Specious Science
C. Ray Greek, MD, &
Jean Swingle Greek, DVM
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buy *Specious Science: How Genetics and Evolution Reveal Why Medical Research on Animals Harms Humans* online Specious Science: How Genetics and Evolution Reveal Why Medical Research on Animals Harms Humans
C. Ray Greek, MD, & Jean Swingle Greek, DVM
Continuum Publishing Group
Hardcover
256 pages
May 2002
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Mention "anti-vivisection" and in the minds of many you'll call up visions of long-haired idealistic radicals of the ilk who torch research institutes or organize subversive rescues on mink ranches in between meals of tofu and soy milk -- a subcategory of hippie liberals driven by a misguided ethical code that inexplicably places the worth of the lives and well-being of "lower" animals above that of humans. Be the stereotype as it may (or not), those who've been fighting an impassioned but mainly losing battle against the deep-seated animal model in research just got themselves a doozy of a new weapon to aid them in their quest, and it's a weapon based not on the pining of bleeding hearts, but on logic, scientific methodology, and copious research findings: animal-model research for human medicine doesn't work.

Curled Up With a Good BookThat according to C. Ray Greek, MD, and Jean Swingle Greek, DVM, in their latest assay against animal model research, Specious Science. Co-founders of Americans for Medical Advancement and Europeans for Medical Advancement, the Greeks have already published an exposť of the way in which those who profit from an untenable animal research model -- drug manufacturers, researchers dependent on government grants, animal suppliers and cage manufacturers, to name some -- keep an entrenched but wasteful, even harmful, system of medical research in place, in their groundbreaking Sacred Cows and Golden Geese. The Greeks (Ray, a board-certified anesthesiologist, also acts as scientific adviser to the National Anti-Vivisection Society USA) here uncover the pseudo-science status of animal-model research, tearing away bit by logical, scientific bit the veil of general but uninformed acceptance that keeps the animal research industry so lucrative, despite its ultimate uselessness in human application.   

Carefully and thoroughly elucidating the scientific underpinnings of their argument, the authors spell out why the animal research paradigm is just plain, unadulterated bad scientific theory. A quote from philosophy professor Michael Allen Fox at Queen's University, Kingston, in Canada perhaps most succinctly sums up the Greeks' own view:

Today's [anti-vivisectionist] movement rejects vivisectionist research on these grounds: (a) inapplicability or limited applicability of data to humans owing to cross-species differences; (b) methodological unsoundness (being scientific); (c) dangerous, misleading and harmfulness of results; (d) wastefulness, inefficiency and expense; (e) triviality; (f) redundancy; (g) motivation by mere curiosity; (h) cruelty; (i) availability of alternatives; (j) desensitization of researchers and their coworkers. (AV Magazine Fall 2000)
That may seem a little dry to the average reader, but the Greeks ceaselessly drive home the too-prevalent spuriousness of animal study results across the medical spectrum.

For several instances:

  • Of twenty-two drugs developed on animals as therapeutic in animals with imposed (researcher-caused) spinal cord injuries, none worked on humans (p. 209)
  • The first radial keratotomies (surgeries performed to improve vision) were animal experiment-induced catastrophes -- surgeons had "perfected" the procedure on rabbits, but the first humans operated on were blinded because of essential differences in the corneas of rabbits and humans(p. 166)
  • Only White New Zealand rabbits -- at doses of thalidomide at 25 to 300 times the human dosage -- gave birth to malformed offspring; all other species (except, eventually, some monkeys at 10 times the human equivalent dose) tested after the thalidomide crisis showed no ill effects (p. 108)

Animal-model research has undeniably led to harm when extrapolated to humans. But the cross-species barrier can also have the effect of "proving" a treatment unsafe for humans, when in fact it is unsafe for some animals but of enormous palliative effect for people (in research patois, that's called a false negative). Ketamine, an effective human sedative and anesthetic, does next to nothing in rats and guinea pigs, and causes tremors and rigidity in sheep and goats (p. 145). Alexander Fleming abandoned penicillin as an antimicrobial when it proved ineffective on rabbits, only to try it serendipitously -- and successfully -- in desperation on a critical human patient a decade later (p. 107). Aspirin causes birth defects in rabbits but not humans.

By inducing symptoms of a human disease, like Alzheimer's, that does not naturally occur in another species and then studying that animal in hopes of somehow finding an answer useful to humanity, animal-model researchers engage in what the Greeks rightly call "specious science." So how does such a flawed system keep turning its tired old cogs?

One congressman stated the way grant applications are funded is "an old boy's system where program managers rely on trusted friends in the academic community to review their proposals. These friends recommend their friends as reviewers... It is an incestuous 'buddy system'"... The cynic who quipped "the rat is an animal which when injected produces a paper" was right. Less than 15 percent of NIH grant applications are funded each year, and most of those are experiments involving animals. So, if you are a researcher at an academic institution that lives by the "publish or perish" maxim, then that is what you do. And for the purposes of getting a paper published, animal-model research is fast, neat, and tidy... Human clinical research, though infinitely more valuable in terms of its ability to deliver applicable results, is much slower and more difficult. (p. 259)
So what's the medical research community of the richest, most developed nation in the world to do? The answer is right in front of us, and it's a mix of the old and the cutting edge. Autopsies, clinical research, epidemiology (the study of disease distribution in populations as well as the factors influencing occurrence of the disease), in vitro research (using cultured human cells and tissues for study), genetics and genomics, and technological contributions from other scientific fields already yield proven quality results.

Like any good debaters -- or like determined crusaders who've been derided time and again for anti-establishment views -- the Greeks wrap up Specious Science with refutations of just about every possible pro-animal model counterargument. This book ought to scare the bejeezus out of every American -- this is much bigger than mere hyperinflated drug costs, although causally related. Pharmaceuticals and institutions of medical research have forgotten who they serve. It's literally life or death that they reevaluate and revise the present system of animal-model research. Resources wasted on specious science will go a long way toward improving the human condition if the "old boys" are forced to reallocate to research that works.


© 2002 by Sharon Schulz-Elsing for Curled Up With a Good Book


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