June 20, 2008
The great majority of animal use for experimental purposes can best be described as “curiosity-driven” research. Animals who have been purpose-bred, captured from the wild, or purchased from pounds, animal shelters, and animal brokers can be subject to a seemingly limitless variety of experimental procedures in fields ranging from biology, psychology, biochemistry and physiology to genetic manipulation.
Such curiosity driven research stems, in part, from today’s "publish or perish" research environment, in which scientists are rewarded for the number of research papers they publish, rather than the contribution each study makes to the advancement of science or medicine. It is relatively easy to take an existing “animal model,” alter a few variables, and produce a publishable paper. Researchers can publish and advance themselves while showing little innovation. This translates into a system in which wasteful and medically irrelevant animal experimentation is all too commonplace.
Even animal research that is carried out for "medical purposes" tends to be far from relevant to human health. Part of the problem is that artificially induced disease in “animal models” is never identical to the naturally arising disorder in human beings. Animal species also differ in many biologically significant ways, making it that even more unlikely that research results will be correctly interpreted and then applied to the human condition in a meaningful way. Further doubt is cast on the validity of animal research because the species most often used in laboratory experiments are chosen largely on non-scientific grounds, such as cost, ease of handling, or simply habit. In addition, the results of animal experiments are so often variable and easily manipulated that researchers have used the results of animal studies to “prove” that cigarettes both do and do not cause cancer—depending on the source of funding.
Learn more about the issues:
- Comparison of treatment effects between animal experiments and clinical trials [PDF]
- Contributions to medical progress [PDF]
- Experimental treatments for stroke [PDF]
- Systematic reviews of human clinical utility [PDF]
- Translation of research evidence from animals to humans [PDF]
- Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans?