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Links With Your Coffee - Monday


  • Webinar
    Webinar (Web + seminar) seems like a fine neologism for a seminar offered online. A blend of two common terms, it’s immediately understood by most people. I’ve been taking Webinars lately; I like them and appreciate having a handy word for them — even though I’m often inclined to object to linguistic “innovations.”

  • Light Runners
    One curious aspect of the general question of surveillance cameras has always interested me. (It's not relevant to these red-light cameras, as I understand their operation, but I'll explain it here anyhow.)

    It's against federal law to record a conversation without a court order or the consent of at least one of the parties to the conversation. (Many states have stronger laws, making it illegal to record a conversation without the consent of all the parties involved.) This generally seems to be interpreted to forbid setting up surveillance microphones, even in public places, though the question of when "implicit consent" might be invoked, due to the lack of expectation of privacy, or some kind of notification that recording might be taking place, is a complex one.

    But video recording is not considered to be covered by such laws, and therefore setting up surveillance cameras in public and semi-public places doesn't seem to raise any legal issues.

  • The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged

    What a lovely description, "lock-and-load nutcases."

  • Answering "scientific" arguments of animal rights extremists

  • Beatles Tube (tip to Arnold)

  • Forwarned is Forearmed, Crickets Warn Their Eggs of Nearby Spiders



re: Answering "scientific" arguments of animal rights extremists

Well, that article was about 5x as long as it needed to be. It made some good points, but it also did a whole bunch of conflagration.

The main point of the article seemed to be to refute a piece in Skeptics magazine that challenged the idea that research on non-human animals yields useful & reliable insights into human diseases.

Then again, it takes a while to get there, since the first 1/3 or so (and then peppered occasionally throughout thereafter) is more or less a bunch of easy pot-shots at extremist positions that the Skeptics authors disavow.

One assumes that the author just can't resist bringing up these easy to disprove examples to shore up his/her position when taking on a more nuanced set of ideas.

Here's the conclusion:

Just remember, whenever you hear seemingly "scientific" arguments against animal research that emphasize how bad and inaccurate it is, ask for concrete examples from the peer-reviewed literature that show that non-animal modalities are consistently equal to or better than animal experiments to answer the question being asked. You'll be hard-pressed to find them.

That may be true. But lurking underneath all of this seems to be something else. And it is revealed in this aside by the author:

If one can't show that one's alternative is better than animal research, then all the complaints about the imperfections of animal research don't amount to much. It's still the best that we have, and, as such, it's bad science (and unethical, to boot) not to use it before trying therapies in humans.

Here's the rub, as far as I can tell. The author believes that it would be unethical to NOT do research on mammals if it could cure a disease.

I think this is far from clear. And, when all of the other dust clears, I think this is really the predominant disagreement here. Animal welfare advocates will argue that it's not OK just to do exploratory research on non-human animals with the hope that someday a disease might be cure-able. The author of this post seems to think that to NOT do that research would be unethical.

So, while the author (Orac) wants to make this a question of science, differing ethical principles may actually be more fundamental in the disagreement.

And, it seemed to me, that Orac's failure to recognize the ethical (rather than scientific) nature of his fundamental position is revealed when s/he discusses the issue of how useful an animal 'model' is for predicting human response.

It is well known now that research on rodents is unreliable. For example, wehn testing a drug now, the USDA requires that researchers test the drug on two (or is it 3?) different mammal species, so that anomalies of the way, say, a rat will respond to a drug won't give misleading results for humans.

Orac's argument is that it is better than not doing the mammal testing at all, and that may be true in some or even most cases. Nevertheless, s/he skirts this uncomfortable point: Rhesus monkeys would give FAR more reliable results than rats or hamsters...Baboons would give FAR more reliable results than Rhesus monkeys...and chimpanzees would give FAR more reliable results than Baboons.

So why don't we do more research on Rhesus monkeys? And for that matter, why don't we do ANY such experiments on Chimpanzees?

Leaving aside the obvious problems of facilities for rearing countless millions of monkeys or other primates for research, I think another aspect of the answer is clear. Monkeys and other primates are too uncomfortably close TO US to justify raising and killing them in huge numbers.

In the end, then, the question becomes: how far distant to you have to be from a human to justify a toxicology dose response study where you find out the dose at which an experimental drug for hair loss kills 50% of the animals in your study (with sufficient sample size to give >95% confidence)?

The ethical issue here is far from clear, and the cavalier, confident nature in which Orac dismisses the ethical arguments as scientifically invalid is covering up complex ethical issues that s/he is sweeping under the rug.


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