Monkey mother seen holding the hand of her child in the cage Jana Cavojska/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Volkswagen’s Monkeys

Could the vehemence of the response to revelations of the carmaker's experiments on the effects of diesel exhaust indicate a tectonic shift in ethical attitudes toward animals? To answer that question requires examining some details about the experiments and the reaction to them.

MELBOURNE – Late last month, the New York Times reported that researchers used monkeys to test the effects of inhaling diesel fumes from a Volkswagen. The research was commissioned by the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector, an organization funded entirely by three big German car manufacturers: Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW.

The reaction to this revelation has been unequivocal repudiation – by the public, the German government, and Volkswagen itself – of the use of the monkeys. Why? Could the vehemence of the response indicate a tectonic shift in ethical attitudes toward animals? To answer that question requires examining some details about the experiments and the reaction to them.

The research, carried out in Albuquerque, New Mexico, involved placing ten monkeys in small airtight containers into which, over a period of four hours, the exhaust fumes were piped. Later, a tube was stuck down the monkeys’ throats to take tissue samples from their lungs.

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