Why we have Medical Benefits in Spite of, not because of Animal Research: A Summary of the Failures, and downright dangers, of Animal Research

An important, but all too commonly overlooked anti animal-research argument is the following: we should cease to perform research on animals because animal research is counterproductive: it harms, rather than helps, human beings. Rather than addressing the ethical question that pertains to the moral status of the animals used in research, this argument is concerned with the empirical question of whether or not animal research is actually effective.


In the following discussion, I have summarized the inherent problems with animal research that should give anyone, supporter of animal rights or not, reason to pause before they unreflectively accept the pro-animal research propaganda that infests the scientific community. *Note that I am not providing any new information or arguments in this blog post; rather, I am simply conveying important scientific data that is, to the detriment of humans, commonly overlooked, underappreciated, and purposefully concealed by the animal research community. Most of the following information comes from Ray Greek’s book Sacred Cows and Golden Geese (The Human Cost of Experiments on Animals). While this book is quite lengthy and goes into much more detail than this blog post, I felt it necessary to summarize the ever important information in this book in order to reach people who do not have time to conduct this sort of research on their own, I hope that this blog post is shared widely for the sake of both humans and animals.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself: “How could someone say that animal research is counterproductive? Look at all the cures and medicines we have available to us because of animal research! If it weren’t for animal research, we wouldn’t have developed life saving vaccines, such as immunizations against polio, mumps, and hepatitis.”

The reason why your initial reaction is to cite the so-called benefits of animal research is because we are continually reassured by animal researchers (who profit from animal research) that the reason why we have so many medical developments is thanks to animal testing. For instance, we see misleading signs such as the following:



Yet, a closer look at what other scientists have written, such as Walter R. Hadwen, Irwin D. J. Bross, Pietro Croce, Ray Greek, Andrew Knight, Kurt Fickentscher, John Pippin, Kristie Sullivan, Jonathan Balcombe, Lawrence Hansen, Mark Rice, and thousands of others tell quite a different, disturbing story that the animal research community has been somewhat succesful in stifling. What all of these scientists have in common is that, through their first-hand scientific research and experiences, they have arrived at the following conclusion: we should cease to perform research on animals because animal research is counterproductive and it harms, rather than helps, human beings.

Keeping in mind the data presented by these scientists which expose the ineffectiveness of animal research, Tom Regan, in his essay “Animal Rights Advocacy and Modern Medicine: The Charge of Hypocrisy,” explains that we “benefit in spite of, not because of what is learned from animal tests.” What this means is that animal research is dangerous and often leads scientists astray. Using animals as research models is no better (and perhaps worse) than using a coin toss to “develop” medical treatments. That being said, the benefits we have today are here because of sheer luck. Furthermore, we would have all of the medical advancements available to us today even if we had never performed a single experiment on nonhuman animals. In fact, we would have even more medical benefits at our disposal if we did not rely on faulty animal research models.

Here is why.

#1 Animal Research Directly Harms Human Beings

While the physiology of nonhuman animals is similar to the physiology of humans, it is, by no means, identical. And the differences are responsible for the following fact that animal researchers refuse to admit: the responses of nonhuman animals to new drugs are not predictive of human responses.

The fact that information from animal tests cannot be effectively or safely extrapolated to humans explains why there are countless numbers of drugs that are characterized as “false negatives.” False negatives are drugs that have no harmful effects in nonhuman animals, yet when they are used on humans, they have harmful effects (they test “negative” for harmful effects in animals). Examples of false negatives are:

Thalidomide is perhaps the most high pro-file case of a drug that produced a false negative result. This drug was prescribed for pregnant women to relieve morning sickness, yet when these women gave birth, the infants were born without developed limbs and other deformities. When more and more women gave birth to deformed infants, scientists desperately attempted to “prove” that the drug was teratogenesis (causes malformations) by testing the drug in mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, primates, and so forth, yet the drug continued to test perfectly fine in these animals. It wasn’t until a scientists gave one breed of rabbit, the White New Zealand rabbit, a dose between 25 and 300 times that given to humans that scientists were able to prove what they already knew: thalidomide has a teratogenesis effect.

Opren : A drug used for arthritis that ended up causing 61 deaths. Furthermore, there were 3,500 reports of adverse reaction. This drug was tested on monkeys and other animals without problems.

Practolol: A heart treatment that caused 21 deaths and blindness in humans, although it was “particularly notable for the thoroughness with which its toxicity was studied in animals.”

Zimeldine: the first SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), which caused Guillain-Barry syndrome (a paralyzing illness). This side effect was not predicted in the animal testing phase.

Zomax: an arthritis drug that killed fourteen people and caused many more to suffer.

Orap: an antipsychotic drug which led to seizures.

Clioquinol: an antidiarrheal drug that passed tests in rats, cats, dogs, and rabbits, but caused blindness and paralysis in humans.

*Note that this, by no means, is an exhaustive list of false negatives. Rather, it is a mere fraction of drugs that have passed the animal testing phase, yet proved to be dangerous, and often fatal, for humans. As Greek (2001, 66) points out, a complete list of life-threatening drugs that passed the animal testing phase would fill an entire encyclopedia.

We see the dangerous consequences of animal testing every year: the FDA reports that there are over 2 million Adverse Drug Reactions (ADR) each year and approximately 100,000 deaths from ADR per year in America, making ADR the 4th leading cause of death (Lazarou, Pomeranz, and Corey 1998). What’s more is that David Kessler, the formed director of the FDA, reports that only 1% of  cases of ADR are actually reported (underreporting is attributed to laziness, uncertainty, irresponsibility, and the power of pharmaceutical companies who pressure physicians not to report on ADRs)! Tom Regan also writes about a study in September 2000, published in USA Today, which found that a third of committee members of the FDA had financial conflicts of interest (e.g., stock ownership, research grants, or consulting fees) when specific drugs were being evaluated.

#2 Indirect Harms: Because of Animal Research, we have lost out on countless potential cures and medications

Certain drugs are characterized as “false positives,” which means the drugs have harmful effects in nonhuman animals, but no harmful effects (and in fact substantially good effects) when used in human beings (they test positive for harmful effects in animals). Here are a few examples of false positives are (again, these examples just touch the surface of the many drugs that have false positive results):

Acetaminophen is poisonous to cats but is a therapeutic in humans.

Penicillin is lethal in guinea pigs and Syrian hamsters and is teratogenic in rats but has been an invaluable tool in human medicine. The only reason why we have penicillin today is because Alexander Fleming decided to test it on a very sick human patient, despite the fact that he had put the drug aside after he found that it did not work in rabbits.

Insulin: causes deformities in rabbits and mice.

Morphine causes hyper-excitement in cats & rats but has a calming effect in human patients.

Oral contraceptives prolong blood-clotting times in dogs but increase a human’s risk of developing blood clots.

Flouride causes cancer in rats, but prevents dental decay in humans.

Digitalis: treats congestive heart failure in humans, but causes high blood pressure in some animals

Prednisone: widely prescribed corticosteroid for humans, but causes cancer in some rodents

In the case of “false positives,” the public is deprived of potentially good, life-saving medications. If a medication has a particularly serious effect in even one species of animals, it is often withheld from the market. Yet, as Greek points out, every single medication can cause a serious side effect in some animal. So, we might wonder, how many life saving medications are humans deprived of because it happened to be first tested in a species of animals who suffered from serious side effects? Even the National Cancer Institute concedes that there are too many cases of safe medication being withheld from patients thanks to animal testing. And, unsurprisingly, they are all too right: it is estimated that for every 600 drugs that enter the preclinical testing phase on animals, only 12 advance to human clinical trials. This means that approximately 588/600 drugs are never tested on humans, despite the fact that they very well might have positive effects in humans (furthermore, the NIH and FDA report that 9 out of 10 drugs developed from testing on animals fail in the human clinical trial phase and approximately 50% of the clinical failure rate is due to drugs being too toxic).

Take Away-Points

1. We might as well use a coin toss to develop medications since a coin toss would be just as (or perhaps even more) effective as animal testing. Think about it: when we test drugs on different species of animals, such as rabbits, mice, rats, guinea pigs, monkeys, cats, dogs, and so forth scientists will continually derive conflicting results. If a drug has good effects in rabbits, but lethal effects in mice, how do researchers determine which result to go with? As Greek puts it: in which animal would scientists have put their store?

The fact that the effects in different species are so drastically different speaks to the imminent danger humans are exposed to: animal researchers can always produce the results they want in order to get a particular drug out on the market. As Greek (2001, 71) points out, “some animal, somewhere, will eventually produce the kind of results they [scientists] are after.” This is, without a doubt, why the rates of adverse drug reaction are so troubling. Scientists find one species of animals who produce the effect they want for their particular drug, they then release this drug to the public (of course, while crossing their fingers that it works), and low and behold, negative, and too often lethal, side effects escalate. But the scientists can sleep soundly at night, knowing that their jobs are protected by the legal system, despite how many people they might severely harm or kill through their flawed research methods.

2. Beyond being harmful, animal research is wasteful: the billions of dollars wasted on animal research could have been spent elsewhere, such as on *prevention* of disease (most of the diseases and sicknesses scientists attempt to cure are human induced by improper eating, laziness, and recklessness) and the time and energy scientists have wasted on animal research could have been dedicated to developing cures and drugs through non-animal alternatives that have already proven to be more effective than animal research, such as computer simulations, human-tissue cultures, human stem cell research, and in vitro techniques (furthermore the funding spent on animal research could have been used to develop additional alternatives).

3. Animal Research Reinforces Patriarchal Systems of Oppression: With the use of animal research, we find, once again, the reliance on science and technology to solve social problems. For instance, the scientific community exclusively relies on drug intervention to respond to the “epidemic” of disease which in turn frees the government, corporations, and society from responsibility. The question is no longer “how can we change the economic system that perpetuates human sickness,” but rather, “how can we treat humans who are becoming increasingly more sick” (sick thanks to the government’s subsidies of unhealthy foods and the toxic products  produced by corporations). When we finally acknowledge that most human illnesses and diseases are caused by poor diet, we just might question whether we should put our efforts into correcting the social and economic systems of injustice that cause humans to be unhealthy (whether it is the capitalist system of agriculture that promotes animal flesh and product which is detrimental to health, unsanitary conditions, lack of education, and so forth) rather than pouring billions of dollars into animal research (it is estimated that it takes 12-15 years and approximately $802 million to develop one new prescription drug). The drug industry is a 400 billion dollar industry designed to profit scientists and pharmaceutical companies rather than those who are actually in need of help.

4. Animal Researchers Provide the Public with False Information in order to Protect their Jobs. After reading my analysis of animal research, you might be left with a lingering question: why would scientists insist upon conducting research on animals when animal research is known to have such undeniably horrific consequences?

While we would expect that animal researchers would have the public’s best interest in mind, too often do $$$ signs cloud the judgements of researchers. As Uptown Sinclair once wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” As I have written elsewhere: The research community, along with the medical community, pharmaceutical industry, and so forth has an incentive to keep human beings diseased and sick. Cures to human diseases and sicknesses will eventually lead to 0 profit for both researchers and the pharmaceutical industry. Along these same lines, scientists have an incentive to keep asking questions, regardless of how meaningless these questions might be. Here is why: in order to be paid, scientists must have research projects. In order to perform research, the researchers must receive grant money. In order to receive grants, scientists must publish. In order to publish, scientists must be performing research. You see, there is this vicious cycle where the jobs of researchers depend on performing research (and performing research depends on human beings being diseased and sick).

As Greek points out, the careers of researchers depend on the number of articles they publish: not the value of their publications. What’s the easiest way to get published? You guessed it: by performing animal research. According to Greek (2001, 79), “the easiest way to publish is to take a concept already published and change something, the type of animal used, the dose of the drug, the method of assessing results, or some other variable.” So, although there might be more effective ways to evaluate a particular drug, such as by using microdosing with human subjects in clinical research, animal researchers insist on using animal models for the following, self-interested reason: by the time a clinical researcher publishes an article with valuable information from studying humans, an animal researcher can crank out at least 5 articles with yet more misleading (or at best, useless) information.

The Bottom line?  The research of “scientists” who use animal models is not helping humans and, in fact, animal researchers never intended this research to help humans in the first place. Why? The priority of the scientific industry has always been that academics keep their funding through constant publication. Do not let these academics, i.e. quasi “scientists,” fool you with their “we just love humans so much and want to save them all” claims to altruism; they are not, by any means, dedicated to a noble quest to cure cancer. Animal researchers are concerned with the following: publishing, their career, and money; any medical advancements that might come about happens in spite of their flawed, wasteful research. We,animals (human and nonhuman), deserve better than this.