Animal Activists that are Confused About Science

I have written several times that loving animals does not make you a scientist. I have no illusions that merely pointing out this obvious fact will change behaviour but such could be said about pointing out many such facts. There is a wealth of commentary from scientists, as well as scientific evidence and supporting theory, regarding the factual nature of evolution yet many, if not most, Americans simply dismiss it. Some adults do not even vaccinate their children despite the scientific evidence of efficacy. Nevertheless, this does not excuse the scientific community from continuing to point out and defend the facts of vaccination and evolution. Likewise, I will continue to point out nonsense from vivisection activists as well as members of the animal protection community.

One problem with nonscientists thinking they are scientists is that occasionally someone with a modicum of power will listen to them. The latest manifestation of this occurred in London in the form of David Amess, a conservative member of parliament. In a speech delivered on December 7, Amess gave us an excellent example of why people who don’t know the difference between a molecule and cell should be very careful from whom they take science advice.

Amess is a self-proclaimed animal welfarist who has supported legislation improving the welfare of certain groups of animals. This is a good thing from my perspective but, as I have said, loving animals does make you a scientist or even competent to discuss science on an elementary level. Amess did state some sound scientific principles in his speech: “animal models are not reliable indicators of how a drug will behave in humans. . . . [animals] cannot predict mechanisms of the disease, risk factors or potential adverse reactions. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, the world’s largest drug regulator, 92% of potential new drugs fail in humans trials (either because they do not work or are not safe in humans) after appearing safe and effective in animal tests. . . . Of course why should animals be indicators of human response? Animals and humans are evolved complex systems and as such should be expected to demonstrate different responses to drugs and disease. For example, mutations that cause genetic disease in humans are the norm in some animals.” (Sound familiar?) All of that is true!

Unfortunately, Amess then exposes his ignorance of science, and his complete dependence on others almost as ignorant as he, as he proceeds to ask the parliament to pass the Safety of Medicines Bill, which would require a study to determine whether newer, nonanimal testing modalities are superior to animal tests. As I have explained once or twice, tests in medical science are either predictive or they are not. For example, if I was an oncologist, I would not administer certain very toxic anti-neoplastic drugs unless I was at least 99% certain that you had cancer. I would try to be 100% certain by ordering predictive tests, such as taking a biopsy of the tissue. Blood tests, CT scans, and tissue biopsies are predictive for certain conditions and that is why they are used as opposed to a simple and inexpensive physical examination. The positive predictive value (PPV) and negative predictive value (NPV) for a physical exam are not high enough to diagnose the condition with the precision required in medical science.

Granted, there are tests that are imperfect with a PPV of say 0.8 and a NPV of about the same, and yet we use them. But no one uses them as authoritative or definitive for a condition, only as a screening tool. And 0.8 is much higher than the PPV and NPV of tests on animals eg toxicity. Furthermore, animal tests in drug development are used as authoritative and definitive. Drugs are withdrawn from development because of results from unreliable animal models. That is why the US National Cancer Institute thinks society has lost cures for cancer; animal tests led to the drug not being developed. (Gura 1997) The gray areas of some medical tests notwithstanding, very high standards in medical science must be met in order for a test to be considered predictive. If the test does not meet those standards, then it is not predictive. Period. And in medical science it is not used as a predictive test.

This is not complicated.

Animal models for drug development have been studied and they are not predictive for humans; therefore they should not be used. It is immaterial to say that there are, or that there are not, other tests with a better or worse track record. If animal models have a PPV of 0.5 for hepatotoxicity and another test has a PPV of 0.6, neither is acceptable. Neither is predictive. Even if those are the only two tests in the universe, they should not be used as predictive tests. Tests that do not use animals should be judged on the basis of whether they have a high PPV and NPV, not on how they compare to other tests that do not fulfil the criteria. Being marginally better than animal tests does not mean a test should replace the animal test, it means that test is also not predictive. Neither test should be used as a definitive test or even as a screening tool for that matter. Asking for a study to compare animal tests with other tests is the position of someone with pretensions to sophistication but who in fact does not understand the fundamentals.

Challenging the status quo is seldom easy, however the Safety of Medicine Bill merely heaps bad logic on top of bad science. Sadly, the animal rights movement is usually a cacophony of opinions, not all of which are even consistent with the philosophy of animal rights. One area where the movement should be able to get it right is science. There are actual right and wrong answers in science and when one ignores these answers in order to advance a personal agenda, one is not helping the situation.


Gura, T. 1997. Cancer Models: Systems for identifying new drugs are often faulty. Science 278 (5340):1041-2.

Clarifying Communication of Medical Science

‘Animal models for drug development have been studied and they are not predictive for humans; therefore they should not be used’ – Dr Ray Greek. This highly significant discovery and its main practical goal can be stated more explicitly as follows. There is already sufficient scientific evidence proving that all (other than human) animal models for human medicine, which have been tried so far, are not predictive for humans, therefore they need to be replaced by increasing direct research methods into human nature. The mainstream funding from governments and corporations needs to be reallocated, to bring to an end the current most damaging practice, and to accelerate production of effective medicines. The law itself needs to evolve, to be improved, particularly in continuing to make use of newly available technologies. The responsibility lies in the hands of the politicians, the scientific advisers and the company managers who manufacture and sell medicines. The main obstructive difficulty here, needing to be removed, is that the current damaging practice is lawful and highly profitable for a relatively few individuals, whose vested interest and established positions of power are not merely selfish and short-term but cruel exploitation of mistakes – so costly to many more humans and other than human creatures.

Dr Greek entitles his text ‘Animal Activists that are Confused About Science’. The phrase ‘Animal Activists’ is very general, covering a wide spectrum of different groups of people acting in a multitude of ways for humans and other animals; it would have been helpful if the title was more specific. And one may even say that it is scientists who not only gain knowledge, but who in some sense can honestly admit to being the most confused about science, that is, having the greatest problems with science and other scientists! Knowledge generates further questions – which never undermine the knowledge gained as such.
Furthermore, science and morality can be complementary; but still, distinction needs to be recognized between science as objective fact and its subjective moral evaluation. As Greek points out, loving animals does not make a scientist as such.

Greek refers to ‘nonscientists thinking they are scientists’ advising politicians, as in the speech delivered (on December 7th, in the House of Commons) by David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West, in England. There is, however, nothing at all in his speech professing that he – or any advisory nonscientist –is a scientist as such. One needs to distinguish sufficiently the message of objective fact from the individual messenger. Greek acknowledges that Amess did state ‘some sound’ scientific truths, including that: “Animal models are not a reliable indicator of how a human being will react to a drug”, and that “92% of potential new drugs fail in human trials..after appearing safe and effective in animal tests” – and indeed, Greek, to his great credit, relentlessly and extensively champions such highly significant points.

Amess proceeded to ask Parliament to pass the Safety of Medicines Bill, to compare animal and non-animal testing. Greek correctly points out the misleading and delaying nature of this Bill; the criteria for medical tests need to be established not by whether they concern animals or not, but by whether they work as predictive or not. The imperative here, which itself stands in need of being realized by everyone concerned, is that the known animal models must no longer be used, which includes not being used for a comparative study. However, Greek adds that this Bill ‘merely heaps bad logic on top of bad science’ – which is not a statement of logical or medical science as objective fact, but his moral evaluation of logic and medical science here. (Greek also uses the expression ‘at least 99% certain’ – which, like claiming to be only 1% certain, is no objective certainty at all.)

Greek closes by stating that a personal agenda ignoring ‘actual right and wrong answers in not helping the situation’. This, in effect, is a very brief restatement of the main problem: that the current damaging obstructive practice needing to be removed is individual vested interest – which is entirely helpful to a powerful minority of individuals, yet damaging to not merely objective scientific progress but to a vast number of individual humans and other creatures.

One is now in a somewhat better position to appreciate something of the actual and potential practical value of the speech made (or rather debate led) on ‘Animal Experimentation’ by David Amess, the longest serving current MP (since 1983) – during which time he has vigorously campaigned for animal welfare. Nonetheless, the focus of Amess in this debate is explicitly “not on the suffering of the animal, which can be quite shocking, but on the fact that animal models are not accurate indicators of human responses”, concerning which “there is ample evidence”. His mention of “animal models” in the House of Commons is genuinely historic – not as the last word but as the first – introducing this issue explicitly, for the official attention of those Members present, as well as other listeners, and for the political record of the House.

In addition, Amess relates the alarming fact that: “Every year, one million Britons are hospitalised by prescriptive medicines. That costs the NHS [National Health Service] up to two billion pounds a year”. He likewise refers to the observation made by Robert Weinberg, from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), of “hundreds of millions of dollars..being wasted every year by drug companies using these [animal] models”.

Politicians, scientific advisers and business managers need to work together positively, respecting their different fields of expertise, in order to achieve their shared main practical goal of providing society with increasingly effective lawful medicines. Any distraction from the stated practical goal delays it. What specifically is the next crucial step? The Parliamentary process will – on a day to be celebrated – lead to a Select Committee conducting a review of the law, the most up-to-date scientific advice and the funding for production of medicines. The evidence provided by Dr Greek and his colleagues can then allow all those courageous enough to face, and act on, the known objective facts without prejudice. The enormous cost in terms of suffering, death and money would then be brought to an end, and the great positive advantages of reforming the law would be realized. The responsible individuals involved will not merely hope but act to help ensure that this midwinter of our discontent is placed firmly behind us all. The incredibly wide-ranging effects of making the known animal models history would be evolution indeed.

I know about FARM, I have been to their annual conferences several times. They are still a really great organization and I do not know for sure who is lying. Given Dr. Greek's history of ignoring e-mails and blog questions that ask legitimate questions from him it could easily be him that is lying. Animal studies involving nutrition is NOT predictive modeling (cutting into a live body) experimentation. The fact that a tiny part of vivisection has validity and merit does not mean it should be funded! It is low-yield and not goal oriented. It still falls at the bottom of the list in efficacy compared to the numerous other methods available. Do you remember how Vegan Outreach changed their cover page to: Even if you like meat...instead of 'Why Vegan'as a title.They saw a HUGE difference in awakening MORE people to their pamphlet and making changes accordingly at the pace that is comfortable for them. It is to Dr. Greek's credit that he gives merit to a tiny % of animal research. It drops people's guard so they feel less threatened about an animal-based agenda. Try it out for yourself. Go to a University and protest vivisection based on animal ethics and see the violence that comes your way when you focus soley on human medical patient advocacy as a tactic.

Jon B

There once was a young man with a heart wide as the ocean. Into it he poured everything. Books, oranges, a bird nest, accidents, a girl laughing in the rain, an old coffeepot, funerals, redwood forests, walks with a dog, stars over the Serengeti and other shiny things money can't buy. He first traveled as a student, then as a doctor. He dreamed of fame; he dreamed of making a great contribution to medical science. During his many travels, he grew old and learned much, especially about privilege and praise. One day he entered a strange country of ice and wind and no trees. In this barren land he saw hunger and disease in every miserable face. Women, men, children, cats, sparrows, and dogs. He began to dream a new dream. More than fame, he thought, I want to help everyone who needs my help. And he did.

So he knew not to be seen with FARM or others like The Humane Society. Temporary sanity. But as sure as animal lib activists won't back down from their fight for justice for animals and won't accept bad science that harms people, vivisectors will continue to pretend they save children. The speciesist sympathizers of vivisectors will continue to redefine “sentience” and “necessity” to excuse the killing of specific animals. Support none of the bastards.

It is true that many AR activists are confused by science(and downright wrong too, see HSUS blog) but it is very perplexing that when FARM extends an invite to a certain scientist to educate activists about science they get IGNORED. It is my hope someday that a certain scientist develops his interpersonal skills and becomes the leader that medical patients need for him to be. If not, it seems that we have to wait 40 years for someone with just as much expertise to take-over and initiate in Congress the co-sponsoring of much needed Research Modernization bills.

Jon B

One thing activists get right is don't trust animal researchers and backpocket politicians. And don't trust former animal exploiters. We don't even trust ourselves.

LMAO. **Do Not Feed**, maybe it will die.

Scientists, bureaucrats, warmongers and the missing in action ilk made the mistake to link science to technology. They're handmaids of capitalism and live in oblivion, seeking control but are themselves controlled.

Partial measures are more worthless than no measures. Amess isn't an animal advocate in any case.

Physicians and scientists should think twice before they appear in the media with nonscientists such as Tom Holder as well as questionable animal rightists. Regardless of views on animals, most Americans are confused and suspicious of science, and justifiably so. If you think yourself an anti viv scientist and appear in sound bites with nonscientists without a high school diploma, it legitimizes the nonscientists' position as an authority in the public's mind. The public isn't aware the Tom Holders of a quasi people's movement only regurgitate public relations manuals.

The failing of anti viv surpasses ignorance when it doesn't refuse to acknowledge the authority of vivisectionists but does the exact opposite. This problem ravages the UK as well. It's not to be rectified by debate but by the action of scores of ordinary people once they comprehend what is at stake.

Please elaborate how you perceive David to be doing a good thing. Whatever scraps he may win would be tokens. He and similar others have only aided the expansion of vivisection at home and abroad. The evidence is in every existing laboratory and future laboratory being built.