Garet Lahvis is a former professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. He graduated from Brown University with a bachelor degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (‘83), from the University of Michigan with a master’s degree in Natural Resources (‘87), and the University of Maryland with a master’s degree in Toxicology (92) and a doctorate in Immunology (‘97). He is the recipient of two literary awards. One of his essays was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Over the first half of his scientific career, Garet’s research focused primarily on understanding how chemical pollutants in the environment contribute to disease, mostly in wild animals. He was the first scientist to find a link between body burdens of PCBs, a ubiquitous group of chemical pollutants, and immune susceptibilities of bottlenose dolphins to ongoing mass mortality events along the Atlantic Coast. Years later, at the University of Wisconsin, Garet identified a natural function of the mammalian receptor for dioxins, another group of ubiquitous chemical pollutants contributing to diseases ranging from human cancers to beak deformities in fish-eating birds.
As a professor, Garet shifted his focus toward gaining a greater understanding of the social emotions of laboratory mice, his objective to identify the environmental risk factors for Autism and gain a greater understanding of nonhuman animal subjective experiences. Through careful experiments, his laboratory discovered that mice feel pleasure from the company of other mice and empathy for their pain.
Discovering that mice have feelings for other mice, he started questioning whether mice also had feelings about the impoverished environmental conditions inside laboratory cages. He found substantial scientific evidence that their squalid environments rendered them physically and mentally feeble, making caged animals often inadequate as models of human health and disease. Nature and Science magazines featured his argument against the unquestioned relevance of caged animal studies. After publishing 45 peer-reviewed papers, Garet left animal research, convinced that if he took the implications of his research seriously, he would have to stop doing it.
Garet is now writing a book for the University of Chicago Press. It argues that because nonhuman animals can have rational and felt mental experiences, human privilege must be tethered to a stronger sense of obligation to other species. At Harvard, Garet will collaborate with scholars in law, ethics, religion, and science to help develop a comprehensive reassessment of how we interact with individuals of other species, their communities, and their habitats. The stakes, he argues, are critical. At issue is what it means for each of us to be human.
TEDx talk: The Inescapable Problem of Animal Restraint
Correspondence in Nature Magazine: Make Animal Models More Meaningful
Essay in eLife Magazine: Unbridle biomedical research from the laboratory cage
Interview in Science Magazine, written by David Grimm: Swapping a cage for a barn: Can lab animals be studied in the wild?
Interview in Psychology Today, written with Marc Bekoff: Do Uncaged Animals Produce More Reliable Science?