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Victoria Thomson

Legal advice for an experimental show

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Hello everyone,
I have an urgent question! I have an idea but I don't know if it's legal. Or maybe the right question is how much of it can be done and how much of it is not legal.
The idea is called  “Mutant Mouse Brother” and is, as you can guess, a project for a reality show. The main goal is to find funding for science in a very unusual way. I thought that people would like to watch the mutant mice that are in the laboratories. Then I realized that this would be very easy to achieve with just one small camera and a microphone in one of the transparent mouse containers. My proposal is to offer people to buy a mutant mouse and keep in the laboratory. I just don't know if it's legal or not!

 

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Trying to relate your question to Objectivism is extremely difficult, but let me try. I will suppose that you plan to fund genetic research on mice, by some kind of pay-per-view plan to watch the subject mice on the internet. Objectivism eschews government funding of research, and subscriptions would be one way to fund the research. So as long as there was no deception (e.g. CGI mice while you abscond with the money or some other scam), this passes the basic ethical standards of Objectivism. A more advanced question would be, what are you trying to achieve by doing this (that is, is this an objectively rational goal).

If you are concerned with the possibility that the government will crush you for an illegal activity which you didn’t know was illegal, that is not an unreasonable concern, since there are millions of very arbitrary and unknowable laws out there. This too is a fundamental concern of Objectivism, not only should laws be objectively justified, but you should be able to know what is legal versus not legal. The good news is that it is probably legal. Experimenting with mice is, currently, legal in the US, and you don’t need any kind of certificate or inspection. The bad news is that there are vague “cruelty to animals” laws, which could be used against you – this is the part where you can’t know what it legal, because the determination that an act is “cruel” is highly subjective. Objectivism opposes animal-cruelty laws and restrictions on experimenting on animals.

 

 

 

 

 

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One would think that if something like that is legal, there won't be an issue with recording/streaming it. But, one would need to know all the rules around research to really know if it is legal. Or, are you suggesting that the mutant mice would not be the real research; they'd be the fund-raising show for some other research?


Would it really pay for the research though? How many people will pay to see a live stream like that? 

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It probably is not legal to “just do it”: you can’t just open up any old business. At the minimum, there are laws at all levels of government regarding getting permission to run a business, and quite prominently laws about reporting income to the IRS. Since business licensing laws are local, you would be better off checking your intended venue, so that you don’t run afoul of a county with strict anti-science regulations.

The problem with streaming or otherwise internetizing this plan is that anything involving the internet “affects interstate commerce”, and thus potentially triggers federal laws which would not apply if you just conduct experiments on mice in your basement. And certainly anything that involves (interstate) fundraising brings the action with the purview of the Commerce Clause. You could focus on the Dept. of Agriculture and DHHS, which are most likely to be the federal agencies that would regulate mouse experiments.

Fortunately, the text of all federal laws, rules and regulations is available on the internet, and many court rulings are too, so you just have to read all of that stuff (a few million pages) to have any evidence that the plan is legally allowed. Although I agree that hiring lawyers is a good idea, it is also not foolproof, because lawyers don’t know all of the law, they just know a certain most-applicable, most-likely subset. 

The key to practical success for such a project is, IMO, not the streaming aspect, but customer involvement. I don’t understand genetics, and unlike my approach to other topics that I don’t understand, I can’t just tinker around and see how the parts go together in genetics. This is similar to but orders of magnitude better than Brew on Premise shops, if you want to learn how to make beer but don’t want to invest in the gear. If the price is right, I might want to sign up. I doubt that I would discover anything economically exploitable, but it would be personally quite educational.

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On 03/03/2018 at 4:04 PM, softwareNerd said:

One would think that if something like that is legal, there won't be an issue with recording/streaming it. But, one would need to know all the rules around research to really know if it is legal. Or, are you suggesting that the mutant mice would not be the real research; they'd be the fund-raising show for some other research?


Would it really pay for the research though? How many people will pay to see a live stream like that? 

No, no... The mutant mouse is the real research. I don't want to make money from it, I want to find money and put it into it.

Yes, I thought about it. It will most likely be boring to watch the mouse walking back and forth all day and that's why some games, betting, competitions, behavioral experiments and investment options are planned. The opportunity to get more and more people involved in science is just too tempting. I think that such an involvement would add a lot of meaning to our everyday boring lives.

I'm also open to all types of ideas.

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