Toronto and Universities as Institutions of Faith


On Saturday September 17, I gave a lecture at Brock University outside Toronto. The event was organized by, among others, John Sorenson, Professor of Sociology and author of About Canada: Animal Rights. On September 19, I gave a lecture in the morning at York University in Toronto. Zipporah Weisberg, a graduate student at York organized the event. That evening, I lectured at the University of Toronto (U of T). Anna Pippus organized the entire trip and the U of T lecture. Many others assisted in the events—Fayaz, Andrea, Camille, Arden, Paul, Ian, Alec, Tracy, and others whose names I have forgotten due to being youth challenged—and I thank them all for making the trip enjoyable as well as productive.

When Anna originally contacted me, she was attempting to arrange a debate at U of T. Suffice it to say that did not happen. In a repeat of the UCLA experience (and many others), one person said he would participate in a debate but backed out. The university even sent an email declining the invitation and saying that no one would be participating. One must remember that these same people would be the first to cry foul if anyone dared to suggest that universities are abandoning their traditional role as places that encourage freedom of ideas and where the discussion of those ideas occurs and are instead, just another place where money rules. Many would say that the freedom to discuss controversial notions is the university’s raison d'être. Learning almost requires controversy if, for no other reason, than to allow students the opportunity to exercise their newly acquired skills in critical thinking. Debates on controversial topics have historically been one way that was accomplished. But not, apparently, at the University of Toronto, especially when money is on the line.

In the Q&A that followed the U of T lecture, two people brought up areas of animal-based research that they claimed were historically vital, or currently predictive, for humans. I asked them to try and persuade the university to allow debates on those two specific topics and for them to defend their claims in said debates. I seriously doubt these two debates will happen. The University of Toronto has nothing to gain and everything to lose from allowing debates on any aspect of the utility of animal models. Currently, most of society believes that animal models can predict human response to drugs and disease and that animal experimentation is scientifically necessary. Exposing the research community’s arguments in these matters would dramatically alter society’s beliefs and thus the amount of money the university directly or indirectly receives because of animal-based research.

Modern universities grew out of medieval universities, which were religious institutions. When universities, like the University of Toronto, deny debate on areas of science, of all things, they are returning to their roots as institutions of faith. Teeling-Smith states: “There is at present no hard evidence to show the value of more extensive and more prolonged laboratory testing as a method of reducing eventual risk in human patients. In other words the predictive value of studies carried out in animals is uncertain. The statutory bodies such as the Committee on Safety of Medicines which require these tests do so largely as an act of faith rather than on hard scientific grounds.” [[1]p29]

Horrobin states: “All the other animal models — including those of inflammation, vascular disease, nervous system diseases and so on — represent nothing more than an extraordinary, and in most cases irrational, leap of faith. We have a human disease, and we have an animal model which in some vague and almost certainly superficial way reflects the human disease. We operate on the unjustified assumption that the two are congruent, and then we spend vast amounts of money trying to investigate the animal model, often without bothering to test our assumptions by constantly referring back to the original disease in humans.” [2]

From Identification, Characterization, and Control of Potential Carcinogens: A Framework for Federal Decision-Making: “Extrapolations from the animal to human represent something of a leap of faith.” [3, 4]

From Reuters 2009: “ ‘If you make a drug that's effective against HIV, sometimes it works against SIV and sometimes it doesn't. So that basically devalues SIV as an animal model for doing experiments involved with developing drugs,’ Bieniasz [of the Rockefeller University in New York] said. ‘Now if you want to develop a vaccine, essentially what you have to do is to make a parallel vaccine for HIV and for SIV. You can test the SIV vaccine in animals and then have to make the leap of faith that the same approach would work equivalently in humans.’ ”[5]

The U of T lecture will be available on YouTube at some point and I will let you know when that happens.


1. Teeling-Smith GA: Question of Balance: the Benefits and Risks of Pharmaceutical Innovation. London: Office of Health Economics; 1980.

2. Horrobin DF: Modern biomedical research: an internally self-consistent universe with little contact with medical reality?Nat Rev Drug Discov 2003, 2:151-154.

3. Calkins DR, Dixon RL, Gerber CR, Zarin D, Omenn GS: Identification, characterization, and control of potential human carcinogens: a framework for Federal decision-making.Journal of the National Cancer Institute 1980, 64:169-176.

4. Office of Science and Technology Policy: Identification, Characterization, and Control of Potential Carcinogens: A Framework for Federal Decision-Making  In Book Identification, Characterization, and Control of Potential Carcinogens: A Framework for Federal Decision-Making. pp. 14. City: Office of Science and Technology; 1979:14.

5. Scientists make HIV strain that can infect monkeys []


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