The Scientific Activist

A new study from the Research Defence Society (RDS) indicates that medical doctors in the UK overwhelmingly support the role of animal research in contributing to important medical advances. The RDS questioned four hundred general practitioners from across the UK about their feelings on the importance and necessity of medical research, and the results can be found here.

The study found that 96% of general practitioners agree that “animal experiments have made an important contribution to many advances in medicine” and that 88% agree that “safety tests should be carried out on animals before human trials of new medicines are conducted.”

The study also found that 93% of GPs believe that “Medical research data can be misleading.” This last one may seem like an anomaly, but, as pointed out by the RDS, it puts into perspective a recent survey result that has been publicized by the anti-animal research organization Europeans for Medical Progress. This group had previously found that a large proportion of doctors thought that animal research results could “be misleading when applied to humans,” but the results of the recent survey indicate that this is a general attitude in the field, not confined just to animal studies.

None of these results should be particularly surprising, since the importance of animal studies has been well validated within the medical community. Interestingly, as opponents of science (from the animal rights movement in the UK as well as from the conservative movement in the US) continue to take on increasingly scientific-sounding arguments (like the idea that animal studies could be misleading to doctors), this study demonstrates that these are only quasi-scientific, manufactured to support a particular viewpoint and not intended to actually communicate new information.

Comments

  1. #1 sonia
    October 15, 2006

    Two quick thoughts:

    1. Asking GPs their opinions on medical research sounds like a quasi-scientific study to me.

    2. And, as a medical student who finds animal testing to be ethically questionable, I have a problem with your statement defining people against animal testing to be “opponents of science.” Does being morally against animal testing automatically categorize one as being an opponent of science? And what exactly does it mean to be an “opponent of science?”

    Thanks for your time.

  2. #2 Nick Anthis
    October 15, 2006

    Animal research has been covered pretty well elsewhere on the blog (on the old one and the new one). Like most scientists (and pretty much every scientist that I know), I think that animal research is important but it brings along a variety of ethical issues. We shouldn’t shy away from these issues and instead we should ensure that animal research is carried out in the most humane way possible. However, the tactics of animal rights protesters (who I face here in Oxford everyday) do nothing to contribute to that necessary dialogue.

  3. #3 sonia
    October 15, 2006

    I appreciate your response, but I don’t see how it addresses either of my comments regarding your post. I could see how the tactics of extreme animal rights protesters could lead you to feel that they are “opponents of science.” I still think that the phrase is a bit extreme and quite vague and should be used with care (if at all).

    And I still feel like it’s sort of silly to use a quasi-scientific study to “prove” that other studies are quasi-scientific.

    I don’t mean to harass you, as I usually enjoy your blog. I just had to say something. Thank you for your time.

  4. #4 Nick Anthis
    October 15, 2006

    First of all, I don’t see anything “quasi-scientific” about the current survey. Secondly, animal rights activists and other opponents of science have been adopting increasingly quasi-scientific tactics, and by that I mean that they are dressing up fundamentally anti-scientific causes with scientific-sounding arguments. Because of those tactics, I believe I am justified in calling them opponents of science.

  5. #5 sonia
    October 15, 2006

    Wow, that was fast. Ok, well, I think that asking general practitioners their opinions on medical research is not exactly the most “scientific” study. I mean, come on, first of all, they are GPs, not researchers, so I’m not sure how much I even find their opinions relevant. Second of all, I just don’t see how one opinion survey could be considered quasi-scientific and another not. I mean, it’s all in the wording of the questions, which, to me, does not lend itself to clean data in either case.

    I do understand the point you are making, in that, opponents of animal testing are creating opinion studies that end up proving their point of view. And that you find this to be suspicious, and rightly so. I guess all I’m saying is that I think you show a bias in claiming one opinion survey to be “more scientific” than another. I don’t feel like either is particularly valid.

    I believe in animals’ rights and yet, I just can’t consider myself an opponent of science. I think that morality insists that we draw boundaries regarding what we are willing to do and who we are willing to hurt in the name of science (testing on children, etc.). Does keeping ethics in mind automatically make one an overall opponent of science? Surely not (but at some point maybe?). I agree that it’s essential to keep the dialogue on the relationship between science and ethics open and this is something that I’ve found either extreme to have trouble doing. Please be careful in assigning blame for the lack of dialogue always to one end of the spectrum.

    Thanks for your time.

  6. #6 Nick Anthis
    October 15, 2006

    I see your point, and a phrase like “enemies of scientific progress” might be more descriptive, but I think the language is too harsh. Like I’ve noted before, scientists in general support many animal rights tenants. However, the extremists (such as the organization that put out the biased study) are pushing for changes that would strongly inhibit scientific and especially medical progress. That’s not their goal necessarily, but that’s the effect of what they’re pushing for. I’m sure you can find extremists on both sides, but if you look at the organizations involved (In Oxford, for example, SPEAK versus Pro-Test), you’ll find that the pro-research group is pushing for an open dialogue on the issue, while the anti-research organization is clearly not.

  7. #7 sonia
    October 15, 2006

    I must admit that my experiences with both scientists and animal rights groups have only been in the United States. I will definitely check out the groups you have named.

    Thanks for this dialogue. It was a lovely distraction from cramming for tomorrow’s physio midterm. :)

  8. #8 Nick Anthis
    October 15, 2006

    Good luck on your test!

  9. #9 Paul Browne
    October 16, 2006

    I think that the reason the opinions of GPs are sought on issues such as animal experimentation is that they are viewed as being one of the sections of the healthcare system that has the least direct involvement in developing new drugs and surgical techniques. Their views may therefor be considered to be more objective than, for example, those of neurosurgeons or oncologists.

    I’m not entirely sure that Nick was referring to the EMP poll itself as quasi-scientific, rather to other claims by EMP and AV groups. As you point out neither the EMP or RDS polls is entirely scientific, though the questions in the RDS survey are certainly far less leading than those in the EMP survey. I’d have liked the RDS poll to also ask a question along the lines of “Do you consider animal research to be vital to current and future advances in medical science”.

    I suppose we can’t have everything, overall the RDS survey does provide useful input into the debate.

  10. #10 sonia bisaccia
    October 16, 2006

    Thanks! It’s over now and I’m going out!! Woohooo!!!

  11. #11 Núria Querol Viñas
    December 26, 2006

    Charities Campaign

    Here’s a tip for charities seeking donations: a new survey shows that a majority of people favor charities that avoid animal experiments.
    Of a random sample of 1,006 people polled, 51 percent agreed with the statement: “I would be more likely to donate to a health charity that had a policy of never funding any type of animal experiments.” Twenty-five percent not only agreed, but strongly agreed with this statement. This sentiment held across the full range of income levels. Conversely, when asked, “I would be less likely to donate to a health charity if I knew that the charity funds animal research experiments,” 47 percent of those polled agreed. The survey was commissioned by PCRM and conducted by Opinion Research Corporation of Princeton, N.J.

    The major donors of tomorrow are even more likely to be influenced by a charity’s stance on animal testing. Seventy percent of 18 to 24 year-olds responded that they would be more likely to donate to a health charity that had a policy of never funding any type of animal experiments. Among 25 to 34 year-olds, 57 percent agreed with this statement.

    These numbers are not surprising. In a survey conducted last month for the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, Opinion Research Corporation found that two-thirds of the females surveyed responded that they would be more likely to purchase a personal grooming or cosmetic product after seeing it indicated that neither the finished product nor its ingredients had been tested on animals. Just as cruelty-free cosmetics companies have capitalized on this public opinion, the successful charities of tomorrow will adopt policies against animal testing. In 1995, Americans donated $23.5 billion to the nation’s top 400 charities.

    Says PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D., “The real breakthroughs in heart disease have been achieved by using non-animal methods such as epidemiology, in vitro methods, and clinical intervention. Likewise, the AIDS virus was identified using cellular methods. Animal tests are unnecessary, duplicative, and scientifically inaccurate. Potential donors know that answers to human health problems are not likely to come from rats and mice.”

    The survey also found that 54 percent of people would prefer that their donations to health charities be used to fund patient care and education, rather than research.

  12. #12 Núria Querol Viñas
    December 26, 2006

    Information on the World Congress on Alternatives to Animal Experiments http://www.ctw-congress.de/act2005/