NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Monday, February 20, 2012

COMMENT: The Big Lie [Full link to blog for email clients.][FT:C44]

For years, a prominent animal rights activist group - whom I shall NOT name, because I don't want to give them the search boost - has been telling Americans and the world that animal researchers are heartless sadists who enjoy torturing animals in the name of worthless science.


In the first place, scientists quite frequently have pets and care for animals in many ways.  Some of the research done on animals in the name of human medicine really does benefit animals.  For example, I had a dog that required two knee surgeries.  I have known people whose pets and even farm animals have had cataract operations, treatment for heart disease, diabetes, leukemia, lymphoma.

Second, bad health makes bad data.  Results obtained from mistreated or sick animals is worthless to scientific research.  The guiding principle of the experimental method is control of variables.  That is difficult with living tissues, more so with behaving animals.  Why would anyone think a scientist would complicate matters by working with sick, abused, distressed animals?  Under such circumstances, there would be totally different results with each trial, each animal. 

Third, the accusation of worthless repetitive science shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the scientific method.  Experiments must be repeated under controlled, identical conditions to ensure that the outcome is in fact due to the drug or treatment being tested.  Then experiments should be repeated under different conditions to ensure that the treatment will work each time.  You have certainly all seen this - a friend tells you about a great new drug, diet or exercise, it worked wonders for them.  You try it and it doesn't work, was it that you did it wrong?  Was your friend mistaken as to what actually produced the results?  Or did the diet just not work for *you*?

Frankly, animal rights activists betray a fundamental lack of education in science, and a profound selfishness. 

Selfishness?  Yes - the philosophy that "A rat, is a pig, is a dog, is a boy" does not mean that the speaker values animal life as much as human, but that they have *devalued* *other* human lives much less than their own.  Basically, *they* must be important, or else they would eagerly sacrifice their own lives for the cause.  No, they'd rather sacrifice *your* life by denying scientific and medical advances.  The animal rights organization does not believe in rights, but in control.

Animal rights activism is a Big Lie.  

Today my lab lost a valuable lab animal.  I have spent all day in a surgical and autopsy suite trying first to save it, then to figure out why this happened.  Preliminary findings suggest that it was an infection unrelated to our experimental procedures. This animal had been involved in many studies, and helped provide data that may one day be used to counter drug addiction, alleviate sleep deprivation or result in prosthetic devices for the brain.  I feel the loss much the same as when my family lost our dog to lymphoma a few years ago.  

But then, it was just an animal - and I'm just a cruel, heartless scientist.

The Big Lie.  Will you believe it?  Or reject it as just another means of manipulation and control. 


This event has altered my posting schedule.  The start of the blogs on dystrophies and neuromuscular diseases are postponed until Wednesday.


  1. First, my condolences.

    Second, may I ask you a cruel, heartless question? How can you involved the animal in many studies? Doesn't its involvement in study A make for potential interaction with later study B that renders study B less valid?

    1. Actually, few people realize the sheer length of time that occurs. A single study may take weeks to months, but the lifespan of a lab animal is measured in years. These are animals that are most likely born and raised for research. They cannot be "put out to pasture."

      Also, it is true that studying disease processes makes subtle changes in an animal that alter the starting conditions for other tests, but this is so much less likely when testing drugs or simply recording brain activity under many conditions. For neuroscience, our greatest advantage comes from recording under as many *different* conditions as possible. Typically we will do a series of 3-5 repetitions of a drug or treatment, wait several months collecting new control data, then try a new treatment.


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