This is essay number four in a five part series examining the position that experiments on animals are necessary for life-saving breakthroughs; that without vivisection humans would die.
There is a wealth of scientific evidence and supporting theory verifying the inefficacy of the practice of using animals as predictive models in drug and disease response. Yet the practice continues. Why? The reasons are many and varied, and they have little if anything to do with science. As I have said many times before:
The animal-based research engine is fueled by the same forces of human nature that have harmed people since the dawn of time: ignorance, greed, ego, self-preservation and fear. Add to that inertia and blind obedience to the system, and you have the perfect formula for keeping this multi-billion-dollar industry thriving. Consider the following. Many scientists have been experimenting on animals for years and have published the results in hundreds of articles in professional journals, much to their career and financial success. To them, the system isn’t broken. Why fix it? Add to that the huge and highly profitable business that has been built around animal-based research. Animal breeders as well as suppliers of cages and instruments designed specifically for use in animal studies depend on the practice of animal-based research for their continued growth and profitability.
Animal testing, experimentation and using animals as models of humans is a multi-billion dollar business. Universities, individuals, animal breeders, suppliers of cages and equipment and many more, all profit. Below are the costs of some items:
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1. Rat Stereotaxic Instrument $4,500.00
2. For cats and monkeys $7,215.00
3. Metabolic gas monitor $27,300.00
4. Flat treadmill for rodents $9,600.00
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5. Incapacitance Analgesia Meter $7,300.00
6. Sliding microtome $9,975.00
7. Muromachi microwave fixation system for humane sacrifice with immediate deactivation of brain enzymes $70,200.00
8. Stereotaxic device for dogs $8,580.00 (Pennisi 2000)
Animal sales amount to billions of dollars also. Mouse sales amounted to over $200 million in 1999. Charles River Laboratories of Massachusetts sold over $140 million of animals in 1999. Experts estimate that Harlan Sprague Dawley of Indianapolis sold over $60 million in animals in 1998 and Taconic $36 million. TJL, a not-for –profit taxpayer funded corporation sold $29 million worth of mice alone. Mice with specific genes missing cost from $100 to $15,000. (Pennisi 2000)
Nature Medicine 2005:
Buying a mouse line from a company is no cheaper. For instance, California-based Deltagen charges $26,200 for two pairs of live knockout mice. Additional embryos, sperm and embryonic stem cells can run up another $15,000. Even then, the mice often come attached with intellectual property strings. Company employees sometimes co-author papers and some companies demand royalties on any discoveries or products . . . (Waltz 2005)
Alicia Ault writing in The Scientist:
James C. Foster, CEO of Charles River Laboratories, celebrated the company's five years of public trading by ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on June 13. He had a reason to mark the occasion. Overall, the Wilmington-Del. based company has about a 50% share of the estimated $1.4 billion market in lab animals, according to Frank Pinkerton, a Banc of America Securities analyst who makes a market in Charles River Laboratories' (CRL) stock. Since going public in 2000, the company has moved from a loss of $11.2 million to a net income of $89.8 million. It reported an 11.3% increase in net sales in its research models and services division at the end of last year, and a 32% operating margin, compared to 12%–13% operating margins for its other divisions . . . (Ault 2005)
The US government also plays a role in maintaining the status quo by mandating animal testing as a way to determine the safety and effectiveness of pharmaceutical drugs. The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, passed in 1938, and other such legislation requires proof of the safety of new pharmaceutical drugs and a number of chemical compounds that change the chemistry of the body before they can be marketed. They accept testing on animals as scientific proof despite the fact that such testing does not predict human response.
Even the media profits. TV and newspaper reports of new drugs exaggerate their efficacy and minimize the side-effects. “Editors want the medical miracle.” (Moynihan et al. 2000) (Drug Cheerleaders 2000)
Guy Mulder wrote the article The Next Rodent Model published on April 01, 2011 in Drug Discovery & Development. The article acknowledges that mice, while really important, have not ended the War on Cancer and suggest we use rats instead. It should come as no surprise that Dr Mulder is employed by Charles River of Wilmington, Massachusetts—one of the largest suppliers in the world of animals for use in labs.
There is even money in making the seemingly reasonable argument that society needs alternatives to animal models. Animal advocates frequently argue that: “Instead of animal testing, there should be alternatives.” For example, ABC News quotes Dr. John Pippin, an advisor to the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) as saying:
"The use of animals to test drugs and to study human diseases has been shown over decades to be a failed paradigm," he said. "To the extent we have methods already that can replace those, we should use them. To the extent that we don't, we should develop them post-haste to replace those methods."
While this attitude expresses warm fuzzy feelings for animals it is also, scientifically-speaking, very misleading and counterproductive to getting animals out of labs.
From FRAME’s website
The current scale of animal experimentation is unacceptable
However, FRAME recognises that immediate abolition of all animal experiments is not possible.
Vital medical research must continue to find treatments for diseases which lessen the quality of human and animal life. New consumer products, medicines, and industrial and agricultural chemicals must be adequately tested [on animals] in order to identify potential hazards to human and animal health, and to the environment. (Emphasis added.)
Having read parts I-III of this series hopefully you understand why the above is nonsense.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME), the Johns Hopkins-based Coalition to Abolish Animal Testing (CAAT), and the UK-based Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), and apparently PCRM (see for example, the Animals, Research & Alternatives conference of last year) all support alternatives and the Three Rs. For that matter, even people who experiment on animals support alternatives and the Three Rs. This should give you some idea of what the concept referred to as alternatives really means. (See What is needed in order to end vivisection? and How animal protection groups are delaying the end of vivisection for more detail on this.)
The bottom line is that simply too many individuals and groups (including universities) benefit from the status quo and hence no one wants to rock the boat. I realize this sounds cynical but the facts are the facts. For example, Robin Wilson states in One Animal Researcher Refuses to Hide:
[UCLA] receives more than $1-billion a year in federal and private grants and contracts, for work on 5,500 research projects. Of those, about 1,300 involve experiments on animals—150,000 of them, almost all rodents.
Susan Fitzpatrick of the James S. McDonnell Foundation wrote a letter published in The Scientist in January 2011, in which she stated:
I earn my living thinking about science funding, and I have tried to draw attention to the detrimental warping the current system exerts on academic norms and values. More than a decade ago, I floated an idea akin to the one in this Opinion by many of my friends and colleagues, mostly successful biomedical researchers at prestigious research universities who are well-funded by NIH. Many think it a good idea as long as the “everyone has enough but no one is huge or overly rich” rubric is only applied to others. Whining for dollars is the #1 academic indoor sport, and no one does it better than biomedical researchers! The roots of this problem deserve serious outing: overbuilding, the addiction to discretionary funds brought to institutions via indirect cost recovery, and the overproduction of trainees. A smaller, leaner basic biomedical enterprise, unfettered and allowed to study serious biology, will probably accomplish much more than the bloated work-fare program we currently are trapped in. (Fitzpatrick 2011) (Emphasis added.)
There is simply too much money involved in this industry to expect rationality when it comes to honestly evaluating the results.
Conflict of interest usually (COI) refers to whether the person has anyone financial interest in the subject. But COI can arise from many things besides directly receiving money. If a teacher or researcher is employed by a university that receives millions of dollars from animal-based research then that researcher, even if she does not use animals in her research, might be biased in favor of animal-based research because of her connection to the university. There is immense pressure in universities to support whatever brings money in to the university. “Be a team player.” Especially when some of that money will partially fund one’s own nonresearch-oriented department.
If a researcher has spent her entire career studying animal models of Y and has her entire ego built around her success in this field, then she will likely not have an unbiased view of research that questions the value of animal models in general. Likewise, if Dr Smith was a student of Professor Jones and Professor Jones is being attacked for his position on a particular subject, for example animal-based research, Dr Smith will probably be predisposed to side with Professor Jones.
Scientists, including physicians and veterinarians, have an unfortunate history of not always representing truth and ethics. The physicians of Nazi Germany come immediately to mind. Anyone who questions the fact that scientists can be as corrupt as anyone else need only read Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. The subtitle of Merchants of Doubt is How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, and that is what the book is about. Many scientists, very respected scientists, have lied in order to advance a political agenda or for money. Some even do so under the guise of representing science.
One tactic for denying truth is paralysis by analysis whereby someone trying to justify a practice deemed wrong or dangerous says that the practice cannot be definitively ruled dangerous or wrong until more data is in. When that data is in, he then calls for more data and so on and so on. There is never enough data to satisfy. (The reader may see some similarities here with the discussion that began with my blog How to Perform Research Without Using Animals.)
Oreskes and Conway ask why scientists who knew the truth about issues like second hand smoke and acid rain, did not challenge the nonsense being put out by the vested interest groups:
If the skeptical arguments pursued by our protagonists were not about science—if they were politics camouflaged as science—then why didn’t scientists recognize this, and say something? Why did the scientific community stand by while this was happening? With the notable exception of the atmospheric science community's defense of Ben Santer, scientists fighting back have been conspicuously scarce.
They go on the explain that the reasons for this, among others, include lack of courage, fear of being misinterpreted by other scientists, the specialization of knowledge, little taste for controversy, lack of communication skills or an outright lack of respect for scientists who do attempt to communicate science to the general nonscientific public, an unwillingness to risk appearing less than objective, naiveté, and fear of censure. All of these are consistent with my experiences both in the animals in research controversy and in science in general. This is not a flattering portrayal of the scientific community, but I am certain that it is a true one.
Oreskes and Conway also discuss these situations and the fact that the media as a whole got the science wrong because they allowed themselves to be fooled by people with a vested interest in a position.
. . . most journalists would not know what we have discovered in five research. But the pressures on contemporary journalism cannot be the whole story, because we have seen how, at least in the early stages of this story, media leaders were openly courted by the tobacco industry, Arthur Hays Sulzburger, Edward R. Murrow, and William Randolph Hearst Jr were hardly unsophisticated people, yet they evidently accepted the argument that the tobacco industry's view of the harms tobacco generates merited equal consideration as the scientific community's view. That is rather hard to explain, except to suppose that journalists, like the rest of us are reluctant to accept information we'd rather was not true. Edward R. Murrow [a smoker] no doubt hoped that tobacco smoking wouldn’t kill him. And who among us wouldn’t prefer a world where add rain was no big deal, the ozone hole didn't exist, and global warming didn't matter? Such a world would be far more comforting than the one we actually live in. Faced with challenging situations, we welcome reassurance that everything is going to be all right We may even prefer comforting lies to sobering facts. And the facts denied by our protagonists were more than sobering. They were downright dreadful.
Whatever the explanation, it is clear that the media did present the scientific debate over tobacco as unsettled long after scientists had concluded otherwise . . . A similar phenomenon developed with acid rain in the 1990s as the media attended to the idea that its cause was still not established—more than a decade after that was no longer true—or the claim that it would cost more to fix than it was worth, which was unsupported by evidence? The press continued to report well into the 1990s that the ozone hole was perhaps caused by volcanoes. Until recently the mass media presented global warming as a raging debate—twelve years after President George H. W. Bush had signed the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, and twenty-five years after the U.S. National Academy of Sciences first announced that there was no reason to doubt that global warming would occur from man’s use of fossil fuels. (p242-3)
Believing that drugs are safe because they have been tested on animals is a comforting thought as is believing that scientists in white coats are working on monkeys everyday in order to develop cures for AIDS and cancer. Comforting, but false.
Vivisection activists pretend to want public dialogue on the use of animals in science. In reality they impose their own monologue by shunning debate and discussion in the scientific literature with anyone who can successfully challenge their hegemony. (For example, see my recent online discussion with Jim Newman of OHSU.) When scientists refuse to debate their publicly funded research at their own research university and or accept an invitation from a scientific journal to defend their position, their motives must be questioned. Based on the research I have done, money is at the root of their refusal.
Ault, Alicia. 2005. Of Mice and Money: Lab animal suppliers are making more of their money from specialty mice and outsourcing. The Scientist 19 (14):36.
Drug Cheerleaders. 2000. New Scientist (2242):19.
Fitzpatrick, Susan. 2011. Funding Biomedical Research. The Scientist (January):13.
Gura, T. 1997. Cancer Models: Systems for identifying new drugs are often faulty. Science 278 (5340):1041-2.
Moynihan, R., L. Bero, D. Ross-Degnan, D. Henry, K. Lee, J. Watkins, C. Mah, and S. B. Soumerai. 2000. Coverage by the news media of the benefits and risks of medications. N Engl J Med 342 (22):1645-50.
Pennisi, E. 2000. A mouse chronology. Science 288 (5464):248-57.
Waltz, E. 2005. Price of mice to plummet under NIH's new scheme. Nat Med 11 (12):1261.