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Monday, April 15, 2024

‘If you injure a bug, should you kill it or let it live?’

Last year, UC Davis Entomology Ph.D. student Matan Shelomi stumbled across the question, “If you injure a bug, should you kill it or let it live?” on question-and-answer website Quora.com. Seeing it answered by only casual web surfers, Shelomi decided to provide his own take on the ethical dilemma.

“I answered it in my usual flair and left. I thought nothing of it,” said Shelomi, who is a columnist for The Aggie.

His answer? “Looks like the philosophers and theists have made their cases. As far as entomologists are concerned, insects do not have pain receptors the way vertebrates do … Ultimately this crippling will be more of an inconvenience to the insect than a tortuous existence, so it has no ‘misery’ to be put out of but also no real purpose anymore. If it can’t breed anymore, it has no reason to live.”

Shelomi also brought his wit to this question of ethics.

“Personally, though, I’d avoid doing more damage than you’ve already done. 1) Maybe the insect will recover, depending on how damaged it is. 2) Some faiths do forbid taking animal lives, so why go out of your way to kill? 3) You’ll stain your shoe,” Shelomi’s answer continued.

The answer became a hit with Quora users. Gaining several hundred upvotes, Shelomi’s answer went viral, leading to a recent nomination for a social media award.

“I certainly did not expect it to be nominated for a Shorty, since this was the first year they had awards for Quora on what was once a Twitter-only award,” Shelomi said.

The Shorty Awards seek to honor the best of short-content creators on Twitter.com, recently expanding to include categories such as “Best answer to a question on Quora.com” for which Shelomi tied for a win. Other Shorty Award winners include YouTube channel Epic Meal Time (@epicmealtime) in the food category and MythBusters (@MythBusters) in the science category.

According to Sawhorse Media, the company behind the Shorty Awards, Shelomi’s answer represents the growing importance of social media.

“It was one of those great examples of things where with social media you can get this question straight to your experts of various kinds,” said Greg Galant, CEO of Sawhorse Media. “Social media platforms – Quora, Twitter, even Facebook – can basically impact and cause more people to be interested in science, to realize what they’re learning, to share their knowledge with the world.”

What sets Quora apart from other question-and-answer websites like Yahoo! Answers is its lack of anonymity. Like Facebook, it asks that users supply their real names.

“This idea of real, identifiable people on the internet as opposed to user names is changing the web into what it was supposed to be: a forum for intellectual sharing of knowledge, not racism and cat videos,” Shelomi said.

When asked if she would answer any differently, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis entomology professor Lynn Kimsey, whose lab Shelomi is studying in, offered her take.

“I would have answered the question exactly like Matan,” Kimsey said. “Though probably not as cleverly.”

RACHEL KUBICA can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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