Speaking of Research at SFN

“They attacked all of neuroscience when they attacked me” -David Jentsch
This morning Sci attended the symposium on Animals in Research: Widening the Tent, a symposium on how to reach out and garner more support for animal research, and to encourage scientists to speak out. You’d think that would be a pretty easy thing, of course scientists want to support their own research! But it’s hard, and animal rights activists are determined to make it that way. It is very hard to speak out on the benefit of your research when you worry about your car being bombed, your children being threatened at school, your home being flooded, your laboratory attacked. When it happens to one of us, all of us feel the fear. And what can we do? For many years now, scientists have just kept their heads down. Keep your head down, don’t identify yourself, and maybe they won’t come after you.
But that is not helping. Without scientists speaking out in support of their work, the field goes to the small, but vocal animal rights movement, which hijacks our science and does their best to turn the public against us. They have money (PETA alone has a $120 MILLION budget), they have drive, and they have scared us into silence.
And that’s not going to happen anymore.


Scientists are speaking out, recruiting help, telling the public about their work, and getting people organized. I got to hear Tom Holder, the founder of Speaking of Research , talk about the progress that has been made. In the UK, people have vocally supported animal research, marches in support have easily outnumbered and overwhelmed the vocal minority. In the US, that is not yet the case, scientists are still scared.
But, as David Jentsch told me later, we cannot let fear hold us back, we need to let our outrage overwhelm the fear that we are all feeling. And we are outraged. In biomedical research, we scientists have made huge strides in developing cures for illness. Cancer drugs, psychiatric medications, the new flu vaccine, treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis, arthritis. We need animals to do our research. We use other techniques in cells and humans, of course, but the fact is, we just don’t know enough about the body to make non-animal models which are useful. We are the GOOD GUYS. We are out to help those who are suffering, both humans AND animals suffering from similar diseases.
And we need to let people know, we need to inform the public of what exactly we do, how we do it, and what it means for the future of science. Sign the Pro-test petition, declare your support. There is safety in numbers. Speak with people about your work, and tell your personal story. Tell people about the animals you work with, why you work with them. If you don’t tell your story, who will?

36 Responses

  1. I’m tempted to suggest keeping a firearm in a locked safe in the PI’s office.

  2. Nah, we have few enough grad students who make it out alive.

  3. Great entry – thanks for the petition plug. I’ll mention this when I post a report about the SfN conference later.
    Tom

  4. Great entry – thanks for the petition plug. I’ll mention this when I post a report about the SfN conference later.
    Tom

  5. I really enjoyed this entry. As a scientist who works with mice as an animal model for disease, I have come across these same issues.
    What I find is that activists are stuck in the past, with outdated photos and complaints about activities that would never happen in any modern science lab. We should acknowledge that while science was once not as ethical as it could have been (hello 1970s!), times have changed, mainly thanks to animal activism. It’s important to appreciate the changes that have happened and the progress we have made.
    I think the most important thing is to dispel myths about animal research. First of all, I know for a fact that no animals are “tortured” as depicted on many of the anti-animal-research posters and in literature. I love my little mice. I sing to them and make sure they have clean cages and lots of fresh food and water. They are never sick, they are never old, and they are not allowed to be in pain.
    My Masters project was composed of two studies, one on mice, and one on humans, and I wrote the ethics for both. My mouse ethics took 3 times as long as my human ethics did. There are limitless safeguards in place to protect the animals that we work with. I do not think that protesters against animal research understand that.
    Finally, a message to the brilliant, wise, wonderful people who wish to “free the animals”. Please write a letter to your congress person and stay away from our labs. Last winter some animal rights activists “freed” some of our hamsters into the wild. City workers were picking rodent corpses out of sewers and off the sides of roads for months. How would you like it if someone broke into your home, threw you out in the cold and rain without any food or fresh water, and told you to “be free!”. I wouldn’t be happy.

  6. The use of animals in research represents a “might makes right” philosophy-people do it because they can, regardless of the morality of using and harming animals.
    Science must operate within ethical constraints–being able to argue that a particular use of animals may yield some benefit is insufficient, using human children would likely provide the same benefit or a better one, but it doesn’t settle the argument as to whether or not it is moral.

  7. The use of animals in research represents a “might makes right” philosophy-people do it because they can, regardless of the morality of using and harming animals.
    Science must operate within ethical constraints–being able to argue that a particular use of animals may yield some benefit is insufficient, using human children would likely provide the same benefit or a better one, but it doesn’t settle the argument as to whether or not it is moral.

  8. Will –
    A great many of us simply don’t think there is an ethical argument to be had. It isn’t about “might makes right.” It is about being capable of making the abstractions that stem beyond basic instincts, doing some moral calculus and deciding that we are comfortable using non-human animals as more than food sources or mere aspects of our ecosystems.
    The fundamental flaw to your reasoning, is the assumption that because you think using animals in testing is immoral, it is actually immoral. A great many more of us do not believe it is immoral. Being able to argue that because you believe it is immoral, we should stop is insufficient. First you need to convince us that it’s immoral to begin with.

  9. A-bo makes a great point that’s rarely taken up because of scientists’ defensiveness about the entire matter.
    Things weren’t great 40 years ago — they were better 20 years ago (but there were still some very bad examples) — and today it’s hard to find a case where animals are being abused in public labs. Things have changed quite a bit for the better, but folks outside often don’t know that.
    It’s been hand in hand with larger cultural changes where society at large has come to recognize that animals have some “inalienable rights” — much smaller than humans, of course, but not to be used merely as property like a screwdriver.
    So a lot of that “PETA” money isn’t coming from the Wills of the world (they usually don’t have very much) who are committed Jainists, but from nice middle-class folks who are living in a fantasy/nightmare from a generation ago. The only way to fight that with is reality — and part of that is coming to grips with what conditions really were like a generation ago.

  10. A-bo makes a great point that’s rarely taken up because of scientists’ defensiveness about the entire matter.
    Things weren’t great 40 years ago — they were better 20 years ago (but there were still some very bad examples) — and today it’s hard to find a case where animals are being abused in public labs. Things have changed quite a bit for the better, but folks outside often don’t know that.
    It’s been hand in hand with larger cultural changes where society at large has come to recognize that animals have some “inalienable rights” — much smaller than humans, of course, but not to be used merely as property like a screwdriver.
    So a lot of that “PETA” money isn’t coming from the Wills of the world (they usually don’t have very much) who are committed Jainists, but from nice middle-class folks who are living in a fantasy/nightmare from a generation ago. The only way to fight that with is reality — and part of that is coming to grips with what conditions really were like a generation ago.

  11. I agree with you 100%. This is a great post. I just want to point out that PETA’s budget is closer to $20M; it’s HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) that has the budget of $120M, 60+ pro bono lawyers, the Bank of America-donating credit card, the ear of Congress and the savvy to push anti-research bills through (as opposed to the savvy to wonder around naked hurling red-paint on people). And most Americans think that giving to them gets money to their local shelter.

  12. As usual, fascinating to see that ARA extremist plan to highjack the Twitter hashtag for sfn came to…nothing. They have no support and get way more media attention than they deserve. Vanishingly tiny, yet dangerous fringe. Why are the threats tolerated, one wonders? Once theological cults show they are harmful we roll them up and toss them in the pokey, right?

  13. I found the stances you have to be in general interesting but after reading DuWaynes post and it’s tones of intellectual condescension I realised that the problem is not one that people here are equipped to combat.
    You are surrounded by people who utilise animal testing as a tool for research so from where you are there is problem with statements about a “great many more of us” since of course the people you know have no problem with the morality of what you do.
    However I’d challenge you too go to a career day at your childs school and tell the assembled children exactly what it is you do, watch their reactions and then make the call about the “morality” of your stance in light of the general publics reactions.
    Unfortunately the larger portion of society determines what is “Moral” and what is “Right” and society is composed of people with limited knowledge of what it is you actually do, so if they hear animal testing they will immediately picture their family pet in some anti-vivisection pamphlet and shut down on you with disgust. The only way to combat that is to connect with people and show them the truth rather than challenge them to an intellectual duel about morality.

  14. I found the stances you have to be in general interesting but after reading DuWaynes post and it’s tones of intellectual condescension I realised that the problem is not one that people here are equipped to combat.
    You are surrounded by people who utilise animal testing as a tool for research so from where you are there is problem with statements about a “great many more of us” since of course the people you know have no problem with the morality of what you do.
    However I’d challenge you too go to a career day at your childs school and tell the assembled children exactly what it is you do, watch their reactions and then make the call about the “morality” of your stance in light of the general publics reactions.
    Unfortunately the larger portion of society determines what is “Moral” and what is “Right” and society is composed of people with limited knowledge of what it is you actually do, so if they hear animal testing they will immediately picture their family pet in some anti-vivisection pamphlet and shut down on you with disgust. The only way to combat that is to connect with people and show them the truth rather than challenge them to an intellectual duel about morality.

  15. XiaChaos “However I’d challenge you too go to a career day at your childs school and tell the assembled children exactly what it is you do, watch their reactions and then make the call about the “morality” of your stance in light of the general publics reactions.”
    I haven’t had the opportunityb to do this myself but I’ve spoken to several people, both scientists and science advocates, who have and who have also spoken to classes in the UK where they were discussing animal research as an example in science and society debates that are part of the curriculum. Their experiences were in general very positive, and they found that the majority of students were far more supportive of scientific research and skeptical of the claims made by AR activists than they had expected.
    This shouldn’t be that surprising since opinion polls in the UK show that their is strong public backing for the use of animals in medical research, though that backing is conditional on the science being useful and good regulation.
    http://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/views-on-animal-experimentation-2009.pdf
    I expect that the numbers would be similar in the US.
    Your post is actually a good example of how animal rights groups have distorted the perception of the debate even amongst scientists. There is already a lot more support for animal research out there than many realise, and great potential to increase that support through dispelling myths, countering dishonest propaganda and simply discussing what the research actually involveds and what it’s for. It hardly needs to be said that one of the best ways to do this is for scientists to visit high schools and talk about their work.

  16. XianChaos –
    You are surrounded by people who utilise animal testing as a tool for research so from where you are there is problem with statements about a “great many more of us” since of course the people you know have no problem with the morality of what you do.
    Personally, I am not surrounded by people who utilize animal testing as a tool for research. Rather, I am surrounded by people who are alive and relatively healthy because of the fruits of research involving animals. And it isn’t that they don’t have some issues with the morality of what researchers do (little known secret; some researchers have such issues). That they don’t consider using/exploiting non-human animals in research or as food sources inherently immoral, doesn’t mean there is no moral calculus happening.
    The wholly remarkable changes our society has undergone in regards to NH animals over the last forty years is testament to that.
    When I say that a great many more of us do not believe it is immoral, I am not saying that we consider any and all exploitation of NH animals acceptable. While I have absolutely no problem with the humane exploitation of animals as food and research subjects, I have significant issues with mass factory meat farming, cosmetic testing on animals and frivolities such as fur farming. I don’t consider the exploitation of NH animals the least bit problematic when it is necessary and as humane as possible – it truly doesn’t bother me in the least. But when that exploitation is wasteful and/or frivolous, I am absolutely and completely against it.
    People who believe that any and all exploitation of NH animals to be absolutely immoral are a minority that is only significant because of the propensity of some of it’s members towards violence. And much as AR priests such as Steven Best, David Barbarash and Ingrid Newkirk would have it otherwise, this mostly has the effect of marginalizing the movement and fostering a fairly intense backlash. Even people who might have fairly strong moral issues with animal exploitation tend to respond to terrorism with anger.
    And no matter the lofty labels they might claim, those who move beyond legitimate acts of protest are nothing but terrorists.

  17. Just to be crystal clear, my problems with mass factory meat farming are not across the board. Rather, I have problems with some of the methods employed. I will also admit that this is room for some hypocrisy on my part, because while I do my best to avoid it, I do not turn down free food and sometimes I am relegated to eating very cheap food…

  18. Thanks Paul, reading your post I had blinders on with my view – I’m actually from New Zealand and after a bit of thinking I realised that I’d only taken the general view of a rather narrow place. This economy here is based on Farming, but after attending my sons high school career day and seeing almost vitriolic exchanges with another father who was a butcher for what he does I had made my challenge coloured by that experience.
    I’m not sure how much of my view has been distorted by AR activists, I think the major part of my view about animal testing was informed by an ex-girlfriend who while studying psychology told me of Harry Harlows experiments and his naming conventions which seemed to display an almost callous disdain for his subjects. I am not a scientist, I repair computers for a living so from my view it’s hard to balance the good achieved from what he learned versus the more trashy aspect of him doing it with devices he called a “rape rack” and “the pit of despair”.
    That is the problem, showing people who are healthy and alive is all well and good – but we see that every day and think nothing of it, it’s taken for granted, but Animal testing is such an easy thing to invoke backlash upon with simple methods such as showing old pictures of any number of dissected animals that could be considered a pet.
    That was what I was more trying to highlight – in what I now realise was a unnecessarily confrontational way, Apologies DuWayne I may have toned your post internally with the wrong colour when I read it.
    I notice though that you seperate out cosmetic testing as distinct from animal research – why is that? Is animal research an entirely different thing from this type of testing? That may be worth noting for explaining it too people if it is – as far as I was concerned (I’m just an average person so I’m not aware of the internal workings of your fields) so as far as I was concerned cosmetic testing was in the same basket as AR.

  19. Harlow??? Check your dates on that. And what current scientists think of his work…

  20. I notice though that you seperate out cosmetic testing as distinct from animal research – why is that?
    I am all for medical and psychological research involving animals. I am not so keen on the notion of testing cosmetics on animals. I do not believe that that is important enough to warrant causing animals pain.

  21. Hi all.
    Out of interest, have any of you read any of Dr Ray Greek’s books (most importantly, Specious Science)?
    If so, do you have any responses to the very convincing criticisms he makes of all the arguments, statements of ‘fact’ and epistemological assumptions employed by Tom in the video posted above?
    I’d be interested in hearing views on this (if you’re reading this). I can summarise Dr Greek’s position if you’re unfamiliar with his arguments against animal model research. (Note that I’m not interested in ethical / moral arguments – I’d just like to discuss the science / philosophy of science underpinning both the defense and criticism of this model.)
    On a related note, why do you guys think Dr Jentsch and co. consistently refuse to debate Dr’s Greek or Vlasak, even when it’s hosted by an ostensibly neutral (in this regard) party like CNN? Surely if their argument is as clear cut and easily defensible as Tom’s self-assured posturing in the video implies, they wouldn’t have a problem with this?

  22. Aragorn, I haven’t read “specious science” but I’m familiar with many of Dr. Greeks other claims. He’s very good at misrepresenting the state of science through leaving out key details while putting too much emphasis on others, this is why his books tend to be quite convinging to non-scientists but have had very little traction within the scientific community where people are usually more knowledgeable about the fields he discusses.
    The toxicologist Prof. Michael F.W. Festing wrote a good critique of one of Dr. Greeks previous books in the journal “Alternatives to Laboratory animals” a few years ago that is reproduced here http://www.animalresearch.info/en/medical/articles/use_of_animals_in_biomedical_research
    As to Dr Jentsch refusing to debate, well I know that he refused to debate Vlasak until Vlasak ends his support for violent direct action (a reasonable request IMHO) but as far as I’m aware he is keen to debate Dr. Greek.

  23. Aragorn, I haven’t read “specious science” but I’m familiar with many of Dr. Greeks other claims. He’s very good at misrepresenting the state of science through leaving out key details while putting too much emphasis on others, this is why his books tend to be quite convinging to non-scientists but have had very little traction within the scientific community where people are usually more knowledgeable about the fields he discusses.
    The toxicologist Prof. Michael F.W. Festing wrote a good critique of one of Dr. Greeks previous books in the journal “Alternatives to Laboratory animals” a few years ago that is reproduced here http://www.animalresearch.info/en/medical/articles/use_of_animals_in_biomedical_research
    As to Dr Jentsch refusing to debate, well I know that he refused to debate Vlasak until Vlasak ends his support for violent direct action (a reasonable request IMHO) but as far as I’m aware he is keen to debate Dr. Greek.

  24. Thanks Paul.
    1) Can you give me some specific examples of Dr Greek’s misrepresentation of the state of science?
    2) I’m not sure I’d make as stark a division between supporters and detractors as you do: I know a fair number of scientists* (including geneticists, veterinarians, etc.) who agree with Greek, Vlasak, Coleman and co.
    3a) There are numerous problems with the article you reference; in fact a full rebuttal of the logical errors it repeats (e.g. mistaking retrospective / post hoc information for predictive value, the false dilemma of continuing with current models regardless of efficacy in the face of absence of viable alternatives in all instances) form a pivotal part of the book I mentioned.
    3b) On a more technical note, I should add that Specious Science is in part a book of philosophy of science, a book on how we assess the veracity of the claims science makes as to the effectiveness of its methodology. I mentioned epistemology in my first post, and perhaps this is where Speaking of Research and their ilk (assuming they’re not lobby groups) falter: they fail to fully appreciate the validation procedures for the foundations of the field of knowledge they enter into.
    3c) What is also interesting about the article is that, of all the examples it uses of actually predictive models (as opposed to ones defended with post hoc justifications), none include animals; it seems entirely strange that the author is forced to use the examples of research on peas, fungus and bacteria to drive home the necessity of undertaking research on rats, mice and monkeys!
    3d) For me, as for the anti-vivisection community at large, the piece’s reiteration of the three R’s is problematic. Applying ‘replace, reduce, refine’ to something that does not appear to have predictive capacity is like applying this approach to reading the entrails of dead animals to predict the stock market….Surely, we would want to instantly abolish the latter as soon as we noted that it lacked reliable predictive value, not replace, reduce and refine it?
    4) In closing, the author’s tack is unsurprising – being, amongst other things, a consultant for Harlan, he has a vested interest in the perpetuation and legitimation of the animal research industry.
    * PS: Given that you employ what could be taken as an argument from authority, here are some choice quotes by medical professionals on the subject of oncology and the animal model:
    “The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades, and it simply didn’t work in humans.” – Dr Richard Klausner, Director, National Cancer Institute
    “Animal carcinogenicity tests on new drugs are inaccurate, often insensitive and generally misleading.” – Dr John Griffin, Director of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry
    “It’s been well known for maybe two decades that many of these preclinical human cancer models have very little predictive power in terms of how actual human beings – actual human tumours inside patients – will respond… Preclinical models of human cancer, in large part, stink… Hundreds of millions of dollars are being wasted every year by drug companies using these animal models” – Prof. Robert Weinberg, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  25. Btw, I am not a researcher yet and when I actually do get into research, I am unlikely to ever use animals. While I am going into neuropsych, I am not going to be directly involved in neurological research – though a lot of my work will utilize such research. Mostly, I will be working to develop clinical therapy models for treating addiction and more broadly involving myself in addiction from a social psychological perspective.
    My support researchers who work with animals has everything to do with the benefits I get from that research and the fact that many people I love are alive today because of such research. I would not have the remotest chance to succeed in school, were it not for medications that I take every day that were developed through animal research. I have many friends in the same boat. I have friends with HIV or AIDS, who would not be alive today, were it not for animal testing. I have many friends who have survived cancer because of animal testing.
    I am exceedingly grateful to those who engage in that research and that is why I stand with them against those who would use terror and/or intimidation to try to stop them. Too, I just have a very nasty attitude about terrorism in general, even in the name of causes I support.

  26. Btw, I am not a researcher yet and when I actually do get into research, I am unlikely to ever use animals. While I am going into neuropsych, I am not going to be directly involved in neurological research – though a lot of my work will utilize such research. Mostly, I will be working to develop clinical therapy models for treating addiction and more broadly involving myself in addiction from a social psychological perspective.
    My support researchers who work with animals has everything to do with the benefits I get from that research and the fact that many people I love are alive today because of such research. I would not have the remotest chance to succeed in school, were it not for medications that I take every day that were developed through animal research. I have many friends in the same boat. I have friends with HIV or AIDS, who would not be alive today, were it not for animal testing. I have many friends who have survived cancer because of animal testing.
    I am exceedingly grateful to those who engage in that research and that is why I stand with them against those who would use terror and/or intimidation to try to stop them. Too, I just have a very nasty attitude about terrorism in general, even in the name of causes I support.

  27. A majority of the proponents of animal experimentation who are posting here render it impossible for a more nuanced and thoughtful discussion on this complex issue to materialize when they are willing to ignore science and state their position as, basically, “the ends justify the means.” (It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that this is the very same position that drives the militant activism on the other side of the debate that is so harshly criticized by the commentators above)
    Any legitimate scientist or philosopher who understands anything about evolutionary biology, or evolution in general, and who is willing to look beyond their own self-interest as a gauge of what constitutes moral behavior, should reject on its face the suggestion that there is “no ethical argument to be had” in discussions of about the exploitation of animals in laboratories. That humans can sit and ponder whether, and how, to torment animals in labs, is not a morally relevant characteristic that can be used to justify causing suffering to animals or overriding their interests to serve ours. I agree with Will’s comments above that this boils down to a patriarchal, authoritarian “might makes right” approach to ethics in which the “smartest” and the physically strongest get to impose their will on others but it is still as objectionable as ever.
    Tellingly, no one commenting here has challenged animals’ very real ability to feel pain or the general suffering they consciously experience in laboratories (or, conversely, the pleasure and enjoyment they can experience), presumably because these facts are now empirically well-established and we have moved beyond a 17th century Cartesian view of animals as automata to one that recognizes that were are different from animals only in degree, and not in kind. I suppose its easier to avoid this discussion altogether because it complicates things quite a bit. Thankfully, the general public empathizes with animals and opposition to harming them for various reasons- especially for experimentation- has consistently been on the rise during the new millennium.
    Justifying trampling on “lesser” others’ interests on the grounds that we can and that it serves our self interest to do so is exactly the dangerous mentality that has fueled various kinds of exploitation for centuries.
    Its easy to say that an act isn’t “torture” or “violence” when you’re not the one being waterboarded, poisoned, mutilated or forced to work to exhaustion for the hypothetical benefit of others.

  28. “were are different from animals only in degree, and not in kind.” As a raindrop is to an ocean. Or, in your case, at least a puddle.

  29. Aragorn, if Greek is pointing to mouse oncology studies the way you are, a simple critique is that Greek is cherry picking. While the mouse may not be a great model for oncology, that doesn’t apply generally, nor does it mean we can dismiss the model. For example, if you look at the article from which your Weinberg “quote” was taken, you’ll also see that he notes, “there’s no other model with which to replace that poor mouse.” Another researcher interviewed points out, “If you find a compound that cures hypertension in a mouse, it’s going to work in people.” Medical research is a large, complicated picture.

  30. @Stephanie Z: I think you miss my point – the lack of alternative models doesn’t vindicate existing models.
    Medical research *is* a large, complicated picture, I agree, but often we’re pressed up too close to it to see the pattern for the pixels, which is precisely where the important work of Greek and co. comes in.
    I question the assertion that a hypertension cure that works in mice will necessarily work in humans, or even that the mechanism of action is similar; I’m guessing this assumption is based on the recent research indicating a correlation between corin deficiency and hypertension?
    Can you supply a reference for this quote?
    @Charles: You state the ethical case superbly, thank you🙂

  31. “1) Can you give me some specific examples of Dr Greek’s misrepresentation of the state of science?”
    In his discussion of the discovery of penicillin in specious science he mentions that Alexander Fleming abandoned research on the antibiotic for internal use because it was broken down and excreted too quickly in rabbits, so it could never reach useful concentrations (largly due to the difficulty in obtaining sufficient quantities), and only dicsovered it’s use as an antibiotic much later when he used it in desperation to treat a dying friend. What Dr. Greek leaves out is the enormous contribution of Howard Florey, Ernst Chain and Norman Heatley who developed method to produce penicillin in sufficient quantities to test it’s antibiotic properties in mice (who also broke it down very quickly), and the success of these tests spurred then to develop the means to produce the much larger quantities required for human trials (one of which was the one conducted by Fleming). Incidently the quick break down of the early penicillin was also a problem in humans, at least 2 patients died when the penicillin ran out before treatment could be completed. Later versions of penicillin were more resistant to breakdown. This is why many scientists believe that Heatley should have got the Nobel Prize with Florey and Chain rather than Fleming.
    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1945/index.html
    That’s the kind of thing I mean when I say that Dr. Greek is very good at leaving out crucial bits of information. It’s this kind of playing fast and loose with the facts that undermines their philosophical observations.
    As to validation, it’s all very good and necessary, but frequently there is simply not enough information available to carry out the validation process, this is certainly the case in toxicology (in particular non-pharmaceutical toxicology) where the toxicity data for humans is often incomplete or of poor quality for purely practical reasons. Having said that toxicology is one area where I would tend to agree with the Greeks, animals will be replaced by other methods in the fairly near future, though validation against human data will still be a major challange (as the recent NAS report stressed). Where animals are used in the pre-clinical evaluation of a treatment it often not possible to validate the animal model completely until data is available from subsequent human trails, though there are cases (stroke models being a good example) where more should have been done to ensure the model accurately (or as acurately as possible in a necessarily simplified system) reflected the clinical situation in humans. Having said that I don’t think it is reasonable to expect an animal model to be 100% accurate in predicting the outcome in humans, I would certainly never expect that degree of accuracy (or even close to it) from any other experimental method.
    Dr. Greek and co. also tend to ignore the huge contribution made by animal research, and model organism research more generally, in fundamental biological and physiological research, which is what most animal research today is concerned with. Fields such as cellular reprogramming, and neuroscience depend on knowledge gained through animal research, which can illuminate processes that can’t be studied either in vitro or in humans.

  32. Aragorn, the reference link is in my comment. Do you have any data to back up your feeling that mice aren’t a good model for hypertension drugs?

  33. Aragorn, the reference link is in my comment. Do you have any data to back up your feeling that mice aren’t a good model for hypertension drugs?

  34. Charles –
    A majority of the proponents of animal experimentation who are posting here render it impossible for a more nuanced and thoughtful discussion on this complex issue to materialize when they are willing to ignore science and state their position as, basically, “the ends justify the means.”
    No, we are not ignoring the science. And what makes it impossible to have a more nuanced and thoughtful discussion, is that AR extremists take an axiomatic moral stance that disallows the exploitation of non-human animals. It is also impossible to discuss the nuances of this complex issue, when AR extremists dismiss the actual positions of non-AR extremists and boil the entire spectrum down to “the ends justify the means” and “might makes right.”
    Any legitimate scientist or philosopher who understands anything about evolutionary biology, or evolution in general, and who is willing to look beyond their own self-interest as a gauge of what constitutes moral behavior, should reject on its face the suggestion that there is “no ethical argument to be had” in discussions of about the exploitation of animals in laboratories. That humans can sit and ponder whether, and how, to torment animals in labs, is not a morally relevant characteristic that can be used to justify causing suffering to animals or overriding their interests to serve ours. I agree with Will’s comments above that this boils down to a patriarchal, authoritarian “might makes right” approach to ethics in which the “smartest” and the physically strongest get to impose their will on others but it is still as objectionable as ever.
    And this is a perfect example of a typical AR extremist non-starter. You claim to want (or at least imply that you want) to have a nuanced discussion about this very complex topic, while following it up with a paragraph that throws that nuance right out the window.
    The fact of the matter is, we have these ethical discussions all the time. Every time a researcher writes a grant application that involves animal testing, they have to have an ethical discussion and justify everything they intend to do. And a lot of us who may or may not be researchers also have these discussions on a regular basis. I don’t agree with a great many people who don’t happen to be AR extremists. I think some of them go way too far in anthropomorphizing non-human animals, while others are far too cavalier when it comes to animal welfare.
    But AR extremists refuse to engage in such a nuanced discussion. And in my experience, which while limited, is increasing rapidly, AR extremists are also very uncomfortable with the basic concept of defining their terms. What exactly are the characteristics that make up sentience? Are these rights as absolute as human rights? What about the critical niche that humans fill as predators in our ecosystems? All that I generally seem to get is complaints that I am asking “gotcha” questions. In a sense I am, but they are no less important for being rather difficult questions to answer.
    Tellingly, no one commenting here has challenged animals’ very real ability to feel pain or the general suffering they consciously experience in laboratories (or, conversely, the pleasure and enjoyment they can experience), presumably because these facts are now empirically well-established and we have moved beyond a 17th century Cartesian view of animals as automata to one that recognizes that were are different from animals only in degree, and not in kind.
    Telling how exactly? I have little doubt that everyone here recognizes that animals feel pain and pleasure. What exactly is you point?
    I suppose its easier to avoid this discussion altogether because it complicates things quite a bit. Thankfully, the general public empathizes with animals and opposition to harming them for various reasons- especially for experimentation- has consistently been on the rise during the new millennium.
    Who’s avoiding it? Whenever a researcher intending to use animals writes a grant proposal – or even tries to pass an Institutional Review Board, they talk about that too.
    And I am right there with you on being thankful that the public empathizes with animals. This has led to some fundamental changes in the way animals are used in research and is fostering more. People are concerned with animal welfare, as they should be. People are considerably less supportive of just ending all animal research. And people are a whole lot less supportive of ignoring the role of humans as predators in our ecosystems – at least those who comprehend that we have such a role.
    The numbers of people who support animal welfare are definitely on the rise, as are people who are deadly concerned with our environment and the state of the natural world. But while there is an increase in the numbers of extremists, the number of people has increased as well.
    Justifying trampling on “lesser” others’ interests on the grounds that we can and that it serves our self interest to do so is exactly the dangerous mentality that has fueled various kinds of exploitation for centuries.
    I agree wholeheartedly with this assessment. Seriously, I have absolutely no argument with what you say here. What I disagree with, is the moral calculus that puts non-human animals into that equation. I can respect that some people would and I can even see why they might. But I categorically reject the notion that because some people happen to, they are righter than I am for not doing so.
    Its easy to say that an act isn’t “torture” or “violence” when you’re not the one being waterboarded, poisoned, mutilated or forced to work to exhaustion for the hypothetical benefit of others.
    And onto another topic then, have you stopped beating your wife and screaming obscenities at your children?

  35. And this is what comes of jumping around – sometimes I forget the most important point. I meant to go a bit further with my third to last para that ended;
    But while there is an increase in the numbers of extremists, the number of people has increased as well. The problem that the extremists face, is that there has also been a dramatic increase in the numbers of people who, regardless of they stance on a given cause, are dead against people committing acts of terrorism in ostensible support for those causes. And those who aren’t particularly aware and had yet to form an opinion, tend to form very negative opinions when they hear about these acts of terror.
    While your numbers may be growing, the cards are increasingly stacking against you.

  36. And this is what comes of jumping around – sometimes I forget the most important point. I meant to go a bit further with my third to last para that ended;
    But while there is an increase in the numbers of extremists, the number of people has increased as well. The problem that the extremists face, is that there has also been a dramatic increase in the numbers of people who, regardless of they stance on a given cause, are dead against people committing acts of terrorism in ostensible support for those causes. And those who aren’t particularly aware and had yet to form an opinion, tend to form very negative opinions when they hear about these acts of terror.
    While your numbers may be growing, the cards are increasingly stacking against you.

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