Argument From Authority. Part III
In my previous two blogs I examined the argument from authority as exemplified by the animal-based research enterprise. Today I will conclude this thread.
Animal Models in Light of Evolution has not been refuted by any scientist even those that endorse or perform animal-based research. (For that matter neither has Brute Science and it was published in 1996.) As I stated in my first blog on this subject:
THERE IS NO SUBSITUTE FOR KNOWLEDGE OF THE SUBECT AND THE APPLICATION OF CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS!
Most of the criticisms leveled against us have been of the we think you said X variety when in fact we never said or implied X. Straw man arguments are much easier to refute than facts and hard science. Simply lying about what we say or believe is even easier. But like the lawyers say, if you don’t have the facts on your side, attack character.
If the animal-based research machine as represented by the National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR) and its not-for-profit division, the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR), RDS, the AAAS, Americans for Medical Progress, the AMA, and The American Physiological Society and so forth can prove that animal models are predictive for human response to drug and disease and thereby disprove the principles set forth in Animal Models in Light of Evolution then we will acknowledge their victory. Our position can be falsified. We even set this up in the book (see pages 359-360). Given that Animal Models in Light of Evolution is based on the principles of evolutionary biology, I believe it will stand up to honest scrutiny. That is the long and short of it! We have offered a serious scientific evaluation of the prediction question when using animal models for drug and disease research and, despite much vitriol, no one has stepped up and honestly and without great reliance on fallacious reasoning shown where we are wrong. The number of scientists in the above-mentioned organizations is huge. Some have full-time scientists who deal exclusively with the animal-based research issue. If they, collectively, cannot refute our evidence then such silence speaks for itself.
On to less important matters.
In any argument from authority we need to define the word authority or expert. If you ask those with a vested interest in the animal model, then all of them will say it is invaluable and most will claim it is predictive. Despite the fact that they have, usually in an article that they wrote, gone to great lengths to point out the weakness of the models and the fact that the models are not predictive for humans. If anyone is guilty of quoting out of context it is the animal modeler who is misrepresenting what he just said in his own article. (I encourage you to read the references of the articles or quotes in question and decide for yourself.) Regardless, if you ask scientists, who do not have a vested interest, about the importance of animal models and the use of animals to predict human response, especially physicians, you will get a very different answer.
One final word on who or what is not an authority? The media is not an authority. What the media per se has to say about virtually anything in science does not count as evidence. The media has one goal and that is to make money. That is not to say that every reporter, columnist, and talk show host is ipso facto wrong, just that the media cannot be trusted to understand, much less fact check, most things that pertain to science. (For more on this see Bad Science, the website and the book by Ben Goldacre.) Furthermore, the media profits from news of miracle cures and therefore is prone to sensationalize the results of mouse studies. Their reports of new drugs exaggerate their efficacy and minimize the side-effects. “Editors want the medical miracle.” (Moynihan, Bero, Ross-Degnan, Henry, Lee, Watkins, Mah, and Soumerai 2000) (Drug Cheerleaders 2000)
Bertrand Russell said: “Even when all the experts agree, they may well be mistaken.” The fact is the animal model cannot predict drugs and disease response in humans, even if some of the “experts” disagree with that and regardless of polls and position statements.
One question we are frequently asked is: “If you are correct, why is there not more support for your position among scientists?” This question is not representative of the reality of the situation. First, many scientists do agree with our position and second a comment by James Watson is appropriate at this time:
"Oh sure, I knew it would cause trouble," says Watson, eyes widening with unabashed glee. "I said most scientists are stupid." He pauses, furrowing his brow in an effort to quote himself accurately. "The fact is most scientists act as though they are stupid because they are wedded to some approach they can't change, meaning they are moving sideways or backwards." (Conant 2003) (Emphasis added.)
That is pretty much our position concerning animal-based research. Many scientists are wedded to using it because they cannot change, in part, because it pays their mortgage and for the other reasons outlined in my blogs. The animal-based research approach to curing disease has not worked for cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and many more. (The fact of the matter is that it was very misleading even back in its heyday; the day of early infectious disease research and research into commonalities among mammals.)
Do not discount the amount of money involved in animal-based research in universities. The overhead charge for universities housing animals is greater than 50% of the grant itself and 80-120% is not unheard of. This means that if a researcher receives a grant from NIH and needs $1 million for the grant itself, the university will receive an additional $500,00 to $1.2 million in overhead charges. Thus the grant will total $1.5-$2.2 million. This is a real boon anytime but especially in these times when universities are really feeling the financial pinch. Poll scientists from this environment and it will be easy to get 93% of them to agree that animal-based research is a good thing. Even if they themselves do not have such grants their salary might be paid as a result of such grants or their department might be funded by such grants. That is where much of the 50-120% overhead goes. This is why critical thinking is important when evaluating any poll.
The researchers, universities that profit from the use of animals, and their representatives will never support our position that animal models cannot predict human response to drugs and disease. Not because our position is false but because their livelihoods depend on using animals. Scientists who do support our position will make the occasional statement in our favor, but probably will never actively campaign on the issue as they have friends, family, and maybe even members of their own department who use animals. Even if those three conditions are not present, it takes quite a bit of courage (or foolishness) to rock a multibillion-dollar boat. The repercussions will be great and most scientists, or most people for that matter, do not seek out controversy for themselves. This does not make an argument a conspiracy, as these are just the facts of life.
There are reasons the argument from authority is listed under fallacies.
Conant, Jennet. 2003. The New Celebrity. Seed (February).
Drug Cheerleaders. 2000. New Scientist (2242):19.
Moynihan, R., L. Bero, D. Ross-Degnan, D. Henry, K. Lee, J. Watkins, C. Mah, and S. B. Soumerai. 2000. Coverage by the news media of the benefits and risks of medications. N Engl J Med 342 (22):1645-50.