Tilting at Animal Rights Activist Windmills

Apr 20 2009 Published by under Animals in Research, Ethics

Dame Janet of La Mancha has launched an admirable series of posts which attempt to dissect the discussion-stoppers which impede progress when advocates of science and advocates of animal rights talk. She has this impossible dream that perhaps by recognizing these consistent traps, those of us who wish to advance understanding of our position in a rational adult, meaningful way can move forward.
TDtID: Part 1
TDtID: Part 2
TDtID: Part 3
As we are in the midst of a traditional week-o-ARA-wackaloonery and two days away from the first US Pro-Test rally (at UCLA) this is all highly topical. Why not take some time to do a little bit of reading and thinking about these issues? After all, it is only the continued health and well being of yourself, your family, your friends and neighbors that is at stake.
To watch a current exemplar of the traditional "discussion" to which Janet refers, wander on over to the Facebook page for UCLA Pro-Test. Some of the usual superficial ARA critics have emerged to attempt a dialog. You may want to create your own bingo card from Janet's posts to keep score of the discussion.
To date the most interesting reading has arisen in a link offered by Paul Browne of Speaking Of Research.
http://speakingofresearch.com/2008/08/20/report-animal-rights-conference-part-2/
This whole thing reminds me that I never put up a link to Mark Chu-Carroll's post on animal research. Wait, why's some computer / math dude chiming in? Well, one of the more spectacularly false-on-the-face assertions that seems to carry weight with the ARA position is the contention that research can all be done "with computer models". This does not make any sense to anyone who has ever tried to program a computer and Mark does an excellent job of explaining why.

15 responses so far

  • lylebot says:

    This does not make any sense to anyone who has ever tried to program a computer

    "Computer models" and "computer programming" are very different things. Take computer models of climate, for instance. Obviously they've been programmed up by somebody. If you're going to equate "modeling" with "programming" you have to explain why we can trust the computer-based climate models but not the computer-based animal models.
    Not that I don't agree with the sentiment. I hope I'm not being too pedantic here, but I often see "I'm a programmer so I know how crappy computer programs can be" as an excuse for dismissing climate change predictions altogether. Models can be appropriate tools in one domain even if they're not in another.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    This is why I linked to MarkCC's post. He does a decent job of explaining what computers can do as well.
    Computers can and do help us a great deal in various areas of science. We use them to model, test and screen any number of things in ways that can and do reduce animal use.
    The ARA nutter position does not appreciate the limits, however. Predictions are not the same thing as real world tests in relevant systems. And they are limited to things that we know about and very poor at creating genuinely new knowledge.

  • bsci says:

    Lylebot, make sure to read the linked post from Mark Chu-Carroll for more detail.
    The accuracy of both climate and biological models rest upon their source data. For climate models, that source data is various chemical concentrations, and temperature readings from around the world. For biological models, that data is from biological specimens. I can't think of a singled detailed biological model that hasn't relied an data collected from non-human animals at some point in the process. Biological models have been hugely valuable at helping scientists understand complex systems, but these models are only as good as the source data we use to create them.

  • Biological models have been hugely valuable at helping scientists understand complex systems, but these models are only as good as the source data we use to create them.

    They are also only as useful as the actual experiments we perform on actual biological systems to test their predictions.

  • George Darroch says:

    The science community has long promised the 3Rs. While there are now ethical clearances to be passed, in practice the number of animals being used has not declined, and has increased in many sectors, nor has the severity of research decreased in a substantial way. Animals are a first port of call, not a last resort.
    This is not to say that scientists do not find animals useful - few would deny that.
    If there is conflict, the science community has only itself to blame.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    in practice the number of animals being used has not declined
    got cites for that? which species does this include and are so called higher species being used less frequently...or does that matter? and suppose more science is being done overall- does this complaint take into account per-output or per-capita use or just raw numbers? just so we're clear on what you mean.
    has the severity of research decreased in a substantial way.
    What does 'severity' mean? Because if you are using this in the way we usually consider pain and distress than this is incorrect.
    The science community has long promised the 3Rs.
    Here's a question for you. (for the home crowd, 3Rs are reduction, refinement, replacement) Which is the better option, to do two procedures on the same animal group or to use two groups of animals? This is a situation in which animal numbers are pitted against the treatment of a given animal in the IACUC decision making on the 3Rs.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Lylebot -- there is no necessary contradiction here -- I am more than happy to admit that computer climate models are utterly uninformative.

  • Zeb says:

    And all of this is supposed to help produce constructive dialogue between the opposing factions how, exactly? The title of this post - "Tilting at Animal Rights Activist Windmills" - pretty much gives the game away. Neither you nor Janet Stemwedel is showing a sincere interest in genuine dialogue; you're simply strategizing the most effective means (you hope) of defeating your opponents.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Neither you nor Janet Stemwedel is showing a sincere interest in genuine dialogue;
    What is "genuine" dialogue in this context?
    Accepting the lies, distortion, talking points and whatnot of the ARA view at face value? I admit I am uninterested in that.
    defeating your opponents.
    I think your use of this phrase tells us quite a bit about your motivations, in fact. I don't write about these issues to "defeat" anyone. I write to inform and to be informed. This is called "discussion". Policy is not being made on this blog so nobody can win or lose.

  • Paul Browne says:

    Thanks for the shout DrugMonkey.
    George Darroch "The science community has long promised the 3Rs. While there are now ethical clearances to be passed, in practice the number of animals being used has not declined, and has increased in many sectors, nor has the severity of research decreased in a substantial way. Animals are a first port of call, not a last resort."
    I don't have figures for the USA but as you can seen in these Home Office statistics provided by Understanding Animal Research below in the UK the number of animals used in medical research and regulatory testing has declined from about 6 million each year in the mid 1970's to just over 3 million each year now. While there has been an increase. There has been an increase of 7% since 2000 but that is against a background of a large (about 50% in real terms) increase in UK government funding for all medical research since the end of the 1990's (after more than a decade of funding stagnation under the Tories) which has been accompanuied by similar rises in spending by medical research charities. Personally I think this has been as much of a factor as the increase in transgenic animal models...rising tides do tend to lift all boats.
    As for the severity of the procedures I'd be surprised if the overall trend has not been for reduced severity, since in regulatory testing in particular there has been a real effort to refine tests in order to decrease suffering, and recently to replace some methods entirely (e.g the Draize eye irritance test that has been much refined over the years and recently replaced in Europe).
    http://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/about_research/numbers_of_animals
    http://www.science.homeoffice.gov.uk/animal-research/publications-and-reference/statistics/

  • Luigi, who laughs at DM's pathetic attempts to censor his input says:

    I am loathe to enter this minefield. But I like it when people call for actual data. Because then although people might still disagree, at least everyone might learn something.
    In #6...

    in practice the number of animals being used has not declined

    got cites for that? which species does this include and are so called higher species being used less frequently...or does that matter? and suppose more science is being done overall- does this complaint take into account per-output or per-capita use or just raw numbers? just so we're clear on what you mean.

    Bret.org has numbers for the UK:
    http://www.bret.org.uk/num1.htm
    The number of animals has been declining, and is now approximately half what it was in 1970. You can click through to see a pie chart breaking down the types of animals used (in 2001). The overall conclusion (numbers of animals used in the UK is declining) is supported by additional data here: http://www.gsk.com/research/about/about_animals_roles.html
    I do not know whether the overall number of UK biomedical researchers has increased or decreased over the same time period. My impression is that there has been an increase.
    Of course, all that is data from evil vivisectionists. What about data provided by animal rights groups? Such data is provided here: http://www.aavs.org/researchAnimals.html Specifically, click on the link to the table.
    These data show that, as in the UK, the number of animals used in U.S. research has declined significantly over the last few decades. This despite a veritable explosion in the number of biomedical researchers and biomedical research institutes. Interestingly, the use of primates has increased while use of all other animal types has decreased quite a bit.
    Overall, I think one can conclude with confidence that the total number of animals used in biomedical research (in the U.S. and U.K.) has declined.
    So there you go. Facts are facts. Of course, one can argue about whether the numbers used are still justified, or whether the types of animals are appropriate. One might also wonder whether the animal rights battlefront might best be moved to growing scientific powers with traditionally less oversight, such as China.

  • Hap says:

    DFR isn't going to convince lots of people from either side - "you can't reason yourself out of a position you didn't reason yourself into". It might serve as a written (sort of) record that people have thought about the issues involved and how they have done so, and perhaps to make light of the issues that animal rights people may claim are being ignored.
    The only way to fight bad information is good information. If information is no longer relevant to the outcome of policy or to the methods for getting to it, then we (as a country or a species) are probably going to be in very bad trouble very soon.
    Oh, and a point that seemed useful from post #4: it isn't acceptable to ignore the output of well-derived models just because they don't give you the results you desire.

  • Hap says:

    I'm going to guess that people whose hobbies are blowing up people's cars to intimidate those doing research on animals and trying to "liberate" animals from labs are unlikely to fare well in China - it's kind of like the gangs from Highhaven, Arkansas trying to play with the Mafia, or M-13, or the Cartels. People who think they know how to employ violence effectively generally lose badly when pitted against those who actually do use violence effectively and who have little compunction in doing so.
    I think (based on C+E News articles, so I might be wrong or limited) that people in China are able to influence some policies, but that their effects and protests are over issues such as waste dumping/plant siting that have a direct impact on their quality (and length) of life. The voice they do have is probably not likely to be used for animal rights yet.

  • Zeb says:

    What is "genuine" dialogue in this context?
    Accepting the lies, distortion, talking points and whatnot of the ARA view at face value? I admit I am uninterested in that.
    Even though she herself does not always heed her own advice, the following from Stemwedel's first post on "Impediments to Dialogue" is clearly applicable with regards your reply: "Lack of trust -- at least a baseline level of trust -- is thus an impediment to dialogue. If your default position is not to trust me, it does not matter what claims I might make, nor what reasons I might offer, to support my position or to counter yours."
    I think your use of this phrase ["defeating your opponents"] tells us quite a bit about your motivations, in fact. I don't write about these issues to "defeat" anyone. I write to inform and to be informed. This is called "discussion". Policy is not being made on this blog so nobody can win or lose.
    Describing AR advocacy as "wackaloonery," urging people to consider the debate between those pro- and anti-animal reasearch because, "After all, it is only the continued health and well being of yourself, your family, your friends and neighbors that is at stake," describing the possibility of overcoming differences at least to the extent of being able to dialogue constructively as "an impossible dream," and calling the belief that the use of animals can be replaced with computer models as being "one of the more spectacularly false-on-the-face assertions that seems to carry weight with the ARA position" (implying that all other assertions supporting the AR position are equally false, just less spectacularly so) certainly doesn't indicate a desire to meet your opponents half-way. Policy is not made on this blog? Of course it is, or hopes to be: that policy being one by which the defeat of anti-animal research groups can be assured via such grown-up tactics as name-calling, emotional appeals, assuming the failure of attempts to dialogue before they've even begun, and pre-judging your opponents' intelligence. Were this not your policy, or the policy you were advocating - were you, in other words, advocating genuine discussion rather than merely giving lip service to it - the tone and vocabulary used in your post would be entirely different.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Zeb, you seem to have taken Janet's April Fool's post a little too seriously. What makes you think we share intents and goals when addressing ARA nuttery and terrorism? What makes you think we agree on the way forward? In fact I have to thank you for making some of my points that contrast with hers for me. Why are we having a meta discussion about the discussion? Because you want to take an injured tone and whinge about my tone instead of grappling with any substantive issues, in this case the computer models one.
    If winning and losing refers to the nature of the discussion on this blog.....yeah. Have you noticed that a blog is a despotic fiefdom run by the blogger? there is no "winning" or "losing" in this context either. what is it with you high school debate fans anyway? This is a discussion, not a debate.
    Now you have lucked onto something vaguely of interest. What exactly does it mean by meeting you half-way? Halfway to what? We can't even get a coherent picture of the position taken by the quasi-reasonable AR-sympathetic discussant that populates the comments on blogs. As soon as we start to discuss actually, I dunno, facts that might test their assertions they disappear. Only to re-emerge with their concern trolling in later discussions.
    How about you meet me halfway and actually discuss what you believe and why you believe it.

Leave a Reply