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Belgian scientists hit back at ‘Nazi’ slur in one-sided media reporting

Belgian researchers have countered an uncritical feature interview with animal rights activists who repeated factual inaccuracies about animal research and likened scientists to Nazis.

In response to the pieces in De Morgen and Humo (both in Flemish) the scientists refuted the claims that animal experiments are unreliable, that computer simulations and artificial intelligence are fully-fledged alternatives, that scientists just “do what they want” and that animal experiments are of no use (an attack on basic research).

“Presenting researchers as Nazis is all too easy when we all reap the benefits of modern medicine,”  said an article signed by Professor Rufin Vogels (KU Leuven), Professor Wim Van Duffel (KU Leuven and Harvard Medical School) and the animal research portal Infopunt Proefdieronderzoek (IPPO).

The response is as follows:

I and a number of colleagues are disappointed that for the second month in a row De Morgen forms a platform for the dissemination of incorrect information about animal testing. This time on the basis of an interview from Humo with three animal activists. Animal welfare is of course an important topic, but it is unfortunate that these three are given the opportunity to make statements about the context in which and the reasons for animal testing in Flanders, without making any comments.

Myths about animal testing (or if you want to use a quote, possibly “Explaining researchers as Nazis is too easy when we all reap the benefits of modern medicine.”)

In a conversation with three animal activists yesterday in De Morgen and earlier in Humo, in addition to veganism, animal experiments were inevitably also involved. Ann De Greef (GAIA), Benoit Van den Broeck (Animal Rights) and Benjamin Loison (Bite Back) are against. That can not surprise anyone and it is also their right. That they thereby get such a broad platform to send wrong information to the world, we want to rectify this.

Myth 1: Animal experiments are unreliable

Wrong! An animal is only a model, but the same applies to cells in a Petri dish. Scientists try to make the leap from model to man as small as possible. That is why it is also important to use the right animal or the right animal-free method to investigate a certain aspect of how our body works. In genetics, for example, fruit flies are often used, while behavior and memory are often examined in mice or rats or, if not possible, in monkeys. Less complex interactions can then be studied in cell cultures derived from human tissue.

Myth 2: Computer simulations and artificial intelligence are full-fledged alternatives

Too bad, but unfortunately not true. A computer simulation is only as good as the data you put into it. We can reliably simulate biological systems that we fully understand with the computer. For example, we can already make a lot of predictions about how they react with certain tissues for chemical substances based on their structure. But if we want to discover how our brains work, how our organs develop or why someone gets cancer, then we can not find the answer in a computer.

Myth 3: Scientists “do what they want”

Not at all the case! Test animal research is very strictly regulated, and also good. Each test must be approved by an ethics committee, which also includes animal welfare experts and ethicists. If there are alternatives, then scientists are obliged to use them, and they also do so.

Myth 4: Animal experiments are of no use

That fundamental research into how the brain works has not yet resulted in a pill against Alzheimer’s disease, means for Ann De Greef that we should better stop it. But four out of five of the most groundbreaking new drugs from the past decades stem from this type of basic research, with animal tests, among other things.

These arguments have been refuted so many times, but they continue to pop up. It does not help the debate, and certainly the laboratory animals, one meter ahead.

Explaining researchers as Nazis is too easy when we all reap the benefits of modern medicine. Scientists also love animals, as well as among non-scientists, vegetarians and vegans can be found back. Yet they realize all too well that animal testing is still necessary to answer biomedical questions and so offer hope to people who are incurably ill.

Suggesting that conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease could be prevented simply by avoiding red meat and dairy products, is so short-legged that it is almost irresponsible to put it in the newspaper. In any case, it shows that the activists do not take their own advice-orphan critically for yourself.

Professor Rufin Vogels (KU Leuven), Professor Wim Van Duffel (KU Leuven and Harvard Medical School) and Infopunt Proefdieronderzoek (IPPO).


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