Integrity rules

General rules of conduct for people, institutes and businesses that, for some unfathomable reason, happen to value integrity, and want to get rid of the culture of (self)censorship:


  • Integrity means being open and honest always.

Ground rules

  • We say the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth (as we see it). Grasping the truth is necessary for informed moral and political decision making.
  • We frequently ask ourselves: “Can we be open and honest about this?

If the answer is ‘No‘, we need a valid reason. A valid reason differs from a fallacy by holding up when challenged by the question ‘Really?’. Fallacies include the promotion of self-interest and avoiding retaliation based on fear.

If the answer is ‘Yes’, then we say ‘OK, let’s do it’, implying we will actually be open and honest about it.

  • A confidentiality agreement is a valid reason for not being open. Confidential information is kept confidential.

Regarding ourselves

  • We will no longer just say and think we are open and honest. We are critical about the level of integrity of ourselves and others until it shows, i.e. integrity is not just what we say. It is what we do.
  • We never think we can’t be wrong.
  • We never hide or twist the truth because of how others may respond to us being open and honest.
  • We say sorry if we were wrong & appreciate being corrected.

Regarding others

  • We are not paternalistic. Everybody has a right to decide for him/her self.
  • We are not only open and honest about things that matter from our point of view. We also show integrity regarding others may find relevant from their point of view.
  • We don’t take advantage in any way of people who are open and honest (from their own point of view). They get the benefit of the doubt, because integrity makes a person vulnerable enough in and of itself.
  • Whoever is right, can get the acknowledgement for being right.
  • Anyone who harms others solely because they have been open and honest is exposed to public disapproval of this harmful behaviour (just by being open and honest about it).

Regarding (social) space and time

  • Everyone is free to participate in societal debate provided they show integrity.
  • Employees also have freedom of expression in societal debate provided they make clear they are communicating a titre personnel, rather than as (an employee/representative of) a business or institute.
  • We are not only open and honest now. Integrity also applies to (being truthful about and taking responsibility for our actions in) the past.

Regarding businesses and institutes (including universities)

  • Businesses and institutes demand & cultivate open and honest internal and external communication.
  • They provide a safe environment to be open and honest.
  • They are resistant to complaints about employees communicating a titre personnel, and they are completely open and honest about such complaints, not only internally but also externally.
  • They have appropriate, operational and effective procedures to settle differences of opinion, and they are open and honest about cases, motivation (reasons) and outcomes regarding challenges involving integrity.
  • They have a zero-tolerance policy for improper arguments (e.g. fear) to waive a complaint/review procedure.

Why would we?

These integrity rules are necessary and sufficient conditions for a just and sustainable future.

Science & society, including in particular livestock farming, should be critical of her own integrity (so prove it rather than presuppose it), should have no fear of telling or knowing the truth, and should want to know, i.e. be ‘philo-sophos’, lover of wisdom & knowledge, much more so than being client-friendly or (bulk-)market-directed (see also this thread on Twitter).

Before you leave

I appreciated receiving open and honest feedback on what you think about these rules and how they could be improved.

Posted in Code of conduct, Ethics, Integrity, Justice, Justice, Politics, Science, Semantics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Did European pig-welfare legislation reduce pig welfare? Perhaps not, but experts confirm that common indestructible materials are not proper enrichment for pigs at all, except perhaps for an enhanced novel branched-chains design.

Published as:
Marc B.M. Bracke and Paul Koene, 2019. Expert opinion on metal chains and other indestructible objects as proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs. PLOS ONE. Available at

EC Directive 2001/93 requires that all pigs have access to proper investigation and manipulation materials. Intensively farmed pigs in Europe are frequently provided with a short/bare metal chain with or without an indestructible object attached to the chain. To date authorities are regarding this as proper enrichment. However, it has become increasingly clear that the chains do not provide proper enrichment, and that adding an indestructible object such as a ball, pipe or hard wood to the end of the chain may even reduce pig welfare. To test this hypothesis an expert survey was conducted. In total 36 international experts, mostly pig-welfare scientists, responded to the survey.

The experts only marginally agreed with the hypothesis (agreement score 4.6 on average on a scale from 0-10). However, indestructible materials generally received very low scores for welfare, indicating they did not provide proper enrichment. Ranked from low to high average welfare score, the objects were grouped in 5 significance levels:

Level 5 (totally insufficient): Chain hanging too high (for most of the smallest pigs in the pen; average score 1.3 on a scale from 0 to 10 where 5.5 would be ‘acceptable’)

Level 4 (extremely insufficient): Short chain (3.1), Small ball (2.8) and Big ball (average 2.5)

Level 3: (very insufficient) Pipe (3.5) and Bare chain (3.3)

Level 2-3 (very/rather insufficient): Hard wood (3.7)

Level 2 (rather insufficient): Chain on the floor (average: 4.4)

Level 1 (almost sufficient): Branched chains (5.1)

Compared to the marginal enrichment provided before the EC Directive 2001/93 was implemented in 2007 (in the Netherlands generally a short/bare chain, scoring 3.1 and 3.3 respectively, i.e. Level 3-4), adding balls or pipe , as commonly done in The Netherlands and Germany, does not improve pig welfare. Hard wood, as practised esp. in the UK, is a most marginal improvement (only 0.4 higher on average than Bare chain). Chain on the floor scored a bit better (4.4), without being acceptable (set at 5.5). The ‘new’ Branched chains scored significantly better than all other indestructible materials and its welfare score (5.1 on average) was close to the pre-defined level of acceptability (5.5 on a scale from 0, worst, to 10, best). The welfare benefits of adding balls, pipes or hard wood to the metal chain were marginal, and well below what the experts considered acceptable enrichment. The branched-chains design, by contrast, appears to be the most viable alternative. It involves providing a longer chain, i.e. with the free end reaching to floor level, adding ‘branches’, i.e. several short chains ending at the nose height of the pigs, and providing more chains per pen (i.e. 1 branched chain per 5 pigs). Therefore, the implementation of current pig-enrichment legislation needs revision. Branched chains should be implemented widely (across the globe) and in the short term as a first step towards, and benchmark for, providing proper enrichment to intensively-farmed pigs.

The above summary of the publication is a personal version of the first author. See also the related publication and posts on the FareWellDock website:

Chains as enrichment for pigs (Book chapter with supplement)
Pig animation – Improved, branched chain design as proper enrichment for pigs
Branched chains as enrichment for pigs (technical description, pictures and video)
Proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs – From review to preview
A collection of pictures of other enrichment materials for pigs can be found here: Prize contest (Prijsvraag) 2011.
Do pigs play with chains? Science versus society

Original abstract of the PLOS ONE paper:

Marc B.M. Bracke and Paul Koene, 2019. Expert opinion on metal chains and other indestructible objects as proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs. PLOS ONE. Available at


EC Directive 2001/93 requires that all pigs have access to proper investigation and manipulation materials. Intensively farmed pigs in Europe are frequently provided with a short metal chain with or without an indestructible object attached to the chain. To date authorities are regarding this as proper enrichment, perhaps with (in)direct reference to the RICHPIG model as a justification. However, it has become increasingly clear that the chains do not provide proper enrichment, and that adding an indestructible object to the end of the chain may even reduce rather than improve pig welfare. To test this hypothesis an expert survey was conducted containing 26 more or less compound questions. On a scale from 0 to 10 experts specified their level of agreement with the hypothesis, the prevalence and welfare scores of nine indestructible enrichment materials. In total 36 experts, mostly pig-welfare scientists, responded (response rate: 39%). Indestructible objects are less prevalent in countries that provide straw (like Sweden and the UK) and outside the EU (US). They are more prevalent in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Finland, while the prevalence seems to be low in Spain. Balls, wood and pipes were provided most frequently: hard wood especially in the UK (as specified in farm assurance); indestructible balls and pipes in Germany and the Netherlands. The experts’ score for agreement with the hypothesis was only 4.6 on average (scale 0-10; n=25). Enrichment materials, ranked from high to low welfare score, were grouped in 5 significance levels as indicated by different superscripts based on Wilcoxon signed rank tests: Branched chains (5.1a), Chain on the floor (4.4b), Hard wood (3.7bc), Pipe (3.5c), Bare chain (3.3c), Short chain (3.1d), Small ball (2.8d), Big ball (2.5d), and Chain hanging too high (1.3e). Branched chains scored significantly better than all other indestructible materials and its welfare score (5.1 on average) was close to the pre-defined level of acceptability (5.5 on a scale from 0, worst, to 10, best). The welfare benefits of adding balls, pipes or hard wood to the metal chain were marginal, and well below what the experts considered acceptable enrichment. The branched-chains design, by contrast, appears to be the most viable alternative. It involves providing a longer chain, i.e. with the free end reaching to floor level, adding ‘branches’, i.e. several short chains ending at the nose height of the pigs, and providing more chains per pen (i.e. 1 branched chain per 5 pigs). Branched chains should be implemented widely and in the short term as a first step towards, and benchmark for, providing proper enrichment to intensively-farmed pigs.

Branched chain
Two organic pigs interacting simultaneously with a branched chain in the snow. Despite access to a straw bed for rooting, even organic pigs may interact with such chains for long periods of time, esp. directed towards the floor. In fact they will root the chain on the floor more than twice as much as playing with it in a horizontal position. In intensive pig production chains are often (too) short, and when a hockey-type ball or ‘sustainable’ plastic pipe is attached to the end of such a chain the pigs’ interest, and their welfare, is often even reduced further.
Two pigs playing simultaneously with a preferred anchor-type branched chain design.

Posted in Enrichment, Ethics, Experts, Future, Justice, Modelling, Pigs, Politics, Science | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How can we feed the world?

How can we feed the world? That is no doubt a serious question. In this post I show why this question is also ambiguous in a way that may be blocking a sustainable solution.

The problem

The world population is growing, and thus demanding more food. However, agriculture is unlikely to keep up the pace, especially since poor nations are also expected to acquire lifestyles enjoyed in the West. To make things worse, current production methods are not sustainable due to issues with environmental degradation, climate change, and the impacts on public health and animal welfare. Since sustainable production is generally less productive, food shortages can be anticipated, potentially leading to hunger and social conflict. Thus, we really need to find a way to feed the world. But how?


In order to pinpoint the ambiguities in this question, let’s break it down into its parts, and discuss each part in turn: How – can – we – feed – the world?


How – suggests a technological solution is called for. Indeed, it would be wonderful if we could redesign current systems, making them both more productive and sustainable at the same time. However, such a technological innovation would at best be a temporary solution, because main underlying causes are chronic and not to be found out there in the world.


Can – suggests optimism about our problem-solving abilities. An impressively efficient food-production system has been developed since the Second World War. Smartphones and solar panels may further justify optimism about our technological capabilities. So, perhaps we can tackle the food issue as well. But the problem is complex, as our food system is built on a long series of technological innovations and it is extremely resistant to alternatives lacking an appealing business model. Our food system is also firmly embedded in fixed belief structures concerning free will in free markets, which, soon or later, will probably have to be changed as well. We have shown excellence in mastering the world through technological innovation. But I don’t think we can be as optimistic when it comes to mastering ourselves.


We – may refer to ‘all of us’, i.e. how can we feed the world together? But ‘we’ may also refer to an elite group of people, such as a consortium of research partners or the farmers of a small country. In this sense, ‘we’ may be portraying ourselves as having divine powers like dropping manna from the sky. But do ‘we’ really want to feed the world because we care for people as Jesus presumably did? Or are ‘we’ primarily raising the question as part of a business model, e.g. to raise money to open up new markets or to do (more) innovative research? Or, as Mark Bittman put it: “Feeding the world” might as well be a marketing slogan for Big Ag, a euphemism for “Let’s ramp up sales” (NYT, Oct 14, 2013).


Feed – suggests that we are like a mother that ‘feeds’ her children. Alternatively, it may mean that we are farmers selling produce, such that people can feed their families, if they can afford it. In fact, however, it more often means that ‘we’ will be working on innovations so (some) farmers can (just) stay in business. So, the word ‘feeding’ is not to be taken literally at all. In addition, the word ‘feeding’ suggests providing sufficient nutrients to sustain life. But the thing is, we are already producing enough food to feed the global population of 2050. Therefore, since more affordable food is likely to lead to an increase in demand, it may concern a quest for sustained decadence, rather than providing nutrients per se. As long as one third of our food is wasted, farmers are growing tulips rather than crops, and consumers are eating burgers rather than beans, we may well be dealing with a luxury problem here, rather than a basic human need.

The world

The world – suggests that we will be feeding all the living creatures of the world, including all people, plants and animals, wild and tame. However, ‘the world’ is more likely used here as a shorthand for ‘the world’s population of humans (only)’. In other words, in this question, we humans are the world. That, of course, is false. We are not the world. In fact, it’s more likely we have been destroying the world. And in the process we seem to have ‘forgotten’ that animals matter as well, and that we and all other animals need the natural environment in order to flourish. But, this seemingly innocent semantic mistake of equating us with the world is reason for concern. It may be indicative of exactly the frame of mind, characterised by oversimplifying economic rationalisation and cognitive dissonance, that has resulted in both the excellent production efficiency and the apparent unsustainability of our current food-production system. As long as that frame of mind remains ‘in business’ and we continue to ignore our own responsibilities, we have little chance of properly addressing the problem.


The question ‘How can we feed the world?’ poses a real challenge, but it does so in a most ambiguous way. In fact, every part of this question is raising one or more ambiguities. It is hard to see how this issue can be solved, if we remain over-optimistic about technological solutions, while largely ignorant about underlying mechanisms and our own moral responsibilities. It will be extremely difficult to change our habits and ‘re-invent’ ourselves. Therefore, we urgently have to start acknowledging that we ourselves are the root cause of the problem that needs to be tackled.

Sunset on the world
See also my related posts on Integrity and the circular welfare economy (and the related column in Dutch).

Posted in Animal welfare, Ethics, Food, Future, Happiness, Money, Politics, Population, Public, Science | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pig animation – Improved, branched chain design as proper enrichment for pigs

Pig animation: Rearing pigs in barren conditions reduces their welfare. Enrichment of pig pens is needed to allow the performance of species-specific natural behaviour like rooting. A metal chain provides rather limited enrichment, but when presented in an optimized way, may substantially improve the welfare of conventionally reared pigs in a most feasible way. The short metal chain can be optimize into the branched chain design. This is a long anchor-chain type chain reaching until floor level, with 2 or 3 shorter chain branches at nose height, and 1 such a branched chain being provided for every 5 pigs in the pen.

The underlying ideas are shown in the pig animation above and described in more detail in this book chapter:

Bracke MBM. Chains as proper enrichment for pigs (incl. supplement). In: Spinka M, editor. Advances in Pig Welfare: Elsevier (2017).


This chapter primarily compiles work in which the author (Marc Bracke) has been involved with providing science-based decision support on the question of what is proper enrichment material for intensively-farmed pigs as required by EC Directive 2001/93/EC. Proper manipulable material should primarily provide occupation (i.e. reduce boredom), and preferably reduce tail biting.

The RICHPIG model was built expressing enrichment value as a score on a scale from 0 to 10. Metal objects like short metal chains had the lowest score. Subsequently, the Dutch government banned the use of metal chains, and most Dutch pig farmers attached a hard plastic ball or pipe to the prevalent, short metal chain. Unfortunately, our on-farm observations repeatedly suggested that this ‘enrichment’ may have reduced pig welfare, rather than improving it as intended by the Directive.

So-called AMI (animal-material interaction) sensors can be used to (semi-)automatically record object manipulation by attaching a motion sensor to hanging objects. Exploratory data are presented to, directly and indirectly, record enrichment value. AMI-sensors may provide objective, flexible and feasible registration tools of enrichment value, but their application is still rather demanding.

That the enrichment value of short metal chains can be improved upon, e.g. by providing branched chains. Essentially, this entails making chains longer, preferably reaching until the floor, and making them more readily available in a pig pen. To facilitate the process towards proper enrichment the principle of intelligent natural design (IND) is proposed. IND entails organising a repeated selection process of the (currently) best-available enrichment material so as to gradually reduce pig boredom and enhance the opportunities for the rearing of pigs with intact tails. IND should start with basically all pig farmers implementing promising enrichment like the branched-chain design on their farms as soon as possible, followed by conducting small-scale on-farm experiments to compare and improve enrichment through sharing of available knowledge. Suggestions are given as to how and why this novel approach can be implemented to solve persistent animal-welfare problems like providing proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs.

Related posts:

Chains as enrichment for pigs (Book chapter with supplement)
Ketting als hokverrijking voor varkens (incl. link naar het supplement)
Branched chains as enrichment for pigs (technical description, pictures and video)
Future of intensive livestock farming: R.I.P?
Proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs – From review to preview
A collection of pictures of other enrichment materials for pigs can be found here: Prize contest (Prijsvraag) 2011.

Posted in Ethics, Happiness, Videos | Tagged , | Leave a comment

An essential element of sustainable, circular farming: Integrity & a circular welfare economy

This blog post argues to recognize the importance of an often forgotten element of sustainability: Integrity. In particular, I will argue that honesty and emotions are necessary elements of a sustainable, circular agricultural economy.


Sustainability is often perceived as triple p: People, planet, profit. One has to ‘twist’ these concepts in order to be able to fit in animal welfare. Some would say welfare is part of people, for others it is planet, or even just a matter of profit. Thus, in the case of pigs 4 p’s have been proposed as well: people, planet, profit & pigs.

Circular economy

Recently more attention is being payed to the closing of nutrient and (waste) product cycles. In particular we must reduce the use of fossil fuels (e.g. as fertilizers) in the agricultural economy. Ideally, the main waste product of livestock farming, manure, should be used to fertilize the soil on which crops are grown to feed both people and animals in a way that no nutrients get lost. This generates a circular pattern (“cradle-to-cradle”): manure->soil->plants->animals & people->manure.

Animal welfare

Animal welfare constitutes a potential problem for the concept of sustainability, and in particular for the concept of a circular agricultural economy. It does not seem to fit in naturally. Why would animal welfare matter? Of course the immediate answer is that feelings matter. But why do feeling matter in ppp or in circular agriculture? That is not immediately evident.

Technical solutions

Often a perceived lack of sustainability of current livestock farming is met with the suggestion that technological solutions may fix the problem. Accordingly we have been designing low-emission buildings, for example, and high(er) welfare systems. Similarly, we may produce locally to reduce transport driven by fossil fuels, and we may contemplate economic fixes like welfare schemes or a meat tax. Yet, despite continued efforts to find technological fixes, societal concerns over a deficient agricultural system continue to increase.


What is often overlooked in thinking about sustainability is the crucial role of integrity. Integrity can take different forms. When a pig’s tail is removed in order to adapt it to the system, that can be perceived as a violation of the pig’s integrity. Another almost self-evident lack of integrity, human integrity in this case, was the company ChickFriend, who was illegally using pesticides (fipronil) to treat red mites in poultry, thus contaminating eggs. However, a deficient integrity can be identified when producers or consumers are showing wilful blindness to welfare, environmental issues or public health concerns associated with livestock farming. Dishonesty and telling only part of the truth (even to oneself) are also indicative of inadequate human integrity leading to compromised sustainability.


In each of these sustainability areas (animal welfare, environment, public health) the key problem is welfare, that is both the welfare of humans and the welfare of non-human animals. An important distinction within welfare is the distinction between positive feelings (pleasure, happiness) and negative feelings (pain and suffering). When there are sustainability issues there is ‘pain’: animal-welfare ‘pain’, landscape ‘pain’, waste ‘pain’, climate-change ‘pain’, loss-of-biodiversity ‘pain’,  public-health ‘pain’.  Such ‘pains’ hurt, but ignoring and hiding or denying the existence of these pains is even more harmful. By contrast, positive feelings are more delightful and able to flow freely between individuals when not hampered by an overriding ‘pain’.

Circular welfare economy

What I propose here is that a sustainable, circular economy should not just concern closed nutrient cycles, but also closed welfare cycles. A circular welfare economy for livestock farming implies that the positive and negative feelings in farming and in society can freely ‘flow’ between animals and people. By taking proper care of the animals farmers convey positive welfare to the animals. In turn happy animals convey positive feelings to farmers, and to consumers and citizens. Only such a closed, circular welfare economy can be sustainable.

Not sustainable

The problem with the current agricultural economy is that she is not sustainable, not just because there are technical problems with animal welfare, environmental impact and public health, but in particular because the welfare cycles cannot close. Feelings cannot freely flow between individuals. This is because there is a (perceived) lack of honesty and truthfulness in current livestock farming.


Current livestock farming has a tendency to polarize society. Since it is based on externalising costs it has a strong tendency to show reduced integrity: a lack of (complete) truthfulness to oneself and to others about aspects that are not promoting sales or image. These issues remain hidden until they are discovered, and then we have another scandal. This pattern has been showing a tendency to repeat itself like earth quakes as a consequence of friction between tectonic plates. The scandals/earth quakes generate an increasing distrust and polarisation, and this has a tendency to further enhanced lack of human (and animal) integrity. In other words, a deficient level of integrity has self-reinforcing and hence self-destructive tendencies.

Integrity as the solution

In order to improve agricultural sustainability we must not only look for technological fixes. We must also fix ourselves. In particular we need to promote enhanced integrity, i.c. the ability to be open and honest, not only about favourable issues, but also about issues that are opposing one’s immediate self-interest. Without integrity polarisation between farmer interest groups and sustainability interest groups will continue to raise societal conflict and frustration. Instead, we need more altruism and less selfishness, in particular related to livestock farming. We need to find ways in which all feelings, both the positive and the negative ones, can flow freely between individuals. A circular welfare economy is needed to complement (or even ‘absorb’) the circular nutrient economy as a desirable sustainable food-production future. To make this possible, enhanced integrity, of both animals and people, is absolutely essential.

Circular welfare economy
See also the related column (in Dutch) and my post on How can we feed the world?

Posted in Ethics, Food, Future, Justice, Money, Semantics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How would I spend 10 billion to improve the Netherlands? I’d burn it.

How would I spend 10 billion € to improve the Netherlands? NRC newspaper asked readers to write a short answer to this question. This is my answer:

Seven opinionators already gave their answer (NRC 16 aug, 2017). Each had a proposal in line with his/her own interests. But that way we’ll never get there! Ten billion to improve the Netherlands? That’s a most interesting question. Because yes, even though we may not always want to see it, there is a lot to improve in our nice little (tax) paradise. But why would we spend 10 billion to improve only the Netherlands? Everything is connected by trade and the internet. We really have to be much more ambitious. Let’s try to improve the whole world! But how? That requires identifying the core of the problem. And that core, my dearest reader, is us, and especially our enormous greed for money. It repeatedly leads to scandals. Just think about the banks, Volkswagen and the fipronil fraud. But don’t be mistaken. The desire for money is in all of us. That’s why we are gradually heating the whole world, like frogs in a pot of water. We should jump out of the pot as soon as possible. We must make a leap of faith! We could all become peaceful Buddhists or something like that. It’s free! We should use the 10 billion to set an example to the rest of the world: We Cannon but a Better world, so we burn the 10 billion euros, like illegal ivory, and start anew.

Posted in Ethics, Future, Geen categorie, Happiness, Justice, Money, Objectives, Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Future of intensive livestock farming: R.I.P?


At the moment the future of intensive livestock farming is intensively debated in the Netherlands. The province of Noord-Brabant may be the first to actually limit the number of farm animals. The Dutch meat inspection (NVWA) is heavily criticized for more or less condoning illegal slaughter practices, and veterinarians are calling for reform.

It is a very difficult debate, because the economic and emotional interests at stake are extremely high. Perhaps in such a case an artistic impression may help put argument and emotion in perspective.

Animation: R.I.P.?

The animation below may illustrate the development of intensive livestock farming from past to future. It shows the evolutionary history of the pig, the (potential) ‘evolution’ of the intensive housing environment (improved environmental enrichment), and the end of the pig (R.I.P.). The pig, however, may also be regarded as the personification of the farmer or the livestock sector itself.

Less philosophical postscript

Rearing pigs in barren conditions reduces their welfare. Enrichment of pig pens is needed to allow the performance of species-specific natural behaviour like rooting. A metal chain provides rather limited enrichment, but when presented in an optimized way, may substantially improve the welfare of conventionally reared pigs in a most feasible way.

See also the related posts:
Pig animation – Improved, branched chain design as proper enrichment for pigs
Chains as enrichment for pigs (Book chapter with supplement)
and this post (partly in Dutch): Ketting als hokverrijking voor varkens (incl. link naar het supplement).

Posted in Art, Food, Future, Happiness, Public, Videos | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reflection on running science as a business

Would it be proper to run a scientific institute as a business, or would it be a category mistake?

Category mistake

A category mistake is a rather fundamental mistake concerning the true nature of a concept. An example would be to say that the color of bread is 100€. This is a category mistake, not because 100€ is too expensive, but because the color of an object cannot be expressed using a monetary value. Could it similarly be a category mistake to view science as a business?

Science expensive

Like the exceptionally expensive loaf of bread in the example above, science is generally exceptionally costly. This has everything to do with the nature of science for it generally requires highly specialized personnel applying rigorous methods in unique (non-routine) ways in order to generate/accumulate highly reliable and verifiable knowledge. However, science may also be perceived as inefficient.

Science as business

Thus, science has been exposed to increasing pressure to enhance its own ‘production efficiency’. To meet this objective science is increasingly viewed as if it were a ‘normal’ business. This means that a scientific institute may, for example, have front-office managers who have been trained to persuade ‘customers’ in the ‘market’ to commission research. However, it may be questioned whether it is proper to view the production of a scientific report as if it were a commercial product.

The nature of business

Efficient production is a hallmark of commercial business. Competition between businesses in a largely free market tends to stimulate efficiency in meeting market demands. In a free market cost is determined by the The true nature of business is nature, i.e. its adherence to the laws of nature, in particular the law of survival of the fittest. Thus, the business model may help reduce the cost of science by enhancing its efficiency.

A business opportunity in science

Here I want to zoom in on a rather hypothetical business case in science. Suppose a scientist is in the unique position to require an exceptionally small effort, e.g. the equivalent to 100€ of research time, to enable a ‘business-customer’ to save a lot of money. Say the return on investment for the customer could be 100.000. However, if our scientist would be an entrepreneur he should see this as a business opportunity and he may then be tempted to charge perhaps 1000 or even 10.000 times the required amount. This would enhance the profitability of science while still leaving a respectable profit of 9.9 or 9.0M € for the customer.


Several concerns arise from adopting such a frame of mind in science. Firstly, this hypothetical example is counterfactual in at least two respects.

I would personally be tempted to regard it as immoral to charge substantially more, even if it would only be 100 times the required amount. This is because science is mostly very costly, and science often has difficulty meeting the true needs of  society, e.g. in terms of helping society solve urgent disputes, like those concerning animal welfare and sustainability. I’m most reluctant to accept that generally most expensive scientist would also be greedy when the occasional opportunity arises, rather than regarding it as returning an occasional favor to society, e.g. by helping a customer make a profit based on scientific innovation.

Improper business

However, there is another, more fundamental concern in perceiving science as a business. In many ‘normal’ businesses it would be no problem whatsoever to charge a much higher rate. Normal business generally even commands doing so. It would just be a matter of taking advantage of a business opportunity. However, it wouldn’t be proper for all businesses to behave this way. Perhaps it cannot be seen as an acceptable practice in any kind of business, because it appears to violate a moral sense of justice and honesty.


Suppose a hungry customer enters a bakery shop just before closing time. The last loaf of bread may be worth perhaps as much as 100€. Yet it wouldn’t be a good idea to charge that much to a hungry or wealthy customer. He would probably be getting very angry, and rightly so. For this is not the kind of business morals we would accept as consumer-customers. It just wouldn’t be fair.


An important difference between science and a bakery is that the effort it takes to do science is often not as transparent. In this respect, a scientist is more like a dentist. For a dentist it is generally fairly easy to drill some holes in healthy teeth, just to make some extra money. But that wouldn’t be an acceptable ‘business’ either.


A scientist, like a medical professional, is supposed to be thoroughly reliable. Honesty and transparency are key values of science. Without these values science may make itself impossible. If a scientist is charging excessive amount of money, just because it is possible, he may get away with this if he has no problem in pretending it took a lot of work. But it would compromise the scientist’s honesty towards the paying ‘client’. And this is bound to generate a personal dilemma regarding (scientific) integrity, if science were run as a ‘regular’ business.

Natural selection

Now, of course, it is possible to solve this problem by natural selection, as is generally the case in business. If you want to be honest, just don’t aspire becoming a regular salesperson. But I am not so sure if the same should apply to a scientist.

No true category mistake?

In other words, seeing science as a bussiness may compromise (scientific) integrity. In the ideal world business should be honest and reliable too.  If so, running science as a business would not be a true category mistake. However,  in as far deception and ‘alternative facts’ can accepted as part and parcel of ‘normal’ business, to that extent perceiving science as a’normal’ business would be a rather serious category mistake.


Other professions generate similar concerns. Here is a link to a video clip (in Dutch) where a journalist uses children to generate an ‘alternative fact’ about the taste of vegan meat (original clip here). Such a deliberate construction of alternative facts may well be regarded as a punishable crime. In any case scientists and jounalists should be most reluctant to become engaged in the generation of such fake realities for the sake of doing more ‘profitable business’.

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How (not) to excel in doing well?

Well, well, well

People sometimes think we are rational animals. Like animals we behave, but unlike animals we have the capacity to behave (more) rationally. And not just that: with rationality comes our more or less unique capacity of being moral. So we can do well as well. But if we are rational and if we can do well, we can also excel in doing well. We may even conjecture that this is what constitutes the summum bonum of human wel-fare, doing well well. A recent trend in philanthropy, the art of doing well, proposes to do just that: to do well as effectively as possible. It is called effective altruism.

Intensive livestock farming

The idea of doing well well is not exclusive for philanthropy. In fact, it is the corner stone of rationalised agriculture. After WWII doing well well implied making sure there would be no more hunger and thus no more war (in the Western world). To achieve this rationalised agriculture was promoted, resulting in affordable food produced in large quantities for a growing population. However, the principle of rationalised production efficiency which made this possible also transformed traditional livestock farming into what has become known as bio-industry, one of the main societal concerns in the Western world at present. Lessons learnt from modernised livestock farming may thus be of value for the art of doing well well.

Slumbering collateral damage

One of the main lessons of intensive farming is that being successful carries a risk. Adopting maximised production efficiency as a governing principle in farming brought great progress. At the same time, however, it seems to have had a tendency to induce slumbering problems, like collateral damage that may be ignored and thereby grow out of control.


Maximised production efficiency, and doing well efficiently, are concepts within the paradigm of analytical reasoning. Its prime mechanism is to focus strongly on (solving) a problem (logical) step by (logical) step. Problems get solved more easily when they are simplified. When ammonia emissions from livestock buildings were becoming a concern in the eighties it was clear that a solution was to separate urine from faeces as quickly as possible. Innovative designs led to the construction of barns with smooth flooring. Unfortunately, this also resulted in animals with broken bones. In this example the secondary problem is rather obvious, but other problems, like climate change, antibiotic resistance and chronic disease, were less well detected, probably because we had an interest in turning a blind eye. Thus these problems could spread silently like defective genes associated with using a ‘superior’ bull in dairy farming.

a well

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Publications on AMI sensors

This is a short list of scientific publications in which I have used AMI sensors. AMI stands for animal material interactions. AMI sensors can take various shapes and forms. In some way or other AMI sensors record the amount of interaction pigs have with enrichment materials for pigs. Mostly this concerns hanging toys like chains and ropes with or without suspended materials like pieces of wood. Below the list you can also find the abstracts. So far the use of AMI sensors is (mainly) restricted to application for scientific purposes, eg to measure the value of (different aspects of) enrichment materials (directly or indirectly), the effect of tail-biting ointments, and abnormal and/or sickness behaviour. A blog post on AMI sensors and the future of pig farming can be found here.


To validate (further) a semantic model called RICHPIG, which was designed to assess enrichment materials for pigs, a study was conducted to examine the importance of three assessment criteria, namely destructibility, hygiene and sound. These material properties were studied using a specially constructed object consisting of a piece of sisal rope, metal wire and three fixed chain links hanging in the pens. The object was considered to be not destructible (ND), hygienic (HY) and not making sound (NS). After a habituation period of 18 h treatments were applied in that the object was (or was not) made destructible with a partial cut in the rope (DE) and/or was soiled with excreta (not hygienic, NH) and/or was allowed to make a tinkling sound by releasing the chain links (SO). The three treatments were applied in a 2 × 2 × 2 factorial design on a commercial farm in seven replicates using seven different units containing eight pens per unit. At five moments in time, ranging from 18 h before until 1 h after treatment, a range of behaviours was recorded including the frequency-related parameter AMI (animal–material interactions) and four intensity-related parameters. Repeated measures ANOVA’s showed significant effects of time and hygiene as well as interactions between time and hygiene, between time and destructibility and between destructibility and sound. Soiling (NH) significantly decreased, and destructibility (DE) significantly increased attractiveness, while sound (SO) was not significant. Only moderate correlations between AMI and the four intensity-related parameters were found (median r = 0.41, all P < 0.05), indicating that frequency-related parameters alone may not suffice to determine behavioural importance for animal welfare.

This study showed that it is in principle possible to study material properties independent of material type and that it is in principle possible to measure behavioural intensities on a commercial farm. Furthermore, the finding that hygiene and destructibility were more important for pigs than tinkling sounds provided preliminary support for the RICHPIG model.

In search for a test measuring positive emotions in pigs for application in on-farm welfare auditing, three small experiments were conducted to examine the sensitivity of a novel object test designed to measure the pigs’ (residual) need/motivation for enrichment. In the experiments the interactions with a novel piece of rope were measured at pen level using a so-called AMI sensor (AMI: animal–material interactions). Measurements were taken at several points in time over a 1–2 h period in order to test the effects of marginal enrichments, namely the provision of a jerrycan canister (Experiments 1a and 1b) and the provision of some sawdust and/or removal of the metal chain (Experiment 2).

The first experiment was replicated in, respectively, 8 and 15 matched pairs of pens with groups of about 11 growing pigs per pen. A jerrycan was provided in one pen of each pair as of the day before the novel object test. In the first replicate (Experiment 1a) only a main effect of time was found in that AMI decreased over time. In the second replicate (Experiment 1b) the provision of the jerrycan significantly reduced AMI. A sign test also confirmed this effect for the data in the first replicate. The recent provision of a jerrycan, therefore, marginally, but statistically significantly, reduced AMI in the novel object test.

Experiment 2 was a 2 × 2 factorially designed study conducted in 40 pens containing groups of 24 weaned piglets. Factors were sawdust provision and chain removal. The four treatment combinations were applied as of 45 min before the test. In addition to a main effect of time, it was found that AMI significantly increased when the chain had been removed (P = 0.006), and that the provision of sawdust tended to depress AMI at 10 min, while tending to enhance AMI at 30 min (interaction between time and sawdust provision: P = 0.097).

The results indicate that the novel object test may be used to detect relatively minor differences in environmental enrichment.

Tail biting is a most serious welfare problem in pigs raised for slaughter. In instances of an outbreak of tail biting, scientists have recommended that farmers take measures such as removal of affected animals, provision of enrichment materials and application of repellents to the pigs’ tails. However, no scientific study has ever confirmed the efficacy of any of these suggestions in counteracting an ongoing outbreak. Here, the efficacy of two repellent ointments, Dippel’s oil and Stockholm tar, were examined in a tail-chew test. For this, a novel piece of nylon rope was used as a tail model to measure biting behaviour semi-automatically in 24 single-sex groups of growing pigs (total 264 pigs). Repeated measures analysis showed no effect of time, gender or unit (12 pens per unit), but a highly significant effect of treatment, in that both Stockholm tar and Dippel’s oil significantly reduced rope manipulation compared to controls. These results suggest that Stockholm tar and Dippel’s oil may be effective in reducing tail biting. The approach taken may be valuable in further testing of strategies to reduce tail biting and improving pig welfare.

Injurious behaviours in pigs may involve persistent or forceful biting in specific body parts and may result in wounds of the pigs’ tails, ears, flanks and legs. Such behaviours, which may lead to progressive tissue damage, are difficult to counteract.
On a commercial farm 22 groups of pigs with wounds on flanks (n = 16) and tails (n = 6) were matched with 22 control groups without wounds. All groups were provided with a novel rope, applied as a ‘tail chew test’. Interaction with the rope was recorded semi-automatically about 45 and 120 minutes after introduction of the rope. Statistical analysis showed significant decrease of interest in the rope over time and significantly elevated interest in the ropes in pens containing wounded animals (median number of pulls per minute in control pens, flank-biting pens and tail-biting pens were 7.8a, 10.2b and 14.3b respectively, where superscripts indicate significance levels (P < 0.001).
These results suggest that flank biting and tail biting increase exploration and destructibility in pigs. The approach taken is valuable in further understanding strategies to reduce injurious behaviours in pigs and improving pig welfare, e.g. by providing enrichment materials.

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