What the Public Does Not Know

Timberley Roane

Writer’s comment: I took English 103A as an alternative to taking the English Composition exam (thinking that the class would be easier—ha.. When the instructor, Bill Collins, announced our next writing assignment, an argumentative/research paper, I groaned. That night, I sat in front of an empty computer screen for what seemed like hours. Nothing. So I decided to go through my mail. In it was a letter from the American Humane Society wanting me to monetarily support their fight to stop animal research. Included with the letter was a picture of a partially skinned rabbit supposedly used in a research lab. I was horrified. But while rummaging for my checkbook, I began to question their position. The end result was this paper.
      This was a difficult paper for me to write. I was not only faced with the challenge of writing a good paper, but I was also forced to confront my personal views on the use of animals in scientific research. Analyzing both sides of the issue, I came to my own conclusion. And although I feel strongly about this subject—myself being a scientist—I admit there is no absolute answer to the immense responsibility of using animals in research.
      Finally, I would like to thank Bill Collins for making me write and for supporting me both as a student and as a writer. Not only did I learn how to write in his class but I also learned about the art of expression.
—Timberley Roane

Instructor’s comment: In my English 103A sections the focus is on two aspects of writing: argumentation and research. The final long essay of the quarter ideally combines a forceful and factual presentation of a clearly-defined position and respect for the best arguments of the opposition with the preferred methods of documentation. In her essay Timberley reaches a high level in accomplishing both tasks, indeed I think, a rather higher one than one of the professional essays we read, which also sounds a cautionary note to opponents of animal experimentation. She recognizes--and responds feelingly to--the genuine concerns of that group, and at the same time persuasively presents her own view. Her choice of sources displays taste and good judgement; their use within the essay is sophisticated and impeccably documented. Over the 1990-91 school year, I recommended that several students submit a particular work to Prized Writing. I'm not sure how many did, but I would recommend for publication none more than Timberley's. The excellence is hers; I'm pleased and proud to have had perhaps a part in its polishing.
—Bill Collins, English Department

“The suffering of animals [is] morally equivalent to the suffering of humans: ‘Six million Jews died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughter houses,’” declares PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) co-director Ingrid Newkirk (Conniff 127). Animals rights groups, such as PETA and TSU (Trans-Species Unlimited), use these comparisons to justify their fight against the use of animals: for luxury, as in furs, for human consumption, and for scientific research. These groups, unfortunately, play upon public ignorance to sway opinion in support of their cause. Frederick K. Goodwin, a psychiatrist who heads the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration, declares it is time science confronted “the sleaziness of people who play on the public’s lack of understanding” (Erickson 17). What the public does not know can hurt them.
      Richard D. Ryder in his book Victims of Science: The Use of Animals in Research argues that: “Many of the [alternative] techniques are more valid and cheaper than the use of animals. But, scientists tend to be conservative. This has meant that the alternative techniques, like tissue-cultures, [in research] are not being adopted or developed as rapidly as they might be” (156). Animal activists use this argument to try to prove that scientists willingly use animals for experimentation while knowing they could effectively use tissue-cultures instead. They argue that tissue-cultures are cheaper and easier to work with than animals and that “Research animals are costly and inconvenient” (Ryder 156). They also state that scientists can more effectively study experimental effects using cells. These claims are unfounded and, thus, deceive the public.
      Animal rights groups, such as PETA, claim that tissue-cultures are inexpensive and easy to work with. On the contrary, the maintenance of laboratory-grown tissue-cultures is complex and expensive. Organ cultures, for example, require a strict temperature of 37 degrees Celsius, body temperature, in which slight deviations (even within a degree) can easily kill the culture. Specific nutritional supplements are needed as well. Tissues require complex solutions of sugars, salts, and water at concentrations specific for the particular tissue. Other factors involved are oxygen concentration, pH, and cell waste. The equipment needed for the regulation of these factors can be costly. Nitrogen incubators are needed to maintain both temperature and oxygen levels. Feeder/waste devices, such as a chemostat, are required for the control of nutrient availability and cell byproducts.
      Besides the demanding upkeep, tissue-cultures are, in general, difficult to grow in the laboratory. Some cultures require the influence of other organs or other body functions to develop properly. The in vitro cultivation of reproductive organ tissue, for instance, requires the hormonal influence of testosterone from the pituitary. Precise hormonal regulation (the addition of micromolar amounts) is difficult to administer in the laboratory. Animal activists fail to realize that the cell is not an independent entity. This dependence is clearly demonstrated in an experiment examining the effect of a drug on muscle tone: “Tone may be affected by events in muscle cells themselves, afferent and efferent peripheral nervous system, central and autonomic nervous system, endocrine system and motor end-plate, to name a few. An in vitro [in the laboratory] method which could mimic the function and interaction of all these systems is inconceivable” (Haywood 65). In addition to dependence on specific body interactions, many experiments are likewise dependent on overall body reactions.
      The body produces several hormones, enzymes, and metabolic intermediates which can interfere with, for example, experimental drugs being tested for particular physical conditions: “[T]he effects of chemicals in the whole body are sometimes brought about not by materials administered to the body, but by substances (metabolites) which the body manufactures from the original material. [I]t is unlikely that a culture system could supply a model for such activity” (Haywood 65). Tissue-cultures cannot be effective under these conditions. If a deadly side-effect will result from the use of a certain drug, animals have to be used before the drug can, with some degree of safety, be administered to humans. Admittedly, there are some occasions when cell cultures can be used. Human skin tissue, as an example, can be cultured in the laboratory and, thus, be used in the study of skin-irritant properties of cosmetics or medicaments (Ryder 159). But these exceptions are few.
      Compared to the limitations and problems associated with using tissue-cultures in research, animals are more versatile. Animals can withstand environmental changes whereas tissue-cultures cannot. Animals can be used to evaluate overall body reactions, to evaluate experimental side-effects, and to study behavioral changes that may occur due to experimental methods. Animals also provide better models for the human body than do cell cultures. Additionally, animal tissue is naturally sterile, except for the presence of natural flora (microorganisms inherent to the body), in contrast to cell cultures which have to be kept sterile: a monstrous task in itself.
      Another consideration that animal activists have overlooked in their avid promotion of tissue-cultures over animals in research is the question of how reliable tissue-culture data are. Animal activists argue that researchers can get more accurate results using cell cultures due to the capability of studying effects at the cellular level. These activists state that changes in cell physiology reflect the more general secondary physical reactions: “Toxic manifestations in the whole animal, be they changes in metabolic patterns or alterations in functional efficiency of specific organs, are still secondary to changes occurring within the cell” (Pratt 210). Changes in cell physiology do not reflect the physical changes that will occur in the body again because the cell is dependent on physiological functions. Cell changes, physical effects, and behavior changes can, on the other hand, be adequately reflected with animal models. A FRAME (Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments) representative has been noted as saying: “We must beware of promoting as an alternative, a method which will later be found wanting and will permit harmful chemicals to be accepted and used, which would have been identified by the conventional animal methods” (Haywood 56). Despite this, animal activists believe that tissue-cultures can adequately replace the role of animals in research.
      Another aspect that animal rights groups have neglected to investigate is the problem of getting reproducible data. In order for scientific acceptance, experimental data must be reproducible, that is, the same data must result each time the experiment is performed. Considering the variables that can influence cell culture viability, and the type of cell being studied, consistent results from one experimental run to another can be difficult to achieve. In fact, cells cultured in the laboratory can “mutate” due to slight environmental variations: “The abnormal cell is descended from the small number of cells which survived the initial primary culture process. Which line survives may be affected by operational techniques, and different workers may obtain different results” (Haywood 64). In the body, mutations are kept in check by the body’s natural defenses, whereas this risk associated with cell cultures can lead to false data: “Such amorphous growth is wasteful, inexcusable, and has led to the publication of much research of questionable value” (Pratt 212). On the other hand, with animals, experiments can be performed with more consistency.
      Additionally, animal activists groups have not considered that in order to obtain primary inoculations for tissue-cultures, some animals need to be sacrificed: “Primary cultures of animal cells and tissues necessitate the killing of animals” (Haywood 56). In some cases, several animals need to be sacrificed to obtain an adequate supply of cells. Therefore, since animals are necessary at some stage regardless of the method, researchers use animals in the conventional manner because of the associated risks with using tissue-cultures.
      Evidently, the use of tissue-cultures instead of animals in the laboratory is not the clear-cut issue that animal rights groups would like the public to believe. Unfortunately, though, animal rights activists are quite successful in their deception. The public, not armed with current or accurate information, is susceptible to their ploys. This blatant reliance on public ignorance has established a generally negative attitude toward research and, thus, science. To counterattack, scientists have to take the initiative and increase public awareness about animal research. Supplied with this knowledge, society will be better equipped to derive its own conclusions concerning the necessity for animal research.


Benirschke, Kurt. “Experimental Systems: Advantages and Disadvantages.” The Future of Animals, Cells, Models, and Systems in Research, Development, Education, and Testing. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1977: 58-75.

Conniff, Richard. “Fuzzy-Wuzzy Thinking about Animal Rights.” Audubon Nov. 1990: 120-33.

Erickson, Deborah. “Blood Feud.” Scientific American June 1990: 17-18.

Haywood, Susan, and Norman Marsh, eds. Animal Experimentation: Improvements and Alternatives. England: FRAME, 1985.

Pratt, Dallas. Alternatives to Pain: In Experiments on Animals. [New york]: Argus Archives, 1980.

Ryder, Richard. Victims of Science: The Use of Animals in Research. London: Davis-Poynter, 1975.