New Internationalist

The costs and benefits of animal experiments

That the human body is a machine, albeit an incredibly complex one, is the striking claim made by Laurie Pycroft, the advocate of animal experimentation in the Argument in the current issue of New Internationalist.

Of course neither animals nor people are simply machines. Thinking that they are reveals a fundamental failure to appreciate their other qualities, such as their capacity for emotion, or ability to engage in genuine social relationships.

More disturbingly, such a claim reveals a degree of moral blindness. Machines have no moral standing. Living creatures do. In particular, unlike machines, both laboratory animals and people have the ability to suffer when afflicted by diseases, or when subjected to laboratory environments or procedures.

A utilitarian moral case based on ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ might still be made for experimenting on animals, if it were truly the case that such research yielded tangible advancements in human healthcare. A parallel case could be made for experimenting on people to help a greater number of others. However, most people consider such practices morally abhorrent. Yet animal researchers and their advocates use a similar argument to justify invasive experiments on animals.

In order for this argument to hold, the moral standing of animals must be significantly less than that of people. When animals are seriously harmed or killed for relatively trivial human benefit, such as cosmetics testing or the satisfaction of scientific curiosity, the moral standing of animals must be thought extremely small. In 2011 Judith Benz-Schwarzburg and I reviewed in detail the scientific evidence for the existence of cognitive and related abilities in animals1. There is ample scientific evidence from this study and others demonstrating that many animals – including virtually all laboratory animals - have sufficient psychological characteristics to justify their inclusion within the community of moral consideration. This implies that many of the ways we use such animals, including subjecting them to involuntary confinement and participation in potentially harmful biomedical research, are wrong.

Additionally, the usefulness of invasive animal experiments is controversial. Some scientists claim these are essential for combating major human diseases or detecting human toxins. Others claim the contrary, pointing to the thousands of patients harmed by pharmaceuticals developed using animal tests. Similarly, some claim that all experiments are conducted humanely, to high scientific standards. Yet, a wealth of studies have recently revealed that laboratory animals suffer significant stress, which may also distort experimental results. Where, then, does the truth lie? How useful are such experiments in advancing human healthcare? How much do animals suffer as a result?

In The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments I provide more than a decade’s worth of scientific research, personal experience, and an analysis of over 500 scientific publications, to give evidence-based answers to the key question: are animal experiments ethically justifiable? Systematic reviews examine large numbers of animal experiments selected randomly to eliminate bias. They represent the ‘gold standard’ when assessing biomedical research. In only two of 20 reviews located did the authors conclude that animal models were either significantly useful in contributing to the development of human clinical interventions, or substantially consistent with clinical outcomes. Furthermore, one of these conclusions was contentious. Seven additional reviews also failed to demonstrate reliable predictivity of human toxicities such as carcinogenicity and teratogenicity, and no reviews demonstrated contrary results. Results in animal models were frequently equivocal or inconsistent with human outcomes.

When considering overall costs and benefits one cannot reasonably conclude that the benefits which accrue to human patients or to those motivated by scientific curiosity exceed the costs incurred by animals subjected to scientific procedures. On the contrary, the evidence indicates that actual human benefit is rarely – if ever – sufficient to justify such costs.

According due respect to animal interests does not require the termination of all animal research, however. Such research ranges from field studies of wild populations, through non-invasive behavioural or psychological studies of sanctuary or laboratory populations, to mildly harmful invasive experimentation, more harmful experimentation, and, finally, protocols resulting in major harm or death. Ethical concerns are minimised in non-invasive observational, behavioural, or psychological studies of free-living or sanctuary populations.

Limiting animal research in this way would inevitably restrict the range of scientific questions that could be investigated. It would, however, strike the correct ethical balance between satisfying the interests of animals, and satisfying those of human beings, none of whom may be considered merely ‘machines’.

[1] Benz-Schwarzburg J & Knight A. ‘Cognitive relatives yet moral strangers?’, J Anim Ethics 2011; 1(1): 9-36.

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  1. #1 Tom Ash 07 Jul 11

    Are there some types of research whose benefits you think might outweigh the costs, at least on some plausible estimate of the animal suffering involved?

  2. #2 Andrew Knight 07 Jul 11

    Yes Tom. An obvious example is the experimental treatment of genuine animal patients. When animals are suffering severely, current treatments are ineffective, and there are good reasons to believe an experimental treatment may help the patient, such an experiment – for experiment it clearly is - is ethically justifiable.

    A parallel situation occasionally occurs in human medicine. In this case informed consent is given, and when the condition of the patient makes this impossible, the consent of their family or partners may be sought instead. In the case of animals, the informed consent of a guardian – usually, the animal’s owner – is also normally sought.

    This system is not perfect of course, but it does represent the best ethical solution available in the real world, to a distressing problem that does occur in the real – and certainly in the world in which my colleagues and I practice veterinary medicine.

  3. #3 damnit 08 Jul 11

    Surely in this technological age experiments using animals is no longer necessary. I've heard that computer simulations work just as well or better. Free these animals from a life of hell that they never volunteered for.

  4. #4 Tom Ash 08 Jul 11

    Thanks Andrew, I suppose that's the clearest case where experiments are worthwhile. What I was particularly curious about where the most marginal plausible cases - what would you say those are?

  5. #5 Lyndab 08 Jul 11

    I find it hard to justify the intentional suffering (torture) of any animal capable of feelings and emotions. It is such an emotive issue as the case put forward for animal experimentation leads us to believe that many life-saving medications, therapies, treatments, etc, would not be available were it not for animal experimentation (torture). If these 'treatments' weren't available we would be none the wiser. I really can't see why another species must suffer for our advancement. As for animal testing for cosmetic products, I firmly and wholeheartedly believe this testing should not occur - ever!

  6. #6 Andrew Knight 09 Jul 11

    Well Tom, virtually all laboratory animals have the capacity to experience significant stress and suffering, when confined in laboratory environments, and when subjected to both routine and more invasive scientific procedures. We know this from research findings about the cognitive and related capacities of animals, and from experimental data revealing significant stress in animals housed in laboratory environments, and subjected to a wide range of procedures.

    If we wish to behave ethically, then I don't think we may knowingly inflict serious harm on others, without their consent. Unless, perhaps, such actions are the only possible way to avoid even greater harm to others. While not ideal, such a choice is at least morally excusable.

    Such a moral excuse might apply to animal experiments, if they truly saved human lives. However, nearly all of the large-scale systematic reviews of animal models have revealed a lack of human clinical or toxicological utility. Such research may certainly satisfy scientific curiosity, or may have other applications, but it is very hard to justify morally, given its costs to the animals used. Furthermore, such experiments are far from the only possible way to try to improve human healthcare.

    A rapidly growing range of alternative research methodologies are being developed, for example. Additionally, as a society, we invest far too little in preventative healthcare, although it is easily the most efficient means of advancing human health. Instead of taking responsibility for our own lifestyle choices, far too often we prefer to live unhealthy lives, and to seek cures by harming animals who bear no responsibility for our illnesses. In doing so we not only harm animals, but also diminish ourselves morally.

  7. #7 Janet 10 Jul 11

    I quote Dr Henry J Bigelow, Professor of Surgery, Harvard University, 1849-82 ’There will come a time when the world will look back on vivisection in the name of science, as they do now to burning at the stake in the name of religion.’ and Dr GF Walker, Medical World, Dec 1933 ’..the study of human physiology by way of experiments on animals is the most grotesque and fantastic error ever committed in the whole range of human intellectual activity.’ and Dr H Stiller and Dr M Stiller, Tierversuch und Tierexperimentator, Munich 1976 ’..’all animal experiments are scientifically indefensible, as they lack any scientific validity and reliability in regard to humans. They only serve as an alibi for the drug manufacturers, who hope to protect themselves thereby.’ I could quote thousands more, from Ghandi to Einstein. Virtually every great mind throughout history has seen that animal experiments are not only cruel but unproductive in the extreme.

  8. #8 John_ 10 Jul 11

    I think you are right that a lot of toxicology and outcome based animal research provides relatively little output that is directly translatable to humans in comparison to the number of experiments performed. However as we begin to understand the fundamental biology of protein function behind the way drugs are metabolised and affect different processes in animals, this will help to us understand how those proteins function in human physiology and pathophysiology. So, just because animal experiments show that in many ways humans and animals can have very different responses to a drug, for example, this can still provide information that will help us understand how a particular aspect of cell biology functions, and can inform many diverse areas of research. This is even more so with mechanism based research. Indeed many of the big advances in medicine where provided by mechanism based research, Laurie gives a few examples, Banting and Best's research on diabetes by performing surgery on dogs is another good example, research which saved helped to saves the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Furthermore most of the systematic reviews do not include mechanism based research because of the difficulties in performing meta-analysiss on this type of data.

    This is not to justify all animal research, and certainly a lot of animal research can be improved upon by using better practices that will help to enhance research quality (e.g. randomisation, blinding, and standardisation of techniques) and reduce the use of animals by performing power analysis to calculate the best number of animals to be used in an experiment. All of which will enable more systematic reviews to be performed to show which animals are best models for different diseases, reduce repetition of experiments, and increase the likelihood that animal research will translate in to treatments for human disease.

  9. #9 John_ 10 Jul 11

    ’Of course neither animals nor people are simply machines. Thinking that they are reveals a fundamental failure to appreciate their other qualities, such as their capacity for emotion, or ability to engage in genuine social relationships..... More disturbingly, such a claim reveals a degree of moral blindness. Machines have no moral standing. Living creatures do.’

    Your argument here is this...

    1) Machines have no moral standing.
    2) Living creatures do have moral standing

    Therefore living creatures are not machines.

    I expect that Laurie and most animal research scientists would deny the first premise. And indeed you give no justification why it should be true. As you state, one can value living creatures for their capacity for emotion, or ability to engage in genuine social relationships. Why then could we not also value machines for those same reasons? You might argue that a machine could never have a capacity for emotion or engage in social relationships, which is a whole other argument. But then the person thinking that humans and animals are complex machines and do have these abilities would not have any moral blindness, but would be instead mistaken about the ability of machines to have moral standing. I can therefore only assume that your above argument is an attempt to characterise animal researchers as some type of stereotyped psychopathic scientists, cold and emotionless. Cheap.

    All animals including humans are machines, complex but with many evoltionarily conserved similarites. Animal research is still in its infancy but by doing this research even if does not lead directly translate into treatments of human disease, greatly enhances our understanding of fundamental biological processess which will provide immeasurable insight into human disease in the future.
    Should non human animals be considered persons that are protected from being used for animal experimentation? Do animals have conscious experience? It has been suggested that metacognition, the ability to self reflect on one’s own cognitive and memory processes to inform behaviour, is a measure of consciousness (Metamemory as evidence of animal consciousness:the type that does the trick DOI: 10.1007/s10539-009-9171-0). However while many people have claimed animals do have metacognition, alternate explanations put this in doubt, suggesting that animals’ apparent metacognitive abilities can be explained in first order thought terms( Meta-cognition in Animals: A Skeptical Look DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2007.00329.x). I can’t get access to your article that evaluates the evidence that non human animals should be considered persons, but the evidence I have seen seems pretty inconclusive. Many animals do have some behaviours which could be considered intelligent, even drosophila can be informed by the behaviour of other flies in selecting a mate(Social Interactions in ‘‘Simple’’ Model Systems DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.03.007) , but does this mean they have a theory of mind? Or is it an evolutionary hardwired unconscious response? We do know however that humans definitely are conscious, and until there is evidence that animals have conscious experience equivalent to humans, animals should not be considered persons.

  10. #10 Giedre 11 Jul 11

    The human arrogance and self-proclaimed superiority over all other living creatures is as infinite as the universe itself. The human ability to inflict pain and suffering on everyone and everything else, including our own species, is, apparently, unstoppable.

    Thanks for this dose of humane thinking, Andrew.

  11. #11 rich d. 12 Jul 11

    @John 10 Jul 11 -
    I don't think that it was Dr Knight's intention at all to characterise animal researchers as ’psychopathic scientists’, and that in itself is a cheap shot. Dr Knight was simply pointing out that because the ordinary definition of a machine is something that knows not what it is or that it is (no different, therefore, to a rock) then characterising a living, sentient, sapient being as such is a strategy that permits us to eliminate moral consideration towards such a being. That, in and of itself, is unhelpful in evaluating the moral reasonableness of animal-based scientific research.

    You state that ’Many animals do have some behaviours which could be considered intelligent’ whereas I would suggest that all animals demonstrate behaviours that can only reasonably and honestly be interpreted as intelligent, in that such behaviours are concerned with their survival strategies in the environment in which they find themselves.

    You question whether ’animals have conscious experience’ wheraas it seems highly unlikely that any animal with a brain and nervous system to evaluate data arising from the animal's relationship with his or her environment is not conscious. Why bother developing a brain system if the being cannot respond knowingly to the external environment? All animals are conscious.

    The problem arises because of the additional point you raise that ’until there is evidence that animals have conscious experience equivalent to humans, animals should not be considered persons.’

    Why should (non-human) animals exhibit characteristics that are equivalent to human characteristics before they can be regarded morally? Why are only human conscious experiences to be regarded as morally relevant? Surely if a being is capable of experiencing pain, suffering, fear, happiness, joy and so on (the usual gamut of emotional and psychological experiences) then that is sufficient for such a being's moral interests to be taken seriously? Why does such an experience have to be ’humanlike’?

    The statement you make puts an unnecessary (and unreasonable) burden on non-human animals and makes it impossible for them to ever be able to fulfil such a criterion. It will always be the case that the non-human will fail the test that you set him or her. In previous years, it was self-recognition in a mirror that was the defining test for non-humans to fulfill ... and then they did it. Then it was tool use, then it was numerical ability, then it was symbolic language ... and so on, and so on. The bar will always be raised, the rules will ever be changed, to ensure that non-humans - over whom we have absolute control - can never succeed in meeting the expectations we set them. Because we set the test. We set the rules. If they happen, unexpectedly, to succeed then we change the rules so that they fail again.

    No-one suggests that non-humans *are* humans (by definition they are not) and so the cognitive abilities they exhibit will never be sufficiently ’humanlike’ to satisfy the demands you place upon them. But that is an entirely spurious test to set them and is deliberately rigged to cause them to fail. You may as well ask a whale to exhibit sufficiently primate-like characteristics in the manipulation of tools using an opposable thumb before he or she could be morally regarded. The whale will always fail. The animals in our laboratories will always fail. How ’humanlike’ is humanlike? How advanced would be sufficiently advanced? And why is cognitive ability relevant anyway? We do not evaluate the cognitive abilities of humans to work out whether they are morally relevant. There are many humans who, for a variety of reasons (injury, disability, congenital ’deformity’), exhibit poor cognition and whose ’conscious experiences’ are very limited indeed - can we experiment on such humans? If not, why not? I thought that the level of conscious experience was the only yardstick that was relevant? If it isn't, then using such a test for non-humans only (who, by definition, will always fail the test) is simple speciesism and the expression of a ’might makes right’ attitude that is demonstrably morally untenable.

    Just because we are more powerful than the non-humans confined in our laboratories, and just because we can commit deliberately fatal experiments upon them, does not mean that we ought to do so. It is the capacity for suffering that is regarded as most morally relevant, and there is no doubt of any kind regarding the capacity to suffer of all members of all species confined in our laboratories.

    If we can allow a being to live free from the deliberate infliction of suffering, pain and death then - morally - we should allow that being to live free rom the deliberate infliction of suffering, pain and death.

  12. #12 Louise 12 Jul 11

    Andrew Knight says: ’Furthermore, such experiments are far from the only possible way to try to improve human healthcare’. He adds: ’A rapidly growing range of alternative research methodologies are being developed, for example’.

    Either Mr Knight believes that animals do NOT predict human response or he does believe they DO predict human response - he can't have it both ways. If they are NOT predictive, then why does he speak of ’such experiments as far from the only possible way to try to improve human health care’?

    Mr Knight's above use of the word ’alternative’ is also muddled and - as a highly motivated campaigner - I shall try to explain why as follows:

    Firstly, I would highly recommend readers to the excellent book ’FAQs about the use of animals in science; a handbook for the scientifically perplexed’ by Drs Ray Greek MD and Niall Shanks PhD: http://www.afma-curedisease.org/books.html This makes invaluable reading for any campaigner who is serious about learning how to oppose vivisection effectively. This FAQs is easy to read, in a Q and A formula and can be dipped into and left off as and when the reader has time, or read through in one go! It is the layman's version of arguably the greatest science manual written to date, opposing animal biology as predictive for human response to medicines and disease: ’Animal Models In Light Of Evolution’ (2009) Drs Greek MD and Shanks PhD. ( http://www.afma-curedisease.org/books.html )

    An important distinction has become crystal clear to me after reading this FAQS book that concerns the use of the word ’ALTERNATIVE’ which - as we all know - means ’another possible route to the same destination’. It is important to appreciate that the use of the word ’alternative’ by Mr Knight and other anti vivisection campaigners actually implies VALIDITY, that we need ’alternative routes to the same destination’ provided by the animal model. NO WE DON'T! Evolutionary biology PROVES why animal models can NEVER be predictive for human response to medicines and disease. Why on earth would we want an alternative to this?(Please see the FAQS book, above, for more). Use of the word ’alternative’ also places a false emphasis on ethics - oh we need an alternative to be nice to animals. If we want to be nice to animals we don't need ’alternatives’ to them being the subjects of horrific experiments. We need these experiments to be dropped YESTERDAY, before they continue to delay medicines such as penicillin, which was withheld for over a decade as it has no effect on a rabbit!

    Surely the time has come for this word ’alternative’ to be DROPPED from the vocab of anti vivisection campaigners. I cannot recommend the above mentioned FAQS book enough - it is the clearest and most helpful book - co-authored by a human medical doctor - that I have ever read. I highly recommend readers to buy it, to study the AFMA website (also above) which will give you the very necessary sharp focus needed to campaign against people who lock up animals and experiment on them, for money.

    Thank you for reading this!

  13. #13 Sarah Shaw 13 Jul 11

    Animal experiments are pseudo-science and exist only becauswe the vivisection industry (that's right, industry) is a multi-billion pound concern.

    I'm very glad that increasing numbers of scientists and health professionals are now daring to speak out against this shameful waste of resources, not to mention the lives of the animals unfortunate enough to be bred for this.

    There are so many research and test methos in existence that are far more reliable, accurate, and in many cases quicker and cheaper at producing results that are really applicable to humans.

    I would urge anyone interested enough to be reading this article and posts to do further research themselves. May I suggest, for a start, www.siav.org, www.afma-curedisease.org and www.www.vivisectioninformation.com to find out more about the scientific failings of animal experiments, and how we can really move medicine forward.

  14. #14 Andrew Knight 15 Jul 11

    Another website that might be of interest is www.AnimalExperiments.info. It includes published systematic reviews that investigate the human clinical or toxicological usefulness of animal studies – i.e., their contributions to human healthcare. They typically examine large numbers of animal studies that have been randomly from the published biomedical literature. They provide the most reliable level of evidence about this issue.

    Published reviews of alternative research strategies are also included, as are relevant governmental reports, particularly of laboratory animal numbers.

  15. #15 Jasmijn 15 Jul 11

    The studies Andrew Knight has authored are truly groundbreaking as they demonstrate that we rely too heavily on data from animal studies in toxicity and safety testing and clinical research in informing human-based policy and developing clinical advancements. The animal models have, for too long, been seen as the gold standard, yet have never been validated themselves. The poor predictivity for humans of animal models is a sign that these models would probably not pass validation tests themselves, because even though animal models may detect toxins (sensitivity), the specificity is quite poor (the tests fail to detect non-toxins).

    Wrongly assuming animals are sufficiently similar to humans was already highlighted by Russell and Burch (who developed the concept of a humane experimental technique and described replacement, reduction and refinement strategies to animal use) in 1959 as the 'high fidelity fallacy'. Just because the response in two systems (animal and human) is similar, that doesn't mean the mechanism is the same. Most toxicologists are aware of the shortcomings of animal models, particularly with regard to topical toxicity, such as the use of the skin, for which several validated alternative models such as reconstructed human epidermis (skin) have been accepted by regulatory authorities such as the OECD. We need to develop, validate and implement more human-based and in silico (computer-based simulations and modelling of compounds) models which are more relevant to human-based toxicity and medicine.

    Rich d's argument is also excellent - thank you for this clear explanation!

  16. #16 John_ 15 Jul 11

    Hi rich d

    You write
    “Why bother developing a brain system if the being cannot respond knowingly to the external environment?”

    One can respond to the external environment without being conscious of it. Consider your own experience, we do many complex motor functions, eg running, all the time without being conscious of the minute changes in posture that allow us to maintain balance. We developed the cerebellum for exactly this function. Similar unconscious processing of sensory information happens in other sensory systems. It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that much of an animal’s behaviour could be driven by this unconscious processing.

    “Surely if a being is capable of experiencing pain, suffering, fear, happiness, joy and so on (the usual gamut of emotional and psychological experiences) then that is sufficient for such a being's moral interests to be taken seriously? Why does such an experience have to be ’humanlike’?....The animals in our laboratories will always fail. How ’humanlike’ is humanlike? How advanced would be sufficiently advanced? And why is cognitive ability relevant anyway?”

    It does not have to be humanlike as such, however, how can you say an animal is experiencing suffering without some way of knowing if it is conscious? If it is conscious then it will be human like, based solely on the fact we know we are conscious, however it is not because they are human like. Suffering can only be called such if it is a conscious experience. That is why the degree of an animal’s consciousness is important from a utilitarian point of view. And because we do know humans have conscious experience, a non-human’s experience will always be in comparison to that from a utilitarian perspective.

    “There are many humans who, for a variety of reasons (injury, disability, congenital ’deformity’), exhibit poor cognition and whose ’conscious experiences’ are very limited indeed - can we experiment on such humans? If not, why not?”

    All humans have the potential defined by our genetics to be able to have a high quality of conscious experiences. In humans that are cognitively impaired, we do not know how their impairment affects this conscious experience, e.g. locked in syndrome, nor do we know that they will achieve their cognitive potential through development of medicines in the future. No other species have the cognitive potential that humans do.

    “In previous years, it was self-recognition in a mirror that was the defining test for non-humans to fulfill ... and then they did it. Then it was tool use, then it was numerical ability, then it was symbolic language ... and so on, and so on. The bar will always be raised, the rules will ever be changed, to ensure that non-humans - over whom we have absolute control - can never succeed in meeting the expectations we set them. Because we set the test. We set the rules. If they happen, unexpectedly, to succeed then we change the rules so that they fail again.”

    All the abilities you mention are important characteristics that go towards showing that animals have conscious experience to some extent. I never meant to imply that consciousness is the sole domain of humans, but they do not show that they have the high degree of conscious experience such as humans have, which would be required for personhood and having all the same rights as humans. By looking at the qualities you mention, it can be shown that there is continuum in animal’s conscious experience. It is only obvious that animals will never be recognised as having the same cognitive abilities that humans do simply because they do not. However they do have some level of consciousness, and that should certainly inform of behaviour towards animals. Because we can never know exactly what it’s like to be a rat or mouse, the judging of on animals suffering and what degree of consciousness they possess in comparison to that of a humans will always be somewhat subjective. However in regards to the ethics of animal research, a decision either way will produces suffering, we have to make a choice about which is the lesser suffering.
    I agree that to many people our relationship with animals is defined by a” might is right” as opposed utilitarian attitude. For example I think the biggest affront to utilitarianism is the eating of meat. The suffering of animals, the quality of which is highlighted by the cognitive abilities you mention, has much more value than the happiness some humans get by eating meat. The bar is this case is not is not lowered, animals should not because suffering for merely our enjoyment. However if we do not do animal experiments to advance in understanding of biology, medicine will be impaired, resulting in human suffering which could have been prevented.

    “no different, therefore, to a rock”
    If considering a human or animals worth as no different to a rock is not a definition of psychopathy, ie an abnormal lack of empathy, i have no idea what is.

  17. #17 Andrew Knight 16 Jul 11

    John’s argument rests on the assumption that “if we do not do animal experiments to advance in understanding of biology, medicine will be impaired, resulting in human suffering which could have been prevented.”

    If this were true then it would be a powerful utilitarian argument. And indeed, precisely such a claim is often made by advocates of animal experimentation.

    However, recently other investigators and I have begun to test this claim, by conducting large-scale systematic reviews of the human clinical or toxicological utility of animal experiments that have been published in the scientific literature. To eliminate bias, the experiments selected for study have been chosen randomly or using other methodical and impartial means.

    At least 27 such reviews have now been completed and published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and are described in detail in my new book, ‘The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments’ and elsewhere. Their results are remarkably consistent. Animals are not sufficiently predictive of human outcomes to provide substantial benefits during the development of human clinical interventions, or the prediction of human toxicity.

    This does not mean that animal experimentation can never advance human healthcare, but it does mean that it is a highly inefficient research strategy for accomplishing this goal. The social costs of this research strategy in financial terms alone are enormous. Those funds are consequently unable to assist human patients in other ways. This is one obvious way in which humans may suffer as a result of animal research. Adverse reactions to products previously tested as ‘safe’ in animals is another. Numerous studies from multiple countries have shown that adverse drug reactions are a leading cause of death, and substantially contribute to social healthcare costs.

    Of course experimenting on animals does advance scientific knowledge. But the satisfaction of scientific curiosity is an insufficient moral justification for causing suffering and premature death to sentient creatures – which virtually all laboratory animals are. A utilitarian moral argument may be made for causing such suffering if human healthcare is substantially advanced by doing so; however, the evidence indicates quite clearly that this is rarely, if ever, the case.

  18. #18 John_ 16 Jul 11

    Hi Andrew, you wrte

    ’At least 27 such reviews have now been completed and published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and are described in detail in my new book, ‘The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments’ and elsewhere. Their results are remarkably consistent. Animals are not sufficiently predictive of human outcomes to provide substantial benefits during the development of human clinical interventions, or the prediction of human toxicity.’

    While agree with you about toxicology, from the reviews I have read, that I think you are talking about, they all analyse the likelihood that the results of animal experiments are repeated in human clinical experiments. This is admittedly very low. But that says nothing about the dependence of clinical studies on animal research. I would contend that clinical research is dependant on decades of basic research defining the underlying biology of many disease, identifying the molecular mechanisms of disease. Case studies such as that mentioned by Laurie show this to be true, yet no reply is ever heard regarding these case studies from animal research. Without animal research we would not have isolated insulin for the treatment of diabetes. Without animal research on the squid by Hodgkin and Huxley we would not have the understanding of neuronal function that we do. These studies are vital for the forming of hypotheses to be tested in the clinic. The fact that a lot of animal research is not validated in humans, firstly helps to further understand the underlying biology, and secondly gives no thought to the possibility that without this research, many clinical studies would not have been even considered.

  19. #19 CatC 20 Jul 11

    Why we need to stop squandering vital resources and end vivisection -

    All species - insects, plants, humans and other animals - follow the same design...they are all formed from the same DNA units (A, T, C, and G) and they are also assembled using the same process.

    All share the same genetic material - BUT it is the arrangement of this genetic material that makes ALL the difference.

    Species are defined by their genetic isolation - each species is defined by its reproductive isolation due to its unique genetic make-up...which is why rats are always rats etc etc.

    Even the results from humans cannot be scientifically/safely applied to all humans - because tiny, tiny genetic variations between individuals of the SAME species make all the difference.

    It is not the number of similarities that matters but the tiny, tiny differences between individuals of the same species.

  20. #20 Andrew Knight 21 Jul 11

    Hi John.

    I’m literally rushing off to a conference but would like to provide these quick clarifications on your comments:

    “from the reviews I have read, that I think you are talking about, they all analyse the likelihood that the results of animal experiments are repeated in human clinical experiments.”

    Some do, but many others do not. Many analyse the contributions of published animal studies to medical papers describing human clinical interventions. All 27 of these studies are reviewed in my book ‘The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments’.

    “I would contend that clinical research is dependant on decades of basic research defining the underlying biology of many disease,…”

    On the face of it, that does not seem unreasonable. However, basic research is a vast field, and much – probably most – of it does not result in useful applications, particularly for human medicine. It has no doubt assisted in some specific cases, particularly when far simpler questions were being asked in previous decades and centuries. However, we can only speculate about what might have resulted had our resources been spent pursuing different research strategies. Animal research is vastly expensive.

    Large-scale systematic reviews provide gold standard evidence about their contributions to human healthcare in recent times – overall, rather than in specific, possibly exceptional, cases. And what they tell us is that animal research rarely, if ever, contributes to human healthcare advancements any more. There is no doubt that it is an extremely inefficient research tool for pursuing this aim, and thousands of human patients have suffered and died due to the misleading results it sometimes yields.

    I regret my conference commitments will probably prevent my further participation in this debate, but I do encourage you to examine the evidence contained within ‘The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments’.

  21. #21 John_ 25 Jul 11

    ’Some do, but many others do not. Many analyse the contributions of published animal studies to medical papers describing human clinical interventions. All 27 of these studies are reviewed in my book ‘The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments’

    While i would very much like to read your book, it does cost more than £50, which is bit steep. The only study I have seen that comes close is ’1,026 experimental treatments in acute stroke’ by O’Collins VE et al. which says as you state in your article ’Systematic Reviews of Animal Experiments Demonstrate Poor Contributions to Human
    Healthcare’...


    ’that the effectiveness in animals of 114 drugs
    chosen for human clinical use was no greater than that of the remaining 912 drugs not chosen for clinical use, thereby demonstrating that effectiveness in animal models had no measurable effect on whether or not these drugs were selected for human clinical use.’

    However, this gives no weight to the possibility that without animal models and basic animal research we would have a dramatically reduced ability to identify the mechanisms underlying disease, and develop drugs that target those mechanisms, regardless of the fact that applied research did not have an impact of clinical studies in this case.

  22. #22 John_ 26 Jul 11

    Furthermore given you say in the article by you that I cite above, you say

    ’As of 1s t March 2007, 27 systematic reviews examining the contributions of animal experiments toward the development of human clinical interventions (20), or in deriving human toxicity classifications (seven), were located.’

    I assume its the same 27 reviews that you look at in your book. There is nothing in that article that addresses the points made in my above post.

  23. #23 rich d 27 Jul 11

    @John, apologies, I've been very busy with work and so have not been able to reply until you.

    Part 1
    ’If considering a human or animals worth as no different to a rock is not a definition of psychopathy, ie an abnormal lack of empathy, i have no idea what is.’

    Exactly! his of course has been the problem since the time of Descartes whereby the cutting up whilst alive (vivisection) of non-human animals was regarded as entirely unproblematic because the experimenters did not differentiate between these living beings and inanimate objects. For Descartes and his cohorts and for many experimenters since they disregard the reality of the pain and suffering endured by entirely sentient, sapient, pain-sensitive beings with wants and interests of their own, interests and wants that are above and beyond being mere tools to satisfy our curiosity.

    Your answers in your comments in this discussion repeatedly reference utility and utilitarianism as though this is the only relevent philosophical methodology and the only relevent process of evaluation as to whether the committal of a particular act (in this instance the deliberate fatal poisoning, mulitation or genetic manipulation of sentient beings) is morally reasonable. Utilitarianism in its various forms (whether Act or Rule or a hybrid combination thereof) is merely one branch of ethical philosophy, and by no means the most important or most relevant, or indeed most coherent. The problems with a utilitarian perspective are manifold and well-known (that a woman should allow herself to be gang-raped to satisfy the pleasures of ten men as against the displeasure of only one woman is but one obvious example) and the attempt to compare and measure the value of and interests of the many against the few is a seriously deficient mechanism for the evaluation of the moral reasonableness of an act. Just because many may (ie, its is conditional and not even guaranteed) benefit from what is done to a few is only an exaggeration of the might makes right principle - that because there's more saying ’yes’ this disallows the right of a smaller group to say ’no.’ The principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are fully non-utilitarian - non-conditional, inherent value is ascribed to all members of the human species and these rights cannot be abrogated even if many others may benefit from so doing (for example, holding some in slavery in one country that benefits the economy of another nation-state). Utilitarianism is one of the worst ethical philosophies that's ever been described ...

    You indicate that we (as humans) have some unconscious responses to our environment but go on to claim that non-humans have many unconscious responses to their environment. There is no evidence that non-human animals are more ’instinctive’ (that is, ’unconscious’) in their behaviours than are human animals - they have sense organs (in many cases, far more sensitive sense organs than humans) and a nervous system and brain system and their reactions to their environment are strikingly similar to human reactions. It is true that one can act instinctively, whether one is a human animal or non-human animal, but there is no evidence to indicate that humans are any more conscious than are non-humans (in the sense that the individual makes deliberate decisions about his or her engagement with their environment).

  24. #24 rich d 27 Jul 11

    @John, Part 2
    You state that ’we can never know exactly what it's like to be a rat of mouse’, which is true, but it's also true that I don't know exactly what it's like to be any other human being other than the one that I am. I don't know what it's like to be you, and vice versa. Humans, as we know, have dramatically different tolerance levels to external stimuli and the internal sensation of pain, and so even the ability to suffer and the human response to suffering varies wildly from human to human. I do not know what it feels like for a rider in the Tour de France cycling up those mountain stages - it looks impossibly painful and I don't think I would tolerate that level of pain and suffering, even with years of training. They suffer differently. But I do know that they suffer. I can tell by their physical and psychological reactions to what's happening to them, just as I can see that people suffered in the terrible events in Norway, or that Mitch Winehouse is suffering the desperate emotional pain of bereavement. I do not know and can never know what it is like to be Cadel Evans or Mitch Winehouse but it's pretty damned obvious to see when they're happy, when they're sad, when they're in pain, when they're suffering. The same is exactly equally true of non-human animals in our laboratories. No, we can't ever know exactly what it's like to be a rat or mouse, but that's beside the point. It's blindingly obvious when they're happy, when they're sad, when they're in pain and when they're suffering. And that is all that should matter. They can suffer; they do suffer. And we know so much now about the richness and complexity of their emotional and psychological lives (I refer you to the excellent studies of the ethologists Jonathan Balcombe or Mark Bekoff as but two detailed and comprehensive reports of the depth and breadth of the inner worlds of non-humans).

    Ultimately, selecting cognition as a criterion to decide whether we can, whether we should, conduct experiments upon non-humans is arbitrary and specious. It is no more a relevant characteristic of the individual than would be their skin or fur colour, or the colour of their eyes or the number of their feet. Why is cognition morally relevant? It isn't. Why is a ’high degree of conscious experience’ morally relevant? They can all suffer. They can all feel pain. The degree of consciousness (which as you rightly state is highly contentious anyway (so we should give them the benefit of the doubt surely?)) is morally irrelevant. One may as easily pick on some other characteristic and say (as people did in the past) that white skin colour in humans was preferable to black skin colour, and that black skin colour meant that one could treat individuals with that characteristic in a way that would not be tolerated if one had a different characteristic (for example, white skin colour) or one could easily pick on a characteristic such as intelligence (as people did in the past) and say that ’higher intelligence’ is ’better’ than ’lower intelligence’ and suggest that those of lower intelligence are less morally worthy. Hopefully, our society no longer believes that picking on such arbitrary characteristics is reasonable ... and now we should simply be philosophically and morally consistent and coherent and recognise that species characteristics are not determinants either of a being's moral worthiness ... if we wouldn't do it to a human animal then we shouldn't do it to a non-human animal...

  25. #25 Pat Rattigan 28 Jul 11

    Pharmaceutical drugs are made from petrochemicals : they are variations on plastic buckets, aircraft bodies, washing up liquid, weed killer .. They are not, under any circumstances, medicines and cannot be metabolised by an organic system, the human body.
    As they could not, possibly, pass any genuine safety and efficiency tests, with regard to human disease, they are tested on animals with artificially-induced symptoms.
    Everywhere in the world where this kind of nonsense dominates health care, the only thing more out of control than financial expenditure, is the incidence of chronic, degenerative and, above all, iatrogenic illness : a medically-induced plague : the USA is at number one position with regard to expenditure on allopathic treatment and disease.
    In the UK, the national disease money-pit will swallow £120 billion this year : the nation's health has deteriorated constantly and remorselessly since day-one of the ’NHS’ : all down to the actions and omissions of the medico-pharma-vivisection mafia.

  26. #26 John_ 31 Jul 11

    Hi Rich d

    Firstly, your arguments about vivisectionists disregarding the suffering of animals for the sake of curiosity “because the experimenters did not differentiate between these living beings and inanimate objects”, I answered previously and you did not address these arguments. All living and non living things are fundamentally the same in the sense that all things are made of atoms and chemicals interacting in a mechanistic way. This has no influence on one valuing suffering that is a characteristic of living beings as opposed to inanimate objects.

    Secondly, pretending that human rights are somehow free of all problems is ridiculous. For example you speak of rights as being “inherent”. However this cannot be shown to be true, it is an appeal to nature. On what rational do you decide what a right is? Can one right override another? One could argue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are justified on the basis that they will allow people to express their right to choose their own form of governance, never mind that they killed hundreds of thousands of people? Do we rich westerners have a right as individuals to the pursuit of happiness? Even at the expense of future generations and poorer nations as is currently the case? Will you make a new right so this can’t happen? A right for every situation perhaps, all justified on some flimsy basis that all rights are “inherent”. Or perhaps you could appeal to some other ethical system to justify rights, but then those rights are not themselves the basis of your ethical system.

    Both utilitarianism and human rights rest on assumptions about what to value, that are forever separated from facts by the is/ought problem. Yes, some brands of utilitarianism have flaws, but most of these have been addressed by many people throughout the years. So i could reply to your argument about gang rape, that if you take a negative utilitarianism stance, and that it is the reduction of suffering that is important, then i would argue that the harm caused by the rape far outweighs any possible harm that could come to those men if they did not rape her. I am sure there are many ethical dilemmas you could think of, but pretending that human rights are somehow is not riddled with problems is silly. I never said that utilitarianism is the only way to address moral problems, I think about ethics in utilitarian terms because it agrees with my values. It is very difficult to debate what values one should hold, again, because of the “is/ought” problem, so i take it as an axiom that one should value reducing suffering in the world. I don’t think it’s wrong to value animals as being equal, or at least more so, in ethical standing to humans, for example, simply because you value the ability of living beings to express preferences. I would just disagree. But then it would be pointless debating how knowledge of humans compared to animal’s ability to experience suffering should inform our ethics.


    Thirdly, you talk about giving the benefit of the doubt to animals regarding their conscious state, but i could just as easily argue that it is those beings we know to have conscious that deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their well being.

    The degree of consciousness is entirely relevant for judging the suffering of an animal and is in no way whatsoever arbitrary. As i explained before, how can pain be experienced as suffering unless one has consciousness? Judging consciousness is difficult, however language, meta cognition and higher cognitive skills are dependent on a high degree of consciousness, the fact that animals do not have these abilities does not show animal behaviour is instinctive, but until we know that they are conscious we must give the benefit of the doubt to those beings that do these abilities, whom we know are conscious. We should certainly not behave toward animals as if they were inanimate objects though.

  27. #27 John_ 31 Jul 11

    Hi Pat

    The pharmaceuticals you are taking about are not somehow isolated from crude oil, rather they are used in chemical reactions to create new chemicals that have completely different properties to crude oil or plastics. The end product does not remember once having been made out of oil, any more that it remembers being made out of plankton and such from millions of years ago. Maybe you feel better about a medicine being made from plankton extract? cause thats what crude oil really is. I mean many extracts of plants can be dangerous, eg if you eat foxgloves you might die, but make digitalis from it and you have a treatment for heart attacks.

  28. #28 Yavor 19 Sep 11

    Great job Andrew Knight and friends! Keep up the good work!
    We don't need bloody knowledge, and doubtful as well! I think humans are intelligent enough to do clean research without involving innocent beings in it. It is just pity that great part of researchers that use animals seem not to be part of the intelligent humans group I mentioned.

    Take care and keep the good work!

  29. #29 Chloe 07 Mar 12

    Hi thank you for writing that ! But I still need help with my debate next week can you give me some info,charts and graphs that says the positive side of animal testing thank u please email me it.

  30. #30 Luli 28 Mar 12

    iLove Culo !(:

  31. #31 Rachel McClelland 22 Aug 12

    Aside from non invasive research for the benefit of animals and which should be done in natural environments, there is no possible justification for animal research, particularly when motivated by greed (as in the case of big pharma) or for the benefit of humans in any capacity. Any product, be it drug or cosmetic, requiring testing should be tested on humans. The abuse inflicted on living creatures that are capable of experiencing emotion is barbaric and immoral.

  32. #32 Sarah Dodd 26 Feb 13

    Is there a rough guide price to how much a research project would cost? For example, a small scale project of around 40-50 mice, including consumables?

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