Animals in Scientific Research

Critical thought

William Drummond stated:

“He that will not reason is a bigot; he that cannot reason is a fool; and he that dares not reason is a slave.”

The scientific method combined with critical thought is the best method of thinking about the material world that we have available today. Many agree vis-à-vis the scientific method but what is often left out is the fact that science and the scientific method rest on a foundation that many in the sciences are not taught in school: critical thought. Take critical thought away from the scientific method and you are left with voodoo.

If you, the government, or your neighbor base decisions on fallacious reasoning, flawed logic, or a misinterpretation of science, it is highly probable life as you know it will be worse than if the principles of critical thought, logic and science were followed. Granted, we all know of a situation in which an individual violated all laws of logic (e.g., played the lottery) and still got what they sought (e.g., won the lottery and became an instant millionaire) but such things are rare. Like playing the lottery, ignoring the laws of logic and science may give you a good result, but it is highly unlikely.

Critical thought and reason allow us to judge the probability that what we believe is true and act accordingly. Enough evidence vis-à-vis data, reasoning about the data, a knowledge of science and logic, and critical thought can help us determine the probability something is true or false.

Using critical thought daily and making oneself familiar with the advances of science is important. Unless one makes a habit of thinking clearly and critically in matters of small importance, it is likely that when the time comes to consider a serious matter of great importance, you simply will not have the necessary skills. One can far too easily believe in things that will result in suffering and disaster. (See Appendix below for more on critical thought and examples of how those with a vested interest in vivisection violate them.)

How can we use science and critical thought when we think of issues like animals in science?

Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine ( and the author of How We Believe and The Borderlands of Science, writing in his column in Scientific American, cautioned the nonscientific public to beware of nonsense masquerading as science.

He suggested that the public ask 10 questions when considering whether what someone says is true. Reprinted here are Shermer’s 10 questions for the reader to consider about animals in science.

1. How reliable is the source of the claim?

Anyone with an advanced degree in science probably knows more about science than the average person. But humans lie. If possible always check the context and facts for yourself and ask yourself if the data presented appears distorted in order to make it adhere to the author or spokesperson’s agenda. Obviously, vested interest groups will have more reason to lie than people without a vested interest.

2. Does this source often make similar claims?

Or, to paraphrase, does the source also make outrageous claims that have no bearing in reality? Consider the following claims made by those with a vested interest in animal experimentation:

“…we cannot think of an area of medical research that does not owe many of its most important advanced to animal experiments.”

“Every major medical advance of this century has depended on animal research.”

“Virtually all medical knowledge and treatment—certainly almost every medical breakthrough of the last century—has involved research with animals. There is a compelling reason for using animals in research. The reason is that we have no other choice…There are no alternatives to animal research.”

“Virtually every major medical advance of the last 100 years (as well as advances in veterinary medicine) has depended on research with animals. Animal studies have provided the scientific knowledge that allows health care providers to improve the quality of life for humans and animals by preventing and treating diseases and disorders, and by easing pain and suffering. Knowledge gained from animal research has contributed immeasurably to a dramatically increased human life span.”

“…virtually every advance in medical science in the twentieth century, from antibiotics and vaccines to antidepressant drugs and organ transplantation, has been achieved either directly or indirectly through the use of animals in laboratory experiments.”

“…research with animals has made possible most of the advances in medicine that we today take for granted…”

“There is no question that most medical progress—perhaps all, in fact—has been attained through knowledge derived initially from experiments in various animal species.”

3. Have the claims been verified by another source?

Who, besides those with a vested interest in animal experiments, support the claims made by animal experimenters? Shermer states, “We must ask, ‘Who is checking the claims, and even who is checking the checkers?’ ”

4. How does the claim fit with what we know about how the world works?

Evolution, molecular biology, and genetics predict that animals and humans will differ in subtle yet profoundly important ways. The claim that animals can predict human response is outdated, as today we know that because of miniscule differences in DNA,  men cannot predict drug response in women many times, and that even identical twins may respond differently to the same drug.

5. Has anyone gone out of the way to disprove the claim, or has only supportive evidence been sought?

Shermer states,

“This is the confirmation bias, or the tendency to seek confirmatory evidence and to reject or ignore disconfirmatory evidence [see my examples, below, of non-sequiturs]. The confirmation bias is powerful, pervasive and almost impossible for any of us to avoid. It is why the methods of science that emphasize checking and rechecking, verification and replication, and especially attempts to falsify a claim, are so critical.”

Animals do sometimes give the correct result and that many years ago, animals and humans had things in common such that we could learn about human physiology and pathology from animals. Compare this position with the propaganda brought out by the vested interest groups such as saying that despite men not being able to predict drug responses of women, mice can be used to predict both. Animal experimenters will parade the times animals and humans gave the same results but hide the times they gave very different results which resulted in human harm. All evidence needs to be examined prior to making a decision.

6. Does the preponderance of evidence point to the claimant’s conclusion or to a different one?

Shermer states,

“The theory of evolution, for example, is proved through a convergence of evidence from a number of independent lines of inquiry. No one fossil, no one piece of biological or paleontological evidence has “evolution” written on it; instead tens of thousands of evidentiary bits add up to a story of the evolution of life. Creationists conveniently ignore this confluence, focusing instead on trivial anomalies or currently unexplained phenomena in the history of life.”

Supporters of vivisection do the same. They point out times when an animal reacted the same way a human reacted to a drug or disease. But they ignore the vast majority of times when the animal model failed and humans were harmed as a result.

Further, in evaluating animal models, the vested interest groups ignore the predictions made by evolutionary biology that subtle and important differences will exist between species and instead focus solely on the gross similarities between species that were historically used to prove animal experiments work. The preponderance of the evidence, e.g., evolution and molecular biology supports the view that transspecies extrapolation is problematic.

7. Is the claimant employing the accepted rules of reason and tools of research, or have these been abandoned in favor of others that lead to the desired conclusion?

As you will see below, there are ways of reasoning that are fallacious, but that the vested interest groups employ. Shermer states,

“A clear distinction can be made between SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) scientists and UFOlogists. SETI scientists begin with the null hypothesis that ETIs do not exist and that they must provide concrete evidence before making the extraordinary claim that we are not alone in the universe. UFOlogists begin with the positive hypothesis that ETIs exist and have visited us, then employ questionable research techniques to support that belief, such as hypnotic regression (revelations of abduction experiences), anecdotal reasoning (countless stories of UFO sightings), conspiratorial thinking (governmental cover-ups of alien encounters), low-quality visual evidence (blurry photographs and grainy videos), and anomalistic thinking (atmospheric anomalies and visual misperceptions by eyewitnesses).”

The same can be said about animal experimenters. They begin with the positive hypothesis that animal models work without offering evidence then proceed to ask to prove they don’t. Proving a negative is next to impossible and is not the usual work of science. One must prove extraterrestrial life does exist just as one must prove animal models are efficacious.

Jean Greek, DVM writes:

“I started my career assuming animal models were valid but then because of inconsistencies and differences between the way I treated diseases in animals and the way my husband treated the same diseases in humans, began to question that assumption. I now offer a theory (based on evolution and molecular biology) and data to support my claim that animal models are no longer valid.”

8. Is the claimant providing an explanation for the observed phenomena or merely denying the existing explanation?

Shermer states,

“This is a classic debate strategy–criticize your opponent and never affirm what you believe to avoid criticism. It is next to impossible to get creationists to offer an explanation for life (other than “God did it”). Intelligent Design (ID) creationists have done no better, picking away at weaknesses in scientific explanations for difficult problems and offering in their stead “ID did it.” This stratagem is unacceptable in science.”

Opponents in the animal experimentation industry do the same. They never offer a complete theory and supporting data to explain their position that animal models work, they simply point out the gross similarities between species, and assume everyone will therefore discount the facts.

9. If the claimant proffers a new explanation, does it account for as many phenomena as the old explanation did?

Dr. Ray Greek states,

“I am claiming that animal models are outdated and obsolete. I admit that animal models helped establish the germ theory of disease and other basics about life.

However, I additionally offer this new explanation: new methods of biomedical research would have accomplished everything the animal models did had they been available back then… and they offer advantages the animal model cannot. Just as the modern synthesis in physics replaced traditional Newtonian physics without negating it, so too can modern day biomedical research discard animal models without losing anything in the process.”

10. Do the claimant’s personal beliefs and biases drive the conclusions, or vice versa?

Dr. Ray Greek states,

“I would paraphrase…Do the claimants have a vested interest in the product?”

Shermer concludes,

“Clearly, there are no foolproof methods of detecting baloney or drawing the boundary between science and pseudoscience. Yet there is a solution: science deals in fuzzy fractions of certainties and uncertainties, where evolution and big bang cosmology may be assigned a 0.9 probability of being true, and creationism and UFOs a 0.1 probability of being true. In between are borderland claims: we might assign superstring theory a 0.7 and cryonics a 0.2. In all cases, we remain open-minded and flexible, willing to reconsider our assessments as new evidence arises. This is, undeniably, what makes science so fleeting and frustrating to many people; it is, at the same time, what makes science the most glorious product of the human mind.”

Dr. Ray Greek continues,

“I agree with Shermer that the ability to reconsider assessments as new evidence arises is what makes science so glorious. I suggest, based on science, that society reconsider the efficacy of animal models based on current knowledge.

The above discourse exemplifies more reasons why the animal protectionist should embrace science as it reveals how the reasoning processes used in science can be used to demonstrate the validity of the arguments used by animal protectionists, and to demolish the fallacious reasoning and lies used by those with a vested interest in abusing animals.”

So, that’s a brief overview of science and why we should address the topic. Next we will examine the use of animals in science.

Dr. Ray Greek recommends the followoing on critical thought:

Schick, TS and Lewis Vaughn. How to Think About Weird Things, McGraw-Hill 3rd edition. 2002. Anyone interested in animals in science should read this book, if for no other reason than to understand the fallacious reasoning used by those whose livelihoods depend on using animals.

Two other books on logic and fallacious reasoning that I have found excellent are: Informal Logic by Douglas N. Walton, Cambridge Publishing and Logic and Philosophy by William H. Brenner, Notre Dame Publishing.

The best general book on what science is (and what it isn’t) is, in my opinion, Philosophy of Science by Martin Curd and J. A. Cover, Norton Publishing. I also strongly recommend Ivan Valiela’s book Doing Science, Oxford University Press, 2001.

Also outstanding are books by Mary Midgley such as Science as Salvation, Routledge, 1992 and Evolution as Religion, Methuen, 1985. Many oppose science because they confuse it with scientism, which is the belief that the theory and investigational methods used in science should be applied to all other fields of inquiry. Midgley does the best job I have seen of debunking scientism and differentiating it from science.

Two books on science that I have found invaluable in addressing modern-day criticisms of science are Higher Superstition, Johns Hopkins Press and The Flight From Science and Reason, New York Academy of Sciences. While I strongly disagree with the authors’ opinions on the use of animals in biomedical research and on their premise of why the animal rights movement exists, the books are nevertheless well worth reading for what the authors have to say about how science is viewed in our time.



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