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July 21, 2002
You'll Only Get Answers
I mentioned the other day that I've usually had a good response when I tell people about what I do for a living. There are exceptions, though. A few years ago, my wife and I were walking through a shopping mall, when we were stopped by two scruffy teenage survey takers.
"Would you like to take a - "
" - survey about animal rights?"
That put a new light on things. "Actually, yes. . ."
So we split up, and started in on the questions. Was I familiar with the idea of animal testing? Yes indeed. Did I realize that the medicines I took had been tested on animals? I most certainly did. Was I in favor of this? Damn right I was.
That broke his stride a little bit, but he recovered. What would be my opinion of some medical product if I found out that it had been tested on animals? More favorable. Now my surveyor was bogging down, and he stopped to stare at me. "Well," I said, "I work in the pharmaceutical industry. I'm actually very happy when something I've made gets tested on animals, because that means it's something that might actually work."
I could see him briefly trying, and failing, to integrate that into his worldview. What, um, would my attitude be, er, about this list of products made by companies that had sworn to do no animal testing? My wife and her surveyor had reached this question, by a similar route, and I could hear her starting in on him: "I'm supposed to feel good because they're using stuff that's right out of the National Formulary? Because all the animal testing was done years ago by someone else, these people are more righteous?"
One of my wife's jobs, before we met, was in the lab at a cosmetics company, as fate would have it. Both of the teenagers stared at us, as if we'd pulled off latex masks and reveled ourselves as green-skinned aliens. "Any more questions?" A shaking of heads. We handed them back their lists of the elect and went on our way.
I'd like to think we left them, like Coleridge's wedding guest, sadder and wiser, but I'm sure we didn't. I think we left them wondering if they could just chuck our answers completely, since we were obviously pulling their legs. I mean, what other explanation was there?<
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