Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Feeling Crabby

Did you know that crabs feel pain? Neither did I, but it's right there in the science journal of experimental boilology. It says "If you cook crabs they'll die screaming horrible deaths of utter agony." Or something like that. I mean, look at this article in the Globe and Mail, titled "That lobster you are going to boil feels pain: study".

Wait... are lobsters crabs? 'Cause I'm pretty sure they have different names for a reason. Also... what the hell! How do you know if crabs feel pain! Did they interview the crabs?

EXPERIMENTER: "Ok, now I'm going to give you a light shock. I'll move it up a little after each one and you tell me when you feel that it qualifies as pain."

CRAB: "Gotcha."

EXPERIMENTER: "How's that?"

CRAB: "Tingles a little, that's about it."

EXPERIMENTER: "What about now?"

CRAB: "It's a bit uncomfortable, but nothing I can't handle."


CRAB: "That's weird... my claw keeps snapping open and closed."

EXPERIMENTER: "Ok, I'm going up again."

CRAB: "Ow! Yeah, that hurts."


CRAB: "What the hell!? Yeah, I already said it hurts. Turn the damn thing off!"

EXPERIMENTER: "A little bit more..."

CRAB: "Aaaah! Stop it!"

EXPERIMENTER: "You smell so good right now."

CRAB: "What is wrong with you!!!! Owowowowow! Wait, what's that?"

EXPERIMENTER: "Oh this? Ummm.... Stage 2 of the experiment requires me to melt some butter on you. It's nothing to worry about."

Honestly though, how do you quantify pain in an animal? For people it's easy, you just ask them. So what did they use as a criteria for the crabs? Apparently, learning quickly to avoid a stimulus is enough. For example, here’s the crab experiment:

1. There's two caves.
2. Crab goes into one cave.
3. Crab may or may not get a shock.
4. End of trial one.
5. Crab goes into the cave a second time, crab gets a shock.
6. Crab says "eff this" and tries the other cave.
7. Ergo, the crab feels pain.

Whaaaa??? Why does that mean the crab was in pain? I mean sure, as people we can extrapolate and say "yeah, that probably hurt." But by that logic we'd also say anteaters hate their freaking lives because ants taste like ass, whereas in actuality anteaters probably think ants taste like tapioca pudding.

Let me put this another way. I'm going to show you the exact same experiment with a person, and you can tell me whether this behaviour can be explained as straight-up proof that crabs feel pain:

1. There's two elevators.
2. Paul goes into one elevator.
3. Paul may or may not smell fart.
4. End of trial one.
5. Paul goes into the elevator a second time, Paul smells fart.
6. Paul says "eff this" and tries the other elevator.
7. Ergo, Paul feels pain.

See? Step 7 makes no sense. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't describe that scenario as a painful experience (that would be one helluva toot), yet by the crab experiment criteria it's "painful".

Just one more reason to be critical of everything you read.

Ever heard of Gamma world? It's a roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons, made by the same people (Wizards of the Coast), and more or less using the same rules. The major difference is that it's futuristic sci-fi instead of fantasy.

This is the description of one of the powers for the character that controls electricity: "You zap your enemy with an arc of electricity, making your foe jerk and dance around like a spaz."

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? "Jerk and dance around like a spaz"??? Since when was the word "spaz" used by anyone a) older than 11, and b) not totally out of touch with derogatory terminology?

Now, some of you regular readers may be aware that I discovered I was epileptic about a year and a half ago, so obviously I'm going to be more sensitive about this. But this description could basically be written as "You zap your enemy with an arc of electricity, making your foe jerk and dance around like an epileptic.", or ""You zap your enemy with an arc of electricity, making your foe jerk and dance around like a retard."

Including that description in a game book validates its use as a non-offensive term, which it is not. Some people would say that it's part of the vernacular now and has lost its offensive tone, like the words "gypped" (gypsied) or "heepy-jeebies" (Hebrews and Jews). I disagree, because people still use the word spaz specifically in the derogatory manner, directed at the group it's derogatory towards.

At any rate, I wrote the letter below to Wizards of the Coast:

Hi there,

I have a simple request of you, which I hope you'll take seriously.

In the description of the Electrokinetic power "Electric Boogaloo" you say "You zap your enemy with an arc of electricity, making your foe jerk and dance around like a spaz." As an epileptic, the use of term "a spaz" makes me sick every time I see it. Maybe the person who wrote it didn't realize the term "a spaz" means "an epileptic", and was unaware of the painful association that terminology has for any person who experiences grand mal seizures, particularly those who experienced seizures when young. Regardless, could you change that description in future versions of the rulebook? I want to play gamma world, but I literally can't play an Electrokinetic character. Given that there's a thousand other ways to describe the power without using those words, I don't think this is an unreasonable request.

Take care,

And this was their response:

Greetings Paul,

Thank you for contacting Wizards of the Coast Game Support, we appreciate you for providing feedback. This email is to inform you that we have received your comments, and while we cannot guarantee an additional response, we do appreciate that you took the time to bring your thoughts on the word choice for Gamma World.

Thanks again, and if you have any additional questions or comments for us, please contact us again. Have fun, and good gaming!

Translation: Yeah, whatever.

So hey, Wizards of the Coast; go screw yourselves.