Animal Rights

Straw Man Arguments in Blogs

| by Dr Ray Greek

There are currently at least four ongoing blog discussion regarding animal rights in the science blogs arena. The first two are on Pharyngula with PZ Myers and are titled Students are “soft-bellied targets” and NIO is doomed now. The second two are from Orac / Dr David Gorski on Respectfully Insolent and are titled The animal rights radicals may have overreached this time and Animal rights terrorists target students as the "soft underbelly of the vivisection movement". Dr Gorski, from the latter

I keep hearing this claim from every animal rights sympathizer from Ray Greek to you but have yet to see any of you provide convincing evidence that there exist these magical mystical other scientific methods that would "provide better data cheaper" or show convincingly that abandoning animal models would "lead to an explosion of creativity." Maybe you're different and can do it, but I highly doubt it.

To begin with, I do not get involved in these blog fights even if they are in my area and these blogs are not about science but rather philosophy. There is nothing wrong with philosophy; it’s just that I limit myself to the science of animal use. That having been said, the fights invariably get around to science and hence get my attention. Still, I usually just post a link on the site as it seems to me these situations are merely versions of flame wars and hence are not beholden to facts and substance. (I usually find both the proponents and opponents of animal rights to completely misstate the philosophical basis for, and implications of, animal rights but that is a subject for others.) Furthermore, the pro-vivisectionists never get my position right and, as I have stated it many times in many places, I can only conclude they are not really trying to refute my position but are more interested in setting up a straw man that they can then easily demolish.

Second, these particular blogs seem to have been inspired by a recent essay on the website Negotiation Is Over, a website that has not been terribly friendly to me either. (See the comments regarding my blog Animal Activists and Vivisection.) Allow me once again to say that Americans For Medical Advancement (AFMA) and I condemn violence. There is no excuse for violence in these kinds of situations and we condemn it unconditionally.

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My issue with these discussions is not their condemnation of violence or even their complete misrepresentation of the philosophical basis for animal rights but rather with their complete disingenuousness in claiming moral and scientific superiority regarding the science.

So, all of that having been said, I now turn my attention to Dr Gorski’s latest jab at me. Remember this is the same Dr Gorski who on May 10, 2010 stated in his blog: that “the correlation between cell culture studies is even more unreliable than that of animal studies.” I asked him, on May 11, 2010, in the comments section of his blog, to substantiate this with references but he has yet to respond. (Almost the one-year anniversary. Maybe he is planning something special!) Dr Gorski blogs on the website Science-Based Medicine where references are part and parcel of posts.

The same Dr Gorski also recently stated:

A “live” debate. What is it with “live debates”? It seems that cranks always want to challenge those who criticize their misinformation and pseudoscience to “live debates.”

(Dr Gorski was not referring specifically to me in his above comments.) Apparently Dr Gorski does not like live debates but some in the science-based medicine and skepticism camp do appreciate debates in general at least. For example, Dr Steven Novella has publicly challenged Ann Coulter to debate creationism with him on the podcast The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe.

So, once again, for a more realistic evaluation of the efficacy of using animals in research and my position in general please see:

1. response to Orac

2. Are animal models predictive for humans? 

3. Is the use of sentient animals in basic research justifiable? 

If anyone with a science background really wants to understand what Niall Shanks and I are saying they pretty much have to read Animal Models in Light of Evolution. Maybe there are people out there who can do astral projection and understand our position without actually reading about it but I have not met any of them and they certainly are not blogging or commenting on these blogs.

For those who find all this science talk a little overwhelming but you are nonetheless interested in the subject, please try reading FAQs About the Use of Animals in Science: A handbook for the scientifically perplexed. And finally for what research methods exist that are better than using animals to predict human response to drugs and disease please see What Will We Do If We Don't Experiment On Animals? Medical Research for the Twenty-first Century and many of my blogs posted on Opposing Views.

As I stated in my first post on Opposing Views: “. . . 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.” Most people cannot learn organic chemistry without formal education much less without reading a book. To think one can intuit complicated science without reading tomes is naïve at best but more likely representative of the fact that the individual who claims to be able to do so is an activist not a scientist (at least in this area).

Finally, as I have stated many times, I have asked Dr Gorski to participate in a point-counterpoint in the peer-reviewed literature but he refused. The fact that he can spare the time for blogs like those above (and many others on the subject of animals in science) but refuses to take a medical science discussion to the medical science literature really says it all.