Animals in Research: Groupthink?

November 8, 2010

My email box overfloweth with references to an article in the Chronicle for Higher Education penned by Lawrence Hansen, M.D., a pathologist at the UCSD Medical School.
Dr. Hansen is an animal rights extremist who came to national attention with a fight to eliminate dog physiology lab classes from the UCSD medical education program. Since that era, he has penned a number of editorials and opinion bits that make it clear he has a more general interest in stopping the use of animals in research.
or…some animals, anyway.


Dr. Hansen writes:

Groupthink among animal advocates, unless it leads to violence, is harmless enough, but it’s self-defeating when the goal is to rally public opposition to vivisection…A huge reservoir of empathy for our fellow primates and for companion animals goes untapped when PETA demonstrators protest biomedical research on mice or trivia like presidential fly swatting.

He’s dismayed, of course, because other people’s highly theologically driven, personal-preference agendas are getting in the way, he thinks, of the success of his personal-preference agenda.

It may well be that a Gandhi-like respect for all animal life represents the ultimate in human ethical evolution, but until that “consummation devoutly to be wished” is realized, apes and monkeys and dogs and cats are being confined, vivisected, and killed while animal advocates are ignored as a lunatic fringe.

It is an interesting strategy. The fact that violent animal rights extremists are indiscriminate about which animals used in research trigger their violence and intimidation

Fliers identifying 13 UCSC scientists, some of whom use mice, fruit flies and other nonprimate creatures in their research, were discovered at a downtown coffee shop Tuesday. The fliers say, “Animal abusers everywhere beware; we know where you live; we know where you work; we will never back down until you end your abuse.” The names, home addresses, home phone numbers and photos of researchers were published on the fliers.

…has been increasingly on public display. Is it this lack of care about which species are being used that leads to them being “ignored as a lunatic fringe”? After all, many American taxpayers swat fruit flies and trap mice or rats in their homes every day of the year. Many Americans are “wedded*” to pest free kitchens
Or is it the violence and intimidation itself that seems insane to most people? Is it perhaps the case that people like Dr. Hansen who wink-wink in approval of extremist acts and rhetoric, and perpetuate the most egregious of misrepresentations and lies about the use of animals in research, simply do not gain traction for other reasons having to do with the credibility of their arguments?
I don’t know for sure but with all the possibilities, I doubt very much that it is the failure of the extremists to distinguish between fruit flies and monkeys that is blocking Dr. Hansen from succeeding with his agenda.
Personally, I would rather credit the US public with a bit more depth of view. These decisions to use animals in research are not simple. There really are benefits from the science that accrue to the public..in the immediate and the longer term perspectives. People understand this. Assertions that we can do it by unspecified “computer models” or “alternative methods” that have not been established or even well described by the critics ring hollow because that is what they are…hollow assertions. I credit the public with being able to discern this. I also credit the public with a healthy skepticism. Not just of the conduct of animal research but of the arguments of a lunatic fringe of extremists who are clearly motivated to further their theological, personal-preference agenda by any means necessary- i.e., by lying, intimidating and violently attacking.
I would also credit the US public with a great deal of humanity. Of empathy for other humans who suffer from diseases and health conditions that we have not yet fully addressed and have a very good chance of ameliorating or curing with additional scientific studies. The extremists, like Dr. Hansen, wish to condemn other people to the status quo. Additional research on the behalf of people who suffer from uncured afflictions is not important to them, relative to the use of purpose-bred laboratory animals under humane and well regulated conditions to solve these afflictions.
This, Dr. Hansen, is what keeps you from making more progress with your agenda. Not the actions of a lunatic fringe, but rather the fundamental inhumanity and lack of empathy for sick humans that is at the heart of your personal-preference agenda. Advancing scientific understanding at the pace of what can be gleaned from people who die of natural causes may be enough for some scientists**, but it is not enough. Not even close.
I encourage my readers to make their comments at the CHE site as well as here.
__
*Hansen made a crack about researchers being “wedded” to their research models and therefore being conflicted about “cost benefit analysis” of using cats, dogs or monkeys in his CHE bit. Read this for context on how individual this decision really is.
**and really, a pathologist who is “wedded” to science based only on people who die of natural causes bringing this up is….precious. It sure would raise the standing of pathologists in the pantheon of science if all experimental work on animal subjects was prevented, wouldn’t it? If this criticism doesn’t fit you Dr. Hansen, then you should be ashamed to direct it against others.

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21 Responses to “Animals in Research: Groupthink?”

  1. darwinsdog Says:

    Dr. Hansen is an animal rights extremist..
    Why “extremist”? Why not “advocate” or “supporter”? Your choice of terms reveals your bias.

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  2. DrugMonkey Says:

    Your choice of terms reveals your bias
    and what “bias” is being “revealed”, exactly? I have written entries several times on the topic of the use of animals in research. My positions are fairly clear, I would think.

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  3. darwinsdog Says:

    and what “bias” is being “revealed”, exactly?

    The bias in favor of the employment of non-human animals as experimental subjects in biomedical research, apparently.

    I have written entries several times on the topic of the use of animals in research. My positions are fairly clear, I would think.

    Perhaps so, DM, but you can’t expect every random reader & commenter on your blog post to know this. I began reading your post and only got to line three before encountering: “Dr. Hansen is an animal rights extremist..” (my emphasis) and right there gave up on the prospect of meeting with any objectivity regarding the topic.

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  4. becca Says:

    In nearly every movement, there are those that would make the perfect the enemy of the good. Hansen’s criticism of PETA on these grounds is spot on.
    And I’d like to believe that even you, drugmonkey, see something wrong with some of the examples of animal use that exist out there. In factory farming and cosmetics, if not properly-regulated US medical research.
    We all have arbitrary and “highly theologically driven, personal-preference agendas”. YOUR line, DM, is that humans only get special preference. Hansen’s line is that humans, primates, cats and dogs get that preference. PETA’s line is that animals get that preference. Only the fruitatarian Jainists are pure (and them only in intent, not practice. I still think they get points for trying).

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  5. DrugMonkey Says:

    Interesting. And why are you able to conclude that you will meet with any different degree of “objectivity” because I refer to him as an extremist?
    I seem to recall your ‘nym from round these parts before, and I make my job category pretty clear right up there in the sidebar. So what, exactly, are you expecting in terms of “objectivity”? Or are you simply making irrelevant, distracting and indeed trivial, observations about motivations to avoid engaging in substance? After all, if you are so willing to “give up”, then why do you feel compelled to comment?
    The bias in favor of the employment of non-human animals as experimental subjects in biomedical research, apparently.
    That is a startling revelation for someone who describes himself as being involved in biomedical research, is it?

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  6. DrugMonkey Says:

    I’d like to believe that even you, drugmonkey, see something wrong with some of the examples of animal use that exist out there.
    Of course. The questions are in two categories- in the smaller scale, do we toss the whole enterprise because it is not perfect? Do we expect an approximation of perfection that is really not possible and amounts to a de facto ban?
    In the larger scale- who gets to decide, and by what process in a democratic society. It is kind of like the recent teabagger phenomenon- calling themselves the Tea Party runs right over the fundamental difference between not having a voice, at all, and having your position be outvoted. Those teabaggers that called for “2nd Amendment solutions” should they lose the vote were patently absurd right? The were following the exact same logic as those disgruntled that the general public does not share their extremist, illogical views on the use of animals in medical research.
    We all have arbitrary and “highly theologically driven, personal-preference agendas”.
    Yes we do. Not all of us admit to this, nor do we all draw a nice sharp line between where we get into personal preferences and where there are objective reality/fact based discussions to be had. That is the gap into which I leap on the blog, as you well know. My desire is to pare back all the lies, mischaracterization, convenient disingenuous rationales and the like so we can get down to the real points. Animal research is well regulated, exceptionally meticulous in many regards and has as explicit oversight goals the reduction of pain and suffering. It also has clear upside goals of advancing knowledge in ways that benefit humans. Goals that are proven to be attainable this way and by no other way, short of fantasy about “computer models”.
    The real argument is about “is it worth it”. And yet the animal rights extremist (and not so extremist) strategy is *only* to pursue the lies about the actual conduct of research, the chances that alternatives will work and the value of the information generated. Not to mention the strategy of abusing the available evidence on topics such as cognitive capacity, “sentience”, ability to detect pain and whether this is affectively similar to humans, etc.
    Why is this? I would submit to you that it is because those who wish to stop animal research know full well that if we leave the debate to honest discussion, without sensationalizing errors or miscues, without reaching back to practices long discontinued and move forward with honest assessment of how we reach the goals….they lose in the court of public opinion. every time.

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  7. darwinsdog Says:

    Never mind, DM.

    45 My first time here, and my last. No intelligent life found.
    Posted by: Don | October 23, 2010 12:26 AM

    Concurred.

    Like

  8. Galwayskeptic Says:

    I wonder would many of these activists would refuse treatment for cancer or Parkinson’s should that land on their doorstep? The biggest breakthroughs in combating these, and many other, illnesses have come about through animal research. Their ignorance is stunning in this regard.

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  9. theshortearedowl Says:

    Awww… But this grey area stuff is so hard.
    In a perfect world we would not experiment on animals. In a perfect world, people would not get sick. We don’t live in a perfect world. We have to choose; but the choice doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Extreme ideological positions (no animal research is acceptable / animal suffering is irrelevant) just don’t address the real world issues.

    Like

  10. Anon Says:

    The nutjobs always hate on basic vision research for some reason. Perhaps they would volunteer to be blinded ? Just so they can convince us the work isn’t needed since blindness is no big deal

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  11. Calli Arcale Says:

    It may well be that a Gandhi-like respect for all animal life represents the ultimate in human ethical evolution, but until that “consummation devoutly to be wished” is realized, apes and monkeys and dogs and cats are being confined, vivisected, and killed while animal advocates are ignored as a lunatic fringe.
    What an interesting choice of Shakespeare quote there. I have to wonder if he really realized what he was quoting, because the phrase actually refers to suicide (more specifically, suicide without an afterlife). If we assume he actually read and understood the best-known speech in all of “Hamlet” (and, arguably, all of Shakespeare), then he’s saying that to achieve the ultimate of respect for animals, we would all have to die. More likely, he just liked the sound of it.
    The quote in context:
    To die: to sleep;
    No more; and by a sleep to say we end
    The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish’d.

    Like

  12. Grumble Says:

    For me, the discussion is almost moot. It’s hard for this practicing vivisectionist to get funds to support said practice, and all signs point to even more NIH cuts by the newly empowered Republicans in Congress. It might might get so bad I’ll have to give up animal research entirely.
    How ironic that it’s the Republicans who are handing this small victory to the ultra-left wing animal rights whackos.

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  13. Raging Bee Says:

    My first time here, and my last. No intelligent life found.
    Coming AFTER both a long and detailed original post (and yes, DM’s reasons for using the word “extremist” are indeed laid out in detail); and another long and detailed comment; darwinsdog’s brush-off — which he had to copy from someone else! — is just plain laughable.

    Like

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Well, I think it’s certainly the case that almost every American agrees:
    human life > primate life > murine life > dipteran life.
    Is this even controversial? Or are there really some researchers that think there is no moral difference between a fruit fly and a primate? None that I know personally…

    Like

  15. Joe Says:

    I have to agree partly with the nut on this one. The public does not care if you kill thousands of fruit flies or zebra fish. As long as you are not causing extreme pain to the animals, the public probably doesn’t care if you kill tens or hundreds of mice or rats. But the public does care if you cause pain to dogs or cats or monkeys.
    You may remember the PETTY (people for the ethical treatment of tiny yeasts) ad that ran in Science or Nature in the late 80’s, making fun of the nuttiness of the animal rights people.
    The animal rights advocates will win more converts if they stick to arguing for the cute, cuddly, and familiar animals.
    However, you make a great point about the people being compassionate for their fellow humans with diseases. If convinced that the experiments would save the lives or quality of life for their family members or friends, I think most would support the use of even primates for research.
    Those doing the research need to get the word out about the extensive regulations and required procedures for animal use. Too bad the public does not see the protocols and hear the discussions at IACUC meetings.

    Like

  16. Alex Says:

    The benefits that accrue to humans are irrelevant. We would never use this argument to forcibly experiment on other humans, would we? We all acknowledge that the gains that would accrue to “humanity” would simply not justify it. Is it so difficult to apply this reasoning to our relations with animals, which suffer equally – and which possess the same desires as humans not to experience torture, violent death, and enslavement.

    Like

  17. Jody Says:

    I’ve never quite gotten the absolutist notion that non-human animals have a 1:1 correlation with people. They don’t.
    At the most practical level, animal research — safe, ethical, reviewed — has the ability to make life better not just for people but for animals as well. Humans cure diseases in humans and animals. The same thing doesn’t happen in reverse.

    Like

  18. DrugMonkey Says:

    no animal research is acceptable / animal suffering is irrelevant
    I’m not entirely sure how you meant this but I would point out that we should be cautious about how we frame the “sides” on these discussions and how we view the notion of compromise and “moving toward the middle” of a discussion. The public version of the debate credits, in my view, the side in support of animal research far, far too little in terms of how the extreme “dominion over the animals” position fails to gain influence.
    I had an observation on this before.

    Like

  19. Jon H Says:

    “The benefits that accrue to humans are irrelevant.’
    How about benefits that accrue to animals?
    Where do you think veterinary medical techniques come from?

    Like

  20. theshortearedowl Says:

    I would point out that we should be cautious about how we frame the “sides” on these discussions and how we view the notion of compromise and “moving toward the middle” of a discussion.

    Yes, point taken. I think I was more trying to illustrate how absurd the extremist animal rights point of view is by pointing out that its logical equivalent is that we should be able to do whatever we want to animals.
    And I don’t necessarily see the middle ground and compromise as equivalent. More that the most morally acceptable position would take into account both the suffering caused to animals by research and the suffering caused to humans by impeding that research. Maybe that is compromise. Meh. I told you this grey area stuff was hard.

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  21. Raging Bee Says:

    The benefits that accrue to humans are irrelevant.
    Not to the humans who benefit.

    Like


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