Because vivisection activists have little to offer in terms of solid science to support their claims, they frequently resort to misrepresenting my position or using fallacies to justify their position. I want to examine the more popular distortions and, as there are many, I will do this over the series of blogs. For those of you familiar with the science behind my position, this will be tedious, as I have covered this ground many times. But just as it is difficult to keep weeds out of the garden so it is impossible to keep really bad reasoning at bay without constant vigilance, especially when money is involved.
On August 28, 2012 by Tom Holder published an essay titled: “How to Build an Action Network for Science,” on the website Speaking of Research. Holder stated: “There are broadly three ways in which disinformation propagates through the media – authorities, celebrities and public weight.” While I agree that disinformation can be spread in these ways I would point out that vivisection activists are just as guilty of these using these methods as those they criticize. Conversely, I have published books and essays arguing against using the fallacy known as appeal to authority, to the best of my recollection neither AFMA nor I have ever benefitted from public association with celebrities, and “public weight,” in terms of what is and is not good science, is irrelevant.
Holder continues: “Authority involves bringing a respected authority to bear on the issue.” Not in science it doesn’t! Science is concerned about evidence and theory, not authority. Carl Sagan wrote the following about what tools should be found in a baloney detection kit: “Arguments from authority carry little weight—‘authorities’ have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most there are experts.” ((Sagan 1996) p210-11) I have never offered up myself, or any doctor of any kind, as a reason society should accept my position. I offer empirical evidence and theory in the form of evolved complex systems. Holder, conversely, immediately offers up the argument from authority fallacy saying:
Unfortunately for the animal rights lobby, their figures of authority – the few doctors who are against animal research – have been roundly discredited. The views of figures such as Dr. Menache, Dr. Greek and Dr. Vlasak have been overwhelmed by the medical community – In 2006 a survey of General Practitioners in Britain found that 93% agreed that “animal experiments have made an important contribution to the many advances in medicine”. Similarly high support can be found around the world by the medical and scientific community.
Sagan offers a nice retort to the above:
Again, the reason science works so well is partly that built-in error-correcting machinery. There are no forbidden questions in science, no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed, no sacred truths. That openness to new ideas, combined with the most rigorous, skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, sifts the wheat from the chaff. It makes no difference how smart, august, or beloved you are. You must prove your case in the face of determined, expert criticism. Diversity and debate are valued. Opinions are encouraged to contend—substantively and in depth. (Sagan 1996) p31
There are, unfortunately, many examples of respected scientists offering opinions that that proved not simply wrong but ridiculously wrong. Luc Montagnier, French Nobel laureate for the discovery of HIV, promotes homeopathy.(Enserink 2010) Albert Einstein said: "There is not the slightest indication that energy will ever be obtainable from the atom." [(Youngson 1998) p13] Lord Kelvin said: "X-rays will prove to be a hoax." [(Youngson 1998) p195] He also rejected Darwinism even after the reason for his objection was shown to be incorrect. [(Youngson 1998)ch 1] He refused to give up his position despite the evidence. Very few that are alive today are smarter than Lord Kelvin was. Richard Woolley, an astronomer said in 1956 that: "All this talk about space travel is utter bilge, really." [(Youngson 1998) p31]
Even the entire scientific establishment, in the relevant area, has been wrong. The biology community as a whole dismissed Barbara McClintock for her idea of jumping genes: research for which she was awarded the 1984 Nobel Prize. Like Sagan said, authority is meaningless in science. People with a vested interest might appeal to authority to promote their agenda asserting, “my authority is better than your authority,” but that’s not science.
Holder continues: “Celebrities often jump on what they see as a popular bandwagon in their support for the animal rights movement.” That is true and such commentaries should be taken with a grain of salt. But the animal model community has their own celebrities in addition to using the appeal to sympathy fallacy. Take for instance the recent billboard advertisements asking if the reader would rather save a child or a rat. Typical appeal to sympathy fallacy. The efficacy of using rats to cure babies was not addressed; it was assumed. Ditto celebrities appearing before congress and asking for more money to be allocated to research on a specific disease. Both animal rightists and vivisection activists use fallacies more often than not and each should stop doing so.
Holder: “Public Weight is the mass of people who can be mobilised quickly to back a campaign or story.” Again, both vivisection activists and animal activists organize public demonstrations, hoping to present thousands of supporters for the media to view. Indeed Holder’s own group Speaking of Research was founded on the heels of Pro-Test, an organization in the UK that Holder was also active in, and whose raison d'être was to mobilize supporters of animal experimentation for the media to view. Regardless, the number of people supporting or opposing a science-based position is irrelevant to the validity of that position.
What Holder fails to address, as is typical for the vivisection activist community, is the failure of that community to justify their claims either in the scientific literature or in a public debate when a competent scientist, such as myself, is the opponent. The vivisection activist community’s modus operandi is to ask animal activists who are not scientists to participate in a public dialogue/debate where the scientists can simply ride roughshod over the nonscientist and present the false dichotomy of “your child or a rat” without fear of real science being presented that refutes the fallacy. Sadly, many animal activists are naïve and fall for this trap, thinking that they are qualified to debate the issue and that they are doing something good “for the animals.” They aren’t! (See Dunning-Kruger effect for more on why people have this attitude.)
I close by repeating a portion of the Sagan quote from above: “Diversity and debate are valued. Opinions are encouraged to contend—substantively and in depth.” (Emphasis added.) ((Sagain 1996) p31) Unless, of course, you are a vivisection activist and you have no facts to support your position in a debate. Then, you just present fallacies in your blogs, interviews, and other communications in addition to using all the other propaganda tools Holder et al pretend to condemn.
Enserink, Martin. 2010. "French Nobelist Escapes "Intellectual Terror" to Pursue Radical Ideas in China." Science no. 330 (6012):1732. doi: 10.1126/science.330.6012.1732.
Sagan, Carl. 1996. The Demon-Haunted World. Science As A Candle In The Dark. New York: Ballantine Books.
Youngson, R. M. 1998. Scientific Blunders: A Brief History of How Wrong Scientists Can Sometimes Be... New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers.