Monday, March 8, 2010

Dogma: Basso's lab's best argument?

I haven't written here in some time, but a recent dicovery motivated me to the tap out the following:

While refreshing and updating Madison's Hidden Monkeys, I clicked on a link to Michele Basso's lab's webpage. The web address is, but that address now redirects to the article by George Poste (which I have copied below) if you are trying to visit the lab's webpage from Madison's Hidden Monkeys. Cute. (If you want to visit her lab page, paste the address into your browser.)

What caught my eye in the Poste article was the statement: "Animal studies continue to be necessary for advancing human and animal health and have played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance."

I had just finished reading Adrian Morrison's swan song (hopefully): An Odyssey with Animals: A veterinarian's reflections on the animal rights and welfare debate, and remembered that he had written: "virtually every major advance in medicine has resulted directly or indirectly, from research performed on animals. The contributions of animal research to public health cannot be overestimated."

The similarity made be wonder. It's a common claim:
"Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century..."
"Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century."
"Without animal research, virtually every medical breakthrough of the past century would not have been possible."
"Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century..."
"Virtually every major medical advance of the 20th century involved the use of animals..."
"Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century..."
"virtually every major medical advance of the last century is due, in part, to research with animals."
"According to Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, chairman of the foundation for Biomedical Research (1981), 'Not one advancement in the care of patients’ advancements that you use and take for granted every day – has been realized without the use of animal research.'"
"virtually every major medical advance of the last century is due, in part, to research with animals."
"During the 20th century, virtually every major advance in medical knowledge and treatment involved research using animal models."
"virtually every major medical advance of the last century is due, in part, to research with animals."
"Former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop says 'Virtually every major medical advance for both humans and animals has been achieved through biomedical research by using animal...'"[sic]
"virtually every medical advance in the past 100 years has been developed in part due to the use, the responsible use of animals..."
"virtually every major medical advance of the last century was the result of research involving animals."

I've commented on this claim before: NABR Spokesperson Misleads Congressional Committee.

This oft repeated mantra probably comes from the National Association for Biomedical (NABR) Research, an industry-sponsored front-group. Some websites that use the phrase attribute it to NABR; the sources and authors above don't.
A lie told often enough becomes the truth.
One thing to note is the qualification in the statements that avoid paraphrasing: Virtually... in the past century... Indeed. Those that use the claim without the qualification are simply and demonstrably wrong.

Those who wisely do use the qualification may be suggesting that advancements in health care from 100 or more years ago are unimportant or insignificant. Or, since many of these advancements were not the result of animal research, maybe they would rather that we not think too much about them and consider their implications for future progress.

Looking back less than 100 years means that we can forget about the literally millions of people saved from continuing cholera epidemics. The story of John Snow's brilliant epidemiology in London 150 years ago is well known to historians.

Likewise, we can ignore the discovery and first applications of immunizations in Europe and America which were the result of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's trip to Turkey in the early 1700's where she witnessed variolation, the insertion of pus from a smallpox lesion into an intentional cut in order to induce a mild form of the disease.

We can ignore Ignaz Semmelweis's discovery in the mid 1840s of the way to prevent puerperal sepsis, also known as childbed fever, a "disease" responsible for a near 30% mortality rate in some maternity clinics. He ordered medical students to start washing their hands before examining a patient.

It is easy to pick and choose one's window through which to view reality, particularly if one is trying to blockout part of the vista. The fact is that these and many similar pre-1900 discoveries were not the result of animal experimentation, and arguably, are responsible for more lives saved than all the discoveries since.

But even since 1900, the results of research into human illness and health that have not relied on animals has rolled up an impressive result. For example, it wasn't animal research that compelled us to give up tobacco. And the famous Framingham Heart Study begun in 1948 and the Nurses Health Study begun in 1976, have provided knowledge directly applicable to human health. One needs only to read the news to see that medical progress isn't reliant on animals.

The article below amounts to bombast. Poste writes: "Opposition to all animal testing would require a life without drugs, vaccines, painkillers, anesthetics and surgery."

This is a common bugaboo, drug out from under the bed and shaken at an unsuspecting public, as if closing the labs would somehow eliminate the manufacture of drugs or cause all surgeosn to throw down their scalpels.

Apparently, this is the best argument that the Basso lab can find for justifying their cruelty and shody science.


Animal testing a necessary research tool, for now

Special for

the republic
Sept. 3, 2006 12:00 AM

As a veterinarian and someone who has spent three decades in biomedical research in academia and the pharmaceutical industry, I know that animal research saves lives.

With the announcement of Covance's plans for a major drug development facility in Chandler, I am concerned by deceptive claims from extremist groups about the need for animal research.

Animal studies continue to be necessary for advancing human and animal health and have played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance. This includes lifesaving drugs and vaccines, new surgical procedures and improved diagnosis of disease.

A hallmark of humanity is our ability to care about other species. It is understandably difficult for people to reconcile this empathy with support of animal studies for medical advances that cure disease and improve the quality of life.

Animal extremists prey on this discomfort and count on society's general lack of scientific insight to advance their agenda. These extremists knowingly misrepresent the ability of computers and emerging scientific techniques to serve as viable substitutes for animal studies.

Government regulations around the world require that new drugs, vaccines and surgical implants first be tested in animals for potential toxic reactions. Beyond these formal legal requirements, research into the root causes of disease at the genetic level and how diseases become resistant to current treatments cannot be simulated by computer programs or duplicated in test tubes.

Although present-day technology cannot yet replace many types of animal research, the research community is committed to finding new ways to reduce and replace animal testing. This ethical commitment is embodied in strict animal welfare protocols at most university, government and industrial laboratories.

In addition to humane considerations, the economic and logistical advantages of replacing animal testing are compelling. Animal studies are time-consuming and resource-intensive. If meaningful alternatives existed, companies could save hundreds of millions of dollars in facilities and personnel costs.

Opposition to all animal testing would require a life without drugs, vaccines, painkillers, anesthetics and surgery. It would demand a rejection of all federally mandated Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency tests that ensure the safe consumption of products in our homes and workplaces, ranging from the testing of components used in computers and cellphones to plastic wraps and chemical additives in our foods and drinks. In short, it would require a lifestyle far removed from that enjoyed by most people, particularly the jet-setting celebrities who oppose animal research.

Reducing complex issues to oversimplified sound bites encourages the thinking that wearing a lapel ribbon is a substitute for education and dedication to seeking solutions. Research scientists, physicians and veterinarians face tough moral and ethical issues in this pursuit and take these responsibilities seriously.

Concern about animal welfare can take very different forms. Some people are offended by the use of leather and fur as fashion accessories but accept that medical research must unavoidably use animals until viable alternatives are found. Some groups argue persuasively against intensive farming practices but, again, recognize the need for animals in medical research. I recently signed a petition in Arizona calling for reform in the raising of veal calves.

My advice is that people carefully consider not just whether or not a group shares their beliefs, but whether or not they behave in an ethical manner. The tactics used by opponents of Covance in Chandler have included false claims about alternatives to animal testing and misinformation aimed at provoking community concerns about potential disasters.

Well-funded national groups often disguise their involvement to make it appear as if local citizens are leading the effort. [Actually, I'm only pretending to live in Madison. I'm really a well-paid agent who lives in Zurich and agitates with the Internets in countries around the world because I hate science and America's freedoms.] In May, The Arizona Republic uncovered deceptive methods and use of false names by a leading opponent of the Chandler drug-development facility in an attempt to camouflage ties to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and involvement in other protest campaigns.

Of greatest concern are those who encourage violence in the name of animal activism. My family and I have been the targets of death threats, as have many of my colleagues. Several animal extremist organizations have been identified by the FBI as serious domestic terrorism threats.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals provides funding to the Animal Liberation Front, which is listed as a terrorist group by the governments of both the United States and the United Kingdom. [This is a very tired claim.]

A publicly available report from the FBI describes People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as an organization that "recruits interns for the sole purpose of committing criminal acts." [Either Poste is stupid or he thinks his readers are stupid. If this were true Newkirk or other ranking PeTA employees would be in jail. It is fear mongering like this that people like the Basso lab folks lap up without thought.]

In 2003, a representative of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, another national group that has been prominent in the local debate, called for the assassination of doctors whose research involves animals. [No, he didn't. If he had, he too would be in jail.]

Fortunately, very few people endorse such extreme views. Surveys show that most Americans support the need for animal studies aimed at medical advances. Even as divergent as the views of animal activists and researchers may seem to be, there is agreement on one key issue: We all look forward to a day when mankind's ingenuity provides a way to completely eliminate the need for animal studies.

I have a challenge to offer to anyone who feels strongly about this topic, especially young people. If you sincerely wish to eliminate the need [Need!] for animal research, put down your picket signs, learn about the subject and invent solutions. I guarantee you'll find a receptive audience in the medical research community, because it's a goal we share.

Dr. George Poste is a veterinarian and director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.

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