Animal Rights

Fallacies Galore

| by Dr Ray Greek

This blog is in response to comments about my previous blog, Surfactant as an Example of Past Uses of Animals, and I highly recommend you read that one before starting this one.

In response to my blog Surfactant as an Example of Past Uses of Animals Dr Ringach wrote the following:

The burden of proof is still on you . . . Such a debate must start with opponents explaining how such breakthroughs could have been achieved without the use of animals. That important breakthroughs have been obtained via animal research is a fact.

This is classic fallacious reasoning. I have acknowledged that past discoveries used animals. I then asked whether such discoveries could have been made without them. I then acknowledge that I do not know the answer. I am asking a question. There is no claim on my part hence no burden of proof. For Dr Ringach to state that I must explain how a breakthrough could have happened without using animals is the fallacy called shifting the burden. The vivisection activist is the one making the claim. The claim being that a breakthrough could not have occurred any other way. This is straight up critical thinking / logic and is usually taught in philosophy 101 (or was back in the day, I am not sure where it is taught these days). This is easily settled by any philosopher of science or teacher of logic/critical thinking that does not have a vested interest in this discussion. I welcome any such input.

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Dr Ringach continues (I will indent his comments):

All the methods used in animals can be used, in principle, in humans subjects.

For in vitro methods I agree.

Thus, if you were to approve growing cancer tumors in humans, and allow the visualization of tumor growth at cellular and molecular levels in live human tissue, then you can certainly start doing cancer research in humans. We do not think this would be ethical.

Neither do I. But this is the fallacy known as a false dichotomy. I am not suggesting that we experiment on humans. (Dr Ringach’s implication that I am is an ad populum argument as well as an ad hominem.) I am asking if the answer to the question could have come about without experimenting on animals. For example, Harvey cooled frogs and watched their hearts beat then vivisected a horse to demonstrate the circulation of the blood. (It was a little more complicated than that but this is sufficient for our purposes.) So my question would be: “Could that knowledge have been obtained without animals?” The answer is in two parts. 1. Of course the circulation of the blood could be demonstrated today without animals by using today’s technology. We do this every time a patient goes on cardio-pulmonary bypass. 2. But cardio-pulmonary bypass was not available in the 17th century (I believe that was when Harvey lived) so how could he have demonstrated the circulation of blood without using animals? That is a good question! I am not implying by that question that humans should have replaced frogs and horses. Some would say that such an accusation is silly and mindless. I am asking if another method could have been used. For example: dissecting cadavers shortly after death and infusing the arteries with dye in order to see where it goes. The blood would have needed to be drained first as well as a few other technical considerations, but I bet it could have been done. Maybe not. But I do not need to prove how it could have been done in order to address the claim by vivisection activists that: “Discovery X could not have happened with out animals.” That is their claim and the burden for proving it rests on them. That is straightforward logic / critical thing.

Further I have stated many times that I do not know the answer to many of the “what if” questions as they are not important to my prediction position or my basic science position. But the question of past breakthroughs is vital if one is trying to maintain a centuries old animal-based system in today’s scientific environment of personalized medicine. Past breakthroughs are about all you have to go on. (Reminds me of blacksmiths saying the horseless carriage would never catch on.)

Dr Ringach:

The claim is that in order to understand normal function and disease we need measurements and manipulation at cellular and molecular levels. As of today, such measurements are invasive and cannot possibly be done in human subjects.

That is not true. We can measure cellular levels of many chemicals and do so everyday without harming humans. Same with manipulating chemicals. In vitro work can do this. What cannot be done with humans is the manipulation of the intact system or at least certain manipulations of an intact human system. The vivisection activist is correct in claiming that animals are the only intact system that can be so manipulated. But that claim also falsifies the overall argument because intact monkeys are not intact humans and that is where the prediction problem rears its ugly head. Manipulating variables in intact animals have a proven track record of failing to predict human response to drugs and disease (the reason the research is being done). (Read Animal Models in Light of Evolution for the empirical evidence as well as the theory behind why this is so.) This is why I harp on prediction. Because these arguments always get back to prediction. And that is exactly where we are now! In the final analysis, in order to support the use of animals in research the vivisection activist will have to claim prediction.

Dr Ringach:

Despite some differences between animal and human physiology, this type of work, in conjunction with parallel human studies, has generated important medical breakthroughs that cannot be denied.

I have acknowledged that animals have been used to discover fundamental properties common to mammals or perhaps even primates. That is a far cry from saying that manipulating intact animals predicts how a human will respond to diseases or drugs. And that is exactly what Dr Ringach is claiming above.

In contrast to this, opponents of the research repeatedly suggest that they are in the possession of some novel and more efficient methods that can render animal research obsolete. All the work can be done solely on humans.

1. I am not an opponent of research. Classic ad hominem. I am an opponent of research that does work.

2. I have never claimed to be in possession of some novel method. Classic straw man fallacy. Jean and I have written a book titled What Will We Do If We Don't Experiment On Animals? Medical Research for the Twenty-first Century where we discuss common research methods well known to everyone.

3. I have never claimed research could or even should be done solely on humans. In the aforementioned book, we discuss research with computers (in silico research) as well the basic sciences of chemistry and physics, and advances secondary to engineering. Not exactly research with humans.

Dr Ringach then responds to points made by others:

A large number of clinical trials are based on previous results on animals.

That is true and that is problem! Ask Pharma. The whole industry is now very focused on getting human data much earlier in the process. Read our books or my blogs for the failure rate of drugs going to clinical trials based on animal studies. It is horrendous! This is a strong point in our favor! If I were a vivisection activist, I would not be bringing up clinical trials based on animal studies!

In response to the "Can I challenge you to a boxing match to settle it?" comment from another poster, Dr Ringach states:

Here we go with the threats again... It seems like a general trend that this is how some animal activists decide they want to enforce their compassion on the rest of society. If scientists shy away from discussion you bomb their homes and cars and demand discussion. If they show up to discuss you want a boxing match?

This is really is over the top. I sympathize with the people who have had death threats and or had their property bombed and I have condemned such actions. But every jibe about a boxing match does necessitate hysterics. When our first book, Sacred Cows and Golden Geese came out I lectured around the country as I did when Specious Science came out two years later. During those three years, I received somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-100 death threats. I do not remember the exact number and that is the point. All or almost all were ridiculously poorly done, hence were the work of people venting, not people plotting to destroy me. (Never did I receive a request to a boxing match and if I had, I would have laughed. Hell, maybe I did receive such a request and just forgot about it as soon as I read it.) The point is, there is a difference between a note in a box of razor blades left at your doorstep and a person from the Internet, whose identity could be found with sufficient effort, challenging you to a boxing match. In my opinion, reacting the way Dr Ringach, and others react to such nonthreatening jibes, says more about the lack of facts they have to back up their position than anything else. My comments here should not be taken as an attempt to excuse real violence or real threats of violence! But I am sure people without facts to support their position will spin it that way. 

Later Dr Ringach states:

Apparently Dr. Greek feels otherwise, as he would not be spending so much time replying to my arguments.

I respond to Dr Ringach for one reason and one reason only: his side is winning. His side is the status quo. If I want change, and AFMA and I do want society to stop funding animal-based research that claims to be predictive, then I must challenge the status quo and that entails responding to nonsense. If the stakes in this were not so high, I would not give such nonsense the time of day. I do not engage, on street corners, unfortunate people suffering from mental illnesses using essentially the same logic to proclaim the end of days. Nor did I take seriously the Twinkie defense that used some of the exact fallacies mentioned above.

Sadly, Dr Ringach’s arguments are typical hence I respond to them. (I try not to respond to comments from unidentified posters but will if the comment is a common argument or if the comment points out something I should have better explained or whatever.) Several times now Dr Ringach has exhausted the subject and his arguments have deteriorated into argument ad nauseam. All I can do is provide reasonable and referenced responses to his comments. There is an old saying that: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” and of course Sinclair’s: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” I write for the reasonable person who does not have a vested interest in animal models.

In closing, look at the fallacies Dr Ringach has committed just in responding to the previous blogs. There is surreal quality to these discussions. This is a man that claims to sit on an admission committee to medical school (I believe him), who teaches at a major medical university, and has obtained very competitive grant dollars. Yet, his education appears to be severely lacking! He cannot put together an argument without resorting to fallacies and outright prestidigitation with the facts. Is this is due to Dr Ringach’s education or to his character. His arguments are very common among vivisection activists and this regrettably leaves the door open for the character question.

In any other field, say alternative medicine, such rambling and outright fallacies would elicit a response from scientists and skeptics alike. People would be lining up to point out the fallacies and irrational reasoning. The silence from such people on this important issue is deafening. I do not know which costs more lives each year, alternative medicine or using animals as predictive models (or at least selling animal use to society under the guise of prediction), but the money taken away from science-based medical research is costing lives! Sending drugs to clinical trials based on animal studies is costing lives also! The National Cancer Institute says we have lost cures for cancer because of animal studies (Gura 1997). That is yet more lives lost! Using animals as predictive models is anti-science, not science-based. Indeed the people who most vocally support animal models state: “Up until then, I had always believed that all mammals were biologically equivalent . . .” (Dennis 2006) This is truly mind blowing. Such rhetoric is to be expected from creationists but not from people highly regarded by the scientific community. The fact that the scientific community, in particular the evolutionary biology community, has not jumped on this lends an otherworldly quality to the discussion.

References

Dennis, C. 2006. Cancer: off by a whisker. Nature 442 (7104):739-41.

Gura, T. 1997. Cancer Models: Systems for identifying new drugs are often faulty. Science 278 (5340):1041-2.