Stop Vivisection and the European Parliament
Thursday May 14, 2015
On May 11, 2015, I testified at a hearing of the European Parliament regarding vivisection. In the European Union (EU) the citizens must be given a hearing if they obtain one million or more signatures on a petition. This is more difficult than might appear, as all the signees must provide personal information so the EU can verify the number of signatures. People in Europe appear to be somewhat more disinclined to provide such personal information than we are in the US so getting over one million citizens of the European Union to sign a petition requires a lot of effort by a lot of people. And it requires that the issue push a lot of buttons in order for people to care enough to get involved at all.
The petition was filed with the EU and was qualified as a European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) and named ECI(2012)000007, commonly called Stop Vivisection. The May 11 hearing was then scheduled for the Agricultural Committee as that is the committee responsible for the topic in the EU. The EU then chooses experts to testify on behalf of the various parties including those bring the ECI. I was chosen by the EU to testify on behalf of the initiative. (For more on how all this works see Stop Vivisection’s website.)
The ECI was unique in that it concerned the implications that vivisection has for humans. I was given 16 minutes to discuss why animal models fail to provide predictive value for human response to drugs and disease. However, after 10 minutes I was told by the moderator that my time was up. I could not understand his English so continued to speak but was again interrupted at 12 minutes and told my time was up. This was a serious breach of protocol and was, in my opinion, indicative of how the ECI was handled by the EU Agricultural Committee.
What struck me the most about the comments and question of the Ministers of the European Parliament (MEPs) that attended the hearing was that they were almost exclusively about the ethics of animal use and completely ignored the scientific comments that I had made. Most of the MEPs used the traditional “it is a necessary evil” argument to justify continuing the status quo. It appeared that the MEPs had written their comments prior to the hearing and were just following a script. However, there were quite a few MEPs that listened and expressed interest in learning more about the science and I find that very encouraging!
I think this hearing will go down in history as bringing a new beginning for anti-vivisection in Europe. I am honored to have been a part of it.
The following contains the slides I used and is more or less the points I made during my presentation. The exact howbeit abbreviated presentation can be viewed in video form here. My presentation begins at about 44 minutes and I comments on questions at about 1 hour 23 minutes. Many other people also testified and there were several Q&A sessions. But the below, while not my exact words, is more or less what I said during the hearing and the slides are the exact ones I used. The only additions to what I said during the hearing are some of the last slides. Because my time was revoked, I was unable to present those slides and words and hence include them here. Limiting my time to about 12 minutes after assuring me I would be given 16 minutes was not, in my opinion, unplanned.
Before I begin I want to thank the European Commission and the Agricultural committee for allowing me to speak here today. I also want to thank all the NGOs and individuals responsible for my being here which are too numerous to name. And finally I thank each of you for being here today. Thank you all. It is an honor to be here.
As I have been invited because of my expertise in animal modeling I wanted to briefly summarize my qualifications.
The reason I include the fact that I have no financial interest in the outcome of the use of animals as models for humans is the fact that many surveys have been conducted that purported to prove that almost all scientists support the use of animals in research and testing. These surveys are misleading as 1) almost all the respondents did have a financial interest in animal modeling and 2) none of the surveys that I have seen addressed the predictive value of animal modeling. In reality, there is general agreement in the biomedical sciences and in the pharmaceutical community that animal models have no predictive value for human response to drugs or disease. I cover this extensively in my articles and books. For example, approximately 100 vaccines against HIV tested well in animals including nonhuman primates but none have been successful in humans. Moreover the mechanisms by which HIV enter human cells differs from how it enters the cells of chimpanzees. This has major implications for disease research. Likewise around 1000 drugs were shown in animal models to protect the brain during a stroke but none have been effective in humans.
There are nine ways animals can be used in science and seven out of the nine are viable. Regardless of what your ethical position is, numbers 3 through 9 are ways that animals can be successfully used in science. One should note however that in most of these ways alternatives are available. Where animals cannot be successfully used in science is to predict human response to drugs and disease and this is how animal use in general is justified by vivisection activists. Despite an overall consensus in Pharma and biomedical science that animal lack predictive value for human response to drugs and disease, most animal experimenters still tout animal models as having predictive value. This is the area of my expertise. Predictive value is the primary justification for using animal to study diseases and drugs. It is also the basis for all other rationalizations and justifications and it is demonstrably false.
There are two scientific concepts that explain why animals cannot have predictive value for human response to drugs and disease. The first is evolution.
This is a diagram of how humans and other primates evolved from a common ancestor. The reason evolution occurs is because small changes in the genome such as mutations result in new traits and if these traits are favorable to the organism then more offspring will be produced and if such mutations occur frequently enough in the proper circumstances then a new species may emerge. The important point here is that new species are the result of changes in the genetic make-up of individuals.
The second concept relevant to animal modeling is the fact that animals and humans are complex systems.
This slide illustrates what a complex system is. I want highlight three points.
1. At lower levels of organization complex systems are identical. The carbon atoms in my body are exactly the same as the carbon atoms in an animal.
2. Complex systems have a hierarchy of levels of organization. This means that despite all animal have exactly the same carbon atoms, each animal might react very differently to drugs and disease because these perturbations affect higher levels or organization.
3. The differences among species can lead to differences in responses to perturbations that occur at higher levels of organization (e.g. drugs and disease) and these differences can express in a manner similar to a chaotic system.
This slide illustrates the fact that because complex systems are highly dependent on initial conditions such as genetic make-up, reactions to drugs and disease might be exactly opposite between two particular species. Very small differences in initial conditions, amplified through time, can result in a drug curing one species but killing another.
The empirical evidence supports the theoretical concerns from evolution and complexity science.
This graph compares bioavailability (how much drug administered to a patient is available to the tissues) in humans, primates, rodents and dogs. Because the graph has no pattern, indeed it appears to be a random collection of points, it is called a scattergram. What this means is that even though an animal will occasionally have the same bioavailability as humans, the animal does this so infrequently that even when we know the bioavailability data from the animal we still have no idea what the bioavailability will be in humans. In other words the animal models have no predictive value for human. And yet, this is exactly why animals are used: so we can test or do research on an animal and know what will happen in a human. Animals fail in this purpose in every situation when they are used to study disease or drug response. I am not saying that animals and human have nothing in common. We obviously do. All mammals have hearts and lungs and these organs do the same thing. But disease and drug response occurs at higher levels of organization and it is here that the small genetic differences outweigh the gross similarities between species.
Not only do the genetic differences outweigh the gross similarities among species but very small differences in genetics also outweigh the very myriad similarities among individual humans.
In light of the science we have available today and all the empirical evidence regarding animal models, I have presented a theory that explains our observations when using animals as substitute humans. A theory is not the same in science as a hypothesis. A theory is an explanation of a phenomenon of the material universe that has been tested and shown true many, many times. A theory is a scientific fact. Note that this is not how the word is normally used by nonscientists. Examples of theories in science include cell theory, the germ theory of disease, the big bang theory and plate tectonics theory. All of these theories limit what we can expect to observe in the material universe. For example, when a new species is discovered there is never a debate about whether the species evolved or was created.
The facts I have briefly communicated today come from diverse areas of science and many scientists do not understand anything outside their very small area of expertise. For example very few mathematicians or physicists are familiar with evolutionary biology and few evolutionary biologists are well versed in complexity science. But none of the facts I have presented are controversial among the experts in those respective areas of science. What is controversial is trans-species modeling theory which puts all the facts together and comes to the conclusion that animal model cannot have predictive value for human response to drugs and disease. But even this is controversial only to people who have a financial interest in animal modeling. Sadly, this group includes some people who claim to be animal protectionists but who would be out of a job if animal experimentation suddenly ended.
This is why the 3Rs, so touted among some who are well paid to defend the status quo, are irrelevant piffle when applied to animal use that feigns predictive value. The notion that animal models must be evaluated on an case by case basis is the position of many with pretensions to sophistication but who in fact do not understand the fundamentals of science. The premise upon which animal modeling is based is that it can accurately predict how humans will respond to drugs and disease and correctly identify mechanisms for disease. This dates back to a time when animal experimenters were creationists and denied Darwin’s theory of evolution. The notion that animals have predictive value for human response to drugs and disease has been shown empirically to be false and a theory, based on complexity science and evolutionary biology, now exists to explain why such is the case and always will be the case regardless of how much genetic modification is done to the animals. Only a bizarre characterization of reality would suggest that something that is simply ineffective as well as harmful to humans should be continued until such a time as a better method is invented. We stopped bloodletting long before we discovered antibiotics and rightly so as bloodletting was nonsense. Sometimes animals do respond in a fashion similar to humans but this can only be ascertained retrospectively and hence has no value in predicting human response to drugs and disease. Dowsing will occasionally indicate a spot where a well should be dug but this is just luck based on random chance, not science. The same is true of animal modeling.
It would be unreasonable of me to expect all of you to understand the scientific topics I have so briefly covered today. I have over 20 articles in per-reviewed journals and very few scientists understand all of the science supporting my position. But society is being harmed both directly and indirectly because of animal modeling. If the EC is serious about saving the lives of people suffering from illness and wish do so in the most efficient and effective manner possible, then the EC needs to pursue evaluating this initiative in a suitable forum. Both defenders of animal modeling and I should be allowed to present our cases and given enough time to explain the pertinent science to the EC. Our positions and data can be judged by experts in the relative areas of science as outlined in this slide. I am not asking anyone to take my word for my position and in this type of forum the animal experimenters will be held scientifically accountable for their claims as well. This is the only way that scientific conflicts can be understood and eventually resolved by governments. It is naïve to hope that vested interest groups can police themselves. In science there are right and wrong answers and nonscientists all too frequently cannot tell the difference. I want the opportunity to defend what current science reveals and have offered to do this many times in a debate format. But animal modelers have not complied. This alone should tell you something about their position. I want experts in the relevant areas of science to judge my position. Animal experimenters do not. You do not need to be an expert in science to recognize that this speaks volumes regarding their legitimacy.