Why Is No One Criticizing Jack Horner And The Chickenosaurus?

Jack Horner wants to make this, the "dino-chicken" a reality. (src)

Jack Honer’s recent TEDTalk and CNN piece on turning a chicken into a dinosaur raises a number of ethical questions that no one, save Horner himself, seems to even raise. Are we all so enamored with the idea of having a real live “dinosaur” that this speciesism can just pass on by?

In “Why we’re creating a ‘chickenosaurus’” Horner writes,

The Build a Dinosaur Project continues as researchers attempt to identify two atavistic genes proposed to control the appearance of the three-fingered hand and the primitive tail. This search involves the knocking out of target genes in early developing chicken embryos.

This is some high-level stuff, and I won’t presume to get into the genetics of extracting dinosaur genes from fossils or the extensive research behind that. To be sure, I think the study of paleontology is incredibly cool, and I love Horner’s use of evolutionary tales to illustrate just how vast and incredible our earth and its species’ history is. But, and this is a huge but, demonstrating evolution and “attempting to satisfy the aspirations of sixth-graders” does not justify the misuse, mistreatment, or genetic modification of chickens. Horner’s own critique ironically explains this:

It is interesting, for example, that some people consider simple genetic engineering, such as the dino-chicken, to be unethical, while they find selective breeding — potentially producing the same results over time — to be an ethical endeavor.

Do they? I don’t. Dog breeding, cat breeding, horse breeding – it’s all unethical. Animals are not ours to breed and modify as we see fit, killing hundreds or thousands in the process, thirsting after the perfect lap dog or thoroughbred. Those who do question this dino-chicken endeavor should turn that hypothesis inwards, or to any pet they may have bought from a breeder or pet store.

Is selective breeding okay in humans? No? How about humans who don’t know otherwise, such as the comatose or severely mentally handicapped humans? I think most rational people, Horner included, would argue that it is immoral to do so, and the same logic can be applied to dogs, cats, chickens, and any sentient animal. This argument is of course a very short summary of the one made by Peter Singer in Animal Liberation, that sentient beings are not ours to harm, mutilate, or use for research (see, for instance “The case for animal equality” on this page).

So it’s surprising me that I could not turn up one legitimate inquiry into Horner’s ideas based on ethics; only fleeting remarks that there may be “ethical reasons” against having a dinosaur hatchery. You think? I will make note of this interesting paper, entitled “‘There is No Unauthorized Breeding in Jurassic Park’: Gender and the Uses of Genetics,” which claims:

…a great deal of the opposition to genetic technologies expressed in contemporary popular culture is grounded in a profound anti-feminism, through close readings of the film and book versions of ‘Jurassic Park’ as well as the movie ‘Gattaca.’ Pitfalls for feminism in contemporary discussions of reproductive technology and genetic determinism.

While I’m all for feminism, that seems to be a little outside the scope of what I’m after. But if college lit courses left you with a thirst for more, read the full study here and let us know what you find in the comments section!

We need to be critical about this, any other animal experimentation that occurs for some supposed benefit. Even if animal testing results in drugs that help humanity, the moral basis is shaky at best. Genetically modifying, breeding, and abusing an already cast-down species like the Gallus gallus domesticus to birth something might be resemble a dinosaur is unethical and cruel.

Note: While searching for an image for this post, I did come across this pseudo-skeptical look at PaxArcana. It seems they are more concerned with the impending doom of getting eaten by a dinosaur than the cruelty that hundreds of chickens will have to go through to birth such an animal. It also appears Horner’s entire justification (ethically, anyway) is that we already genetically modify plants and mice, as this Wired interview illustrates.

  • derf


  • Davidson General

    I’m sorry, but you’re completely ignorant about how anything in the world works; you asked a question – here’s your answer.

    A) You’re concerned about the mistreatment of Chickens? Fantastic – Chickens are mistreated, slaughtered and handled like RAGDOLLS for consumption. Daily. Billions of them.

    Yet a few for SCIENCE is what have you up in arms? Let me make this clear, I find your “outrage” to be quite misguided and misdirected as you find Horners answer unsatisfactory. Don’t give me “I’m outraged by KFC too!” yeah, you should probably figure out which one you should be more concerned about first – as the level of “Mistreatment” is no more than “keep them in a few cages and modify their eggs and hatch” – what do you think they do? Play catch with them? What sort of PHYSICAL pain do you suppose they go through?

    B) Do you honestly think this would go forward if the only rational is “satisfying 6th graders”? The pros outweigh, GREATLY the cons, which apparently to you, is ‘mistreatment’. Besides “satisfying 6th graders and its cool” theres:

    – A higher understanding of dinosaurs, their history
    – Higher understanding of the evolutionary path that it took
    – Higher understanding of genetics, especially in the medical field
    – This “unlocking” of genes can be applied to humans
    – This means the possiblity of unlocking the gene to hibernation in humans
    – Results in possible applications via traveling through the VAST fields of SPACE.
    – Reveals the process of DNA, how different genes can be applied
    – The list goes on

    There are literally HUNDREDS of benefits from this experiment that can help us take a step closer from growing LIMBS and ORGANS that save lives, to space travel where astronauts can travel while in a hibernetic state. And here, you – your concern is “Some chickens are going to have to be in cages”.

    C) I’m all for putting an end to animal abuse, but your complete ignorance in that as well, baffles me where it almost hurts. Let me give you a LITTLE hint, as much as I’d like to believe animals are all equal – they do NOT feel the same level of pain we do.

    Humans have a very, very sophisticated nervous system, insects, lobsters, crabs, many invertibrates and CHICKENS have such a simplistic nervous system they literally aren’t capable of feeling pain NEARLY the same level we do. As people. Not even close. They can react to stop being physically harmed, but their “PAIN” is nothing like ours. Nothing.

    Animals of higher order intelligence DO. That includes pretty much every mammal, even then – this varies by the animal itself.

    D) Animal breeding is unethical? I’m sorry, but you’re cliched vegan rhetoric plays its ignorance out like a bad movie.

    You’re implying, again – Chickens are equal to Humans in which way? Let me direct you to the above.

    Animals like dogs and cats are not consenting creatures. They can’t consent to anything – this brings the ethical problems such as euthanasia in people and in your example someone in comatose. But their FAMILY consents for them.

    Is “selective breeding” in humans okay? Really? I can’t even BEGIN to dignify that question with a real answer.

    Selective breeding has been around since the beginning of civilization in Mesopotamia – without selective breeding farmed fruits today, and domestic animals today wouldn’t exist.

    Wolves would be wolves, humble fruits like the banana wouldn’t exist,  cats wouldn’t exist – yet you’re turning “selective breeding” as if it is some  capture, and KILL/Torture until you get the right animal?

    Killing hundreds and thousands in the process? Are you fucking stupid? Do you know what selective breeding even is or how it’s done? Unless you’re in a puppy mill (completely illegal) breeders love the living CRAP out of their dogs. The simple ACT of “selective breeding” kills NOTHING unless the person that is doing it, wants to. And I doubt the process to “Chickenosaurus” will have ANY killing due to the high value of EVERY step of the process.

    Let me conclude: Yes, we KNOW animals have feelings, we KNOW they can suffer – but you CANNOT apply what is human, and personify that into an animal. Each animal has a different level of intelligence, what is a dog, is not a lobster – they do NOT feel the same pain, a dog is hundreds of millions of times more complicated than a said Chicken.

    I’m for medical research in animals, because it saves LIVES. Animal research allowed and given YOU, 12 more years in your ENTIRE life, to protest animal research.

    I’m an animal activist, and your cliched vegan ignorant “don’t touch animals for any reason” rhetoric, where you pretend ANYONE in a labcoat with animals is a monsterous villain for profit – makes me absolutely sick, and horrifically DISGUSTED. Especially when you’re going to blog about how “a human in comatose” with BILLION times complexity in neural connections is the equivalent of a Chicken with so few, it can operate for WEEKS without a head.

    So then – why Is No One Criticizing Jack Horner And The Chickenosaurus? Because scientists aren’t so ignorant to believe “Keeping a few chickens” is a good excuse to NOT advance scientific and medical enlightenment.

    Thank you.

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  • sinabey

    “Do they? I don’t. Dog breeding, cat breeding, horse breeding – it’s all unethical. Animals are not ours to breed and modify as we see fit, killing hundreds or thousands in the process, thirsting after the perfect lap dog or thoroughbred.”

    um… you do know that, the entire species of dogs exists because of selective breeding, right? you might need to extend your scope like forty thousand years if you are against selective breeding. So I believe you also realize that by extension, you are against the dogs, too. “Man’s best friend” was not man’s best friend at some point. you might want to look into how we got to become friends as two initially completely irrelevant species. Before, you know, criticising an entire school of thought based on experimentation and the cumulative knowledge of generations of scientists who worked on biology.

    I think you are confusing selective breeding with some cheesy science fiction. anyone who owns a pair of aquarium fish that they chose by their color, is exercising the evil science of selective breeding… it’s not the island of dr. moreau.

    also, there is no dinosaur dna extraction at any point of the explained process. are you sure you watched the entire ted talk?