Friday, May 19, 2006

Commentary: Logic on the Side of Those Against Animal Testing: Don’t Believe Me? Just Read This: An Absolute Must Read

Amazing, just amazing. You see, I love logic. It tends to dispel any wrong and pushes us on our way. Well, this piece, written by a professor of philosophy does just that. It literally dissects the issue of animal testing based on logic and shows that the arguments for animal testing are fallacious. Please read on. This is an absolute must read. I’ve put in a quick quote from the commentary to get an idea of the argument and of the article:

“A list of benefits is not enough. Since there are two main properties animal tests are wanted to determine -- therapeutic value and dangerous side-effects, there are four kinds of possible mistakes to be concerned about. There are the therapeutic false positives -- drugs that are promising with test subjects, but useless with human beings -- and therapeutic false negatives -- substances that would have been beneficial for human beings but for which no benefit was found in animal tests. And there are also false positives and negatives in tests for dangerous side-effects -- false positives, where a drug is dangerous to test subjects, though not to human beings -- and false negatives, where the drug is safe for test subjects, but not for human beings.”

Commentary:

Why the Pro-Testers Won't Win (in a Fair Debate)

http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/
viewArticle.asp?articleID=9221

Robert Bass, Ph.D. His website: http://personal.bgsu.edu/~roberth/

Robert Bass, Ph.D, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Coastal Carolina University. He specializes in ethics and game theory, and is especially interested in moral questions relating to the environment and our treatment of animals.

May 8, 2006

You do not settle if an experiment is justified or not by merely showing it is of some use. The distinction is not between useful and useless experiments, but between barbourous and civilized behavior. Vivisection is a social evil because if it advances human knowledge, it does so at the expence of human character.

- George Bernard Shaw

In a provocatively titled piece in Spiked, "Animal rights protesters: don't ban them, beat them," James Panton makes a powerful and effective point in favor of free speech. Rightly, he argues that the only way to really defeat the animal-rights demonstrators is to win the debate. Suppressing them, making protest impossible or illegal will only rouse public sympathy, focus attention on their cause and case, and generate resentment at the unfair tactics. Moreover, though Panton doesn't mention it, legal suppression may be self-defeating, for it may attract support to the few extremists who argue that violence is the only recourse when one's cause is systematically denied a hearing.

As a member of the Oxford-based group, Pro-Test, whose punning name indicates their support for animal research, Panton is confident the animal-research advocates would win in open and honest debate. That may be more difficult than Panton imagines. If we look at the real arguments rather than at sound-bites and T-shirt slogans, the Pro-Testers need to win on three fronts at once:

1. They need to win the scientific debate: animal research must provide results that can reliably be applied to human beings.

2. They need to win the moral debate: there must be no serious moral objection to animal testing.

3. They need to win the funding debate: animal research needs to be a reasonable use of available funds, especially when those monies are being contributed by taxpayers.

These are independent issues. If animal research does not yield results that apply to humans, the Pro-Testers' main argument falls by the wayside. Why do the animal testing if it won't do any good? Second, if there are serious moral problems with the animal research, it would not matter how useful the research might otherwise be. We would be no more entitled to those benefits at that moral price than Nazi doctors were entitled to make medical progress at the expense of concentration camp victims. And third, if there are wiser, more effective, allocations of the funds available to support and enhance human health as well as to treat or prevent human disease, then the animal research should neither be supported nor carried out, even if it is both scientifically useful and morally unproblematic. If the Pro-Testers lose the debate on any front, then they lose, period.

Can the Pro-Testers win on all three fronts? Panton seems confident that the science is on his side, that the moral debate is an easy victory and doesn't think to mention the funding debate. In fact, however, it is doubtful that the Pro-Testers can win any of the key debates, much less all three of them.

Consider the scientific argument. Reasons for doubt are legion. Panton does not, for example, explain just what U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt got wrong when he announced in a January 2006 press release that "nine out of ten experimental drugs fail in clinical studies because we cannot accurately predict how they will behave in people based on laboratory and animal studies."

Moreover, if we are going to consider the scientific value of animal research, we have to do the accounting correctly. That means we have to consider benefits minus costs. A list of benefits is not enough. Since there are two main properties animal tests are wanted to determine -- therapeutic value and dangerous side-effects, there are four kinds of possible mistakes to be concerned about. There are the therapeutic false positives -- drugs that are promising with test subjects, but useless with human beings -- and therapeutic false negatives -- substances that would have been beneficial for human beings but for which no benefit was found in animal tests. And there are also false positives and negatives in tests for dangerous side-effects -- false positives, where a drug is dangerous to test subjects, though not to human beings -- and false negatives, where the drug is safe for test subjects, but not for human beings.

Any honest accounting of the human costs and benefits of animal research must estimate the human benefits after subtracting the losses from ineffective treatments that looked promising on animals, the losses of those denied beneficial treatments that flunked an animal test, and the losses of those whose harmful treatments passed the animal tests. The real benefits to human beings are bound to be a lot less than it appears in pro-animal-testing propaganda, and we really have no good idea how great they are, or even if there are any at all, because the detailed accounting is almost never done.

An indication of how little accounting is done appears in the title question of a recent BMJ (British Medical Journal) article, "Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans?". The authors explain that

[c]linicians and the public often consider it axiomatic that animal research has contributed to the treatment of human disease, yet little evidence is available to support this view. Few methods exist for evaluating the clinical relevance or importance of basic animal research, and so its clinical (as distinct from scientific) contribution remains uncertain. Anecdotal evidence or unsupported claims are often used as justification -- for example, statements that the need for animal research is "self evident" or that "Animal experimentation is a valuable research method which has proved itself over time." Such statements are an inadequate form of evidence for such a controversial area of research. We argue that systematic reviews of existing and future research are needed.

Plainly, if systematic reviews are needed to overcome the weakness of merely anecdotal evidence and unsupported claims, the matter is not already settled. Certainly, it is not settled by proclamations that the serious debate is already over.

But this is only the beginning. Even if the debate over the usefulness of animal testing were to turn out as Panton hopes, the other two debates would also need to be won. Consider the moral debate. Here, the problem is causing death and suffering to animals for the sake of benefits they don't understand, have no reason to care about, and are not able to consent to. On the face of it, that seems hard to justify. Certainly, anyone trying to justify it has the burden of proof.

There's only one way I know to make it look easy. The Pro-Testers could pretend to believe that the animals have no conscious awareness, no feeling or capacity to suffer, but this is the kind of position that could be adopted only in a desperate attempt to save a theory. It is true that if lab animals were insentient beings, incapable of experiencing the world or caring what happened to them, then it would be hard to see what moral importance their lives, in or out of the laboratories, would have. But that view of animals, however conveniently it might rationalize ignoring their suffering, flies in the face, not only of common sense, but of the combined weight of evidence from several sciences, including ethology, neurophysiology, and evolutionary biology. It is not an option that can be taken seriously by people who claim to be on the side of science.

That means the Pro-Testers must shoulder the burden of proof. They must say what justifies causing the suffering and death of at least tens of millions of animals in laboratories every year. Realistically, they have only a single option. They cannot suppose that animal lives are as important as our own, or even nearly so, for then they would have to join the animal-rights camp. They would be as horrified at the thought of imposing lifelong, involuntary incarceration and poisoning upon a sensitive, feeling being like a dog as they would at imposing similar suffering and death on handicapped children. The Pro-Testers must think that animals have some value that we ought to consider. Their lives may not be as valuable or as important as human lives -- but they are not mere zeros that we can do anything we like with. They count, they matter -- and responsible people will consider animal lives, well-being and suffering in their decisions.

If it is given that animal lives and well-being matter, how can the Pro-Testers justify making experimental subjects of them, making them the unconsenting tools of our research? Only one answer is at all plausible, that the human benefits outweigh the animal suffering. But that is dubious on at least three counts.

First, much animal testing takes place for the sake of what we already know are only minuscule human benefits. Much testing is of commercial products like cosmetics and oven cleaner. Even if we didn't have other ways to test their safety and effectiveness than (say) putting them into rabbits' eyes for a week to see how much damage they do, it's hard to believe that there's really a pressing need for another brand of oven cleaner. And the fact is -- which makes the animal testing even less defensible -- we do have other ways to test.

Second, there are the considerable doubts already discussed about whether there are any net human benefits to be weighed. Even if human benefits can, in principle, outweigh the animal costs, we are comparing doubtful benefits to a certain cost, the suffering and death of many millions of animals a year. Until the doubts about the scientific value of animal research are laid to rest, the moral argument from outweighing benefit can't get off the ground.

Third, once we have acknowledged that we must take animals into account, that their lives matter in their own right and not just for what they can do for us, even a clear showing of human benefit will not necessarily be enough to justify animal experimentation. What would have to be shown is not only that there is some net human benefit but also that the benefit is enough to outweigh the harm and suffering that comes to the unconsenting animal test subjects.

Apart from the serious issue of when or whether we may impose harms upon others for our own benefit – which sounds disconcertingly like a definition of selfishness – any attempt to do the moral accounting will have to say something about how animal interests are to be weighed. We’re supposing that animals and their lives have some value -- not as much as humans, but some. Let’s suppose their value is very small -- say, each of their lives a thousandth the value of a human life, and each case of human suffering a thousand times as important as the same amount of animal suffering. That seems safely distant from any extremes of animal-human equality.

That may make it permissible to kill a thousand laboratory animals to save a single human life, permissible to cause terrible suffering to a thousand animals to save a single human being from similar suffering, and so on. But we cannot stop there. If the ratio is a thousand-to-one, we will also have to draw the consequence that it is not worth sacrificing 1001 animal lives to save a human life. Virtually all medical experimentation on animals will be ruled out. A conservative estimate gives seventeen to twenty-three million as the number of animals sacrificed annually in the U.S. for research, but no one seriously thinks that animal experiments save seventeen to twenty-three thousand human lives a year. Thus, even on a generous accounting, heavily weighted in favor of human interests, medical research on animals looks nearly impossible to justify.

Even that nearly impossible justification, if it could be provided, would not be enough to win the funding debate. Let us suppose the unlikely has happened. Somehow, it is known that there will be human benefit from some animal study. Some number of human lives will be saved. Also, somehow, it is known that the human benefit will outweigh the animal costs. There's still a moral question to be raised -- in addition to the important one raised by the fact that the detailed harm-versus-benefit justifications are rarely actually offered: The animal study will cost something, so-and-so many millions of dollars to save however many lives it is. Before concluding that we’ve gotten a good deal, we need to ask if we couldn't have achieved as great or greater gains for the same money, spent some other way.

Suppose the animal study can be expected (after all uncertainties are taken into account) to give an extra fifteen healthy years to a thousand cancer patients over the next ten years. That would be a substantial gain. On the other hand, even scientifically conservative organizations like the American Cancer Society peg dietary and lifestyle choices as the cause of 30-40 percent of cancers. Could the so-and-so many millions of dollars be spent on nutrition and lifestyle education instead, with equal or greater impact? Or on something else that would add as many healthy years? There isn’t an a priori answer, but it seems that often the answer will be Yes -- and when it is, the lives and suffering of the animals used in the experiments will be entirely wasted. They need not have been sacrificed at all for that human benefit. Responsible funding agencies will take that fact into account in deciding what projects to fund. Any agency that does not take that kind of possibility into account is not being responsible with the funds, often collected from taxpayers, that have been entrusted to it.

These are the reasons the Pro-Testers are unlikely to win a fair debate. They have to win every one of three key debates -- and they're not likely to win any. Does that mean the Pro-Testers won't win? Unfortunately, it doesn't, for they might well win the one debate that will make all the difference: They might win the political debate. Appealing to popular prejudice and ignorance, with support from deep-pocketed corporate lobbyists and corrupt politicians, they might very well get their way, even if the lose all the key intellectual, moral and public policy debates. That is the Pro-Testers' best shot at winning -- but they should be ashamed of winning that way.

Robert Bass, Ph.D, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Coastal Carolina University. He specializes in ethics and game theory, and is especially interested in moral questions relating to the environment and our treatment of animals.

http://personal.bgsu.edu/~roberth/

No comments:

Search for More Content

Custom Search
Bookmark and Share

Past Articles