Technological Lock-In On Laboratory Animal Research
Minor or random events can cause a certain technological growth path to “lock-in,” determining which technology will prevail, even if the technology is inferior. This theory poses that with positive feedback, or increasing returns, a technological path taken may become locked-in, regardless of the existence of other superior long term paths. Similarly, path dependence may not only apply where one path is inferior, but may also apply where two paths are equal in terms of economical benefit, but different in terms of ethical implications. Researchers argue that the concepts of lock-in and path dependence can also apply to insitutions. Justification for animal research is typically that the benefits to humans outweigh the costs to animals, however if animal research is shown to not exemplify substantial benefits, than this argument fails. Animal research is a candidate for technological lock-in. Knowledge-based sectors are subject to increasing returns and are likely to experience technological lock-in due to large investments in R & D resources and relatively low incremental production costs. As technology improves with wider spread proliferation of the practice, more and more people adopt them, for example the use of mice and rats in research, which continues to be used in new research because of prior experience.
Animal research is also a candidate for institutional lock-in due to the self-interested nature of stakeholders. With respect to animal research, the stakeholders are large organizations in government, research and academia, who exist in large part to fund animal research. In addition, there is a large infrastructure that exists to perpetuate research, including special houseing facilities, breeding facilities, conferences, journals and academic departments to perpetuate this research inertia.
Legal requirements also exist to perpetuate animal research, as some require testing on animals to determine safety, or establish minimum standards for the treatment of animals. Particularly with respect to medicine, animal research has always been required, and benefits do not always relate to actual break-through. Psychological lock-in is also likely a factor in the long term establishment of animal research. The concept of “confirmatory bias” is likely to apply to this subject area, which theorizes that people are likely to interpret contradictory evidence as support of their opinion. In addtion, “cognitive dissonance theory” also applies; when beliefs and actions conflict, dissonance is created within the individual that must be rectified by changing actions or beliefs. For example, animal researchers who purport to be animal lovers must believe that their work is of great value to society.
Animal research is also likely to be more locked-in than other forms of research for several reasons. First, animal research is under attack, which can lead to entrenchment, which occurs at the individual level as cognitive dissonance, and also at the insitutional level. Next, animal research leads to larger financial gains and industry contacts than other disciplines. Also, there are legal influences that perpetuate research in the pharmaceutical industry. Lastly, animal research is deemed to have a “certain mathematical tractability, deterministic conclusions and clean results” that sometimes may have a stronger appeal despite low applicability. Alternatives to animal research have been minimally funded, but doe exist in multitude. In fact, Dagg (2000) found that citations referring to modeling of human tissues outnumber the citations refering to animal models in cancer research. This, however, may require more objectivity in studying and if different methods lead to the same conclusions than there may be a strong case for the superiority of alternatives to animal testing. Human research is argued herein to be a more accurate form of research, lending to directly applicable research conclusions. “In vitro” research is another potential alternative to animal testing which offers the advantage of using human cells over animal cells, consequently leading to more directly applicable research. Lastly, mathematical and computational models offer a means of also generating probability of success on human beings. Based on these findings, it is concluded that society has chosen a technologically inferior path, and although it would be difficult to prove the alternatives were superior, it can be argued that they are at least equally viable. Therefore this paper has been shown that animal research is subject to technological and institutional lock-in and that it is important that the public be aware that animal research is not necessarily the most effective method of research simply because it is the prevalent method of research.