18 March 2008
Monkeys, Rats and Me, BBC2, Monday 27 November 2006
Thank you for the background and considerations note from the independent Editorial Adviser. There are so many points to respond to that my comments will necessarily be rather long. I will keep them as brief as possible and begin by addressing the issue which has been at the centre of EMP’s complaint from the beginning but which has never been addressed by the BBC at any stage of the complaints process so far.
Accuracy with respect to the discovery of deep brain stimulation
On page 11 of the background and considerations note, it says that Alim-Louis Benabid ‘refined’ the process. However, as the extracts of the article from New Scientist that I provided make clear, Professor Benabid did not refine the process: he discovered it.
His discovery was a serendipitous ‘eureka’ moment, which he had not anticipated. This was the first time that anyone, anywhere in the world, operating on any species, had shown that stimulating part of the brain could stop the debilitating tremor suffered by Parkinson’s disease patients. He was not pursuing an idea gained from animal experiments; in fact he was in the process of destroying part of the brain as was customary at the time, based, again, on a serendipitous discovery in a patient in the 1950s (see New Scientist article), when he made his unexpected discovery.
This is a matter of historical record and to present the facts differently in order to claim that monkey experiments led to the breakthrough is simply inaccurate and dishonest.
Once again, I repeat my initial and most important complaint: that the documentary was built entirely on a falsehood. I would like to know why this key complaint has been ignored by the BBC throughout the complaints process. Delighted though I am that Fraser Steel upheld the complaint regarding balance, I believe he was wrong not to uphold the complaint regarding accuracy. He simply dismissed the matter of accuracy, saying: ‘I don’t think it’s the key question here’ and allowed the announcement of the ruling on the BBC website to say that ‘the issues raised were of balance rather than accuracy’, which is patently untrue. I hope that it is now obvious that accuracy is the key question and must be addressed.
The major purpose of this appeal is for the BBC to acknowledge that EMP’s complaint regarding accuracy is valid and to uphold it.
I will now respond to the rest of the background and considerations note, following the order in which those notes are written.
The opening sentence: ‘EMP describes itself as a patient safety organisation…’ implies that the description should be doubted. This gives the impression, right from the start, of a presumption against EMP. Yet the subject of investigation should be the programme and its maker. Adam Wishart presented his programme as a journey of enquiry by a neutral observer, when he was nothing of the kind, as I have already shown.
2.3) The fact that BBC Information allowed the programme team to respond on its behalf demonstrates that the same standards of proof were not required of those opposing EMP’s position in order to gain BBC approval.
Mr Wishart said that Dr Klausner refuted my argument but this is not true. I did not claim that Dr Klausner opposes animal research; in fact I was at pains to point out that he supports it. As explained in Shelly Willetts’ letter of 12 January 07, I did not misrepresent Dr Klausner or take his quote out of context. Dr Klausner undoubtedly refuted Mr Wishart’s interpretation of my argument but he could not refute what I actually said, which was that he made his comment on the history of cancer research in mice despite his firm support for the practice. This makes his criticism all the more powerful.
Mr Wishart’s statement that ‘We simply did not have the time in the programme to delve into these complicated arguments’ is extraordinary, given that the programme was promoted as an investigation ‘to find out if animal experimentation works.’
2.4) It seems highly improper that our ‘opponents’ were informed of the ECU’s decision several months before we were, particularly as the purpose of doing so was to allow them an opportunity to attempt to overturn the decision.
Fraser Steel did not alter his decision in response to the external interventions. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the BBC allowed and even invited powerful organisations with enormous commercial vested interests in defending animal experimentation to intervene in the complaints process. Pharmaceutical industry-funded pro-animal testing lobby group the Research Defence Society (RDS), with the approval of the production team as well as BBC executives, solicited letters from Professors Blakemore and Page; both outspoken advocates of animal testing. Both letters were sent to George Entwhistle, then Head of Current Affairs – the department that commissioned the programme in the first place. The department raised concerns about the ECU’s decision to uphold our complaints, so it is clear that the Current Affairs department, at the least, was influenced by these interventions.
The ECU said that it was not able to respond to the complaint regarding the BBC’s coverage of issues relating to animal experimentation and suggested that I write to the Director General. I wrote to Mark Thompson on 24 August 07, with a copy of my appeal, but have received no acknowledgement or reply.
On page 13 of the background notes, Adam Wishart attempts to justify the exaggerated claim by Tipu Aziz that ‘every medical therapy that exists today has come out of animal research.’ Wishart contends that the viewer would ‘surely understand’ that this was an expression of Professor Aziz’s personal opinion. But it was clearly presented as fact. The very purpose of recruiting expert scientists to voice such unequivocal statements is to indicate that the statements are factually correct. Yet this statement has no basis in fact – hence the ASA’s ruling that such a statement was misleading.
Sir Iain Chalmers, one of the UK’s leading experts in evidence-based medicine, condemned such a statement as ‘patently ludicrous’ in BBC Focus magazine (Comment and analysis, June 2006). For a scientist in a position of authority, such as Professor Aziz, to make that statement (which cannot be substantiated) is ‘an outrageous abuse of the trust placed by the public’ in his scientific authority, according to science journalist Robert Matthews in the February 2008 issue of BBC Focus magazine (enclosed).
Wishart goes on to mention various historical experiments on animals’ brains that are totally unrelated to the development of deep brain stimulation for the relief of tremor by Professor Benabid. He then claims that because these experiments predated Benabid’s discovery, it is a matter of historical record that they led to it. The fact is that Benabid’s discovery was unprecedented and was an entirely serendipitous observation in a human brain, guided by prior human experience, as already explained.
Wishart is asking the ESC to overturn the ECU’s ruling on impartiality on the strength of his false claim that deep brain stimulation was developed through experiments on animals. He says on page 14 that ‘the Committee will need to consider the difference here between opinion and fact.’ He says that ‘the BBC does not have to endorse the opinions of contributors in order to allow them to go on air.’ Clearly, the issue of opinion versus fact is key: opinions must not be presented as fact. This is precisely what the programme is guilty of doing and Wishart appears to be condoning.
On pages 15-16 it is stated (it is not clear who is making the statement; whether it is Adam Wishart or the Current Affairs department or the Editorial Adviser) that it would be a breach of process for the ESC to consider the issue of the BBC’s track record on the subject of animal experimentation because it has not been considered by BBC management previously. Yet I raised it explicitly in my first letter of complaint, saying that the BBC’s persistent bias on this subject is astonishing, that the BBC routinely misrepresents all opponents of animal experimentation as violent and/or ignorant and misanthropic anti-science extremists, and that EMP would be delighted to assist the BBC in redressing the balance. I hope that the Committee will consider this important matter in its deliberations.
On page 17 the total number of complaints about the programme is given as 157, with 147 of those complaints stating that the programme was biased in favour of animal testing. Is this really a normal and insignificant volume of complaints?
On page 19 the production team asks the Committee to consider their assertion that EMP ‘distorts matters of established fact’, is ‘insignificant as an organisation and as a credible element in the debate’ and that our opinions are ‘absolutely rejected by the weightiest and independent commissions on these matters.’ To address each of these three points in turn:
‘It is astonishing that animal testing has never been scientifically
The production team describes as a ‘slight misjudgement’ their exclusion of the ‘so-called scientific argument.’ This is extraordinary, given the programme’s promotion as a journey of enquiry ‘to find out if animal experimentation works.’ Their disparaging terminology clearly reveals their contempt for the perspective represented by EMP.
The fact that the chairman of the Grierson Award panel commended the programme for its even-handedness merely confirms my point that the programme censored the scientific controversy at the heart of the debate so effectively that viewers were given the false impression that all perspectives had been fairly represented.
The mendacity of the production team’s comments in Appendices B and C is breathtaking. On page 24 they claim that they had frequent encounters with me during demonstrations in Oxford. This is a total fabrication: I did not attend demonstrations in Oxford! I met with Jenny Kleeman on one occasion, in Oxford Town Hall, in January 2006. On this occasion, Jenny Kleeman said that she was delighted to meet me as she had been very keen to contact EMP to request our participation in the programme.
The production team further claim that I was insistent that they include me in the programme. Again, this is an outright lie. Jenny Kleeman had said that she wanted to conduct an in-depth interview with EMP and I had recommended that she meet with Dr Jarrod Bailey for that purpose. I also told her that the production team would be welcome to film Dr Bailey in debate with Pro-Test at Sheffield University in May 2006. She told me that they were very keen to do so and I therefore made arrangements with Sheffield University to accommodate the film crew. In the event, they did not attend; much to the disappointment of Sheffield’s Debating Society.
Adam Wishart telephoned me on May 2nd to ask me to participate in a debate in Oxford on May 5th. I declined, explaining that I had just come out of hospital after major pancreatic surgery and did not feel able to make such a long journey. But Mr Wishart was very insistent, saying that the debate would form a major part of the two-hour documentary he was making for BBC2. I recommended that he film Dr Bailey’s debate in Sheffield instead but he insisted that the debate in Oxford was going to be central to the documentary, so I reluctantly agreed to take part, as Dr Bailey was unable to attend.
I was astonished on arrival at the debate by Mr Wishart’s ill manners towards me, his refusal to reimburse my travelling expenses, even though he had begged me to attend, and his decision to equip every speaker except me with a microphone. At this point, my suspicions were aroused that Mr Wishart was not really as even-handed as he claimed.
I was very pleased when Mr Wishart invited me to London in June to be interviewed for the documentary, as I doubted that my contribution to the debate was sufficiently clear, given that I had no microphone. I prepared powerpoint slides (enclosed with my letter of appeal) for the interview, which the programme team filmed while I explained their significance. It is the facts I presented in those slides which Mr Wishart uses to accuse me of ‘using statistics and quotations out of context’ and using ‘the language of science in a dishonest and deceitful way.’ I must therefore address his accusations:
1) My statement about the discovery of Gleevec is correct. As already noted by Shelly Willetts in her letter, I said that Gleevec was discovered through in vitro research based on a specific human defect; and that it was nearly lost because it proved to be toxic in tests on dogs. These are indisputable facts, as evidenced by the following two quotes:
‘The major importance of this drug is the nature of its discovery…The enzyme was isolated, reproduced, and then a drug to inhibit it was engineered’ – Dr Lou Fehrenbacher, haematology/oncology specialist, Kaiser Permanente Medical Centre, California
‘The wonder drug was almost shelved because it caused liver damage in dogs. The drug company therefore wanted to abandon it but because of the excellent in vitro results seen with Gleevec, Brian Drucker pressed for it to go to human clinical trials where it was revealed that liver damage in humans was not a problem’ – Dr Jerome Groopman, Chief of Experimental Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, Harvard University
It is clear from the comment by Peter Singer – that it was ‘wishful thinking’ to assert that animal experiments did not benefit medicine – that Mr Wishart had misrepresented EMP’s position to his interviewees. As Ms Willetts explained, our position is not, nor ever has been, that society has never benefited from animal experimentation. Of course Professor Druker and the other interviewees would disagree with such a claim, but that was Mr Wishart’s version of EMP’s claim: not mine.
2) As already explained, Richard Klausner’s quote was this:
‘The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse… We have cured mice of cancer for decades – and it simply didn’t work in humans.’
It is hard to see how such a quote could be taken out of context: it is unambiguous, whatever the context. EMP always stresses that Dr Klausner nevertheless fully supports animal experimentation and I was at pains to point this out to Mr Wishart. Dr Klausner’s refutation of his own statement does not diminish EMP’s argument at all – on the contrary, it strengthens it.
3) Mr Wishart claims that ‘EMP are a determined animal rights organisation.’ This false accusation is a transparent attempt to undermine our argument by impugning our aims. It is based on the claim that my ‘previous incarnation was as an employee of the animal rights group Animal Aid.’ In fact I was a science consultant to Animal Aid; never an employee. Given my expertise in the scientific issues surrounding animal experimentation, it is natural that a group such as Animal Aid would wish to consult with me on their scientific concerns.
Mr Wishart’s claims that none of EMP’s scientific supporters have qualifications in the specialist areas of research criticised by EMP, and that we refused to reveal our funding sources are, once again, blatant lies. His claim to have ‘discovered that no professor in an established UK institution’ supports our point of view is absurd. Did he ask every UK professor? Or did he just ask Clive Page? The unanimity he claims is evidence that he only consulted with scientists supportive of animal experimentation.
4) TNS Healthcare has never disputed the data they gathered for us and clearly does not claim that the fact that ‘83% of GPs want to see this evaluation’ is exaggerated, as they themselves generated the data.
Even Mr Wishart admits ‘the statements made by the scientists in the programme were somewhat exaggerated’ but tries to justify this by saying that the statements made by EMP were ‘wholly false.’ Yet he has failed to show that any of our statements are false.
Wishart says that the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures, and the Animal Procedures Committee rejected EMP’s opinions absolutely. To substantiate this claim, he quotes the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ refutation of the commonly encountered generalisation that ‘no animal research has ever produced results that are useful and relevant to humans.’ But EMP has never and would never make any such generalisation. Wishart is only able to refute our argument by misrepresenting it.
In fact, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics explicitly endorsed EMP’s position that ‘It would be desirable to undertake further systematic reviews and meta-analyses to evaluate more fully the predictability and transferability of animal models.’
Wishart quotes one of the House of Lords Select Committee’s conclusions but fails to mention that they also concluded that: ‘All sides of the debate on animal procedures say that animals are highly imperfect models’ and recommended that ‘the reliability and relevance of all existing animal tests should be reviewed as a matter of urgency.’
He quotes the Animal Procedures Committee’s statement that ‘An absolute position that all animal experiments are scientifically invalid is therefore untenable.’ But again, that is not EMP’s position. The APC also endorsed EMP’s position, concluding that: ‘It is clear that there is a need for more efforts to assess the value of animal toxicity tests in predicting effects in humans.’
Even Wishart himself acknowledges that ‘the programme might have been more accurate and transparent’ had it portrayed the scientific controversy that it set out to portray and promoted itself as portraying.
On pages 30-31, Wishart reveals that the production team colluded with the RDS to solicit letters from the Biosciences Federation and others, with the explicit purpose of using their attempt to discredit EMP as an excuse to exclude all scientific criticism of animal testing from the programme. The Animal Science Group of the Biosciences Federation, like the RDS, is a lobby group for animal testing. Its Chair, Professor Page, is an outspoken advocate of animal testing, as is Professor Colin Blakemore.
The only basis on which Wishart contends that EMP does not represent a significant strand of debate about animal research is Professor Page’s assertion, which is simply false. His claim that there is no controversy within the science community is nonsense. The world’s leading science journal, Nature, devoted an entire issue to the controversy on 13 December 2006, as did the British Medical Journal on 27 January 2007.
Professor Page’s comment that ‘I know of no professor from a reputable British research institution which subscribes to [EMP’s] point of view’ is risible. Our film, Safer Medicines, features two extremely eminent professors, from Oxford and York universities. I have sent multiple copies of Safer Medicines to the BBC during this complaints process and would be happy to send further copies. You can also watch the half-hour film, or a ten minute version of it, on our website at www.curedisease.net.
I hope that the ESC’s conclusions will be based on the facts, rather than on the opinions of lobbyists for animal testing, however eminent they may be.
Kathy Archibald CC Nicholas Kroll