I have previously written about The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), alternatives, the Three Rs and the mindset of the organizations that endorse these concepts (see here, here, here and here). I am doing so again because of an op-ed piece by Kathleen Conlee, vice president, animal research issues, for HSUS. Conlee has a master's degree in public administration and an undergraduate degree in zoology. (I find it interesting that the VP of animal research issues has a masters degree in administration, not a doctorate in science.) The title of the op-ed piece was: “Technology Should Replace Testing on Animals.”
In her op-ed, Conlee writes: “Efforts are underway — and moving at an exponentially increasing pace — that ultimately will yield medical- and cosmetic-testing technologies that provide timely and accurate results while sparing animals from needless suffering, or worse. . . . Moreover, regulators globally are embracing the idea that animal testing can be progressively replaced with more accurate, human-relevant and predictive methods.”
To begin with, I do not know who wrote the title for the op-ed. Many times the publisher writes the title so I am reluctant to blame Conlee for the message in the title. That having been said, what does the title mean, regardless of who wrote it? If the title implies an ethical position, then part of it is superfluous as the ethical position, of animal rightists at least, is that testing on animals is unethical regardless of what alternatives or other options exist. But based on the article and the history of HSUS on animal-based research, the message from the title appears to be that now, or shortly in the future, society will be able to eliminate or reduce animal testing because new technologies are or will be available that can replace animal testing.
There are myriad problems with this position. 1). The premise upon which Conlee and HSUS base their position is fatally flawed. The notion that society must find predictive technologies before abandoning animal testing is the position of many with pretensions to sophistication in critical thinking and science but who in fact do not understand the fundamentals. In reality, animal testing offers nothing in terms of predictive value. Society could abandon animal testing tomorrow and the risk:beneft ratio of taking a drug would not change. It might even improve. Testing drugs on animals for toxicity, bioavailability, efficacy and so forth is about as effective as rolling dice in order to determine whether to release the drug to humans. No matter where one draws the line for qualifying a test as having predictive value, the results from rolling dice do not qualify nor do animal models.
2) There are currently very, very few tests or technologies that are of predictive value for human response to drugs [1-5]. This is a huge problem and Pharma has acknowledged it [1-5]. Some technologies do suggest that they may offer predictive value in the future, but not currently. 3) The tests and technologies that might have predictive value in the future are either in the distant future (10+ years) or have limited scope. For example, there are toxicity tests in the pipeline that may have predictive value for aspects of skin toxicity. This is a good thing, obviously, and I hope such tests and technologies materialize. However, just focusing on toxicity, one must have technologies that not only predict skin toxicity but essentially toxicity for every cell type in the human body. As there are approximately 200-300 different cell types, depending on how one classifies them, this is clearly a formidable task and technology is nowhere near to meeting this challenge.
4) Neither is science anywhere near to meeting this challenge. Science must provide the data that technology can then use to meet a goal. Science had to understand specific aspects of the heart before technology could give us artificial valves and artificial hearts. The only way we will ever be able to truly predict human response to drugs will be to understand the function of essentially all the genes in the human body. We will have to understand which genes mean a drug will be effective as well as which genes mean a drug will manifest side-effects. We are nowhere near this goal. Moreover, we will have to understand the interactions of genes as the presence of one gene may inactivate another. Even if we define predictive value as getting the right answer 90% of the time (a PPV and NPV of 0.9 (also see here, here, and here)), science is still nowhere near giving companies the data they need to develop such technology.
All of the above is problematic but continuing to test on animals solves nothing. We could also use a Ouija board for predicting human response to drugs as it would be about as predictive as animal models. However, as the Ouija board manufacturers do not have a powerful lobby in Washington, DC, we probably will not see this anytime soon. Essentially every university with a medical school, and many without, profits from animal-based research and lobbies Washington, DC accordingly.
Likewise, the following sheds light on why Conlee wrote the article:
The HSUS is working to make sure this burgeoning energy to end toxicity testing in animals continues — and stays the course — by working with such corporations as Hurel as they continue to develop cutting-edge technologies and influencing our federal government to increase its investment in these technologies as well. By supporting such efforts, which will help build a humane economy, we hope to inspire and encourage others to join. This growing movement will bring the country much closer to the day when animals are no longer used as test subjects.
And therein lies the rub. If you give HSUS money they will make sure these new technologies are developed and then, AT LAST, society can abandon animal testing and we can all live in nirvana forever and ever. As no rational person can expect society to abandon life-saving animal testing until we have alternatives, HSUS et al are the only hope the animals have and if you don’t cough up more money, animal suffering is your fault! Better get to their website immediately and make a donation.
As I have stated many times, HSUS, the RSPCA, CAAT and so forth exist, in part, to raise money and support their officers and directors in a fashion that their degrees and expertise would not otherwise allow. Many animal protection organizations pay outrageous salaries to people who are not even remotely qualified for their positions. Add to this a few divisions at HSUS that might actually do something of value and HSUS can lie with impunity regarding animal models. After all, “they do some good things for animals don’t they?” This allows HSUS et al to take funding from the vivisection industry as well as animal lovers. Nice work, if you can get it.
And how to they pull this off? Simple: naivety. Animal lovers want to see the end of animal suffering and society in general is not terribly sophisticated in terms of science. This makes it easy for groups like HSUS to prey on people. Vested interest groups like HSUS have used the same fallacies so often, and they that have become so prevalent, that they have become orthodoxy. Who would dare question whether animal testing works when the good, honest, animal-loving people at HSUS imply or state outright that it does? As long as the animal testing community can make the uneducated public dewy-eyed with the mere mention of curing childhood cancer, AND groups like HSUS assure their members that such is really the case, society will never address whether animal models actually predict human response or result in cures for childhood cancer. The necessity of vivisection will trump the evil of vivisection every time in the eyes of society. And thus animal experimentation will continue to be a good fundraiser for decades to come.
Aside from the above, HSUS et al are simply scientifically incompetent if they think animal testing is effective. If they think society needs to develop new technologies before abandoning animal testing, they are heaping bad logic on top of bad science. Moreover it is disingenuous to use a well-established and widely understood phrase, such as alternatives, in such a way that it means something very different. An alternative implies the original is viable. There are no alternatives to using animals to test new drugs because animal models offer nothing in terms of predictive value. Orwell’s 1984 was supposed to be fiction, but we currently see even not-for-profits using doublespeak on a daily basis.
We have a moral duty to not be gullible as naivety can result in more atrocities than merely lacking an advanced degree in science. Furthermore, we must try to right wrongs even if the odds are against us. The belief that animals can predict human response to drugs and disease belongs on the same shelf as the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny. Animal protection organizations that, by word or by deed, disagree with this should be exposed and eliminated.
1. Greek, R. 2012. Animal Models and the Development of an HIV Vaccine. J AIDS Clinic Res:S8:001. doi:10.4172/2155-6113.S8-001. http://www.omicsonline.org/2155-6113/2155-6113-S8-001.php?aid=5787
2. Greek, R., A. Pippus, and L. A. Hansen. 2012. The Nuremberg Code subverts human health and safety by requiring animal modeling. BMC medical ethics 13 (1):16. doi:10.1186/1472-6939-13-16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22769234
3. Greek, Ray. 2013. Animal Models in Drug Development. In New Insights into Toxicity and Drug Testing, ed. Sivakumar Gowder, 124-152. Manhattan: InTech.
4. Greek, Ray, and Mark J Rice. 2012. Animal models and conserved processes. Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 9 (40). doi:10.1186/1742-4682-9-40. http://www.tbiomed.com/content/9/1/40/abstract
5. Greek, Ray, Niall Shanks, and Mark J Rice. 2011. The History and Implications of Testing Thalidomide on Animals. The Journal of Philosophy, Science & Law 11 (October 3). http://www6.miami.edu/ethics/jpsl/archives/all/TestingThalidomide.html