On Animal Research

Recently, one of my beloved SciBlings, Janet, was one of the speakers at a UCLA Dialogue on the ethics of animals in research. Although I was more than a little afraid for her (of course her name, address, email, and phone were instantly posted all over the activists websites), but Sci’s fears turned out unfounded and the dialogue apparently went off very well. You can see a full video here. Everyone remained respectful, the session was carefully moderated and educational for everyone.
Well, almost everyone.
Fast forward to last night, when I found out that one of the speakers, Dario Ringach, a neurobiologist, was being harassed again. Again. Harassment before got so bad that he stopped performing primate research in 2006. But he came out to speak, in a respectful dialogue about animals in research. He’s a brave man. And for his reward for his respect and his willingness to engage, he got this:

As the pictures indicate, neighbors came out from many of the near-by houses, took leaflets and talked to activists about how much they hate their neighbor Dario for doing “hellish primate experimentation.” One, in fact, gave an activist the name of the school one of his offspring attends! Activists plan on legally leafleting the school in order to educate fellow students what their classmate’s father does for a living.

(via Orac)
They’re going to target his children. What they are doing is technically legal. They are going to frighten the crap out of his kids, possibly make them lose their friends, all because their DAD used to do primate research and SPOKE UP IN A DIALOGUE. Nice people. They’ve already done it before, banging on the windows of the house at night and scaring Dr. Ringach’s wife and kids. Ringach already has to have a hired guard outside of his house. This sort of thing makes Sci so angry that she’s almost incoherent. The very hypocrisy of it all makes me livid.


First of all, why researchers? Why not, say, protesting outside of a McDonald’s or a Burger King or a pet store or a puppy mill? Animal rights activists decry these things, too. Why doesn’t the CEO of McDonald’s get his car bombed? Why doesn’t that guy over there eating a burger get red paint thrown on him? WHY US?
There are several answers to this. First, researchers are easy to get to. We live in your neighborhoods, in your apartment buildings. Our kids go to your schools. The places where we do our work are very easy to see, they are often affiliated with the very hospitals that treat us all. It’s not like with slaughterhouses, where you probably have to go substantially outside the city. It’s not like with cattle yards or poultry farms or puppy mills, which are in the country. We’re right there, and we’re easy to get to.
Second, we are relatively unprotected. Some of us are comfortable, some of us are poor, but very few of us are rich. We don’t come with bodyguards, our houses often don’t have gates. Most of the time, we don’t have the money to buy the protection we need. We don’t have the fame and recognition to get others mad on our behalf. We’re right among you, but we’re someone else. All this is happening to someone else, not you, and not a famous figure you recognize.
Third, animal research is scary. It’s unknown. Most people don’t know how it works, and that ignorance inspires fear. When protesters carry frightening signs with pictures of research that was done decades ago, it’s not hard to imagine why people react so badly. And the fruits of animal research are not made public. Few people know of the dogs and pigs and cows that provided the first insulin allowing diabetics to live their lives. Few people know of the mice that are even now helping find treatments for cancer. What people see are the drugs on the shelf, in the syringe, the techniques at the hospital. No one thinks of where they come from. And so, out of ignorance or out of ethical disagreements, many people say that animal research is not necessary.
Many people like to say that animal research is not necessary. We have computers and cells, now, we don’t need animals! They are very wrong. First of all, a computer can only model the information we put into it. It can only represent and work with things we already know. And we know so very little about the human body, particularly the brain. If the calculations we put in are wrong, or even off by just a hair, the computer is going to give us the wrong answer, and lives could be at stake. As for cells, cells need medium in which to grow. That medium is provided by animals. Synthetic mediums simply do not work as well. And those cells have to come from somewhere. Not only that, cells in a dish cannot tell us everything that is going on in the body. A cell in a dish may say one thing, but a liver in a body may say something entirely different.
It’s not that cells and computers are entirely useless. It’s merely that they give limited information (though hopefully this will improve with time). We simply cannot use a computer or a dish to mimic something as complex as the human body. In order to understand a system as complex and responsive as an organ- say, the brain or the heart, cells in a dish just don’t cut it. Heart cells don’t pump blood in a dish. Brain cells in a dish can’t form memories and retrieve them. We can only understand events like this if we look at them in the context of their role in the body. And the more we understand these systems, the more good we can do when something goes wrong. But we just can’t do it without working with a whole system. And a whole system requires a whole animal.
Without whole animals, there would be no such thing as a pacemaker. The brain is incredibly complicated, but thanks to animal research, we have drugs that can treat brain tumors, drug addiction, ADHD, and depression. Animal research has allowed us to find these treatments, and animal research is helping us find better drugs to treat these diseases, as well as many more. And you should never underestimate the role of basic research here. Our ability to help people depends on our ability to fully understand the system and what goes wrong with it. Very few drugs are the result of serendipity. The vast majority are the result of years of careful experimentation.
So I think animal research is very necessary. It is necessary not only for an increased knowledge of the human body and knowledge of human disease. It is knowledge that can be used in animals as well. When my old cat was trapped in a car fan-belt and had his back legs crushed, it was animal research that put pins in his legs and let him walk for 17 years. It was animal research that treated his diabetes and his arthritis, and helped him lead one happy, healthy, and chubby little life with a little girl who loved him dearly.
But that’s not to say that animals do not suffer, and should not be treated with the best possible care. The animals we work on are very important to us, both from a research perspective, and an emotional one. I have never met someone who went in to animal research just to hurt animals, and if I ever met such a person, I would consider them to be just as disgusting and vile as we are commonly painted. On the contrary, I have seen amazing sacrifice on the part of people working with animals, to keep their animals healthy, happy, and comfortable.
So below I’m going to include an essay. It’s an essay on animal research that Sci wrote a few months ago. But she was afraid to post it, afraid to speak up about what we do and why, and about how we care for the animals we work with. But I’m done with that, and here it is.

Every day, at the lab, I head up to the animal colony. It’s my responsibility, and even though it’s work that, as a grad student, I probably shouldn’t be doing (I should be concentrating on other stuff and leaving this to the techs), I enjoy it. I have to sacrifice animals in my line of work, and taking care of the breeding colony, bringing new animals into the world, helps me feel a little bit better about it.
It’s more than kindness that makes me want to treat them well. Sick, uncared-for animals do not produce good data. It pays to have an animal caretaker that works well with their animals, as scared animals also do not produce good data. They benefit, and I benefit.
And the world benefits. Many people do not understand the value of animal research in neuroscience, the important things that can be learned from animals and applied to humans. Animal tests for anxiety, depression, addiction, or OCD may not be perfectly analogous, but they can tell you a great deal about how these diseases work. We can develop new treatments and cures. Progress is slow, but it’s essential. Once you have seen some of the people suffering with anxiety, depression, or addiction, looking entirely normal and yet completely unable to live their lives, you cannot just turn away. You want to help. These issues are not just problems of willpower, or problems of just needing to cheer up or relax. These problems originate in the brain, and in order to come to an understanding and a cure, we need to do research. And research into neurotransmitters, protein and gene expression levels, transporters, and signaling from one area to another is something that can still only be done in animals.
I work with animals. I am there for them rain or shine. I hike in to work to care for them when the roads are impassable with snow. I race in to work to make sure they have heat or cooling when the power goes out. During one paradigm, I did not get a day off for almost six months, because I had to care for them every day and no one else could replace me. Some people have it worse. I have heard heroic stories of vet techs remaining during a mandatory hurricane evacuation, stringing battery powered Christmas lights up in the rooms, and feeding and watering the animals every day, sometimes with water they had to beg from the Red Cross. I have heard stories of students, post-docs, and techs staying up all night to care for a sick or injured animal, working insane hours to preserve something as small as a mouse. And I have seen some of these same people near tears when an animal is put down. Even when the animal is put down for research reasons, it doesn’t stop us from caring.
I work with animals and I care for them a lot. As far as they can, they care for me as well. They don’t bite unless they have good reason. They cuddle in my arms, snuffling into my armpits where it’s warm. When they have injuries, they let me help them to the extent that I can. The species I work with doesn’t have a reputation for being very friendly, but we work well together.
Birth and death, I am there at every single moment in the life of my animals. I help sometimes to bring them into the world. I help to raise them, especially if their parents cannot do it very well (due to genetic issues or temperament). I feed them, I clean their living spaces. When they are young, I play with them. When they are adults, I do my experiments, treating them as gently as possible, and never forgetting that they are living beings worthy of respect and care. When they are older, I care for them, and make their lives easier. And when it’s time for them to go, I am there for them, too, to make it as painless and quick as possible. Can everyone say the same of their pet hamster or the burger they ate?
Many of the students, techs, and PIs that I work with have expressed similar feelings toward the animals they use. We respect them for what they can teach us, and we treat them well. But other people do not understand. And sometimes, they may understand, and they don’t agree. And that’s ok. I took my qualifying exams while people protested outside my building. But there’s disagreement, and then there’s…something else.
The other day I got something like this in my inbox:

“I hope what you do to animals is inflicted on your children”.

Just looking at that sentence makes my heart rate speed up, and my mind almost reels. I couldn’t get it out of my head. For several nights after that I dreamed that people were threatening me, entering my house, hurting my pets. The last dream I had involved an activist holding a gun to my head. Nights like those you don’t get a lot of sleep. I started checking my locks three times or more.
And this is nothing compared to what the bigger fish at my MRU get. I have heard of death threats, threats involving their children and noting where they go to school. At other institutions, people’s cars get burned, their houses get torched or flooded (or something their neighbors do by mistake), and fake or real bombs are dropped on their doorsteps. We are scared to communicate what we do to anyone outside of science. People ask and I say I’m a chemist. We fear the hatred and the accusations.
We are not monsters. We are the people trying to find the cures. Most people who go into biomedical science do it partly out of interest and partly out of a sense of duty. We see problems and we want to solve them. We want to help people. Many of us go into certain disciplines due to personal experience (could be very personal, friends, or family) with the problems involved: alcoholism, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, depression.
We are trying to help. That makes these threats hurt even more. The very people we are trying to help sometimes hate us for what we are doing. Sometimes, this makes us angry and cynical. Right now, it just makes me sad. And always, it makes us afraid. These people could destroy our lives, and the lives of our families, they could destroy our work, and they could hurt our animals.
And this is why its so important to speak out about our research. We need to tell people what we do and why we do it. We need to make it something that is understood, not feared, and understood to be necessary. The more the public knows and understands what we do and why we do it, the more they will help us. They will see the threats that some people are making as the actions of those too blinded by their views to keep to an open, legal protest. If we can get the public on our side, we may not feel like we have to hide our professions. We may feel that we can work without fear. ‘Til then, I’ll keep getting emails. And keep having nightmares. And keep on going. My work, and the animals I care for, are more important than fear.

People are entitled to their opinions. Many people DO disagree, believing that animal research is ethically wrong, no matter what it may provide for humanity, and that’s fine. Their opinions are as valid as mine. There is no problem in disagreeing with what we do, and asking us to change what we do and how we do it. Protest, change laws and legislation. Enter into a dialogue. There are many people who disagree and do so in a way that harms no one, and that certainly doesn’t go after someone’s children. Some tactics are too much. No child should live in fear because of what their parents do for a living. Our hiding needs to be over. We shouldn’t have to do our work in fear of threats, intimidation, and severe bodily harm. We need to speak up. We cannot hide anymore.

26 Responses

  1. Your essay was really wonderful and describes a lot of how I feel about our research and animals, too. Thanks.

  2. I had not realised that harassment of scientists was so bad these days! It’s worse than cyber-bullying in that real people are banging on windows and threatening innocent kids! I don’t think it’s so bad in Australia, for the most part- I haven’t heard anything quite so bad from my friends who do medical research using mice and rats. I used to worry a little when doing physiology on plugged sheep, who lived on the roof of the building with the labs and lecture theatres and would go up and pat the sheep sometimes, feeling rather sorry for them. However, I knew we were benefiting from a system that was the most humane for the animals considering the teaching the department had to perform.
    Thanks for writing this blog- stand up and tell ordinary people what they need to hear.

  3. Thanks for posting this Sci, it’s a message that we all need to let the public hear.

  4. Thank you for posting this. It is utterly obscene that some people who ‘support’ animal rights would happily abuse, scare or even harm humans to further their cause rather than enter into a dialogue about it.
    I used to work with animals, and I have only ever seen and experienced humane and caring treatment of the animals involved in research. I particularly remember sitting on the floor of our animal facility for hours one weekend, cradling tiny newborn transgenic mouse pups in my hands to dry and warm them when the water bottle leaked into their cage.
    Scientists don’t want to hurt animals – anyone who wants to do that is a sicko. What we do want is to try and solve problems and cure diseases, both human and animal.

  5. Thank you for your statements. As you said, it’s incredible to think that anyone would even think of harrassing one’s children. While I’m at it, *bravo* to UCLA’s Bruins for Animals for their joint statement speaking out against the extremists’ latest threats. How low can they go?

  6. I interviewed for a job helping to care for a breeding colony of mice for livestock vaccinations research. I didn’t get offered it, but I think I would have had to turn it down. I’m way too much of a sook for that kind of work, I think you’re amazing for being able to do it. (I still have occassional nightmares about the rabbits I used to take off my cats and the bad shape they were in.)
    I think another issue is that people don’t clearly distinguish between medical testing on animals and tests for arguably superflous things like makeup. In my mind we have more than enough cosmetic products that don’t do half of what they say they do on the packet, no need to test any more (especially if you’re just gonna put heavy metals in them anyway!).

  7. Thank you Scicurious for sharing your voice and your convictions. Our scientific community is a better place with you in it.

  8. For a good example of the kind of dialog you will get when you attempt to enter into dialogue with an ARA, visit Dr. FreeRide’s and read the whole comment thread (dominated in one long monologue by one single commenter). http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2009/10/signing_a_public_petition_mean.php
    It’s also good preparation for the types of counterarguments you will encounter.

  9. There is a billboard in downtown Berkeley that says, “Ever had polio? Thanks to animal research you won’t”.

  10. “I hope what you do to animals is inflicted on your children”.
    Strictly speaking Sci shouldn’t have a problem with this given that the animals are so well cared for and respected, right?
    Of course, she could be chilled because the assumption in the message is that the animals are subjected to a terrible fate, locked up, cut open, and killed.
    But if we are to believe experimenters, then they should not really mind if their children received a similar fate to the animals in their labs. It sounds terrific to be an animal in a lab! If they wouldn’t be willing to make this hypothetical trade, why not?

  11. Scicurious –
    Thanks for your thoughtful answer. I find it disturbing (but not surprisng or unusual) that you would claim to have greater moral obligations to individuals of your own species. I find this distrubing because it seems strikingly similar to suggesting that I have greater moral obligations to people who are of my own race, nationality, etc. These all seem like arbitrary lines that allow us to unfairly discount the legitimate interests of others.
    One other point – regarding your claim that you do not inflict unnecessary pain or suffering on animals and that if an alternative exists that you would use it – I interpret that as similar to saying “if I can get the data I want without harming animals I will, but if I need to harm animals to get what I want I will do that too”.
    The needs of the experiment are not negotiable yet the interests of animals are entirely negotiable. It seems you will respect animals up to and only so far as realizing your goals permits, if there is any conflict, the animals will lose.

  12. Diana: I do not feel that you have interpreted my comment the way I intended it, rather I think that you have interpreted it to fit your worldview of who animal researchers are, that we are heartless individuals who seek the data regardless of any ethical concerns. I assure you that this is not remotely the case. This is not “data I want”, this is an understanding of the system that I NEED in order to understand the problems that result from it, and in order to develop treatments and cures. If you would rather that we did not do this research at all, and did not achieve an understanding of the systems and develop treatments for diseases, you are entitled to your opinion, but as someone who is alive today due to the results of animal research, and as someone who’s sister, mother, and father are alive today due to animal research, I cannot agree with that view.
    The concept that you raise of moral obligation to your own race over others is a very common one that I have seen before, but I think the comparison is inappropriate. If that were indeed the case, I think we would all be shocked and disgusted. But I do believe that other animals are distinct from humans, and I agree with Dr. Stemwedel when she talks about the concept of moral actors. All humans have the capacity or potential for moral action, while animals do not. With moral action comes moral responsibility. No one is going to punish a tiger for killing a helpless, sick, or injured animal. That’s what the tiger does, it’s not acting morally. Humans can act morally, and because of that we take moral responsibility for others of our species, and because of our moral capacity we have an obligation to treat the animals we use for food, companionship, research, and other things with respect and care.
    If you feel that the moral capacity we have as humans makes it imperative that we not use animals for food, companionship, or research, then that is fine, and you do not have to use them for food or companionship, and you can refuse the benefits of research. You are welcome to disagree with me as to the ethical implications of what I do (as we are doing here). Where I have a problem is where people feel that violence, threats, and intimidation are justified in pursuit of their goals. This is both inappropriate in terms of the moral obligations we have to members of our own species, as well as harmful to the very views that those who pursue violence as an answer seek to promote.

  13. Sci,
    Well done and all that, but you might as well be arguing with a rock. This is one of the problems with many of the people that express these sorts of opinions or get involved in these sorts of movements (not just with regards to animal rights, but other “moral” debates as well); their world view is so perverse that there is no discussion, no rational argument, in which they can really partake, and thus they contribute nothing to society in any sense whatsoever, either practically or intellectually, that makes the world a better place, nor do they really care to do so. Personally I suspect that there are deep psychological reasons behind this; people who make these sorts of arguments delight in their supposed moral superiority, and really do it just for their own selfish egotism and not for any other reason, despite what they may like to think or otherwise claim.
    For some reason, at the moment, there appears to be a political atmosphere in which the worst elements of public debate are coddled, and become intractable influences that paralyse our national psyche and have undue influence over our political process. People on the reasonable side of the debate are afraid to come forward and yell “bullshit” (“If we all would just hold hands and sing together everything will work out; remember after the John Lennon released “give peace a chance” that was the end of war and poverty and violence). Some people cannot be reasoned with, and you shouldn’t really try (most of the people out there are reasonable, and will be quite happy when I tell them that I came up with something to help their autistic kid, and really rather pleased that I decided that the well-being of their child was more important than a few thousand mice).
    So . . . “Bullshit” Diana. Your views and arguments are utter nonsense. I suggest that you spend a year taking care of dying kids in a cancer hospice and then reappraise your views. Personally, I would quite happily and enthusiastically (although humanely and ethically; according to my reasonable definitions of course, not your absurd ones) kill several hundred thousand mice if it produced a major medical advancement. After all, that is what mice are for (just as cows are there for us to eat); otherwise the mice would have big brains and be happily experimenting on us, and the cows would have canines and happily eat us if they ever got the chance.

  14. FiSH: I do agree that we are in a media atmosphere in which views are given time that is out of proportion to both their popularity and their rationality. But, call me naive, I’d like to think that most people in this debate (not the extremists, the people on the fence) do not have a full understanding of what biomedical research has achieved (like chemotherapy, as an example), or of how hard we work to treat our animals with care and dignity.
    So I hope that when I discuss with extremists, I educate those who are on the fence and make them realize that the extremists are not presenting a realistic worldview. It’s often really hard to do, because these people do sometimes make our work very difficult, and their threats make it very hard not to lash out. Diana’s arguments were presented in such a way as to make people draw conclusions asserting my inhumanity and nastiness. I hope that with reason and trying really hard not to get mad I can show people that those conclusions aren’t the case. And I hope that by continuing to express our viewpoints and talking about what we do and why (and, as this blog does every day, talk opening about biomedical research, much of which takes place in animals, and what that research is leading to in terms of medical development), we can convince people that humane, careful animal research is necessary until we can come up with viable alternatives.

  15. I wish I could say these people are wasting their time. On the one hand, researchers bend over backwards to ensure that their methods are humane (and they’re required to do so), whereas the real abomination both in scale and in level of cruelty is factory farming. On the other hand, the general public likes eating meat but doesn’t care for science, so maybe this is the easier way to gain support.

  16. Third, animal research is scary. It’s unknown. Most people don’t know how it works, and that ignorance inspires fear.
    You’ve just answered your own question. If and when the full details of ongoing animal vivisection and research were provided to the general public, the public would demand an end to it.
    And changing the subject to factory farming is just changing the subject, esp. because factory farming is not done using public monies and ostensibly on the public’s behalf.
    The “cone of silence” approach clearly is not working. The more you try to hide this stuff the more it looks like you’re guilty of something.
    What the research community needs to is to formulate a plan and program to phase out vivisection and other clearly antiquated research by date certain. Without such a plan and commitment, it just looks like you’re defending the indefensible.

  17. I find this distrubing because it seems strikingly similar to suggesting that I have greater moral obligations to people who are of my own race, nationality, etc.
    Interesting. Because you saying this implies that you are calling people of different race or nationality than yourself monkeys. Which discounts the legitimate interests of others. of course since you are already discounting the interests of other humans who have currently unsolved medical problems, I suppose we already know where you stand on that.
    Do you have any arguments that cannot be easily dismissed as unbelievably inconsistent on the very face?

  18. If and when the full details of ongoing animal vivisection and research were provided to the general public, the public would demand an end to it.
    No, they wouldn’t. Where is your evidence for this? The more people understand the actual conduct of research the more they are in favor of it, as it happens. I think what you mean is that the more you can spread your uninformed lies, the more people you get on your side. That is hardly an endorsement of your position.
    factory farming is not done using public monies
    check the subsidies to big and small agribiz. The fact that you are unaware of this major, major political issue across just about every country in the world really questions the degree you are informed on any topic. such as the treatment of animals in research as just one random example.

  19. Sci: I think that I agree with you on the main point, that our main goal, in terms of public relations (so to speak), or rather public education as a part of the public debate on animal research, including funding priorities, is to speak to the people on the fence, who, when well-informed, tend to support animal research with reasonable restrictions and oversight (as bikemonkey suggested). However, I do think, at the same time, that it is necessary to challenge the ridculous claims of the extreme fringe, or simply the overzealous but uninformed opponents of animal research (again, as I think bikemonkey was doing above), because not to do so gives them too much legitimacy – that is, I think that at times accepting their arguments in a calm and reasoned manner may indicate to others that the fringes’ arguments deserve some consideration, which in many cases they don’t. In all cases, making the debate evidenciary based is very immportant; I think that aspect of people’s thinking is one of the main problems about educating the public about science – a large proportion of the population does not understand reasoning from evidence, or the difference between evidence and unsubstantiated opinion, and the first place to look for this sort of unreasoned thinking is the Congress (well, and to be fair, pretty much every other part of the government as well).

  20. FiSH: given the comments I have recently received above, I see your point. I am particularly upset by the use of the word “vivisection”, which I know that the commenter is using to try and draw comparisons to things like “The Island of Dr. Moreau”. I’ve read it and I am disgusted that people feel so free to compare what I do to the intensive surgeries depicted without anesthesia and with horrible suffering in that book.
    And Douglas: I do not think what you say about animal research is true. I have done a large amount of outreach at many levels, and I have been impressed with the large number of people who see the necessity of animal research and appreciate its use, and who are pleased and impressed with the care we give our animals, and very impressed with with the great strides in medicine that have been achieved with the aid of animal research. I have never had anyone react with the horror and disgust that you describe.

  21. …And I just saw that Drugmonkey has a much more eloquent answer here:
    “Research is a niche activity, the public has little direct familiarity with it and is therefore more easily lied to about it.”

  22. Scicurious, I’d really like to applaud your sincerity and your open-mindedness. You’ve shown a remarkable willingness to respond to an opposing point of view and a profound respect for the same.
    What I appreciate most is that you’ve not said anything inflammatory or defensive. For that reason, I’d like to pursue something diana mentioned in her second post.
    Like diana, I was struck by your reaction to the threat described above. Your response to diana’s point was excellent for its frankness.
    What I’d like to suggest is that we have a greater moral obligation to animals precisely because they are NOT equal to human beings. Their relative weakness and helplessness makes it all the more important that we do right by them.
    I don’t doubt that you are sensitive to the power imbalance and you consider it when you work. I’m grateful that it’s someone like you who’s responsible for the work you do.
    I wish the work you and others do could be done on people, particularly on people who could choose. But I’m not naive about that ever happening and so I can’t bring myself to say that animal studies should stop. I feel something much more unsettling than ambivalence regarding this issue because I can’t deny the work must continue.
    Thank you again for taking the time to carefully respond in this thread to people with a different world-view. Good luck to you and stay safe.

  23. Lillian2611: Thanks so much for your kind comment. I think that your thought that we have a greater obligation to animals because they are NOT human beings is an interesting one and deserves a lot of consideration. It’s not really a question that I feel I can answer, but I don’t know that anyone can answer it beyond a simple gut response. It is definitely part of the reason that scientists take such care to treat them well, and we do take a LOT of steps to try to limit the use and the numbers of animals used as much as possible.
    But I also want to note that a lot of animal research directly benefits animals (as I noted about my old cat in the post above). Animal research into things like animal reproduction has gone a long way toward the preserving of endangered populations, and other animal research has done a lot for the health and welfare of domesticated and wild animals (like the rabies vaccine, which while it also helps people, helps domesticated and wild animals by limiting the spread of rabies).
    Also, regarding human research: there is a LOT of human research out there. Sci has participated in a large number of human studies, including ones for things like pain. So you CAN help science move toward solutions and techniques that do not involve animals by participating in studies yourself, if you would like to. I consider it part of my duty as a scientist to participate in these studies, to help out my colleagues and find new mechanisms, treatments, and cures.
    But human studies are difficult. Humans are rarely not exposed to drugs at all, and it is often very hard to determine what is the effect of the drug, and what is the effect of vast differences in things like lifestyle, drug history, nutrition, education, etc. To figure out which effects the drugs are truly having, it is often necessary to first test them in a dish of cells, to look at the detailed signaling pathways, then maybe in a tissue like a kidney, and then in a whole animal, to determine the right dosing and how the drug reacts with the whole body, as well as whether there are problems with long-term exposure. Then you can move on to humans.
    Hopefully someday there will be alternatives to animal research, and we are slowly getting closer to those, but in the meantime there are cures and treatments that we can develop now, and I do not feel that we can let people (and sometimes animals) suffer in want of a cure because we cannot yet find it with a computer rather than a mouse. Additionally, often the finding of those treatments and cures leads to new information about the body which can be applied to computer simulations and cells in the search for more cures.
    Douglas: I agree that, due in part to the protests of the public, research has come a long way in terms of animal welfare, and I hope that we will eventually go further. Animal welfare is EXTREMELY important, in part due to the fact that a lack of animal welfare does not lead to good experimental results.
    However, I think that many people, if they knew what exactly is done during animal research now (and you can, as Pteryxx pointed out upthread), would not find what we do distasteful in most cases. They would find it necessary and realize that we do as much as we can to treat our animals with compassion and care.
    I am willing to agree to phase out animal research, provided that someone will give me a viable alternative to pursue the treatments and cures that we need. I do not think that we can stop animal research until we have such alternatives, and I would welcome any suggestions.
    In the meantime, while I respect those who put out calls that we need to end animal research and especially those who are concerned for animal welfare, I do not respect those who feel that they need to use violence and threats to get their views across. These people both make it hard for me to do my work, harder for people to use animal research to find alternatives, and make it difficult for us to reach out and tell people what we really do, by perpetuating falsehoods. While public involvement in a legal and peaceful manner is necessary, threats, violence, and intimidation are not.

  24. Douglas Watts, you’re wrong. US opinion polls (eg Pew/AAAS) show that consistant (if narrower than ideal) majorities in favour of animal research, despite the fact that most will have got their idea of what animal research involves from highly misleading PeTA propaganda, a problem which the scientific community finally seens to have woken up to. This is because they also recognize that animal research makes a very valuable contribution to developing cures for the illnesses they, their family and their friends, often funded by charities they support. So to extent that society has agreed standards on anything* it had agreed that animal research is OK.
    To equate animal research with dog-fighting is to equate heart surgery with a knife fight.
    As to a plan,and I assume that you mean one with deadlines, well that is a non-starter, there are simply too many unknowns to committ to any date. Even if you take the example of the recent national toxicology program report, which looked at overhauling the screening methods in one fairly limited area of toxicology. They don’t have a deadline, though the report implies it will take at least a decade to implement and probably longer to implement fully, and the report was frank about the fact that some animal testing would probably still be required when the changes were implemented. That is in an area regarded as one of the low hanging fruit of 3Rs!
    Do you really think that if deadline was set and no alternatives could be developed before it was reached animal research would stop…I kinda doubt that the many patient organizations would allow that to happen.
    Animal research won’t decrease or end because of deadlines, but, as has happened with the decrease in the 1980’s due to the rise of molecular biology**, it will decrease because of technological changes, and ultimately because it will have allowed us to learn enough about living systems that we don’t need it any more. Whether that heppens in 20, 50 or a hundred years time is anyone’s guess.
    You also ignore the role of scientists themselves in developing the regulation that now surrounds animal research, the AWA, IACUCs etc. Ask almost any animal researcher today and they will tell you that they welcome the regulation. You say that animal research wasn’t regulated as much 50 years ago as it is now, well show me a profession that was. You are trying to suggest that animal research has some sort of special exemption from the rules of society, when all the evidence suggests otherwise.
    *at the risk of being predictible it’s worth pointing out that society hasn’t exactly come together on the issue of abortion yet either.
    ** which of course itself enabled the development of GM technology such as the transgenic that are such an important part of medical research today.

  25. Lillian2611 wrote:
    What I’d like to suggest is that we have a greater moral obligation to animals precisely because they are NOT equal to human beings. Their relative weakness and helplessness makes it all the more important that we do right by them.
    I can sympathize with this point of view, but if I try to follow it, it leads some difficult places.
    If my house caught fire, and my neighbor’s child and my neighbor’s dog were both caught inside, I just can’t see begging the fire fighter to save the dog first. If I did, I can’t see my neighbors (especially the child’s parents) being happy with that. But it doesn’t matter, because the fire fighter would cuss me out and save the child first. Unless, of course, I feel so strongly about saving the dog that I don’t tell the fire fighter about the child.
    I could see giving up eating meat–as I suppose you have already done–but I can’t see telling diabetics “sorry, no insulin; we can’t kill pigs because they’re more helpless than you are. Gather your family; they will want to say good bye.” Sure, now we get insulin from recombinant bacteria–but if it is right to put animals over people now, it was also right back in the sixties and seventies.
    I can see letting slugs (slugs are animals; if we have less moral obligation to them than to other animals I’d like you to explain why) eat my flowers or even my tomatoes, but I can’t see letting mice or termites damage the structure of my house.
    I do understand that it is possible to change people’s views about what is acceptable, but I think “animals are more helpless and thus should have more rights than people” is fairly far out of the mainstream–it is possible to shift the zeitgeist but I think you have your work cut out for you here.
    And part of the problem, in my view, is that most animal rights activists aren’t trying to honestly shift the zeitgeist to “we must take better care of animals than our fellow humans because animals are helpless.”
    They are simply lying about what animal research involves.

  26. Good topic and many interesting comments.
    AR fanaticism has a way of resulting in a criminal record and prison time:
    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/03/two-animal-rights-activists-enter-pleas-for-harassing-ucla-researchers.html

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