On December 5, 2023, Bill Maher called upon the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) to start meeting its mission to “‘enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability’” by discontinuing animal experimentation in favor of ethical, human-relevant science.
A popular and heavy hitter, Maher exposed the animal research industry to a wide audience, luring the industry into a characteristically dishonest, incurably hollow, and unabashedly desperate response.
The industry’s retort took the form of a USA Today opinion piece aimed at discrediting not only Maher’s call-to-action, but, more fundamentally, Maher’s anti-vivisection stance itself.
Putting their names to this effort were Eli Federman – a founding partner at Glean Capital, which “confidentially” invests in “established technology companies” (probably like those making money off animal research…) – and Juan Carlos Marvizon – a retired vivisectionist who made a living using NIH dollars to, among his supposedly-scientific-but-certainly-sociopathic endeavors, cause other-than-human animals chronic pain (by inflicting “injuries that cause long-term inflammation or nerve damage, such as skin incision, injection of inflammatory agents or nerve transections”).
Federman and Marvizon defend animal research by using the same old industry lines . . . an approach perhaps unintentionally (yet, certainly, ironically) reminiscent of Maher’s past commentary about human violence being run on “slogans”, with its defenders saying the same “five things” when you “pull” their “strings”.
In this spirit, and in support of Bill Maher’s pro-animal (including humans!) stance, we’re breaking down the top five industry lines (i.e., lies) towed by Federman and Marvizon in their role as animal research industry editorial puppets:
#5: Maher is denying a “scientific consensus” about the necessity of animal research.
What consensus? As even Federman and Marvizon (accidentally?) admit later in their piece, at best 63% “of those with scientific knowledge” claim to support animal research. This means that even their most (euphemistically) liberal interpretation of Gallup poll results fails to support their overreach of anything near a “consensus”.
Digging deeper, we find that those deemed by the Gallup pollsters to have “scientific knowledge” were merely individuals who correctly answered questions like, “An apple, salmon, corn and a mosquito can all be genetically modified” – so, plainly, Federman and Marvizon were not even referring to career scientists, though they would like the public to believe otherwise.
This crooked claim was pulled straight from their industry’s propaganda portfolio, one tactic of which commonly seeks to broadly paint “those in favor of vivisection . . . as scientists” . . . even when they’re most certainly not.
#4: “Advocating for non-animal alternatives, like computer models, is a worthy goal. But such alternatives are currently not nearly as effective.”
Unless Federman and Marvizon are using “effective” to mean “lucrative for vivisectors”, they do not appear to be dealing in reality. By way of a single example only: pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has reduced its failure rate for drugs in the first stage of human trials from 30% to 0% using currently available computer modeling and AI approaches.
In “support” of their assertion, Federman and Marvizon offer that, in 2022, only 6,701 published research papers “used non-animal computer models”, whereas 129,055 papers used animals. The problem for them is that this finding in no way speaks to animal research’s efficacy, only to its entrenchment, with the resulting bias toward its use already well established to extend (and, indeed, be perpetuated by) scientific journals.
A 2022 survey concluded that a significant proportion of those seeking publication in scientific journals had been asked by journal reviewers to add animal data to their non-animal study. As scientist Pandora Pound explains:
“The persistence of this inappropriate view of animal studies as the gold standard makes it difficult for scientists using human-based methodologies to publish their findings unless they include an element of animal research. Indeed, journal editors’ requests for animal studies are so frequent that some researchers conduct animal experiments alongside their in vitro or in silico experiments to give themselves a better chance of having their findings published.”
#3: Maher is inaccurate when he suggests that “stopping NIH-funded ‘pointless animal experiments’ would lead to breakthroughs in curing cancer and preventing Alzheimer’s disease”.
Federman and Marvizon rely on sleight of hand here: in response to Maher’s statement about finding cures for and enabling the prevention of diseases, they point to other than cures (i.e., “therapies that increase  life span”) for active disease. As a result, they are not actually addressing Maher’s claim, but setting this aside:
Many scientists now recognize that complex diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease are “caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, which make it all but impossible to mimic using animal models” – because other-than-human animals do not and cannot “reflect the pathogenesis of the disease as it occurs in humans”. Yet, still, the NIH awards the vast, vast majority of its funding to animal research and, thereby, makes it difficult for “scientists conducting human biology-based research . . . to secure funding for their work”. For example, in 2019, the NIH awarded about $11 million for “animal research into breast cancer, but less than $2 million for breast cancer research using human-biology-based methods” – and these types of funding determinations are par for the NIH’s course, even though “cancer has been on the increase for half a century” while “[m]ore animals have been sacrificed to find a cure for cancer than any other disease”.
Moreover, animal research is not and has never been the “backbone of medicine”, a role filled by human, clinical studies that have generated and continue to “generat[e] the evidence necessary to make good public health, policy and clinical decisions”. Hence, the recognition that existing funding needs to be redistributed, with an eye toward “disincentivis[ing] animal studies and incentivis[ing] human-focused research….” is spot-on. Doing so will reduce suffering for all animals, including humans for whom “[t]he reliance on animal-modeled research prolongs, rather than eases, suffering by inhibiting medical progress and diverting funds from more effective research modalities”.
#2: Maher “cites the common, debunked canard that 95% of drugs fail in clinical trials after being tested on animals . . . a necessary step to prevent potentially harmful drugs from reaching human clinical trials”.
Far from a “debunked canard”, the failure rate of more than 9-out-of-10 drugs in clinical trials represents a demonstrable fact – one conceded by even the NIH, the world’s largest funder of animal research and the very agency whose practices Federman and Marvizon are endeavoring to defend.
Moreover, far from being “a necessary step to prevent potentially harmful drugs from reaching human clinical trials”, each year hundreds of thousands of humans are harmed by drugs that pass animal studies. Lest there be any doubt:
- Adverse drug reactions are a leading cause of death in the U.S.
- “A study of ninety-three serious human [adverse drug reactions] concluded that only eighteen of them (nineteen per cent) could have been detected” by animal tests.
- “Approximately half the drugs withdrawn from the [U.S.] market . . . are withdrawn due to safety issues”.
It follows that, rather than preventing harm (as Federman and Marvizon suggest), animal research provides little, if anything, other than a “false sense of security”.
#1: “Maher is wrong when he says animal research doesn’t work” because “[a]lmost all modern medical advancements came from research on animals”.
Invoking perhaps the most commonly reiterated industry “retort”, Federman and Marvizon hang their hat on, to use their own words, an actual “debunked canard”: an unevidenced and unvalidated assertion that we have previously dissected and that scientists themselves have repeatedly debunked.
In short, because the federal government legally required animal research through the end of 2022 (and still effectively requires animal use today), the animal research industry can rightly claim that animals have been exploited for every recent medical endeavor – though this ignores the critical distinction between the fact of their use and any actual necessity of their use (i.e., just because they were exploited does not mean that their exploitation was necessary for scientific advancement). Another animal research industry sleight of hand.
Tellingly, when career scientist Pandora Pound recently requested supporting documentation for this claim, she received “four reports, the most recent of which had been published in 2006. [And] instead of rigorous scientific evaluations of the benefits of animal research for human health, all four reports turned out to rely solely on expert opinion.” Expert opinion is not only the very same type of “evidence” that the industry fights tooth and nail when it goes against its favor, but it also represents a type of evidence “not held in high esteem by those who understand evidence.”
Federman and Marvizon, then, have achieved nothing more than getting their names on the animal research industry’s latest, thinly-veiled attempt at discrediting one of its more renowned detractors.
Kudos to Bill Maher for not only standing up for the well-being of all animals by exposing the truth, but also for prompting the industry to once again lay bare its disingenuous and deceitful hand – one of the only things the animal research industry gives us that we can rely on.
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