Laure Hoenen on Animal Ethics and New Course in Science Fiction & the Other

Laure Hoenen on Animal Ethics and New Course in Science Fiction & the Other

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Hi this is Steve Latham at the Yale Interdisciplinary
Center for Bioethics, and I am here with Laure Hoenen – welcome! Thanks for sitting here with me for a little
interview. Thank you for having me. I want to start off by having you tell me
a little about your educational background and your interests in Bioethics. Okay! I did a bachelor in biology, so I studied
biology as an undergrad, and then realizing that I am more interested in how science is
done than doing science, I moved on to history of science for my master degree, and now I
am doing a PhD in history of science. More specifically, history of primatology. History of primatology? Yes. And where are you doing that? At Strasbourg University in France, and that’s
where I did all my education. And what is your doctoral work? Is it a history of primatology? Yes, it’s the history of an institution that
is based in Strasbourg, and they have primates – monkeys not primates – some of them are
dedicated to ethology, so the study of behavior, and the others are going to be involved in
biomedical research. So I am interested in how those both activities
cohabit, live together in the same institution, and how this cohabitation happened through
history. Because it’s weird, I am interested in the
weirdness of that institution. Okay, good. And how did you become involved with the Summer
Bioethics Institute? During after my bachelor degree, I was not
sure if I wanted to do history of science or bioethics, so there were two master degrees
I was interested in, so I did both. I did the first year at the same time, and
at the end of the first year of my master in ethics in Strasbourg, I had the opportunity
to come here, so I came here as a student in 2013. Was great, I really enjoyed it, and left wishing
one day I could do a seminar, one class about animal ethics. And a few years later, in 2016, I had been
asked to co-teach the animal ethics seminar which I am really happy I get to do that. So when you say animal ethics, what kinds
of issues do you cover? Okay, so I personally am interested in animal
experimentation, but during the class we talk about environmental – the wildlife, we talk
about slaughterhouses and food animals, we talk about gene-editing of animals, and the
question of should we give more status to animals – we touch on a lot of things. And who are you co-teaching this with? With Jennifer Maas, she is a vet here, she
is American. She is working in Massachusetts, probably
doing an interview, so you will see her. Yes I will be speaking with her. Yes, so I am co-leading that seminar with
her. Excellent. And how’s it going? Great! The students are great. They are getting – usually the first seminars
are the quiet ones and then they get more and more – there is the idea of safe space
in class, and they get more and more into the safe place and they get more open and
free to talk about the topics with us and with other students, so it’s going great. Good. And you’re about halfway through now? Yes. I just had the last class of the second week,
so only one week. Only one week left. Yes, time flies, every year it’s the same
– you just arrive and the program is over! Do you know if many of the students in your
class are doing animal ethics for their final projects – posters and papers? Two of them. One is about human exceptionalism, so what
makes humans human, and if there is a barrier between humans and animals, and what should
criteria be to define to whom we should give rights. And the other one is about euthanasia as a
way to relieve pain, so is it moral to kill an animal in the context of animal research. Let’s say you’re going to come back and teach
again, as I hope you do, is there anything you’d like to do differently, or anything
you’d like to try? Yes. So, I’d like to try to co-teach – I like co-teaching
– and I feel that some of my students are getting confused with this idea of agency,
consciousness, awareness into animals, and how do we decide if they’re conscious or not
and what are the consequences of those decisions – so I went to Kata Merle’s class, she’s teaching
neuralethics, and it was really interesting, because a lot of students say it’s all in
the brain, but then I am not a neuroscientist so I am not an expert on that, so it would
be interesting to have classes merging at some point, and do a class on consciousness
or neurology into animals, so she could benefit from my animal ethics perspective, and the
students could benefit from hers. So, there’s another seminar that you’re teaching
besides the animal ethics co-teaching, could you describe that one too? Yes, it’s a new one, it’s a new addition to
this year. It’s called Aliens Among Us, using science
fiction to think about Other. So the idea is to think about how we define
other, and using sci-fi to think about it. We talk about robots, we talk about alien
life, and we talk about enhanced humans. And the purpose is not only to think, to use
sci-fi, but also to bring that back to our current reality and current issues in Bioethics. So, what kinds of science fiction are you
looking at? For robots, first week we used Asimov and
Westworld, the TV show. And last week for aliens, we used Star Trek,
the series. Great! I try to use classical stories. And do people watch these at home? You sort of show them a YouTube channel that
has? No, so how I do is for the reading they have
one academic paper about the topic more concrete that I want them to talk about and one that
is sci-fi reading. And then in class I select excerpts from different
shows and movies and we watch them. Usually, it’s maybe 20 minutes of watching
something – a film or excerpts, and then we do the class and then we discuss the issues
brought both in the class and through the excerpts. And are the students enjoying it? I think so! Some of them I ask who is a Trekkie here,
and some of them are like yes, I’m a baby Trekkie, I am interested in Star Trek, and
some of them are just curious, and I think it’s a good way to get their attention. It’s creative. I wanted to dedicate the last class for them
to write science fiction from a bioethical perspective – that’s the idea. We’ll see how it goes. And when are you going to be finishing your
PhD do you think? Hopefully I will defend it towards December
2019, so I should be getting it back by next summer, so next summer hopefully I will be
almost done with it. Excellent.That’s the project. And after that, you are going to be looking
for academic positions in what sorts of areas? History of science? Animal studies. Animal studies, okay. I am very interested in animal studies, and
it’s a field that I feel is more understood in the U.S. than in France. And also because I like the research and teaching
feeling, how research and teaching is done in the U.S. so I would like to experience
it for a more extended period of time, so if I could do a post-doc in the U.S. that
would be really nice. I need to look into that. Good. Well, good luck, and thank you for your teaching
this summer, and thanks for sitting down with me for this little interview. Thank you very much.

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