Friday, January 12, 2024

Q&A with Richard J. Miller



Richard J. Miller is the author of the new book The Rise and Fall of Animcal Experimentation: Empathy, Science, and the Future of Research. His other books include Drugged. He is Emeritus Professor at Northwestern University.


Q: What inspired you to write The Rise and Fall of Animal Experimentation?


A: I am a scientist who has been working in the field of biomedical research for a long time. My particular interest has been understanding how drugs work on the brain. I began research for my Ph.D. in 1972 at Cambridge University in England.


Although I still find the subject of biomedical research to be fascinating and a way of providing new therapies for treating human disease, the use of animals in research has always bothered me; I distinctly remember my first day in the lab when I was required to kill some rats and found I just couldn’t do it.


Over the years I fully participated in research but my feelings about the use of animals became stronger and stronger. Eventually I decided that the time had come to carefully consider the situation and offer a critique of animal research.


I asked myself certain questions. Research using animals is very cruel-can we really justify it? Is it as effective as scientists usually assume? Is it ethical? Most importantly, are there alternatives to animal-based research these days?


There are many assumptions that we make about the use of animals in research. I thought the time had come to see if these assumptions were valid.


Q: What would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about experiments on animals?


A: I think that from the point of view of the general public the main misconception is that they don’t have a conception! What I mean is that most people really have no idea what goes on in a research laboratory and how animals are used.


I challenge people to pick up any scientific journal, select a publication that uses animals, and read the “Methods’ section which describes the details as to what the experiment actually entailed and how the animals were used. They would probably be horrified.


From the point of view of the scientists themselves, their main misconception is that animal research is effective most of the time in telling us something useful; it isn’t.


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: Well, of course, in some respects I have been researching the book for nearly 50 years, the time over which I have been a practicing scientist. So, I had most of the science covered.


What I had to look into was the history of how we came to use animals in research in the first place, the history of the movement that opposes animal use and a lot of the discussion concerning the ethics that addresses questions about animal research.


I was certainly surprised to find out how humans interacted with animals in antiquity and how these interactions set the stage for what we still do thousands of years later.


Q: What do you see looking ahead when it comes to animal experimentation?


A: What I see is the end of animal experimentation! New approaches like human stem cell research mean that we can now perform most biomedical research using human tissues these days.


There are also many other human-based methods involving imaging and genetics so that new therapies can be developed by studying humans, not animal models, which are usually inadequate in mimicking human disease.


This is now the cutting edge of research. These new methods are catching on very quickly and animal research is now behind the curve. It will take a little time, but it will disappear.


The Food and Drug Administration has already changed its laws so that work on animals is no longer required to get a new drug on the market if human-based data are available.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have started writing something on the connection between psychedelic drugs and religion. This may seem very different from a book about animals but in some ways it’s not.


When I wrote the book about animals, I had to think a lot about animal consciousness and consciousness in general. What is it? Psychedelic drugs are one of the most effective tools we have for probing the nature of human consciousness, particularly when it comes to the phenomenon of mysticism--hence the tie-in with religion.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The world is too violent which produces universal suffering. Violence towards animals is a major part of the problem. Everybody should think about it.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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