consider the wider elements of legislation and enforcement; otherwise we risk working in an unrealistic (and ineffective) bubble. (While we’re on the subject of law, it should be noted here that the journal is an academic forum for discussion, rather than legal advice to readers.)
For final consumption, perhaps, the edges should be unclear. That way there remains a core shooting target – animal welfare and its basis and application. But it also allows divergence into free and fluid interaction with wider disciplines in science, ethics and law. Such exchanges are the point of promoting interdisciplinary work, after all.