Skeptical Science: Debunking Animal Rights Misinformation

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.

Animal Rights Bingo

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

20 thoughts on “Skeptical Science: Debunking Animal Rights Misinformation

  1. Janweeks… i can tell you there is not a vaccine used in animals that has not been tested on them….. also your right you dont know what you would do if you came down with a disease that the treatment or cure what developed thru animal testing.. so what right do you have to look down on those who do use one?? I for one am thankful for the fact we are able to… I thankful for the people who work are to find treatments and cures and for those who keep looking… My daughter has a disease (huntingtons) that will take her like before she reaches 30 years old… I support research, not just for her but for all families who are dealing with this disease.. it is not because I dont care about animals (I work as a vet tech with animals, and i often like the dogs and cats more than their owners) But it means that yes I value a human like over the life of a animals. Meaning if I had to choose between your life and the life of animal i would choose you.

  2. Easier still to take the moral low road regarding animals, especially if your attitudes are speciesist and you think humans are special and more deserving of life because we are, well, human. I say, to each his or her own–only an individual can decide whether or not the lives and suffering of millions of test-subject animals matter less than his or her own.

    1. So you’ll refuse any and all advances made using animal models? You’ll refuse that MRI or CT scan should the doctor say you need one? You’ll forgo the prescription drugs for any and all illnesses? You’ll refuse emergency care should you need it? Same with your pets? You’re willing to do all that?

      1. I do my best to stay clear of pharmaceuticals of any kind and medical procedures and tests that may or may not be warranted. This is not to say I am perfect by any means and if I were stricken by a serious illness, who is to say what choice I might make. I always ask a lot of questions, make sure my doctor knows my preference to avoid products that resulted from animal testing or that contain animal ingredients, and try to make choices that cause the least harm. As for my canine companions, they receive their rabies vaccines, because it is the law, and whatever else they need to protect them from harm. Again, I ask a lot of questions and make sure their veterinarian knows my preference to avoid products that resulted from animal testing or that contain animal ingredients.In this way, consumers can lend a voice to ethical concerns about the cruelty of animal testing, doctors and veterinarians can convey their patients’ concerns to pharmaceutical companies, and fewer animals will be made to suffer and die as victims of cruel experimentation.

  3. “Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are like us.’

    “Ask the experimenters why it is morally okay to experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are not like us.’

    “Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction.” ~ Professor Charles R. Magel

    The existence of disease and suffering in humans is no acceptable excuse or tenable reason for us to cause deliberate harm to others. We are neither greater nor lesser than other beings. We would learn better how to care for ourselves and find clues to good health by studying our nonhuman relatives in their natural habitats than subjecting them to deprivation; stressful confinement in barren cages; torturous laboratory experiments; cruel testing procedures; and eventual, premature death.

    Left to their own devices, animals in nature are smarter than humans when it comes to staying fit and healthy. Unlike humans, they get plenty of exercise and rest, they eat and drink in moderation what they’re supposed to eat and drink, they reject toxic substances and plant foods they know will make them sick, and they stay alert to and avoid harm and known dangers–when they are able. Theirs is an ancient, time-honored wisdom. If or when they fall ill, they hide and rest, they drink water, and they often seek natural, herbal remedies to relieve their pain and suffering, remedies passed down through the ages.

    Do you ever look into the eyes of your experimentation victims or try to put yourself in their place? If you could do that, you would see that it is morally and ethically wrong to subject billions of smaller, defenseless beings to lives of loneliness, fear, pain, torture, and death–just because they are nonhuman and because we can. You see, I believe all beings are equally deserving to live our lives free of molestation and harm, to live by our own wits, and to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as long as that happiness does not harm anyone else. Humans are neither more nor less deserving of these fundamental rights than others. We have no right to deprive others of their basic rights or freedoms or cause deliberate harm to them just because we can.

    1. You have a very simplistic, and naive, view of disease. As though all our ills can be cured by being vegan. My father has Vitiligo, an autoimmune disease which, in his case, is caused by a mutation in the NALP1 gene. It had nothing to do with what he eats or his lifestyle or whatever other idea you have. It was genetic. He takes a medication that inhibits caspase which is part of the inflammatory response and linked to Vitiligo to help control his condition. According to your ideas, he should just suck it up and suffer.

      The cure rate for childhood leukemia is around 90% right now due in large part to research using animal models. Techniques such chemotherapy and stem cell transplant which are used to treat the disease were directly the result of animal testing. I suppose the children had it coming though with their reckless lifestyles.

      Do you have pets at home? I do. I love my cats. I take them to the veterinarian regularly for their vaccinations and check-ups. Guess how those vaccinations were developed? Dogs suffer from cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, etc. Want to take a guess how treatments for these were developed?

      Combat medicine has progressed significantly since even the Vietnam war. The survival rate for injured soldiers who get medical help within the first hour is near 85-90%.

      So it’s easy to take some hypothetical moral high ground when it doesn’t affect you or your ignorant to the facts of disease, but it’s very different when it’s you or someone you love that needs the help.

  4. “The thing about the Golden Rule is that it can only work with human-human interactions since it requires both sides to understand the implicit agreement.”

    What can be said of the mentally ill? The aged? Children? If my grandpa has dementia, fails to “understand the implicit agreement” associated with proper behavior, and takes a dump on my carpet every afternoon, does that give me moral justification for slicing his throat, cooking him up and eating him?

    Unless a nonhuman is threatening you, what moral justification do you have for committing acts of violence? Why should you be able to kick a dog laying in the grass, posing no threat, just because the dog communicates differently or is of another species? Or, replace “dog” with any other nonhuman animal which shares the same central nervous system as us and thus has the same capacity for pain.

    1. Look, if you don’t like animal research that’s fine. I understand. However, what is the alternative? Give me one good alternative that can mimic the whole body system. It’s fine to take some hypothetical moral high ground, especially if you yourself are not affected by anything that requires treatment. But who are you to deny medical advances to those that do need them? I’ve actually worked in a lab where the chemotherapy drugs being developed using a mouse model were then going to go to human clinical trials for people that had inoperable brain tumors. Are you saying their lives aren’t as important as that of a mouse?

    2. Animal experimentation and pharmaceuticals are Big Business and that’s the main factor (greed) that drives the continued use and abuse of animals to do “scientific” bidding. Perhaps, if humans ate right; exercised more; quit smoking, drinking, and abusing our bodies with “recreational” drugs; quit administering massive doses of chemicals and drugs to “food” animals and then eating the animals; quit eating animals and their secretions; quit genetically modifying fruits and vegetables; quit dosing produce with pesticides and herbicides and chemical fertilizers; quit relying on pills to cure every ache or pain; and, in general, took better care of ourselves and lived smarter and more responsibly, we would be suffering far less illness and disease.

      Anesthesiologist C. Ray Greek author of Sacred Cows and Golden Geese: The Human Cost of Animal Experimentation, writes: “It is commonly known that cancer, heart disease, and stroke are the leading causes of death in the West. But many people would be surprised by one of the next biggest killers: side effects of prescription medicines. Adverse drug reactions kill over 100,000 people a year in the US and almost as many in the UK. That is more than all illegal drugs combined.

      “Clearly, there is something very wrong with the way drugs are screened for safety before being sold. One of the major problems is testing on animals. Animals metabolise drugs differently from humans: thus substances which are safe for dogs or rats may not be safe for people. For example, Rezulin (for diabetes) passed animal tests with flying colours but killed thousands of people before it was withdrawn in 2000. Penicillin – such a valuable drug for humans – kills guinea pigs and hamsters. Experiments on rats cannot predict which substances will cause cancer in mice, and vice versa – so how on earth can they predict which will cause cancer in humans?”

      Why, do you think, is the print on drug labels is getting smaller and smaller and prescription and OTC drugs on the market today are packed with pages and pages of dire warnings about the dangerous side-effects of using those drugs? To keep Big Pharma from getting sued! The answer to human health is NOT more and more animal testing or more and more pharmaceuticals. The answer to human health is practicing preventive medicine, which includes a healthful vegetarian or vegan diet.

      Throughout their book, Sacred Cows and Golden Geese, Dr. C. Ray Greek and co-author Dr. Jean Swingle Greek, “make a strong case for the adoption of nonanimal research alternatives such as clinical observation, in vitro and epidemiological studies, diagnostic imaging of patients, mandatory postmarketing drug surveillance, autopsies, computer modeling and larger, longer clinical trials. Their powerful, courageous appeal is essential reading for concerned citizens and open-minded physicians, veterinarians and scientists.” — Publishers Weekly


      1. Janet, you are no doubt right that if humans looked after themselves better that we would have health problems and would need medicines less often. HOWEVER, that does not mean disease would not exist and that people would not suffer unnecessarily.

        The 100,000 deaths is an awful stat since most of it is from people overdosing on their prescripted dose. ALL chemicals are dangerous – it’s just a question of dose. You can have a fatal toxic reaction to water if you drink enough of it.

        Furthermore NO drug is released onto the market on the basis of animal tests. Animal tests will determine if a drug is safe enough to move to Stage I clinical trials (in which deaths are almost unheard of). If you blame Rezulin on animal tests you must put an even bigger blame on human tests…!

    3. All humans have the potential. Someone can get better, children grow up. It is easier to have a system whereby we cover all humans lest we in the future become someone whose mental capacities fail us. Essentially the golden rule lasts over time.

      We are not talking violence, we are talking carrying out medical procedures is a very strictly regulated environment.

  5. “The failure of animal experiments to predict human responses and the inability of alternatives to replace them leaves few options. Individuals can to a limited extent protect themselves through avoiding packaged, processed and non-organic food and buying goods made from traditional materials. But ultimately, chemical exposure and chemical pollution are a collective responsibility.” — Pat Dutt and Jonathan Latham, PhD

    Excerpt from The Experiment Is on Us: Science of Animal Testing Thrown Into Doubt. Read the full report here:

    Personally, I ALWAYS look for CRUELTY-FREE, NOT TESTED ON ANIMALS labelS.

    1. “Personally, I ALWAYS look for CRUELTY-FREE, NOT TESTED ON ANIMALS labelS.”

      In other words, things which aren’t medicine?

    2. Cruelty Free or Not Tested On Animals labels are a bit misleading. Typically what it means is that they are using ingredients or formulas already tested on animals and approved by the FDA in previous studies. Either that or they outsource their testing to a company that does the testing for them so that they can say they didn’t test it on animals.

      Here’s a link to the FDA website regarding the use of the terms “Cruelty Free” and “Not Tested On Animals”. In short, it has no legal meaning.

      1. Same with the label “all natural.” Doesn’t mean a thing, but it sells more product.

        1. While it is true that “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there is no legal definitions for the terms “cruelty free” and “not tested on animals,” it is also true that Nancy Beck, science and policy advisor for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says fewer companies test on animals today because it’s unpopular with consumers. “Many companies are putting big investments into developing new methods that don’t depend on the use of animals because of public opinion against the practice,” said Beck.

          “So how do you know if a product is really “cruelty-free”? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Coalition For Consumer Information on Cosmetics both have lists on their websites of companies that they say don’t test on animals.

          “And both organizations license their own “bunny” logos, which consumers can look for on products in the store to help avoid cosmetic claim confusion.”


          Concerned consumers can check both websites for guidance and ALWAYS look for the Leaping Bunny logo:

      2. This really only applies to cosmetics. The FDA doesn’t require animal testing to approve cosmetics, it only requires that the company provide sufficient proof of the safety of their product. When we start talking about pharmaceuticals though the FDA does require animal testing before human clinical trials can begin. There just aren’t any viable alternatives at this time to mimic the whole body system.

        Interestingly enough, while PETA spends time and money putting bunny logos on their page, they contribute almost, if not actually, nothing to developing alternatives. Nor does the PCRM or HSUS.

  6. The bottom line, though, is this: “Would we want those same experiments done to ourselves?” If the answer is “NO!” then we must not do them to nonhuman others. Do unto ALL others as you would have done to yourself. Follow the Golden Rule, which all of the major religions of the world espouse.

    1. The thing about the Golden Rule is that it can only work with human-human interactions since it requires both sides to understand the implicit agreement.

      I mean I wouldn’t want to run over with a threshing machine but I’m quite happy for it to happen to crops.

      I would also note that major religions generally make terrible examples. While they may espouse the Golden Rule, they seem to so rarely follow it.

    2. Actually the bottom line comes down to the fact that there’s no viable alternative to using animal models. There are some alternatives to some types of testing, but nothing yet that mimics the complexity of the whole body system. The honest truth is we’d be in a world of hurt if not for the advances made through animal research.

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