The vested interest groups have once again resorted to the scare tactic of your dog or your child. In response to an application from Marshall Farms to build a facility in England to raise more beagle dogs for sale to laboratories, the local residents have objected and this has forced the vivisection industry to trot out their usual, howbeit factually incorrect, scare tactics.
I have often written about how animal models cannot predict how humans will respond to drugs and disease and how the pharmaceutical industry agrees with me on this. (See, for example, FAQs About the Use of Animals in Science: A handbook for the scientifically perplexed.) I have praised the pharmaceutical industry for admitting the obvious and working on developing methods that will allow a human to know what a drug is going to do to her before she takes it. But there is another industry closely associated with Pharma that is not so honest. Breeders of animals destined for laboratories where drugs are tested make billions from sales and their claims about the importance of their enterprise are not subtle. They, and their representatives, present the false dichotomy of your dog or your child whenever their livelihoods are threatened.
David Pruce, pharmacist and Interim (current as of June 11, 2011) Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research, in an interview on the BBC about the proposed beagle facility stated:
. . . at the end of the day you have to get to a stage where you need to see what the medicine does in a whole animal or in a whole person and what we want as patients is to know that a medicine when it comes on the market is absolutely safe. So at the moment yes we still do need to use animals.
This was echoed by Barbara Davies, also from Understanding Animal Research, who was quoted in the Yorkshire Post as saying: “All mainstream medical and scientific organisations around the world agree that animals are essential in scientific research, medicines development and safety testing.” In both these statements, Understanding Animal Research is clearly stating that animal models can predict human response to drugs and disease.
Make no mistake; prediction is part and parcel of what science does. Albert Hofstadter stated in 1951: “Prediction and explanation are the two main functions of scientific knowledge.” [(Hofstadter 1951) p339] In terms of assessing drug safety and efficacy, prediction is what counts!
Attention to the meaning of words is very important in all areas of study but especially science. Take for example the word prediction. A biomedical research method need not be predictive of human outcomes, but if one claims predictive ability for the test or project, then one ought to mean something very specific. After all, if the word prediction can be used any old how, then the word loses its bite and its meaning. To say that a scientific research method is predictive is to say something quite specific about the method (Shanks, Greek, and Greek 2009). . . . It is our position that there has been insufficient attention to the meaning of prediction in the context of biomedical inquiry. Predictions are statements about expected future observations, but in science they are not, as they are in ordinary usage, merely lucky guesses. Scientific predictions are derived from hypotheses. Crudely speaking, a hypothesis is something that explains past and present observations and enables the investigator to form (under suitable conditions) expectations—predictions—about the course of future events. These predictions about the course of future events must be testable—they must be sensitive to the fruits of evidential inquiry (which may, in the biological sciences, involve carefully-controlled experiments, field observations, or some combination of both).
In the case of predictive animal modeling, what we are typically interested in is prediction of human outcomes. . . . those tests promoted as being predictive must be judged by how well they actually predict human response. It also makes sense to ask whether a particular method has a track record of predictive success, and if so, how this was determined.
The notion that animal models can predict human response to drugs and disease has been disproven both empirically and on theoretical grounds. (See Animal Models in Light of Evolution for more.) Yet, the vested interest groups continue to claim children will die if society stops testing on animals. Moreover, the scientific establishment and individual scientists allow this nonsense to go unchallenged. TH Huxley got it right when he stated:
Trust a witness in all matters in which neither his self-interest, his passions, his prejudices, nor the love of the marvelous is strongly concerned. When they are involved, require corroborative evidence in exact proportion to the contravention of probability by the thing testified. (Huxley 1889)
Hofstadter, Albert. 1951. Explanation and Necessity. Philosophical and Phenomenological Research 11:339-347.
Huxley, Thomas Henry. 1889. Agnosticism. Popular Science Monthly 34:758.