Let me start by saying Scientia Pro Publica 41 rocks!! Our beloved Bob O’Hara has done an excellent job arranging the posts according to new and old gems from the list of Ig Nobel awardees over the years. [Stands up and claps] It is a pleasure to read, as are the individual posts that got listed this time. I highly recommend1 the SPP41 to everyone.
Thanks to Scientia Pro Publica 41, I came across this gem of a post on Animal Research by Walter Jessen. I am a researcher in immunology, working with mycotic infectious diseases. My research develops and utilizes animal models of infection (mostly mice2), and as a result, I have long been a party to this endless debate between proponents and opponents of animal-based research. Jessen summarizes succinctly the major points of the arguments that both sides put forward; it is not difficult to comprehend the reasonability and ethics of the pro-animal welfare stance.
In addition, the myth and fact separation is also a nice touch. Computer modeling and in vitro cell culture may be applicable to some situations, but living hosts, i.e. research animals, are still absolutely required for studies dealing with host-pathogen interaction, as well as studies involving physiological reactions to drugs, toxins and other substances, both of which are multi-variate, i.e. under the control of multiple variables, known and unknown, and therefore, cannot be accurately recapitulated in vitro or in a simulation. The researchers control for as many variables as they possibly can, while acknowledging the unmanageable variable as caveats of the study – and that fact is usually clearly mentioned in the corresponding publications. Despite the caveats, this remains to this day the best method for evaluating biological phenomena.
Jessen’s post raises a very important point in the Fact section: that poor care of the animals will invariably result in unreliable research data, and therefore, researchers are duty-bound to ensure adequate level of care for the research animals. Usually, this is ensured by the institutional animal research facilities, bound by federal regulations and guided by the Animal Care and Use Committees of the respective institutions.
There is one more myth I would like to point out: that animals are being used to service human beings. The fact is that animal research helps the progress of modern medicine, including veterinary medicine. This is very carefully glossed over by the animal rights activists.
A good read and commendable job, Jessen!
- Even though – as Bob justly lamented – the issue falls one short of the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.
- Unless, of course, they are a part of the pan-dimensional race that created the Earth as a supercomputer successor to Deep Thought in order to find out the question to which the answer was 42 – and it is they who are, unbeknownst to me, conducting experiments on me.