CORRESPONDENCE WITH LETTERS EDITOR

From: kathy@safermedicines.org
Sent: 13 January 2010 13:32
To: Sunday Times Letters
Subject: letter to the Editor
Sir,

The Sunday Times Magazine does its readers a grave disservice by publishing such a one-sided and factually incorrect article as “How would you feel if you were an animal caged for scientific testing?” (January 10). The byline (“We… put the scientists’ rationale to the test”) claims to examine critically the scientific case for animal testing. Yet the article does no such thing. Instead, it presents one of the greatest scientific controversies of our time as indisputable.

The hand-wringing focus on the ethical "agonising dilemmas" is the time-honoured ploy of lobbyists for animal testing to divert attention from their untenable scientific position. In fact, scientific journals are replete with scientists lamenting the failings of animal tests and the disastrous consequences for human health. This is not just an argument over animal rights, as the Sunday Times would have readers believe: it is a major public health issue. 243 MPs and 83% of GPs agree and have called for a scientific evaluation of animal tests for drug safety, which currently contribute to the hospitalisation of a million Britons a year and the deaths of many thousands (see www.SaferMedicines.org).

Not only did the article censor all opposing science but the science that it did present was entirely incorrect. For example, its central claim that deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease was pioneered in monkeys is false: it was actually pioneered in patients*. Readers could be forgiven for concluding that this piece of propaganda was commissioned by the powerful and pervasive pro-animal testing lobby.  

*see article attached  

Yours faithfully, 
Kathy Archibald
Director
Safer Medicines Campaign


From: Sunday Times Letters
To: kathy@safermedicines.org
Sent: Friday, January 15, 2010 6:34 PM
Subject: RE: letter to the Editor

Dear Ms Archibald

Thank you for your e-mail, which I have discussed with Richard Girling.  He says:

“The piece was a genuine attempt to balance the issue of human gain versus cost to animals, without the hysteria that usually attends the subject.  You may disagree with its conclusions, but to describe it as "propaganda" is absurd.

“While it is true that DBS was first discovered as you describe, it was subsequently tested on macaques – an issue of great controversy and subject of criticism from anti-vivisectionists (all accessible via Google). Here is one scientific paper among many http://www.expert-reviews.com/doi/pdf/10.1586/14737175.7.6.585

We plan to publish a letter on the subject on Sunday.

Yours sincerely
Parin Janmohamed
Letters Editor


From: kathy@safermedicines.org
To: Sunday Times Letters
Cc: Cathy Galvin
Sent: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 11:34 AM
Subject: Re: letter to the Editor

Dear Ms Janmohamed

Thank you for your email.

As I explained in my letter, the issue is not simply a 2-dimensional one of human gain versus cost to animals, as Richard Girling maintains (below). There is an equally important 3rd dimension: that of scientists whose concern is that patients are endangered by an unwarranted faith in animal tests which frequently prove misleading when applied to humans.

It is abundantly clear that all of the scientific information on which the article was based came from a pro-animal testing source. Therefore, to describe it as "propaganda" is not absurd but merely a reflection of the fact that the article was an exposition of one side of a contentious scientific debate, which neglected to mention that another viewpoint even exists.

Richard Girling’s admission (below) that DBS was first discovered in patients means that his words: "pioneered in monkeys" are not true. This is not trivial and cannot simply be overlooked as inconsequential. In fact, it could not be more significant. Public opinion on the acceptability of animal experimentation – particularly its most controversial element, i.e. brain research in primates – is influenced overwhelmingly by the magnitude of its purported value to human health. Producing treatments for distressing disorders like Parkinson’s disease provides a powerful argument in defence of such controversial research. However, if such claimed successes are actually the fruit of research in humans, then such justification is utterly false.

The claim that DBS was pioneered in monkeys is used by Richard Girling as the central premise of the article. His indignation that some would deny Parkinson’s patients the fruits of animal research is misplaced, if such fruits as DBS were actually harvested from research in humans, after all.

Not only is this inaccuracy of great importance for readers, who have been misled, but it is a breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice, which stipulates that the Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, that a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and that the Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

The article was full of claims for the benefits of animal experimentation, which were not challenged and were presented as facts. The veracity of these “facts” provoked both Richard Girling’s own "agonising dilemmas" and his portrayal of opponents of animal experimentation as deluded, irrational and misanthropic. As Richard Girling now admits that his prize fact is not true, will he also admit that such a portrayal is unfounded?

Far from balancing the issue, the article merely rehashed the same clichéd and irresolvable arguments we’ve been hearing for years in virtually every item of media coverage of the subject. The explosive issue at the heart of this controversy – the question of whether animal experimentation actually benefits humans – was studiously avoided. I am sure I am not alone in having expected better from the Sunday Times.

The media has a responsibility to report fairly on both sides of contentious issues. Yet on this particular contentious issue, censorship appears to be endemic. It is all the more regrettable since, if the public were given the opportunity to hear the truth about the controversy over the medical value of animal testing, the consequences could be momentous. As Joseph Pulitzer so perceptively observed: “There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy. Get these things out in the open, describe them, attack them, ridicule them in the press, and sooner or later public opinion will sweep them away.”

Yours sincerely, 

Kathy Archibald
Director
Safer Medicines Campaign


From: Sunday Times Letters
To: Kathy Archibald
Sent: Wednesday, February 24, 2010 4:23 PM

Dear Ms Archibald

Thank you for your letter to Cathy Galvin, which you copied to me.  In my letter of January 15, we explained that the article by Richard Girling was a genuine attempt to balance the issue of human gain versus cost to animals.  I think the problem seems to be with “discovered” and “pioneered”.  The technique was discovered in humans but developed and refined in macaques. There are numerous papers on the internet. 

We also published a letter on January 17 headlined “End animal testing” from Dr Hope Ferdowsian, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Washington DC, USA. 

Your view was that a letter is “necessarily very brief and not at all sufficient in terms of correcting the imbalance created by [Sunday’s] feature-length article”.  You therefore sent an article and as Cathy Galvin pointed out, she would consider it but could not guarantee publication.  And that is how things stand.

We do not believe that there is any need to publish a correction.

Yours sincerely
Parin Janmohamed
Letters Editor

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