Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Branch Support Values: No Torture For You!

After the splashy courtroom shows (HIV cases and in enforcing the Endangered Species Act), it seems that phylogenetic approaches are now slated for broader constitutional considerations.

Perhaps as a sign of things to come, first there was the case of the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-human Biotechnology and their moral consideration of plants' rights. Among the natural questions that arise are: What is a plant, and why stop there? Now, a New York Times column reports, the Spanish Parliament granted limited rights to non-human primates. It seems near-certain that the extent of rights and freedoms will be weighed by phylogenetic position and the phenotypic measurement of "human qualities."

There are, of course, other outstanding questions. Will the governments choose to go rank-free? Will they use parsimony? Will they assume that all polytomies are soft? Which species will get shafted because of the Felsenstein Zone?

As we wait for those and other answers, I recommend a perusal of the opening passage of that Times column:
"If you caught your son burning ants with a magnifying glass, would it bother you less than if you found him torturing a mouse with a soldering iron? How about a snake? How about his sister?"


Susan Perkins said...

Why do I have this sick feeling that the tree they choose to use will be a neighbor-joining one?

Glor said...

This reminds of Boris' famous retort to those asking why he's a vegetarian: "It's not that I like animals, I just really hate plants."

Jeremy said...

Do unto your sister-group as you would have them do unto you?

Poletarac said...

Thanks for crediting me with the vegetarian quote, but that's actually someone else's original (maybe A. Whitney Brown's, according to Google)?