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The value of Duane Rumbaugh's "comparative perspective" ... in neurobiology

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Abstract

One commonality across the wide-ranging influences Duane Rumbaugh had on late-20th century science was his commitment to the comparative perspective in psychology. I argue here that a commitment similar in force to Rumbaugh’s also infuses mainstream experimental neurobiology. This connection is ironic because Rumbaugh eschewed brain intervention experimentation in vivo throughout his scientific career. Still, the influence and value of a perspective similar to Rumbaugh’s can be found in neurobiology in at least three places. First, recent neurobiology has made good on one of Rumbaugh’s predictions, that rearing and early environment will be shown to influence behavior and cognition in nonprimate animals. Second, the epistemologically justified use of animal models in experimental neurobiology to investigate human brain mechanism presupposes a strong commitment to the comparative perspective. Third, commitment to the comparative perspective raises the most pressing ethical concern in neurobiology, namely, how is it ethical to perform brain intervention experiments on animal models if their brain mechanisms and behaviors compare closely enough with ours to justifiably generalize these experiments’ results?

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