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Animal rights activism: Petitions aren’t science

I had originally planned on writing about a different topic today, but, as is so often the case in blogging, something came up that caught my attention, much as the errant thought of a squirrel distracts Dug the Dog. It’s no big deal. My original topic is not time-sensitive, and I’ll get to it next week (that is, unless something like this happens again). In any case, my tendency towards blogging ADHD notwithstanding, the “inspiration” for this post began on Friday morning, making it timely. Let me tell you what happened, and then I’ll delve into the topic.

We all have our daily rituals, and I’m no different. When I wake up in the morning, I usually check my iPhone to see how many e-mails I’ve gotten overnight. If there’s time before I have to leave for work, I’ll frequently go through them all right then, answering ones I can answer quickly and filing for later responses those that I can’t. If I don’t have time (as in I overslept), I’ll check them whenever I get an opportunity. Last Friday, I was rather surprised to see that the little badge on the Mail app showed well over three times the usual number of messages I get overnight, even accounting for e-mail notifications of comments on the blogs and the usual smattering of mailing list messages and the odd junk spam that got through the filters. So having that many messages in my unread mail queue caught my attention. Even when a new troll shows up in the comments of one of the blogs, I usually don’t get that many notifications. I figured I’d better go and check to see what was going on right then, rather than waiting until later. What I found was something that I never would have guessed.

As odd as it seems to me now, I had apparently been targeted by a Change.org petition Animal Experimenters – JUSTIFY YOUR SCIENCE CLAIMS.

I was rather puzzled. I’ve developed a bit of microcelebrity (or, as I sometimes refer to it when I’m feeling less arrogant, nanocelebrity) as the proverbial proponent of science-based medicine and scourge of quackery. When it comes to topics that are likely to result in a backlash against me by cranks, to the few thousand people who read my stuff, both here and on my not-so-secret other blog, I’m known not so much for my defense of animal research (although I do from time to time write to defend it and to castigate animal rights extremists who threaten scientists) as for writing about the antivaccine movement, cancer quackery, and other forms of pseudoscience. For instance, antivaccinationists have tried to get me fired from my job. Over the years, cancer quacks have harassed me at work, tried to get me fired, and threatened me with lawsuits. More recently, a supporter of Stanislaw Burzynski complained to my cancer center director and the president of my practice plan about my activism with respect to the Burzynski Clinic. I’ve even been the victim of a frivolous complaint against me to the Michigan Board of Medicine by (I’m 95% sure) a Burzynski patient who didn’t like my analysis of her case. The complaint was promptly found to be groundless, but there is a complaint on my record nonetheless. These are the usual sources of criticism against me, not animal rights activists. None of this is to say that animal rights activists don’t occasionally attack me. Ray Greek, for instance, most definitely did not like it the last time I criticized him on this blog, but that was almost six years ago, ancient history in blog time, and the last time I launched a broadside at animal rights activists on this blog was in 2008.

That is not saying I haven’t been vocal speaking out against animal rights activists and how they negatively impact biomedical research, but it’s only been sporadically at my not-so-secret other blog. In particular, I’ve made it a point to speak out against a group known as Negotiation Is Over, a group led by a truly scary woman named Camille Marino, who recently got involved in a legal kerfuffle over her activities against a researcher at my home institution that led to her serving a term in prison, from which she was recently released. (She’s also a woman who has made it clear that she is intentionally targeting students as the “soft underbelly of the vivisectionist movement” and has no compunction about justifying violence against researchers, similar to the way that Steve Best does, which is why it’s so ironic that Best is not so happy now that Marino has turned her tactics against him.) It’s just that it’s by far nowhere near the top of the list of my usual topics, which made me honored but at the same time puzzled that I am mentioned in the petition with so many much more accomplished scientists than I. Moreover, I was even more puzzled at being included on this list given that the petition was clearly aimed at the government of the UK, asking MPs to support something called EDM 263, which appears to be a call for public debates on the use of animals in research. Unfortunately, the game is revealed by the way this appeal is described:

Please use our template letter and follow the STEPS 1 – 4 to ask your MP to sign EDM 263, calling for scientists from the vivisection community to agree to participate in properly moderated public scientific debates with leading medical experts who oppose animal experiments on human medical and scientific grounds.

Whenever you see the word “vivisectionist” to describe researchers who do animal research, you can be quite sure that you’re not dealing with people with reasonable questions about how animals are used in research. Real scientists almost never use the term “vivisection” because, although it has taken on a broader meaning with respect to animal research, based on the history of the use of the word, “vivisection” still implies surgery conducted for experimental purposes on living animals to view living internal structures; i.e., dissection of living animals. These days, virtually no animal experimentation can be accurately referred to as “vivisection,” as strict rules and regulations mandate minimization of pain and suffering. Animal rights activists tend to like to refer to all animal research, whether it involves surgery or not, as “vivisection” and to scientists who use animals in their experiments as “vivisectionists” because of the negative connotation of the word. That’s why the word “vivisectionist” is rarely used by scientists but is frequently used by animal rights activists and why use of the word “vivisectionist” is as reliable a tipoff as there is to identify an animal rights activist, every bit as useful as “dis-ease” or “out-fection” instead of “disease” or “infection,” as very reliable signs of a quack or supporter of quackery.

I’ll get back to the group behind this petition in a moment, which is known as For Life On Earth (FLOE). First I’d like to address the petition itself and its demand for a “debate,” after which I’ll discuss the actual claimed science arguing against animal research a bit and then finish by coming back to this group. As a prelude, however, let me point out that I won’t be dealing (much) with the morality of animal research, mainly because I believe that whether or not animal research is morally acceptable is not primarily a scientific question. Science can inform the consideration of the question of animal research, but in the end it’s a moral question. That is not to say that science is irrelevant, because part of the consideration of the moral question of whether and when it is acceptable to use animals in research is the issue of how much value to science animal research brings. How utilitarian you want to be considering this question is something that can be discussed, but animal rights activists often invoke an extreme negative version of a utilitarian argument in that they try to portray as animal research as not just useless (i.e., providing no useful scientific information), but even as harmful or providing misleading or mistaken scientific conclusions. If that is the case, then it’s a no-brainer that animal research cannot be justified ever because in that case it would cause suffering to animals but provide no benefit in terms of scientific advancements that could lead to improved medical care. Unfortunately, as I documented six years ago, animal rights activists have a distressing tendency to use truly bad arguments to do everything they can to paint animal research as useless or even harmful to the science of medicine. These arguments tend to fall into one or more of three categories:

  1. Animal research doesn’t teach us anything of value or even misleads us (i.e., it is bad science).
  2. Animal research does not predict human physiology or response to disease, or animals are “just too different from humans to give reliable results” (i.e., it is bad science).
  3. There are better ways of getting the information that do not use animals (i.e., there is better science available than using animals.)

As I’ve said on several occasions, I tend to look at these arguments as three facets of what is in essence the same argument, specifically what I like to call an “argument from imperfection” also known as the Nirvana fallacy. In other words, because animal models have imperfections and all-too-often don’t predict human physiology or drug response as well as the critics think that they should, then by implication all animal research is bad science. It is an example of demanding 100% perfection or certainty before accepting something, a bar that no science can ever meet, and of concrete thinking typical of extremists. Antivaccinationists are particularly fond of this sort of concrete thinking, in which vaccines must be 100% effective in preventing disease and 100% safe, or they are worthless.

Like the case with many holding dubious scientific beliefs whom many would consider cranks, one favorite tool to promote their agenda is “public debate.” I’ve seen it many times myself. For example, I’ve had HIV denialists and antivaccine activists challenge me to “live” public debates over their favorite topics. This challenge through a Change.org petition is no different. In fact, it’s a perfect example of a principle that I’ve called “all truth comes from live public debate.” Besides the challenges I’ve personally had directed at me, I can point to several more examples just off the top of my head. For example, antivaccine guru Andrew Wakefield challenged Dr. David Salisbury to a “live public debate” about whether the MMR vaccine causes autism or not. (Hint to Wakefield: It doesn’t.) Regular readers might also remember another example, Suzanne Somers’ doctor, antivaccinationist, and all around supporter of all things quacking, Julian Whitaker, debating Steve Novella at FreedomFest, which happened to be going on in Las Vegas at the same time as TAM in 2012; Michael Shermer’s “debate” with Deepak Chopra; and antivaccine propagandist David Kirby debating author Arthur Allen. More recently, a fan of Stanislaw Burzynski named Randy Hinton was “calling out” what he referred to as the “medical mafia” to debate. Still more recently, Bill Nye the Science Guy has foolishly (in my opinion) agreed to a “debate” about creationism and evolution with arch-creationist Ken Ham. The debate will be held tomorrow. Worse, he agreed to do it on Ham’s home turf, the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

Basically, this petition demonstrates once again the “all truth comes from live public debate” belief so prevalent among cranks. I’ll call it the omne verum est a forensem principle. (Latin sounds so much more cool for this, but I have no idea whether this is the best translation—or even grammatically correct; maybe Latin scholars out there can suggest better.) They seem to think that science is decided in public debates and view the quite understandable reluctance among scientists like myself and skeptics to engage cranks in such spectacles as “cowardice.” It is not, but cranks continue to labor under the delusion that science is somehow decided in such forums, which are a variant of a sort of argumentum ad populum, in which something is argued to be true because it is popular or, in a debate, an argument is thought to be closer to the truth because it is more popular. Science doesn’t work that way. It is decided on evidence presented at scientific conferences and in peer-reviewed journals, where the real scientific debate plays out until it is temporarily settled and scientists come to a provisional consensus. That provisional consensus, of course, is always subject to change as new observations, data, and experimental results come to light, but it takes observations, data, and experimental results to change the consensus, not “live public debates.” Such “live public debates” have only one purpose: To sway public opinion to a viewpoint not supported by science, in the process elevating pseudoscience or the unproven to the same plain as the scientific consensus as a scientifically viable “alternative,” no more, no less.

The fact is, pseudoscientists, pseudohistorians, and cranks desperately want to debate accepted experts in the field in which they apply their crankery. The reason is simple. While, knowingly (or, more commonly, unknowingly) they poo-poo science and the scientific method, at the same time they desperately crave its validation. They desperately want to be seen as “one of the boys,” whose ideas are worthy of being taken seriously by scientists, and such “debates” usually give them exactly what they want. Indeed, debates on college campuses (or, in the case of homeopaths, in academic medical centers) are not viewed as a means of getting at the truth, but rather as a means of P.R. Putting the pseudoscientist on the same stage as a legitimate scientist elevates the pseudoscientist unduly and mistakenly gives the impression to lay people that there is a genuine scientific controversy to be debated when the only controversy being debated is, in fact, ideological. This is because getting a scientist to agree to a debate allows them to portray their pseudoscience as being on equal footing with accepted science, or at least in the same ballpark. Thus, simply being seen on the same stage on an equal footing with a respected scientist, is a victory for the pseudoscientist. Regardless of what actually happens in the debate, it is a virtual certainty that the crank and the supporters of crankery will trumpet it as a “victory” or, at the very minimum, as a “validation” that science is beginning to take them seriously.

If animal rights activists—or antivaccinationists, purveyors of “alternative medicine,” HIV/AIDS denialists, creationists, 9/11 Truthers, or the like—want to convince scientists, there is one way to do so: Publish their data and do battle where scientists normally do battle, in the scientific literature and in scientific conferences. “Live public debates” might sway a few souls when the odd hapless scientist or skeptic unprepared for the Gish gallop makes the mistake of going up against a smooth talking crank, but the scientific consensus remains unchanged. I realize that not all skeptics agree with me, and I find it hard to be critical of Steven Novella, Michael Shermer, or even Bill Nye for feeling duty-bound to answer the call.

In the case of animal rights activists, the call for public debates is similarly dubious, as becomes obvious from some of the verbiage in the petition:

By signing this petition, your letter will automatically be sent to high profile animal experimenters and their supportive colleagues, inviting them to go head to head in properly moderated, public scientific debates with the world’s leading medical experts who oppose animal experiments, purely on human medical and scientific grounds – namely that misapplying results from animal experiments, to try and ‘predict’ human responses, causes immense harm to human patients. Current understanding of evolutionary biology is now able to explain why this is the case.

If you note the two links, you’ll see that both of them are pretty much rehashes of Ray Greek’s arguments, which were not particularly convincing to me the first time around and haven’t gotten any better with age. One of them is a video produced by FLOE:

Particularly irrelevant is the way the argument begins with a reference to Claude Bernard in 1847 as the man who allegedly “institutionalized” animal research as being “predictive” of human responses. Yes, I’m always convinced by an appeal to a 167-year-old understanding of science by one man, who rejected the theory of evolution and apparently believed that experiments on animals were “entirely conclusive for the toxicology and hygiene of man.” One wonders whether science has advanced since 1847. Apparently, FLOE simultaneously doesn’t think so and does. At one point, it is argued that animal testing hasn’t advanced since then, but then at another point, the discoveries of Ignaz Semmelweis, Joseph Lister, John Snow, Edward Jenner, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein (whose relevance to the science of animal research is never explained) are briefly mentioned, after which FLOE fast forwards 100 years to 2009 to Ray Greek’s book Animal Models in the Light of Evolution, whose image appears as the narrator intones that science brings us complexity theory. Particularly insulting to one’s intelligence is how it’s intoned that animal models predict human responses only 31% of the time. What responses? What animal models? Animal models vary widely in how well they predict human responses, depending on the physiological response, the specific animal model, the drug, and the process being studied. To lump them all together into a figure like this is well-nigh meaningless.

A good way to think of it comes from this recent review of animal models for predicting immune responses:

Besides the animal model itself, the experimental setup will also affect predictive value. Differences in dose, immunization route, frequency of administration and impurities in the formulation have the potential to affect immunogenicity and its assessment (32). Moreover, with respect to product quality, preclinical protein products which are used in animal studies do not always reflect the final products used to treat patients. Another difficulty in translating animal results to human patients is a difference between labs in antibody assays that are used. These differences hamper comparison of results gained in different labs and therefore compromise predictive value of animal models. In patient research, several initiatives have begun to standardize antibody assays and thus improve comparability (34). Adjusting the antibody assays used in animal research to these standardized assays would likely improve predictive value of the models.

The video cited in the FLOE petition then compares the predictive value generally required of clinical laboratory tests, which is stated to be 90%, a coin flip (50%), and the purported predictive value for animal tests for human response (31%). Even if 31% is an accurate estimate, do you see the problem with this argument? There is a huge difference between a test that is going to be used on humans to make a diagnosis (like a CT scan or blood test) and a test that is often being used to screen for a response (animal studies). Anyone who says something like this has no clue how clinical medicine works. There are lots of tests in routine use whose predictive value is less than 90%, sometimes considerably less than 90%. Examples include mammography for breast cancer. Only around 25% of those found to have suspicious lesions on mammography actually turn out to have breast cancer.

One point that I find rather odd is how FLOE emphasizes that the medical experts it wants to be part of these debates accept the last seven out of nine uses of animals in research:

  1. Animals as models for disease
  2. Animals as test subjects; e.g. drug testing
  3. Animals as spare parts
  4. Animals as factories
  5. Animal tissue to study basic physiological principles
  6. Animals for dissection in education
  7. Animals as a modality for ideas (heuristic)
  8. To benefit other animals
  9. Knowledge for knowledge sake

It is only the first two that FLOE claims to be contesting, although it can’t resist mentioning that “for these viable methods there already exist some more efficient, less expensive, human biology based alternatives.” Don’t believe it. Focusing on the first two is the thin edge of the wedge for animal rights activists to go after the last seven.

So what is EDM 263? This is its text:

That this House notes the new campaign For Life On Earth which is critical of avoidable experiments on animals; is alarmed that all studies measuring the claimed ability of animals to predict human responses expose a low success rate in the region of 31 per cent; further notes that a success rate in the region of 90 per cent is required by medical practice; further notes that the National Cancer Institute has said that cures for cancer have been lost because studies in rodents have been believed; and calls for properly moderated scientific public debates on the misleading results and bad science of animal experiments.

Again, the use of this 31% figure in comparison to an alleged 90% figure for medical tests is an utter insult to the intelligence of any physician who knows about medical testing for the reasons I mentioned above, but it sure sounds plausible to people who don’t know about the science of medical testing. It didn’t take me long to find out that the source of the claim that the NCI has said that cures have been lost due to too much trust in rodent models is misleading as well. it comes from a 1997 article in Science:

Pharmaceutical companies often test drug candidates in animals carrying transplanted human tumors, a model called a xenograft. But not only have very few of the drugs that showed anticancer activity in xenografts made it into the clinic, a recent study conducted at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) also suggests that the xenograft models miss effective drugs. The animals apparently do not handle the drugs exactly the way the human body does. And attempts to use human cells in culture don’t seem to be faring any better, partly because cell culture provides no information about whether a drug will make it to the tumor sites.

The whole point of the article was that back in 1997 none of the common methods used to screen potential new anticancer drugs for activity—animal, cell culture, or other—had been sufficiently effective in identifying anticancer activity. The entire article was a cry for better methods. Over the last 17 years, a lot of effort has gone into doing this, both using animals and not. For example, mouse avatars are an innovative idea that might have real promise for predictive modeling for individual patients. I’ve written about them before. (If that worked out, wouldn’t that burn FLOE?) Moreover, the NCI, far from saying that animal research is useless, maintains a website that provides information on animal models, when they are useful, and for what purposes. Make no mistake, mouse models have been very useful indeed.

Let’s come back to that 31% figure. As you can tell, it bugs me, but not for the reasons that Ray Greek, for example, might think (namely, that it is such a damning indictment of animal research). It just smells so…fishy. Greek frequently uses it in his talking points and articles, and FLOE flogs it endlessly in its video and on its website. Where did it come from? Speaking of Research tells me! It’s worth going there for the details, but I’ll feed you the summary:

Our ‘region of 31%’, then, is based on a “very approximate estimate” of one small aspect of animal research, by a Department of Health doctor in 1978 based on 45 drugs that happened to have been licenced in the last year. Not only does the paper conclude that animal experiments correlate to human reactions, in terms of prediction it was a generation ago, it was a different regulatory environment, it was based on a 35-year old understanding of toxicology, it had a sample size of 45 and it was a rough analysis. The claim that this paper shows that animal studies have a “low success rate of 31%’” is simply pseudoscience.

As is so common with these sorts of arguments, animal rights activists misconstrue animal testing as animal research. This particular animal rights activist has used a cherry-picked number, a guessed percentage, that was based on an incorrect interpretation of a paper from more than 35 years ago. Based on this, and dubious claims of “harm” from animal research, FLOE demands not just that animal models be phased out, but rather eliminated immediately. I kid you not.

And what, you ask, will replace them? Good question. I’m still asking that myself. All we get are vague references to “complexity” theory and all sorts of fancy gobbledygook about evolution and genetics that do not make the point that FLOE is trying to make. For instance, it is stated that we should study the genetic variation between humans, which can convey medical data. Wow. So brilliant! It’s not as though medical researchers would ever have thought of that on their own. Oh, wait…they have! It goes under various names: personalized medicine, highly stratified medicine, genomic medicine. It’s not as though medical researchers haven’t been doing this for more than a decade, ever since the development of cDNA microarrays allowed the simultaneous analysis of the expression of every gene on a cDNA microarray chip. The movement has accelerated now that next generation sequencing techniques are becoming widely available. It’s not an either-or proposition. We can continue to exploit advances in genomic medicine while retaining and improving upon animal models that have proven useful. What FLOE is promoting is a false dichotomy: Animal research or genomic medicine, as if we can’t do both. Moreover, animal research informs personalized medicine; the mouse avatars I mentioned were just one example of how. Just consider the example of Herceptin if you don’t believe that.

The video concludes with a list of the “many valid research methods” that don’t use animals. These include in vitro studies of human tissue, which we already do; epidemiology, which we already do; the study of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, which we already do; autopsy and cadaver studies, which we already do; genetic research, which we already do; clinical research, which we already do; and post-marketing drug surveillance, which we already do. Indeed, as the video concluded, I really wondered what the point was. We already do all those forms of research. Seriously. The words of the great Robert Weinberg come to mind:

Dr. Greek says the silliest things, [...] implying that people are not studying human tumors, and implying that the kinds of experiments that one can do in mice can be done as well in humans — truly mindless!

The sheer oversimplification of complex issues made me wonder what FLOE is. It appears to be a propaganda group to promote Ray Greek’s ideas. The petition demanding a “debate” is nothing more than the typical crank ploy whose basis is a mistaken belief that all truth comes from public debate. Although I’m quite honored to be included on the list of scientists who are being challenged to debate the issue, I must politely decline.

The utility of animal research for medical advancement is a legitimate topic to discuss, but the discussion would not be furthered by a public debate of the sort proposed by FLOE. It is a question that is already being debated by scientists and ethicists in the medical literature based on actual data and science rather than dubious arguments. Moreover, the use of animals in research is already being de-emphasized. Regulations mandating the “three Rs” (reduction, refinement, replacement) are already in force and having an effect. The morality of animal research is a question that can’t be answered just by science, but science sure can refute the claims of animal rights activists that animal research provides no knowledge and benefit to medical science.

Posted in: Basic Science, Cancer, Evolution

Leave a Comment (84) ↓

84 thoughts on “Animal rights activism: Petitions aren’t science

  1. rork says:

    Just about missed opportunities.
    When trying to inhibit a certain molecule (perhaps beta-catenin in colon tumor), nowadays, millions of compounds may be considered, thousands considered carefully, and dozens experimented with and refined, first on cells, and the most promising of those later (much later) tried on mice. If one of the compounds (A) kills the mice via cardiac toxicity, and another (B) has far fewer toxicities, we may be more interested in B and work harder on it. The crank argument is that maybe further work on A could have lead to a better compound. We know. It could be. But we can’t put vast efforts into every lead, nor do we want to test every candidate compound directly on humans just-in-case. It’s possible that A would give no problem in humans, but that’s very rarely true, and when it is, can often be predicted (if we study precise mechanism of the toxicity). For problems with thousands of possible fixes, intelligent tinkering means working in the directions that hold most promise.

  2. Harriet Hall says:

    Readers might be interested in a book I reviewed, “Zoobiquity,” about how we can learn from animals. http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/learning-from-animals-evolutionary-medicine-with-a-twist/

  3. Republicus says:

    On the issue of debating non-experts, I agree that on a technical issue like this there is probably little point. But as far as debating creationists, I grew up in a creationist household and I owe a huge debt to the people who were willing to come in and absorb some of the ignorant abuse in order to talk about the basic logical structure underlying scientific consensus. Bill Nye, as many people’s ‘science guy’ I think makes him the perfect candidate, since for most people he’ll be mostly non-threatening.

    There are a lot of reasonable people (like I was) who are simply in a community where these ideas don’t really filter into, if they’re not actively villified. Without these debates, there are a lot of people who may have never even considered that there is an intelligent alternative to their religious doctrine. So I hope there is never a day where the religious are just written off, at least not until we reach a point where they are such a small minority that only the really hardcore are left.

    1. windriven says:

      Republicus, You make a valid point. But the debate to which Nye has agreed will be, as I understand it, a technical debate. Nye is an ME and, while he has I’m sure been thoroughly schooled on the tropes and distortions commonly deployed by creationists, he cannot be presumed to have the facility of, say, an evolutionary biologist in countering Ham. Further, I think acceptance of such a partisan venue was a grievous error.

      But I’ll also happily admit that Nye is nobody’s fool and is likely extremely well prepared. I’m sure he’s heard all of the arguments against this meeting. And I’m equally certain that he has a strategic as well as tactical goal. it will be interesting to see how this washes out.

    2. Sastra says:

      Although Dr. Gorski (along with many others) has lamented Bill Nye foolishly agreeing to go “onto Ham’s own turf, the Creation Museum in Kentucky,” I think this seemingly foolhardy move may be the one thing which helps avoid the problem with debates granting too much credibility to the other side. Because it’s not an academic venue and is instead for all intents and purposes the same as going into a church — then it is Nye’s side which is being granted the “credibility” here. This is an audience which has been insulated from genuine science and force-fed a steady diet of nonsense and propaganda — and Ham has opened the door.

      It’s all in the details. The SBM bloggers might well avoid a science vs. woo debate in a medical school. But if they were invited into a devout, deeply entrenched alternative medicine forum? Hey, most of those places won’t even let someone post a negative comment. There is no “general public” to be misled and nowhere to go but ‘up.’

      The shrewd move then might be to jump at it and hope they can convince those people who have been mostly going along with a crowd and haven’t heard the other side speak for itself for a change.

      1. Republicus says:

        That’s a great point that I hadn’t thought of, that it might legitimize some of his arguments by having it on “safe ground”.

    3. Patrick says:

      This is not specifically a response to you, Republicus, you just made me think of it. As a Christian, [former] scientist, and [old] med student, this ‘war’ between the “luddite religious right” and “enlightened atheist scientists” is mind-boggling. Hopefully the number of quotation marks in the last sentence gets my point across. I know that there are many Christians with a distrust of the knowledge based on principles that they believe are contrary to the Bible. This does not make them any worse than those who espouse acupuncture, Reiki, or the like. I think there is a balance to be found in all this where one can teach that science is not the enemy without blaming the religion for the individual. The beauty of science is that it can clarify decisions in the moral sphere by removing variables. We as humans are not merely scientific OR artistic OR something else, it is all part of a whole, and belief is part of that as well. This rather round-a-bout argument is to say that I agree that an informed debate is a good thing. It may not even be about convincing anyone so much as it is about making people think about other things. In church we call it ‘planting the seed.’

  4. Marcel says:

    So… I read this article, clicked on some links, read them, and then I suddently stumbled across this video which is currently embedded into the Negotiation is Over website:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=GiECGuXixmQ#t=186

    WHAT THE FUCK? Is this a fake? I don´t think so… Whats going on in those minds?

  5. David Gorski says:

    Personally, I find it hilarious. Basically, the animal rights activists planned a protest in front of a scientist’s house, a scientist whom they had harassed multiple times before, but this time something different happened. The scientific community at that scientist’s university had organized and were waiting. The animal rights activists, being used to having the largest group and being able to bully and harass their victims to their hearts’ content, were faced with a larger group of counterprotesters peacefully telling them to get the hell out of the neighborhood. They were flummoxed and didn’t know what to do. The scientific community needs to do more of this.

    Here’s an account by scientists who organized the counterprotest:

    http://unlikelyactivist.com/2014/01/19/the-beginning-of-the-end/
    http://speakingofresearch.com/2014/01/21/progress-for-science-finds-itself-on-the-receiving-end/

    1. Egstra says:

      “were faced with a larger group of counterprotesters peacefully telling them to get the hell out of the neighborhood. ”

      Peacefully? That’s not what it looked like to me.

      1. David Gorski says:

        Where was there any violence? One also notes that this represents about an hour of an event edited down to five minutes (it was stated in the beginning of the video that this protest lasted an hour), no doubt selectively to cherry pick the worst examples the animal rights activists saw. One further notes that the scientist being harassed, Edythe London, had had her house vandalized by animal rights extremists and was a frequent target of their harassment:

        http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2007/11/04/animal-rights-terrorism-revisited/

        In all fairness, this was the Animal Liberation Front that did this six years ago, but Progress for Science is supportive of the ALF.

        Other than the one pro-research protester getting a little too much into the face of one of the animal rights protesters (yes, he probably shouldn’t have done that and should have had better self control, but, really, that must have been the worst there, because you know that Progress for Science would have made sure to include it in the video if there were examples of any worse behavior), I view this as nothing more than giving animal rights activists a little taste of their own medicine. Not surprisingly, they didn’t like it and didn’t really know how to react. I was particularly amused by the way the hypocrisy of these protesters were demonstrated by scientists and their supporters pointing to a number of animal rights protesters wearing leather shoes and carrying leather purses.

      1. David Gorski says:

        While that is true, behaving the same way that the animal rights thugs behave risks your losing the public relations war.

        I admire you and what you and your fellow UCLA scientists have done in countering the animal rights terrorists. But I’ve been thinking about this one incident since Monday and am now a bit more uneasy about how the counterprotest went down than I was before. I understand why the scientists and their supporters did it. I totally sympathize. I’ve only dealt with 1/100 of the abuse that you, Edythe London, and your crew have been forced to endure at the hands of animal rights extremists, and I’d love to do exactly what your group did. No doubt it felt good to give these thugs a small taste of their own vile medicine, and I certainly saw no harm in blocking their cameras with signs, chanting things like “Go home!” and the like. However, at least a couple of your group came close to going over the line. One hurled threats and profanity, at least enough to be shown on the AR video. One of your members getting threateningly close to one of the animal rights loons and yelling profanity in her ear to the point where a police officer physically pushed him away was, tactically, not a wise move at all. It looked real, real bad to me, and I’m sympathetic to your cause. Just imagine how bad it looks like to someone who is “on the fence.”

        That is exactly the sort of reaction the animal rights crazies want to provoke, and they got it, at least enough to make a five minute video. That sort of behavior makes your group look unhinged and the animal rights protesters look disciplined and reasonable. I know, I know. That’s not the case, but your discipline needs to be at least the equal of that of your enemies. Is the momentary rush of good feeling worth doing damage to the cause of science? Signs and chanting are great. So is pointing out the hypocrisy of animal rights protesters wearing leather shoes and carrying leather purses. Outnumbering the crazies is even better. But if you want to win the PR war you really need to make sure that your behavior does not descend to anywhere near the depths of the animal rights activists’ behavior. It needs to be totally above reproach. I implore you to remember this on February 15. Anger, as justified as it is, needs to be kept under control. Light-hearted mockery works far better than spittle-flecked profanity and threatening body language.

        1. Andrey Pavlov says:

          I wasn’t sure what to think about the video and actually was immediately put off by it. As I was watching it, I took a bit of schadenfreude at what I thought was the AR moron yelling liking a lunatic and being extremely confrontational. I was saddened to see it was one of the counter-protesters.

          While I certainly appreciate the feeling and the idea of “fighting fire with fire” we must be careful to always hold the upper ground. Well, at least as much as is possible. In the heat of the moment emotion can take over, but that should be the exception apologized for and reasonably forgiven, not the intent going in.

          Signs, loud chants, being uncompromising in the language used are all reasonable. Being intimidatingly aggressive and even giving the perception that someone should even consider their physical safety is not. And I think that is where the line was crossed in the video – we can call them idiots, point out the fallacies, rail against their tactics, but we cannot make someone feel physically threatened. They do that to us, but we deplore those tactics. We shouldn’t be using them to any degree.

          Be loud, vocal, boisterous, threaten their ideas, but not them.

          1. David Gorski says:

            Yeah, I think I fell victim to the “give ‘em a taste of their own medicine!” congratulatory mentality, not to mention a bit of schadenfreude over the obvious discomfiture the animal rights loons showed. It’s easy to do, and, while it makes us feel good, it doesn’t advance our cause. In retrospect, I’m afraid that the bottom line is that, as far as pure propaganda, the animal rights group won this round. I just hope the UCLA scientists don’t repeat the same mistake on February 15.

            1. Andrey Pavlov says:

              I absolutely feel you on this one. Had I not initially thought the loud guy pushed by the cop was an AR protester, I probably would have reveled a bit more in watching them get dished a taste of their own medicine (and it still would have been wrong). But for whatever reason I had that perception and was feeling that happy feel of knowing the AR protester was making a complete ass of himself and it was shattered when I realized I had it backwards.

              It is viscerally satisfying to demonstrate how incredibly horrible it is to feel physically threatened – as these scientists do and should feel from the likes of FLOE and the other nutjobs. But there is a reason why it is so wrong a tactic for them to employ.

              But I’m beating a dead horse now.

              1. David Gorski says:

                Yeah, the only question remaining is whether I should stir up a shitstorm by blogging this on my not-so-secret other blog. :-)

              2. Andrey Pavlov says:

                I say stir away!

              3. David Gorski says:

                I don’t know. Another vitamin C paper is being released today. You know how I can’t resist a juicy paper claiming that vitamin C can be used to treat cancer.

                On the other hand, if I wait a day or two, I can have fun with all the quacks who will likely trumpet it as “proof” that Linus Pauling was right. Choices, choices…too bad I have to work for a few more hours.

              4. Andrey Pavlov says:

                Wait, VitC doesn’t cure cancer?

                Wait, wait… don’t tell me. But I can take a stab at the paper. And say that I also have a gun that can kill cancer cells in a petri dish.

              5. MadisonMD says:

                I’ve posted this before elsewhere, but I enjoy Solzhenitsyn so much, I can’t resist. And there are some very well-read folks on this blog.

                Here’s what good ol’ Alex Solzhenitsyn said about Vitamin C (AKA ascorbic acid) in his 1968 novel Cancer Ward:

                So it had not been very difficult to work out Proshka’s diagnosis: ‘Tumor of the heart, case inoperable.’ Not only inoperable, but untreatable, too if they were prescribing ascorbic acid.

                and

                ‘We’re going to discharge you today.’
                Proshka was thrilled to bits. His black eyebrows shot up to the ceiling.
                ‘What? You mean there won’t be an operation?’
                She shook her head and gave him a faint smile. …
                ‘So I’m healthy, am I?’
                ‘Not completely.’ …
                She turned to the nurse. ‘Ascorbic acid.’
                Maria bowed her head severely and noted it down in her book.

                Of course, Proshka was sent home to die, vitamin C in hand. So Vitamin C for cancer was an obvious humbug in a Stalin-era Siberian Cancer Ward, yet the myth lives today!

                We need an name for the ugly dead hypothesis that keeps resurrecting. Undead hypothesis…. Zombie Science?

              6. windriven says:

                @Madison

                “Zombie Science?”

                I love it!

  6. Cervantes says:

    I think it also contributes to this argument to note that many substitutes for testing in live animals have been developed over the years; that it is NIH policy to assure that animals do not suffer unnecessarily, that research animals be treated humanely, and that alternatives to live animals be used where possible. Primate research has largely ceased, in vitro assays have steadily expanded, and even computer modeling now substitutes for some live animal experiments.

    That said, live animals are needed for many purposes. But the culture of the research enterprise has changed over the years to be much more sensitive to the welfare and humane handling of research animals. Whatever degree of sympathy you may have for mice and rats, this is a moral imperative because there are humans who are distressed by mistreatment of animals, particularly vertebrates. We do hear them. (Personally, I only experiment on people, BTW, but that’s because I study communication and we’re the only creatures that have language.)

  7. Andrey Pavlov says:

    Another important point is that, for the most part, the animals used in research are very highly engineered and specifically bred. They are not your human shelter cats and dogs and would make incredibly terrible pets. They cannot survive in the wild. They cannot survive out of the lab in most cases.

    And yes, they are treated as humanely as possible with approval to use them at all being rather rigorous. You must justify why, explain why no other way of experimentation will produce the result you are looking for, and demonstrate what the absolute minimum number of animals to achieve your results are and use no more than that.

    1. Sawyer says:

      demonstrate what the absolute minimum number of animals to achieve your results are and use no more than that.

      This sticks out as an excellent starting point for learning about the overall process of medical research, and not just animal testing. It involves the proper use of statistics, an understanding of prior plausibility, the need for well-defined funding criteria, the need for well-defined publishing criteria, and the balance between personal values and objectivity for honest scientists. It’s rare to see the critics of modern medicine get even one of these aspects correct, yet they are all encapsulated in this single question.

      I wonder how to get people concerned about animal welfare to start at this point, rather than from a predetermined conclusion.

  8. Carl & Lenny says:

    It is a moral imperative NOT to breed, confine & torture animals for humans who don’t deserve it. As long as these animal rights soldiers are not preaching anti-vaccine bullshit or anti-GMO bullshit or anti-stem-cell bullshit, we should support them.
    And they deserve to be honored just like any other soldier for their hardship.
    Unlike paid government soldiers, animal rights soldiers don’t get paid.

    Humans could & should choose not to eat meat when their are plenty of vegan sources of protein. That they do implies they don’t deserve the benefits of experimentation on fully sentient vertebrate animals.

    And libertarians & free-market extremists and pro-lifers least of all deserve the benefits of medical research at the expense of animals. Hell – they don’t deserve the benefits of medical research even on single-celled bacteria. Their dogmatic mantra is that it does not matter what the benefit is to us, the human, it is simply not the rat’s responsibility.

    For pro-quality-of-lifers like myself, and those who know that it IS more important to forcibly take 10% of the wealth away from the top 0.01% to benefit the bottom 99.99% than it is to keep giving billionaires & bankers even bigger bonuses. experiment on invertebrate sea anemones or on fruit flies or planarian, if you want.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      What animal “deserves” to be bred, confined and tortured? Particularly the last point? How does this reconcile with instructions and regulations to minimize pain and suffering of lab animals?

      Why should we respect someone who is willing to harm humans that dedicate their lives towards improving human health? It would be great if we didn’t have to use lab animals for these programs – but we do. There is no viable alternative in many cases. Until we can develop acerebrate human clones to use as test subjects (something I think would be great), we’re stuck with animal models.

      Humans could & should choose not to eat meat when their are plenty of vegan sources of protein.

      Why? Humans are pretty much obligate omnivores, we pretty much die without some meat in our diet. Plus, meat is delicious. We are evolutionarily-cued to respond positively to it.

      Do you think we should cage or kill all obligate carnivores?

      Do you think it matters to the cow whether it is eaten by a human (after being killed quickly and painlessly) or a lion (who hunts it down, terrifying it the whole time, and then eats it from the organs outwards while the cow twitches with a broken leg)?

      Though I am on board with mroe expensive meat, eaten less frequently, grown in conditions that are more reasonable than the current version. Or, the best option, VAT MEAT!!! VAT MEAT!!!

      I mean, it’s not like nature is particularly kind to animals, or even cares. Cows are only shaped like cows because the ones that weren’t shaped like cows got eaten.

      I’m not going to defend the bonuses given billionaires and bankers, that does seem douchey, and sets up a series of perverse incentives to value short-term trades over long-term viability of the economic system. It is, of course, totally unrelated to questions of laboratory research or farming.

      1. Gerry.Rival says:

        “…we pretty much die without some meat in our diet.”

        Really? I’d like some sort of source for this. Pretty huge claim. There are many healthy vegetarians and vegans and those that have lived full healthy lives.

        “Plus, meat is delicious. We are evolutionarily-cued to respond positively to it. ”

        How does this in anyway grapple with the moral issues of doing so? Just cause evolution may have tuned us to do something, doesn’t mean we should. Just cause something is appealing to us or pleasurable, is no reason to do it.

        “I mean, it’s not like nature is particularly kind to animals, or even cares. Cows are only shaped like cows because the ones that weren’t shaped like cows got eaten.”

        I feel your standards as to what should constitute moral behavior seems kinda low. I assume you’re a supporter of scientific medical intervention and cures. Medical intervention and cures that save the lives of many that nature would’ve killed off. We as humans have the ability to look at our actions and the consequences and the ability to intervene. So why use the argument that because a mindless process isn’t kind to these animals, why can’t we just use them for ourselves as we choose and not recognize their autonomy as individuals with the ability to suffer, have feelings/emotions and a deep psychology of their own and their own lives to life.

        “Do you think it matters to the cow whether it is eaten by a human (after being killed quickly and painlessly) or a lion (who hunts it down, terrifying it the whole time, and then eats it from the organs outwards while the cow twitches with a broken leg)?”

        Couple of problems with this statement. Firstly, the cow you’ve just eaten is not the same cow that is already going to be eaten by that lion. You are not saving that cow from a gruesome death at the jaws of a lion. That cow is only there because we bred it into existence so that is a false comparison. If you really care about the suffering of cows that may be killed in such a manor, you may do better to start a charity that surveys areas inhabited by lions and humanely put down any animals about to be consumed by these wild lions.

        There is also a difference between what the lion is doing and what we are doing. The lion does so purely out of survival and survival instinct. We are not. We are purely breeding these animals purely for self gratification, ie. they are tasty.

        I also do not take how i should behave or get my morals by how other animals behave.

  9. Frederick says:

    That’s always a hard topic, I’m totally for better animal rights, I’m not a vegetarian ( although 75% of what we eat at home is vegetable, I hate weird “brand’ of vegetarian, for me you are Veggie or you are not, since i eat some meat, i’m not. And YES Fish is meat, animal flesh = meat, people justifying that they are Vegetarian, that way. that’s just BS).
    I believe in better treatment for animal in all aspect of human relation with them, in the farm ( for example : i Buy my egg for a friend who have layng hen in a nice small henhouse with a exit, they have a nice yard for them etc), with you pets and of course in research. Anyway. But Those people always make me sick, because it is too much, they treat researchers like war criminal. I don,t like any kind of extremist anyway. but not all research can replace animal, they want us to test on human or what? that can be unfortunate, but i believe it can be done in the most ethical way possible.
    Funny thing, i spoked to someone who is a big animal right activist, and that person was also buying into Anti-GMO crap of mister Seralini So i told that person that the guy, torture the rats, let them die, instead of euthenized them like it is normally done, so he can have shocking picture to show the press. She when silent and walk away.
    We need some of that research to be done, it can potentially help thousand ( even millions) of people, even save lives in the futures, I don’t see how that, denying people future treatment of Drug that can help them, can be see as more ethical and moral. Oh, those knowledge that research on animal can also be use on animal too. I don’t know how wide is the medical research in the veterinarian field, but i guess some advance can be made their too in the same way it is with humans.

    1. irenegoodnight says:

      I share your view on vegetarian status. I have met a number of people who tell me they are veggie and it turns out they eat CHICKEN. As long as they don’t eat red meat, they think they are veggie! It really does not matter I guess, and I’m glad to hear of any effort people make to improve their eating habits–for their health as well as for sustainability. I call myself Pescatarian at this point as I have a small portion of salmon once per week.

      I want to commend you for writing in English, Frederick,–you sound just like the emails I get from my friend Jessica from Dusseldorf. She speaks pretty good English and writes same as you. I think we all can know how you mean and enjoy your occasionally amusing (but charming) syntax. I will be visiting Germany next fall and while I hope to practice the language of my grandparents, I am sure that I will be the source of amusement–or perhaps just pity :-)

      1. Frederick says:

        LOL well thank, But i speak French, not German ( i’m form Quebec) hehe. the syntax in English is lot different. i understand 100% of what a hear in English ( except maybe crazy accents ) and I’m not to bad at Speaking it, but writing is a different animal. I guess that some people here might be confused with my comments sometimes. But i’m back in college right now, and i have a English class. I guess i will be better at it in a couple of month.

        My older Sister lived in Germany and Austria for 7 years when we were younger, she speak German quite well, It is a really difficult language. Good luck with it! :-)

        1. windriven says:

          Frederick, Over at SFSBM a member named Nurmi is trying to get the powers that be in Quebec to straighten up their act on CAM. She needs some help corresponding with them. If you can would you go over to the SFSBM site and see if you can assist her?

          1. Frederick says:

            I’m will check that, I’m not a member of SFSBM yet ( tight budget).
            But i really should do something about that, i Know a lot a people who want more SBM here too. We just had a bad case of anti-fluoride in our city.

            Tomorrow i am invited, as a member of the ‘parti quebecois’ ( the political party right now in power), to a cocktail in my city, where our prime minister Pauline Marois, and some some other of the member of the government ( the Heath minister gonna be there i think).
            Damn i’m not sure i have the time to go there. But that be the occasion to ask questions, asking if they have plan to make “medicine” respect the same standards of demonstrating effectiveness and safety as real medicine

  10. steney01 says:

    You always have to wonder when someone would prefer to rail against an imperfect solution rather than helping develop a better one. But I guess developing new solutions requires actual knowledge and effort.
    Saying that the animal models need to get to 90% predictive ability to be of any use is completely absurd. Do I want an AIDS test to have 99% positive predictive value? yes. Do I need every side effect in the animal toxicity model to translate perfectly to humans? No. There’s still significant value in 30%.

    1. David Gorski says:

      Exactly. The whole argument is patently silly on its fact to anyone who is a physician (like me) or otherwise involved in medical research. You’ll note that Greek never admits what the predictive value of his favored “alternatives” are. (Hint: for most of them, such as cell culture models, it’s much, much lower because they lack the three dimensional structure and different cell types in living tissue.) It’s also comparing apples and oranges. Of course, we want medical tests used to diagnose actual disease in actual humans to be as reliable as possible (although, as I pointed out, there are a fair number of medical tests in use today that are not 90% “reliable”). There’s no reason to expect the same of a tool used in research, for which even Greek’s cherry picked number of 31% “reliable” would actually be pretty good for many purposes.

      In any case, it’s a common argument among cranks. If current science is imperfect (and all science is), then it’s useless. Antivaccinationists are particularly fond of this argument. They come right out and argue that because vaccines aren’t 100% protective and are not 100% perfectly safe they are useless.

      1. StrangerInAStrangeLand says:

        When I hear this requirement of 100% safety and 100% protection for vaccines, I always want to congratulate these people on their cars.
        I mean, surely they have a warranty from the manufacturer that it is 100% safe to travel in their car. That under no circumstances a part will fail, that there is absolutely no possibility of an error in manufacturing or maintaining the car, that independently of circumstances, like road and weather conditions, the driver´s skills and behaviour or the way other road users act, it is 100% safe to drive that car and no harm can ever come to the people inside. Otherwise those people, who demand 100% protection and safety, would not consider driving it, right?

  11. Ray Greek says:

    For a slightly different view of reality based on publications in peer-reviewed literature, see
    http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/animal-rights/science-based-medicine-having-little-trouble-critical-thinking-and-due
    I admit that understanding TSMT requires work but those that refuse to even read the studies are probably never going to admit their errors. I’ld rather educate myself and see my errors than remain blissfully ignorant and wrong.

    1. David Gorski says:

      Oh, I’ve read a fair number of the same studies that you have. Although I haven’t read your book, I have read your arguments as presented in a fair number of your articles, some of which put my logorrhea to shame. I simply find them unconvincing for reasons that I’ve explained before.

      Moreover, some of the arguments that you no doubt fed to FLOE are patently silly, particularly your “31% gambit” and the comparison of that number to the requirement for a 90% reliability in medical tests. Actually, I forgot to ask you what you meant by that. Did you mean sensitivity? Did you mean specificity? Did you mean positive predictive value? What, precisely did you mean by 90%? Seriously, do you even know how medical tests are developed? Do you know how they are used clinically?

      I can’t speak for Steve Novella, but I must pass on your kind offer for a debate for the same reason I passed on offers for a debate with HIV/AIDS denialists and antivaccinationists. Make of that decision what you will. Knock yourself out painting me as a “coward” who is “afraid of you” if it floats your boat. In any case, given that my post only went live this morning, I must grudgingly express admiration that you could find my post—you have a Google search on your name, don’t you?—and then crank out a 4,200-word challenge in so little time. I could crank out that much verbiage in a day (my post was around 4,500 words), but not when I didn’t get home from work until 8:30 tonight. Well done, sir!

      Oh, and BTW, since I see that you’re posting your “challenge” to other websites, the least I can do is to crosspost my discussion to my not-so-super-secret other blog sometime this week. :-)

      1. irenegoodnight says:

        Wow! Talk about making NO sense. I just read Greek’s piece and there was no there, there. Just a lot of demonstrating what he was accusing you of! Weird.

        If his academic papers use this style, it’s hard to see how they get published. The other odd thing was that he mostly claimed to agree with you–before he got into the mind-numbing “debate rules”.

        I think he truly feels misunderstood. Being raised a fundie can really mess a person up.

        1. David Gorski says:

          You should try reading a couple of his longer academic papers. You’ll see that his academic writing is pretty much a more formalized version of the same sort of stuff he says on his blogs.:-)

          1. Paul says:

            Greek even went so far as to quote a comment that David made on this blog in one of his recent commentaries http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3558708/ it’s like he really, really wanted to be part of the cool SBM gang and was terribly hurt when they (justifiably) dismissed his propositions. Can’t blame his hyper arrogant writing style and tendency to misrepresent on this recent history though, it was present right from his first book.

            1. David Gorski says:

              it’s like he really, really wanted to be part of the cool SBM gang and was terribly hurt when they (justifiably) dismissed his propositions

              Oh, definitely. He so wanted to be part of the “cool” SBM/skeptic gang that he bought his way onto an episode of SGU when SGU auctioned off a spot as a guest rogue for one episode. :-)

    2. MadisonMD says:

      So Greek says animals are not human. Duh.
      But they are a lot closer than a computer simulation. Duh.
      ———————
      Hey Greek– would you like to volunteer to be the first subject for a new drug I’m working on? It looks good in cells. We’ve not looked at PK, distribution, or toxicology (all would require animals). We don’t know if the LD50 is 1nM or 1mM. Could be anything, really. So we need a volunteer to go first.

      You game? It’s your “TMST”* in action, baby.

      ———
      *As best I can tell TSMT is a fancy sounding acronym for the ridiculous idea that animals don’t predict anything… but then… his writing is Greek to me.

  12. Laura Ruble says:

    This 31% thing is really interesting. I like thinking about what statistics mean, but I’m not the smartest at this, so let me know if this doesn’t make sense:

    Comparing the 31% to a coin flip makes no sense at all. If I’m reading this correctly, the statistic means that 31% of the time, the response seen in the animal is akin to the response seen in subsequent uses in humans. 31% of the time, the human’s response can be predicted by the animal response. In a coin flip, 0% of the time, the second flip can be predicted by the result of the first flip. The first flip has NO predictive value. The first flip does not have a predictive value of 50%.

    Right?

    1. therion2k9 says:

      No, the math is more complicated. Although intuitively it sounds as if it doesn’t have predictive value, you’re being unfair to the coin flip by brushing its results off like this. Let me explain it how to view the whole thing differently to grasp, why:

      Let us say there are researchers A and B, who claim to be able to predict which of – let’s say 1000 bottles of substances – will cause a human to have hiccup (didn’t want to use “will kill a human” as example). But they won’t disclose the method they use beforehand. And think about it, not disclosing the methods they arrive at their conclusion does not effect if their predictions are correct.

      While nasty researcher A is only flipping a coin and tells you the result, B is injecting it into some kind of animal and bases his judgement on that.

      Now first of all, the predictive value will depend on how many of those substances will actually make a person hiccup. Let’s say 500 of those 1000 substances make a person hiccup (only one person will be tested for each substance). Then the expected value for our positive predictive values are
      number of true positives/number of positive calls=250/500=50%
      while the negative predictive value will be
      number of true negatives/number of negative calls=250/500=50% .
      Both predictive values are 50% for the coin flip.
      And I’m unsure what they mean when they don’t mention if they are talking about the negative or positive predictive value, but if they are talking about the accuracy: it’s 500/1000=50%.

      Let’s say that only 1 of those 1000 substances makes the test subject hiccup. The expected value are
      PPV=number of true positives/number of positive calls=0.5/500=0.1%
      NPV=number of true negatives/number of negative calls=499.5/500=99.9%
      So the predictive values heavily depend on the actual test (the accuracy is still 50% though).

      What I am wondering is, if that 31% is actually meant to be a predictive value in the statistical sense for a binary decision. Would the clarification really be “toxic” and “non-toxic” or would a finer grained classification be used? No clue about toxicology, but e.g. subdividing it “lethal, strong, middle, weak” would of course change the accuracy of researcher A (four-sides dice/double coin flip) to the worse to 25% and researcher B would win when having an accuracy of 31%
      (And if it’s not just about classifying in regards of toxicology then researcher A will get more and more trouble with his random judgments)

  13. Laura Ruble says:

    I guess what I’m saying is that if a certain methodology gives you accurate insight into the human response 31% of the time, that’s pretty good! It’s a whole lot better than going in blind. If my dreams accurately predicted the day ahead 31% of the time, I would be hailed as a prophet, not dismissed as “no better than a coin toss.”

  14. Angora Rabbit says:

    Those animal “rights” activists would have a lot more moral clout if they actually practiced what they screamed, I mean, preach. I have yet to see one refuse medical treatment derived from animal research for themselves or a loved one. I’ve worked in animal rescue for 20+ years, and animal activists are the worst volunteers, period. I won’t take them. They thrive on the feel-good buzz but balk at doing the actual work in the trenches. They won’t change litter pans, they won’t come into the shelter to walk the dogs or socialize the abandoned former pets because it’s “too upsetting” or “too sad.” The hypocrisy is mind-boggling because it’s not about the animals, it’s about their sad needs. PETA euthanizes perfectly adoptable puppies and kittens and dumps them in mall dumpsters in the middle of the night. A campus research committee will not approve more than one survival surgery on a research animal (for example, taking a biopsy or implanting a medical device), but my vet can perform an endless number of survival surgeries on a rescue animal. How does this differ in terms of what the animal experiences? Both use exactly the same medications, procedures, and analgesics.

    The mental contortions of the sCAMmers and creationists got nothing on these folks.

  15. Flower says:

    Thalidomide, for example, was tested on animals and found to be safe for use in humans. We all know how that went.

    The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has some compelling, science and ethics based arguments for making animal experimentation redundant:
    http://www.pcrm.org/research/

    Viable alternatives to vivisection can be found here:
    http://www.animalexperiments.info/studies/alternatives/alternatives.html
    and
    http://www.HumaneLearning.info/

    A selection of scientists who are calling for government funding of non-animal based medical research
    http://www.vivisectioninformation.com/index.php?news&nid=31

    and a vet’s plea to abolish vivisection on the grounds of ethics AND good science
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_Pn0l6ddMw#t=444

    1. David Gorski says:

      Regarding the thalidomide myth:

      http://speakingofresearch.com/extremism-undone/bad-science/#12

      Also, thalidomide was never approved in the US.

      As for the rest, note what I said above about use of the term “vivisectionist.”

      1. Chris says:

        That article does mention Dr. Kelsey. I read somewhere that she had worked with rabbits at the University of Chicago, and knew that drugs affected their offspring. So she insisted on seeing those kinds of tests done.

        The company refused, and tried to get her supervisors to override her requests for more data.

        For preventing what happened in Europe, President Kennedy awarded her the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Oldham_Kelsey

        (Now I need to go, but that Speaking of Research article looks interesting, I’ll probably spend a couple of days to fully read it)

    2. Angora Rabbit says:

      Any time an animal activist wants to bash animal research they blather about thalidomide without understanding what really happened.

      What really happened was INSUFFICIENT animal testing (yes, I am shouting at you). In the late 1950s, we did not know enough about drug metabolism, The thinking was that testing for infant/prenatal safety could be done in any ole’ critter. So rat and mouse were tested, because they are inexpensive.

      Turns out that rodents are different from most other animals (including people) in thalidomide metabolism. If the company had tested it in MORE animal species, the problem would have popped right up. Both rabbit and monkeys respond to thalidomide just like people do.

      The problem wasn’t animal testing. It was TOO LITTLE animal testing. Now, we test all drugs for potential perinatal interactions using a rodent and non-rodent species. Problem solved. And, incidentally, created the field of teratology and birth defects prevention.

      Josef Warkany is one of my heroes. :)

      1. Sawyer says:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Warkany

        Looks awfully sparse. There’s a fun weekend project for someone here!

    3. Sawyer says:

      Ah, thalidomide. One of the my favorite litmus tests for science literacy. It seems like every person that wants to talk about the story of thalidomide either comes to some very sensible, profound conclusions about how modern medicine should be practiced, or somehow comes to the exact opposite conclusions. Almost makes me wonder if there’s some sort of conspiracy among the quacks where someone is purposely generating absurd talking points.

      The word “thalidomide” is still losing out to “Ionnidis” for it’s ability to distinguish real doctors from the nuts, but it’s a close competition.

    4. MadisonMD says:

      Flower:
      This article cites Herceptin. Please indicate one possible way that this drug could have been developed without animal research.
      Thank you.

  16. Paul de Boer says:

    As Novella recently explained, “argument from imperfection” is called the Nirvana fallacy.

  17. Paul says:

    Great commentary Dr Gorski, but frankly all you really need to know about the mentality of FLOE is that they think that spamming somebody’s inbox with hundreds of identical emails is an acceptable way to invite them to join a discussion.

    1. David Gorski says:

      Obviously. But it was fun to know that this would get Ray Greek’s attention. In fact, it actually took longer than I expected it to—nearly 18 hours. He’s kind of like Bloody Mary: Mention his name three times and he appears—because, I’m sure, of Google Alerts on his name. It’s also painfully obvious that everything FLOE puts out is based on Greek’s ideas, such as they are.

      1. Bruce says:

        I wonder what would happen if i said his name out loud three times in a

  18. Scott Field says:

    “Science…is decided on evidence presented at scientific conferences and in peer-reviewed journals…Such “live public debates” have only one purpose: To sway public opinion to a viewpoint not supported by science…”
    If you’d left off the last four words, I would agree. The purpose of debates is to sway public opinion to a viewpoint, period. They don’t alter what is/isn’t true, but they can alter what the public believes is true. You of all people should know that just because there’s a strong scientific consensus on a point does not mean the public is going to accept it. The fact that creationism is still so popular despite being so obviously, demonstrably wrong should make that obvious.
    .
    How effective a tool debates are for that is another question. But saying they’re only good for selling pseudoscience is missing the point IMO.
    .
    Phil “Bad Astronomer” Plait recently put it best (emphasis his):
    “For too long, scientists have thought that facts speak for themselves. They don’t. They need advocates. If we ignore the attacks on science, or simply counter them by reciting facts, we’ll lose. That much is clear from the statistics. Facts and stories of science are great for rallying those already on our side, but they do little to sway believers.”

  19. Jon Brewer says:

    I’ve written a deal about racism in the animal rights movement. And I’m not the only one, but most of CERTAIN (Coalition to End Racial Targeting of American Indian Nations) is defunct. Look up Jason Spaulding or Michael Two Horses and their writings on Sea Shepherd for details.

    Now understand my opinion, my politics are tempered by skepticism. I am concerned about abuse of patent law by biotech companies, for instance, but I’ll be the first to lay a ten-page smackdown full of footnotes to peer-reviewed literature on someone who says GMOs cause cancer. My two issues with the ACA can be summarized as “Why is there no public option, and why did anyone take Harkin’s amendment to include naturopaths seriously?” I’ve also criticized friends for the photo of the tsunami aftershocks being portrayed as if it were the fallout from Fukushima, then gave them a real map of the Fukushima fallout.

    Anyway, animal rights activists have…a history. Did you know PETA once pretended the NAACP joined them in protesting the treatment of chickens? Seriously.

  20. Ed Miller says:

    I am a vegan and an animal rights “lunatic”. I also have a physics degree from MIT.

    There are a lot of not so bright, no so educated folks in the AR movement. Obviously the claim that animal studies constitute bad science (i.e., unpredictive) is ridiculous.

    But, just as obviously to me, many, many animal studies are completely and utterly immoral. I know you claim that morality is not a scientific issue, and therefore not the subject of your post (or your blog). But it’s completely unfair to criticize AR folks without addressing the morality issue, because morality is their central point.

    Sure, AR people tend to trot out a lot of nonsense from time to time. But it’s not because they are aggressively terrible at science (though many are)… it’s because they believe that animal studies are profoundly immoral and want them to stop and will throw stuff at the wall until something sticks.

    Why don’t they use humans in many of these studies? Obviously because it would be considered horrifically unethical. But substitute a chimpanzee for a human and all of a sudden it’s a-ok? What’s the bright-line difference between a human and a chimp that makes it “torture and murder” in one case, and “science” in the other? Scientists, of all people, should know that there’s no bright-line whatsoever between these two sorts of animals.

    And so between a chimp and a rhesus monkey. And so between a rhesus monkey and a dog. And a rat. And so on. The very reason humans find it so useful to run animal tests is because these creatures are made of nearly the same stuff as we.

    What to do instead? I don’t know. Maybe nothing. I believe that if there’s knowledge that absolutely cannot be feasibly unlocked without torturing and killing mammals… maybe that knowledge can simply remain unknown until we find a better way.

    I’m not 100% absolutist. Vaccines and antibiotics–the cornerstones of modern medicine–ok. There’s a reason life expectancies jumped 30 years in such a short period of time. But unless your animal study can credibly have the potential to raise the worldwide average life expectancy by even a year–well, you aren’t really “saving lives.” Mostly you’re just killing animals.

    I believe that in 200 years humans will look back at the bad old days of the early 21st Century and shake their heads at how enlightened we were in some ways, but all the while we tolerated the mass intentional breeding, torture, and slaughter of literally billions (with a B) of vertebrate animals every year. Mostly for food, but also for science.

    1. Andrey Pavlov says:

      I am a vegan and an animal rights “lunatic”

      Nothing wrong with being a vegan and the rest of your post doesn’t support your claim of being a lunatic.

      But, just as obviously to me, many, many animal studies are completely and utterly immoral. I know you claim that morality is not a scientific issue, and therefore not the subject of your post (or your blog). But it’s completely unfair to criticize AR folks without addressing the morality issue, because morality is their central point.

      I think you are missing something in your argument.

      And so between a chimp and a rhesus monkey. And so between a rhesus monkey and a dog. And a rat. And so on. The very reason humans find it so useful to run animal tests is because these creatures are made of nearly the same stuff as we.

      Yes… in agreement so far.

      I believe that if there’s knowledge that absolutely cannot be feasibly unlocked without torturing and killing mammals

      So…. your argument hinges on where you draw the line. You see, evolution shows us quite clearly that all living things are related. You make the argument from morality – a perfectly reasonable argument – but then discount the fact that the morality argument is not the topic and must be addressed. You go on to say that there is no bright line, but ignore the ramifications of that for your own argument.

      You see the reason why we don’t approach the morality argument is because the science shows us there is no bright line. You draw yours at mammals, apparently. Or at least vertebrates. Well, inverts and plants are also living creatures that we are related to. With the same basic drives and needs as every living organism on the planet. One could make the exact same moral argument about harvesting plants for medicinal purposes. We shouldn’t have destroyed so many periwinkles to get vincristines or yew trees for taxol.

      Yet you would probably find that a bit absurd and “too far.” The problem is that you have no more reason and evidence to support the absurdity of that than I would of your stance on mammals.

      So these sorts of questions must be answered outside the scientific sphere.

      What to do instead? I don’t know. Maybe nothing. I believe that if there’s knowledge that absolutely cannot be feasibly unlocked without torturing and killing mammals… maybe that knowledge can simply remain unknown until we find a better way.

      And that is precisely what we are doing in the world of animal research. Note well that non-human primate experimentation is almost completely non-existent and is actively being phased out. That non-primate mammal research requires IRB approval and rigorous criteria be met along with a robust demonstration that you can answer an important question with the minimal number of animals and that there is no other way to get the results without the use of animals.

      So that is precisely what we are doing – as science and methods improve it will be harder and harder to demonstrate the “no other way requirement.” However, doing animal research is precisely how we discover, validate, and then ultimately develop those “other ways” to supplant the use of actual animals. You can’t just suspend all animal research and somehow magically create valid models at some point down the line (even if you ignore what that may mean in terms of human suffering and breakthroughs in the mean time).

      We are, IMHO, nearing a huge turning point. We are developing technologies to grow stem cells on advanced scaffolding to develop complex multicellular structures. We are advancing in computing power to be able to process massive amounts of data and model huge amounts of variables in meaningful time frames. But we aren’t quite there yet. When we are, a huge swath of the already significantly diminished animal testing will be rendered obsolete as well. But we need to validate that before we can use it. Our infrastructure in this field of scientific inquiry is built on animal models and in the world of science, as you should know, you can’t just jump ship and start up something completely new. You need to bridge it to what you know or else you will be lost at sea.

      So when you try and make a moralistic argument, it completely fails when the AR folks use morally base tactics themselves. Because, as you said, there is no bright line. And rationally minded, genuinely caring individuals should recognize that such tactics are actually counter to their professed goals (regardless of why they have said goals), that the entirety of the industry is moving in that direction already, and that the best way to achieve their goals that they supposedly care so deeply about that they would be willing to intimidate and possibly kill humans over it would be to actually engage in the processes and systems already in place to minimize the use of research animals. Having sound rational to demonstrate how research can be done without animals and developing techniques and technologies to do so is the best and fastest way to reduce animal experimentation.

      Having rallies to “end testing now” and sending out threatening emails, employing threatening tactics, and otherwise acting like a bunch of thugs is completely counterproductive and will ultimately only end up harming more animals. Like the morons in Italy who “freed” a bunch of transgenic animals that have absolutely no hope of surviving outside the lab. So those are doomed to death and research is set back, so more animals will be used to continue the research, and anything gained from it that would reduce the need for future animals will also be set back, so more animals will be used for longer as well.

      But unless your animal study can credibly have the potential to raise the worldwide average life expectancy by even a year–well, you aren’t really “saving lives.” Mostly you’re just killing animals.

      A wonderful sentiment, but that’s just not how science works. You cannot demonstrate a priori that this animal research will lead to anything, let alone increasing life expectancy. And the arbitrary number of worldwide average life expectancy by 1 year (heck even by 1 month or 1 day) is (intentionally or not) setting the bar so high as to be completely unachievable by definition. No single study could possibly demonstrate that no matter what it is.

      Everything is incremental with dead ends inevitable. But one thing about animal studies is that they also give us knowledge to then use fewer animals in studies in the future. Maximizing that should be the goal of AR groups and there are rational and effective ways to achieve that. What these people do, however, is completely antithetical to that and is a purely emotional and irrational acting out.

      What’s the bright-line difference between a human and a chimp that makes it “torture and murder” in one case, and “science” in the other?

      None, but I am personally comfortable with being a “specie-ist” and valuing human life above all other. After all, you still agree that plants don’t warrant your ethical considerations, despite them being our evolutionary cousins as well.

      We all draw a line somewhere, even you. I am all for moving that line further and further away from our clade. I actually agree with another commenter here, WLU, that vat meat is a great way to go. Grow our own steaks and chicken from stem cells. In the meantime, we do the best we can, and should strive for humane treatment and realistic intermediate goals to achieve the ultimate goal. Not ludicrous uncrossable lines in the sand.

      1. Ed Miller says:

        Does it have a brain? To me that’s a pretty clear, sensible bright line. No brain, no ethical issues. For the small percentage of species for which that question is not a clear yes or no, you can have em.

        Of course science is incremental and unpredictable, and you can’t look at a study and determine where the results will lead in the future. But certainly some studies you can look at and say, “This could lead to meaningful advancements,” and others, even the most optimistic proponents couldn’t truly construct a case that the study will contribute meaningfully to a major medical advancement. I’m sure if I went through a survey of the literature in this month’s journals, I could separate studies into these two categories, and a reasonable person would not disagree with me on the majority of them.

        Having said all that, I personally don’t advocate against scientific animal experimentation. Not because I’m on board with it, but because I feel that advocating against animal agricultural practices is MUCH more important.

        1. Animal ag is, by the raw numbers, 99% of the problem.

        2. I do believe that institutional science will eventually move away from animal testing with relatively little external pressure. The non-human primate initiatives are an example of these changes. Technology (e.g., vat meat) will also improve, which will drive the change. Animal ag, on the other hand, will fight to exploit animals down to their very last dollar.

        3. I can see the perspective of scientists. I think it’s wrong to use animals this way. But I readily concede that it’s not black-and-white. On the other hand, there is little true human need for massive animal agriculture.

        So this is what I ask. I ask it of everyone, but I ask it particularly of those people who experiment on animals. Stop eating animals.

        If you accept on some level that there are ethical concerns with animal experimentation, but you feel that the benefits outweigh… stop eating animals. That would go a long way. It certainly would make people like me 90% more sympathetic to your position. Because, to me, all the rhetoric about humane this and incremental that and for the greater good rings hollow every time you buy boneless chicken breast from the supermarket.

        Don’t even need to go 100% on it. Cut your animal consumption by 50%. By 80%. It definitely won’t hurt you–it likely will increase your life expectancy. And much more than that, it’s a meaningful step you can take right now to acknowledge the ethical problems with the treatment of non-human animals.

        And then, with the help of scientists doing research today, in 10, 20, or however many years, we will have vat meat produced on an industrial scale in supermarkets which will make me very happy.

        1. Andrey Pavlov says:

          Does it have a brain? To me that’s a pretty clear, sensible bright line. No brain, no ethical issues.

          My point exactly. To you that is a seemingly bright line. I personally probably wouldn’t even argue with you that it is a pretty decent line to pick. But the point is you are still picking an arbitrary line. At least you concede that there are a number of creatures out there were the line is blurry. But things without brains – plants even – have reactions and complex signaling abilities. It still seems rather arbitrary to draw that line there. Which is fine – the line must be arbitrary, but you should at least be willing to admit that.

          But certainly some studies you can look at and say, “This could lead to meaningful advancements,” and others, even the most optimistic proponents couldn’t truly construct a case that the study will contribute meaningfully to a major medical advancement. I’m sure if I went through a survey of the literature in this month’s journals, I could separate studies into these two categories, and a reasonable person would not disagree with me on the majority of them.

          Sure, but how many of those studies are built on previous ones where the impact was unknown until a later time? How many seminal works are identified post-hoc through experiments decades later? Once again, the line is arbitrary as to where we draw the limits. How much evidence does one need to overcome your (and other AR types, you being very, very reasonable – just to be clear) objections to using animals? That threshold is also arbitrary. You hedge on the side to diminish animal use in research. I would hedge on the side of advancing scientific knowledge. Both of us hope that we are not far off the mark when we draw that line.

          And of course, animal studies will need to go on for quite a while longer in some fields. Evolutionary biology being one of them. Though, thankfully, those studies tend to be overall less impactful on animals.

          As for Ag – I am in agreement with you in kind but not degree. I also do not think that it should be a requirement to become vegetarian or even decrease meat consumption in order to speak about the ethics and reduction of animal research. You are conflating two completely separate topics. Obviously there are common undercurrents and themes. But it is a false equivalency to say that one must be willing to decrease meat consumption in order to have any legitimate say on animal research ethics.

          As for your points, I completely agree with #1, I feel reasonably confident I can agree with #2, #3 is a bit more thorny for me (I obviously agree with the first part, but don’t know enough to agree or disagree with the second part, in particular since “massive” is a subjective term).

          As for me, I eat animals and certainly enjoy doing so. I also eat a lot of vegetables and often have meat-free days primarily because I really enjoy vegetarian cuisine and secondarily for the health benefits. I try to purchase all my foods from sources that are sustainable, humane, and of species that are not threatened. I refused to eat shark fin soup at my friend’s wedding. I am all for changing Ag to more sustainable and humane methods. But it is not something I personally care enough to campaign for.

          Does that meet your criteria for being able to have a say regarding animal research? Or do you need me to cut out even more meat and do more advocacy for that threshold to be met?

          If you want to try and convince people to eat less meat… good on ya! I would generally tend to agree and have indeed cut down my own consumption over the years for myriad reasons. But that has nothing to do with the concept of ethics in animal research.

          Oh, and vegans have shorter life spans and increased all cause mortality over vegetarians. People with very low meat consumption and vegetarians have no significant difference.

        2. David Gorski says:

          Does it have a brain? To me that’s a pretty clear, sensible bright line. No brain, no ethical issues.

          Define “brain.”

          1. Ed Miller says:

            A brain is an organ inside vertebrate heads.

            I’ve been down this road with people a zillion times before and it’s a dead end. This isn’t about starfish.

            1. Andrey Pavlov says:

              The key is that there is no bright line as to what a brain is. And you have drawn an arbitrary one at vertebrates. Do invertebrates not have brains?

              Dr. Gorski’s point is exactly the same as mine. I just have more time to write out a more detailed comment. All of it is completely subjective and arbitrary. The ideals are shared by you and the scientific community – minimize use of animals in research.

              Your comments about reduction in meat consumption have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

              And you haven’t addressed my comment, just snarked at Dr. Gorski’s.

              1. Ed Miller says:

                Sure, it’s arbitrary. I’m not saying there’s some universal morality that is clear and provable. Some cultures still consider human slavery as acceptable, and I can’t point to any universal truth to convince them that it’s not. I’m sure they have some internal code that determines which persons are acceptable to enslave and which ones are unacceptable. This standard would seem utterly arbitrary to me.

                I just threw “has a brain” out there because it’s fairly clear-cut and fairly intuitive (jellyfish notwithstanding). Maybe it’s not at all intuitive to you, but it is indeed an intuitive standard to many people. Obviously it’s also arbitrary.

                Ultimately none of that matters. Broader culture determines which of these behaviors are tolerated and which aren’t. Scientists who experiment on animals are presently facing a minority of people who do not tolerate their actions. Over time, the number of people who do not tolerate it will either grow or shrink or remain roughly stable. I believe that over time it will grow, and that eventually many forms of animal experimentation currently accepted will generally be deemed barbaric and shunned. I could be wrong. No one can predict these things with any certainty.

              2. Andrey Pavlov says:

                I just threw “has a brain” out there because it’s fairly clear-cut and fairly intuitive (jellyfish notwithstanding). Maybe it’s not at all intuitive to you, but it is indeed an intuitive standard to many people.

                As someone with a degree in evolutionary biology the answer is not intuitive to me. I find that in most cases when someone claims a statement is “intuitive” that generally translates to “is what most people who are uneducated on the field in question tend to think in concordance with the currently prevailing cultural milieu.” Which is not only not precise enough for a detailed scientific discussion on the topic, but is itself something that changes over time. It is also a convenient way of basically saying that you have thought about something just enough to have an opinion but simply don’t want to deal with the messy details once you delve more deeply into it.

                You’ve presented a positive statement of your position and an arbitrary and nebulous cutoff regarding it. Which is convenient in that it allows you to claim that “not enough is being done” and indeed segway into a the completely irrelevant topic of meat consumption.

                But when you realize it is all a continuum and all arbitrary (which you do) then you should also realize that there is no “goal” to reach, but the process that is important. Because once we stop researching on anything “with a brain” as per Ed Miller’s intuitive definition, there will still be other things we are experimenting on – some things without brains and some things people who disagree with Ed Miller will say have a brain. And in the meantime we may well have adopted and utilized tactics and means which accomplish the goal of Ed Miller and leave the infrastructure and pursuit of further goals severely wanting. In other words, it espouses an “ends justify the means” mentality since there is a specific and often “intuitive” goal in mind, which is precisely what we see with most AR advocates and their despicable tactics.

                But when you focus on the process with the ultimate goal being to improve scientific knowledge and gains whilst simultaneously minimizing any impact to living organisms and the environment, you must also realize and admit that this is precisely what we are doing. And suddenly most of the sound and fury from the AR groups becomes mere piffle.

                But that isn’t viscerally satisfying to someone who – arbitrarily – believes that rat experimentation is the moral equivalent of Nazi human experimentation. Admitting we are doing the right thing already and then working in an intellectually honest, scientifically rigorous, and overall beneficial manner to further the process already in place is what AR activists should be doing, if they actually cared about animal welfare instead of their own personal feelings of superiority over those who would be so morally depraved as to experiment on non-human animals.

                So yes, as you say the fundamental root aspect of what drives anti-GMO folks and AR folks is different. But to pretend that this difference is so amazingly important that it negates comparisons between the two is false. Because the AR groups take that one, tiny, grain of reasonableness and do exactly what the anti-GMO crowd are doing and invent ridiculous ideas and commit stupid acts that actually do more to harm the welfare of animals than help. And allows for otherwise clearly intelligent and rational people to make absurd segues into a demand to decrease meat consumption in order to be taken seriously in regards to minimizing and ultimately eliminating animal experimentation.

    2. Sawyer says:

      “…will throw stuff at the wall until something sticks.”

      Yeah, this is a fundamental disagreement most of us here have with animal rights activists. This strategy may work with a lot of people, it may even work with some scientists, but it completely backfires in this community. Every argument that gets put forward with minimal scientific evidence just makes me more suspicious of arguments that appear to be based on valid scientific evidence. There is a level of credibility required in order to join the discussion, and if you don’t reach that level, it’s not worth me paying attention.

      This is the exact same problem I have with the anti GMO crowd. I’m sure there are some good arguments buried somewhere in the hurricane of noise, but I’m not walking through the storm to find them.

      1. Ed Miller says:

        There’s a crucial difference between anti-GMO and AR. At the root of anti-GMO activities is a poorly-formulated hysteria with no substance. At the root of AR is that every day millions of animals are treated in ways that would be considered the most vile of crimes against humanity if they were perpetrated against humans.

        Whether you think this is an ethical problem or not, you must at least agree that this is the state of things. Anti-GMO people, on the other hand, have invented a problem out of whole cloth.

  21. Frederick C. Sauls says:

    Let me pose a simple question:
    Would you prefer that the toxicity of a new antibiotic be discovered in rats or your daughter?

  22. weing says:

    I’m sure all the animal rights activists would sign up for drug toxicity studies. I doubt if any IRB would approve such a thing, even if they signed away their rights. Sorry. The researchers have to treat people preferentially, no matter how much they protest.

    1. Andrey Pavlov says:

      An excellent counterpoint I wish I’d thought of in my own rebuttal to Ed. He demanded we cut down meat consumption to prove we are serious about animal rights. Well, he should pony up and submit himself to toxicity testing to prove he is serious about it.

      Absurd, isn’t it?

      I make no apologies for being specie-ist. We came from an evolutionary milieu that has no regard for the lives of organisms found in it. We are just now in the very new and unique position to do something about that. But we can’t just abruptly do so because Ed Miller (or anyone else) wants it to be the case. I would actually love – and I mean love – if we didn’t need any living organisms to test anything at all. That means we would have amazing technological sophistication to run highly accurate and verified models and would be able to make quantum leaps (I know, I know) in scientific knowledge extremely rapidly.

      But how do you think we will get there?

  23. Amanda Harris says:

    Supremacism is ugly and abhorrent no matter how it manifests itself. The history of medical experimentation is the history of the abuse of the weak by those in power. You carry on the tradition of medical experimentation on slaves, on the mentally ill, the poor.

    Those who experiment on animals are motivated by the same belief, that they have a right to torture and kill to protect themselves and those in the same group. The ‘other’ can be disregarded. We will look back on this abuse with the same revulsion as that felt by the world during the Doctors’ Trial, and forget that we were all complicit.

    The question of whether one would prefer to have a drug tested on one’s relative or a rat is one that was asked of me at age 11. This is still the level of debate? The answer is that we would all exploit others to save ourselves and those closest to us. That’s why we need laws, and why we deny rights to those it suits us to exploit.

    You torture and murder and seek to defend it. It is barbarism and it is indefensible.

    P A Harris

    1. David Gorski says:

      The question of whether one would prefer to have a drug tested on one’s relative or a rat is one that was asked of me at age 11. This is still the level of debate? The answer is that we would all exploit others to save ourselves and those closest to us. That’s why we need laws, and why we deny rights to those it suits us to exploit.

      You’ve nicely sidestepped the actual question. Try again. How about this? Will you step up to volunteer to have a drug that has only been tested in cell culture tested on yourself, rather than animals?

    2. weing says:

      “The question of whether one would prefer to have a drug tested on one’s relative or a rat is one that was asked of me at age 11. This is still the level of debate? The answer is that we would all exploit others to save ourselves and those closest to us.”
      So your answer to this question is that you would exploit others, meaning people, to save yourself and those closest to you, rather than exploit animals?

    3. Andrey Pavlov says:

      Weing makes an excellent point.

      For Amanda to be logically consistent then she should demand for a stop to all medical and most biological research. If we don’t test anything on animals that means that a therapy has to go untested on a human, making that person the test subject. If it is wrong to test on animals because “we would all exploit others to save ourselves and those closest to us” then it should be even more wrong to test on humans. Which means we are done and need to pack up shop.

      Thankfully, the research we have done allows us to use animals less and less frequently and our methods and ethical approvals require us to demonstrate that they are necessary and what the minimum number used is. As we continue in our understanding and our technology, we will eventually be able to model a lot of things in computer simulations where would would have had to use an animal before. But we needed that initial information to get to that point. And we need technology like quantum computing to be able to process horrendously complex models.

      So Amanda – is your conviction strong enough to demand a stop to all medical progress immediately? How would you suggest we go about doing medical research?

      And if you do think we should stop all medical research then that is fine. I respect that you are logically consistent and have a firm belief. I disagree and so do most other human beings.

    4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Hi Amanda,

      Yes, ethical standards in the past were much, much lower, horrifyingly so, and horrifyingly paternalistic, for human studies. That’s why we have stringent ethical guidelines and research ethics boards for all federally-funded research in basically every first world country. However, animals aren’t people, and different standards apply. Of course, even the standards used for animals are quite stringent, and emphasize minimal suffering. It’s really too bad we can’t use something other than animal models to conduct research, but this is reality and we must work within it. To call it “supremacism” is a bit much, it’s an unfortunate feature of biology but it’s not done out of malice. There is simply little choice (until we can come up with acerebrate clones, which I do hope happens at some time in the future.

      Calling medical research “torture” is, of course, stupid, but you’re going for an emotional punch, not factual statements. Protocols are in place to minimize suffering, and scientists are not sadists who love to torture animals. I would guess it is the least enjoyable part of their jobs, the sacrifice of the animals, but they realize they have no alternative. Certainly you aren’t offering one, you’re just pretending that medical research occurs in animals because of sadism – which is a lie.

      The question of whether one would prefer to have a drug tested on one’s relative or a rat is one that was asked of me at age 11. This is still the level of debate? The answer is that we would all exploit others to save ourselves and those closest to us. That’s why we need laws, and why we deny rights to those it suits us to exploit.

      You torture and murder and seek to defend it. It is barbarism and it is indefensible.

      So…you were asked this question when you were 11. What was that, three years ago or something? Because you’re arguing like a child. Animal research is no more “exploitation” than farming with animals is. And yes, you could see it as “exploitation”. It can be cruel. But humans need to eat, and animals tend to be pretty delicious.

      The debate is actually considerably advanced of this question, but you don’t seem to be aware of it. Guidelines regarding animal research draw upon considerably-developed frameworks and research on the ethics and science of animal testing. It’s not a simple area – if we want medicines to live longer and in better health, we need animal research, but we also try to minimize and humanize the same research process. This is the best-so-far solution to an intractable problem. It’s not perfect, but then again – animal rights activists don’t really care about reasonable solutions since their starting point is irrational anyway. If it makes you feel any better, those animals would live in greater fear, and die much more painful, terror-filled deaths in the wild, being chased and consumed alive by foxes, wolves and predatory birds. House cats are renowned for their cruelty to small rodents, how do you feel about pets? And if your goal is to minimize animal suffering, you should consider paving all wildlands because nature is a bit of a bitch and tends to end the lives of animals in unkind ways.

  24. Claudia u14005621 says:

    As a young student, currently studying in a medical and scientifical field at tertiary level, but with the intention to move to study veterinary sciences – my passion for animals thus speaks for itself – this blog post has been an eye opener.

    I have always been bias in terms of animal testing, that being said yes I was extremely against it due to my love for animals, yet I’ve never actually taken the time to consider the other side of the argument. Although this blog post might not exactly dive into the ethnicities of it, just the topics that are highlighted gave me a huge insight into the actuality of this topic. I do believe many forget how far we have come since 1867 in terms of medical and scientifical breakthroughs, which in most cases would never have happened without using animals as test subjects. As well as the treatment towards animals in terms of research and tests. And although I am not completely convinced in all aspects of it being completely right to use animals as test models, I do see the importance in it and wouldn’t exactly be willing to sign such a petition as FLOE has created (even after reading their article).

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