On August 16, 2013, Dr Dario Ringach published, on the website Speaking of research, an essay titled: The Double Life of Dr. Lawrence A. Hansen. The basis for the essay was the fact that Dr Hansen has been a coauthor on articles that involve vivisection. I frequently harp on critical thinking in this blog and encourage people to learn how to think critically. I have also stated many times that most pro-vivisection arguments can be defeated just by using critical thinking skills as most of the arguments employed by vivisection activists are fallacious. It will come as a surprise to no one that Dr Ringach’s essay can be refuted simply by employing critical thinking.
To briefly summarize, critical thinkers ask questions like the following (paraphrased from http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-where-to-begin/796):
· What is the main purpose or goal of the essay by Dr Ringach?
· What are people at Speaking of research trying to accomplish? Do they have an agenda?
· What kinds of questions do they ask and what kind do they avoid?
· What sorts of information or data do they gather? Was it one-sided or unbiased? Did they cherry pick?
· What types of assumptions and inferences did they make?
· Are their assumptions or arguments fallacious?
strive to improve the world in whatever ways they can and contribute to a more rational, civilized society. At the same time, they recognize the complexities often inherent in doing so. They strive never to think simplistically about complicated issues and always to consider the rights and needs of relevant others. They recognize the complexities in developing as thinkers, and commit themselves to life-long practice toward self-improvement. They embody the Socratic principle: The unexamined life is not worth living, because they realize that many unexamined lives together result in an uncritical, unjust, dangerous world.
In his essay, Dr Ringach states:
Dr. Lawrence A. Hansen has a double life he is proud to publicize in his writings and interviews. On one hand, he is a neuroscientist at one of the finest institutions in the country — the University of California at San Diego. On the other hand, he is a member and a mouthpiece for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. . . . The other [problem with Dr. Hansen] is the level of hypocrisy required for a scholar like him to criticize animal research while simultaneously being involved in the work. Specifically, Dr. Hansen is a co-author in animal studies that use transgenic mice to model Alzheimer’s disease in humans: here, here, here and here. Justification for all these studies relies on the notion that one can model the disease in mice in ways that might be relevant to human patients — an idea that Dr. Hansen rejects vociferously. Was authorship on these studies forced upon him?
There’s more but that should give you the idea.
What was Dr Hansen’s involvement in these research projects?
1. Dr Hansen is a neuropathologist at an academic institution. As a neuropathologist he examines brain tissue under the microscope. Some of these examinations are conducted in order to establish a diagnosis while others are, or become, part of some research project. Some of the tissues are used for both diagnostic and research purposes. In any even, Dr Hansen writes (or dictates) a report of his findings and these become part of a permanent record. Others parts of the brain are given to other scientists who might use them for comparisons to mouse brains or other animal brains. Dr Hansen has no control over what is done with his reports on the brain tissues he examined or what is done with the brain tissue that he does not use.
2. In academia, publishing papers is one way a scientist is judged for promotions, tenure, and so forth. Because of the work Dr Hansen performed on brain tissues, he is listed as an author on some of the papers even though the research mainly involved animal models. Dr Hansen either prepared the tissue samples from human brains or evaluated some of the tissues and wrote a report. Deducing actual author responsibilities from what is listed on the published paper is somewhat of an art form (as is interpreting which grant covered specific activities). There are limited categories and what a phrase or category means may not be self-evident to those outside academia or even outside that particular specialty. When a paper states that Dr Smith was involved in planning the research that may mean simply that Dr Smith did his part and planned his part and his part might be only peripherally related to the main part of the paper. Many papers today are dependent on scores of scientists in diverse areas each contributing something from his or her area. If you run a lab that sequences genes and your responsibility to the university is to sequence any gene another scientist needs sequenced, then your name will paper on human-based research papers as well as animal-based research papers. This does not make you a vivisector or vivisector supporter. It just means that as academia becomes more and more specialized, some scientists have less freedom in terms of controlling every aspect of what their lab does.
3. None of the above is even remotely surprising to anyone who has been in academia. There are students, both undergraduate and graduate, that understand these things as they are trying to get their name on a paper so they can climb the next step on the ladder. For someone with as much experience in academia as Dr Ringach to feign shock that the name of an animal rightist who conducts human-based research should appear on a paper involving vivisection is laughable. Dr Ringach might as well feign surprise that every author on a big science project does not know every single aspect of what every other scientist did. This is how academia, and science in general, works these days and unless Dr Ringach et al want to be held responsible for every single thing their university does, they had better think twice before assigning responsibility for things outside his control to Dr Hansen.
Lets examine some of the things that Dr Ringach’s institution, the University of California at Los Angeles, does and see if he agrees with all of it.
The UCLA Collaborative Centers for Integrative Medicine defines Integrative Medicine as follows:
Integrative Medicine is the practice of medicine that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.
The Center then endorses the following.
· The power of positive thinking
· Tai Chi for mental health
· Traditional Chinese medicine
· Herbal medicine
· How Tai Chi Chih can complement vaccines and boost the immune system
· Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in general
One part of the UCLA Collaborative Centers for Integrative Medicine is the Center for East West Medicine. Their mission is: “Establish the theoretical and scientific construct of a new model of medicine based on findings from the latest scientific research on the integration of modern western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).”
The following essays, along with the websites in general, explain why the above aspects of Integrative Medicine are sheer nonsense akin to astrology.
But according to the logic employed by Dr Ringach, he must think that naturopathy, homeopathy, and TCM are great science-based therapies since his institution advertises and endorses them. I guess he agrees that Tai Chi Chih can complement vaccines and boost the immune system. Anyone that has ever worked in academia has, at some point, been embarrassed by someone or something the university said or did. Blaming a person for the actions of a group, in this case a group that the person has no control over, is an example of the association fallacy.
Dr Ringach’s essay continues by claiming that many medical advances came from, and are coming from, the use of animals in research. Just as with the previous part of the essay, these claims do not hold up to scrutiny. First, they are claims that are not backed up by proof. The authors of the blog and commenters consider a paper that claims an advance was made by animals was in fact 1) a real advance, and 2) made possible by the use of animals. The scientific literature is littered with papers that made such claims only to have one or both parts refuted in short order. An author of a scientific paper making a claim is not the same as a third party proving the claim.
Second, many of the claims are for advances in the future. For example: If society continues to fund my animal studies I will give it a cure for Alzheimer’s within a few years. This is the bread and butter and vivisection activism. Wimpy said it best: “I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Needless to say, Tuesday never comes. Third, the claims rely on fallacies. For example, the claim, “nearly 92% of scientists agree with the statement “animal research is essential to the advancement of biomedical science,” is an example of the fallacy argument from authority. (See Argument From Authority. Part I, Part II and Part III.)
All of the above might be a little esoteric for people outside of academia. If that is the case for you, then look at it this way. Do you always agree with your boss or your company? Where do you draw the line? If you think a policy your company has is unethical, do you resign or fight it from within? If you agree with the main policies of your company and think it is doing good overall, do you voice opposition for what you consider to be an unethical policy, even when you know it will cost you dearly in your career? Or do you just keep quite? Dr Hansen demonstrated publicly against his employer and spoke out against practices he considered unethical. He also continued to do his job: preparing tissue samples from human brains and diagnosing neuropathology from human patients. He did not participate in vivisection or encourage it. He actively opposed it. What have you done in similar situations?
In thinking of the specious portrait of Dr Hansen, painted by vivisection activists, I was reminded of another pain-in-the-side of the status quo, Dr Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis. Semmelweis had the insane idea that doctors should wash their hands before examining patients. He forced his students to do this and some physicians in his hospital went along with him, but for the most part he was scorned and ridiculed. Semmelweis had empirical evidence on his side but the medial establishment rejected his idea any way. He was eventually committed to an insane asylum where he was beaten to death. He is now described as the “savior of mothers” because his idea was first implemented on maternity wards. Note what Semmelweis did not do. He did not give up medical practice nor did he resign from the hospital just because the staff continued the unethical practice of ignoring anti-septic technique. He hung in there and did the best he could. This included openly protesting the status quo while working side by side with other physicians who ridiculed him. Sound familiar?
Americans For Medical Advancement, the 501c3 Dr Hansen and I support, argues against the notion that one evolved, complex system being can be of predictive value for a second at higher levels of organization (such as where disease and drug effects occur). We base this on empirical evidence and theory. Semmelweis had not their of infectious disease to support his claim. We do not misconstrue the actions of those who disagree with us. In reality, our scientific arguments are pretty boring compared with the tabloid-like ad hominem attacks of which The Double Life of Dr. Lawrence A. Hansen is an example. Please read what Dr Hansen and I have published (Greek and Hansen 2013a, Greek and Hansen 2012, 2013b, Greek, Hansen, and Menache 2011, Greek, Pippus, and Hansen 2012, Hansen La Fau - Greek 2013) and compare it to what Dr Ringach has written about Dr Hansen. Then decide who you think is more consistent and more ethical.
Photo of Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis from Wikipedia Commons.
Greek, R., A. Pippus, and L. A. Hansen. 2012. "The Nuremberg Code subverts human health and safety by requiring animal modeling." BMC medical ethics no. 13 (1):16. doi: 10.1186/1472-6939-13-16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22769234
Greek, Ray, and LA Hansen. 2013a. "The Strengths and Limits of Animal Models as Illustrated by the Discovery and Development of Antibacterials." Biological Systems: Open Access no. 2 (2):109. doi: 10.4172/BSO.1000109. http://www.omicsgroup.org/journals/BSO/BSO-2-109.php?aid=14441
Greek, Ray, and Lawrence A Hansen. 2012. "The Development of Deep Brain Stimulation for Movement Disorders." J Clinic Res Bioeth no. 3. doi: 10.4172/2155-9627.1000137. http://www.omicsonline.org/2155-9627/2155-9627-3-137.php?aid=9962
Greek, Ray, and Lawrence A Hansen. 2013b. "Questions regarding the predictive value of one evolved complex adaptive system for a second: exemplified by the SOD1 mouse " Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2013.06.002.
Greek, Ray, Lawrence A Hansen, and Andre Menache. 2011. "An analysis of the Bateson Review of research using nonhuman primates " Medicolegal and Bioethics no. 1 (1):3-22. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2147/MBS25938.
Hansen, La Fau - Greek, Ray. 2013. "Evolution and animal models." JAMA Neurol no. 70 (2):271. http://archneur.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1569980