Why Animal Research-based Criticisms of the Ice Bucket Challenge are Misguided

The following is a guest post by Caitlin Aamodt, a neuroscience graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a debilitating motor neuron disease that progressively destroys the neurons required for voluntary movement, speech, and eventually breathing and swallowing, killing patients in just three to five years.  Through the Ice Bucket Challenge the ALS Foundation has raised over $100 million in funding while simultaneously providing a platform for over three million people to voice their support for scientific research.  But the wildly successful social media campaign was not without its critics.  Some were hesitant about the idea of wasting clean water, a luxury that isn’t afforded to many parts of the world and one that is growing more and more precious as the drought in the West worsens.  Others, particularly religious leaders, were unhappy with researchers’ use of embryonic stem cells, citing a conflict with their belief that life begins at conception.  But one of the most common criticisms, and the most dangerous, is that organizations that fund animal research should not be supported.

Aamodt Article Fig

Pete Frates, for whom the ice bucket challenge was created.

Initially it may seem harmless.  One might see a post about it in their Facebook feed and think, “Oh, so-and-so really has a soft spot for animals,” and then continue on without giving much thought to the implications of what they just read.  The issue can become murky, since the vast majority of people support the idea that animal abuse is wrong.  However, animal research is not abuse, and it is dangerous to voice opposition without considering the implications of what that really means.

What would one have to do to really extract him- or herself from taking advantage of the benefits of animal research?  To start this would involve declining any and all vaccinations, accepting vulnerability to dying from disease.  This actually extends to any intravenous injection, so all life saving therapies involving this simple procedure would be eliminated.  Death from blood loss due to a traumatic injury could not be prevented by a blood transfusion.  All surgeries would be off the table.  The basic antibiotics we take for granted would no longer be an option. No insulin treatment for diabetics.  No dialysis for those suffering from kidney failure.  Any hope for those suffering from breast cancer or depression would be lost.  Even the most recent medical advances, such as transplanting organs engineered from a patient’s own stem cells, would all be unavailable.  With these and countless other treatments directly resulting from animal research you would think that these activists would be sending us thank you cards instead of blind criticisms!

Could this hypocrisy be mitigated by any validity to their claims?  Absolutely- except for the fact that these concerns have already been addressed and protections already put in place.  Researchers and lay people alike want to ensure that no animal needlessly suffers.  Multiple oversight committees govern research activities conducted at universities. All federally funded research centers have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) made up of experts in the field as well as lay people to ensure that experimental design is deemed humane by both scientists and people unfamiliar with research practices alike.  Considerations include alleviating pain and side effects, minimizing the number of animals used, ensuring that animals are used appropriately and only when necessary, overseeing their healthcare and living facilities, and even requiring that a plan be in place to save the animals in the event of a natural disaster.  Research animals should be respected, and in keeping with that ethical consideration IACUC and many other oversight organizations ensure that they receive the best possible care.

The general perception of animal rights activists is that they are well-intentioned, if uninformed, individuals who are exercising their First Amendment right to protest whatever they want.  Unfortunately the reality is that their members include dangerous extremists willing to harass and carry out attacks on researchers.  At UCLA researchers are all too familiar with anti-research terrorism.  In 2006, 2007, and 2008 firebombs were planted at the homes of UCLA scientists.  In 2007 Dr. Edythe London’s home was flooded, along with a threatening note.  Dr. David Jentsch’s car was set on fire while he was in his home in 2009.  The terrorists also left a note filled with razorblades detailing a fantasy about sneaking up on him and slitting his throat.  On-going harassment includes yelling slurs at scientists outside their home.  In 2011 they referred to the daughter of holocaust survivors as “Hitler with a cunt,” and directed the homophobic slur “You cocksucking bastard” among others toward another researcher.  These extremists even directed their terrorism toward the children of Dr. Dario Ringach.  In 2010 they put on masks and banged on his children’s windows to terrify them and sent letters threatening to target them at school.

In the words of Dr. David Jentsch, “The anger generated by their failure to make a persuasive argument to the public, amplified by their sense of self-righteousness, is sufficient to convince them they are entitled to use violence to achieve their goals.”  We can no longer afford to be silent.  Animal research saves lives.  Anybody who reaps the benefits of animal research while claiming to oppose it should be made aware of this hypocrisy.  It is also essential that we banish the myth that modern-day biomedical research animals are tortured.  There are many layers of protections in place to ensure that they receive the best possible care.  There is no excuse for terrorism.  Nobody should fear for their lives or that of their children, especially researchers who dedicate their lives to scientific progress.  Now is the time to disseminate the truth about animal research and stand up for the welfare of all biomedical researchers.  The next time you hear someone claim to oppose the ice bucket challenge on the grounds of animal research be sure to speak up and educate them.  Society needs to hear the voices of the scientifically literate.  Don’t let them be drown out by ignorance.

Caitlin Aamodt
UCLA neuroscience graduate student

References

[1]  http://www.alsa.org/about-als/what-is-als.html
[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137497/
[3] http://www.alsa.org/news/media/press-releases/ice-bucket-challenge-082914.html
[4] http://www.refinery29.com/2014/08/73360/grimes-als-ice-bucket-challenge-peta
[5] http://www.animalresearch.info/en/medical-advances/timeline/
[6] http://grants.nih.gov/grants/olaw/tutorial/iacuc.htm
[7] http://unlikelyactivist.com/2014/02/03/join-pro-test-for-science-to-end-the-age-of-terror/
[8] http://unlikelyactivist.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/arson.jpg
[9] http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2010/02/23/time-to-get-mad-time-to-speak/
[10] http://fbresearch.org/als-ice-bucket-challenge-for-a-cure/

41 responses to “Why Animal Research-based Criticisms of the Ice Bucket Challenge are Misguided

  1. Could you explain how these experiments specifically designed to induce fear, depression and mental anguish are humane?

    Where were the “multiple oversight committees” in this case?

    • While the experiment is designed to induce depression in young monkeys, the animals are still cared for to ensure their physical health is as well as can be. The reality is that depression is a horrible disease, and this kind of research offers insights into how we deal with the thousands of children who suffer a lifetime of depression due to abandonment from their mothers (or where the health of the mother prevents proper care for their children). We are morally bound to do what we can to understand and, in the future, develop better care and treatment for those children.

      • And this is the only way to do that?

      • I am all for a open discussion about the suffering of animals used in animal research and the possible benefits from that suffering. But the author of this article seems to think that the animals used in animal research do not suffer and that voicing any opinion against animal research is wrong.

      • Interesting how my comments are being moderated indefinitely.

  2. compared to other drugs they do not! anyway, I agree. Bye! :)

    • While many “natural” remedies have fewer side effects, they do have a tendency to delay people taking the medicines that may save their life. Steve Jobs’ death can be partially attributed to his wasting time with “natural” remedies when he could have been taking scientifically proven treatments.

  3. Dear Sandra, who do you propose takes a drug that has never been tested on a living animal? You have an idea of the effects you want, but maybe not the side effects? How much money do you give someone to take this drug? How much money do you give them if they need medical treatment for the rest of their life due to an unforeseen side effect, or as compensation to their family after their death due to this drug? Who is going to volunteer? People who are so desperate for money they are willing to risk their lives? Is that fair? Are you volunteering because I know a lot of scientists with drugs that need testing that have only been tried out in cell cultures? I’m not just trying to bait you, I genuinely want an answer to this.

    • If I was ill and needed treatment I would definitely volunteer to take a drug that has passed all other tests, who wouldn’t! If it could help save your life I think everyone would try it :)

      • What other tests though? What tests have proved that it is safe for you to take? The only tests I’ve been able to do are in cells in a lab. And I can’t test it on an ill person because I need to have a healthy animal to test it on or else the results would be skewed by the illness. I need you to be healthy so I can understand how the drug works on a functioning system, not just a mass of cells. Is that okay? Or are you saying that it’s okay to test drugs on people that are dying even if it leaves them in pain or kills them sooner?

        • Then I suggest you better get started on developing some new research methods or improving the ones you have instead of torturing innocent animals or humans! Personally, I am a big fan of Homeopathy and natural medicine anyway which is much better and does not have that many bad side effects :)

          • Oh dear, I’m a great advocate of natural medicines when they work but to say they don’t have harmful side effects is completely uneducated and ridiculous (go and look up the side effects of digitalis). You obviously have no understanding of the facts so there is no point in continuing this.

  4. It’s no surprise to see a student write an article that is pro-animal research, given that they are the one’s who have a vested interest by receiving grant money and funding for their experiments. Animal research is big business, just like the pharmaceutical companies which also stand to make money on new drugs. The article states that animal research is not animal abuse. It is evident that some experiments cause severe pain and no pain killers are provided. Animals can be burned, starved, poisoned, drugged, electrocuted and mutilated all in the name of science. Aside from the experiments themselves, animals are kept in small cages their entire lives. Babies are ripped from their mothers at days old. Primates are housed individually, whereas in the wild they are social animals and travel vast distances each day. They are given virtually no enrichment and many animals develop a condition which involves pacing around the cage in boredom.
    Testing new drugs on animals is also harmful to human health. 92% of drugs tested by the massive dosing of animals fail the gentler human trials. Of the 8% that are released onto the market, 50% fail and are ultimately withdrawn. On the other hand, countless beneficial therapies have been disregarded or tragically delayed on the basis of their ineffectiveness in animal models. Penicillin, corneal transplants, the polio vaccine – all were delayed because they failed in experiments on animals.
    Researchers should be encouraged to use modern non-animal research methods – including in vitro tests, cell based research, the use of human like simulators computer modelling techniques, and studies of human populations and volunteers. International agencies, scientists, and professional organizations around the world endorse the use of these humane methods in place of cruel animal experiments.

  5. I’m wondering, what would be morally more correct, experimenting on willing human subjects that agree to take part knowing the full extent of the experiment and the risks involved for some form of compensation, or using animals that cannot give consent, doesn’t understand what’s being done to them and don’t get any reward?

    • Wouldn’t you be taking advantage of the poor population to accept the risk for the rest of us? Do you prefer that over research on mice?

      • I seriously do not understand why it is so hard to understand that humans react so differently to drugs than animals? It would at least bring results faster and that is what you want right?

      • Well, from what you guys have been saying it sounds like the research is pretty harmless and humane – no suffering or taking advantage.

        But realistically, nobody would be forced and everybody would know the risks. If a person is so desperate for the compensation that they are willing to take the risks, I don’t think it would be taking advantage of the poor – they would not do it if it wasn’t better than their alternative (starvation, whatever else is it is they are suffering, an off chance to see again or to use their limbs again, etc.). So it may actually be seen as helping the poor to suffering.
        Also, since such wonderful control bodies are already in place, they could oversee these and ensure that nobody is taken advantage of – they could check all experiments and ensure all risks are explained clearly to the participant etc. They already ensure the research is done humanely.

        And since all scientists are extremely ethical people that only wants the best for society as a whole, only experiments that really have a good chance of success would be tested, so there would be minimal risks.

        • Caitlin Aamodt

          I’m glad that you are privileged enough to have never had a loved one sign up for a medical trial out of financial desperation, but not everyone has it as easy as you. ALL human life should be valued, respected, and protected to the fullest extent possible.

          • In my opinion ALL life should be valued, respected and protected to the fullest extent possible.
            If you have a loved one in such financial desperation, perhaps you could just help them out instead of leaving them up to their own devices – because my example might be fictitious, but people already do many things much worse out of financial desperation – such as gambling, lone-sharks, turning to crime, robbery, entering into the sex trade, suicide.

          • I’ve been thinking a lot about this comment you made and find it very confusing and interesting. Are you saying that you’ve had a loved one that had to sign up for a medical trial out of financial desperation? Are you saying that it was a horrific experience?

      • If you are worried about taking advantage of the poor, perhaps you are in the wrong field, spending millions on developing drugs that big pharmaceutical companies patent and sell for huge profits so that only the rich can afford it while millions of people are starving in the world.

        • I am not in drug development… nor do I approve of the unethical behavior of some pharmaceuticals.

          I’m all for the government developing drugs that are later distributed at cost to the population.

          If you are looking for funding to save more lives consider that the war against terror already spent 30 years of NIH budget.

  6. You do realize that there are more effective methods? Or are you stuck in the past? If you are that good of a scientist why don’t you work on improving the methods and really start to help people instead of torturing innocent animals! So many drugs that work on animals fail human trials, so why continue on a road that is misleading and cruel?

  7. Anna M. van Heeckeren, MS, DVM

    Well said, and well referenced.

  8. Then perhaps he should have posted “all *our* graduate students? I must say I will be amazed if there is a university where every single one of their graduate students are pro-animal research, but I guess you know them better than me!

    It seems like blind support if one makes a whole post about how it is wrong to voice your opposition to animal research, with statements like: “these concerns have already been addressed and protections already put in place” and “Researchers and lay people alike want to ensure that no animal needlessly suffers” it would seem like the writer considers the current system as infallible and has a naive opinion of our society.

    I have read your arguments trying to say that because everybody makes use of some product that comes from animal research, for that reason animal research is untouchable and above reproach, I just don’t agree with it. Just like I don’t agree with your argument saying that, because one would rather save a child from a burning building instead of a mouse, one can (no, should) do to any and all animals whatever you like if it might benefit a child.

    • Speaking for myself as I am not the author of this.

      1) I would say the vast majority of university students would agree.

      2) You can buy a tomato for 20 cents from a farm that engages in child labor. You can buy another tomato for 50 cents from a farm that gives its laborers fair working conditions. Are you saying you would buy from the first one? If not, why not? And how is it different than opting out of medicine developed by work that you object?

      3) I argued that if we consistently save a child over a mouse in the burning house it is because we view our moral consideration for the human as not being the same for the mouse (in contrast to someone like Francione that would happily flip a coin). I never said that this means we can do with animals as we please.

      • 1.) I would say you are probably correct, it is not surprising since the vast majority of society would probably agree. I have a masters (cum laude), I disagree. Not sure what distinction is being made between university students and the public in general, but it’s not really relevant anyway.

        2.) If society deemed that child labor was okay and for that reason all vegetables were from farms that engage in child labor, what would you do if you disagree with child labor? Would you stop eating vegetables and jeopardize your health in protest or would you continue to eat vegetables and at the same time speak out against child labor in an attempt to get society to change so that some farms would start producing vegetables ethically?
        Also, once a farmer starts making changes and produce tomatoes in a more ethical manner but using some techniques developed during the days he used child labour, everybody would agree it is now okay to buy from that farmer, but your argument is that you may never buy vegetables again since child labor was once used in it’s production.
        If I have an option between medicine developed without animal research and medicine developed using animal research, I would buy the medicine developed without animal research. This is already the case with cosmetics, our family attempts not to buy cosmetics from companies that use animal research and I would hope this is the case for all people that believe in animal rights.

        3.) Then you agree that the mouse in the burning house argument really doesn’t establish much more than the simple fact that society has a different moral consideration for a mouse than for a child and does in no way justify animal research any more than it does research on any other minority that might be seen as of lower moral consideration.

        • Take a closer look your argument in #2 and push it a bit further. Say society deemed it was okay to transplant the organs of healthy but uneducated members of society to save the lives of valuable, cum-laude graduates. Would you still accept the transplant because it was your life at stake?

          And would you be still qualifying your acceptance with the note that you view the act to be unethical but that you will continue to campaign until the practice is abolished?

          As for #3 — I view research as a burning house scenario. We will likely disagree but, I am convinced that stopping the work is effectively condemning future human beings to death. Those would be our children and grand-children.

          • Now you’ve gone from tomatoes to human organs… I guess the tomatoes didn’t validate your view.

            As for this scenario, it would not be an easy decision. If there was an alternative treatment, even if it was not as effective, I would not accept it and opt for the alternative. If there was no alternative, and if it was the current de-facto procedure accepted by society, even though I don’t agree with it, I would probably accept the transplant and continue to campaign for alternatives. It would be a very similar decision if this was a fictitious animal organ transplant scenario in todays society.

            First you say “3) I argued that if we consistently save a child over a mouse in the burning house it is because we view our moral consideration for the human as not being the same for the mouse (in contrast to someone like Francione that would happily flip a coin). I never said that this means we can do with animals as we please.” and now you are back to saying that the burning house argument validates that any animal sacrifice is justified because it may save future lives.

            Anyway, this argument has been discussed before to no avail, I doubt there will be much progress now. The bottom line is, one cannot use arguments such as the burning house argument to transpose into a generic justification of animal research. It is a very dangerous type of thinking because one can justify many immoral things in this way. If my child and some stranger is in a burning building, I would choose to save my child. Does this mean I am justified to keep other people in cages and experiment on them until I complete my study and then kill them in an attempt to save my child from a possible future illness? Using your chain of reasoning it does…

            The decision of whether a specific animal research project is justifiable or not is something very complex that should be considered for that specific case, one cannot justify all animal research because society has a different “moral consideration” for animals as opposed to humans.

            My opinion is that currently the weight given to animal lives and suffering is way too low and that of a possible finding that might prolong human lives is too heavy. Animal research should be a last resort.
            Saying that the current state of animal research is perfect and nobody should say anything against it is whats dangerous. And pretending that animals used for research do not suffer is rediculous and anybody that thinks so has no empathy for other beings. If animal research is so humane, why are there no humans in the cages.

            Finally, equating all animal activists to those extremists that resort to violence and scare-tactics is also ludicrous.

          • If there was no alternative, and if it was the current de-facto procedure accepted by society, even though I don’t agree with it, I would probably accept the transplant and continue to campaign for alternatives.

            Really?! Wow… What happened to “Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct”?

            Oh well… We’ve discussed this many times without any productive outcome.

            We are not going to agree, but I am glad you will let our work save your life and that of your family if needed.

          • It’s not so easy to convert conviction into conduct when you’re dead! I could try to justify that a live activist would be able to save more lives of those being exploited than the one that had to give his life – but really the determining factor would be my will to live.
            However, if the situation was a little different and by not accepting the treatment I would be able to instantaneously change society so that the practice is abolished, then I would rather not accept.

            I would like to give you a similar choice:
            You are suffering from kidney failure and urgently need a transplant or you will die. A kidney becomes available but just before the transplant you find out that the kidney was taken by force from a child in India. Fortunately he didn’t die! This is the only viable kidney for you and if you don’t accept the transplant you will die. There will be no legal repercussions if you accept, nobody will know. Do you accept?

          • No, I would not accept. Accepting may save my life at the expense of promoting a practice (stealing organs) that I find abhorrent.

          • I am impressed! So you would die on principle! I don’t think there are many people in the world that would. There might be some that would say they would.
            Personally I think it would again be something one cannot know until you are really in the situation. I don’t think I’d decline. I’d probably accept the organ and afterwards try to find the donor and try to make his life better and that of his family and dedicate my life to fight organ trafficking.

          • I am impressed! So you would die on principle!

            Yes, I’d die before asking a fellow human to be killed/harmed in order to save my own life.

            An ethical position that supports the stealing and trafficking of human organs is nothing short of repugnant.

            And you should stop putting words in my mouth — I never said there is no suffering at all, that we can do as we please with animals, that all scientists are honest, good people… and so on.

          • I guess you did not read my scenario properly. You did not ask for it – you went into the procedure without knowing where the organ came from.
            “A kidney becomes available but just before the transplant you find out that the kidney was taken by force from a child in India.”

            These words is what I took from the article on which I am commenting.

            “Could this hypocrisy be mitigated by any validity to their claims? Absolutely- except for the fact that these concerns have already been addressed and protections already put in place. Researchers and lay people alike want to ensure that no animal needlessly suffers. Multiple oversight committees govern research activities conducted at universities. All federally funded research centers have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) made up of experts in the field as well as lay people to ensure that experimental design is deemed humane by both scientists and people unfamiliar with research practices alike. Considerations include alleviating pain and side effects, minimizing the number of animals used, ensuring that animals are used appropriately and only when necessary, overseeing their healthcare and living facilities, and even requiring that a plan be in place to save the animals in the event of a natural disaster. Research animals should be respected, and in keeping with that ethical consideration IACUC and many other oversight organizations ensure that they receive the best possible care.”

            It seems like the author considers the current animal research situation pretty much perfect.

  9. I don’t know in which Utopian world you live where all “Researchers and lay people alike want to ensure that no animal needlessly suffers”. You should perhaps educate yourself on the animal cruelty that is extremely common in the world.

    Saying that all animal research being done today is ethically correct is just as misguided as saying all animal research is wrong.

    As for your extremist view that if you are against animal research you must also denounce all benefits from previous animal research otherwise you are a hypocrite. Does it make you a supporter of slavery if you use a road built by slaves? Or if you buy a product that was transported by a train running on a railroad built by slaves? Are you pro-war if you use an invention that was discovered because of it such as most advance in modern aviation and many other technology?
    Perhaps if you stated that anybody against animal research that eat meat is a hypocrite it would make more sense, because if one thinks it’s not ethical for millions of animals to suffer and die for the advancement of medical research then surely one must believe it is even worse for millions more to suffer for the enjoyment of humans? If so, you should not eat animal products otherwise you really are a hypocrite.

    And most of all those oversight committee members have a vested interest in the growth of the animal research industry.

    A lot can be improved in all facets of our society – blind support is always dangerous. Looking down on people with a different opinion to yours and trying to shut them up and ignoring everything they have to say is a bad idea. This is why there is such as a thing as freedom of speech.

    @David I doubt that would happen, since all “graduate students” don’t support animal research.

    • First, nobody is asking for “blind support”, but support in a system where experts rank proposed research according to scientific merit and the likelihood of advancing a field, and on an established system of laws, regulations and oversight.

      Second, we heard similar arguments before from those that insist on benefiting from research while opposing it. I think the argument is simply flawed.

      See — https://speakingofresearch.com/2011/11/17/opponents-of-animal-research-should-refuse-medical-treatment/

      Third, I think we know our students better than you do. David is right. If they were all to speak their mind they would drown the voices of the opposition.

      I applaud Caitlin for speaking up and I am sure she will serve as a model for others to follow.

    • Caitlin Aamodt

      An anti-biomedical research activist who spends money on medical care is like an anti-factory farm activist who eats hamburgers from McDonalds because “the animal is already dead.” I hate to break it to you, but that money goes directly back into animal research and reinforcing the status quo.

  10. Reblogged this on unlikelyactivist and commented:

    If every graduate student stood up to criticize backwards, misguided attempts to malign science, the voices of animal rights extremists would be quickly drown out…

    • Let’s face it, peta is so crazy they don’t care if they’re completely wrong about animals (or medical research or anything else, for that matter)!
      People Eating Tasty Animals: Full of junk science since 1980