Bad Science or Bad Argument:

The Role of Science Arguments in the Animal Experimentation Debate

Animal rights activists generally view moral arguments as the paramount reason for opposing animal experimentation. However, unwilling to rely solely on claims that advance animals' interests directly, activists also employ a variety of "practical" arguments. When publicly arguing against animal experimentation, the most common strategy criticizes the scientific validity of the experiments (known as "bad science" arguments). Activists claim that animal experimentation is wasteful, redundant, inapplicable, and often harmful to human animals. That an animal rights group would make these arguments seems natural: they simply want to see an end to animal experimentation--how that is achieved is irrelevant. However, the tension arising from attempting to use arguments from within science to question the underlying moral framework does not advance, and ultimately undermines, progress toward animal rights. Anti-speciesist arguments alone offer the best strategic choice for advancing the abolition of animal experiments.

Similarity vs. Difference

From the animal rights perspective, the moral argument against animal experimentation is simply a part of opposition to speciesism. Speciesism is an ideology that is used to justify human exploitation of other animals. That is, it is a system of beliefs, myths and "common sense" that devalues nonhuman animals. It places humans as the ideal and measures all other beings according to how similar to humans they are.

We do not profess to condone non-consensual experiments on some humans simply because it will benefit other humans (although we do engage in such experiments). Defenses of exploitation that simply use the label "animal" to justify treatment of sentient beings that is not justified for humans are speciesist. (Indeed, labeling humans as animals or animal-like is a way to promote and maintain the oppression of groups of humans as well.)

While the idea that animals should not be property may seem radical, it can be understood in terms of a simple Gestalt shift from focusing completely on the small differences between humans and fellow animals to recognizing and valuing the overwhelming similarities. There simply are no morally relevant differences between humans and fellow animals that can justify treating animals as tools for human benefit. The ideology of speciesism invents distinctions that are used as justifications, but those claims are just used to paper over the fact that humans exploit other animals by force for our own benefit.

Animal experimentation is (ostensibly) performed precisely because animals are useful "models" for humans. Researchers know that animals feel pain--they would not bother trying to minimize it if they did not, nor would they use animals to develop new pain killing drugs. Researchers also know that animals suffer psychologically from living isolated in cages deprived of a natural habitat and the ability to exercise their natural instincts; the Animal Welfare Act, for instance, requires that nonhuman primates receive psychological stimulation. Researchers also use animals to study such human psychological problems as depression, anxiety, and learned helplessness. It is precisely because animals make good "models" for pain and suffering that animal experimentation must be abolished.

It would seem to follow, then, that animal rights activists would want to argue that the similarities between humans and fellow animals make animal experimentation unjustified. Nevertheless, when they employ scientific arguments, they claim just the opposite--animal experiments are wrong because other animals are different from us! When animal rights advocates combine these opposing ideas, rather than having a forceful argument about the undeniable similarities between humans and fellow animals, they are reduced to making the argument that "We're all similar, but not too similar." This is a tenuous rhetorical position in which animals are just enough like us to merit a ban on experimentation while they are just different enough to make experimentation 100% inapplicable to humans. While this may or may not be true, it does not make for a strong, coherent argument. Additionally, such arguments require unnecessary work. Researchers consistently claim that animals are excellent "models" for humans. It is a far stronger position to use the researchers own arguments against them rather than simply attempting to oppose their claims.

Consider Sacred Cows and Golden Geese: The Human Cost of Animal Experimentation, by Ray Greek, MD and Jean Swingle Greek, DVM, which details why animal experimentation is inaccurate and harmful from a purely scientific point of view. While one could easily conclude after reading it that the scale of the misallocation of medical resources to wasteful and harmful animal experimentation is immoral, one would not be forced to challenge speciesism. In fact, this would be an improbable outcome because the Greeks' strategy is to point out how small genetic variations create huge differences between humans and other animals. For example, Drs. Greek and Greek say that animals react differently to viruses, metabolize drugs differently, have different genetic material, and so forth. They boldly state that "The discrepancies between diverse mammals are largely microscopic. Imponderably intricate, they are born of millions of years of speciation, adaptation, and mutation. The more modern science reveals about genes, cell function, ion channels, proteins, and so on, the more apparent is the complex gulf between species" (59, emphasis added). Contrast this to George Page, who in his book, Inside the Animal Mind, devoted a chapter to examining the neurological similarities between humans and fellow animals. For example, he pointed out that human medicines like Prozac also treat anxiety and aggression in pets. Similarly, Stephen Wise in Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals notes, "Investigators now believe that humans and chimpanzees may differ by only several hundred genes out of approximately 100,000. A mere fifty genes may control differences in our cognition" (132). To which the Greeks would respond, "It is not the number of [DNA base] pairs in common that are important but rather the specific pairs and sequences of the ones that are not.... It is like saying, 'we are all alike except where we are different.' It is these differences that make the results of the study of animals inapplicable to humans" (41). However, these arguments are two sides to the same coin. Upon completing the genome sequencing of a microscopic roundworm, Dr. Bruce Alberts, head of the National Academy of Sciences, declared, "we have come to realize humans are more like worms than we ever imagined" (Wade A1). Which side of the coin do animal rights activists really want to land face up? The complex gulf or the worm-like humans?

Advocating both sides of the coin requires some fancy footwork. For example, one of PETA's best known positions, that "When it comes to feeling pain, hunger and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They are all mammals" (usually shortened by opponents to simply "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy") (Bennett B2). While this may be true, PETA would also like to remind us that "enormous physiological variations exist among rats, rabbits, dogs, pigs, and human beings" (PETA, Animal, emphasis added). If there really are enormous physiological variations, how can one assume that rats' experiences of pain, hunger, and thirst in any way resemble pigs', dogs' or boys'?

PETA is not alone in their rhetorical quandary. The American Anti-Vivisection Society gets caught in a similar position when they argue that

While humans have some of the same characteristics as many of the animals used in laboratories, our differences are striking and significant. Even when the species being used in an experiment is very similar to us the results can be very different. For example, chimpanzees have up to 99% of the same genetic material that we do, yet they are not susceptible to many of the diseases that afflict humans (including AIDS), nor do they have the same reaction to drugs and procedures as we do. (AAVS, Animal, emphasis added)
Again, one is left to wonder if those differences extend to the perception of pain.

Similarly, the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) argues maternal deprivation studies

are grossly problematic in the sense that depression is a distinctly human disorder for which no animal model [sic] exists.... We can only infer that the screams of terror, the lack of movement and social gestures, the massive struggling and other behaviors observed in baby monkeys separated from their mothers is "depression" in the same sense that we see it in humans. In other words, behavior that we have long known to be associated with human depression, such as feelings of worthlessness, fatigue, excessive guilt, indecisiveness, thoughts of death and a diminished interested in pleasure, cannot be distinguished in monkeys (NAVS, Psychological).
While normally animal rights groups are the ones trying to convince people that fellow animals (especially other primates) can, in fact, experience emotional states like depression, NAVS argues that only humans can be depressed. They engage in semantics usually reserved for scientists--because the symptoms of depression in the DSM-IV do not correspond exactly to what we can observe in animals, the animals are not depressed. But if the animals are not suffering from what we consider to be depression, then why should the experiments be considered harmful? In another attempt to belittle psychological research, NAVS commented, "Many different animal species have been used in psychological research, including dogs, cats, monkeys, mice, rats--even birds" (NAVS, Psychological). NAVS readily adopts speciesist stereotypes about the intelligence and emotional awareness of birds. Their argument ridicules psychological research for using an animal who--according to NAVS--could not possibly provide data relevant to humans.

Arguments that question the validity of animal experimentation rest on the foundation that there are significant biological differences between humans and other animals. Furthermore, most people have no difficulty whatsoever in seeing humans as not even belonging to the animal kingdom. Animal exploiters promote the idea that humans are distinct from other animals in order to justify mass exploitation. Continually describing fellow animals as significantly physiologically different only contributes to this mindset.

Sciences Subverts Moral Arguments

Activists often excise or otherwise overshadow the moral question through a focus on bad science arguments (despite the activists' personal commitment to the moral arguments). The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) states, "As animal advocates, we oppose vivisection, or animal experimentation, on ethical grounds, believing that it is morally wrong to harm one species for the supposed benefit of another" (NAVS, Ethical). Yet their website has only one meager page explaining the ethical objections to animal experimentation, while the rest of their extensive site is devoted to specific details about why such experiments are scientifically dubious. Their ethical arguments, in addition to being underdeveloped, are speciesist: "it is up to humans to recognize and protect those rights for them, just as we are morally obligated to protect infants, the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill" (NAVS, Ethical). There is no logical basis for comparing typical adult animals to human infants and mentally disabled humans; it's apples and oranges. Furthermore, the issue of animal liberation apparently has little to do with justice for animals, but is all about furthering human society: "It has been said that the moral progress of our society can be measured by the way it treats animals. Animal experimentation--an institutionalized form of exploitation--stands in the way of moral progress" (NAVS, Ethical). Finally, on their list of frequently asked questions, they do not address the standard baby vs. dog question, which, as we will see, is at the core of the ethical argument (NAVS, Frequently).

The American Anti-Vivisection Society "is a non-profit, animal advocacy and educational organization that is dedicated to the abolition of vivisection-the use of animals in research, dissection, testing, and education" (AAVS, What). AAVS also mentions the ethical argument, but none of their campaigns focus on educating the public about the ethics of animal experimentation. Instead, they fund research into alternatives. Absent a message about the need to ban all experimentation, non-animal research is simply one more way to receive research funding, not a statement about the need to ban animal experiments.

The New England Anti-Vivisection Society "advocates for the protection of animals through public outreach efforts and publications, through education programs designed to promote greater compassion and respect for life, and through the support of legislative initiatives and litigation intended for the protection of animals" (NEAVS, Mission). In spite of their stated mission, NEAVS relies heavily on scientific arguments. Their strategy is exemplified by their response to a Boston Globe article about primate research, the overarching theme of which was that "There are researchers doing terribly important research that is justified on [nonhuman] primates, because there are no other options" (Hsu). Although Peter Singer was quoted, there was absolutely no articulation of the animal rights position. In their reply, the NEAVS failed to take the opportunity to explain why animal experimentation might be immoral, but rather pointed to the failures of animal experimentation, claimed that it puts humans at risk, and claimed that money is the primary reason why animal experiments continue (Capaldo and Cramer). NEAVS missed the opportunity to truly counter the researchers--to show that the idea that there is somehow a tradeoff between animal and human lives is false, as we shall see later.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the largest animal rights group in the US, produced a pamphlet titled "Facts About Animal Experimentation" that solely addressed issues of how animal experimentation harms humans directly and indirectly (by being a poor allocation of health care resources), but they did not even hint at animal suffering or rights. Another piece of literature, "The PETA Guide to Animals and Experimentation," features a story about a veterinary student who practiced surgery on a dog (an issue of animals in education, not experimentation), says that experiments are painful, mentions how diseases are not being cured, recommends a vegan diet to prevent many diseases, questions interspecies extrapolations, gives examples of misleading research, and credits improved nutrition and sanitation for longer life expectancy. At the end they state, "And just as it is not ethical to experiment on humans without their consent to advance medical knowledge, it is also wrong to treat other sentient beings as mere inanimate tools." This afterthought practically assumes that the reader is already quite familiar with the animal rights literature and is willing to equate and human animals in this way. Their current literature "Imagine having your body left to science . . . while you're still in it" simply states that animal experiments are "misleading, costly, and cruel" with no mention of animals' fundamental rights (PETA, Imagine). The fact that scientific arguments can subvert moral arguments to the point where moral arguments are not even made indicates accession to the perceived power of the arguments researchers make and the view that moral arguments alone are inadequate to counter them.

The most extreme case of the domination of bad science arguments are entire organizations that are devoted to ending animal experimentation but do not identify with the animal rights movement and never make any animal rights arguments. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is one such group. They deal with issues such as the health benefits of a vegan diet, ending the use of animals in medical education, and working against animal experimentation. That is, their idea of "responsible medicine" happens to center around not harming animals. Within the medical community, they are perceived as an animal rights group (Loeb 789). They also have no problem frequently working with PETA, have a fact sheet on how to find information about local animal experimenters, and many of their employees and members support animal rights. Yet, their arguments against animal experimentation are based purely on the science.

The Medical Research Modernization Committee (MRMC) is similar to PCRM in that it claims to have only the interests of improving health care in mind. But closer examination does reveal MRMC's interest in animals. MRMC opposes xenotransplantation and the use of animals in medical education, which is superfluous to their goal of ending the animal experiments, and only tangentially, at best, related to human health. A founding Co-chair of MRMC serves on the advisory board of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS, Board). Interestingly enough, MRMC does have an article tucked away on their website, "The Canadian Council on Animal Care's Code of Ethics: A Critical Evaluation," written by a philosophy professor. It takes an ethical stance against animal experimentation and points out that animals are experimented on only out of "prejudice" (Sztybel). None of their other articles or literature put forth animal rights arguments.

Another organization that wishes to divorce itself from the cause of animal rights is The Nature of Wellness, an "organization seeking to inform the public about the medical and scientific invalidity and counterproductiveness of animal experimentation and the massive damages it causes to our health, environment and economy." (Nature of Wellness, Welcome). They state, "unlike the animal rights groups, The Nature of Wellness focuses on the invalidity of animal experimentation as it relates to human health. 'This is a human health issue, a human rights issue'" (Nature of Wellness, California). However, this group is clearly an animal rights group--they sell books about the vegan diet and campaign against animal experimentation, product testing on animals, xenotransplantation, dissection, and even "the use of animals for demonstrations and training" (Nature of Wellness, Welcome). Their literature also reveals their concern for animals. For example, their video, Lethal Medicine, consists almost entirely of graphic images of animals suffering during experiments that can serve no other purpose than to be an emotional appeal for sympathy for the plight of those animals; those images have nothing to do with scientific arguments against animal experimentation.

Drs. Greek and Greek founded Americans for Medical Advancement to disseminate information about the scientific invalidity of animal experiments. Despite the fact that the Greeks believe in animal rights and support animal rights groups (Greek), "Americans For Medical Advancement does not object to animal experimentation on ethical, moral, or philosophical grounds.... Americans For Medical Advancement is not an animal rights or animal welfare organization" (Americans For Medical Advancement).

The moral argument against animal experimentation is so derided that even sympathetic doctors and scientists do not attach their name to the cause of animal rights. By attempting to preserve their own credibility, these scientists do a disservice to the credibility of animal rights. Defending animals by hiding behind science is no defense at all and it simply continues to subject animals to the utilitarian welfarist scale that cannot tip in their favor.

Animal Rights vs. Animal Welfare

In Rain without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement, Gary Francione discusses the essential distinction between animal welfare and animal rights. Those who believe in animal welfare believe that the use of other animals is acceptable as long as it is "humane" and they are not subject to "unnecessary suffering." This is the position of most people, including most animal exploiters. Animal rights advocates believe that all animals (not just human animals) have a fundamental right not to be treated as property and seek the abolition of institutionalized animal exploitation. While in theory the two are opposing viewpoints, in practice, animal rights advocates often advocate positions that are strictly animal welfarist in nature. This arises because animal rights advocates believe that animal rights theory is utopian and is not a prescription for incremental change. They believe that advocating for bigger cages will ultimately lead to empty cages. Francione termed this group as "new welfarists"--people who pursue their ultimate goal of the abolition of the property status of animals through the regulation of animals as property.

The position of the new welfarists is not the slightest bit controversial. Even groups that are perceived to be radical, e.g., PETA, wholeheartedly follow the new welfarist course. Consider their "victory" over McDonald's. PETA began a one year moratorium on its campaign against McDonald's after McDonald's announced that it wanted the battery hen cages to be 4 square inches bigger, stop the practice of forced molting, and the phase out of de-beaking when possible (which will never happen because the hens are still kept in close confinement). Ingrid Newkirk congratulated McDonald's and sent them a list of eight further steps that McDonald's should take. No longer selling murdered cows, pigs and chickens was, rather curiously, not on the list. PETA spokespeople defended McDonald's symbolic steps. Of course, whether or not McDonald's pronouncement actually increases chickens' welfare is irrelevant. The whole process of buying, breeding, selling, and killing chickens is antithetical to the concept of animal rights. Even though it is marginally better for hens to have four additional inches of cage space, Francione points out that animal rights groups should never endorse welfarist reforms because doing so sacrifices "the basic right of animals not to be property in order to secure a less-than-basic protoright achieved by supporting the notion that 'bettering' the system of animal slavery can render it acceptable, which is to reinforce the notion that animal slavery itself is acceptable" (Rain 211).

Bad science arguments are the result of new welfarism. Engaging in a debate about the validity of animal experimentation assumes that it is acceptable to use animals in experiments; one implicitly concedes that if the research is valid, then the research is justified. Rather than arguing that animals should not be used as means to ends, the activist attempts to show that using animals as means to ends is silly because the end is useless, inapplicable data. No longer are animals given an a priori right not to be enslaved as experimental subjects, but rather their lives are placed on the old welfarist scale that inevitably tips in favor of the slightest human interest. These arguments fall wholly within the realm of traditional, speciesist logic and thereby endorse that viewpoint. That is, animal experiments are not morally wrong because they unjustly enslave and kill sentient beings, but simply because they waste money on unproductive experiments whose data can even harm humans. But if, under the animal rights view, the research is prima facie unjustified then not only is it pointless to talk about any possible benefits to experimentation, but doing so requires abandoning the paradigm of animal rights by considering the benefits of using animals purely as a means to our ends.

Additionally, focusing on experiments that have little scientific merit or questioning the applicability of data from animal experiments is a welfarist tactic because it simply is not all bad science. Since activists have to admit that animal experiments might have some value, there is no point in raising the issue of repetitive, useless, or flawed research--unless the hope is to immediately reduce the amount of animal experimentation (a traditional goal of the animal welfare movement). However, this does not work toward abolishing all animal experiments. Activists might highlight a case of failed or wasteful research and people might easily agree that while that particular research is bad, they will make an exception for the "good" research and never question the whole idea of experimenting on other animals. Furthermore, when activists make artificial distinctions between good and bad research, it strengthens the position of researchers who can then distinguish their research from the "bad" research highlighted by the activists.

A classic example of targeting useless research was Henry Spira's campaign against the New York Museum of Natural History's experiments involving the sexual behavior of mutilated cats. Spira succeeded in shutting down the experiments because they had no scientific merit; no one supports abjectly wasteful, cruel research. Spira's campaign, however, was not accompanied by the message that all animal experimentation was wrong. Indeed, as Peter Singer points out, "The campaign, Henry resolved, would not be about the abolition of animal experimentation, but about 'How much pain for how much gain?' (Singer Ethics 56)--that is, the traditional welfarist weighing of animal interests against human benefits.

Spira later abandoned the issue of animal experimentation because he felt it was only saving a few animals with no long-term change. This was a flaw in his approach, however. He could have led a focused campaign against specific experiments without using bad science arguments and without abandoning the message that all experimentation is wrong. Since the experiments were so egregious and pointless, he undoubtedly could have achieved the concrete victory of stopping the experiments while promoting the message that all animal experiments need to be banned. Those who ultimately seek abolition should abandon pro-actively using scientific arguments in the case against animal experimentation because welfarist tactics simply reinforce the property status of animals and do not further the cause of abolition.

Your Baby or Your Dog

While the moral issues may sometimes comprise the initial argument presented to the public, activists invariably bring in bad science arguments to rebut claims that animal experimentation should be continued because it saves human lives. Activists seem to feel that most people will never buy the argument that other animals deserve equal moral consideration, yet this is exactly the view that animal rights activists set out to change! When it comes time to fully apply their arguments, activists shy away and resort to tactics that do not require any re-thinking of the relationship between nonhuman and human animals. For example, the American Anti-Vivisection Society's "Common Questions" poses the question "Would you rather see your child die than support experiments on animals?" to which they respond:

Fortunately, no one will ever have to make this decision. Since vivisection often offers such misleading predictions, the real choice is not between animals and children, but between good and bad science. Vivisection has undoubtedly cost many children their lives. It produces inaccurate and dangerous results and wastes enormous amounts of precious time and resources on an archaic methodology while promising new techniques are ignored. (AAVS, Common)
There are four distinct problems with their answer. First, this response completely avoids the question of your baby or your dog--what happens when there is a direct conflict between nonhuman and human life. The questioner can simply maintain their belief that if the experiments do save human lives, then they are justified, even required. The questioner can also infer that the animal rights activist herself must agree with this position since she did not come out and say that nonhuman lives deserve the same consideration as human lives.

Secondly, in order to be a compelling answer, the questioner must already believe that animal experimentation is bad science, which the vast majority of people do not. It simply refers the questioner back to the claim that animal experiments are bad science; therefore, it is no answer at all. (If the questioner already believed that all animal experimentation was invalid, they would never have posed a question pitting children against useless science.) The questioner can simply respond, "But let's assume that animal experiments do save lives. Would you rather see your child die than support experiments on other animals?" This reveals that the essential nature of the question is about how to weigh nonhuman and human life, not about what is the best way to seek medical knowledge.

Third, the response turns a moral question into an empirical one--does animal experimentation save human lives or not? However, the morality of animal experimentation is not subject to empirical considerations anymore than human experimentation is. It is not the fact that Nazi experiments produced no useful data that makes them immoral. In fact, those who believe some of the data gathered is valid and ought to be put to use to save lives are met with charges that such use would be immoral. This is the exact opposite of animal experimentation in which most people feel it is immoral not to gather and use data obtained in that manner.

Fourth, the response reinforces the idea that animal experimentation is a burning house situation where two competing lives--a sick child and a dog--really are at odds with each other. (We will see later that this is a false construction perpetuated by defenders of animal experimentation.) If activists do not explain why vivisection is not a burning house situation, it becomes virtually impossible to convince anyone of the immorality of animal experiments, because most people, including animal rights activists, believe it is morally acceptable to prefer humans in situations of true emergency, such as a burning house containing a dog and a human. However, one would also save one's own child before someone else's. This does not mean that it is acceptable to use other people's children in unconsenting medical experiments.

By continuing to discuss whether or not animal experiments produce useful data, activists are engaging in not only an irrelevant discussion, but one that is immensely confusing to those who are unfamiliar with the animal rights position, which at this point, is the vast majority of people. Such confusion over animal experimentation allows people to gloss over the more fundamental issue that the experimentation is wrong because it is speciesist.

Another common, but slightly different response to the baby vs. dog question is another way to avoid the question--it says the choice is not between your baby and your dog, but between your cigarette and your dog. That is, humans engage in countless reckless behaviors and expect other animals to sacrifice their lives to save them. This is true, but it is only a small aspect of pointing out that vivisection is not a lifeboat situation. This line of reasoning, however, does not truly address the question of whether nonhuman life is as valuable as human life, but skirts it and does not challenge any fundamental moral beliefs about other animals.

Because activists believe animal experimentation is immoral even if it saves human lives, the tough question of your baby or your dog must be answered. Moreover, good answers are not hard to come by. Consider Gary Francione's: "we generally do not think that we should use any humans as unconsenting subjects in biomedical experiments, even though we would get much better data about human illness if we used humans rather than [other] animals in experiments.... [M]ost of us are in agreement that the use of humans as unwilling experimental subjects is ruled out as an option from the beginning" (170-171).

Here we see why the choice of your baby or your dog is a false one totally constructed by a speciesist society. One could argue that medical advances are being hindered because of our undue compassion for any group of humans who could be sacrificed to help improve the lives of countless others. Yet proponents of animal experimentation do not ask how it is that we allow people to die when we could be finding cures using prisoners, mentally disabled individuals, or white American men who make over $100,000 a year (odd that no one ever proposes that last category...).

Such blatant weighing of lives is not done when it comes to humans and only speciesism allows such balancing to be made in the case of nonhumans versus humans. From this perspective, the idea that simply allowing other animals to live an unfettered existence somehow harms human health becomes pure absurdity. Whether or not human health will be harmed simply begs the question of whether or not it is acceptable to experiment on other animals in the first place.

A highly specific question of your baby or your dog is the question of Babe vs. you (i.e., xenotransplantation). Some might argue that soon the day will come when it will be possible to kill a specific nonhuman to save a specific human via organ transplantation (beyond present-day use of pigs' and cows' heart valves). Even the theoretical possibility of xenotransplantation can be offered as a justification for animal experimentation. At first glance, sacrificing a nonhuman animal to save one or more human animals from certain death appears to be a true emergency. Yet closer examination reveals that the entire situation is the result of institutional nonhuman animal exploitation. In a lifeboat or burning house situation, both parties' lives are in danger. It is not a question of whether or not it is acceptable to harm one to save the other. Both animal experimentation and xenotransplantation are prima facie not lifeboat situations because they involve harming healthy nonhumans who are in no danger themselves. As Francione says, "We must stop manufacturing conflicts in which we place [other] animals in our hypothetical burning house because we regard them as our property, and then pretend to ask seriously whose interests we should prefer" (157). Were it not for the initial assumption that it is acceptable to use other animals exclusively as means, the hand wringing conundrum of xenotransplantation would not exist, just as we do not worry over the lives lost because we have not set up breeding colonies of human organ "donors" (whose organs could be used immediately since no new technology must be developed for human-to-human transplants). The issue of xenotransplantation, again, is simply begging the question.

Beyond the fact that bad science arguments emphasize differences, are welfarist, and feed into the existing your-baby-or-your-dog mentality, there are numerous additional flaws with such arguments.

Diverts focus of discussion

Bad science arguments allow people to frame the discussion in terms they are familiar with without challenging any fundamental beliefs about fellow animals. Claiming that animal experimentation is flawed allows people to dispute irrelevant details and completely ignore the moral issues. For most people, raising the specter of bad science merely provides an escape route from confronting an uncomfortable moral proposition; rather than having to defend their speciesist prejudices, they can attack the activist's claims that the polio vaccine was hindered by the use of monkeys or that chimpanzees do not contract AIDS. This applies equally to the scientists themselves: "Focusing on the benefits of their research--to scientific progress, to medical care--[scientists] simply fail to see a moral dilemma" (Jasper and Nelkin 121). Similarly, Francione points out that bad science arguments "shift the moral focus from issues of justice for a disempowered group to the self-interest of the empowered group" (Rain 118). Furthermore, the subversion of moral arguments to bad science claims means that the message of animal rights simply does not get out. Time that could be devoted to explaining why speciesism is bad is instead wasted on irrelevant details.

Logical flaw

In order to convince someone that animal experimentation is wrong because it is not necessary for medical advancement, every single instance of a medical advancement has to be examined because no matter how many example of useless research one is shown, one can always maintain the belief that some experiments are necessary. That is, one cannot prove a negative.

Only rare individuals (most likely with scientific training) can effectively evaluate enough of the researchers' claims to come to believe that all animal experimentation is unnecessary or harmful. (Indeed, in the course of their research Ray Greek, MD and Jean Swingle Greek, DVM came to believe in animal rights because they realized that animal experimentation was unjustified and therefore other much more trivial uses of fellow animals were as well) (Greek, Dialogue).

Consider the following example of their argument in action. In response to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled "Researchers Urged to Tell Public How Animal Studies Benefit Human Health," JAMA published a reply from Ray Greek, MD and Jean Swingle Greek, DVM that stated "Many setbacks to progress and harm to humans have resulted from experiments on [nonhuman] animals." They listed three specific examples and concluded by saying "We extend an open challenge to anyone who may wish to debate the purported benefit of animal research" (Greek and Greek 743). In the same issue, JAMA also published a reply from the original authors stating "The examples cited by Drs Greek and Greek are a tiny drop compared with the ocean of positive benefits derived from biomedical research with nonhumans" (Carskadon 743). This exchange illustrates the fatal flaw in this line of reasoning. Even when presented from experts to experts, questioning the validity of animal experimentation at best can only cast doubt on some experiments. Inevitably people will believe that some other experiments are valid--and perhaps some are--even the Greeks argue only that no animal experimentation was necessary to obtain the medical knowledge we have today.

Fortunately, this futile line of reasoning can be abandoned because it is not necessary to convince people that some, or even all, experiments are invalid in order for people to believe that the experiments are simply immoral to undertake, regardless of the outcome. Indeed, some people may never believe that animal experiments are useless, yet those same people could easily come to believe that regardless of their usefulness, the experiments are immoral. That is the essence of the animal rights position--the most important position to articulate clearly.

Bolsters strategy of experimenters

It is nothing more than pure coincidence that animal experimentation is wasteful and harms human health in addition to being immoral. If animal experimentation does save lives, it is still immoral, just as forcible human experimentation is. The scientific and moral questions regarding animal experimentation are not inherently linked in any way. By continually presenting them together, animal rights group links them in the public mind. This is precisely the strategy of animal experimentation defense groups; they try to divert attention from the immorality of the act by pointing to the benefits of the act.

Bias toward science too great

For the most part, animal rights activists lack the scientific credibility necessary to make effective bad science arguments. In addition to their lack of knowledge, activists have additional credibility problems because people are aware of their strong desire to stop animal experimentation and recognize that this necessarily affects the arguments they make. People think, "Those animal rights advocates will say anything to achieve their goal" and can easily dismiss radical claims about the non-utility of animal experimentation. Scientists, however, are not subject to the same constraints. Even if most people recognize that scientists are subject to financial motives, few believe that this actually affects the quality and accuracy of scientific data. The status of the speaker on the issue of animal experimentation is particularly important. Most defenders of animal experimentation are doctors and scientists, whereas most opponents are not perceived as experts. Because the public has little personal involvement and knowledge of animal experimentation, research revealed they rely heavily on the status of speakers to determine their own viewpoint (Kruse).

In addition to the generic credibility of scientists, the belief that animal experimentation saves lives is a particularly powerful widespread belief. The Scalpel and the Butterfly by Deborah Rudacille exemplifies this enormous bias. Although praised for her balanced account, she managed to write an entire book on the animal experimentation controversy without presenting one single piece of evidence that questions the validity of animal experimentation. Instead she chose to ignore this standard argument against animal experimentation and simply presupposed its validity.

She failed to mention even classic cases where animal experiments were inaccurate, such as the link between smoking and lung cancer, where human epidemiological data was dismissed as a result of the inability to produce lung cancer in nonhuman animals who were forced to smoke. She devoted a whole chapter to the Polio vaccine without ever mentioning Sabine's oft-quoted statement that "the work on prevention was long delayed by the erroneous conception of the nature of the human disease based on misleading experimental models of the disease in monkeys" (qtd. in AMP, Frequently). This, despite the fact that elsewhere she stated that PETA's Ingrid Newkirk "labeled the belief that research on [nonhuman] animals had helped eradicate infectious diseases like polio 'a misconception'" (145). She did not bother to offer details as to why Newkirk might say this. Rudacille also quoted a PETA spokesperson as saying "No AIDS breakthroughs have come out of animal research" (176). Rudacille concludes, "As indicated in this example, PETA and many other animal rights and antivivisection groups continued throughout the nineties to deny any benefit from animal experimentation" (176). She clearly implies that such irrational claims should have been abandoned long ago. Yet Rudacille did not take the time to list even one example of an AIDS breakthrough that was the result of animal experiments. All of the critics who praised her as unbiased simply remain, like most people, unaware of their own deeply held beliefs in the validity of animal experimentation (despite the fact that most people know little about the details of medical advancements).

Americans for Medical Progress, an animal experimentation industry group, conducted a survey in 1998. They asked a series of questions about what were convincing arguments for and against animal experimentation. Animal experimentation was favored in almost all instances. That is, the argument in favor of it was convincing. For example, 56% found the following statement convincing, while 33% did not: "Without animal research, a cure for Alzheimer's, AIDS, cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis will never be found" (AMP Question 32). The more specific details mentioned, the more convincing the argument became, for example 77% were convinced and only 20% were not by the following argument:

Almost every important medical breakthrough in the last century resulted from the use of animals in research. The pioneering work of Jonas Salk in the 1950's to get rid of polio was accomplished by testing on monkeys and rabbits. Heart bypass surgery was achieved during the 1940's through experimentation on dogs. The discovery and production of insulin for diabetes resulted from research on dogs, pigs, and cows. To continue to have medical breakthroughs like these, we need to continue to use animals in research. (AMP Question 53)

People are also unconvinced that alternatives can be successful. Of the statement "When cures for AIDS, Alzheimer's, cancer, and other diseases are found, it will be without hurting any rabbits, dogs, or other animals. We may have a cure for AIDS or Alzheimer's in ten years and it will be found through tests in test tubes and other non-animal methods in laboratories," 41% were convinced while 55% were not (AMP Question 41).

The only time when respondents were not convinced by arguments in favor of animal experiments was when nonhuman animal suffering was mentioned. Fifty-six percent were convinced and 39% were not convinced by the following statement: "Animal research is cruel to the animals and they are often mistreated. Additionally, the research often is duplicative and wastes even more animals. We need to protect the animals and not allow abusive testing on them" (AMP Question 44). The only other argument against experimentation that came close to be convincing was that "So-called research advocates claim they are talking about the use of animals in medical research, but their real agenda is to make more profit at the expense of animals. This is unfair to animals and should be stopped." which 40% found convincing, 49% not convincing and 11% did not know (AMP Question 45).

The results of the survey show that most people are convinced by the argument that animal research is necessary for medical advancement. Furthermore, when asked at the beginning of the survey, 56% favored and 34% opposed animal experimentation (AMP Question 13). When asked again at the end of the survey, which consisted of numerous statements about how animals were and are invaluable to medical progress, 69% favored, 29% opposed animal experimentation, and the "don't know" category dropped from 8% to 3% (AMP Question 61). Clearly, the statements were convincing.

Given the activists' lack of scientific credibility and society's nearly unshakable belief in the utility of animal experimentation, attacking this belief makes little strategic sense. Activists are trying to overcome a bias that is even more powerful--speciesism. They need not waste their time on the question of the validity of animal experimentation. This same survey revealed how little people understand of the animal rights position. When presented with the statement "The ultimate goal of animal rights groups is to abolish all use of animals for humans' benefits," only 44% agreed, 32% disagreed, and nearly a quarter (24%) did not know (AMP Question 39). While perhaps some of the confusion can be attributed to the awkwardly worded statement, it does perhaps indicate that, for example, that PETA's mantra "Animals are not our to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment" has not been heard loud and clear. Instead of trying to convince people of something they do not currently believe (animal experimentation does not advance medical knowledge), animal rights advocates can, instead, simply bolster something that people already believe (experiments on fellow animals are cruel). Finally, because the idea that animal experiments are useless can easily be attacked, this calls into question the credibility of the activist, which in turn hurts their credibility on claims that nonhuman animals can suffer, feel pain, and are victims of speciesism.

Bad science arguments are speciesist

Animal experimentation is supposedly justified because 1) it saves human lives (or simply increases knowledge) and 2) nonhumans are means to human ends. Similarly, an argument in favor of human experimentation would consist of 1) the experimentation will save human lives 2) it is acceptable to use some humans solely as a means to the ends of other humans. In both cases, invalidating either one of the premises invalidates the conclusion that experimentation is justified. Clearly in the case of human research, all efforts attack the second premise. No one criticizes Nazi experiments on Jews or the Tuskeege experiments because they were conducted on racial groups and the results may not be applicable to all humans. (This is of course a perfectly valid argument; it is becoming increasingly apparent that the white males used in most medical studies provide an inadequate model for humanity as a whole.) Yet, one of the main arguments animal rights activists make against animal experimentation is that slight physiological differences mean that the results cannot apply to humans--an argument that is completely unnecessary, inappropriate, and offensive when applied to humans.

While the opposition may respond with speciesist arguments, the activist should not adopt the speciesist viewpoint herself. She should simply point out that speciesist premises lead to unsound conclusions and reiterate why speciesism is bad. Any scenario that a person spins (what if killing one rabbit would result in the cure for cancer?) can be responded to as patently absurd and/or turned around to illustrate a point (what if killing your mother would result in the cure for cancer?).

Bad Science Arguments in Action

The problems inherent in making bad science arguments are illustrated by a review in the New Republic of Gary Francione's Introduction to Animal Rights by Cass Sunstein, a professor of law at the University of Chicago who had previously written about animal rights issues.

Francione devoted a chapter to undermining the necessity of animal experimentation as part of his broader strategy of showing the hypocrisy of a society which claims to believe that fellow animals should not be subject to "unnecessary suffering." Francione made the following series of arguments against the necessity of animal experimentation:

  1. It is logically impossible to point to a causal role of animal experiments in medical discoveries because such experiments are used as a matter of course. Any posited causal link is slight given that it required extensive extrapolation from nonhumans to humans.
  2. Animal experimentation is not always the most effective way to solve human health problems.
  3. At least some animal experimentation has been counterproductive and misleading.
  4. Many animal experiments are trivial and not linked to human health.
  5. Nonhuman animal pain and suffering is not reduced to the extent claimed by researchers. (35-42)
Sunstein simply dismissed Francione's line of reasoning by stating that Francione "does not effectively counter the argument, made by many specialists, that such experimentation has produced huge benefits" (43). While it may be true that Francione did not counter the argument that animal experiments benefit humans, it is also true that he did not try to do so. Francione's arguments still stand even if animal experimentation is successful in some instances. This exchange is indicative of how critics interject bad science argument even if activists do not make them themselves. In this instance, however, by even mentioning the results of animal experiments, Francione opened the door for irrelevant empirical questions.

Despite Francione's extensive references, Sunstein questions the scientific credibility of Francione by invoking "specialists" to defend experimentation. Furthermore, Sunstein calls Francione unreasonable when Sunstein states, "Any reasonable overview...will show many examples [of animal experimentation's "huge benefits"] starting with Pasteur's foundational work on cholera and rabies, and continuing to contemporary work on cancer and heart disease" (43). This also reveals the large societal bias in favor of the validity of animal experiments that must be overcome. Francione's few examples of where animal experimentation got it wrong are quickly and easily overwhelmed by Sunstein's "huge benefits," (43) thus rendering Francione's argument useless.

Sunstein's review also illustrates that highlighting some examples of cruel experiments is not effective because people necessarily believe that they are the exception rather than the rule. Sunstein casually dismisses Francione's examples of cruel experiments as "possibly gratuitous" (41). Had Francione highlighted the inherent injustice in imprisoning and enslaving nonhumans, Sunstein would have been unable to so easily dismiss it.

By distinguishing experimentation from other uses of nonhuman animals, Francione gave animal experimentation special treatment. This can explain why Sunstein also gave experimentation special treatment when he stated that circuses are unnecessary, meat eating is possibly necessary and experimentation is necessary (43). This also is a reflection on the power of science in the public mind. Scientists generally do not defend circuses, scientists have undermined the desirability of eating meat, and yet the scientific community still strongly professes the necessity of animal experiments. By making animal experimentation a special case, rather than highlighting the fact that it is one more arbitrary result of speciesism, Francione fell into the trap of the false choice perpetuated by vivisectionists--the stereotype sarcastically referred to in his book's subtitle, Your Child or the Dog?

By focusing on concerns like the validity of animal experimentation, Sunstein demonstrates a stunning ability to ignore the real moral issues raised by Francione. Sunstein never once referred to the concept or used the word "speciesism." Indeed, he unapologetically engaged in it. In particular, he had difficulty with the idea that nonhumans are property and therefore slaves, whereas the right not to be a slave is a fundamental human right. He compared autonomous nonhuman adults to human children who require adult guardians (45) without ever realizing that although human children do not have full autonomy, it is impermissible to use them as unconsenting medical subjects. Human children, however few rights they have, are not slaves. Sunstein also pointed out that when hiring plumbers "you are treating them as means, not as ends" (45), despite the fact that Francione clearly explained that "if we no longer value the plumber as a plumber and moreover do not like her or value her in any other way, we cannot treat her solely as an economic commodity; we cannot enslave her in a forced labor camp; we cannot eat her, use her in experiments, or turn her into a pair of shoes" (90). Perhaps had Francione devoted a chapter as to why animal experimentation was speciesist, rather than to why it was not necessary, readers like Sunstein would have been unable to engage in speciesism without offering a defense of it.

Beyond Bad Science Arguments

In addition to avoiding all of the pitfalls of bad science arguments, relying exclusively on moral arguments has the added benefit that scientists do not generally have a good response to morality claims. While allowing the debate to be over science gives the advantage to the researchers, the moral area is the activists' strength. Unless the individual scientist has done some research into the area, she will probably be unable to effectively counter this strategy. If the scientist does know the moral and philosophical arguments, a meaningful dialogue can occur.

The Foundation for Biomedical Research is a group that researchers often turn to for information and strategy to counter criticisms raised by animal rights activists. On their website, they have a list of frequently asked questions. The following is their entire response to the question "Do we really have the right to experiment on animals? What about their rights?":

The use of animals in research is a privilege that must be carefully guarded to assure human and animal relief from the specter of disease and suffering. To ignore human and animal suffering is irresponsible and unethical. Nearly every major medical advance of the 20th century has depended largely on research with animals. Our best hope for developing prevention, treatments and cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's, AIDS, and cancer will also involve biomedical research using animals.

In fact, research on animals is in many cases an obligation. According to the Nuremburg Code, drawn up after World War II as a result of Nazi atrocities, any experiments on humans "should be designed and based on the results of animal experimentation." The Nazis had outlawed animal experimentation but allowed experiments on Jews and asocial persons." The Declaration of Helsinki, adopted in 1964 by the 18th World Medical Assembly and revised in 1975, also states that medical research on human subjects "should be based on adequately performed laboratory and animal experimentation."

It is crucial to distinguish between animal rights and animal welfare. The scientific community supports animal welfare, which means guaranteeing the health and well-being of these animals. (Foundation for Biomedical Research)

Clearly, FBR does not answer the question. In fact, they go so far as to admit that there is no inherent right to experiment on nonhumans--it is a privilege that must be guarded. Furthermore, FBR's attempts to avoid the question can easily be refuted. First they state that ends justify means. Activists know that the idea that ends justify means is not applied to humans, and FBR offered no justification for speciesism. Next, FBR linked animal rights to Nazism, to which activists might respond, "If non-consensual Nazi research was wrong, what justifies any non-consensual research?" Finally, FBR endorses animal welfare. However, animal welfare only guarantees the minimum level of protection to allow efficient exploitation of other animals (Francione, Animals, 253). Or, more to the point, if scientists support animal welfare, why does FBR object to mice, rats, and birds being covered under the Animal Welfare Act? The sole purpose of the FBR is to promote animal experimentation and counter animal rights arguments. Their utter inability to respond to moral claims demands the attention and focus of animal rights activists.

Another high profile organization that supports animal experimentation is Americans for Medical Progress. Their response to animal rights activists is to label them as terrorists and to distinguish them from animal welfarists but they offer no response to the actual moral argument against animal experimentation other than to point to the supposed benefits of it (Americans for Medical Progress).

Similarly, in response to a protest of animal experimentation at the University of Pittsburgh, researchers responded with a barrage of claims about how animal experimentation saves human lives. Their response to the moral argument was a non-sequitur: "'Animals do not have the same rights as humans,' he [Art Levine, MD, dean of University of Pittsburgh medical school] said. 'If we protected animals from eating each other, there would be no food chain'" (Lindeman 4). Scientists are so ill prepared to deal with actual animal rights arguments because they rarely have to respond to them--activists simply never raise the issue.

Scientists continually point to the benefits of animal experimentation rather than simply declaring that nonhuman animal life does not deserve equal consideration. A clue to their tendency to avoid the underlying question of what gives humans the right to experiment on animals in the first place is shame. Sociologist Julian McAllister Groves explains: "Conflicts escalate, according to Thomas Scheff, when there is no mechanism for individuals to express shame and shame is transmuted to anger and pride, which, in turn, can lead to more shame. To block this 'feeling trap'--as Scheff calls it--it is necessary to reduce alienation between groups and find ways to offer apology and restitution" (Groves 189). Groves continues, "Pride is the counterpart of shame. There cannot be pride unless there is shame, since one usually acts proud in order to hide one's shame. In an attempt to persuade the public, research supporters highlighted their heroic attempts to manage nature" (8). Furthermore, when researchers continually state that they do not like to experiment on nonhumans, but that they have no other choice, they are shifting their shame from them to "the system" or to Nature for causing human disease. Similarly, activists frequently hide their own shame about their inability to stop nonhuman animal exploitation and their inevitable participation (however tangential) in it by being proud and angry toward those who actively participate in the exploitation of nonhumans.

Not only do both sides need to express their shame, but activists should also avoid shaming researchers since this only further alienates the researchers and strengthens their resolve. It seems clear that attacking the usefulness of animal experiments is the ultimate way to humiliate researchers. Every time activists claim that the experiments serve no purpose, they are shaming the researchers. Most researchers genuinely believe that their experiments will lessen human suffering; if there are no benefits to the research, the scientists would feel guilt and shame for harming nonhuman animals for no reason. Scientists do feel guilty about harming fellow animals--that is why they are so quick to point to the benefits of research. (Only a small minority of scientists publicly defends research on nonhumans for any purpose, no matter how trivial.)

It would be far less adversarial to approach the researchers in a manner that says, yes, you have done good work, but now it is time to move on. Along with this would be an expression of gratitude accompanied by an admission of activists' own shame from using the benefits of animal experiments. Even if animal rights activists do not want to state that experiments have provided valuable data, they can certainly admit that such a possibility exists. Even Drs. Greek and Greek contend only that animal experiments have not been necessary for any medical advancement, not that animal experiments have not produced anything of value. Being unwilling to grant the researchers even the slightest bit of leeway results in the feeling trap.

Swallowing pride and admitting shame will not end the polarized debate over animal experimentation, but it can allow for an examination of the moral question on a level not currently seen very often. Advocates must clarify the animal rights position, which at present is not articulated at all or is mired in bad science arguments that simply reinforce the idea that other animals exist for human benefit. While advocates for nonhuman animals cannot hope to immediately eliminate speciesism, they can strive to remove obfuscation in order to reveal society's naked prejudice.

Works Cited

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American Anti-Vivisection Society. "Common Questions." 2 July 2001 <>.

American Anti-Vivisection Society. "What We Do." 7 July 2001 <>.

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Americans for Medical Advancement. "Frequently Asked Questions." 7 July 2001 <>.

Americans for Medical Progress. "Animals in Medical Research Survey." 19 November 1998 Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe. 7 July 2001.

Americans for Medical Progress. "Animal Rights and Research." 5 July 2001 <>.

Bennett, Carla. "Don't base pro-vivisection article on a misquote." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 17 June 1993, early ed.: B2.

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Carskadon, Mary A. "Animal Research and Human Disease." Journal of the American Medical Association 283 (2000): 743.

Foundation for Biomedical Research. "Frequently asked questions about animal research." 26 June 2001 <>.

Francione, Gary L. Animals Property and the Law. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1995.

Francione, Gary L. Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2000.

Francione, Gary L. Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1996.

Greek, C. Ray. "A Dialogue on Animal Experimentation." Three Days against Animal Experimentation. Friends of Animals. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh. 29 Jan. 1999.

Greek, C. Ray and Jean Swingle Greek. Sacred Cows and Golden Geese: The Human Cost of Experiments on Animals. New York: Continuum, 2000.

Greek, Ray and Jean Greek. "Animal Research and Human Disease." Journal of the American Medical Association 283 (2000): 743.

Groves, Julian McAllister. Hearts and Minds: The Controversy over Laboratory Animals. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997.

Hsu, Karen. "Primate research defended; Animal tests often the only option, scientists say." Boston Globe 6 Nov. 1999, city ed.: Al. Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe. 7 July 2001.

Kruse, Corwin. "Who Said That? Status Presentation in Media Accounts of the Animal Experimentation Debate." Society and Animals 6.3 (1998) 8 May 2001 <>.

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Sztybel, David. "The Canadian Council on Animal Care's Code of Ethics: A Critical Evaluation." Medical Research Modernization Committee website. 7 July 2001 <>.

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Wade, Nicholas "Animal's Genetic Program Decoded, in a Science First." New York Times. 11 Dec. 1998, A1. Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe. 7 July 2001.

Wise, Stephen. Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals. Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2000.

This paper was written in August 2001 as an independent study in the Communications Department at the University of Pittsburgh.

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