12 Monkeys. No… 8. Wait, sorry, I meant 14.

January 23rd, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, methods, trial registers | 77 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 23 January 2010

Like many people, you’re possibly afraid to share your views on animal experiments, because you don’t want anyone digging up your grandmother’s grave, or setting fire to your house, or stuff like that. Animal experiments are necessary, they need to be properly regulated, and we have some of the tightest regulation in the world.

But it’s easy to assess whether animals are treated well, or to assess whether an experiment was necessary. In the nerd corner there is another issue: is the research well conducted, and are the results properly communicated? If it’s not, then animals have suffered – whatever you believe that might mean for an animal – partly in vain.

The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research was set up by the government in 2004. It has published, in the academic journal PLoS One, a systematic survey of the quality of reporting, experimental design and statistical analysis of recently published biomedical research using laboratory animals. It’s so not good.

The study is pretty solid. They describe the strategy they used to search for papers, which is important, because you don’t want to be like a homeopath, and only quote the papers that support your conclusions: you want to have a representative sample of all the literature. And the papers they found covered a huge range of publicly funded research, behavioural and diet studies, drug and chemical testing, immunological experiments, and more.

Some of the flaws they discovered were bizarre. Four per cent of papers didn’t mention how many animals were used in the experiment, anywhere. The researchers looked in detail at 48 studies that did say how many they used: not one explained why they had chosen their particular number of animals. Thirty-five per cent of the papers gave one figure for the number of animals used in the methods, and then a different number of animals appeared in the results. That’s pretty disorganised. They looked at how many studies used basic strategies to reduce bias in their results, like randomisation and blinding.

If you’re comparing one intervention against another, for example, and you don’t randomly assign animals to each group, then it’s possible you might unconsciously put the stronger animals in the group getting a potentially beneficial experimental intervention, or vice versa, thus distorting your results.

If you don’t “blind”, then you know, as the experimenter, which animals had which intervention. So you might allow that knowledge, even unconsciously, to affect close calls on measurements you take. Or maybe you’ll accept a high blood pressure reading when you expected it to be high, knowing what you do about your own experiment, but then double check a high blood pressure measurement in an animal where you expected it to be low.

Only 12% of the animal studies used randomisation. Only 14% used blinding. And the reporting was often poor. Only 8% gave the raw data, allowing you to go back and do your own analysis. About half the studies left the numbers of animals in each group out of their tables.

I grew up friends with the daughters of Colin Blakemore, a neuroscientist in Oxford who spoke out to defend animal research at great personal risk. My first kiss – not one of these sisters, I should say – was outside a teenage party in a church hall, in front of two special branch officers sitting in a car with their lights off.

People who threaten the lives of 15-year-old girls, to shut their father up, are beneath contempt. People who fail to damn these threats are similarly contemptible. That’s why it sticks in the throat to say that the reporting and conduct of animal research is often poor; but we have to be more grown up.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

77 Responses

  1. Camp Freddie said,

    January 27, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    I just noticed that the OECD link has all their toxicity guidance. Only Methods 402, 403, 404, 405, 429 and 425 are basic tests.
    Method 425 probably gives the best insight into how and why chemical safety tests are done.
    Tests 401 and 406 are rarely used anymore.
    401 was replaced by 423 and 425, so as to reduce numbers of animals (rats) used.
    406 (guinea pigs) was replaced by 429 (mice) due to 429 being more reliable/accurate.

    No one has brought up computer modelling yet. Basically, this is allowed in theory but is generally very unreliable or even impossible.

    As a way of avoiding testing, it is quite common to get an expert toxicologist to argue that if butyl-chemicalidine and heptyl-chemicalidine were tested and found to be irritant/toxic, then our new compound hexyl-chemicalidine will also be irritant/toxic due to its shared/similar funtional groups. Therefore no additional tests are necessary and are considered to be contrary to Directive xx/yy/zz Article 19b(iv) on the use of vertebrate animals.
    (The actual arguments are a bit more long winded but this is the gist)

  2. HelenC said,

    January 27, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Thanks for your replies, Camp Freddie. Very helpful, and I will have a look at the OECD link.

    Hi gimpyblog, I focussed my questions around human pathology because that is the greyest area in terms of understanding the actual benefits of animal research.

    As far as food, clothing, entertainment and companionship are concerned, there are some very good alternatives to animals!

    Of course we must exercise our human curiosity, providing that it happens within ethical limits and – where animal suffering is involved – with demonstrable benefits. It’s these limits and benefits that need to be properly debated in a dispassionate and informed way. That is unlikely to happen given the media’s aversion to facts, the strength of the industrial lobby and the apathy of the majority of our citizenry.

    In the meantime, when it comes to decisions about whether to use or buy something, I have to resort to my own makeshift cost/benefit analyses based on incomplete information. Because the PETA bunny logo doesn’t appear on tubes of topical steriod cream, for example, I have to assume that its testing and manufacture has caused extreme animal suffering. I therefore have to ask myself, ‘is the alleviation of eczema symptoms worth the suffering and death of numerous animals?’ From my perspective, the answer is ‘no’. If I had a more serious medical condition would I think differently? It would be a fairly difficult call even with all the facts, but without them it’s impossible to say.


  3. merrick said,

    January 27, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Glad to see we can take the actions of a tiny minority of violent extremists to discredit the entire body of anti-vivisection thought.

    I’m off to my local mosque to blame them for 9-11.

  4. ferguskane said,

    January 27, 2010 at 4:18 pm


    The question of the costs and benefits of animal experimentation are is a very good one, and one that I wish I could answer.

    My gut feeling is that certain animal experiments have been invaluable to the development of medical science and have presumably saved millions of lives. At the same time, I have the impression that if the ratio of good research to poor research is similar across scientific fields, there will be a lot of animals experimented on without good reason.

    Animal experimentation appears to have been important in the development of penicillin and our treatment of diabetes, to name a couple of examples. Equally, can we say how our knowledge of the workings of the nervous system would be different/delayed if Galvani had not experimented with frogs? And further, without experimenting in the past, would vets have the same ability to do good as they do now?

    So a challenge: Can anyone point us to a good, balanced exploration of how animal experiments have contributed to our present day scientific knowledge?

    As for PETA. At the moment, the thing that upsets me more than animal experimentation is the way we treat non free range animals. I wish PETA would focus their energy on that. (I’m not a vegetarian, but I do care)

  5. Moeche said,

    January 28, 2010 at 11:25 am

    I would like to add my point of view to Ben´s comment on this study published in PLoS ONE.
    First thing is that Ben´s conclusion from the study is that it reports on bad experimental design and interpretation of the data. But this is not totally correct. The study, as it was set up, was analyzing the reporting of animal testing. If you check the actual paper you will realize that the effort was put on analyzing “reporting”, even though they talk about “quality of experimental design”.
    Does it make any difference? Well, I think so. As stated by Ben “Some of the flaws they discovered were bizarre”. These “bizarre flaws” might reflect a wrong approach to the papers scrutinized in the study. And the “bizarre flaws” should ring a bell. Most of the studies did not use randomisation and blindness? Or they did not report it? Or the journal asked the authors to take all that away from the final published version? Or they are obviously there but the authors failed to recognize them? There are a number of articles that did not even stated clearly what was the aim of the study in the introduction? Honestly, I have never in my life found an article not stating the aim of the research in the introduction. Might be this a case of bias interpreting the results by the authors of the study? But of course the authors did not explain how they assessed this point. It is nowhere in the paper and it is an obvious example of subjective interpretation.
    I am a scientist working on biomedicine using animal experimentation (mice) and in my experience, bad reporting of methods used in a study is a general flaw on published research of any kind. This is a problem that is even increasing and for which the authors are not the only ones to be blamed. Academic journals have a lot of responsibility on this as well for not reviewing carefully the accurate and complete reporting of the methods used, and actually most of the times, discouraging it.
    Having said that, it is the editors and the reviewers task to assess quality of experimental design and interpretation of the results. Basically the same “flaws” can be observed in loads of articles published even in the big journals (Nature & Science) but not just on those ones dealing with animal experimentation. This means that there might be a problem with accuracy and completeness of methodological reporting, not that animal experimentation is particularly sloppy and inconsistent. Actually, the authors of the study could (should?) have compared reporting of a different experimental methodology to say something about how does animal experimentation compare to other methodologies. And they could have examined if there is a link between flaws and quality of the journals in which the papers were published. Are we talking here about science published in obscure very specialized journals?
    Finally, Ben states that the study is pretty solid but for one thing I missed the list of the actual papers under scrutiny. I guess there are pretty obvious reasons not to give details of what papers did the whole thing wrong but yet … it is a crucial point in the Methods section of this paper that should be included if anyone wants to check and reproduce their results. Does this make it a solid study? Well, in my opinion this is at least as bad as what the authors are trying to criticize. But we should not forget that these very same authors might have a clear conflict of interests, since (at least some of them) make a living of teaching how to design and assess animal experiments.
    This study, and the way it has been covered by Ben, IMO gives the false idea that animal experimentation is poorly designed, ridiculously conducted, badly interpreted and consequently, useless. Providing, in case they needed it, an extra (false) argument for people opposing animal experimentation. All this by means of a poorly conducted and reported study.
    Sorry for the looong comment.

  6. HelenC said,

    January 28, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Yes, good point, Ferguskane. Because PETA are a global organisation, they focus on the worst abuses of animals globally and – despite the poor conditions of a lot of UK non-free range animals, I guess they are not the worst. Having said that, I agree that getting Selfridges to stop stocking fois-gras (is that how you spell it?) is probably not the highest priority, although it is a good headline-grabber! How many people can afford to buy it anyway?

    Several factors seem to affect people’s willingness to look for other sources of protein. Highest is probably financial constraints, and the water is further muddied by terminology such as ‘high quality’ and ‘low quality’. Most people don’t realise that ‘high quality protein’ is simply that which contains all of the essential amino acids, rather than a comment on the quality of the food itself. Even when I’ve explained protein combining to confirmed meat eaters, they remain unconvinced.

    Anyway – yes, let’s see if anyone is able and willing to take you up on your challenge!


  7. gwenhwyfaer said,

    January 28, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Sorry to come back to your comments, but it occurs to me that there might be an additional dimension than just taking puerile digs at the homeopaths. The thing is, they’re also rather litigious, and that litigation is very damaging to science writing as a whole. It may be that having won against the notoriously litigious Matthias Rath, Dr Goldacre quite fancies his chances with the homeopaths too – and such digging is an open invitiation to “come and have a go if they think they’re hard enough”, with an eye at some point to getting the whole field of scientific discussion declared off-limits for libel. If he’s doing that, presumably it’s with the backing of the Scott Trust…

    Just a random thought. I don’t know anything about anything, of course. But I thought you might appreciate a response from someone else who disagreed with you in a mature, (hopefully semi-)intelligent way.

  8. heavens said,

    January 29, 2010 at 12:27 am


    In rejecting the eczema cream, you seem to have missed the fundamental cause-effect issue: The same number of animals are treated the same way regardless of whether one thousand, or one million, people have their symptoms relieved.

    A more reasonable question to ask yourself is “Given that these animals are already dead, am I really helping them by avoiding this product?”

    Drug testing doesn’t scale like leather shoes or eating meat: Using less doesn’t mean any animals are protected.

  9. DavidGSFarmer said,

    January 29, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Excellent points. The distinction between ‘not reported’ and ‘not carried out isn’t really made as clear as I would like here.

    Your question on the quality of the journals is addressed by the authors:

    “In fact, the search retrieved papers from a range of publication
    years (1999 – 2005), covering a wide variety of research areas, and an extensive range of journals across the impact factor spectrum, including Nature and Science. Whilst it would be useful to know if there is a relationship between the quality of the papers surveyed and the impact factors of the journals they were published in, this analysis was not in the remit of this survey.”

    Damn straight it would be useful. I think the importance in the distinction between quality of reporting and quality of research has been adequately made here. The authors justify the link between the two as follows:

    “…this kind of reporting omission can easily be rectified. But if not, incomplete reporting masks potentially flawed experimental methods.”

    Potentially, but I think I’d agree with Mosche in that I’m unsure how valid the link between what the authors consider to be ‘bad reporting’ and the validity of the experiment is, particularly when the authors state that, for example, if the assessors did not understand the aim of a study then it was reported as not having an aim listed. They justify this by saying that this means that non non-specialist would understand the aim of the study but, given that this is not a text book, why should that reduce the relative validity of a study? Communication of science is great and all, and should absolutely be encouraged and celebrated (avid reader by the way, Ben) but specialists are the ones who will read the research, assess it in context and conduct further research accordingly. The fact that it can’t necessarily be understood by professors of political science doesn’t mean that it wasn’t appropriate and necessary to use animals in the study.

    By Mosche
    “…I missed the list of the actual papers under scrutiny. I guess there are pretty obvious reasons not to give details of what papers did the whole thing wrong but yet … it is a crucial point in the Methods section of this paper that should be included if anyone wants to check and reproduce their results. Does this make it a solid study? Well, in my opinion this is at least as bad as what the authors are trying to criticize.”


  10. HelenC said,

    January 29, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Hi Heavens,

    No – I’m not missing the fundamental point. The same number of animals suffered during animal testing of cosmetics, irrespective of how many people bought them. The groundswell of opinion against animal testing of cosmetics resulted in the development of animal-friendly products by companies who shared those ethical values and saw a business opportunity. Once a sufficient number of consumers moved their custom to the animal-friendly options, some of the mainstream cosmetics companies revised their practices. This shift in buyer behaviour, coupled with legislation, has helped us get to the point where there is no need for anyone to buy cosmetics or household products that have been tested on animals at any point during their manufacture.

    If I use drugs that are tested on animals, then I am helping perpetuate animal-testing – however small my contribution. The reason I think it is important that we understand the cost of particular products in terms of animal suffering is so that we can make a balanced choice.

    The argument you put forward is the same as the one many people use for buying air-freighted, out of season fruit and veg from supermarkets. ‘Well, if I don’t buy it, it will go to waste, and the same number of airmiles will have been used anyway’. Yes they will. But if supermarkets are left with rotting fruit and veg because consumers refuse to place their desire for choice above concern for the environment, then supermarkets will eventually take notice and stop.

    Have a good, animal-friendly weekend.

  11. Arthur Dent said,

    January 30, 2010 at 10:59 am

    HelenC said “there is no need for anyone to buy cosmetics or household products that have been tested on animals at any point during their manufacture”.

    It is true that in the EU the Cosmetics Directive prohibits the testing of cosmetics on animals. However most of the ingredients currently used in cosmetics have already been tested at some point on animals. Secondly, you will find very few ‘new’ ingredients being used in cosmetics other than those that have been tested on animals for other non-cosmetic purposes.

    Finally the REACH regulation in effect requires all substances manufactured or imported into the EU for any purpose (including cosmetics) to have relevant data which in many cases can only be obtained by animal experiments. The European Parliament has not yet resolved the inconsistency between these two legal instruments but then a high level of cognitive dissonance is a requirement for all MEPs.

  12. HelenC said,

    February 1, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Hi ArthurDent,
    Yes – I’m aware of the inconsistencies in EU regulations. That’s why PETA only approve of products where the ingredients themselves haven’t been tested on animals, as well as the final product. The PETA logo is the only guarantee of cruelty-free status. I still stand by my comments that there is no need to use cosmetic and household products that have been tested, but you need to go further afield than the local supermarket. Ecover don’t pass muster, for example, but Bio-D do.

  13. Arthur Dent said,

    February 1, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Hi HelenC I am fascinated that PETA is able to recommend substances that have not been tested on animals, do they provide a list of such substances?

  14. CaptainKirkham said,

    February 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    It’s just a shame that PETA can’t do that sterling work without being misogynistic and racist at the same time.

    There are other animal rights organisations that (a) aren’t violent and (b) aren’t PETA. I wish they could get more media attention, but unfortunately the media aren’t interested in sober and useful debate, they’re more interested in PETA’s obsession with naked women.

  15. Arthur Dent said,

    February 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Further to my question to HelenC I have tried to follow up what PETA actually say. As far as I can see, and I would be happy to be corrected, PETA do not list iny ingredients that they consider to be untested on animals but instead list companies that have signed their agreement:

    Companies listed either have signed PETA’s statement of assurance or provided a statement verifying that they do not conduct or commission any animal tests on ingredients, formulations, or finished products and that they pledge not to do so in the future

    This may be a step forward for those who wish to use ‘cruelty free’ products but doesn’t come anywhere near a statement that ingredients have not been tested on animals. The assurance merely means that the company you buy from hasn’t tested anything on animals not that the ingredients in the things you buy from them haven’t been tested on animals by other people.

    I would be very surprised if many of the ingredients in cruelty free cosmetics and household products have not, at some point, been tested on animals.

  16. HelenC said,

    February 2, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Hi ArthurDent,
    To be approved by the PETA ‘leaping bunny’ scheme, companies and their supply chain must not conduct or commission animal testing on any of their products or the consituent ingredients. They must also agree to submit to independent audit.
    More information at www.gocrueltyfree.org/e_retailers.php.
    You can also email PETA direct at info@peta.org.uk. You’ll get an auto response saying it may take up to two weeks for them to reply, but in practice I have found them to be much quicker. I did look into this before signing up. I think everyone appreciates that we’re reliant on companies being honest, but that holds for most things.
    I also sometimes email companies direct for info re their company policy, products, ingredients etc if they’re not on the PETA list.

  17. lizzi_fish said,

    February 2, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    I might be a bit late joining the comments here, but to answer the question right at the top of the page from ChrisP; a laboratory has to complete a Home Office return at specific intervals throughout the year to report how many animals were ordered from breeding facilities and how many were used – I believe this is part of the (3Rs) reduce, refine, reuse strategy for using less animals in testing.

    I used to be an animal technician, and did the job because I love animals (surprisingly enough, a lot of people do it for that reason). I worked in a lab that was regulated by GLP – e.g. not a research facility, and I completely agree with Ben when he says we have some of the strictest regulation in the world. I also took some quite serious abuse from animal-rights activists in my time, and found them to be ill-informed, reactionary and attention-seeking. But maybe that was just me. They weren’t even from PETA.

    I can go into more detail on the subject if anyone is interested; I can type at length about animal testing, animal rights and the pharmaceutical industry from personal experience.

  18. proveyance said,

    February 4, 2010 at 2:53 am

    First response/post here.

    This site seems like a great resource. I just wanted to chime in after reading the first few comments to this post.

    Since I can remember (and I do eat meat and support hunting and use of animal materials), the notion of man having dominion over every other animal was disturbing and clearly a product of the ego.

    My suspicion (I prefer not to believe things) is that it’s doing more harm than good to experiment (which is light torture imo) on animals. Although I don’t know much about this, I don’t think you have to be in the “expert class” to know that it’s karma of the worst kind.

    I know, all the great advancements and the lives saved. But that implies that a human life is some how important, while animals are relegated to serve us. Take a dog, for instance. A dog is very willing to help a human, as are humans willing to help dogs. But, don’t they deserve to be willing participants. If an animal could comprehend the situation, I’m sure some would offer to assist. That’s the real tragedy.

    What’s with zoos, while I’m at it? I hear that, despite how great they are some are failing in this economy. Are you wondering for even a moment what they are doing with the “stars of the show”, now that the show has been canceled. I digress, and apologize for leaning towards ideology.

    What does science have to say about animal rights? I think it is not their expertise. Yet, they are charging ahead. But hey, that’s society as the collective intellect expands and then shrinks.

    How about this? I encourage anyone in favor of animal experimentation to attend a native American ritual vision-quest. If, afterward they are still in favor then I have more to learn. But, we are all free to do as we will.

    That wasn’t bad. I look forward to more peeking around here. I fear what I will find in the areas of false-flag terror, and terrorism for that matter. And why do suicide bombers blow themselves up? Is it narcissism?

  19. ocswimwear said,

    February 4, 2010 at 8:19 am

    I often wonder if there would be as much of an issue with animal testing if the animals used were ugly bugs; as long as cute fury animals are used a large number of people will never accept it. If anything the issue just highlights how fickle and shallow the human trait known as sympathy actually is.

  20. mickjames said,

    February 6, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Is it possible that once researchers have broken free of the moral and sentimental constraints that would prevent most of us carrying out animal research that other values begin to erode as well? That their view of what is “necessary” allows them to push the boundaries of what is “acceptable”? Nowadays (pace Wakefield et al) people are much more restrained in the experiments they are allowed to do on children and live human subjects but this was not the case in the past. My (pretty cursory I admit) reading on the subject suggests that in these cases as well that the exhilaration of the transgression leads to some pretty cavalier behaviour and that these studies, for all the pain and suffering involved, end up as virtually useless. Worth investigating?

  21. mangie said,

    February 7, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Ben’s article is important. It is about how good science shoots itself in the foot.

    @Keith19 said

    “In my opinion this is one of the areas that the pharmaceutical industry is leading academia in basic science animal research. Randomisation and assessing statistical power before an experiment is carried out is the norm……This is presumably because mistakes at this point in the research, either false positives or negatives, can end up costing the companies millions.”

    That is correct. To take that forward, there are three comments I would like to make:

    a) The pharmaceutical industry behaves in a few instances in a terrible way once those millions are committed, and allows human clinical trials to be corrupted. Exactly the same as the animal scenario where poor practices allow a whole mode of research to be attacked.

    b) As the in animal welfare problem the deviants are not properly punished in the interests of the non deviants.

    c) Many of these pharmaceutical animal studies are not published. The TGN1412 disaster is an example of where that leads. No matter how good these studies might be in informing industry where to risk their billions, they are therefore not part of science.

  22. anticarrot said,

    February 11, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Animal Testing is a lot like Abortion. One side prefers the term ‘experimentation’, while the other prefers ‘torture and slaughter’. Each side thinks their term is more acurate than the opposition. Both siddes also forget the terms are not mutually exclusive.

    >Animal experiments are necessary
    >But it’s easy to assess whether animals are treated well
    >Only 12% of the animal studies used randomisation.
    >Only 14% used blinding.
    >People who threaten the lives of 15-year-old girls

    The problem starts when the pro-testers don’t live up to their claims. By the figures above, hasn’t PETA has been *entirely* *correct* 86%-88% of the time when they claim testing is evil and pointless? Pity Mr Goldacre can’t bring themselves to considder this.

    There is also the recent horror story about fox hunting. No, not the hunting, no not the banning. But the serious questioning that foxes might suffer if they were running for their lives. While I agree that you can easily measure suffering, it is also blatantly obvious that when large sums of money are at stake, a large percentage of people chose to lie. Strange that Mr Goldacre is seemingly unaware of this very recent and well publicised ‘contraversy’.

    But not really surprising. If you gave them a choice between conducting a truely necessary but harmful experiment on either a group of chimps, or a group of severely mentally ill orphans, they’d all choose the chimps. They would maintain this choice even if you gave them ccompletely solid evidence that these specific humans were no more intelligent than the chimps. (This is what is known as a ‘special case’.) Even if you pointed out the human testing would be much more accurate. And the problem with the reasoning they’d give (humans are special) is that it is basically alternative medicine – that which cannot be proven to be true, or that which has actually been proven to be not true.

    As to 15 year old girls… I’m shocked. Really I am. Aren’t there several important queestions we shoudl be asking before we make succh sweeping generalisations? Have we reduced the number of participants to the bare minimum? Can we reduce the suffering by refinement? Is it possible to replace this with another method? Well, the answers are no, no, and no. It’s down to one and nothing else has worked. Surely therefore by your own standards…

    Incidentally, the 4th R really should be ‘redirection’. Are you flogging a dead horse so hard that you are draining funds from more worthy research? For example many cancer treatments are not chemical (drugs) but rather physical (radiation) and mechanical (microsurgery). Given that cancer can happen in a thousand different ways (or more) then killing thousands of animals each year for each specific variation is a very questionable practice, when the alternatives offer solutions that are potentially far more generic, quicker, and cheaper.

    When scientists reject science before they even start experimenting on animals (which they do, as demonstrated above) then the results are going to be screwed up and unscientific. Which again brings us back to PETA being right the vast majority of the time.

  23. dankat123 said,

    February 14, 2010 at 12:34 am

    Serious moral issues deserve serious moral consideration, not the superficial treatment contained in the article, informed, apparently, by the author’s personal history. How disappointing.
    Making use of the research evidenced considered in the article, one might reason as follows (taking as a starting point that many will consider contentious, but that is a separate discussion):
    1. Animals differ from humans in a morally relevant way. From this one can justify the claim that experiments on animals are morally permissible;
    2. As a matter of contingent fact our present state of knowledge and technical ability means that experimentation on animals offers the best prospect for understanding, treating and curing a number of illnesses etc. From this, and given 1 above, one can assert that experiments are practically necessary.
    3. Although animals are not morally equivalent to humans, they have a capacity to feel pain. From this one can claim that animals are morally relevant agents.
    4. From the above it follows that as moral agents humans have a moral duty to minimise that suffering that animals suffer in experiments.
    5. From the above it follows that as moral agents humans have a moral duty to find alternative methods to aid us to understand, treat and cure illnesses i.e. to make 2 false.
    6. From all of the above it follows that if it is true that the “reporting and conduct of animal research is often poor” then those scientists responsible for the poor reporting and conduct are failing in their moral duty.
    7. It is obviously true that “people who threaten the lives of 15 year old girls are beneath contempt” and that “people who fail to damn these threats are similarly contemptible”
    8. It is equally obviously true from the above that people who fail in their moral duty to minimise the suffering of animals in experiments are beneath contempt and that people who fail to damn these failings are similarly contemptible.
    9. It is indeed true that some growing up is needed.

  24. toni49 said,

    February 19, 2010 at 11:28 am

    I think that what is being essentially missed by a large number of people here is that the article isn’t actually about the ethics of animal testing. What I believe the author is trying to say effectively follows the adage “get your own house in order”. In order to have stand up to anyone who doesn’t believe in animal testing, researchers need to ensure that their work is of the highest possible scientific standard. You can’t possibly have a reasoned debate stating that the work is necessary if there is a question over whether it properly follows basic scientific principals.

    In the same way that nuclear power stations are expected to have better health and safety records than any other industry in th UK simply because of public perception, so too should animal testing have squeeky-clean methods.

  25. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 19, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    something the antivivisection people seem not to have noticed is that if this study has found experiments are being done with too few animals to be useful, this may mean that more animals are needed to do decent research.

  26. moonbug said,

    March 6, 2010 at 1:01 am

    @Ben Goldacre

    I sat on a university Animal Experimentation Ethics Committee (AEEC) as a Animal Welfare representative about 7 years ago in Australia. I know at the time several university AEECs had statisticians either sitting on the committee or advising them because of several of the points you make regarding using a statistically valid sample. As an animal welfare rep I was one of the “antivivisection people” and it is a concern that many people (both “pro” and “anti”) have.

    Of course the papers do like to pick up on the extremist vibe, there are alot of people who are involved in the movement against animal experimentation who have strong scientific backgrounds who do argue against animal experimentation on grounds of poor science, which has been highlighted by the research in the post.

  27. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 6, 2010 at 1:24 am

    i don’t doubt that there are soundminded people who have valid concerns about the extent of animal experiments, or even a consistent moral standpoint that it is never acceptable, who would never resort to violence. what does concern me very deeply is that when i asked, for example, www.buav.org to point me at where they had come out clearly and condemned violence committed in the name of their cause, they were unable to do so.

    if there were armed guerrilla’s violently attacking people in the name of evidence based medicine, i would be the first to stand up and condemn them, distancing myself from their activities, and perhaps even trying to open a public and transparent dialogue, arguing with them to change their methods. this seems not to be the case with mainstream antivivisection campaigners, and to that extent, i find them very unpleasant.