Animal Rights

AV Arguments That Ignore Current Science

| by Dr Ray Greek
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In my last blog, I briefly described the positions of past anti-vivisectionists and addressed the advances in science that have largely obviated those positions. Namely, I described advances in evolutionary biology and complexity science and explained that because of these advances, anti-vivisectionists that oppose vivisection, at least in part based on scientific grounds, now have a very strong argument to make. Today I will address how animal protection organizations have reacted to these new advances in science.

In a nutshell, they haven’t. Sadly, almost every anti-vivisection (AV) organization and animal protection (AP) organization has ignored these advances and continues to offer arguments against vivisection that are equivalent to cautioning children not to walk in the rain in order to avoid infectious diseases. The best way to avoid infectious diseases is by keeping up on the vaccination schedule, washing your hands, and avoiding risky behavior. Walking in the rain comes in a distant last on the list of preventions, if it even makes the list. Likewise, the reasons AV groups give for why vivisection is scientifically suspect are largely immaterial or just plain wrong.

The following are from AP or AV websites and I will examine them as a group. From the Human Society of the United States (HSUS):

If animal experimentation was the hallmark of 20th century biomedical research, sophisticated non-animal methods are likely to characterize 21st century research. Many humane state-of-the-art alternatives to animal experiments have already been shown to be effective in advancing medical progress, cutting research costs, and eliminating animal suffering.

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From SABRE in the UK:

Why should patients and the public be concerned about data from animal research?

Scientific publications show that the methods used to design, conduct and translate animal research for human benefit lack scientific rigor and that the experimental data are unreliable. . . . This has led to the harming of patients and research volunteers. It also wastes valuable resources and research funding.

What is needed to improve data from animal research?

From Safer Medicines in the UK: “Independent scientific evaluation of the utility of animal tests for drug safety. The effectiveness of animal tests has never been measured against a panel of state-of-the-art techniques based on human biology. We propose a unique comparison between the two approaches, the case for which is compelling.”

From the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection:

The Problem

The BUAV estimates that on average at least 115 million animals are used and killed in the name of science every year, worldwide. The UK is one of the largest animal testing countries, carrying out over 4.1 million experiments in 2012 alone. Yet this use of animals is not only cruel but unproductive. Animals do not get many of the human diseases that people do such as heart disease, many types of cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, or schizophrenia; these have to be artificially induced in the animal. The resulting ‘animal models’ are usually crude and incomplete representatives of the human disease. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that treatments tested on these ‘animal models’ rarely work in humans so not only are animals’ lives (as well as money and time) being wasted but that effective treatments are being mistakenly discarded. There is very little scientific evidence for the claims that animal tests have saved human lives. Indeed when scientists review the effectiveness of animal experiments over time, the results are damning.

The Solution

Replacing animal tests does not mean putting patients at risk. It also does not mean halting medical progress. Replacing animal testing will improve both the quality and humanity of our science. Thankfully, the development of alternative methods is a growing scientific endeavour. Due to innovation in science, animal tests are being replaced in areas such as toxicity testing, neuroscience and drug development. However, much more needs to be done. The reasons why animal testing persists are often not scientific but conservatism within the scientific establishment and the bureaucratic hurdles to implementing and enforcing the use of alternative methods. The BUAV is working to save as many animals as we can by exposing cruel and pointless experiments and by encouraging regulators to promote and accept alternative methods to animal testing.

From IFER:

The International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) supports the development, validation and implementation of innovative scientific methodologies that advance science and replace the use of animals in research, testing and education.

IFER bridges the gap between the ethical concerns of people who oppose the suffering of animals and the concerns of scientists who recognize the limitations of other species to model human diseases and to predict what is safe and effective for people. IFER invests in opportunities that are inspired by the potential of 21st century technologies and provides incentives to researchers to pursue answers to today’s questions in science without causing harm to animals.

The above, along with similar positions from AP and AV organizations and various individuals, can be broken down into several arguments.

1.     We need alternatives. Society will come around to our AV position just as soon as we invented new ways to do research and testing. I have addressed this fallacy many times see here, here, here, and here. Society does not need alternatives it needs good science which is supported by both empirical evidence and theory such as that from evolutionary biology and complex systems. (This is the basis of Trans-Species Modeling Theory, which is explained further in our books and articles.) Animal-based research and testing offers no predictive value for humans hence it should be abandoned, where used for predictive purposes, regardless of what else is available.

2.     We already have alternatives to replace vivisection. If they mean the use of animals in teaching anatomy, producing monoclonal antibodies, and such, then yes. But they don’t mean that. They mean drug testing and drug development and no, academia and Pharma do not have tests that predict what a drug will do in humans, be it an animal test, in vitro test, or in silico test. If anyone tells you that predictive tests exist for even a majority of the properties studied in drug development, they are incompetent or disingenuous.

3.     Inadequate methodology and systematic reviews. Basically, this position states that the current animal-based research protocols are flawed and this can be corrected by, among other things, standardization of protocols and systematic reviews. I coauthored a paper addressing this. Briefly, there are two problems with this position. 1) An understanding of evolved complex systems via Trans-Species Modeling Theory (TSMT) negates the possibility of one evolved complex system having predictive value for another at higher levels of organization such as where disease and drug actions occur. 2) Let’s assume animal-based research methodologies are corrected. Do the advocates for this position expect that such would make animal models have predictive value for human response to drugs and disease? In conclusion, this position is based on ignorance.

4.     We need studies in order to ascertain how effective animal-based research is. In reality, we have many such studies and they all show the same thing—animal-based research has little if any predictive value. (Shanks, Greek et al. 2009, Greek and Greek 2010)

5.     Diseases in animal models are not naturally occurring and therefore will not give us the same results as humans. In many cases this is true but TSMT explains why this is the case, which is better than a mere recitation of past failures. Past failures do not mean future failures, which is why animal modelers are introducing new species and genetically modified animals on such a regular basis. Moreover, in some cases, an artificially induced disease can behave exactly like a naturally occurring one, in that species. The problem is inter-species variation, not the method of contracting the disease.  

6.     Anything but money. Many groups trip all over themselves in an attempt to deny that the main reason vivisection persists is financial. They think that by being friendly with vivisectors they will win points and gain influence. England under Chamberlain thought the same about Hitler. Granted there are many contributing factors to why vivisection persists but the main one is money, not lack of alternatives, or tradition, or conservative scholars.

Other arguments include:

7.     The animals are stressed and therefore will not react like humans. This is inconsequential in light of the differences among evolved, complex systems.

8.     The animals have poor nutrition or the food or other environmental conditions vary among laboratories and therefore the animals will not react like humans. This too is inconsequential in light of the differences among evolved, complex systems.

9.     We can replace primates with rodents. No, we can’t. Primates offer little to no predictive value and neither do rodents. If you want to use rodents to explain basic anatomic principles then yes, rodents can replace primates. But this is not what advocates mean.

10.  Isolated studies that failed or lists of such failures. Yes, a lot of animal-based research fails but every now and again some animal reproduces a human response: babies from rabbits and humans both exhibit phocomelia from thalidomide. Problems exemplified by isolated failures leave the door open to being solved by a better animal model. The reason animal models per se fail and will continue to fail cannot be generalized without TSMT.

11.  Vivisection works but its unethical. This is scientifically incorrect except for when animals are used for nonpredictive purposes such as for biofactories, as a heuristic, and so forth. The reason vivisection persists is the false assumption that it offers predictive value for human response to drugs and disease.

12.  Individual scientists say it does not work. There are probably more on record that say it does and regardless, argument from authority is a fallacy.

13.  Science doesn’t work. Good luck selling that to anyone with a brain.

Why haven’t AP and AV groups embraced the implications of evolved, complex systems explained by TSMT?

Some of the scientists who are advisors for AV and AP groups are themselves former vivisectors who left vivisection on ethical grounds, not science grounds. They either have not done the requisite research to understand why animal models fail or they don’t really care about the science. Either way, they are not scientifically equipped to intelligently discuss the topic. AR and AP groups have some of these scientists, or scientists like them, on their board or as employees, usually for appearance sake only.

Another group of scientists who claim to be knowledgeable on the subject simply do not know what they don’t know (see Dunning-Kruger effect). They really think they understand the topic and have no idea how little they really understand regarding the science of animal models. The fact that there is no formal education and testing required regarding the science of anti-vivisection in order for an individual to be consider an expert, lends itself to this phenomenon (as is the case for many topics that lie outside traditional, formal study or for topics that are transdisciplinary).

Finally, many AV and AP organizations are presided over by people with no science education. In fact, some of the leaders and outspoken members of the AP and AV movements deny science has contributed to society and disbelieve that science is the best method humans have ever discovered for learning about the material universe. This type of environment does not lend itself to appreciating the importance of advances in science.

On the July 29, 2013 edition of the podcast Point of Inquiry, physicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson discussed communicating science and the need for people to read books in order to understand scientific developments and science in general and to communicate these concepts to others. Tyson stated that scientists who have taken the time to write books in hopes of communicating science to nonscientists, or non-specialists in that particular aspect of science, have probably given some thought to how to communicate and hence many of us can benefit from their words. Likewise, in my first blog, I wrote: “. . . in order to really understand the nitty gritty science behind all these subjects one needs to go back to the last century. One needs to read books. There is no reason a person who is lacking in advanced science education cannot read and understand science-related topics.” Watching videos on YouTube will not make one into a competent scientist regarding AV. Neither will talking with your friends or others that are not experts in this area. And there are very, very few real experts.

After completing medical school, a residency, and teaching anesthesiology at a university medical school, I still had to spend the better part of four years reading several books per week and discussing the concepts contained therein, concepts that were new to me, with Niall Shanks and others who had formal training in complexity, evolutionary biology, philosophy of science, and so forth. This was difficult but most things worth having in life are difficult to obtain. I seriously doubt the vast majority of science advisors to AP and AV groups have taken the time to educate themselves on the diverse subjects one needs in order to understand why one evolved, complex system will not be of predictive value for another evolved, complex system at higher levels of organization.

As long as incompetence is accepted in the AP and AV movements, nothing will change.

 

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Complex-adaptive-system.jpg

 

References

Greek, R. and J. Greek (2010). "Is the use of sentient animals in basic research justifiable?" Philos Ethics Humanit Med 5: 14.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Citation&list_uids=20825676

Shanks, N., R. Greek and J. Greek (2009). "Are animal models predictive for humans?" Philos Ethics Humanit Med 4(1): 2.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Citation&list_uids=19146696