Skip to main content

Hits and Misses in Scientific Research

Dr. Greek writes:

Anytime a practice, method, or modality, be it drug sniffing dogs or using animals in research is to be fairly judged, the hits and misses must be accounted for. Both sides in this debate can cite hits or misses that support their position.”

Agreed.  (One can only hope Dr. Greek will follow his own recommendation in future writings.)   

Any discussion on hit and misses must start with some elementary facts about scientific research.

Science does not provide recipes.  There is no recipe that can ensure a particular type of work will lead to a unified theory of physics.  There is no line of research guaranteed to yield a proof or a rejection of a mathematical conjecture.  There is no recipe that can ensure a particular type of work, weather using humans or animals, will lead to cures for cancer, paralysis or autism.    

The public should be highly suspicious of anyone claiming otherwise.

While searching for answers to difficult scientific questions it is natural and expected for many paths to lead to blind alleys and dead-ends.  Negative results are an intrinsic component of scientific work.  This is a feature of science, not a bug. This is what actually makes science work; negative results allow us to rule out hypotheses and gradually guide us down a corridor where answers are to be found.  History has shown, time and again, that such strategy works, producing advances in everything from mathematics and physics, to life sciences and medicine.

Given the nature of scientific research, both negative and positive results provide  information.  Furthermore, any utilitarian assessment of scientific work should not weight hits and misses equally, for misses are temporary and of limited consequences, while hits generates benefits to be reaped by all future generations.  

Thomas Edison reportedly tried over 1,500 materials in experiments before succeeding in developing the light bulb.  He is considered one of the greatest inventors of our time.  His tenacity and perseverance are virtues we try to ingrain in our children.  

Biomedical scientists run into many dead-ends before generating a breakthrough for a particular disease (such as Herceptin did for breast cancer).  In the best of days, animal rights activists consider these scientists nothing more than monsters.  They declare their breakthroughs serendipitous, isolated anecdotes, surely not the fruits of persistent, hard work.  

There is a palpable urgency from animal rights activists to convince the public that the scientific research with animals is flawed and that there are existing non-animal methods that can be used to replace animal research.   

A typical statement reads: “Human clinical and epidemiological studies, studies on cadavers, and computer simulations are faster, more reliable, less expensive, and more humane than animal tests.”

This is a false, irresponsible claim.

There is no doubt these represent useful methods that have been around for some time.  Indeed, added together they account for a large portion of the overall medical research effort.  If there was any clear indication that such methodology on its own is capable of advancing medical science in all fronts without the use of animals then opponents of animal research could easily point to these data.

It is irresponsible to demand research that has demonstrably contributed to human health to be abandoned without providing a reasoned justification for a proven alternative.

Such obvious effort by animal rights activists to mislead the public into thinking scientists can do their work exclusively using non-animal methods is a veiled attempt at avoiding the ethical discussion when all facts are present on the table.   


One can only sense their concern that under such conditions the public will overwhelmingly approve of responsible, regulated, life-saving animal research.

Honest debate anyone?


Popular Video