HSUS is Scientifically Perplexed and Ethically Challenged
Monday September 22, 2014
On September 19, 2014, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), blogged about the maternal deprivation experiments planned at the University of Wisconsin (UW). Pacelle condemned the experiments, designed to involve 20 rhesus macaque monkeys, on ethical grounds and, to his credit, also mentioned that the research is unlikely to benefit humans. But I wonder how Pacelle arrived at this position regarding the medical uselessness of this research. HSUS has always maintained, along with the vivisection activist community, that animal models are useful, necessary, and have predictive value for medical advancement. For example, the current HSUS website states:
We're working to decrease and eventually end the use of animals in testing, research and teaching by promoting the development of innovative and effective alternative methods. For the past few decades, The HSUS has conducted its campaigns promoting alternatives and the reduction of animal use in a way that avoids harassment of individual scientists . . .
Reduction and alternatives are not necessary if the experiments are scientifically invalid ergo the experiments must be valid for the above position to be consistent. If a model or paradigm is scientifically invalid, it should simply be abandoned. We no longer conduct studies to see if magic will cure cancer as we all know that it won’t. (Some complimentary and alternative medicine advocates notwithstanding. For more on this see Science-Based Medicine.) And the Germ Theory of Disease has replaced research on miasma. Trans-Species Modeling Theory (and here) explains why animal models will never offer predictive value for human response to drugs and disease and our article Is the use of sentient animals in basic research justifiable? explores why using animals in basic research, as conducted today, is both scientifically and ethically untenable. Therefore the HSUS position of needing replacements before abandoning animal models is simply nonsense.
Andrew Rowan, then-President & Chief Executive Officer of Humane Society International (HSI) and Chief Scientific Officer of HSUS wrote:
This overall decline in animal use can be attributed to the advent of novel technologies such as improved cell-culture systems and microanalytic techniques; more sophisticated model systems; improved understanding of signaling and metabolic pathways; and a host of other new methods that allow scientists to answer important questions about the functioning of healthy and diseased tissues without subjecting whole animals to harmful procedures.
As per above, society does need new research and testing methods that will allow us to predict human response to drugs and disease. But, as animal models fail to predict human response to drugs and disease their continued use is irrational. Profitable for many, but irrational for society.
Lest anyone doubt Andrew Rowan’s position on animal models, he was quoted in Philli@com July 14, 2002 as stating: “It is probably not possible to [halt testing on animals] without harmful affects on humans.” And Rowan stated in 1997 regarding LaFollette and Shanks’ book Brute Science:
Their application of evolutionary and complex systems theory leads them to conclude that ‘the hope that animal models will be useful CAMS [causal analogical models] of human biomedical phenomena, in predictive contexts, appears ill founded. Evidence shows that animal models are not strong CAMS, and further suggests that they are not predictively useful when construed as weak models.’ However, despite their avoidance of simplistic examples and their development of a more sophisticated critique, I remained unconvinced. (Rowan 1997)
Neil DeGrasse Tyson stated on “Real Time With Bill Maher,” on Feb. 4, 2011: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” And author Philip K. Dick stated: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Reality and science are not dependent upon Andrew Rowan being convinced.
Rowan further outlines his complete ignorance, be it feigned or real, regarding complexity science, evolutionary biology, and statistics:
The use of more sophisticated theoretical arguments to challenge the justification for animal models does not, in the end, convincingly invalidate animal research. True, there are concerns but there are still many examples of successful predication that, in themselves, refute the claims by LaFollette and Shanks. One may not be able to prove that all, or even the majority of applied animal research and testing is useful or predictive, but every example of applied animal research that is useful undermines LaFollette and Shanks's general thesis. (Rowan 1997) (Emphasis added.)
There is a difference between a modality having predictive value for medical science and being useful for advancing science in general. Rowan is using the classic equivocation fallacy (or bait and switch), as is frequently seen with almost all such arguments from vivisection activists. Useful depends on one’s subjective perspective of value while predictive value can be calculated mathematically. Conflating the two works to the advantage of the vivisection activist as animal models have been shown to have no predictive value many times and that is what LaFollette and Shanks were addressing when they spoke of causal analogical models in Brute Science. For more on why vivisection activists must use such fallacies instead of science, see:
- Questions regarding the predictive value of one evolved complex adaptive system for a second: exemplified by the SOD1 mouse
David Wiebers MD, then professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic and Chairman-to be of the Board of HSUS stated in 1991:
Let me make a few comments about alternatives to animal research. Most physicians and scientists would agree that the development of alternatives to using live animals in research is desirable. Indeed, some encouraging progress is being made in this area with regard to the use of tissue cultures and other in vitrotesting, as well as mathematical and computer models. However, we should not be under any false illusions that all of the findings of animal research can be reproduced in a computer model or tissue culture given our current level of technology and understanding. (Emphasis added.)
HSUS has always and continues to be an apologist for the vivisection industry, Pacelle’s comments notwithstanding. What is scientifically unacceptable regarding his comments on maternal deprivation studies is the fact that he appears to want to say that these particular experiments will not yield information that can be applied to humans without simultaneously accepting the fact that the only reason he can reasonably state this also means that animal modeling in general offers no predictive value for humans. Without TSMT, you cannot pick and choose which experiments are likely to benefit humans and which are not. If TSMT is wrong, and TSMT is the reason we can confidently state that experiments such as maternal deprivation will have no predictive value for humans, then Pacelle cannot make such a bold statement regarding the science. Indeed the entire science board of the HSUS has denied the implications of animals and human being evolved, complex systems ever since the late 1990s when I was on the scientific advisory committee.
Groups like HSUS, BUAV, the RSPCA, and FRAME now find themselves in a very awkward position. (For example, see The Ethical Implications for Humans in Light of the Poor Predictive Value of Animal Models.) For decades they have stated society must have alternatives before abandoning animal models because animals were of predictive value for human response to drugs and disease. TSMT now explains why that was never true and never will be true and reveals that the evidence for such a conclusion, in the form of evolution, complex systems and empirical evidence, was available in the 1960s. Pacelle wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to condemn, on scientific grounds, studies like those at UW-Madison. But the only way he can say in advance of the results that these experiments will offer nothing of new value to humans is if he accepts the science behind TSMT. I assure you that HSUS in general, their scientific advisory committee, Andrew Rowan, and their current head of animal in research do not accept TSMT.
I love to watch vivisection activists get caught in their own self-righteousness.
One caveat to the above. In essence, Harlow’s maternal deprivation studies merely reproduced evidence that had already been seen in humans. Anytime that is what the studies are designed to do, they will probably be successful as, even if significant differences exist among species, the experiments can be rigged to match the human studies and observations. What I am addressing above is not the fact that human babies and monkey babies need their mommies. Rather, I am addressing the fact that these new studies are touted as using new technology to learn about the human brain by studying the brains of monkeys. This is how the experiments are being sold to society at large. Even if the vivisectors find something new going on in the brains of the monkeys they will at best have merely a hypothesis about what happens in the human brain and not a predictive model. The same result can be arrived at by very different mechanisms.(Greek and Rice 2012) And millions of such hypotheses have turned out to be wrong if not totally the opposite of what happens in humans.
I say again, loving animals does not make you a scientist. Moreover, being the head of a major fundraising organization that claims to love animals does not mean you are scientifically literate or that you are not a vivisection activist.
I agree with Massimo Pigliucci who stated:
A recurring theme of this book is that one cannot simply trust authority no matter how, well, authoritative it may appear to be. There is, unfortunately, no shortcut to using one's brain and critical sense and doing some background research before taking a position. (Pigliucci 2010) p90
I hope the reader will avail him or herself of this website, especially the Resources section, to learn more about the use animal models. Links to groups that disagree with us are also provided so you will have opportunity to use your own brain to compare and contrast the positions.
(I obtained this photo of a rhesus macaque monkey in Harry Harlow’s isolation chamber from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Harlow-Isolationchamber.gif. (The monkey can be seen curled up in the very bottom left of the image.) Wikipedia appears to believe the gif qualifies as fair use and I could not find anything contradicting this. Please see the url for more information regarding copyright.)
Greek, Ray, and Mark J Rice. 2012. "Animal models and conserved processes." Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 9 (40). doi: 10.1186/1742-4682-9-40. http://www.tbiomed.com/content/9/1/40/abstract
Pigliucci, Massimo. 2010. Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Rowan, Andrew. 1997. "Book Review. Brute Science." Animal Welfare 6:378-81.