Animal Rights

The Usual Fallacies Used by Vivisection Activists

| by Dr Ray Greek

Most of the time I refrain from addressing comments on my blog from people who post under pseudonyms. I find that most of their criticisms are simply nonsense and hence are not worth responding to. Moreover, most of the criticisms from unnamed individuals have been addressed many time hence they are not really seeking knowledge rather they are trying to score points with people who have not read the previous blogs. I also just don’t like pseudonyms. If you have something to say, say it and own it. However when the criticisms are representative of a type, I respond. I have done this numerous times.

A comment on my last blog, from neon-armadillo, is reproduced below. As it illustrates numerous fallacies, I thought it would be a good opportunity to go over the fallacies once again. My opponents just can’t seem to get enough of fallacies. Neon-armadillo’s comments are indented.

The Animal in Research

The bulk of what you say here is about drug research.

Yes, much of the last blog was about drug research but that does not mean that the principles fail apply to animal models used to predict human response in disease research. The reason for this involves those topics that vivisection activists hate to discuss, namely evolution and complexity. Anecdotes of human animal similarity are not data and theory (as opposed to empirical evidence like what we see with tests for positive and negative predictive values) is important in science. Implying, as neon-armadillo does, that what I said about drug research is true but that it does not apply to my other main topic—the use of animals as predictive models in disease research—is an example of argumentum ad ignorantiam as neon-armadillo offers no proof for this position.

I have never heard it argues that animals make perfect models in drug research. Animal testing is normally only a first step in deciding if human trials are warranted. Absolute predictiveness in animal models is not really the issue.

I do not know what neon-armadillo means by perfect models but many people have claimed that animal models are predictive for drug research. Gad

Biomedical sciences’ use of animals as models [is to] help understand and predict responses in humans, in toxicology and pharmacology . . . by and large animals have worked exceptionally well as predictive models for humans . . . Animals have been used as models for centuries to predict what chemicals and environmental factors would do to humans…. The use of animals as predictors of potential ill effects has grown since that time . . . If we correctly identify toxic agents (using animals and other predictive model systems) in advance of a product or agent being introduced into the marketplace or environment, generally it will not be introduced . . . The use of thalidomide, a sedative-hypnotic agent, led to some 10,000 deformed children being born in Europe. This in turn led directly to the 1962 revision of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, requiring more stringent testing. Current testing procedures (or even those at the time in the United States, where the drug was never approved for human use) would have identified the hazard and prevented this tragedy. (Gad 2007) (Emphasis added.)

Fomchenko and Holland Clin Cancer Res 2006:

GEMs [genetically engineered mice] closely recapitulate the human disease and are used to predict human response to a therapy, treatment or radiation schedule . . . GEMs that faithfully recapitulate human brain tumors and will likely result in high-quality clinical trials with satisfactory treatment outcomes and reduced drug toxicities. Additional use of GEMs to establish causal links between the presence of various genetic alterations and brain tumor initiation . . . (Fomchenko and Holland 2006)


The failure, in the clinic, of at least fourteen potential neuroprotective agents expected to aid in recovery from stroke, after studies in animal models had predicted that they would be successful, is examined in relation to principles of extrapolation of data from animals to humans. (Curry 2003)

Animal modelers clearly do claim that their models can predict human response to drugs and that is what I was discussing. I am not discussing what makes a model perfect just what makes it predictive or not. By attempting to get the reader to focus on the fact that animal models are not perfect instead of what I actually said, neon-armadillo is setting up a straw man as well as changing the subject. Classic fallacies used by those without the facts on their side.

He is also creating a false dilemma, as models do not have to be perfect to be predictive. By arguing about perfection, he is also attempting to force the reader to choose between two options—either we use models even though they are not perfect or we have no models—when there are in fact many more option. One such option would be using animal models for heuristics but not for predictive models; a point I frequently make.

When neon-armadillo says that animal testing is only the first step in drug testing, he also, is making the claim that animal models, as used by Pharma, are predictive. The reason Ouija boards and séances are not the first step is that they offer no information as to what the drug will do in humans. They are not predictive, despite the fact that, if used often enough, one “prediction” from the Ouija board would undoubtedly come true. That is just simple statistics. So, Pharma uses animal models because at least some people in the industry believe that what happens in the animal model will happen in humans. That is what we in science call using animals as predictive models.

This concept can and has been tested. It turns out that animal models are not predictive, even in these early stages; hence Pharma is now turning away from animal models. They think they have shelved drugs that would have made them a lot of money. Not a good business practice.

In attempting to contrast the first step in drug testing with what happens later, neon-armadillo is trying to refocus the reader’s attention from prediction to the quaint notion that scientists use animals in drug testing for some reason other than to predict human response. Firstly, this is just not true; Pharma wants to know what is going to happen in humans. Period. This called prediction. Secondly, refocusing the reader’s attention is a ploy used by people who do not want to discuss the topic at hand.

Using the phrase absolute predictiveness is also misleading as, outside of the physical science, very few tests are 100% predictive. A test does not have to be right 100% of the time in order to be said to be predictive nor have I ever made that a requirement for animal models. This is why I harp on positive and negative predictive values. Once again neon-armadillo is setting up a straw man by implying that I require animal models to be right 100% of the time.

Where better models exist, the drug researchers usually seem quite willing to use them.

It is a little more complicated than that. Pharma needs predictive testing strategies before human trials and they really do not have many. As I have said before, Pharma is working on this. To imply that Pharma is waiting to abandon animal models until they have predictive strategies is misleading. Pharma is currently abandoning animal models because they do not work. They continue to use many animal models because of FDA requirements not because the models actually give them data they can use. In science, we call this jumping through hoops. Anyone who has ever worked with the government or a large institution is familiar with this concept. So the implication that Pharma uses animal tests only because they are the best they have and that the best they have is adequate, is simply wrong.

Animal research is really a much broader category --something your blogs never do much to address. Animal research includes topics in veterinary medicine, zoology, biopsychology, wildlife management, and other disciplines.

In virtually every blog I go to great lengths to say animal models are not predictive for human response to drug and disease. That is pretty specific and I say it all the time. Also, from time to time I say yet again that animals can be used in many ways in science that are scientifically viable. See, for example The 9 Ways Animals Are Used in Science and Alternatives: Facts and Fallacies. We also state in our books that there are many ways animals can be successfully used in science and research and I reference these comments as well. Anyone who has read my blogs with any frequency knows this. This is one reason why I say that neon-armadillo is disingenuous and is merely trying to score points with Internet surfer who happened upon the last blog (the one that he responded to and that I am discussing now). Neon-armadillo responds to many of my blogs so it is inconceivable that he has never read the numerous disclaimers I have made regarding the many ways animals can be successfully used in science and in research in particular. But hey, if you don’t have facts, obfuscate, mislead, use fallacies, and attack character.

As far as researchers not engaging in dialogue, well, your petulance is showing again, Dr. Greek. Nothing can be farther from the truth. There has been no end of dialogue on this topic. The quotes in your own blogs provide ample evidence of that!

No, there has not. The topic I am referring to is debate between those who claim animal models are predictive and those, like myself, who claim they are not. But I will give neon-armadillo this: the scientific literature has discussed the prediction issue and has come down definitively on the side that says animal models cannot predict human response to drugs and disease. I reference some of the studies and conclusions frequently in these blogs. The only ones who seem to have missed this are the basic researchers and other vivisection activists who are still claiming that animal models are predictive and use a definition of predict that would make astrology predictive. It is that issue that Drs Gorski, Ringach, Jentsch, et al refuse to debate.

The claim that Shanks and I make in our books and article is very modest. We claim that animal models are not predictive for human response to drugs and disease. When scientists without a vested interest in using animals read this, they are nonplussed, as they cannot see why this is controversial. “What is all the hubbub about?” As I have said many times, the intellectually honest thing would be for basic scientists who use animals to admit that animal models are not predictive for human response to drugs and disease and that they do not use animal models for that purpose. Shanks and I agree that the way animals are really used in basic research (when basic research is defined as it has been historically) is scientifically viable. But while such use is not to predict human response, that is how basic research using animals is sold to society. And therein lies the rub.

By using the phrase “There has been no end of dialogue on this topic” to refer to a different topic than the one in question, neon-armadillo is committing the fallacy of equivocation.

It is perhaps more likely the case that people who engage in research do not have the time to endlessly spar in debates.

Then such scientists should stop saying that want the opportunity to engage with the public and have a dialogue with the public and simply say that they want to force the public to pay attention to their propaganda. If animal modelers want society to make an informed decision, then that implies hearing both sides of the argument and that implies a debate in some form or fashion. We can have those debates in the form a point counterpoint in the scientific, peer-reviewed, and indexed literature or on stages at universities. But vivisection activists have refused both. (Even their supporters have admitted (privately, of course) that refusing an invitation from a peer-reviewed and indexed science journal to debate this issue reeks of disingenuousness. Not a good sign when the troops are rebelling.)

Particularly with animal rights extremists who make death threats and engage in criminal harassment as part of their "debate." Do you associate yourself with any of those extremists, Dr. Greek?

The old Dr Greek is the devil ploy eh? Well, even the devil is right when he says 2+2=4. One cannot dismiss claims based on the character of the claimant. Claims must be examined based on the evidence at hand. And the evidence is something the vivisection activist does not want to discuss! But back to the comment.

I do not make death threats, even though death threats have been made against me. Nor do I engage in criminal activities or harassment of the criminal variety. If vivisection activists can only justify their refusal to engage in the time honored practice of defending one’s position in a debate in the peer-reviewed literature or in universities by using ad hominem attacks against me based on people I see once a year (if that, now-a-days), then I am very willing to let society judge that claim. But if that is your position, then I assume you agree with the notion that any given group should not communicate with any other that has associates that are violent. Let just not talk to anyone in a group that has members/followers/associates who act immature and or violent. Oh yeah, that strategy has worked well in the past!

So refusing to debate me because of the people I know and shake hands with does not pass the laugh test. If I were bombing cars, or strongly and vocally supporting people who do, then I would agree that engaging me in a social situation would be an iffy proposition. But over the last 14 years vivisection activists have debated me including one Dario Ringach at UCLA last February. I said the same things then that I am saying now and Ringach saw me shake hands with Dr Vlasak long before our panel discussion was scheduled. But now that handshake has taken on significance it did not have before. Why? Could it be that, having heard my arguments, the vivisection activists do not want to expose their position to my arguments in any public forum?

Let me be clear! I am of the opinion that talking about differences, especially scientific differences, openly and often is the best way to avoid, and even address, the violence of the very few. I have condemned violence more times than I can count but, as the lawyers have often said, if you don’t have the facts on your side, attack character.


Curry, S. H. 2003. Why have so many drugs with stellar results in laboratory stroke models failed in clinical trials? A theory based on allometric relationships. Ann N Y Acad Sci 993:69-74; discussion 79-81.

Fomchenko, E. I., and E. C. Holland. 2006. Mouse models of brain tumors and their applications in preclinical trials. Clin Cancer Res 12 (18):5288-97.

Gad, SC. 2007. Preface. In Animal Models in Toxicology, edited by S. Gad. Boca Rotan: CRC Press.