Speaking of Neuroscience

All three organizations behind the Pro-Test Petition came together in support of lifesaving research at the Society for Neuroscience this weekend gone. Both Pro-Test for Science founder, David Jentsch, and Speaking of Research founder, Tom Holder, made appearances at Americans for Medical Progress’ booth to encourage students and scientists to sign the petition. The petition, now at well over 11,000 signatories, recently gained the backing of the Society for the Study of Reproduction who emailed all their members – adding their name to the list of bioscience organisations in supports including the American Physiological Society and the Society for Neuroscience.

Holder also addressed scientists during the “Animals in Research Workshop: Widening the Tent: Building Support, Creating New Allies for Animal Research“. The workshop was chaired by Dr. Jeffrey Kordower, who recently wrote an article for the Journal of Neuroscience about the need to address animal rights extremism in the US. The first speaker, Jasper Daube – Professor of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic – talked of the importance of using a wide range of social media to bring our message to the public. The second speaker, Robin Elliott, urged scientists and institutions to contact Patient Advocacy Groups – a natural ally of modern research – to get involved. Elliott also mentioned the problem that a passionate majority will trump a quiet majority – a point picked up by Tom Holder during his talk on getting the science community to stand up publicly for research. Holder spoke of the change in public opinion in the UK, and parallels with the US before offering some practical suggestions on how the science community must approach this issue. Finally Helmut Kettenmann, President of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, talked about the new European Directive on animal research. One particularly good idea made in this final speech was for scientists to encourage their PhD students to give local school talks on the importance of animal models – such students are often more energetic and of a closer age to their high school counterparts.

PeTA (People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals) also made an appearance. After a national press release they attracted a grand total of nine activists to stand outside the SfN conference wielding emotive and completely out of context images of animals in research. When approached, the activists appeared to have no idea of where, when, or even what country, the pictures on their banners were from.

To finish with a quote – the blog Neurotopia covered the Animals in Research workshop:

I got to hear Tom Holder, the founder of Speaking of Research , talk about the progress that has been made. In the UK, people have vocally supported animal research, marches in support have easily outnumbered and overwhelmed the vocal minority. In the US, that is not yet the case, scientists are still scared.

But, as David Jentsch told me later, we cannot let fear hold us back, we need to let our outrage overwhelm the fear that we are all feeling. And we are outraged. In biomedical research, we scientists have made huge strides in developing cures for illness. Cancer drugs, psychiatric medications, the new flu vaccine, treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis, arthritis. We need animals to do our research. We use other techniques in cells and humans, of course, but the fact is, we just don’t know enough about the body to make non-animal models which are useful.



15 thoughts on “Speaking of Neuroscience

  1. Will,

    I’ve never killed anybody either so I’m good on that front…well except during the Gulf War but that was a war.

    And the car isn’t yours so you have no right to burn it. Neither were the homes set ablaze, nor the labs. In your twisted little mind it’s OK to threaten people that you disagree with because the ends justify the means. In the end, that philosophy doesn’t usually work out so well. Typically what happens is exactly what is happening now. Those that are targeted eventually stand up and face the bullies.

  2. Prof. Jentsch makes an excellent point about the goal post moving that is favored by the ARA types and is being demonstrated by Will here. Misrepresenting anecdotes (true or false, they don’t care) as reflecting the general status of *all* animal research is an explicit strategy…just so long as it is working. As soon as you falsify their linkage of anecdote to general situation, they rapidly shift back to the philosophical objection to *any* use of animals, regardless of the specific treatment. Then as soon as the next debate emerges, right back they are to their misrepresentations.

    I salute the SoR people for playing this game of Whack-a-Mole as each old lie raises its ugly head once again.

    With respect to what research is “trivial”, I agree that this is a legitimate discussion to have. The trouble is, Will, that people of your bent are never discussing this in good faith, it is a mere tactic in your larger agenda which finds *all* research with animals to be unjustified. So I would suggest to Jack that it is not that Will and his fellows are ignorant of science…they may or may not be. They are unwilling to integrate your arguments into their thinking, no matter *what* you may say. Completely and utterly unwilling to consider any other viewpoints in their singleminded, cultish pursuit of their pre-existing faith based ideology. Can you logically argue the religiously devout out of their beliefs? This is what you are dealing with here.

  3. Jack –

    As you know vivisectors publish the details of their “work” on a regular basis including who they killed, how they killed, and what procedures may have been performed along the way.

    If vivisectors do not publish these details, they are often available through public records requests. There is no need for anyone to rely on Steve Best for information.

    By the way, how many individuals have been killed by Steve Best? None. A claim that vivisectors cannot make.

    Be clear, the violence that occurs in the course of this dispute is overwhelmingly committed by vivisectors against animals…virtually without exception. Yet vivisectors have the audacity to claim victimhood if a car gets set on fire…or a blog posts an unpleasant blurb about them.

  4. Will,

    You really don’t have any idea how animal research really works do you? You have absolutely no idea what goes on in an animal facility and as far as I can tell can only spout off what you’ve heard elsewhere. Ever thought about questioning the sources of your information? Just because some lunatic like Steve Best says we do certain things doesn’t mean it’s true.

  5. So the baldness cure that you address on the Pro-Test blog was poorly described by the mainstream media and was only incidentally a baldness cure. The real question would be if its sole application was to cure baldness – would you object to killing animals in order to gain that knowledge?

    I think the womb transplant is a good example because it is, as you suggest, not quite so trivial. But neither is the act of maiming and killing animals. The most trivial examples (i.e. baldness) are really just the thin edge of the wedge so to speak.

    If the benefit to humans is supposed to be balanced against the cost to animals then seemingly there will be times when non-trivial benefits to humans will be precluded because the non-trivial harm to animals will outweigh them.

  6. Some research, say on cosmetic treatments, would at first glance fall under the category of “too trivial”… but then what about cosmetic treatments that are being developed for burn victims? These might not be necessary for their survival but quite beneficial to the victim’s mental health and their ability to lead as normal a life as possible. Should the fact that they may eventually be used far more often by uninjured people who just want to look younger veto the whole project?

    As to baldness cures I covered that topic a couple of years back on the Pro-Test blog http://www.pro-test.org.uk/b2evo/index.php?blog=7&title=more_than_cure_for_baldness&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1

    Sometimes research isn’t quite as trivial as it first appears.

    I have say that when I saw the womb transplant story it did strike me as a little pointless. I wouldn’t say that it is trivial, like it or not having children is very, very important to many people*, but I’d prefer to have seen the grant money go to Alzheimers research.

    * Having children is also not important to a lot of people, which is also fine. People on both sides of the baby argument tend to be very judgemental in a way that is very counter productive in our overpopulated, but in some societies also aging, world.

  7. Well all it’s been entertaining discussing things with everyone but I’ve decided it’s pointless. The AR folkes will never see the benfits of animal research. I find that conversing on these sites makes me feel angry inside and I no longer wish to feel that way, I’m done.

  8. It is insufficient to cite alleged benefits…the costs in terms of animal suffering and lives must also be considered.

    David, do you think that there is any human health affliction that is too trivial to warrant the confinment of animals, invasive experiments on animals, and/or the death of animals?

    For example, do you believe that a sure-fire cure for baldness would warrant killing animals? How about an erectile dysfunction drug? Womb transplants have been in the news lately (and the animal deaths that go along with pursuing the development of such a procedure) yet individuals who would be candidates for a womb transplant could always adopt!

    It strikes me as though there are many problems that are too trivial to warrant animal research (I realize that this is a partial argument that does not address all research…it is not intended to)

  9. The issue with claims made by Charles and Jack are not factually irrelevant only because they involve historical references (implying that what happened in the past bears any relation to the nature of biomedical research today) but also because they are anecdotal.

    Anecdotes are problematic for many reasons – first and foremost because they rarely give one an accurate picture of the more general phenomenon they are argued to represent. The behavior of one scientist, once upon a time (while potentially useful for metaphorical purposes) simply does not necessarily give one an accurate view of the way the field works. This is certainly true when one undertakes the biased approach of picking and choosing candidates to begin with. The real question is not how one person acts but how the scientific collective acts. I – and many others like me – argue that the collective starts with benevolent intentions (the betterment of the world), uses considered and refined approaches and keeps the welfare of their subjects (whether human or animal) in the forefront of their considerations at all times.

    What we should concern ourselves with is how scientific research works today, how it benefits animals and humans, what mechanisms are drawn upon to afford optimal care for the animals and where we can go in the future to further improvements in these areas.

  10. Charles,

    For me, anyway, there is a difference between animals and people. Certainly there have been horrific experiments done on humans in the past (the Tuskegee Experiments for example) and there have been horrible experiments done with animals. I don’t think you would find many scientists that would dispute that. However, Paul makes an excellent point that animal research continues to improve medical knowledge and are you willing to forgo the benefits that may result from such research?

  11. Jack (and Charles), I have to say that I’m not keen on the historical question. I’ve read enough about various very important studies done in tha past using both humans and animals that I think could have been done better, even judging by the scientific and technical standards of the time. It’s fair to point out that anesthesia was in it’s absolute infancy , and quite controversial and rare when J. Marion Sims undertook his controversial work on slaves in Alabama.

    I think a more relevant question for anti-vivistectionists is are they willing to forego and treatments developed through animal research that is being conducted now (or since they became an AV activist) or in the future, since this is what they are seeking to impose on the rest of society.

  12. Jack,

    Have you ever asked a mother who supports human rights to forgo the substantial advances made as a result of J. Marion Sims performing repeated unanesthetized vaginal surgeries on black slaves? Certainly, many millions of people have benefited from these abhorrent practices, too. I suspect you haven’t because whether they forgo these ill-gotten benefits today has no bearing on whether the practice of experimenting on unconsenting humans was/is ethical or not (regardless of the benefits).

  13. Will,

    Are you willing to forgo all the advances made through animal testing? I’m just wondering because every time I ask the question to you AR nuts I don’t get a straight answer. That’s because your side is typically fine with the benefits but just want attention. If you’re willing to forgo all the benefits then that’s fine. I’ll send you a list if you like of what you can’t use if needed.

  14. What do you mean by “out of context” images? Should these protesters have had photocopies of the journal article that may or may not have resulted from the experiments depicted on their placards? Should they have made a point to explain to passers-by how IACUCs function?

    The photos I have seen of PETA activists at this event showed showed them holding photos of monkeys in restraint chairs…this is not a decades old technology nor is it relegated to far off lands that can be easily dismissed by scientists working in the United States. Since I was not in attendance at this event, perhaps you are aware of other photos?

    Finally, with respect to the number of protesters…it is pretty appalling that you seem to believe that the rights of animals are subject to a vote. The rights of animals are no more subject to a vote than are the rights of women, African-Americans, or anyone else for that matter.

  15. “PeTA (People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals) also made an appearance. After a national press release they attracted a grand total of nine activists to stand outside the SfN conference wielding emotive and completely out of context images of animals in research. When approached, the activists appeared to have no idea of where, when, or even what country, the pictures on their banners were from.”

    That is so stereotypical of PeTA. A handful of activists who don’t even know what they’re on about. Although it’s so easy to get sucked into the emotions of it all, who wouldn’t feel sorry for cute fluffy animals in cages, even if they don’t know what is going on and what the full story is.

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