Animal Rights

Shruggies and Animal Models

| by Dr Ray Greek

I understand why scientists and others with a direct vested interest in animal models do not support the science-based position that animals cannot predict human response to drugs and disease. What I do not understand is why those with no vested interest or, at best, an indirect interest turn their back on science. I have read Dr Val Jones, Steven Novella and others at Science-Based Medicine refer to scientists who refuse to get involved in refuting complimentary and alternatives medicine (CAM) and or anti-vaccine claims as “shruggies.” Jones:

Shruggie (noun): a person who doesn’t care about the science versus pseudoscience debate. When presented with descriptions of exaggerated or fraudulent health claims or practices, their response is to shrug. Shruggies are fairly inert, they will not argue the merits (or lack thereof) of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) or pseudoscience in general. They simply aren’t all that interested in the discussion, and are somewhat puzzled by those who are.

Shruggies just shrug their shoulders and say:

“Oh well what can I do?”

“It is a big problem and I am but one person.”

“It’s a small problem and not worth my time.”

“I am busy.”

“I have other responsibilities.”

“What’s the harm?”

“I am not an expert in vaccines” (or alt med or whatever, as if one needs anything more than the ability to think critically and a little background in science to refute such nonsense).

The claim that animal models can predict human response to drugs and disease is an exaggeration of the importance of animal-based research and using grant money based on the claim that such research will predict human response to drugs and disease is fraudulent. Further, there is a limited amount of research funding available and many other research methods that could be using the money to advance medical care. Moreover, actual harm comes to humans when the results of animal studies are used to predict human response to drugs and disease. You would think that any one of these consideration alone, and certainly all of them combined, would be enough for scientists and policy makers with no or merely an indirect vested interest to speak out.

Mathematicians and physicists are experts in complexity and can certainly understand and explain why prediction between complex systems is going to be problematic. Evolutionary biologists understand and can explain why different evolutionary trajectories also imply prediction problems. Chemists, philosophers of science, and other scientists are familiar with what science is and what it is not and what arguments are valid in defending a practice and what arguments are not. Yet, as a rule, these groups are silent on the exaggerated claims and fraudulent practice of selling animal models as predictive for human response to drugs and disease.

Shruggies of any stripe are not a credit to their profession or to their species.