BBC Response

RESPONSE TO THE APPEAL BY EUROPEANS FOR MEDICAL PROGRESS

INTRODUCTION
Throughout the making of Monkeys, Rats and Me, the production team tried to be fair to all sides, and to navigate through a multi-faceted ethical and political terrain with even-handness.

Moreover, we did extensive research into the claims of Europeans for Medical Research and discovered that they were, for the most part, based on misquotations and misinterpretations. We were therefore very surprised to learn, in the letter upholding the appeal, that it is not ‘acceptable to argue that, upon examination, one side of the argument did not stand up and so did not merit inclusion in a film.’ We simply thought that statements which were untrue would have breached the editorial guidelines pertaining to accuracy. Broadcasting claims that the overwhelming majority of scientific opinion regarded as simply untrue and misleading would have been irresponsible.

Nonetheless we believe that we were successful in achieving balance, and this was born out by a variety of independent critics of the programme. The Guardian said, ‘this BBC documentary was superbly balanced’. The Times said, ‘What distinguished Adam Wishart’s Monkeys, Rats and Me: Animal Testing (BBC Two) was the film-maker’s ambivalence, a refreshing grey area for a subject that normally polarises opinion.’ And when the programme was given the Grierson Award it was commended by the judges for being ‘triumphantly even-handed’.

From our viewpoint, therefore, there seems to be a profound disjunction between what is commonly considered to be ‘balanced’ and ‘fair’, and the standard applied by the Complaints Unit.

ACCURACY
It seems that EMP are appealing on two grounds.

  1. The first is that they claim that deep brain stimulation was pioneered on patients rather than on animals.

 

The answer to this was contained in the first document that was submitted to the complaint’s unit. There is quite simply no historical evidence to support EMP’s claim. Animals have been used throughout the last century to map the brain and pioneer deep brain stimulation. We had footage from the 1950s of deep brain stimulation on bulls.

This was not a matter of opinion, it was a matter of the historical record. 

  1. The second ground for the appeal seems to be the statement of Professor Aziz:  "Well you see I don’t think there’s an issue to that. I don’t even think that there is a debate on that because every medical therapy that exists today has come out of animal research, whether it’s the tablets you buy in a pharmacist’s or whether the major heart surgery they undergo  or the brain implants I do, all of it has come out of animal research

 

Professor Aziz would substantiate this claim by arguing that medical science rests on a foundation of physiological research, which stretches back five centuries and which relied on the investigation of animals. He uses the operative phrase ‘come out of’ in the sense of arising from. He is not claiming that every medical therapy has solely relied or depended on an animal experiment, rather that animal experimentation has provided a bedrock of knowledge, and conditioned the practice and research, into physiology and the treatment of disease. Moreover every drug is now tested on animals. Given the extent to which animal research has been practiced in parallel to the study of human physiology, throughout the history of medicine, it would be difficult to disprove such a contention. By equal measure it would be difficult to prove it beyond all doubt.
In any case, the viewer would surely understand this quotation as a passionate statement of orthodox scientific opinion, rhetorical, perhaps, but deeply felt.  The use of the imprecise formulation of ‘come out of’, and the categoric nature of the statement, encompassing ‘every’ medical intervention marks this out as gilded by personal opinion and belief.

FAIRNESS TO CONTRIBUTORS
Mel Broughton has not complained to the production team about his contribution to the programme, nor has he stated that the production team deceived him into taking part in the programme. Indeed the Complaints Unit spoke to him and verified that to be the case. 

INTERVENTION BY THE BIOSCIENCE FEDERATION AND OTHERS
On the submission of the complaint Europeans for Medical Progress publicized their concerns on their own website and therefore alerted the Research Defense Society (RDS), the Medical Research Council, and other biomedical stakeholders. As a consequence, the RDS made representations to the BBC even before the ruling had been drafted.
From time to time, thereafter, the RDS were in touch with the production team, curious as to the outcome. When the draft ruling was produced, the production team told the RDS that, broadly, it appeared that the outcome would not be favourable to the programme. Neither the detail of the ruling itself nor a copy of the draft ruling was shared with them or with others.
At this point, the RDS, with the knowledge of the production team, solicited letters from the Bioscience Federation and Others.
The production team thought that this was an entirely legitimate course of action, because we believed that essentially what was at issue was the ‘significance’ of the so-called ‘scientific argument’ being put forward by Europeans for Medical Progress.
The question of significance was pertinent because of the following passage of the Editorial Guidelines:

‘we strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and  conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under represented.’

And the following:
‘It does not require the representation of every argument or facet of every argument  on every occasion or an equal division of time for each view. ‘

It was our contention that the argument of Europeans for Medical Progress was not a ‘significant’ strand of the debate, in particular because they misrepresented their views as an important part of the debate within the scientific community,  whereas this was clearly not the case. It therefore seemed germane to us that the Complaints Unit should be made aware of the views of the scientific community on this issue of ‘significance’, of this so-called ‘scientific debate’.

As stated in the letter from the Bioscience Federation:

From my point of view, EMP does not represent a significant strand of scientific debate about animal research. Unlike many other conflicts within science, there is remarkable unanimity within the scientific community about the value of animal research. This is not a matter of controversy. There is no significant dissension within the scientific community.

It would be quite wrong to suggest that the views of Europeans for Medical Progress represent one side of an argument. I know of no professor from a reputable British research institution which subscribes to their point of view, nor a single learned society which has supported them.

 

We agreed that the letters should be solicited, and it was done in good faith. It was not apparent that the complaints procedure was intended to be a closed and secretive process given that it was about making the BBC a transparent and accountable organization to its many stakeholders. Moreover, the code of practice on the website does not mention a need for confidentiality. And BBC executives did not suggest that such letters should not be sent.

Moreover, if for whatever reason it is deemed that these letters influenced the due process of the complaint, we would welcome the opportunity for the Trust to investigate the substantive issue of impartiality again.

 

Programme maker’s response to draft ECU finding, March 20 2007

Adam Wishart and the Production Team of Monkeys, Rats and Me became aware of the existence of Kathy Archibald and her pressure group, Europeans For Medical Progress, through frequent encounters with her during demonstrations at the site of the new Oxford animal experimentation laboratory. On numerous demonstrations on the streets of Oxford and at a student debate at the beginning of May she was insistent that we include her in the programme.

At first sight, it appeared as if she had a legitimate and rightful place to be in the programme. Europeans For Medical Progress asserted in their literature that they were a serious and substantial scientific lobby group, representing a significant point of view. Therefore we arranged an interview with Kathy Archibald, making room in a congested schedule, during a day in which we were interviewing the Prime Minister, at the beginning of June. At that point the production team had every intention of using her contribution in the programme.

However, over the course of the following months, as we conducted further research and explored the substance of EMP (both its arguments and the personnel whose views it represented) it became apparent that almost all of Ms Archibald’s claims had no basis in fact; that she used statistics and quotations out of context; that she used the language of science in a dishonest and deceitful way.

Here are some examples, though not an exhaustive list:
1) Archibald stated that the innovative cancer drug Gleevec was ‘an entirely in vitro discovery’, meaning that it was discovered entirely in the test tube. Moreover, she stated that, ‘all of the breakthroughs in leukemia treatments have been human clinical and in vitro. Yes there has been a lot of animal research along the way, but I don’t think any of that has been key to any of the breakthroughs.’

However, Nick Lydon the scientist at Novartis who discovered the drug in the early 1990s, stated categorically, ‘It is easy to say in retrospect that the identification could have been done without animal experiments, but I am sure that the oncogene field would not have evolved without them.’

Similarly, Professor Brian Druker of the Oregon Health Sciences University, the senior researcher who oversaw the Phase I and II clinical trial of the drug, disavowed Archibald’s interpretation of the history that he had created, the science that he had made and pursued.

2) In a debate that we filmed, in The Guardian and subsequently in interview, Kathy Archibald also stated that Professor Richard Klausner, the then head of the National Institutes of Health, lamented:  ‘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.’

On 7th August, Adam Wishart interviewed Klausner when he was passing through Heathrow. He said he was dismayed how his quotation was being used, it was in absolute contradiction to what he believed and had been taken entirely out of context. “a quotation taken out of context is an absolute misquotation.  That is a misquotation.  It was the right words, but it was the opposite context, and I think that’s quite disingenuous to say the least.”

3) Kathy Archibald stated in interview, “We are an independent organization of doctors and scientists and medical professionals, who oppose animal testing exclusively from a concern for human health…. We represent doctors and scientists, we have a lot, we have thousands of members.”

In the course of further research after the interview with Ms Archibald the production team discovered that, far from being a bona fide disinterested scientific lobby group, EMP are a determined animal rights organisation. Kathy Archibald’s previous incarnation was as an employee of the animal rights group Animal Aid. Moreover, EMP refused to identify more than a handful of its scientific supporters (none of whom had qualifications in the specialist areas of research criticized by EMP) nor would it reveal its funding sources. In addition we discovered that no professor in a established UK institution nor any learned society supported their point of view. There was unanimity among the many senior scientists we spoke to that EMP represented an insignificant and negligible body of opinion, uninformed by credible evidence.

4) In the interview, Archibald states, ‘83% of GPs want to see this evaluation’ into the scientific efficacy of animal research. However, the organisation that carried out the research for them, TNS Healthcare, issued a statement distancing themselves from this conclusion: "The data does not support the interpretation made by the client (which in our opinion exaggerates anything that may be found from the data).’

 

By early September, as the investigation of EMP continued, and more examples of dishonesty became apparent, the production team began to feel uneasy about using their claims as part of the programme. Often their claims seemed not to be matters of opinion, but actual distortions of fact.

As a consequence, the production team felt that there was not an equivalence between the statements made by the scientists and those made by EMP.

Admittedly the statements made by the scientists in the programme were somewhat exaggerated and went a little beyond of limits of provable knowledge, (although these views are commonly held throughout the scientific community). However, they could not be balanced by statements from EMP about the inefficacy of animal research because these were wholly false.

EMP’s statements were completely untenable. This view was clearly stated in the three, weighty, independent reports that had been published in recent years, each the consensus opinion of mixed groups of legislators, regulators or ethicists.

  1. THE NUFFIELD COUNCIL FOR BIOTHETHICS

One of Britain’s leading independent think tanks on this bioethics convened in 2004 a Working Party of 16 members including one from the RSPCA to address the issue. They published a report in May 2005. 
They agreed this:  "Historically, animals have been used in a wide range of scientific research activities that have provided many benefits  to society, particularly in relation to the advancement of scientific knowledge, human and veterinary medicine, and  the safety of chemical products.”

“In view of the examples of research considered in Chapters 5-9 we refute two commonly encountered generalisations about research involving animals that is undertaken with the aim of yielding results that are applicable to humans: (i) that all such research is directly applicable to humans or (ii) that no animal research has ever produced results that are useful and relevant to humans. Each type of research or testing has to be judged on its own merit.”

In the body of the Nuffield Council Working Party Report there is an account of a visit to a monkey experimental station similar to the one featured in the documentary. The Working Party states categorically, "Research of this type has recently made significant contributions to the diagnosis and therapy of  movement disorders and has been crucial to the development of deep brain stimulation (DBS), a new treatment for Parkinson’s disease."

b.) HOUSE OF LORDS SELECT COMMITTEE ON ANIMALS IN SCIENTIFIC PROCEDURES
In paragraph 4.8 they state, "On balance, we are convinced that experiments on animals have contributed greatly to scientific advances, both for human medicine and for animal health. Animal experimentation is a valuable research method which has proved itself over time."

c) REVIEW OF THE COST-BENEFIT ASSESSMENT IN THE USE OF ANIMALS IN RESEARCH by the Animal Procedures Committee.
The Animal Procedures Committee is a statutory organization established by the UK Government under sections 19 and 20 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

In this report they state, ‘An absolute position that all animal experiments are scientifically invalid is therefore untenable.’

 

Because of their distortion of matters of established fact, the insignificance of EMP as an organisation and as a credible element in the debate, and because of the absolute rejection of their opinions by the weightiest and independent commissions on these matters, the production team chose not to include the voice of EMP in the programme.

We acknowledge that the programme might have been more accurate and transparent had some of this research into the so-called ‘scientific argument’ been made explicit in the programme. However, we do not believe that this slight misjudgement should lead the complaints department to upholding the complaint of EMP.

 

 

Share
Follow Us

Latest Blog Posts

New paper discusses  in silico New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) and increasing use of ‘big data’ to advance human relevant research

A new paper by Safer Medicines scientific consultant Rebecca Ram, Dr. Domenico Gadaleta of the Mario Negri Institute, Italy and Dr. Tim Allen of the MRC Toxicology Unit, Cambridge discusses the progress of in-silico methods in New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) as well as the increasing need for use of ‘big data’ and artificial intelligence (AI) […]

World Animal Free Research Day

One of our partner charities in the Alliance for Human Relevant Science is Animal Free Research UK. They have initiated an annual World Animal Free Research Day on the anniversary of their founding, 27th May. Our goals are very complementary: Animal Free Research UK’s vision is “To create a world where human diseases are cured faster without animal suffering”, while […]