The Huffington Post recently featured an editorial by William T. Talman, M.D., defending animal research. It’s a…poisonous little read, interesting primarily in that it runs, as though on rails, through the scientific community’s long-standing, standard responses to the animal welfarists’ long-standing, standard objections to animal testing. There is nothing new here, and everything he says has already been thoroughly debunked. My inner angry person wants to scream and shout and take down every argument he presents, but it has already been done, in the excellent work Sacred Cows and Golden Geese, by C. Ray Greek and Jean Swingle Greek, which came out more than ten years ago.
If I start pointing out all the errors in this editorial, I will be up all night attempting to re-write Sacred Cows. I would just like to point out that the man can in no way be considered an unbiased source: here’s a sampling of his rat-based research — any beneficial results of which will still need to undergo testing on humans (“Really!”) before being officially adopted. (And dude? People do volunteer to be research “guinea pigs”. In fact, your own facility has a web site where people can sign up for that very thing. Why are you dismissing the idea of skipping the “animal” part, and just doing the human research you will still need to do anyway?)
In fact, Talman’s job is trying to convince people that animal research is a great idea. Here’s an issue of The Physiologist, published by the American Physiological Society — he’s the chair of the APS Public Affairs Committee (or at least he was in 2006 — check out page 44/266 of the PDF). This is not a disinterested party listing verifiable facts — this is an invested participant feeding you propaganda.
For what it’s worth, my aversion to his arguments is not just automatic denial. Despite all that I have seen I still think it’s possible to perform animal-based research humanely. Do I think that we are doing so right now? Particularly in research? God no. Do I think any of Talman’s arguments in this article are valid? No. I call absolute shenanigans on this man, and I really wish the Greeks hadn’t written Sacred Cows already, because the urge to explain why this man is wrong is making me want to write it again. Perhaps I should just mail him a copy.
For sake of sanity I will not spend my time explaining the falsities of the arguments of Dr Greek.
Nonetheless, there are some other falsehoods that should be addressed.
Bias is a difficult assertion to make – Prof Talman makes a living from animal-based research just as Dr Greek makes money from arguing against it. Talman is, however, an expert in the field and his words should not be taken lightly.
You cannot volunteer to try novel untested drugs – and simply no one would. If I held out my hand and told you “this pill is designed to treat cancer, we have no idea if it’s safe, will you take it first”, would you? Human trials are still necessary to determine a drugs’ ultimate efficacy and safety, but animal tests are what prevents large numbers of deaths in Stage 1 and 2 Clinical Trials.
Also, like Greek, you seem to neglect the importance of animal research to basic science – our understanding of physiology and pathology – which has been greatly advanced by years of research on animals.
But why assume that human animals are more important than any other animal species?