Speaking of Research is a vivisection activist website that publishes the usual propaganda via essays and blogs. An article titled STOP lying about research at the University of British Columbia, authored by Paul Browne appeared March 6, and addressed the activities of the group “STOP UBC Animal Research.” STOP UBC Animal Research has been protesting against research conducted by Dr Doris Doudet, which involves monkey models of Parkinson’s disease. The article claims that this research can predict human response to Parkinson’s drugs, in part, because a finding on PET scan was similar in humans and monkeys. The article generated numerous comments by, among others, Dr Dario Ringach. Dr Ringach and Mr Browne both attribute the discovery of deep brain stimulation (DBS) for PD to animal models specifically the MPTP-monkey model. They also condemned the position of AFMA and myself. The rest of the article as well as comments by Ringach and Browne employed the usual fallacies including straw man arguments and appeal to authority that are routinely seen in such diatribes.
I will address four issues the article and comments raise.
1. Character. On February 16, 2010 a panel discussion regarding the use of animals in research was held on the campus of UCLA. The video is available here. The panel discussion was supposed to be a prelude to a debate on the predictive value of animal models between Drs Ringach and or Jentsch and myself. I would not agree to participate in the panel discussion without the promise of a debate and Drs Ringach and Jentsch wanted the panel discussion. Panel discussions do not allow for the time or back and forth that is necessary to prove beyond a doubt that one party is not being truthful. Debates work well for that. Suffice it to say that after the panel discussion Ringach and Jentsch reneged on the agreement. For more on the fact that Drs Ringach and Jentsch backed out of the agreement, see comments by the co-organizers of the event (along with Drs Ringach and Jentsch) Jill Ryther and Kristy from Bruins for Animals (see here, here and here). The modus operandi of vivisection activists like Drs Ringach and Jentsch continues to manifest itself when, on numerous occasions, I have asked them to debate this issue in the scientific literature and or public venues like UCLA and they have refused. In technical scientific issues like the use of animal models, many in society cannot be expected to follow the details of the controversy. But everyone can appreciate that when the people who make money from an endeavor agree to participate in a debate then renege and refuse to justify their activities, there is something amiss. In this case, the money comes from taxpayers, the recipients are scientists who are accustomed to presenting and defending their research in the scientific literature, and these scientists are specifically refusing to defend their use of taxpayer money in that same scientific literature. They have also refused to participate in any kind of debate in any public venues such as at UCLA or other universities. That speaks for itself. In scientific circles, ceteris paribus, the issue would be settled. But there is more.
In the panel discussion, I jokingly said that MD stands for “medical deity.” I was being self-deprecatory as the story I was telling showed me to be the person that was wrong. My relevant comments can be found starting at 50 minutes and 30 seconds in the video and continue until 54 minutes 30 seconds in the video of the panel discussion. The audience understood the joke and laughed as can be easily heard on the video. Yet, Dr Ringach continues to claim that I was serious in that comment, stating: “. . . this ‘medical deity’ — as he likes to call himself.” (Also see here, bottom of the comments.) When someone accuses another of making an outrageous claim that the person clearly did not make, and the accusation is easily refuted on a video made by the accuser himself, and the accuser does this repeatedly, one really must question the character of the accuser. Negative ads work, unfortunately, but one can hardly claim the moral high ground when one resorts to these tactics. The facts are not in doubt in this case. This is not a “he said she said” type of dispute. The video is clear. (Moreover, I tell this same story almost every time I speak so it is on numerous other videos, complete with the audience laughing.) Dr Ringach is clearly trying to attack character because he has no facts to support his position and justify his research using taxpayer money. Would you purposefully lie about something like this when you had the facts on your side?
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But people do lie like this everyday when a vested interest is threatened. They even hire people to lie for them. Companies exist to lie for large corporations and other well-healed clients and they employ, or are composed of, scientists. This is simply the state of affairs in our world and we all know it (see here and here). This illustration alone should be enough to convince any reasonable person that Dr Ringach has an agenda and will stoop to very low levels indeed to see that his goal of continuing to be able to use taxpayer money to fund his job is realized.
I said above that, ceteris paribus, the refusal by a scientist to defend his position in the scientific literature should be enough to convince other scientists of the insincerity of that individual. However, as we all know, all other things are almost never equal. Scientists that are employed by universities come under immense pressure not to denigrate other scientists that are bringing in millions of dollars to the university. I have discussed this before (see here, here, and here). This extends to the funding process at NIH and other institutions as well as who is allowed to publish in the scientific literature. Recently Dr Ringach published an attack on my position in a well-established medical journal called The American Journal of the Medical Sciences. (The article can be viewed here.) I was denied equal space and was allowed a short letter to the editor instead (which can be viewed here). This is Dr Ringach’s idea of debate. (For more, see here.)
2. Fallacies. As vivisection activists have no facts to deny my claim that animal models have a very low positive and negative predictive value for human response to drugs and disease they utilize fallacies and other forms of nonsense. The Browne article and comments are a classic example of this. Claiming that I think of myself as a deity is an example of the ad hominem attack but there are many more fallacies routinely used by Browne and Ringach. Another example of the improper use of logic, used by both, is the argument from authority, which, since I have covered in Argument From Authority. Part I, Part II and Part III, I will address but briefly here.
Vivisection activists frequently cite other vivisection activists as authorities that agree with them that animal use in research is necessary for medical science to advance. There are numerous polls and surveys that, to the first approximation, appear to substantiate their claim. See previous links for more on the polls. The appeal to authority is offered when one has few facts to support one’s case and therefore instead says basically: “all the cool people agree with me so you are wrong.” Now, authorities did not become authorities because they were stupid so we would do well to at least consider what they have to say. But authorities have been notoriously wrong on many occasions and when money is involved authority is especially suspect. Many scientific authorities continue to advocate that smoking does not cause disease, that the world is around 6000 years old, that vaccines are dangerous, and that global warming is not happening. In the final analysis we need more than someone’s word on controversial issues. We must think for ourselves and learn how to think if we are not already good at critical thinking. The argument from authority is not evidence in the scientific sense of the word. Appeals to authority are a weapon of the weak.
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3. Tit for Tat. In the article and comments, Browne and Ringach discuss with various people the technicalities of the Doudet experiments. Without reading the protocols and papers it is difficult to say who is technically correct on the various issues under discussion. Moreover, it is irrelevant. A perusal of Dr Doudet’s publications clearly reveals the claim, in some cases implied, that her research is being performed in order to predict human response to drugs and disease. I do not have access to her grant proposals but would wager that the language contained therein would substantiate my claim even further. This is the usual way grants are obtained and is one reason why the process is fraudulent. Instead of going through her protocols and publications line by line looking for what exactly she did do and what she did not do, or say, in this or that case, I will address the general problem of research such as Doudet’s.
4. The Prediction Problem. Animal models are simply not predictive for human response to drugs and disease. This is what I have addressed many times and what vivisection activists refuse to debate in the scientific literature or in person at universities. Their reason is simple and straightforward: they would lose! There is enough empirical data to conclusively show that animal models are not predictive for humans in terms of response to drugs and disease. But perhaps more importantly, the Theory of Evolution along with complexity theory explain why the data is what it is and why one living evolved complex system/species is never going to be a predictive modality for drug and disease response in another. Intra-species prediction is almost impossible in most cases and the problems that one encounters for intra-species prediction are multiplied exponentially for inter-species prediction. I have covered this many times in this blog and in the scientific literature. (See for example, Are animal models predictive for humans? and Is the use of sentient animals in basic research justifiable? and The History and Implications of Testing Thalidomide on Animals and Animal models in an age of personalized medicine .) So the vested interest groups are not going to get on stage and argue their position with me nor are they going to do so in the scientific literature. Ever heard of the tobacco scientists participating in a debate on the merits of smoking? How about the scientists representing the asbestos industry? Now compare that to scientists who have been challenged on the validity of evolution or the myth of alternative medicine. They participate in debates all the time. When someone has the facts on his side, he is usually very willing to present those facts in public. Those without facts and that are instead relying on subterfuge avoid the spotlight. The people that do not want to discuss their position (soliloquies in the literature are not debates or discussions) are usually the ones that have something to hide and something to lose (money, prestige, etc).
This point is easy to prove. I will ask the University of British Columbia group STOP UBC Animal Research to contact Dr Doudet regarding a debate with me on the topic of the predictability of animal models in drug and disease research. She can cite her own research in support of her claim. I do not know anywhere close to as much about her research as she does, so she should be able to overwhelm me with data that shows her research is indeed predictive for humans, is leading to cures and treatments, and that such research in general is predictive and therefore vital. The debate can take place at the University of British Columbia complete with their security and all the measures they deem necessary to protect Dr Doudet. I will gladly allow her to have on her team Drs Ringach and Jentsch and London and Gorski and whomever else she wishes to have. Surely all of them combined can falsify my position that animal models are not predictive modalities. Hopefully we can also address the ubiquitous claim that monkey models were necessary for the development of DBS.