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It’s a good thing research isn’t defined by a poll

A perfectly reasonable article on animal research ends with a pointless poll. After explaining the specifics of the research — this was a lab studying Parkinson’s disease, a serious and incurable human problem — they ask their readers whether research is justified, and apparently all they saw were cute widdle monkeys.

Is medical testing on animals justified?

YES 25%

NO 75%

Anyone who votes no is required to offer an alternative path for the biomedical work to treat this debilitating disease.

Comments

  1. Tigger_the_Wing, Back home =^_^= says

    I worked in medical research laboratories in the U.K. back in the 1970s.

    Despite the fact that there were very, very strict protocols governing their use, I saw a lot of abuse of animals by people who really should not have ever been given a job working anywhere near them. I had to stop working directly with experimental animals after a couple of years because I was getting distressed at their treatment and was never, ever going to get hardened to it – and I was too junior for anyone to take my complaints seriously.

    I sincerely hope that oversight has improved since then. Strict rules are useless if they aren’t enforced.

    I still do not feel, though, that there is anything wrong in principal with using animals as test subjects. I just hope that their suffering is kept to an absolute minimum and eliminated wherever possible; indeed, that it should be avoided, where it can be, by using non-live-animal models if that would give accurate data.

    Which is pretty much the state of things at the moment, and was the state even back in the seventies – all that was missing was a strong attitude amongst the vast majority of humane and compassionate live-animal researchers to expose the occasional intentionally cruel person in their ranks. And I know why that was; paradoxically, it was because of the vocal animal rights lobby. Researchers felt, with some justification, that if they exposed the people who really should not be there, the lobby would leap on that admission with glee. They would distort the admission to claim that all live-animal research, and all researchers, are cruel and the whole industry should be shut down.

  2. says

    I know it’s just a silly non-meaningful poll, but come on guys…
     
     Pharyngulate!!
    Pharyngulate!!
    Give the bastards what they’ll hate!
    P! H! A! R! … you know the rest…

  3. D Carter says

    After all, what do you expect from……[burp]…[grimace]…….“people”?

  4. says

    Wow that was a blatantly biased and emotionally manipulative piece of writing.

    You know what? Yes it sucks that the animals have to suffer. BUT as someone who has a high probability of Parkinson’s to look forward to, I would much rather have animals that are bred and raised for testing than knowing I’m doomed to be my grandfather.

    So fuck that article writer and the high horse they rode in on.

  5. ChasCPeterson says

    Anyone who votes no is required to offer an alternative path for the biomedical work to treat this debilitating disease.

    Cell cultures.
    Computer models.

    That was easy.

  6. says

    Not just Parkinson’s: there is HIV/AIDS, and diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, and many forms of cancer, and antibiotics, and anesthetics, and vaccines, and multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy, and new technologies for prosthetics, and new procedures to treat brain and spinal cord injuries. And those are just the ones off the top of my head.

    Would it be more ethical to conduct the preliminary tests on humans? Research requires controlling variables, and often that means inflicting disease or injury on the test subject. Is it better to be a culture that inflicts injury and infection on animals for the purpose of primary research into cures, or a culture that does this to humans first?

  7. Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive] says

    Cell cultures.

    Because we can grow entire brains in petri dishes?

    Computer models.
    Because “how does this convoluted process work?” can be answered by giving a computer knowledge that we don’t have?

    I’m all for reducing the number of animals used to the bare minimum, but present technology does not allow for that number to reduce to zero.

  8. Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive] says

    “Computer models” should be blockquoted.

    Silly html.

  9. says

    @Chas #6 – No, it is not that easy. Even simple animals have a complex endocrine system, and it is impossible for a cell culture to duplicate that. We are not at the point where such things can be simulated by computer, either: even if we knew all of the variations for humans, we are still decades away from computers complex and fast enough to model all of the variations we do already know about, much less have them small enough and affordable enough for them to be available in many research labs.

    Case in point: the HIV drug tenofovir. Cell cultures showed that it was quite effective, but animal testing showed that it could not be absorbed by the digestive system, which made it useless as an oral medication. Further research led to the development of a prodrug, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, which is absorbed readily; once inside the body, the body begins to process the drug, turning it first into ordinary tenofovir which can then do its job of keeping people alive. Cell cultures and computer simulations helped to find a workable approach, but would have been useless in identifying the problem in the first place.

  10. blf says

    <borkquote>Silly html.</borkquote>

    That’s what happens when you model a brain with an abacuscomputer.

  11. says

    Cell cultures.
    Computer models.

    Whenever this topic comes up over at Orac’s place, these two methods get trotted out. Neither of them can replace animal testing at this time, and will not any time soon. Computer models are rather limited now, and will be for the foreseeable future and are largely used to complement the use of animals in research. Current models focus on major effects, but their ability to focus on minor interactions are limited. In addition they are far from real-time simulations, Of course, making models and simulations often requires a large amount of data from, well, animal testing.

  12. says

    I used to work with people working on computational methods for predicting protein-protein interactions, and we still cannot do this terribly well. Yes, we can often predict an interaction, but many false positives are found, there are lots of false negatives. It is terribly imprecise. Certainly, it is improving, it is certainly useful, but it is far from perfect.

  13. ragarth says

    The funniest and most telling alternative I’ve ever heard someone say to animal testing is ‘computer models’. Because when you’re trying to figure out what this group of neurons do, we just plug into the computer what this group of neurons do and test it.

    People who make this suggestion obviously lack critical thinking skills.

    Hey, at least this isn’t the 1950’s where our electrodes for neural recordings were made of piano wire.

  14. consciousness razor says

    Gregory in Seattle, #10:

    Case in point: the HIV drug tenofovir. Cell cultures showed that it was quite effective, but animal testing showed that it could not be absorbed by the digestive system, which made it useless as an oral medication. Further research led to the development of a prodrug, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, which is absorbed readily; once inside the body, the body begins to process the drug, turning it first into ordinary tenofovir which can then do its job of keeping people alive. Cell cultures and computer simulations helped to find a workable approach, but would have been useless in identifying the problem in the first place.

    I don’t know anything about this research, but let’s consider that case anyway. Before the animal testing, was there no reason at all to think it couldn’t be absorbed by the digestive system? We just had no theoretical background which would make it possible to predict anything about the relevant chemistry? Was there no way for people to figure out that sort of thing before such testing? Or was this basically just a way to spend less time developing the drug or to use smaller computers for doing the computational work?

    I ask this because these are very different kinds of claims. On the one hand, something or other simply can’t be done without a “bare minimum” of animal testing. It really is impossible. The only way I can wrap my head around that idea is that what we know about the underlying physics or chemistry just doesn’t apply, because the biology works somehow independently of that. On the other hand, the claim is that this particular thing can be done without a “minimum” but costs more money or time. The latter is more of a practical issue, and it could be resolved other ways. Of course it matters that people get treatments as soon as possible, but then we could and should devote more money and time on it (more researchers, bigger labs, etc.), not simply use that as an excuse to take a particular shortcut. There could also be better drugs for the same thing, which we do already know something about, and such resources could be focused on those, because they’re more likely to get people the treatments they need as soon as possible.
    Travis, #12:

    Whenever this topic comes up over at Orac’s place, these two methods get trotted out. Neither of them can replace animal testing at this time, and will not any time soon. Computer models are rather limited now, and will be for the foreseeable future and are largely used to complement the use of animals in research. Current models focus on major effects, but their ability to focus on minor interactions are limited. In addition they are far from real-time simulations, Of course, making models and simulations often requires a large amount of data from, well, animal testing.

    Including human testing, of course. It’s not just “testing” or “getting data” that’s at issue. It matters what kinds of tests are unethical or unnecessary.

    Anyway, I’m thinking that it’s not justified, to the extent that such current models are pushing on the limits. And it will be less and less justified as time goes on, as we accumulate more and more information from this process. I wouldn’t call that the “unforeseeable future”; it’s pretty damned foreseeable that it will happen, assuming scientists don’t just have some weird, malevolent urge to make animals suffer unnecessarily. And I think that’s a pretty fair assumption.

  15. Blattafrax says

    #6

    Cell cultures
    Computer models

    FFS. This is close to criminal stupidity.
    ALL drugs are tested first with cell cultures. If computer models were sufficiently good to model an entire human, then we would use them. They are not. And, yes, there is a huge amount of work being put into developing these models. It’s going to be cheaper, quicker and mean fewer animals will be used. Scientists care about these things.

    #15 I don’t know much about this research either, but in general you can get an idea in advance if a drug will be absorbed, there are some tests that will help you get a better idea. But really, the only way to get enough information is to test it in an animal – and then a human animal.

  16. Rowan vet-tech says

    Let me laugh for a moment at the idea of cell cultures replacing animal testing…

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…

    And the reasoning for the laughter; what often works in a culture doesn’t work in a body. Lot of things, for example, kill cancer in a cell culture but don’t work when introduced to a full organism. Or are deadly to the full organism. Cell cultures also can’t tell you side effects that a drug will have on the various organs, hormone pathways, and brain. Cell cultures can’t tell us that some cats go psychotic on morphine.

    Going from cell culture straight to human trials is a fantabulous way to kill a great number of people.

  17. says

    Maximum mitigation of unnecessary suffering of test animals should be a basic requirement. The issue shouldn’t be whether they are used for testing, but how they are treated. We can do much better than we do.

  18. originalantigenicsin says

    I’m amazed how the suggested alternatives are always ridiculously unspecific, like “cell culture” or “computer models”. The only answer even more unspecific would be “something else”. Scientists need animal models to solve very specific problems and never ever is there an opponont who comes up with a specific and actually usable alternative, like “Hey have you tried HEK 293? I think they totally eliminate the need for mice as a model organism in your specific experiment”.
    I’m not saying that everyone who wants to express criticism of animal testing has to be an expert, but the suggested alternatives should be realistic. It’s like when an engineer designing a gas turbine complains about making it efficient enough and your answer is “Well, have you tried a fusion reactor instead?”

    @ consciousness razor #15

    I ask this because these are very different kinds of claims. On the one hand, something or other simply can’t be done without a “bare minimum” of animal testing. It really is impossible. The only way I can wrap my head around that idea is that what we know about the underlying physics or chemistry just doesn’t apply, because the biology works somehow independently of that.

    Molecular biology IS chemistry. But our understanding of molecular biology, in this case the absorption of complex molecules, is not as good as you might think. And btw: using an animal model is often the most cost and time intensive option. Unless we are talking about animals like C. elegans . But this species seems to have a rather poor lobby anyway.

  19. Rowan vet-tech says

    Testing requires submitting protocols explaining why you need animals at all, why you need a particular species, why you need to do what you are planning on doing, etc. For testing facilities using mammals at least, there are to be RVTs and/or veterinarians there specifically keeping an eye on animal welfare and reporting inconsistencies.

  20. Rowan vet-tech says

    Somehow my “in the USA” got dropped from my last sentence. Oopsies.

  21. consciousness razor says

    But our understanding of molecular biology, in this case the absorption of complex molecules, is not as good as you might think.

    Part of my point is I don’t know how good I’m supposed to think it is for any given problem. Sometimes, it’s a whole lot better than I thought, as I’m very impressed with the kinds of results they’re able to get. Sometimes not, but it’s clear that the field isn’t done, so I should expect some kind of improvement anyway. It just isn’t a static thing, so there’s no point whatsoever in trying to nail it down like that and settle on some fixed conclusion that I’ll have until I’m dead.

    But there’s often just this vague, general claim that “we can’t do it any other way,” even though presumably that isn’t always the case, nor will it continue to be the case. And I assume people (here at least) recognize that. So what good is that kind of a claim, if nobody actually means it? I don’t see the problem with this going from a mind-numbingly stupid Yes/No question to something that people can (and need to) actually think about, not just reflexively lend their support to one option or the other. That doesn’t help me get any closer to understanding where we draw that line, how to do it, or how that’s going to change as we develop new theories, technologies, get more data, etc. I really have no fucking clue, and I don’t know how anyone else would either.

  22. Mark Jacobson says

    I have to admit, I’m conflicted on this issue.

    There is only one alternative to animal testing. Letting people suffer and die, who could otherwise have been saved through knowledge gained by animal testing. Looking at it that way, the suffering of test animals in unpalatable, but for the greater good.

    I’m always wary when my justifications for something include the phrase, “for the greater good.”

    Looking at it from another perspective–and this is just a thought experiment, mind you–what if we learned tomorrow that Parkinson’s disease rarely occurs in humans naturally? That an alien race, as far above us as we are to marmosets, is inducing Parkinson’s in us in order to research a cure for their own people? Would they be justified in doing so?

    I’m honestly not sure. I’m hoping to read some arguments from you brilliant people to help settle the issue in my mind.

  23. ragarth says

    If I had a nickel for every disease that was cured in cell cultures and found to be useless/dangerous/etc. in animal models, I’d be rich.

  24. trina says

    So we all approve of animal cruelty and should rush to ‘correct’ a poll?

    Okay then.
    It’s okay to keep our distant cousins in cages for their whole lives, to experiment with them and of course, to repeatedly rape female monkeys in order to provide more test animals.

    Why? To fix Parkinson’s, or any of a million other diseases? Why not use human volunteers? Sure it’s dangerous but it’s for the greater good right?

    9/10 drugs that pass animal trials fail in human trials. ‘Cause we aren’t just big monkeys (or dogs or cats or rats or any of the other animals they use.
    Drugs don’t effect us the way they effect animals.

  25. says

    #6
    Pfft
    I’m sure the state of Texas has some death row prisoners it’d offer of for the good of medical research. Jump right to the human trials /

  26. originalantigenicsin says

    @consciousness razor #22

    Part of my point is I don’t know how good I’m supposed to think it is for any given problem.

    I think I understand your dilemma, but unfortunately there is only one solution: educate yourself. If you think there should be ways to predict the absorption of complex molecules in the human gastrointestinal tract, then check whether this is true. I honestly don’t know any other way. And this is true for any specific question involving animal testing. If you don’t trust the claims of the scientists (and you really don’t have to) go find out for yourself if there are alternatives and what is known about that specific question and what can be predicted and what not.

  27. azpaul3 says

    Anyone who votes no is required to offer an alternative path for the biomedical work to treat this debilitating disease.

    1. Creationists
    2. Republicans

  28. Rowan vet-tech says

    Animal testing also leads to advances in animal medicine. Without testing, we’d never have been able to treat diabetes, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, cushings, addison’s, and many many other conditions. Hundreds of thousands more animal lives would have been lost, often to horrific conditions.\

  29. says

    Trina @ 26:

    Drugs don’t effect us the way they effect animals.

    It’s obviously not true that drugs don’t affect animals the way they do us. If that were true, very few advances in medicine would have been made. It’s a difficult situation, one that no one is terribly happy about. There are a lot of good people who take care of those animals, and they do care about them.

  30. Rowan vet-tech says

    Drugs don’t always affect us the way they affect animals. Some drugs animals can handle just fine and humans can’t, such as enrofloxacin. Great drug in many non-human mammals, as well as birds and reptiles.

    When I had appendicitis, I was laughing at the number of drugs I regularly worked with at the vet clinic that I was receiving. Morphine, tramadol, dilauded/hydromorphone, fluoroquinolones (which it turns out I’m allergic to), propofol, iso/sevoflurane, LRS, normosol….

  31. astrofiend says

    In my experience, only biologists seem to feel so few ethical qualms about animal testing. Whenever they are asked about what must surely be tricky issues for any thinking person — the ethics of inflicting pain or extreme discomfort on sentient creatures who no doubt have the capacity to suffer — they seem to default to weak-sauce rationalizations, or to that tactic so favored by god botherers — deeming human beings to be ‘a thing apart in creation’.

    I can never understand how people can argue passionately for fundamental standards in ethically treatment of our fellow human beings, yet can so casually dismiss the suffering of animals if it helps out with a human concern. Let’s call a spade a spade – the procedures that these animals are fucked up. Were one to depict the same procedures happening to humans on film, the film would be refused classification. The incidents in history where medical experimentation has been performed on human beings are rightly considered to be among the most despicable acts ever committed. So of we’re going to say this is all relative — that yes, animals suffer, but that suffering doesn’t matter when weighed against its usefulness to humans — then what is wrong, in principle, with performing such experiments on human beings? What makes a procedure performed on an animal with a ‘lower mind’ ethically unproblematic when it would be universally regarded as an atrocity if a human being was subject to it? What is the rational argument for drawing this line in the sand?

  32. gmacs says

    Cell cultures.

    Do you know where a lot of cell cultures come from? Google “primary culture”. I’ll save you some time, most cell culture work I see or read about is on cultures taken directly from euthanized animals.

    It’s not unusual when I’m dissecting an unfixed subject to be asked “hey, are you using the brain on that?”

    Btw: we have very strict standards for animal treatment. And I’m told by my PI that the standards are even more strict in the UK these days.

  33. gmacs says

    In my experience, only biologists seem to feel so few ethical qualms about animal testing.

    That’s because we’re the ones working with living systems, and are thus the ones confronted with the fact that there is no way around it.

    Seriously. There. Is. No. Way. If there were, we would be doing it.

    Yes, animals suffer. We take that very seriously, and take every measure we can to minimize it. My top concerns are experimental consistency and subject welfare. Fortunately, those two go hand-in-hand.

  34. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Let’s call a spade a spade – the procedures that these animals are fucked up. Were one to depict the same procedures happening to humans on film, the film would be refused classification.

    You are showing stupidity as to why animal testing is done. Here is the simple question. I have a syringe of a potential cure for cancer, but it may also be lethal. Who gets the shot, you or a rat. This isn’t a hypothetical, it is a true question. Some animal has to do the first testing. Is it going to be you, to protect rats, or the rat because it may be toxic (LD 50 unknown), and you don’t want to die? This is the ethical question you must pass in order to speak cogently on the subject. If somebody else, you aren’t speaking cogently.

  35. Amphiox says

    9/10 drugs that pass animal trials fail in human trials. ‘Cause we aren’t just big monkeys (or dogs or cats or rats or any of the other animals they use.
    Drugs don’t effect us the way they effect animals.

    If we didn’t do the animal testing first, it would by 9999/10000 drugs that pass cell culture failing in human trials. And many more of those human failures would involve human deaths.

    SOME drugs don’t effect us the way they effect animals. But many effect us and animals close enough for animal testing to provide useful information.

    Because drugs don’t affect cell culture the way they affect humans even more.

    All potential drugs are first tested in cell culture. 99/100 fail right there.

    The ones that pass are then tested in an appropriate animal model. 99/100 fail here.

    The ones that are left are then tested in humans. 99/100 fail there.

    Drop any one of those steps and you cripple drug development.

  36. yubal says

    It’s not the sixties anymore and we have guidelines in place to ensure the most ethical treatment possible of animals in a laboratory. There are also efforts to avoid animal tests whenever possible and people are working hard on animal free tests for many scenarios.

    Nobody in a sane mindset wants to do an experiment on animals if it can be done animal free.

  37. Ichthyic says

    In my experience, only biologists seem to feel so few ethical qualms about animal testing. Whenever they are asked about what must surely be tricky issues for any thinking person — the ethics of inflicting pain or extreme discomfort on sentient creatures who no doubt have the capacity to suffer — they seem to default to weak-sauce rationalizations, or to that tactic so favored by god botherers — deeming human beings to be ‘a thing apart in creation’.

    have you ever considered the possibility that the reason biologists come across as ok with animal testing… is because we have seen it, first hand, and know both the value of it and that it can be done right?

    no, of course you didn’t. It must be some evil scientist thing, right?

    ever think maybe the weak-sauce rationalizations are really your projection of your own ignorance?

    yeah, that seems far more likely.

  38. ChasCPeterson says

    oops, I assumed the sarcasm tags were unnecessary there in #6 but apparently many are unfamiliar with my previous rants on this topic.
    I’m a card-carrying vivisectionist. I used to make a living giving dogs heart attacks and then following their recovery on alternative treatments. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

  39. says

    astrofiend #33

    can never understand how people can argue passionately for fundamental standards in ethically treatment of our fellow human beings, yet can so casually dismiss the suffering of animals if it helps out with a human concern…Were one to depict the same procedures happening to humans on film, the film would be refused classification…So of we’re going to say this is all relative — that yes, animals suffer, but that suffering doesn’t matter when weighed against its usefulness to humans — then what is wrong, in principle, with performing such experiments on human beings?

    You are building such elaborate texts but you fail to see the underlying black-or-white fallacy in your reasoning. There is a continnuum of consciousnes/self awarenes and indeed ability to suffer among animals. Saying that dog’s suffering is not the same as human suffering, morally speaking, does not mean we consider dog’s suffering non-existent or that it does not matter at all. You seem to think along the lines that absolutely all animal life is equal and moral dilemmas are nonexistent.

    Do you also think that soy beans are grown without animal suffering? Animals have to suffer in order for humans to eat, shall we therefore starve to death in order not to stress out mice and cute wittwe wabbits?

    Nevertheless.

    Try to answer this question, in your mind, no need to be public about it, I do not really care.

    Imagine this. There is a strange dog tied up on the trainway and tied up strange human a few meters on the other trainway. The train is comming. There is no way in stopping it, but you have a time to switch it either on the human or on the dog. Which you choose?

    Do not try, like others, to try to rationalize that it away by “it could never happen yaddayaddayadda”. This is a hypothetical scenario to make you think about your own values and underlying assumptions. So which is it, the dog or the human?

    I choose the human. Even if the dog were my own.

  40. says

    Addendum “I choose the human to live.”

    I never seem to get the text right, no matter the proof reading.

  41. trina says

    It’s funny if you kicked my dog I think no one would blame me for getting angry. Induce heart attacks in many dogs and suddenly it’s fine?
    What did you do with the dogs after they finished recovering from the abuse you inflicted on them?

  42. trina says

    It’s true that a vegan diet still results in small animals and insects dying. Which is why it’s a lifestyle based on ‘least harm’ not ‘no harm.’

  43. says

    It’s funny if you kicked my dog I think no one would blame me for getting angry. Induce heart attacks in many dogs and suddenly it’s fine?

    You seem not to understand how analogies work, because this is a false one.

    If someone was kicking/otherwise hurting your dog for no objective purpose whatsoever, I would understand you getting angry and condemning them. But if your dog were run over by paramedics on their way to heart attack, then I would not understand if you were angry on the paramedics driver for not stopping for your dog. And I would think there is someting wrong with your moral compass if you were.

    What did you do with the dogs after they finished recovering from the abuse you inflicted on them?

    You seem not to understand the difference between “abuse” and “use, because there is no other alternative”. And have you answered the question for yourself yet?

    And you should say whom you are answering to, because I did not inflict anything on any dogs.

    It’s true that a vegan diet still results in small animals and insects dying. Which is why it’s a lifestyle based on ‘least harm’ not ‘no harm.’

    So killing animals on the fields by thousands with traktors in order to get food is OK, but killing them in a lab (in wastly smaller numbers and with wastly better life conditions) in order to get knowledge about diseases that is otherwise unobtaiable is not? Are you really sure you thought this through?

    Are you telling ME, that I should die, because the medicaments for my thyroid condition would not be available without animal testing? Are you telling to people with other illnesses, currently with no cure, that they should give up hope because otherwise small animals could suffer in relatively small numbers?

  44. gmacs says

    It’s true that a vegan diet still results in small animals and insects dying. Which is why it’s a lifestyle based on ‘least harm’ not ‘no harm.’

    Congratulations, you’ve found the ethical underpinnings for modern animal research. Now let’s see if you can recognize it.

  45. inquiringlaurence says

    It’s not surprising that most right-wingers take this view. They can’t take God out of the equation. It’s also why so little Scientists are Evangelical Christians at the ratio of 1:7 compared to the general population, and those who don’t believe in a god (simply, atheists), among the scientists, are at a ratio of more than 10:1 compared to the general population [http://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/]. With such black-and-white worldviews, they can’t compromise ir actually consider the alternatives. They just know that their particular maximally great, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipresent being commands them to think a certain way. Somehow.

  46. biogeo says

    trina said @26:

    Why? To fix Parkinson’s, or any of a million other diseases?

    Yes, exactly.

    Most reasonable people recognize that the ethics of animal research is complex. Most of the biologists I know who do animal research actually hate the part of the job that involves causing any suffering. But those of us who believe in it do so because we understand the immense human suffering caused by these terrible diseases, and are unwilling to stand by when something could be done to stop it.

    I can understand that not everyone’s moral compass will point as mine does, and that some might regretfully choose that the human suffering must be accepted, just as I regretfully choose that animal research must be accepted. But your casual dismissal here of human suffering, implying that is a triviality which we can easily sweep aside, is shocking.

    On a more personal note, a primarily cognitive form of Parkinson’s disease killed my grandfather. He was a kind and generous man, with a quick wit and a prodigious memory. He helped raise me, taking me to and from school every day, and providing a safe and nuturing home and family. In the final years of his life, the disease robbed him first of his wit, then his memory, his speech, his personality, and finally his ability to swallow food. It was a long, slow, agonizing death, that tortured him for years, and left his family with emotional scars that persist years later. When he died, we donated his brain to a research hospital for study. It is with regret, then, but also hope, that I am firmly supportive of these researchers’ efforts to ensure that some day, no one else will have to suffer as my grandfather did. So perhaps you will understand, then, when I say in response to your casual dismissal of this kind of human suffering, fuck you.

  47. trina says

    If I were to refuse all forms of medical intervention that were tested on animals that would truly make their suffering and deaths utterly pointless and cruel, instead of just cruel, so no, I don’t think that’s the logical extension of my beliefs. I wouldn’t refuse medical intervention that was first learnt by doctors experimenting on prisoners during the Holocaust either.

    I apologise for sounding dismissive of human suffering. That was not my intent and I’m sorry I worded my reply in such a way as to make it sound like I don’t care about human suffering.
    I don’t think the ends justify the means. I think if we slowly began to ban testing on animals then progress on alternative methods of study would speed up.

  48. says

    trina

    If I were to refuse all forms of medical intervention that were tested on animals that would truly make their suffering and deaths utterly pointless and cruel, instead of just cruel, so no, I don’t think that’s the logical extension of my beliefs.

    I knew you’d find a loophole. So you can have your cake and eat it. You know, animals don’t care much about “the point”. It totally doesn’t change their suffering and death if you use the things tested on them or not. But you have found your personal justification as to why it’s OK for you while demanding that other people go without.

  49. says

    Chas,

    oops, I assumed the sarcasm tags were unnecessary there in #6 but apparently many are unfamiliar with my previous rants on this topic.

    Sorry about being grumpy about that post. I had not seen your previous posts on the topic and missed the sarcasm. All too often I see those options brought up in all seriousness so I assumed it was likely just another case of someone doing that.

  50. biogeo says

    trina said:

    I apologise for sounding dismissive of human suffering. That was not my intent and I’m sorry I worded my reply in such a way as to make it sound like I don’t care about human suffering.

    I accept your apology. I believe you’re arguing in good faith, and I apologize for using strong language — though it was a genuine reflection of the depth of my emotional response to what you said.

    I am not going to convince you that animal testing is morally acceptable. Perhaps in a lengthy, open, good-faith discussion, one of us would change our minds, but I’m not prepared for that today. But I will ask you to take another look at the arguments you’ve made here. As I read it, you have engaged in a rhetorical strategy of simultaneously trivializing and demonizing the motives of those who support animal research. E.g., the minimization of the significance of human disease (which I do appreciate you backing away from), and the equating a research program with the goal of improving treatment for heart attack in humans (and, in fact, other animals as well, as Rowan vet-tech pointed out — animal research for human medicine is also research for veterinary medicine) with casual animal abuse (kicking your dog). Do you honestly believe that this is a fair representation of your opponents’ position? Or are you just building a straw man that you know you can take down? If you are arguing against some imagined position that no one holds, then you’ll never convince anyone who already disagrees with you, because you aren’t really engaging with their position at all.

  51. trina says

    @Giliell: since I’ve never suggested that other people should refuse to use treatments that were tested on animals I don’t see the relevance of your snide remarks.

    @biogeo

    I shouldn’t have trivialised the significance of human suffering. The original post annoyed me- the implication seems to be that if you disagree with animal testing you are a bleeding heart hippie overcome by pictures of cute animals. I don’t think the argument is as black and white as that.

    When ChasCPeterson casually mentioned inducing heart attacks in dogs for a living… That flippancy to me trivialises animal suffering as does the original post, and it made me angry. I’m used to agreeing with the commentators here on big issues,
    I’m not sure I’m making any sense or explaining myself well here, coming up on 24 hours awake.

  52. Rowan vet-tech says

    If you work in animal medicine, you start to develop a strange/morbid sense of humor just to keep from burning out.

    What did I do at work today? I played with 10 different sets of testicles, including 3 that were trying to play hide’n’seek. We dug for gold in a rectal prolapse. And everyone was super happy that none of the kittens that came in today needed to go to visit KittyJesus. Today was a completely tame day. I didn’t get eyejuice rubbed on me. I didn’t have to get far too personal with penises. Nothing tried to eat me.

  53. rachelholmes says

    I’m not persuaded that testing on animals is morally justified and this places me in a moral quandary. There have been some thoughtful contributions here, so I’m hoping somebody might be able to help me.

    I have had three kidney transplants. I think it’s safe to say that my immunosuppressant (and other) medication was developed using animal testing. I don’t know the exact timeline, but I suspect that if I stopped taking my medication, I’d be dead of renal failure in a matter of months. I’m, errr, not keen on this option.

    The compromise I’ve come to (which may expose me to Giliell’s scorn) is that while I’ll take medication that has been available for a while (and the testing took place a long time ago – I presume*), I won’t use animal-tested drugs that are new to the market, on the basis that to do so would constitute implicit endorsement of the continued use of vivisection.

    But yeah – my conscience would rest much easier if I could be convinced that vivisection is morally justifiable. Below is my reasoning, so please tell me where I’m wrong, at any stage of my argument. You’ll be doing me a favour. Seriously.

    NB For some reason, I can’t post when I’m logged on at home. I can only post now because I’m out. So if I don’t reply, it’s because I can’t, not because I’ve buggered off.

    The pro-vivisection argument seems to me to be essentially utilitarian: it is acceptable to cause suffering if to do so will prevent greater future suffering. I have problems with this. To be consistent, a utilitarian must also agree that it would be acceptable to vivisect non-consenting humans if to do so might prevent greater future suffering. If you don’t agree with this, you don’t really support the utilitarian argument and are justifying vivisection on other grounds.

    If you do, then presumably you think it is better to use non-human animals because they suffer less than humans. But do they? This is an empirical question. It goes without saying that animals generally have lower cognitive abilities than humans, but I don’t see how this is a morally relevant difference, unless the ability to feel pain and suffer is directly and intimately correlated to cognitive ability. After all, I doubt many people, faced with an adult chimp with greater cognitive abilities than a severely mentally disabled human, would prefer to see the human vivisected. (Indeed, I’m not sure how many people would feel comfortable with this even if it could be proven that the human would suffer less than the chimp.)

    If you don’t support the utilitarian argument, then to justify vivisection, you need to identify a difference between humans and other animals that makes inflicting pain as a means to an end unethical in the case of the former but ethical in the case of the latter. I struggle to see one.

    *If this presumption is wrong, then I may have to revise my position and decide whether I’m more attached to being alive or to not being a raging hypocrite. SPOILER: I suspect the former would win out.

  54. says

    trina #50

    I think if we slowly began to ban testing on animals then progress on alternative methods of study would speed up.

    If by “banning” you mean “making strong regulation so unjustified research is not performed and the animals are taken as good a care as possible”, then that is already on the way. But if by “banning” you mean literally “not allowing any research with animals whatsoever one field at a time” then that is just plain stupid. It would not speeed up the process of developing alternatives, it would stiffle it.

    Whenever I see someone write something like this I have to question their knowledge about testing of any kind. The ultimate arbiter of any simulation and any test is reality. So no matter how good simulation you run on the computer, you must at some point perform real-life test with real subjects in order to try and falsify whatever hypothesis you have. Alternative methods can wastly reduce the need for in-vivo test, but they can never, ever eliminate it completely. The ammount of variables is too high.

    So if you develop an alternative method of testing, you still have to check it against real-life animals to see whether it worked well or not. There is no way around it.
    _________

    rachelholmes #56

    To be consistent, a utilitarian must also agree that it would be acceptable to vivisect non-consenting humans if to do so might prevent greater future suffering. If you don’t agree with this, you don’t really support the utilitarian argument and are justifying vivisection on other grounds.

    Slippery slope fallacy does not falsify utilitarian argument as it is actually presented.

    If you do, then presumably you think it is better to use non-human animals because they suffer less than humans. But do they? This is an empirical question. It goes without saying that animals generally have lower cognitive abilities than humans, but I don’t see how this is a morally relevant difference, unless the ability to feel pain and suffer is directly and intimately correlated to cognitive ability…
    …to justify vivisection, you need to identify a difference between humans and other animals …

    The analogy with food still applies. You would not run over a human with a traktor whilst ploughing a field. Yet the necessity to run over mice gives hardly anyone a headache. Some level of speciesism is actually necessary for the species to survive.

    Now I am no expert on philosophy and english is not my native language, so there is a big space for misunderstanding. But to me it seems you have serious trouble with continuum of given trait. Just like people who oppose abortions on the presumption, that fetus is just as human as an adult, you seem to think in black-and-white, all-or-nothing. Nobody denies the existence of grey areas that should be avoided as much as possible, but existence of transition/continuum does not mean that anything/nothing is allowed. We can argue about where to draw the line and why, but to argue that such line must exist independently of our reasoning is wrong, just as well reasoning that existence of grey means that black=white.

    Try to look at the visible spectrum and decide at which wavelength, exactly, any two colors (f.e. blue and green) abruptly change. You will not find it. However nonexistence of exact distinction does not make the concept of color useless.

    The same principle applies here. We know that suffering is a function of nervous system. We know, that the complexity of nervous system varies across species. We can therefore reasonably assume, that the ability to suffer will vary as well. We might find that the correlation is not linear, that even species with relatively simple nervous systems suffer more than a linear extrapolation based for example on number of synapsies would suggest, but the variation will still be there and there is no reason (known to me) to assume, that the continuum we see with respect of other functions of nervous system (behavioural complexity, sentience, sapience) does not apply to suffering.

  55. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    If you don’t support the utilitarian argument, then to justify vivisection, you need to identify a difference between humans and other animals that makes inflicting pain as a means to an end unethical in the case of the former but ethical in the case of the latter. I struggle to see one.

    If you can’t see the difference between humans and non-humans, I feel sorry for you. The philosophical bullshit put forward by folks like Singer is that. Bullshit.
    Every new drug is tested in animals, no exceptions. That is required by all regulatory agencies world-wide. Before it goes into humans, the LD50 of the drug and its main impurities must be known. Those agencies would like to reduce the animal testing, but validated methods to give the same answers must be available for use before any changes will occur. There is no sign of any replacement testing for that data on the horizon.
    The question of is the first injection of a new drug in you or a rat is key to understanding the problem. A lot of anti-testing folks don’t want to be guinea pigs either, and keep offering bioethically challenged alternatives like testing on prisoners. Hypocrites all, as you must step up to put your body where your philosophy is.
    You must support development of the alternatives, not just say ban stuff. Yet the alternatives are being developed by the same scientists doing animal testing, not those complaining about animal testing.
    Philosophical angst solves nothing.

  56. rachelholmes says

    Charly,

    Thanks for your reply. I agree that there is a sliding scale of sentience in animals and that it is reasonable to suppose that it will be linked to neural complexity. My beliefs are not as black and white as my post may appear to indicate. But accepting that this is sufficent to justify vivisection requires me to accept the utilitarian argument. Since utilitarianism (as I understand it) essentially says that an act is moral if it will lead to greater global wellbeing/reduce global suffering, the non-consenting humans hypothesis is not a slippery slope fallacy – it’s a direct implication of utilitarian principles. Nevertheless, you’ve given me something to think about – so thank you.

    Nerd of Redhead,

    You seem to be making assumptions about me. I’m not demanding that anything be banned; I’m condemning nobody; I’m certainly not suggesting that prisoners be used as guinea pigs. I think this is a really difficult ethical subject. I also agree with you that scientists are doing great work in developing viable alternatives to vivisection (and I support those initiatives with my own money). But rather than pitying me for not seeing a morally relevant distinction between humans and other animals (for the purpose of causing them suffering in order to promote a greater long-term good for others), it would be more helpful if you could tell me what that distinction is.

  57. says

    trina

    since I’ve never suggested that other people should refuse to use treatments that were tested on animals I don’t see the relevance of your snide remarks.

    No, you didn’t and neither did you indicate that you would change your behaviour. That’s why I said you can have your cake and eat it. It’s basically claiming to be a vegetarian while eating steak to honour the sacrifice of the cow and ranting about those horrible butchers.

  58. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But rather than pitying me for not seeing a morally relevant distinction between humans and other animals (for the purpose of causing them suffering in order to promote a greater long-term good for others), it would be more helpful if you could tell me what that distinction is.

    Whereas I don’t see how there isn’t a distinction. I’m not playing your game of defending myself. You back up your claim that there isn’t a distinction, defending your claim.
    Animal research these days has to show that there is no other way to get the data. You offer no other way. All you offer of hand-wringing, which isn’t helpful in any way. That is my main point.

  59. dianne says

    What’s the thing with the use of the word “vivisection” among people who are anti-animal testing? As far as I know, “vivisection” means dissection on a live animal. I’m pretty sure no IACUC committee is going to go for that one, except maybe as a terminal event under very deep sedation. It’s certainly not something that is routine in animal testing. Is it being used because it sounds a lot worse than “make knock-out mice, check out how they look throughout life, then dissect the bodies after they die” or “give mice a drug and see if they get sick or not”?

  60. biogeo says

    “Vivisection” really just means surgery. I believe there used to be “anti-vivisectionists” opposed to human surgery, out of a belief that cutting into a living person was wrong even if it was intended to heal them — thankfully that position seems to be pretty much vanquished in the face of modern surgery’s obvious successess. I think opponents of animal research use the term because while people understand and accept the value of surgery, “vivisection” sounds frightening and unfamiliar. They may also be capitalizing on the implication that there must be something different and worse about “vivisection.”

  61. dianne says

    @63: I suppose you’re right and surgery is technically vivisection. I picture something a bit more radical and probably unanesthetized when I hear the term “vivisection” though. Which, of course, is the desired effect. Even so, I’ve done quite a lot of work on mice that involved no surgery or “vivisection” at all. It’s, at best, a sensationalistic and inaccurate term to use to describe animal research.

  62. dianne says

    I know people have already jumped all over the “just use cell culture” thing, but I have a question and a comment about it nonetheless:
    1. How can you use cell culture to model the development and treatment of metastatic disease?
    2. Most cell cultures are grown in fetal calf serum. In short, they’re also dependent on animal death and far worse suffering than any lab animal I’ve ever seen is put through. Why is this ok, if animal testing is not?

  63. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    They may also be capitalizing on the implication that there must be something different and worse about “vivisection.”

    It’s the same type of words as the anti-choice folks making the claim of “killing babies”. Nothing but way to get to your emotions, and to turn off your reasoning about the issue.

  64. says

    Rachelholmes #59

    …the non-consenting humans hypothesis is not a slippery slope fallacy – it’s a direct implication of utilitarian principles…

    Well, no, it has some aspects of slippery slope fallacy, although it is not “pure” slippery slope fallacy. But you propose that because utiltarianism is acceptable/preferable in some situations, that it therefore must apply in all other situations along the continuum all the way to the extreme. That is not how the world works, however, something cann be used as a general rule of thumb, whilst being useless for extreme situations.

    Furthermore you are falling prey to a non-sequitur. Your conclusion does not follow from the premises you present:
    Premise 1) It is moral if it leads to increase in overall wellbeing and/or
    Premise 2) it is moral if it leads to reduction in overall suffering
    Premise 3) there is a continuous sliding scale in Animalia from humans down to protozoans with regard to capability of their neural systems, including their capability to experience suffering.

    From these three premises, which you yourself do not deny being true in the scope of your understanding of utilitarianism, you cannot conclude that casual use of non consenting humans is justified. It would, only hypothetically, be justified if and only there were no other alternative. But whils hypotheticals can be usefull for discussions, they are not alwasy good for real life decisions. In real life, there is an alternative – the use of animals. Since you agree, that suffering of animal is worthy of less moral consideration than suffering of human being, then causing suffering to non-consenting humans is never justified, when the same means can be achieved by use of animals. And, similarly, suffering of animals is not justified, when the same means can be achieved by use of computer models or cell cultures.

    And this is not the only problem with your conclusion. Why do you ommit the consent, for example? Ability to consent and right to bodily autonomy are also recognised as important in moral discussions.

    You are using utilitarian argument in its shortest possible form as if it were the golden-grail, the one and only argument used for deciding which action is moral and which is not. If you are doing this on purpose, then you are also strawmanning. If you are doing tis out of ignorance, then perhaps you should read up. These are complex ethical issues, that are far from being done and settled, and you are doing yourself a diss-service by arguing against naive oversimplifications by plucking one argument out of its broader context and arguing against it as if it were a monolith.

  65. Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive] says

    Dianne, if I had to guess, I’d posit that the use of fetal calf serum (or fetal bovine serum, or any of the other sera out there) aren’t screamed about because:
    (1) many of the animal-rights activists are generally unaware of it
    and
    (2) sera are generally made of the “leftovers” of animal slaughter.

    ‘Course, many seem to be fuzzy on where cell cultures come from, too.

  66. Rowan vet-tech says

    Dianne, thank you for covering the erroneous use of ‘vivisection’ to discuss animal testing. Apparently people don’t understand that dog and cat foods also undergo ‘animal testing’. This means feeding them, weighing them, examining them, and running blood panels, usually for a period of many years to make sure the food contains adequate nutrition if it’s a new prescription diet.

  67. nixscripter says

    I’ve been waiting to de-lurk in one of these threads to ask one question: what do you all think of this Dr. Ray Greek?

    http://www.peh-med.com/content/4/1/2

    I can’t tell if his objections are disguised kookery, or whether he actually has a valid point about animal models being overused.

  68. says

    nixscripter,
    Sadly I have to get back to work, so I don’t really have time to read through that paper at the moment, nor am I probably the best person to address them, but the name rung a bell and I see Orac has written a few posts that bring up some of Greek’s objections, including an article written by the authors of the article you referenced.
    These may address some of those concerns:
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/03/17/bad-scientific-arguments-in-the-service/
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2014/02/04/how-cute-orac-has-been-targeted-by-his-first-change-org-petition/
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/03/01/answering-scientific-arguments-of-an/

    Maybe someone else has a little bit more time to properly read through that.

  69. Ichthyic says

    It’s funny if you kicked my dog I think no one would blame me for getting angry. Induce heart attacks in many dogs and suddenly it’s fine?

    false equivalence is false.

  70. Ichthyic says

    You are using utilitarian argument in its shortest possible form as if it were the golden-grail, the one and only argument used for deciding which action is moral and which is not. If you are doing this on purpose, then you are also strawmanning. If you are doing tis out of ignorance, then perhaps you should read up. These are complex ethical issues, that are far from being done and settled, and you are doing yourself a diss-service by arguing against naive oversimplifications by plucking one argument out of its broader context and arguing against it as if it were a monolith.

    very well said.

  71. Amphiox says

    But accepting that this is sufficent to justify vivisection requires me to accept the utilitarian argument.

    Rachelholmes, the moment you used the dishonest, inaccurate, and emotionally loaded term “vivisection” you exposed yourself as someone making assertions on a foundation of either ignorance or dishonesty.

    And now that the inappropriateness of the term “vivisection” has been pointed out to you, but multiple replies, the ignorance excuse no longer applies.