Why I won’t be throwing a bucket of ice over my head: the case against the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”

By now, we have all seen videos of a number of our facebook friends dumping a bucket of ice over their heads in the “name of raising awareness” for the ALS foundation (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease).

ice bucket challenge
While the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” has resulted in a large number of people fooling themselves into believing that they are actually helping humans who suffer from disease, the sad reality remains: participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge not only wastes perfectly clean water, but it also directly harms both humans and nonhuman animals, while flushing precious resources down the drain. Here are a few reasons why you should re-think whether it makes sense to film yourself dumping a bucket of ice over your head (in addition to the fact that you just look silly):

1. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a disgusting display of western privilege.

Only a disgustingly privileged society normalizes (and worse yet, praises) the selfish act of wasting a considerable amount of clean water while millions of underprivileged human beings suffer and die as a result of a lack of safe drinking water. It is common knowledge that millions of human beings living in third world countries die every year from sicknesses like Diarrhea, Arsenicosis, Cholera, Fluorosis, Guinea worm disease, Intestinal worms and so forth: illnesses that are directly attributed to the consumption of unsafe, contaminated drinking water. As Unicef reports: “768 million people still use unsafe drinking water sources. Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation services, coupled with poor hygiene practices, kills and sickens thousands of children every day, and leads to impoverishment and diminished opportunities for thousands more.” Oh, the irony of *wasting* precious resources that could be used to prevent disease and human illness in the name of “raising awareness” for another disease that affects a considerably smaller number of individuals.

The fact that Westerners, without a second thought, waste a considerable amount of clean water by dumping buckets of ice over their heads in order to “draw awareness to the ALS cause” (and furthermore, they expect to be praised for such a “heroic act”) speaks to our unchecked privilege.

2. Common ALS research tactics involve the use of nonhuman animal research subjects and this research hurts, rather than benefits, human beings.

Let’s get one thing straight: using animals as models for research is, in fact, harmful to human beings for a number of reasons. Here are a few reasons that explain why this is so (for a more thorough summary of the problems inherent to animal testing, click here and here):

(a) Human beings directly experience a considerable amount of pain and suffering thanks to the lethal drugs that are produced after scientists have derived inaccurate conclusions from the use of nonhuman animal models.

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). 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. That’s a heck of a lot of false negatives.

As Dr. Aysha Akhtar points out using animals as research models in ALS studies is especially troubling because “ALS is a uniquely human disease. Researchers have artificially created animals who show some symptoms that resemble ALS. But as in so many disease areas, the animal “models” only mimic some of the symptoms of ALS and they differ in what symptoms they produce and the causes behind those symptoms. Thus these animal models are extremely poor substitutes for studying uniquely human diseases.”

In fact, it has been reported that in the past decade, only (approximately) 12 experimental ALS treatments have made it to the human trial stage. Of these 12 drugs, only 1 has had even a slight indication of success in humans. Lord help the human subjects who offered, or more likely, were coerced by financial compensation, to try the 11 other experimental drugs that proved to be ineffective (also note, adverse drug reaction is the 4th leading cause of death in the United States).

(b) There are significant indirect losses for humans that are attributed to animal testing:

Certain drugs developed in animal testing are characterized as “false positives,” which means that 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). 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. Perhaps that is why, after many years of ALS research, there still is no treatment for ALS: the treatment is most likely sitting on the shelf in the lab of some vivisector who is getting rich from yet another animal research study conducted in the name of ALS.

(3) ALS research involves the brutal treatment of innocent nonhuman animals.

Typical ALS research methods include: drilling holes into the skulls of mice, inflicting mice with crippling illnesses, injecting chemicals into the brains of monkeys, and killing a number of nonhuman animals in order to dissect their brain. I’ve written a significant amount about the horrors and injustices of using nonhuman animals as subjects for research: bottom line– we have no business inflicting pain and suffering upon nonhuman beings in the name of science. Nonhuman animals are not tools or instruments for us to brutalize, torture, and terrorize in research labs.


(4) Finally, there is the opportunity loss of pouring millions of dollars into a futile, and downright dangerous, cause.

It is estimated that the ALS foundation has raised over 41.8 million dollars from the “ice bucket challenge.” To think of how many lives could actually be saved with this amount of money should give anyone who is genuinely concerned with the suffering of human beings reason to pause.

First of all, what has gone unacknowledged in recent discussions is that ALS is actually a preventable disease. Degenerative diseases, like ALS, have been strongly linked to lifestyle and dietary choices. As Dr. Bernard-Pellet (M.D.) points out, if we really care about saving human lives, we should make financial investments in primary prevention, which stands opposed to “western orthodox medicine.” According to Dr. Bernard-Pellet, directing our efforts and resources to preventing people from getting sick will have much more favorable results than treating someone after they have become sick.

Dr. Barnard from the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine also draws attention to “human-relevant medical research that are giving scientists insight into the etiology, prevention and treatment of disease.” According to him,”focusing research dollars on new technologies like these [nonhuman animal alternatives]—that are directly relevant to human patients—will pave the way to gaining a better understanding of how ALS and other diseases occur, and will hopefully lead to effective treatments.”

But furthermore, there is this unappreciated and often ignored concept referred to as “Effective Altruism” which, by golly, refers to the phenomena of actually helping human beings who are suffering, rather than instilling the silly idea in one’s head that one has performed her moral duty by merely throwing a bucket of ice over her head. For instance, there is an online Charity Evaluator, called Give Well, which is dedicated to informing concerned individuals about how they can save a life with the click of a mouse, for as little as 50 cents. Consider the following organizations that have been proven to effectively save human lives with each penny that is donated:

The Against Malaria Foundation can prevent malaria for as little as $3 per person by providing mosquito nets to those who are at risk for contracting malaria through mosquito bites

Give Directly is a charity organization that directly feeds those who are starving and living on less than $1 a day

The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative treats children who suffer from infections caused by parasitic worms for as little as 50 cents a year

Visit Give Well, and you will find a number of additional charity organizations that have been proven to effectively save lives without wasting money, without harming human beings, and without persecuting innocent nonhuman animals.

The Take home message:

If you truly care about *saving human lives,* please use your energy to draw attention to organizations that have been proven to effectively *save* human lives and *prevent* human suffering and death (…and for as little as 50 cents). By all means, do not try to “raise awareness” for organizations that conduct counterproductive animal research which causes more *harm* than benefit to human beings…. at the end of the day, you are not “helping” others by throwing a bucket of ice over your head in the name of faulty research.