The Differences Between Humans and the Animal Model
For centuries people have opposed the use of animals in scientific research based on ethics. Their argument was that any animal close enough to us to be of value in research was close enough to be valued for itself; an end in and of itself, not a means to an end, to paraphrase Kant.
Today we understand why that argument was correct in what it confirmed but incorrect in what it denied. On the gross level humans and animals have much in common. All mammals are put together essentially the same way; hearts pump blood, livers detoxify chemicals, while bones, ligaments, connective tissues and muscles hold everything in place.
That mammals can experience pain and are sentient is explained by examining them at this gross level. In the past, studying animals certainly shed light on these commonalities.
But science is no longer asking questions about gross commonalities. Our level of examination has become much more fine grained. Today we want to know why men respond differently to drugs and disease than women, why different ethnic groups are more susceptible to certain diseases and react differently to drugs, and why even identical twins suffer from different diseases. To answer questions like these we must study the species in question.
The questions we are asking today cannot be answered by studying animals. For example, many studies have examined the predictability of animal tests for drug efficacy and adverse effects. The conclusion is always the same: The chance of animals reacting as humans is less than would be expected from a coin toss.
Today we want to understand what genes do. What a specific gene does in a mouse has no predictive value for what it will do in humans. It does not even have predictive value for what will happen in another strain of mouse if it is removed.
Most mammals are composed of the same genes. Just as pianos have the same keys so humans and animals share the same genes. So what makes us different? The way the genes or keys are expressed. Play the keys in a certain order and you hear Chopin, a different order and you hear Ray Charles; same keys but very different outcomes.
The same is true with genes. Mice and humans have essentially the same genes; humans even have the gene that in mice allows them to grow a tail. The difference? In humans that gene is never expressed (or played in our analogy). The different expression and differing combinations of genes separate species and in some cases even individual humans.
This is the level where science is today -- finding the differences between individual humans, not wondering what the purpose of the liver is.
It is impossible for me to, in a few paragraphs, disprove the myriad erroneous beliefs and historical revisionism the special interest groups have been propagating for decades. An understanding of gene expression and regulation, the Theory of Evolutions, the differences between simple and complex systems, and a familiarity with the actual scientific studies comparing animal results with what happened in humans will go a long way to settling how taxpayer money should be allocated for medical research. But when considering this controversy, if you are unable to examine the above, just ask yourself if you treat your sick cat like you would your sick dog and vice-versa.
I agree that whenever science is challenged by faulty logic, science wins. The question for you today is who is representing science and scientific method: the person whose livelihood depends on research with animals or those without a vested interest in the outcome? I suggest you read more about the subject and decide for yourself.
Jean Greek, DVM