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Animal Testing Is Exploitative and Largely Ineffective

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It’s likely that well over 100 million vertebrates are used for research and ancillary purposes each year.[2] This is in addition to the millions that are dissected for teaching purposes in the U.S. alone.[3] I think the vast majority of the animals used in research are rodents, but it’s hard to know for sure given the U.S.'s baffling exclusion of rats and mice from research oversight.Most arguments against animal testing are based on utilitarian principles, but the view of animal rights that is most convincing to me is the one put forward by Christine M. She argues that the other animals are what Immanuel Kant called ends in themselves.[4] Because of this, Kant’s Formula of Humanity, which says that we should treat people “always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means”[5], also applies to the other animals, at least those that are conscious, like rats and other mammals[6]. Using animals in scientific experiments seems like a clear case of using those animals as a mere means, just as the UMN researchers used those Linux kernel maintainers to further their own ends. Similarly, even if animals being tested upon could consent to it, which they cannot, it seems highly unlikely that they would choose to do so, if for no other reason than that they are often euthanised after the experiment is over.If you are like me, when you think about ending animal testing, the first thing you think about is all the knowledge we humans would be giving up along with it. After all, these creatures are completely at our mercy, so why not?”[7]The main utilitarian argument for animal testing (though I don’t mean to imply that utilitarians as a group are for animal testing; I don’t know) is exactly this, that though it does consign the animals to short lives full of agony, it adds more than enough disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) for humans to compensate. I follow Korsgaard’s Kantian reasoning that animal testing is categorically wrong (though of course that does not mean I don’t think the best path to ending it is through incremental improvement).At this point, I ought to admit that this is personal for me, not because I am involved in this kind of research or because I am a Linux kernel maintainer or anything of that sort, but because my wife recently got two pet rats, two sweet if somewhat shy girls given by their previous owner the names Jim and Beam. […] At seven minutes and a quarter, […] the victor relinquished the glorious pursuit, for all his foes lay slaughtered on the ensanguined plain.In the mid-19th century, humans started breeding these rats specifically for use in laboratories.[13] I suspect that accounts of those early animal experiments are a horror show, whereas contemporary research involves a more humane treatment of the animals. But I see no good reason that it should not be banned totally and everywhere.But even if we narrow our focus to animal tests that are done in science, for purposes like developing medicines or studying diseases, we see that a lot of the research basically isn’t useful. looked at seven years’ biomedical research using animals at the University Medical Center Utrecht and found that only 60% of the studies lead to one or more publications, and that of the 5590 animals used in the studies they looked at, only 26% ended up in published research.[25] (For small animals, which made up the majority of those used, the number was a mere 23%.[26]) The main reasons for not publishing were “lack of statistical significance, technical problems and objections from supervisors and peer reviewers”.[27]Here is Gwern Branwen summarising the research:On the general topic of animal model external validity & translation to humans, a number of op-eds, reviews, and meta-analyses have been done; reading through some of the literature up to March 2013, I would summarize them as indicating that the animal research literature in general is of considerably lower quality than human research, and that for those and intrinsic biological reasons, the probability of meaningful transfer from animal to human can be astoundingly low, far below 50% and in some categories of results, 0%.The primary reasons identified for this poor performance are generally: small samples (much smaller than the already underpowered norms in human research), lack of blinding in taking measurements, pseudo-replication due to animals being correlated by genetic relatedness/living in same cage/same room/same lab, extensive non-normality in data⁠, large differences between labs due to local differences in reagents/procedures/personnel illustrating the importance of “tacit knowledge”, publication bias (small cheap samples + little perceived ethical need to publish + no preregistration norms), unnatural & unnaturally easy lab environments (more naturalistic environments both offer more realistic measurements & challenge animals), large genetic differences due to inbreeding/engineering/drift of lab strains mean the same treatment can produce dramatically different results in different strains (or sexes) of the same species, different species can have different responses, and none of them may be like humans in the relevant biological way in the first place.An interesting review here is that by Gardner.[28] He notes that very few drugs that make it through animal trials also succeed in human trials. That is usually not because they end up being unsafe for humans, but because they end up being ineffective.[29] As an example, Garner cites a review of over 200 interventions for Alzheimer’s disease; all of them were effective in mice, zero in humans.[30] (I believe these kinds of drugs are tested using rodents specially bred or engineered to have early onset Alzheimer’s, a cruel thing in its own right.) Gardner argues that humans are so different from the other animals that “an animal experiment (as currently conducted) cannot reasonably predict the outcome of a human trial”.[31]One of the reasons all of this matters is that, if we want to reduce animal suffering, we could likely have a larger impact eliminating some of the experiments that wouldn’t produce any useful results than marginally improving the conditions of test animals in general. But another reason is its showing us that the loss involved in ending animal testing is probably much smaller than we think.When it comes to developing vaccines and drugs specifically, the debate on animal testing often assumes that the only alternative to it is testing on humans. People think that animal testing is good because it is worse to subject a human to experiments than it is to subject other animals to them. Animal testing, though it is time-consuming and has a low success rate[32], is used extensively in developing human vaccines.[33] A recent paper by Busquet et al. reviews alternative, animal-free methods for developing human vaccines.[34] These new methods have, they write, “consistently proved to be human-relevant and effective, allowing safe progression to clinical testing in a shorter amount of time as compared to traditional animal testing”.[35] As Siobhan Ballan writes:Instead of using animals to test vaccines, newer models involve the use of tissue cultures or computer software. […] Today, around 90% of research methods in academia and industry don’t involve animal testing. Instead, cell-culture based methods play a major role.In short, much of animal-testing research is carried out in the service of comparatively trivial goals like producing cosmetics. That said, there are a number of things you can do that would help reduce the suffering involved in animal testing on the margin.If you are a researcher or have influence over animal model research, you may want to follow the recommendations of van der Naald et al., chiefly by preregistering your study and by sharing your data.[36] Preregistration increases the probability of quality research (and decreases the probability that the research is useless). Another option might be to donate to Faunalytics which distills research on animal testing.[37] A final possibility – though I am not sure about the impact here – might be, if you live in a country or U.S. state where it is still legal to use animals for testing cosmetics, to advocate locally for a ban on such testing.Grayling, The Good Book: A Humanist Bible. Use of animal models in the development of human vaccines.

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