Disingenuous Editorial in Nature Magazine


An editorial in the July 22, 2010, issue of Nature:

At the University of California, Los Angeles, where cars have been set alight, homes flooded and razor blades sent in the post, the US branch of the animal-research defence group Pro-Test and the campus animal-rights club Bruins for Animals put together a panel on animal-research ethics in February. The event culminated in a joint statement condemning harassment and intimidation that had been directed at those who participated in the panel. Such steps are to be applauded. When researchers and non-violent animal rights advocates air their differences by communicating with one another, the result can be more than just a feel-good exercise. If labs communicate, animal lovers can be convinced that not all research involving animals is torture. And if activists persuade rather than frighten, researchers can be motivated to rethink experimental design and reduce their reliance on animals. (Editorial 2010)

As a participant in the aforementioned joint statement, allow me to relate the rest of the story.

I was approached by Drs Ringach and Jentsch, in addition to the animal rights group on the UCLA campus, Bruins for Animals, and asked to participate in a panel discussion on the use of animals in research. I initially declined because in my experience panel discussions are of no value. By that, I mean both sides speak for a very limited period of time, which favors the status quo, and that is all there is to it. There is no back and forth and no chance to pin the opposing side down on inconsistencies or outright lies. Finally, Drs Ringach and Jentsch agreed that a debate or series of debates would follow the panel discussion and therefore I agreed to participate in the panel discussion.

Here is my reward for agreeing to participate.

1. I am now called a terrorist despite being part of the aforementioned joint statement condemning terrorism. I even condemned legal acts because some might interpret them as threatening.

2. Ringach and Jentsch reneged on the debates shortly after the panel discussion.

3. No medical schools or universities have since agreed to allow a debate on their campus.

4. No experiments of which I am aware have reduced their reliance on animals.

5. I have been unable to recruit any scientists from the vivisection side to write a point-counterpoint with me in a peer reviewed indexed journal that asked me to find such a scientist.

6. No one in the vivisection community has acknowledged that animals cannot predict human response to drugs and disease despite the overwhelming theoretical support and empirical evidence.

The above is why I believe the Nature editorial is completely disingenuous. Clearly, there is no effort being made on the part of the vivisection community to “communicate.” Furthermore, consider the below.

On May 11, 2010, I asked Dr Gorski of Science-Based Medicine, the following:

Hi David.
Nice article. Thanks for the summary!
One question. You state: “the correlation between cell culture studies is even more unreliable than that of animal studies.” If you have the time, could you provide some references for that. As you know I am interested in the subject.

Dr Gorski, an official or perhaps unofficial spokesman for vivisection has not provided any references. That is highly unusual in science. When a colleague, even one you dislike, asks for a reference to support your statement, you provide it. (You should have provided it in the essay. That is the standard for science.) Especially if you are making claims about a controversial area. But Dr Gorski has chosen to ignore my very routine and reasonable request and instead simply state as fact something he cannot support. This is an example of the bare assertion fallacy and makes Dr Gorski’s position even more interesting as the blog site, Science-Based Medicine is based on critical thinking.

Time after time, I, and other scientists and medical professionals, have asked the vivisection industry to participate in public dialogue. They refuse. That is, they refuse unless they are “debating” people who supposedly are from the animal protection community but who in reality receive money from the vivisection industry and hence have positions that, for all practical purposes, are identical to the vivisection industry. The vivisection industry also is very willing to debate 20-something year olds who lack training in science and who happen to have twelve facial piercings along with a couple of neck and head tattoos. The vivisectors jump at the chance to go on television and debate the science of vivisection against them. What courage they have!

Therefore, when I read editorials and op-ed pieces calling for more communication, I must wonder who it is out there that is refusing all these emotional calls from vivisectors pleading for dialogue, because it sure isn’t me.

Lest the reader think Nature magazine is unique, allow me to share the following from Science magazine.

I frequently write letters to science journals or submit manuscripts outlining why I disagree with an article that said animal models are predictive. These submissions are rarely published but I expect as much, considering the vast amounts of money and ego involved in the animal-based research industry. Nevertheless, it is disheartening when correctable errors of fact are made by the leading US science journal, Science, and the editors refuse to publish a letter correcting the mistake or even an unattributed correction. Below are two examples of errors of fact that Science refused to correct.

In Miller’s interview with Dario Ringach (March 12, 2010 p. 1315), Miller stated that Americans For Medical Advancement (AFMA) opposes animal research. While this is a common misconception, it is in fact false as I have pointed out many times (see, for example the AFMA website). AFMA questions the use of animals as predictive models for humans in drug testing and disease research (indeed we maintain they are not predictive). AFMA does however acknowledge that research with animals has in the past contributed to our knowledge of life in general and humans specifically. It has no ethical issues with research or other scientific pursuits involving animals and the Board of Directors is composed of both vegans and carnivores. AFMA also acknowledges numerous areas where research with animals or the study of animals is scientifically viable and does not oppose such uses. For more on the science behind AFMA’s official position please see Animal Models in Light of Evolution.

The second example is, if anything, even more egregious as Science allowed to stand a factually incorrect representation of the scientific process in the testing of a vaccine that eventually harmed humans. I spoke with a representative of Science at the AAAS meeting in Denver in 2003, and was assured a retraction or correction would be made, but that never happened. Instead of reproducing the letter, I will describe the situation.

In 2002, Elan Pharmaceuticals and Wyeth-Ayerst were forced to halt Phase II studies on their vaccine for Alzheimer's disease (called AN-1792) after the discovery that 15 patients (out of 360) had developed severe brain inflammation. Some used this failure as a reason for promoting testing such drugs on nonhuman primates. In December 2002, Cambridge University initiated a hearing to explore the need for building a center exclusively for the study of nonhuman primates. I testified at the hearing. According to Science magazine’s December 6, 2002, article: “Inquiry Turns Into OK Corral for U.K. Primate Research,” the key scientific expert for Cambridge, Sir Keith Peters, head of Cambridge University Hospital’s Clinical School testified that  “a national need for primate research is ‘self-evident’ and had gone through ‘particularly stringent peer review.’” The article continued:

It was the opponents' turn to stumble when they attempted to support provocative claims that new drugs are not necessarily safer if they are tested in primates. Claiming that primate research has not yielded any insights into diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer, and stroke, Ray Greek, medical director of a group called Europeans for (sic) Medical Advancement, concluded that “the abandonment of animal models is absolutely vital for medicine to advance.” As evidence that primate research is unnecessary, Wald referred to an Alzheimer's vaccine that had moved directly from mouse experiments into clinical trials last year. Apparently, he was unaware that in January, the clinical trials were halted after 15 patients developed severe brain inflammation. Peters knew this, however, and noted, “You will find you have shot yourself in the foot, Mr. Wald.” (Page 2002)

Wald, an attorney for the side I was representing, was making the point that drugs do move into clinical trials without testing on nonhuman primates. This prompted the opposition’s expert, Peters, to insist that AN-1792 was an example of where testing on mice was insufficient and that tests on nonhuman primates would have prevented the humans from suffered the worsening of their disease. That was how the Science article left it; tests on nonhuman primates would have prevented the suffering.

However, Sir Keith’s testimony, that moving the recently failed vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease straight from mice to humans was “irresponsible” and dangerous and that the vaccine should have been tested on primates before being given to humans was in fact wrong! In fact, Dale Schenk, the developer of the vaccine, and his team did safety test AN-1792 on monkeys (for more than three months), as well as rabbits and guinea pigs. Schenk concluded that “the vaccine seems safe and is well tolerated . . . we found virtually no sign of any problems in the animals whatsoever (Marwick 2000).”

As of this writing Science has refused to run a correction of its implication that Sir Keith was correct when he stated the vaccine had not been tested on monkeys and hence harmed humans.

I agree with the editorial; the UCLA panel discussion was definitely something other than a feel-good exercise. It was orchestrated propaganda!


Editorial. 2010. An act of distinction. Nature 466 (7305):414-414.

Marwick, C. 2000. Promising vaccine treatment for Alzheimer disease found. JAMA 284 (12):1503-5.

Page, K. 2002. Medical research. Inquiry turns into OK corral for U.K. primate research. Science 298 (5600):1862-3.


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