Tag Archives: debate

Debating Animal Research in Australia

The Ethics Centre, an independent not-for-profit organisation in Australia, held its second IQ2 debate on the motion: “Animal rights should trump human interests“. Supporting the motion was shark attack survivor, Paul de Gelder, animal lawyer, Ruth Hatten, and philanthropist Philip Wollen. Opposing the motion was ethicist Dr Leslie Cannold, Commissioner at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, and primate researcher Professor James Bourne. See more about the speakers.

A vote was taken before and after, with a huge swing of over 30% of the audience switching over to “against” the motion, in part due to the wonderful speech by Prof Bourne. 

Opinions of audience at IQ2 debate on animal rights

Click to Enlarge

As an animal researcher, Prof James Bourne focused on the use of animals in medical and scientific research. He is the Group Leader at Monash University’s Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute and a Senior Fellow with the federal government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). James’ work with NHMRC is exploring regenerative therapies for babies with brain injuries. 

Below we produce a transcript (with permission) of his speech, which contributed to the massive swing in audience opinion.

Thank you, good evening.

Like many of you I am appalled at our age of factory farming, our wilful blindness to exploitation, our rampant self-interest as a species and the seemingly inevitable destruction of every sphere of our environment.

But like all scientists I am also an optimist.  I hold true that medical research using animal models, and let me be clear – experimenting on animals themselves – is necessary in many areas of medical research if humanity wishes to improve life – life for both humans and animals.

There are two points I am grateful to convey tonight:

  1. The use of some animals in medical research remains necessary. Remembering for every monkey in research over 4 million are used in the food and dairy industry.
  2. Medical research on animals should only occur within a regulated ethical framework directed at the welfare of the animal.

I find myself here tonight after a relatively sudden and unexpected journey that began recently when the scientific community in Australia heard of a Green’s private member’s Bill in the Senate seeking to ban the importation of non-human primates for research purposes.

As a scientist whose work utilises monkeys I knew that a ban on importation would lead very quickly to a level of in-breeding in Australian facilities that would render valuable research impossible and force it into countries known for their unregulated practices.

James Bourne at the IQ2 debate. Image from www.ethics.org.au

James Bourne at the IQ2 debate. Image from http://www.ethics.org.au

I was motivated to enter this political debate because despite the woes and wrongs of our contemporary age, reason is still the best chance humanity has to right those wrongs and improve our world.

Reason always comes off second-best in the face of fear and suspicion. Fear and suspicion characterises much of the debate about animals in research and is cloaked in deliberate and wilful misinformation.

Images of horrific animal experiments undertaken in the 50’s regularly feature today in animal rights literature, even though these experiments have been outlawed for many years.

The Bill, defeated as it was, recycled many myths about animal experimentation… dangerous myths that computers and petri dishes can replace animals, that experiments inflict unnecessary cruelty and suffering, that baby monkeys are every day being ripped out the arms of their dead mothers in the jungle by poachers and then traded through unregulated corrupt profiteering to end up being tortured by mad scientists addicted to outdated scientific models.

The fact that a proposal of this kind can even be seriously considered today is evidence that the scientific community has not only been cowed into burying its collective head, but as a body-politic we are only a few steps away from reverting to a darker age where the quality of life – for both humans and animals – will be considerably lessened.

Indeed, while humanity is making ever more incredible scientific advances, regular polling shows a growing and alarming public disagreement about basic scientific facts, including human evolution, the safety of vaccines and whether human-caused climate change is real.

But let me indulge here in some very recent examples of why I believe non-human primate research is important.

Recently researchers infected monkeys with the Zika virus because it is the closest scientist can get to understanding in real time what is happening when humans are infected with this virus.

In 2015, the world witnessed the worst epidemic of the Ebola virus to date. Monkeys were treated with an antibody isolated from a human Ebola survivor and developed almost complete protection against a lethal dose of Ebola.

And yet opponents of animal research argue that knowledge gained from monkey research is inapplicable to humans.  This claim is utterly and dangerously false. Anyone that argues that insights gained from animals are meaningless, is either poorly informed or knowingly untruthful.

The political reality, however, is that the imagery and language peddled by animal research opponents is utterly confronting.

The facts, if you care to accept them, are:

First, non-human primates used for research in Australia are sourced from regulated breeding facilities overseas. They are not taken from the jungle.

macaque monkey animal research israel

An example of an overseas primate breeding facility.

Second, All animal research in Australia is conducted under the strictest scrutiny and follows the principles of reduction, refinement and replacement known as the 3Rs. Under these principles, animal-based research is only approved by a qualified animal ethics committee, which includes members of the lay public, welfare organisations and veterinarians.

Third, Non-human primates are used only in exceptional circumstances – when no other model is possible – as a last resort – when finding an answer simply cannot be provided by another animal model, cell-based system, computer modelling or human experimentation.

While we make incredible advances every day in computer technology, there is currently, and unfortunately, no alternative approach that can replicate the vast complexity of human disorder and disease.  Researchers are, however, continuously looking for non-animal based alternatives and this has already led to a significant reduction in the number of non-human primates used in research in Australia.

Furthermore, every researcher understands the great duty of care they must apply. Minimising the risk of pain and distress is of utmost importance when designing a study.

However, researchers remain hesitant to speak out as history tells us that this can have significant repercussions on the individual and the research program. I fear with recent activist developments in Europe, global scientific advances in health have been retarded.

You might find my work abhorrent, but it is framed in the highest possible duty of care to the animal and it seeks to address critical challenges in global health. If we proceed down a path to banning animal research – it is not only the science that will suffer but also, more importantly, the patients who would have benefitted from the outcomes.

I believe in a utilitarian sense, much like our speakers tonight, that in suffering the animals are our equals.[1]

So I cannot, and never will, defend factory farming, zoos and circuses or horse and dog racing, but ask you to please consider that in the face of this determined movement to stop all animal experimentation to remind ourselves that animal based medical research is driven, in Australia, by compassion and that the motivation to understand and improve our world – for all life – should always triumph over suspicion and fear.

Thank you.

James Bourne

[1] Eminent Australian moral philosopher, Peter Singer (Animal Liberation, 1975), paraphrasing utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1802)

Speaking of Research return to Trinity College Dublin

In 2009, Speaking of Research founder, Tom Holder, spoke at a debate on animal research at the College Historical Society at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) – a student debating union that lays claim to be the oldest student society in the world. On that occasion, the motion against animal research was roundly defeated – with those watching backing the careful use of animals for medical advancement.

Now, almost four years later, Holder returns to TCD, to speak at a debate at the University Philosophical Society, Trinity’s other prodigious debating chamber that also claims to be the oldest student society in the world. It is great to see the question of animal research continues to be discussed in a reasoned and academic environment. Or will it?

The debate motion is rather curiously titled: “This House Believes Animal Testing is a Moral Hazard”. Though more disturbing is the Facebook Event Page’s description:

Look into your pet dog’s sad puppy eyes and turn back to your computer screen to click ‘attending’ on Facebook to this week’s debate, which will thrash out this perennial moral dilemma. Do we care enough about man’s best companion to read the labels on our shampoo bottles? Is animal testing a disgusting reflection of modern society or a necessary evil to further medical research?

Perhaps the first point that will need to be spelled out at this debate is that Ireland, like the rest of the EU, has outlawed the use of animals for testing cosmetics. Holder noted in the report of the previous debate at TCD that many students were unaware that cosmetic testing was not carried out at the university.

University Trinity College Dublin Animal Testing

Tom will speak alongside another guest speaker (to be confirmed) against the motion. Opposing him (in support of the motion) will be: Andre Menache – Director of ‘Antidote Europe,’ and veterinary surgeon; and John Carmody – Campaigns Director for ‘ARAN,’ the Animal Rights Action Network. There will also be two student speakers on each side.

The debate takes places at 7:30pm at the Graduates Memorial Building on the Trinity College Dublin campus.

Speaking of Research

The Speaker’s Corner Trust Debate

The Speakers’ Corner Trust  —  a charity organization that promotes free expression, public debate and active citizenship — recently organized a debate on the role of animals in research. Michelle Thew of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) debated Tom Holder of Speaking of Research.

In her opening remarks Ms. Thew compared the non-consensual experimentation on human beings, such as those performed by the Nazis, to the use of animals in medical research.  She stated:

The BUAV strenuously opposes such experiments. The fact that they may advance medical science (as they are much more likely to do than experiments on animals) is no justification. It is simply not fair on the victims.

In other words, the claim is that if experimenting on non-consensual humans is wrong, then it must be wrong to experiment on animals as well.  This is true only if one adheres to the view that there is no morally relevant difference between a mouse and a human.  This is a key difference between our respective ethical positions. We agree that most people believe that all living beings are worthy of moral consideration.  Animal rights activists insist, in addition, that we owe all living beings the same moral consideration as any human.

Tom Holder pointed out some obvious implications of the animal rights view, such as the obvious fact that given such moral equivalence, eating a salmon would be equally wrong as eating your neighbor’s child.  Given the vastly larger number of animals used as food versus those used in medical research one can only wonder why BUAV does not focus its efforts in abolishing animal food rather than trying to eliminate life-saving medical research.  As it turns out, there is no British Union for the Abolition of Animal Food, which only shows the moral confusion and upside-down priorities of animal activists.

Ms. Thew is of the deplorable opinion that scientists use animals in research merely “because we have to power to subjugate them.” To which Tom Holder responded:

We do not research using animals simply because we can. It is the human ability to empathise with others and to have the tools to confront disease by means of scientific research that calls for us to act in the face of so much suffering. It is a moral dilemma that must be confronted.

Animal rights activists like Ms. Thew believe that they have the moral upper hand and that it is those that experiment on animals that offer a moral justification.  Not so. Those that oppose the work must offer an ethical justification for not acting when we can.  As an example, if we can find a therapy for breast cancer using mice, why shouldn’t we?  Is it merely because they assert our moral concern for a mouse ought to be the same as that for a mother dying of cancer and her family?

The truth is that if opponents could make a convincing ethical argument against animal research then this is where the debate would stop.  Humankind would concede the work is unethical and it would stop — as it was the case for slavery.  But because their ethical argument fails, they decide to attack the science instead. Thus, in the second part of the debate Ms. Thew denies the past benefits of the research, deplores the use of animals to understand fundamental biological processes in basic research, declares the existence of alternatives to the work and the reluctance of scientists to use them (never mind that it is scientists that actually develop and promote them), and that many drugs fail in the course of development (as one would expect from the very  nature of scientific work).  In the words of Tom Holder

The BUAV seems to have constructed a grand conspiracy theory according to which pharmaceuticals, governments, scientists and the medical community are all conspiring to suppress the “truth” that animal research doesn’t work. Similarly, the findings of highly respected polling organisations like Gallup and Mori, both of which show the public firmly behind animal research, must be “selective” because they don’t meet BUAV’s expectations.

What’s the reality? Understanding disease is a complex challenge, but there is no denying that animal research has contributed immensely to alleviating the suffering of humans and animals alike.

BUAV’s mission states that their goal is to “create a world where nobody wants or believes we need to experiment on animals.”  We share their goal, but it is scientists who actually work to create a world where there will no longer be a scientific need for the use animals to advance medicine and human health. So please, start supporting our work instead of misleading the public, denying the science, and irresponsibly suggesting that we can suspend the work immediately without grave consequences which include much human and animal suffering.

The Human or the Mouse? Would You Flip a Coin?

On March 8th I debated Prof. Gary Francione at Rutgers.

It was an interesting, heated but civil debate, with a somewhat anticipated outcome.

In a few words, we have profound, irreconcilable differences.

There is a deep, fundamental gap between the views of the vast majority of the public and anyone whose moral theory declares permissible to flip a coin in order to decide who to save in a burning house, a human or a mouse.

And this is exactly what Prof. Francione and a handful of his followers (about 5 out of 120 members in the audience) were prepared to do .  Of course, they are right.  They are right in that this is precisely what Prof. Francione’s theory of animal rights demands them to do.  Why?  Because the theory considers the mouse and the human as both sentient beings that deserve exactly the same level of moral consideration.

The root of our differences can be traced down to his position that there are no morally relevant characteristics that would make the loss of life for the human any different than the loss of life for the mouse.  Prof. Francione view is that the same things are at stake.

Here, of course, he stands against the philosophical current:

For example, Peter Singer recognizes that

to take the life of a being who has been hoping, planning and working for some future goal is to deprive that being of the fulfillment of those efforts; to take the life of a being with a mental capacity below the level needed to grasp that one is a being with a future — much less make plans for the future — cannot involve this particular kind of loss.”

Ortega y Gasset explained that

Human life is the execution of an aspiration — a life’s plan.  Human life is a process that cannot be reduced to mere living by satisfying our immediate biological needs.  Humans are not content with living, they need to live well and realize their ambitions.”

and this, of course, is a relevant reason why animal and human interest in life are not similar.

Tom Regan agrees when he writes

“[…] the harm that death is, is a function if the opportunities for satisfaction it forecloses, and no reasonable person would deny that the death of any […] human would be a greater prima facie loss, and thus a greater prima facie harm, that would be true in the case [of] a dog”

In my opening remarks, I presented reasons for why we must reject the animal rights view, which equates the moral status of all sentient beings.  I did this by giving examples of how applying the theory to various scenarios would lead us to behave in ways that conflict with our moral intuitions.  I argued that once we reject this extreme view, all we are only left with theories based on the notion of unequal moral status between animals and normal humans (such as the two-tier or sliding scale model of moral status).  All of these theories allow animal experimentation to various degrees.

I explained how researchers view very concrete situations as being comparable to the burning house scenario, such as porcine heart-valve replacement surgery, the polio epidemic or the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

I explained also why I believe we have obligations to other living beings, but that these obligations do not imply that animals have rights, as they cannot behave as autonomous, rational moral agents in a community of equals.   This, of course, is a point made by Carl Cohen in various occasions.

Unfortunately, there was no effort on Prof. Francione’s part to pinpoint the flaws in my reasoning.  One of the virtues of his theory is that it is extremely simply to understand, extremely simple to apply, and the consequences are straightforward.   My main point was that the consequences of the theory are in direct conflict with the moral intuition of the vast majority of the public and we must reject it.

Instead, his attacks on animal research amounted to a potpourri of classic mischaracterizations by animal right activists of the actual science, our true intentions, and personal ethics, all of which are difficult to address in a few minutes in a debate.

For example, I pointed out to the use of primates in the development of the polio vaccine that has helped to nearly eradicated the disease from the face of the planet and will continue to save lives for generations to come.  The benefits are unmeasurable.  He responded that animals were not truly needed in the development of the vaccine, in direct contradiction to statements by Dr. Albert Sabin.

I noted that there is vast scientific consensus (92% agreement) from both scientists and physicians alike on the necessity of animal research to advance medical science and knowledge.  He countered that, on this matter, the jury is still out.

He criticized the scientific community for not including mice and rats in the animal welfare act (AWA), but his true position was exposed when he declared the AWA “not worth the paper on which it is written”.   Let us be clear: there are no amendments to the AWA whatsoever that would make the research ethical in the view of animal rights activists.

He criticized me for not being vegan, while it is evident that even if all scientists were to become vegan tomorrow the research would still be viewed as unethical in their eyes.  (Incidentally, I think the ethics of animal food can be defended, but this is an entirely different topic and debate).

I clarified that I am opposed to the use of animals for the development of yet another lipstick, but that there is an obvious need to ensure that any chemicals we bring to our homes are safe to humans and animals alike.  I also noted this is not the type of toxicology work done at our universities.

During our mutual questioning I asked him if his education campaign to break the cycle of “supply and demand” of animal food also extended to the benefits generated by animal research, such as vaccines.  In other words, was he willing to ask the population at large to stop vaccinating their children?

He responded that in fact he would not vaccinate his children (he has none, although he did not say if his dogs are vaccinated), and later he clarified his opposition to vaccination rests not only for ethical but other reasons, which he never explained.  I expressed my dismay at his anti-vaccination position.

Many of the questions directed at me by the audience dealt with the question of moral status of animals and humans.  I explained that I do not claim the moral status of all humans is above the moral status of all animals.  A number of questions regarding marginal cases ensued.   I think this can be a productive and interesting discussion to have in society, but it is only a discussion that is possible once we accept the unequal moral status of animals and normal humans.   Clearly, it is not a discussion that is even theoretically possible within the framework of animal rights theory that equates the moral status of all sentient beings.

I had a nice and frank conversation with Prof. Francione prior to the debate.  As he correctly judged, our positions are “miles apart”.  My perception is that he is a good man, with noble intentions, but philosophically he is as wrong as anyone can be.

Both Prof. Francione and I agreed on one thing: the debate was a good example of how passionate but respectful discourse is possible on controversial issues in our society.  I want to publicly thank him for his invitation to debate.

Prof. Francione and I will share a video of the entire event once it is ready.

Dario Ringach

Panel Discussion on Animal Research at UCLA

Save the date!

Perspectives on the Science and Ethics of Animal-Based Research

UCLA, Covel Commons, 6pm-8:30pm, February 16th, 2010

With the goal of opening an on-going dialogue between individuals who are in favor or opposed to the use of animals in biomedical research, Bruins for Animals and Pro-Test for Science will be hosting a panel discussion on this complex topic. The event is open to those who want to engage in a civil, intellectually honest discussion on issues about which people hold passionate, differing opinions.

Three panelists on each side will briefly present their personal views on the topic, followed by moderator-driven discussion that will be responsive to questions submitted by the audience. The event will be moderated by David Lazarus of the Los Angeles Times.

The panel participants are:

  • Janet D. Stemwedel, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy, San Jose State University. Professor Stemwedel will discuss her views about the ethical issues around animal use in scientific research.
  • Ray Greek, M.D., President of Americans for Medical Advancement Dr. Greek will address the use of animals in basic research, specifically the cost benefit ratio.
  • Colin Blakemore, FMedSci FRS, Professor of Neuroscience, Oxford University Professor Blakemore will discuss his views on the role of animal research in medicine and public health.
  • Niall Shanks, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, Wichita State University Professor Shanks the “prediction problem” in biomedical research.
  • Dario L. Ringach, Ph.D., Professor of Neurobiology and Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles Professor Ringach will present is views on the role of basic science in driving medical advancement and knowledge.
  • Robert Jones, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, California State University, Chico Professor Jones will discuss the philosophical and ethical implications of using nonhuman animals as subjects in medical and scientific research.

Admission is open to ticketed individuals only.

For information on requesting tickets, please go to http://www.pro-test-for-science.org

The Debate – CNN – Wednesday 9th November

Given the increasing media interest in the animal research issue CNN have decided to do a short web debate on Wednesday 9th November (tomorrow) . The debate starts noon EST (9am PST / 5pm GMT) and can be watched live on http://www.cnn.com/video/ – alternatively watch it afterward on CNN here. This  will hopefully put to rest some activist claims that “we” are unwilling to publicly debate – we are willing and we intend to put the record straight.

The four participants are:

For Animal Research:

Against Animal Research:

  • Peter Young – Animal Rights Activist
  • Ray Greek – President of Americans for Medical Advancement

There is an opportunity for viewers at home to send in their questions – so make sure you’re watching the segment.


Speaking of Research

Why UCLA Pro-Test must reject the requests of extremists

The violent animal rights extremist organization the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) recently released a communique challenging UCLA Pro-Test to a radio debate. Just two working days later and ALF spokesman Jerry Vlasak decided that UCLA Pro-Test had given in and released this statement:

I relish the opportunity to debate not only the lack of scientific merit to animal experimentation, but I am also looking forward to explaining and defending the tactics used to stop animal abusers at UCLA. After years of polite offers to debate and negotiate, UCLA’s obstinacy has forced activists to pursue more effective means of halting animal experimentation.

“Explaining and defending the tactics…” Let’s for a moment just make sure we’re on the same page about Jerry Vlasak. What exactly are these tactics that Vlasak tends to expoud? At the 2003 Animal Rights Conference he told attendees:

If vivisectors were routinely being killed, I think it would give other vivisectors pause in what they were doing in their work — and if these vivisectors were being targeted for assassination … — and I wouldn’t pick some guy way down the totem pole, but if there were prominent vivisectors being assassinated, I think that there would be a trickle-down effect and many, many people who are lower on that totem pole would say, “I’m not going to get into this business because it’s a very dangerous business …”

And I don’t think you’d have to kill — assassinate — too many vivisectors before you would see a marked decrease in the amount of vivisection going on.

And I — you know — people get all excited about, “Oh what’s going to happen when the ALF accidentally kills somebody in an arson?” Well, you know I mean, I think we need to get used to this idea. It’s going to happen, okay? It’s going to happen. [emphasis added]

So Jerry, if this is your line in 2003 where were all those “years of polite offers to debate and negotiate“? Forget not condemning violence, this guy is out and out condoning it. There are also some worrying parallels between certain statements made recently, and those from 2003:

2009: UCLA’s obstinacy has forced activists to pursue more effective means of halting animal experimentation
2003: I don’t think you’d have to kill — assassinate — too many vivisectors before you would see a marked decrease in the amount of vivisection going on

Anyone else worry about some of these “effective means” might someday entail unless we stand up against animal rights extremism. Honestly can you blame scientists for not wanting to be in the same room as Vlasak? If he wishes to be taken seriously by the research community, and have his say publicly, then he must first renounce violence. Then, and only then, will he find researchers ready to talk.