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We Must Face the Threats

By Sarah Greene We Must Face the Threats Reading between the lines of a top-ranked Faculty of 1000 article Science at its most exciting: arguable and demanding refinement Numbers employed to determine a scientist’s career have always seemed dodgy. Just ask Eugene Garfield, creator of the citation index and the impact factor, who has written, “The use of journal impacts in evaluating individuals has its inherent dangers.” Yet where mov

By | November 1, 2010

We Must Face the Threats

Reading between the lines of a top-ranked Faculty of 1000 article

Science at its most exciting: arguable and demanding refinement

Numbers employed to determine a scientist’s career have always seemed dodgy. Just ask Eugene Garfield, creator of the citation index and the impact factor, who has written, “The use of journal impacts in evaluating individuals has its inherent dangers.” Yet where movies, novels, and scientific articles are concerned, I’m a sucker for rankings. I could easily spend a weekend checking out the New York Times’ best-ever films, Modern Library’s top 100 novels, and F1000’s top-ranked articles.

Since it’s unlikely you’re here to read about favorite novels and movies, I’ll focus on the highest-rated article since F1000’s inception: “Genome-wide non-mendelian inheritance of extra-genomic information in Arabidopsis” (Lolle et al., Nature, 2005), with an F1000 Article Factor (FFa) of 62, and a record 20 Faculty evaluations. On our newly renovated Web site (f1000.com), you’ll also see a dissenting evaluation and two further comments from the Faculty on the controversial “hothead phenomenon,” involving nonparental, grandparental heredity. Science at its most exciting: arguable and demanding refinement.

Number 2 on the list is a surprising outlier—a commentary in a 2009 Hidden Jewel (lower-impact-factor) publication, Journal of Neuroscience: “We must face the threats,” by D.L. Ringach and J.D. Jentsch of the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles. The title and its subject seem to belong to the Modern Library fiction collection, not to PubMed archives. It describes threats to and actual attacks by animal rights activists on researchers’ families, their labs, and indeed to an entire realm of science experimentation. Seventeen Faculty Members submitted evaluations supporting the authors’ call to the research community: explain your commitment to strict ethical guidelines and “the key role animal research plays in our work and what our society stands to lose if we were to stop it.”

In response, as reported by this magazine’s news team, a working group of researchers created guidelines on how to respond to activists’ demands. It’s heartening to see follow-up and also to review extensive government requirements, worldwide, for lab-animal comfort and safety. As noted in earlier columns, communication with the public—regarding use of embryonic stem cells, cloning techniques, brain scans, or any number of button-pushing methodologies—is critical for nurturing a lay public that champions and funds bioresearch.

In light of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine announced recently, awarded to Robert Edwards for his work on in vitro fertilization, one cannot help but reflect on the nearly 4 million “miracle” lives that have sprung from basic research involving experimentation with rabbits and hamsters. The list of medical conditions that have benefited from the use of animals in research is extensive: cancer, AIDS and other infectious diseases, stroke, traumatic head injury, Parkinson’s disease, and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart failure.

Yet…there are moments of doubt. How to deal with our observations that animal test subjects have self-recognition (primates) and laugh in their cages (rats)? Indeed 30 minutes of googling reveals deep conversation and debate in blogs among scientists, and a multitude of studies examining the efficacy of animal models in different types of experiments. This, too, is science in action and has led to refined definitions of when animal testing must be employed. Philosophy helps, as well.

Peter Singer, the eminent philosopher at Princeton University, makes the case that “equal consideration of interests” must be given animals not because they are equal to humans in reasoning or discourse abilities, but because they can suffer. In terms of lab experimentation, given the suffering doctrine, one would treat animals according to the strictest guidelines, but how to justify their sacrifice? The recently deceased British philosopher Philippa Foot posed the famous “trolley problem” that helps immensely here. A runaway trolley speeds toward five track workers. An observer is able to pull a switch and divert the trolley to a spur where just one worker is on the track, saving five lives by sacrificing one. Difficult to pull the switch, but we hope our sacrifice of lab animals will save many thousands of human lives.

Foot also is remembered for her insistence that courage, wisdom, and temperance are all cornerstones of morality. Not a bad doctrine for the lab, whether working with Danio rerio, Rattus norvegicus, or any random Homo sapiens.

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Comments

Avatar of: RAY GREEK

RAY GREEK

Posts: 4

October 29, 2010

#2 on your list might be taken a little more seriously if the authors had not backed out of a debate at UCLA. After the February 2010 panel discussion at UCLA they were supposed to debate me on the scientific aspects of using animals to predict human response. The panel discussion gave them much publicity and very little opportunity for anyone to challenge their position on the science. If they really want to explain their position, a debate is a traditional method for doing so.\nThe same is true for other researchers. I constantly hear that the animal-based research community wants to get their side out. But when I contact them for debates, on their campus with their security and so forth, they have no interest. What that tells me is that what they want to disseminate is propaganda.\nFor my position see\nhttp://www.peh-med.com/content/pdf/1747-5341-4-2.pdf and \nhttp://www.peh-med.com/content/pdf/1747-5341-5-14.pdf
Avatar of: Dario Ringach

Dario Ringach

Posts: 2

October 30, 2010

\nI have already responded to many of Dr. Greek?s claims on-line in the Opposing Views web site:\n\nhttp://www.opposingviews.com/users/darioringach/articles_list\n\nI admit to some exhaustion after responding to his many intentional mischaracterizations. The public is invited to read my responses.\n\nOther scientists have debated Dr. Greek at various academic institutions. His views are known and well publicized by animal rights activists. The public has ample resources to evaluate his claims. Anyone interested in the topic could start by reading ?Science, Medicine, and Animals? a publication from the National Academy of Sciences which discusses the use of animals in science. It can be downloaded for free here:\n\nhttp://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10733\n\nThere are also useful resources from NIH:\n\nhttp://science.education.nih.gov/animalresearch.nsf/index.htm\nhttp://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/air/general_public.htm\n\nThe National Center for Research Resources has a very good page on animal models and comparative medicine:\n\nhttp://www.ncrr.nih.gov/comparative_medicine/\n\nAs it has been already noted, there is vast agreement in the scientific community that animals are sometimes necessary to study biological processes involved in disease:\n\nhttp://www.opposingviews.com/p/who-in-their-right-mind-would-support-animal-research\n\nA recent Pew Research poll indicates that 93% of scientists support the work (this is not just biomedical researchers but scientists not engaged in the work, such as mathematicians and geologists). \n\nThe ethical issues should be discussed too. I have said repeatedly that I am open to such dialogue. In fact, I am doing this right now:\n\nhttp://academicdepartments.musc.edu/humanvalues/schedule.htm\n\nBut it is impossible to discuss the ethics if we do not agree on the scientific facts... and Dr. Greek twists them with much ability:\n\nhttp://www.opposingviews.com/p/science-versus-everything-else\n
Avatar of: RAY GREEK

RAY GREEK

Posts: 4

October 31, 2010

To say I disagree with Dr Ringach's characterization would be an understatement. Allow me to reproduce a portion of a letter I wrote to Dr David Jentsch last year:\n\n"Allow me to make 2 points that you may find offensive although they are not meant to be. 1. If animals are predictive for humans then the animal-based research community should come out of the woodwork to debate me and defend their position. They do not. I have asked researchers at universities where animal rights and related issues are not even in the news and no one will debate this issue. I have seen letters from pro animal-based research groups advising these same people to avoid debates at all cost. This is hardly transparent, open, or scientifically honest."\n\nI stand by those words. If my position is so easy to refute, the the animal model research community should be flooding my inbox with demands to debate the topic in front of live audiences and or on television. They are not. They are publishing their own version of reality and the publishers are not giving me equal time or any time. The Scientist is a prime example, as are New Scientist and Science. The Nature journals are better.\nIf anyone wishes to see a debate between myself and a very qualified representative of animal-based research see numbers 2 and 4 here. http://www.afma-curedisease.org/video.html\nJudge for yourself the scientific content as presented by each sides, the logic used, and whether each side addressed the issue under discussion. Then decide whether I have a valid point.
Avatar of: Dario Ringach

Dario Ringach

Posts: 2

November 2, 2010

\nDr. Greek agrees with me. He points to his multiple books, opinion pieces and videos showing him explaining his views in our universities. He has had ample opportunity to present his ideas which have been further popularized by animal rights organizations. \n\nThe public has sufficient material to review his claims against those of medical scientists, professional medical organizations, the National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Sciences, and to make an informed decision. \n\nDr. Greek seriously thinks that if nobody debates him it must be because he is right. That is the only logical conclusion for him. It never crosses his mind that he might be wrong.\nScientists do not want to debate him for the same reason they do not want to debate proponents of intelligent design, nor those that claim we have never landed on the moon -- scientists have no patience for intellectual villains. \n\nI have previously commented on my interpretation of such rants here http://www.opposingviews.com/p/science-versus-everything-else\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 11

November 2, 2010

It was interesting to read through the debate between Dr. Greek and Dr. Skolnick that Dr. Greek linked to in his last comment. In Dr. Greeks opening he constructed a straw man version of how translational medicine and preclinical testing work, and then demolishing said straw man with some gusto and a lot of facts that only serve to show that animal researchers, and the biosciences community in general, are very well aware of the limitations of animals as predictive models for humans (which is exactly the opposit of what Dr. Greek claims). Well done Dr. Greek, you clearly paid attention in Debating 101 and I would imagine that your arguments would appear convincing to the average non-scientist, though they also show why the scientific community doesn't take you very seriously.\n\nAs to Dr. Skolnick's talk, well it was OK from a factual point of view, but I'd have preferred to hear more about the role of animal research in pushing the boundaries of 21st century medicine in fields such as tissue engineering, gene therapy and neuroscience rather than a list of the greatest hits of the 20th. I guess you can't have everything in one talk. It would have been good if he had mentioned that warning signs about COX-2 inhibitors such as Vioxx did come from animal research (though not as far as I'm aware the standard preclinical testing) before the link was confirmed in human studies (see Fitzgerald et al. 2003 PMID:14668809, ). Animal studies can tell scientists a lot, but nobody - with the exception perhaps of Dr. Greeks straw man - is naive enough to believe that, at our current level of scientific knowledge and technological cabability, animal or any other laboratory tests can perdict everything that will happen whan a new drug is given to an individual person.\n\nIt was nice to read Dr. Skolnick demolishing Dr. Greek in the rest of the debate, it's very admirable of Dr. Greek to publish what must have been an uncomfortable experience.\n\nStill, the way these mid-terms are looking, Dr. Greek will be the very least of the the scientific community's worries for the next couple of years.\n\n
Avatar of: Kenneth Pimple

Kenneth Pimple

Posts: 5

November 4, 2010

My thanks to Ray Greek, Dario Ringach, and the anonymous commentator for their thoughts. \n\nDr. Greek's claims are suspect for many reasons, but one not mentioned here is his apparent conviction that the way to settle the issue is through debate "in front of live audiences and or on television." He apparently does not understand that science, unlike political campaigns, is not verified, proven, challenged, strengthened, or weakened by live debates. That's just not how it's done.\n\nThen there's the general proclivity of anti-science activists to twist, ignore, and make up facts to suit their agenda, which self-respecting scientists don't do, giving them a significant disadvantage in debates.
Avatar of: RAY GREEK

RAY GREEK

Posts: 4

November 5, 2010

Kenneth Pimple seems to have missed some important data when making his claims. Typical for his kind of tirade. \n\nMy first choice for debating the predictive value of animals in drugs and disease research is the scientific literature. I offered this to numerous animal-based researchers when I was approached by the editor of a peer-reviewed and indexed journal for a point-counterpoint. Guess how many agreed to participate. Zero! So much for animal modelers wanting to discuss this issue in a traditional science forum with the usual rules for such things.\n\nI have never said the way to settle a scientific issue is through public debate. Public debate is a way to let society hear the two sides of an issue and make a more informed decision, something the animal-based research community claims to want. Such a statement is a straw man. Ad hominems like: ?He apparently does not understand that science, unlike political campaigns, is not verified, proven, challenged, strengthened, or weakened by live debates. That's just not how it's done.? are not allowed in the scientific literature and the general public recognizes when a scientist is spinning or being insulting instead of facing the issue. This could be why no one wants to take this issue to the scientific literature or debate it in public. \n\nMy position and statements on animal use in science are based on the arguments we make in our book ?Animal Models in Light of Evolution.? Anyone seeking the science behind our position can find it there or in the links in my first post. If the material in that book puts us into the category of: ?anti-science activists [who] twist, ignore, and make up facts to suit their agenda, which self-respecting scientists don't do, giving them a significant disadvantage in debates.? then again the animal-based research community should be flooding my inbox wanting to debate in the literature or in public so they point out all those instances. Claiming such instance without allowing me to respond, which is essentially what happens when one-sided pieces are published in magazines and journals, is the real antiscience position.\n\nFinally, I find it fascinating that people accuse Niall Shanks, my coauthor of ?Animal Models in Light of Evolution,? of being anti-science. To begin with, Shanks is not an animal activist; he eats meat and so forth. Yet he challenges the animal model community to defend their position that animals are predictive for drug and disease testing. That is the only claim Shanks and I collectively (and our organization AFMA) make. (I also question whether society would allow basic science using sentient animals if they understood the low rate of return but that is my issue alone. See links in my first post.) Second, that someone finds the author of ?God, the Devil and Darwin? antiscience speaks for itself. If the scientific community wants to claim the scientific and moral high ground, then statements and fallacies like those found in Kenneth Pimple?s post should be condemned. Let see how many do.\n
Avatar of: Edward Draper

Edward Draper

Posts: 3

November 6, 2010

Sarah Greene's insightful remarks seem to be discounted or ignored by some commentators who seem preoccupied with supporting one or the other general positions promoted by concerned parties. \n\nThe core issues are not the degree of predictability of animal research as applied to humans, or the effectiveness of public debate among scientists or literate lay people. \n\nThe issues have to do with the relative weight given to conflicting values: the cost of human effort, material resources, animal suffering, etc. to purchase some (or any) useful data for the benefit of society at large, as compared to the benefit of avoiding human suffering by the production of such data. This applies to "basic" research as well as problem-directed research.\n\nNeither the costs nor the benefits can be assessed with precision. The selection and characterization of various costs and benefits are biased by personal perspective. There may never be a "right" answer whether or not to use ANY biological organisms or even complex non-living subjects as objects for research.\n\nThere is not a "right" answer when I confer with a patient and family whether or not to give or withhold treatment modalities which may or may not increase or decrease degree of suffering or length of remaining life. Yet it is a question which I and they MUST answer, and in a way that is never fully satisfactory to all parties.\n\nI cannot debate these questions in general or in the abstract, but must daily decide in the concrete situation where the stakes are large and they are personal. Somewhat like every day facing whether or not to "throw the switch". \n\nTo Foot's list of courage, wisdom and temperance as cornerstones of morality I must add empathy and compassion.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 6

November 7, 2010

...the same Pete Singer who claims unborn, pre-18 week children cannot suffer, and that "killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living."?\n\nNo eminent philosophy there, I'm afraid.
Avatar of: David Colquhoun

David Colquhoun

Posts: 5

November 9, 2010

It really is plain silly to refer to a standard high quality journal like the Journal of Neuroscience as a "lower impact factor" journal.\n\nIn fact it is positively harmful to science to use such crude, and demonstrably silly, classifications.\n\nI suppose that is why I have always felt that F1000 does net harm to good science
Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

November 30, 2010

In all the sturm and drang over animal models in research, something I share, despite generally disagreeing with animal rights activists, is that a significant amount of research is not learning anything. \n\nIt is one thing to justify animal research for significant gain. But doing things over an over that don't show anything but what we already know? \n\nOn the inside of primate centers scientists will say, "So-and-so is just killing monkeys to stay in business." and similar comments. I know this because I've heard this from well established respected animal researchers, delivered with some contempt. We know this happens. But we don't dare say anything to outsiders. And the universities that run these centers are making their overhead off the centers, which bring in grant money. \n\nWe need to speak directly to this sort of thing.
Avatar of: RAY GREEK

RAY GREEK

Posts: 4

December 4, 2010

Well then Brandon, I am sure you would not mind participating in a debate with me so you can reveal all those fallacies and other mistakes I must so routinely make. My calendar is open, when is good for you?

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