The benefits aren't worth the costs

As a cardiologist, medical educator and former animal researcher, I want to point out that public support of animal testing is dropping for a very sound reason ("Science takes case for animal research to the people," Nov. 1). People are increasingly aware that these experiments are not only cruel, but that they seldom translate to human benefit.

Decades of animal experiments have failed to cure or significantly impact nearly all of our most serious chronic diseases. Every one of at least 85 HIV/AIDS vaccines and more than 150 stroke treatments successful in animal experiments have failed in human trials.

Hormone replacement therapy benefited monkeys but caused heart disease, strokes and breast cancer in women.

Scientific organizations are increasingly turning to replacements for animal experiments. The National Cancer Institute, the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine have all joined the effort to replace animal experiments with in vitro and other human-based methods.

The longstanding animal research bully pulpit is now rightly threatened by public awareness. Instead of wasting money on a futile ad campaign designed to stifle critical innovations, the Foundation for Biomedical Research should accept that times are changing and shift its focus and funds toward replacement technologies.



Perhaps we are asking the wrong ethical questions. We should ask if is it right for humans to experiment on other species without their consent when there is no immediate benefit to us? Is something ethical just because it might benefit humans?



Don't blame pilots, blame the system

Thank you for the Nov. 1 article on pilot fatigue ("At 35,000 feet, pilots' main job: Fight fatigue"). I've worked 49 years in industrial process control, which has become dominated by increasingly complex automation.

Studies of industrial accidents, similar in timing and scope to aircraft accidents, have shown that human errors can be prevented by management actions. Management can reduce complexity and remove distractions. Unfortunately, management of very large organizations replaces care for people with a focus on the bottom line.

Why were the pilots discussing flight schedules in a way that required laptops and distracted the pilots from their jobs? Certainly fatigue can prolong and intensify a discussion. Could management have reduced the fatigue by allowing controlled naps? We have the technology to sound an alarm if there is no response. "Time to descend" could certainly have an alarm comparable to the stall alarm.

Could management have simplified the schedule issues, so that discussion was unnecessary? You'd think so, but we don't have the facts or the experience to evaluate them.

Sadly, management reacts to an embarrassing incident or accident by directing attention away from themselves and onto one or more scapegoats, which are then virtually killed to eliminate the cause of embarrassment. However, survivors of accidents have gained valuable experience, which is then thrown away.



A view into a whole different reality

The people who attended Rep. Michele Bachmann's rally against health care reform in Washington carried signs that claimed that President Obama is a Maoist or Judas Iscariot, reform is equivalent to the Holocaust or 9/11 and personal liberty will cease if we allow tens of millions of uninsured Americans to get health care coverage.

And it's not just the protesters. Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner said, "This bill is the greatest threat to freedom that I've seen in the 19 years I've been in Washington." Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx said, "I believe we have more to fear from the potential of that bill passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country."

This is beyond hyperbole or even ideology. By all appearances, these people have crossed over into some sort of group dissociative disorder. Before we can get to health care reform, perhaps we first need comprehensive mental health care reform. People so far out of touch with reality are obviously in need of professional help.



It seems ironic that Rep. Bachmann, a vocal advocate for stopping health care reform, is a government employee with the security of a government-sponsored health insurance plan.

It's easy to be against health care reform when you already have it.