Animal Rights

Chivers Reeks of Ignorance

| by Dr Ray Greek

Tom Chivers of The Telegraph of London wrote an essay titled: Animal testing is still necessary, despite the claims of animal rights protesters. Despite the demeaning title, Chivers relates no science but does make use of fallacies including the argument from authority. For example, he quotes “The Society of Toxicology, who would know about this sort of thing,” as stating: “Research involving laboratory animals is necessary to ensure and enhance human and animal health and protection of the environment." This is a classic argument from authority and as such is meaningless. (See Argument From Authority. Part I, Part II and Part III for more on the argument from authority.)

I am always baffled when someone in the media, the same media that made famous the phrase “follow to money,” ignores the monetary interests of groups like the Society of Toxicology or scientists or universities. It seems they turn off their brains and critical thinking skills whenever the subject of animal models, or sometimes even science in general, is broached. Many media outlets that I follow simply copy word for word the press release sent out by the journal or university involved in the research. There is no critique, no call for caution, just a verbatim copy of the spin from the PR department.

Chivers continues: “Every drug given a licence for use will have been tested on animals, because there is simply no way that an ethics committee would allow testing on humans until it has been tried on suitable animals first. That's how you'd want it, because new drugs are dangerous, and while we don't want animals to suffer it's preferable to accidentally killing humans with untested chemicals.”

First, that is not exactly true. Drugs have, historically and currently, been tested on humans without animal trials and patients by and large reacted well. Conversely, drugs that tested safe on animals have maimed and killed humans. So while the general rule of ethics committees is to test on animals, 1) there are exceptions, and 2) it is an outdated, unscientific concept. (See:

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Are animal models predictive for humans?

The History and Implications of Testing Thalidomide on Animals

Animal models in an age of personalized medicine

FAQs About the Use of Animals in Science: A handbook for the scientifically perplexed)

Second, even the pharmaceutical industry acknowledges that testing for toxicity on animals is a failed endeavor (see above links and previous blogs). Third, the phrase “suitable animals” exposes Chivers’ general ignorance of the subject. One cannot predict which animal will respond like humans, hence the whole animal testing problem from a scientific perspective. As Hau stated: “It is not possible to give reliable general rules for the validity of extrapolation from one species to another. This has to be assessed individually for each experiment and can often only be verified after first trials in the target species.” [[1] p6] See Liars And Statistics. Part I,  Part II and Part III for more.

Chivers then links to Animalresearch.info for “a list of all the diseases for which we now have treatments thanks, in part, to animal testing . . .” This should also raise concerns for the reader as, 1) it appears to be a link to a vested interest group touting animal modeling (argument from authority again) and therefore should carry about the same weight of credibility as a link to oil conglomerates denying global warming or tobacco companies denying that smoking causes cancer. 2) The people actually responsible for the webpage are not named on the site, but they do refer to themselves as experts. Anonymity is not usually a part of science, especially when the credentials of the people are the main selling point for the site.

Furthermore, many of the so-called advances that involved animal are an example of post hoc ergo propter hoc or, “after this because of this.” Usually just called the post hoc fallacy, the fallacy links two events temporally and concludes that the first caused the second. An example would be: “I washed my car this AM and it rained this PM; therefore my washing the car caused the rain.” More specifically, numerous so-called successes of basic research are examples of the post hoc fallacy. They are also examples of the oxymoron “retrospective prediction,” as an animal can usually be found that mimics humans in some response but there is no way to know prospectively which animal until the response in humans is known. (Note I am not taking about retrodiction here.)

Listing advances supposedly due to animal experiments is a good tactic, however. It is disingenuous, but still effective, as it would take volumes to refute the list. I addressed this in Liars And Statistics. Part I. Nevertheless, I have addressed some of the usual examples that vivisection activists use:

The History and Implications of Testing Thalidomide on Animals

The Development of Deep Brain Stimulation for Movement Disorders

The Nuremberg Code subverts human health and safety by requiring animal modeling

An analysis of the Bateson Review of research using nonhuman primates  

More examples can be found in our books.

Chivers ends by asking which drug a company should test on humans given the fact that one candidate killed many animals and another killed none. The answer is that such data is meaningless. You might as well ask on which day should you get married:

  • An odd day in an even month?
  • An even day in an odd month?
  • An odd day in an odd month?
  • Or an even day in an even month?

It’s meaningless! That is why scientists calculate the predictive value of tests and practices. Such calculations have been performed for animal models of various types and they have been shown to have no predictive value in terms of toxicity or pathophysiology. An exception would be if the candidate drugs acted on a conserved process or the toxicity was related to a conserved process or acted on lower levels of organization. But such is not usually the case and even when it is, the animal data can fail to translate for various reasons. (See Animal models and conserved processes).

As I stated in Liars And Statistics. Part I, it is far easier to tell a lie than to refute one. Puff pieces from vivisection activists—be they liars or merely gullible—serve to maintain the status quo. There is no science in Chivers’ article, but that will not stop many from reading it and believing every word. Until more people learn to use critical thinking skills, or the scientific community in general grows a spine, the status quo will continue, in part, because of unsubstantiated, and factually incorrect, claims found in articles like Chivers’.

References

1.         Hau, J (2003) Animal Models. In: Hau, J, GK van Hoosier Jr (eds) Handbook of Laboratory Animal Science. Second Edition. Animal Models. CRC Press, Boca Raton, p 1-9.