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Life explores animal sentience in Science Speakeasy

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Life communications


Do animals experience the same kind of feelings as humans and should they have the same rights as us?

  • Controversial topic will be covered as part of ‘Science Speakeasy’ a series of scientifically informed debates for adults in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
  • Attendees will hear from academics specialising in animal behaviour, animal welfare and philosophy.
  • June 15 is International Working Animal Day – highlighting the everyday reality of working animals across the globe. 

One year on from the creation of the UK’s Animal Sentience Act, Life Science Centre in Newcastle is hosting the latest event in their adults-only Science Speakeasy series.  Elephant in the (Court) Room will bring together a panel of experts to explore the concept of animal sentience; whether animals have the capacity to experience positive and negative feelings such as pleasure, joy, pain and distress. They will discuss with the audience the implications of granting animals’ ‘personhood’ status, and the impact of human interaction with the animal world.

Is it possible for a cat to have a sense of humour? Is it ethical to use animals for labour? Should dogs have the same rights as humans? What about the emotional capacity of a lobster? Life will bring members of the public and experts together to explore these and many more intriguing questions in a thought-provoking debate.

The event will feature a panel of esteemed experts in the field, including;

Dr. Rajesh Reddy, Director of the Animal Law Program at the Centre for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, and board member of Minding Animals International and the International Coalition for Animal Protection.

Dr. Heather Browning, Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Southampton. Dr. Browning’s research in animal sentience and welfare contributed significantly to the expansion of the UK’s Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act to include protection for cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans.

Dr. Vivek Nityananda, a BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow at Newcastle University. With a rich background in studying the ecology and evolution of sensory and cognitive behaviour, particularly in insects, Dr. Nityananda brings unique insights to our exploration of animal sentience.

Professor Sarah Wolfensohn OBE, a professor of Animal Welfare at the University of Surrey’s Veterinary School. Alongside her academic career, she also runs an independent consultancy on animal health and welfare, and is a RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) Recognised Specialist in Laboratory Animal Science. Her areas of expertise include animal welfare and lifetime experience training and assessing, as well as ethical evaluation. She has published many books, research papers and review articles on the topic, and was awarded an OBE for services to animal welfare in the Queen’s birthday honours in 2012.

“Our scientific understanding of Animal Sentience is moving quickly, but our application of this knowledge hasn’t kept pace.

On the whole, we accept animals have a moral right to protection, but without personhood, they are still technically considered property and therefore not afforded the same rights as humans by law.

The first-ever animal sentience committee was formally launched in May; the independent committee will support Parliament in assessing how well policy decision-making across Government effectively considers animal welfare.

“We hope this event will give attendees some insight into the science that will be informing these policy decisions.”

Linda Conlon, Chief Executive, Life

The Speakeasy programme aims to tackle important and often controversial topics through informed debate. No topic is taboo, but all discussion is based on correct science to avoid the spread of misinformation.

Find out more and book tickets on our event page.

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