Speaking of Research regularly puts its efforts into debunking the pseudoscience put about by animal rights groups. This post aims to bring together some of the more popular of those articles. Naturally, much of our debunking exists on our “Bad Science” page, where we explain the science behind some of the so called “myths of vivisection”. Perhaps my favourite from here is one I have always found so clearly dishonest that it could only have been created by a wilful attempt to mislead the reader:
Despite many Nobel prizes being awarded to vivisectors, only 45% agree that animal experiments are crucial.
This claim, which is supposed to give the impression that 55% of Nobel Laureates don’t agree with vivisection, is probably the most petty of many misleading claims. However to get to the bottom of this claim we must see the source.
The source for this is the anti-vivisection newsletter VIN (issue 2):
“Andrew Blake of Seriously Ill for Medical Research … wrote to all living Nobel prizewinners [sic] [in Physiology and Medicine]. Of these 71 winners, 39 replied. Of the 39 who replied, 31 (80%) agreed that animal experiments were crucial to their work. This was 45% of total living prizewinners. [See screenshot of poll]”
82% who partook in the questionnaire agreed (or strongly agreed) that animal experimentation was crucial to their work (indeed 32 out of 39). It should be further mentioned that 100% agreed that “animal experiments have been vital to the discovery and development of many advances in physiology and medicine” and 100% agreed that “Animal experiments are still crucial to the investigation and development of many medical treatments”.
SIMR (since closed) is a small group that campaigns in support of medical research. The fact that over half of the Nobel Laureates responded to the questionnaire sent by a small group that almost none had previously heard of is itself testimony to the value they place on animal research.
The methodology of the anti-vivisection analysis suggests that if you walk around a high street and ask 100 people if they prefer Winston Churchill or Adolph Hitler and 0 say Hitler, and 30 say Churchill, and 70 ignore you altogether, then we should assume that only 30% of people prefer Churchill to Hitler. You only ever include those who partake in your survey in your statistics.
We have also spoken about the attempts by activists to suggest that alternatives could fully replace animal research. We have long said that the word “alternatives” is itself misleading, and the phrase “complementary methods” would give a better understanding. Just as hammers, chisels and screwdrivers might complement each other, so too do in vitro methods, computer modelling and animal models. Nonetheless, we have written more detailed explanations on the limits of fMRI and computer simulations in order for people to see that all these methods are used in conjunction, so as to bypass the limitations of any one of them.
Debunking the misinformed bits of science can be difficult. Apparently simple claims often need quite complex answers. Prof. Lovell-Badge wrote a great reply (one of our most popular articles, and well worth reading) to the claim that animal testing is useless because 92% of drugs still fail during clinical trials. On other occasions we have found that apparently complex arguments contain simple errors, such as a claim made by animal rights activist Michael Budkie when he accused scientists of pointlessly duplicating publically funded research – and once again SR debunked the claims (as did the National Institutes of Health days later). Sometimes the claims suffer not from complexity but from oversimplification as with the New York Times piece entitled “Mice Fall Short as Test Subjects for Humans’ Deadly Ills”. This was put through the skeptic looking glass in a guest post by Mark Wanner. Sometimes we also need to deal with more prevalent misunderstandings, perpetuated by animal rights groups, such as when we explained the difference in the terms “animal research” and “animal testing”.
We also regularly investigate the animal rights groups and individuals who involve themselves in spreading these myths – looking at their claims and connections. Most recently we deconstructed the website of a new pseudoscience group – For Life on Earth. In 2012, we debunked the claims made by Stop UBC Animal Research (SUBCAR) about scientists at the University of British Colombia. Occasionally we hit a very raw nerve. After exposing Prof. Stephen Best as a hypocritical animal rights extremist we received legal threats by email. To counter this, we wrote another article backed up with further evidence that showed he was helping to fund the animal rights extremist group, Negotiation is Over.
Of course sometimes we just simplify everything and turn it into a game of bingo. Much more fun.
We are always keen to debunk the claims of the animal rights crank, so make sure you contact us with any new claims you read and we’ll do our best to get to the bottom of the sources. You should also check out the Science Action Network, which aims to combat the misrepresentation of animal research in the media. Follow @ARnonsenseRT on Twitter to get alerts. Together we’ll get over the STORM.
Speaking of Research