Jonathan Balcombe (born 28 February 1959) is an ethologist and author. He currently serves as Director of Animal Sentience with the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, and Department Chair for Animal Studies with Humane Society University, in Washington, DC. He lectures internationally on animal behavior and the human-animal relationship. He is Associate Editor of the journal Animal Sentience.
Early life and education
Balcombe earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology in 1983 from York University in Toronto, then a Master of Science in biology from Carleton University in Ottawa in 1987. In 1991, he completed a Ph.D in ethology (animal behavior) at the University of Tennessee, where he studied mother-pup vocal communication in the Mexican free-tailed bat.
Balcombe has worked for several animal protection organizations, including The Humane Society of the United States, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. He also worked as a research coordinator and grant writer for Immersion Medical, a for-profit company that makes virtual reality training simulators for minimally-invasive surgery.
In 2009, Balcombe was hired to teach a course in animal behavior for Humane Society University. Two years later, he assumed the role of Department Chair for Animal Studies. He developed and taught a course in Animal Sentience, and commissioned the development of courses in Evolution, Food Choice and Animal Protection, and Gender and Animals.
Balcombe's first book, The Use of Animals in Higher Education: Problems, Alternatives, and Recommendations, was published by Humane Society Press in 2000. His trade book, Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good, was released by Macmillan in 2006. The book details Balcombe's positions on the sentience of animals, and the existence of pleasure seeking behavior, in contrast with the behavioralist mainstream, which rejects anthropomorphism of animals. Deutschlandradio called the book a "convincing and a fun read."
In 2010, Balcombe published Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals, in which he surveys recent scientific discoveries about animal cognition, emotion, and virtue, and aims to "protest against what he sees as an unbroken tradition of human cruelty and indifference."
The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure was released in 2011 by the University of California Press. Using images of contented animals in their natural environment, Balcombe "proves that animals aren’t always engaged in a battle for survival but will frequently do things for nothing more than the feeling of satisfaction." Balcombe disputes the mainstream scientific community's belief that the animal kingdom is an unforgiving struggle for survival. The book briefly broke into the top 100 on Amazon.com following favorable reviews in The New York Times and the New York Post.
Balcombe's 2016 book, What A Fish Knows, combines science and story-telling to examine the inner lives of the world's most diverse group of vertebrates. What A Fish Knows has a release date of June 7, 2016, from Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Balcombe has published over 50 scholarly articles and book chapters on various topics, including animal behavior, animal research, animal dissection, medical simulation, and veganism. His essay titled "After Meat" appears in the 2016 book "Impact of Meat Consumption on Health and Environmental Sustainability," edited by Dora Marinova and Talia Raphaely.
Balcombe uses a variety of platforms to advocate for a sea-change in the human-animal relationship. In addition to his books and journal papers, he is a regular speaker at conferences, campuses, public schools and other venues. He is interviewed often in the media, and he has written blogs for Psychology Today, One Green Planet, Secretary of Innovation, and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. He is a manuscript reviewer for scholarly journals such as Animal Behaviour, the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and the Journal of Consciousness Studies.
Balcombe expressed his views on the use of battery hens in industrial agriculture during a New Zealand conference. Balcombe stated that our moral obligation to the hens is greater due to their ability to suffer, saying "it's not about how their intelligence compares to ours, it's about how much they can feel pain, suffering, joy and pleasure."
Balcombe commented on a Tufts University report about the decline of vivisection. He maintains that reliable tests require better care for the animals involved. He referenced a 1990 study on lab mice that revealed that inconsistencies in test results can arise based on the stress level of each rat.
Balcombe also has served as an expert witness for undercover investigations by several organizations, most notably by the organization Mercy for Animals documenting cruelty to pigs, cattle, turkeys, and fish. In his 2011 response to an exposé by the animal protection organization Mercy for Animals of animal abuse on a pig farm, Balcombe described the farm's conditions as "an unremitting hell on earth," adding that "these intelligent animals endure awful physical and psychological suffering."
- The Use of Animals in Higher Education: Problems, Alternatives, and Recommendations (Humane Society Press, 2000) ISBN 978-0965894210
- Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good (Macmillan, 2006) ISBN 978-1403986023
- Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (Macmillan, 2010) ISBN 978-0230107816
- The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure (University of California Press, 2011) ISBN 978-0520260245
- What A Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins (Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016) ISBN 978-0374288211
- "A Biologist’s Journey to Veg" in Michael Lanfield The Interconnectedness of Life: We Are Interconnected. We Are Interconnected Films, 2015.
- Randerson, James (25 April 2010). "Jonathan Balcombe: 'Stop being beastly to hens'". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- Humane Society University
- Duin, Julia (14 April 2012). "Humane Society University in D.C. is a pioneer in the growing animal studies movement". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- "REDLANDS: University hosts 'Animals, Society' lecture series". The Press Enterprise. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- Viegas, Jennifer. "Bats like to hang out with their friends, too". NBC. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- Balcombe, Jonathan. "Dissection: The Scientific Case" (PDF). Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. Routledge. Retrieved 16 May 2014.
- Robinson, Nicola (6 August 2007). "Pleasurable Kingdom". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- Lange, Michael. "Vergnügen als Evolutionsvorteil". Radiofeuilleton: Kritik. Deutschlandradio. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- "Book review: Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals". lifestyle.scotsman.com. Scotsman. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- Phillips, Robert. "The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure". The Ecologist. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- Callahan, Maureen. "Birds do it, Bees do it". The New York Post. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- Bouton, Katherine (18 July 2011). "The Joy of a Sun Bath, a Snuggle, a Bite of Pâté". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- Balcombe, Jonathan (May 15, 2016). "Fishes Have Feelings, Too". NYT. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
- "Chickens feel joy too, says expert". The New Zealand Herald. 5 November 2011. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- Hilts, Phillip J. (3 March 1994). "Use of Research Animals Falls 50% Since 1968". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- "Behind Closed Doors: Animals Suffer in University Research". The Humane Society. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- Bora, Kukil. "Hidden Cruelty: Video Footage Exposes Animal Abuse in U.S. Pork Factory [VIDEO]". International Business Times. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- Rowe, Madison. "Ryan Gosling & other celebrities speak out against Walmart's pork". Greener Ideal. Retrieved 12 July 2013.