Cover of Brute Science: Dilemmas of Animal Experimentation

Brute Science: Dilemmas of Animal Experimentation
 by by Hugh LaFollette and Niall Shanks
Routledge 1997 (Philosophical Issues in Science Series)

"This book . . . is everything a philosophical tome should be: timely, important, factually informed, responsive to the scholarly literature, analytical, scrupulously fair, and rigorously, vigorously argued. It is, if I may say so, a model specimen of practical ethics."
Keith Burgess-Jackson (Ethics and the Environment)

"Brute Science should also be read by philosophers of science. . . . [A]s we [philosophers of science] grew into respectable professional middle-age in the latter part of this century, we seemed to lose our stomach for public controversy. . . . Of late the situation has begun to change for the better. [We have seen several] recent examples of philosophers of science deploying their considerable philosophical and scientific skills in addressing issues of broader public concern. Add Brute Science to this short but distinguished list."
Don Howard (Metascience)

"This book is a tour-de-force of the issue, and should be on the required reading list of every animal experimenter, bio-ethicist, and animal liberationist. . . ."
Merry Maisel (Metascience)

 Sample Chapters: 

"Strong Models & Theoretical Expectations"

"Evading Causal Disanalogy"

"This book is must reading for all those interested in the debate about the use of animals in experimentation. One need not accept all of the authors' arguments and conclusions to benefit from their clear and perceptive analysis of the scientific and philosophical issues involved. Their policy recommendations deserve serious consideration from both scientists and animal rights advocates."
John Parascandola ( Ph.D., Medical Historian)

"Brute Science provides a careful, historical, interdisciplinary analysis of scientific experimentation using non-human animals. Everyone seriously interested in biomedical experimentation - those who use animals and those who use the results of experimentation - should read this book. It sets the tone for future work concerning the use of non-human animals in the 21st Century"
Marc Bekoff (Environmental, Population, & Organismic Biology, U.of Colorado)

"This is as important a book in applied ethics as one can hope to find. It mounts an an impressive scientific and moral case against the current practice of animal experimentation, demanding that we either provide an adequate defense of that practice or radically change it."
James P. Sterba (Philosophy, University of Notre Dame)

The American Medical Association (AMA) estimates that biomedical researchers in the US use between 17-22 million animals each year (1992:15). It is evident that scientists use a sufficiently large number of animals in biomedical research to warrant a scientific and moral evaluation of the practice.

Most readers are probably familiar with the ethical debate about the practice of animal experimentation. Often parties on both sides of these debates assert the scientific validity of animal research, even when they disagree about its moral appropriateness. Admittedly, some opponents of animal experimentation argue that some/all types of animal research are not scientifically valid. But, many of these objections, although perhaps suggestive, are inadequately developed and, quite frankly, scientifically uninformed.

However, there are legitimate scientific questions about the validity of animal experimentation which merit serious consideration by both sides of this debate. A careful assessment of scientific and methodological principles indicates that the claims about the enormous benefits of animal research claims made in both public policy statements designed for public consumption and in scientific texts are exaggerated. Specifically, there is reason to question the appropriateness of extrapolating the results of animal experimentation to humans.

Doubts about the grand claims made on behalf of experimentation emerge from a careful examination of evolutionary biology. Evolutionary theory is no mere adjunct to biology. Rather, it is at the center of contemporary biology. It is intricately connected to genetics, population biology, systematics, and ecology; it is the theoretical glue which holds these disparate fields together. Of special importance to the current inquiry, evolutionary theory helps us understand the biological significance of speciation. Since modern physiology and biomedicine assume we can legitimately extrapolate laboratory findings in non-human animals to humans, then a proper understanding of the nature of species and species' differences will be central to a scientific evaluation of these practices.

In the popular debates about animal experimentation these deeper scientific questions are not raised at all, or are, at most, discussed only superficially. Neither the critics nor the defenders of these practices tend to pursue these arguments as deeply as they should. Thus, even when they are discussed, they are discussed in ways which often distort the issues rather than clarifying them. We wish to remedy this deficiency. We will carefully analyze the scientific, methodological, and epistemological merits of the practice of animal experimentation to sift the argumentative wheat from the chaff, for there are, contrary to some critics, legitimate uses of animals in the context of scientific research. This illuminates the views of both the critics and the defenders of contemporary biomedical experiments using non-human animals. An in-depth understanding of the scientific issues will inform the ethical and public policy dimensions of such practices.

experimenter dissecting mouse

Structure of the Argument
In Part I, Understanding the Issues, we set out the background information which is crucial for a scientific evaluation of the practice of biomedical experimentation. We begin by presenting prime facie cases for and against animal experimentation. These expose the reader to typical argumentative strategies which have been employed by both sides of this debate; specifically, it will reveal that both cases have a surface plausibility. Neither case, though, plumbs the deeper epistemological and methodological questions which we think so important. Both sides rely heavily, indeed, almost exclusively, on examples to defend their respective cases. Although this is an understandable strategy, it is not an especially productive one: it fails to illuminate the centrality of animal experimentation in the current paradigm of biomedicine.

We first explore the roots of this paradigm in the work of 19th century French physiologist, Claude Bernard. Then, when setting out the contours of the current paradigm, we highlight the role of the Intact Systems Argument, the use of scaling principles, and the paradigm's underlying commitment to biological reductionism. We end this section by explaining the contemporary view of evolution, focusing specifically on those elements of evolution especially relevant to a critical assessment of the current biomedical paradigm.

In Part II, Scientifically Evaluating Animal Experimentation, we explain how a proper understanding of the theory of evolution, in tandem with laboratory findings, undermines the belief that we can straightforwardly extrapolate findings in laboratory animals to humans. We then explore a variety of modified versions of the defense of animal experimentation, including the claim that animal models, though weak, are still useful. We show how the study of nonlinear systems may be relevant to an evaluation of these defenses of the current paradigm. Finally, we discuss the potential relevance of transgenic animals for biomedical experimentation. Throughout the book, and in this section particularly, we will quote extensively from evolutionary biologists and biomedical researchers. At times these citations may seem excessive. But it is important that we show, beyond a doubt, that we are being fair to the researchers' position.

Although the arguments in this book will expose the weakness of animal experiments whose results are to be directly "extrapolated" or "applied" to humans, their relevance to other uses of animals is unclear. Animal experimentation is not all of a piece there are different uses of animals, and these must be evaluated differently. Some uses of animals will not be touched by the methodological arguments raised in this section (though perhaps some of the moral arguments developed in section three will be relevant to their assessment). Thus our methodological arguments will have less bearing on much that takes place under the rubric of basic research, be it anatomical, physiological, toxicological, virological, and so on.

Furthermore there are specialized uses of animals which are untouched by our methodological arguments -- for instance, using animals as hosts for viruses of interest (e.g., the early use of rhesus monkeys to preserve laboratory strains of polio virus). Or using animals as "bio-reactors" to produce biologically active compounds. Nor do we have a methodological message for epidemiologists and pathologists who experiment on wild animals to uncover the natural hosts of human viruses of interest, for example the ebola virus. Moreover, our methodological arguments have little bearing on the use of animals in educational training contexts.

In Part III, The Moral Evaluation of Animal Experimentation, we use the analysis from the previous sections to undergird our evaluation of animal experimentation. We first set the moral debate in historical context, showing how the moral understanding of non-human animals has evolved over time especially after the advent of evolutionary theory. We conclude that, although the arguments that humans have strong moral obligations to animals are certainly plausible, any widely accepted evaluation of experimentation must be based on weaker moral assumptions. The assumption that non-human animals have some moral worth is sufficiently weak to be acceptable to most people, while also being sufficiently powerful to generate potent questions about the morality of the practice.

We first discuss speciesism, and, more generally, deontological defenses of animal experimentation. Then we consider the utilitarian defense of the practice, which claims the practice is justified because of its enormous benefits to human health. We conclude that the practice of using animals in applied medical research is highly questionable (since we cannot straightforwardly apply findings in animals to humans). But the evaluation of basic research, will, by its nature, be somewhat different.

We end the book with some public policy recommendations about the continued use of non-human animals in biomedical experiments.

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