Animal Rights

Trans-Species Modeling Theory and Dr Ringach

| by Dr Ray Greek

I try not to respond to nonsense from the vested interest groups as there is no end to it and most of it is just the same ol’ same ol’ that I have corrected many times before. I applaud bloggers who essentially deal with the same nonsense day after day seemingly never tiring of correcting the exact same nonsense. Although I disagree with some of them on the value of animal models, I nevertheless appreciate the energy they bring to whatever topic they are addressing.

That having been said, Speaking of research has been publishing a fair amount lately and as I have ignored most of it, I feel I should address the following. Most of what I say below is not new but apparently requires repeating.

Dr Dario Ringach has posted on the Speaking of research web site, an essay titled “Saving Life on Earth.” I suggest everyone read the essay before reading my response. I think reading the entire essay is important in order to appreciate the context of the comments I am going to address. I will ignore most of his comments either because I have addressed them before or because they are obviously immaterial, wrong, or a non sequitur.

Ringach begins with the myth that animal-based basic science research in the biomedical sciences is equal in value to basic research in chemistry and physics: “there is wide consensus that such fundamental knowledge is critical to enhance the health, lengthen life, and reduce the cost of illness and disability in both humans and non-human animals.” See the following for refutation of this [1-19]. The refutation revolves around two facts: 1) animals and humans are examples of complex systems and 2) animal-based basic research simply does not translate to humans empirically. Theory combined with empirical evidence is as good as it gets in science.

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Ringach then employs the fallacy known as appeal to authority:

Unfortunately, at this point in time, our methods do not allow to pursue cellular and molecular-level questions non-invasively in human subjects, and this is why part of the work requires the use of animals in research. Accordingly, a recent poll by the journal Nature revealed that nearly 92% of scientists agree with the statement “animal research is essential to the advancement of biomedical science.” (Emphasis in the Ringach essay.)

How many people agree with you and what their qualifications are is immaterial to whether the claim is true. Moreover, there is a difference between a modality being necessary to advance science and the same modality being necessary in terms of finding cures. Science advances every day. Cures are not discovered every day or even every year. References 1-19 explain why this is the case.

Ringach then assumes that animals and humans are simple systems not complex systems:

Any reasonable person would agree a mechanic would be in a better position to fix a car if s/he actually knows the role each part plays, how they fit together, and what can happen if one of them fails.  Similarly, any reasonable person must agree that we would be in a better position to develop therapies and cures if we knew exactly how living organisms work in health, and what happens to our cells and other organs in disease.

The only systems humans can learn exactly how they work are simple systems. Little things like emergence and the whole being greater than the parts place constraints on ascertaining the total knowledge of complex systems. If the level of examination of a complex system can be explained in terms of a simple system, then organisms can also be so studied. But animals and humans, the systems we are interested in studying, are complex systems and the properties we wish to evaluate are located at the level of complex systems. Organisms by definition are complex systems!

Moreover, parts of a simple system , for example pistons in auto engines, are not equivalent to genes. [[20]p39]  This is another difference between complex and simple systems. The way a piston functions does not vary that much between engines but the function of genes vary considerably. [21-31]  Knowing how a mouse cell functions in health and disease is of no predictive value for human cells beyond what can be described in terms of a simple system. We passed that level of understanding decades ago. (For more on complex systems and animal models see:

·      More Misrepresentations, Fallacies, and Other Lies. Part II

·      Complexity and Animal Models

·      Brute Science

·      My article introducing Trans-Species Modeling Theory. (Indeed, Dr Ringach’s entire essay can be dismissed based on what I addressed in the article on Trans-Species Modeling Theory)

Ringach then correctly points out that Trans-Species Modeling Theory has not yet been widely read by the scientific community. Since it was published less than a year ago and contradicts major vested interest groups, this should not come as a surprise to any adult. Ringach follows up on this piece of non-information with an ad hominem stating that the writers of the Trans-Species Modeling Theory article are animal rights activists. The writers could have been aliens, nevertheless Trans-Species Modeling Theory has to stand on its scientific merits, which Ringach does not address, regardless of who wrote it. (Note how many critical thinkers will point this out—zero. Hard to keep a job in academia teaching philosophy if you correct the people bringing in the money.)

Ditto for Shanks and my book Animal Models in Light of Evolution. The book is very technical and I doubt a system based on animal modeling is going to be citing it frequently in their literature. By the way, as I have pointed out many times, I am an animal rightist philosophically but am not currently engaged in any activism, nor have I been so engaged for over a decade. Trans-Species Modeling Theory is a theory in the scientific sense of the word. How many people realize that is immaterial to its ultimate value. I justify why Trans-Species Modeling Theory is a theory in the article. Widespread acceptance is not a criterion.

Those are the main points from my perspective but Ringach goes on and I again suggest you read the entire essay. He also links to an essay by Dr Gorski titled Animal rights activism: Petitions aren’t science. I addressed Dr Gorski’s comments in  Science-Based Medicine Is Having A Little Trouble With Critical Thinking (And Due Diligence).

The petition that For Life On Earth (FLOE) is circulating revolves around a debate between a recognized, well-qualified, spokesperson from the vivisection community and myself. My rules for such a debate can be found here, in the same essay as my response to Dr Gorski. As vivisection activists will not debate me in the scientific literature, a debate with rules such as outlined in that essay are probably as close as society will ever come to seeing the positions of both sides presented and then evaluated by experts. Debates are important because, as Dr Steven Novella wrote: “During a live debate we can see how the candidates think and what they know and believe about scientific issues. They can also be pushed on specific points if they give evasive answers.”

Vivisection activists thrive in a world of limited information and fallacious reasoning. Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to participate in an event where they will be forced to plainly state, supported by references, their position and then have experts in the disputed areas of science judge those positions.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jack_McCall.jpg)

References

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2.         Begley, S., Physician-Researchers Needed To Get Cures Out of Rat's Cage. Wall Street Journal, 2003.

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