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Nonsense From The NAIA

John Richard Schrock, a Professor of Biology at Emporia State University and board member of the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA) wrote a blog regarding the use of animals in research. Schrock wrote that the recent PNAS article on mouse models of inflammation [1]:

was a further refinement of our knowledge concerning which animal models are useful for studying various diseases, and is not a blanket condemnation of animal research at all. The notion that research animals are only useful when they mimic human complexity is simple-minded. Much modern research is done on other organisms because they possess a basic primitive trait and do not have a complexity that confounds experiments.

(I also wrote about the PNAS article: see Death Knell For Mouse Research? No Way!)

The above is true in what it affirms but wrong in what it denies. Basic research on fruit flies has yielded information that informed scientists about humans. Even if the information had turned out to be incorrect with regard to humans, it was certainly correct about fruit flies and such knowledge has value. Whether society thinks the value outweighs the harm to flies is something that society must decide.[2] But regardless, learning more about life has value. To the best of my knowledge this is uncontroversial. However, knowledge for the sake of knowledge is not how basic researchers that employ animal models usually sell their research to society and to granting institutions like the NIH. They claim that, because their animal model has predictive value for humans, their research will lead to cures for humans. As this claim is demonstrably false (see references 2-10), the issue of human complexity (and animal complexity) is relevant. It is essentially impossible that one complex adaptive system will be of predictive value, in terms of responses to drugs and disease, for a second complex adaptive system.

Schrock continues:

For instance, Tetrahymena thermophila is a primitive one-celled organism that allows us to study the ultrastructure, physiology, development, and biochemistry of a cell without the interference of our added-on complexity. This is based on "functional conservation"—the concept that a genetic solution to the chemical problems of living is usually solved only once in evolution, and remains operational in the lineage up to humans today.

I too, have pointed out the value of using such organisms. But again, such claims are not controversial, nor are they representative of what the animal model community claims when they are defending animal use.

Schrock continues: “Nobel Laureate Andre Lwoff grew Tetrahymena in pure culture in 1923; this led to the later Nobel-prize winning discovery of ribozymes, as well as other discoveries of lysosomes, telomeres, etc. It should not be surprising that the vast majority of Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine have been based on animal research.” The reference to animal research is interesting as Tetrahymena thermophila, while a Eukaryote, is not a member of the Kingdom Animalia. Using a protist to justify animal-based research could be interpreted as misleading.

Schrock continues: “Researchers have no reason to use research animals that do not contribute to our understanding.” Actually, many will say openly that their chief interest in animal-based research is monetary. Schrock continues: “Just as they have lists of animals that are useful for researching certain diseases, researchers have a longer list of animals that are not appropriate.” That has not been my experience. My experience has been that mouse researchers criticize everyone that does not use mice, while monkey researchers criticize mouse models as being inadequate. And so on and so on. I have never heard a mouse researcher state that mouse model Q should not be used for X. Especially when the specific mouse model is the one they use.

Schrock then lists examples of the: “Critical roles of animals in research.” He includes, among others, jellyfish, worms, and sponges. In some instances I think he goes way overboard in attributing accomplishments to these animals, but again I acknowledge that such animals can be employed to discover basic factors about life. Regardless, Schrock then lists claims regarding more complex animals. For example, he claims penicillin was tested in a Petri dish and was shown ineffective. This is blatantly false. It was effective in the Petri dish, indeed it was discovered in the Petri dish. It was thought to be ineffective in a rabbit. As it turns out the drug was impure and hence the small amount of pure penicillin was metabolized very quickly by the rabbit. Fleming therefore thought it would be ineffective systemically in humans. He actually used it topically. A much purer sample was later tested on mice and shown effective. THIS is the problem with animal models. One will give one result while another yields the exact opposite. Only in retrospect can you be sure which animal model was correct. Therefore animal models are of no predictive value. [2-10] (For references on the penicillin story see [12-32].)

He then uses the intact systems argument, which I have debunked several times (see More Misrepresentations, Fallacies, and Other Lies. Part II and Vivisection Or Death: Part III, No Other Options orBrute Science). Finally Schrock uses fear mongering to claim that society would have no vaccines or antibiotics were it not for animal models. This is also clearly false.

Nothing that Schrock states is new. The NAIA, the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR), the AMA, and The American Physiological Society as well as others have been repeating the same nonsense for decades. Apparently it works as nothing has really changed in the past 40 years. I have offered several reasons why this is the case but Michael Shermer indirectly added an interesting item to my list. Shermer wrote in Scientific American:

The broader psychological principle at work here is “pluralistic ignorance,” in which individual members of a group do not believe something but mistakenly believe everyone else in the group believes it. When no one speaks up, it produces a “spiral of silence” that can lead to everything from binge drinking and hooking up to witch hunts and deadly ideologies. . . . When you add an element of punishment for those who challenge the norm, pluralistic ignorance can transmogrify into purges, pogroms and repressive political regimes. European witch hunts, like their Soviet counterparts centuries later, degenerated into preemptive accusations of guilt, lest one be thought guilty first. [11]

This is exactly what I found in 1990, when we were at the University of WI-Madison. I asked various physicians why they used animals in research and almost all responded along the lines of: “Although it has no relevance for humans, it bring in grant money for the university.” But then they added a very telling detail. The internists stated that animal models were of little value for studying human diseases that internists deal with but that psychiatrists depend on animal models. I asked the psychiatrists the same question and they answered as had the internists, that they were of no value, but added that they were of great value to pediatricians. The pediatricians said the same thing and referred me to the surgeons and so on and so on throughout the hospital. Every specialty said animal models brought in grant money for the university, that they were of little value to their discipline, but thought they were of great value to the other guys. Just like Shermer describes!

Until that is, I asked a PhD whose source of income and reputation was animal models. He said they were vital and everything ever discovered in medical science had been due to animal models. Basically he said the same things Schrock stated in his essay. (BTW, I suggest you examine the website for the NAIA. Read it closely. They advocate for “animal owners,” and note who is on their board. WHO they are is a separate issue from whether WHAT they say is correct. However, one might help explain the other.)

The only way to determine who is right on all this is to understand both sides of the argument. I have provided books, articles, and blogs that explain my position. All are referenced and the theory is explained and is consistent with knowledge from other fields—demonstrates consilience. The other side has provided unsubstantiated claims and essays like the one from Schrock. I suggest you read both sides and make up your own mind. Or, invite both sides to your community for a debate. I will show up and present my side of the argument!

But if you cannot, for whatever reason, read and study the arguments, try following the money.


1.         Seok, J, HS Warren, AG Cuenca et al. (2013) Genomic responses in mouse models poorly mimic human inflammatory diseases. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 10.1073/pnas.1222878110.

2.         Greek, R, J Greek (2010) Is the use of sentient animals in basic research justifiable? Philos Ethics Humanit Med 5:14. 1747-5341-5-14 [pii]

10.1186/1747-5341-5-14. 2949619.

3.         Greek, R, A Menache, MJ Rice (2012) Animal models in an age of personalized medicine. Personalized Medicine 9:47-64. 10.2217/pme.11.89. 2011/12/21

4.         Greek, R, A Pippus, LA Hansen (2012) The Nuremberg Code subverts human health and safety by requiring animal modeling. BMC medical ethics 13:16. 10.1186/1472-6939-13-16.

5.         Greek, R, N Shanks (2009) FAQs About the Use of Animals in Science: A handbook for the scientifically perplexed. University Press of America, Lanham.

6.         Greek, R, N Shanks (2011) Complex systems, evolution, and animal models. Studies in history and philosophy of biological and biomedical sciences 42:542-544. 10.1016/j.shpsc.2011.07.001.

7.         Greek, R, N Shanks, MJ Rice (2011) The History and Implications of Testing Thalidomide on Animals. The Journal of Philosophy, Science & Law 11

8.         Shanks, N, R Greek (2009) Animal Models in Light of Evolution. Brown Walker, Boca Raton.

9.         Shanks, N, R Greek, J Greek (2009) Are animal models predictive for humans? Philos Ethics Humanit Med 4:2. 1747-5341-4-2 [pii]


10.       Shanks, N, R Greek, N Nobis et al. (2007) Animals and Medicine: Do Animal Experiments Predict Human Response? Skeptic 13:44-51.

11.       Shermer, M (2013) Dictators and Diehards: Pluralistic ignorance and the last best hope on earth. Scientific American:84.

12.       Allison, VD (1974) Personal recollections of Sir Almroth Wright and Sir Alexander Fleming. Ulster Med J 43:89-98.

13.       Dawson, MH, GL Hobby, K Meyer et al. (1941) Penicillin as a chemotherapeutic agent. Proceedings of the Thirty-Third Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Investigation held in Atlantic City, NJ, May 5, 1941. J Clin Invest 20:433-465.

14.       Diggins, FW (1999) The true history of the discovery of penicillin, with refutation of the misinformation in the literature. Br J Biomed Sci 56:83-93.

15.       Florey, H (1953) The advance of chemotherapy by animal experiment. Conquest 41:12.

16.       Florey, HW, E Chain, NG Heatley et al. (1949) Antibiotics: A Survey of Penicillin, Streptomycin, and Other Antimicrobial Substances from Fungi, Actinomycetes, Bacteria and Plant. vol II. Oxford University Press, London.

17.       Harare, DM, C Rake, C Mckee, M. et al. (1943) The toxicity of penicillin as prepared for clinical use. Am J. M. Sc 206:642-652.

18.       Hare, R Hare R. Uncataloged archives. Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. Letter, December 6, 1955 from Dolman to Hare, Letter December 29, 1955 from Rogers to Hare, Letter June 12, 1955 from Craddock to Hare. . In:PMCID.

19.       Hedley-Whyte, J, DR Milamed (2009) Lobar pneumonia treated by Musgrave Park physicians. Ulster Med J 78:119-128.

20.       Henderson, JW (1997) The yellow brick road to penicillin: a story of serendipity. Mayo Clin Proc 72:683-687.

21.       Koppanyi, T, MA Avery (1966) Species differences and the clinical trial of new drugs: a review. Clin Pharmacol Ther 7:250-270.

22.       Laurence, WL (1941) Giant germicide yielded by mold. In: New York Times. New York, p 23. PMCID.

23.       Macfarlane, G (1979) Howard Florey: the making of a great scientist. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

24.       Macfarlane, G (1984) Alexander Fleming: The Man and the Myth. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

25.       Parke, DV (1994) Clinical Pharmacokinetics in Drug Safety Evaluation. ATLA 22:207-209.

26.       Roberts, W (1874) Studies on biogenesis. Phil Trans R Soc 164:457-477.

27.       Schneierson, SS, E Perlman (1956) Toxicity of penicillin for the Syrian hamster. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 91:229-230.

28.       Steffee, CH (1992) Alexander Fleming and penicillin. The chance of a lifetime? N C Med J 53:308-310.

29.       Swan, H (1992) Medicine in Sheffield. Q J Med 296:1041-1049.

30.       Tyndall, J (1876) The optical deportment of the atmosphere in relation to the phenomena of putrefaction and infection. Phil Trans R Soc 166:27-74.

31.       Wainwright, M (1993) The mystery of the plate: Fleming's discovery and contribution to the early development of penicillin. J Med Biogr 1:59-65.

32.       Weisse, AB (1991) The long pause. The discovery and rediscovery of penicillin. Hosp Pract (Off Ed) 26:93-96, 101-104, 107 passim.


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