Expectations and reality of the benefits of animal research


A new research study published in ALTA underlines the stark gap between expectations and reality when it comes to animal research. The study surveyed members of the public, medical students and researchers, and found that overall their expectations of human health benefits, of animal welfare measures, and of methodological rigour vastly exceed the empirical reality of animal research (AR). For example, on the expectation of translation of AR to human health benefit, 86% of the members of the public surveyed thought “it was ‘often true’ that a treatment discovered through the use of AR leads to direct or indirect benefits for humans”, despite the reality that the actual translation rate is 0-5%.

The researchers note that “the general public and medical student expectations of the methodology and translation of AR are far higher than the empirical data show to have been achieved: there is a disconnect between these expectations and the empirical reality of AR”. This dramatic discrepancy presents an important opportunity for animal advocates. As the researchers say: “if the general public were better informed, then they would likely withdraw their conditional support for AR, or at least seriously re-consider such support.”

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Second Thoughts of an Animal Researcher

monkey photo

© China Daily/Reuters

John Gluck spent many years conducting experiments on rhesus monkeys, hoping to find treatments for mental illness in humans. In a recent essay in the New York Times, he says: “Like many researchers, I once believed that intermittent scientific gains justified methods that almost always did harm“. Today, his views couldn’t be more different. “There is no research more valuable than our own integrity and ethical coherence, and our treatment of animals is a direct reflection of our values toward life and one another“. Professor Gluck’s unflinching essay offers a profound challenge to researchers who continue to harm animals in the name of medical ‘progress’.

Readers may recall that Professor Gluck was recently featured in QAD’s poster series, “Hidden Costs / Hidden Potential“:

Gluck Poster-Final

Zoos and circuses: The wrong kind of education about animals

Asian elephants perform for the final time in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus on May 1 in Providence, R.I. (Bill Sikes/Associated Press)

Asian elephants perform for the final time in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus on May 1 in Providence, R.I.
(Bill Sikes/Associated Press)

Donaldson and Kymlicka, co-founders of the Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law and Ethics research initiative at Queen’s University, published today an op-ed in The Globe and Mail on the issue of animals used in zoos and circuses and what it teaches us.

Growing public unease has prompted the multibillion-dollar zoo industry to rebrand zoos as institutions of “education” rather than “entertainment,” in the hope that this will make captivity seem more acceptable. But notice that this shift is more about the human experience than it is about the situation for the animals. For them, the realities of social and environmental deprivation remain, and so-called enriched zoo habitats merely gloss over the realities of rigid control, manipulation and impoverishment, whether or not animals are trained for public performance.

Click here to read the full article.

Misleading Information Can Be Worse than No Information

Animal experimentation is often presented by its proponents as a necessity for securing human health that has no drawbacks: it can only help, it is said. But it is becoming increasingly known that this picture is inaccurate, as animal experimentation hurts humans in many different ways: by providing misleading results in safety studies (given the differences between human diseases and nonhuman diseases and each species’ physiology), by causing potential abandonment of useful medical treatments and by directing resources away from more effective testing methods. In other words, there is a critical, and often neglected, human cost when we choose to use animals as models in health sciences.

According to neurologist Aysha Akhtar, these costs even outweigh the potential benefits, as it is discussed in her article “The Flaws and Human Harms of Animal Experimentation” published last fall in the Cambridge Quaterly of Healthcare Ethics:

Abstract: Nonhuman animal (“animal”) experimentation is typically defended by arguments that it is reliable, that animals provide sufficiently good models of human biology and diseases to yield relevant information, and that, consequently, its use provides major human health benefits. I demonstrate that a growing body of scientific literature critically assessing the validity of animal experimentation generally (and animal modeling specifically) raises important concerns about its reliability and predictive value for human outcomes and for understanding human physiology. The unreliability of animal experimentation across a wide range of areas undermines scientific arguments in favor of the practice. Additionally, I show how animal experimentation often significantly harms humans through misleading safety studies, potential abandonment of effective therapeutics, and direction of resources away from more effective testing methods. The resulting evidence suggests that the collective harms and costs to humans from animal experimentation outweigh potential benefits and that resources would be better invested in developing human-based testing methods.

In sum, writes the author, “misleading information can be worse than no information from animal tests” (413).

Dr Akhtar has also published the book Animals and Public Health: Why Treating Animals Better is Critical to Human Welfare, in 2012, that explores in depth similar issues:

Akhtar - Animals and Publich Health