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The attackers of animal research take two paths toward attempting to end it—one of which I respect but with which I profoundly disagree—and the other which I neither respect nor accept. The argument that I think is wrong but respect (epitoimzed by Gary Francione), admits that scientific research with animals can benefit people—although the extent of benefit is generally downplayed. Their argument is primarily ethical; that regardless of the scientific knowledge obtained, or indeed, potential medical treatments derived, it is morally wrong to use a sentient being as an instrumentality in research.

Others claim that animal research offers no benefits to humans, and indeed is harmful. This criticism is patently false and anti-empirical as well as (in my view) wrongheaded from an ethical perspective. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—a PETA creature—is an example of this approach, as are the assertions of the violence justifier against researchers Jerry Vlasak.

But animals are required for science to advance. Here is an example that came across the transom today, a summary of advances published in a science journal, of the attempt to find a vaccine for bird flu:

A vaccine against the most common and deadliest strain of avian flu, H5N1, has been engineered and tested by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Vaccine Research and Rockville, Maryland-based Novavax. According to a study published by the journal PLoS ONE, the vaccine produced a strong immune response in mice and protected them from death following infection with the H5N1 virus. The vaccine is being tested in humans in an early-phase clinical trial. Recent outbreaks of avian flu around the world have prompted health officials to warn of its continued threat to global health and potential to trigger a flu pandemic. Unlike other avian flu vaccines, which are partially developed from live viruses, the vaccine uses a virus-like particle that is recognized by the immune system as a real virus but lacks genetic information to reproduce, making it a potentially safer alternative for a human vaccine. Given the evolving nature of H5N1, the vaccine was engineered to encode genes for three influenza viral proteins to offer enhanced protection against possible new strains of the virus. The researchers said that mice immunized twice with the vaccine developed protective antibodies against H5N1 and were protected from disease and death when directly exposed to the virus. The study was funded by Novavax.
Does this mean this experimental vaccine will necessarily work? Of course not. But the use of the mice was an essential part of the process of getting to human trials.

I think this issue is so important that I intend to spend one entire chapter in my forthcoming book describing why animals are so important to scientific and medical research. From a scientific perspective, their benefit is really uncontrovertible. That doesn’t end the ethical argument, of course. But good ethical analysis requires accurate data, which is what I hope to provide and which too often the animal rights ideologues refuse to admit.

More on: Animal Research

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