There’s a viral video going around of someone playing “Insane In The Membrane” through the chromatophores of a squid, causing a pretty visual effect. I’m sure the squid would have been thrilled to know it was sacrificed in the pursuit of such valuable knowledge.
There is a very real possibility that the squid was alive for this “experiment”. There’s no indication in the video itself, and I can’t find research by the lab (run by Roger Hanlon at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA) which describes its preparation of squid fins for such video, but here is another video by the same lab, which purports to be of “live squid skin closeups” and shows extremely similar footage. Is anyone else watching the “Insane” video and seeing a live squid being electrocuted so that someone can watch pretty colors dance to Cypress Hill?
Hanlon’s lab is doing actual research on squid coloration and how the animals use color for visual communication; the company responsible for the frivolous “Insane In The Chromatophores” video is called Backyard Brains, and bills itself as “DIY neuroscience for everyone“. This makes me nervous. On the one hand: encouraging kids to think about science and to play with the world: this is good. On the other hand: encouraging kids to rip the legs off live cockroaches to demonstrate neuron activity…”Don’t worry, they can grow back“? Really? Their newest “experiment” is the RoboRoach, which encourages kids to wire live roaches up to little electronic control units and steer them around. I’m speechless.
I’m all for teaching kids science! Learning is valuable and education is vital, and hands-on experiments are great for getting kids involved and interested. But…surely there is some other way to demonstrate this phenomenon? Even if the insects are, as the authors claim, anesthetized, and the hands-on research really does “increase understanding of neuroscience concepts“, what is this teaching kids about treating animals as things whose needs do not matter compared to ours? How long until little Bobby wonders if the cat also twitches when you wire him up?
Favorite sentence: “It’s very important to avoid anthropomorphizing the cockroach with thoughts like ‘If I do not want my own leg cut off, then the cockroach does not want its leg cut off.'”
That makes it all terribly convenient, doesn’t it? The cockroach doesn’t care about the loss of a leg in a way it can communicate to us (or in a way that we care to receive), therefore it just doesn’t care, and therefore we can just lop the leg off a cockroach whenever we like, to show kids things about nerve conductivity. Even if it is valuable science — maybe we could just do this once and then share the video? We could set it to Cypress Hill.