Tag Archives: Michael Balls

On Replacing the Concept of Replacement

Michael Balls

Russell and Burch saw failure to accept the correlation
between humanity and efficacy as an example of rationalisation,
a psychological defence mechanism

While wondering what I could discuss in this column I looked, as I often do, in the abridged version1 of The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique,2 at Russell and Burch’s introduction of what I call the humanity criterion. It is part of their discussion of the sociological factors which are among the Factors Governing Progress. This is how part of page 101 of the abridged version reads:

In fact, really informative experiments must be as humane as would be conceivable possible, for science and exploration are indissolubly linked to the social activity of cooperation, which will find its expression in relation to other animals, no less than to our fellow humans. Conscious good will and the social operational method are useless as safeguards against the mechanism of rationalisation (in the pathological sense of the term – i.e. the mechanism of defence by which unacceptable thoughts or actions are given acceptable reasons to justify them to oneself and to others, while, at the same tie, unwittingly hiding the true, but unconscious, motives for them).

The bold type indicates my explanation, and I have to admit that, six years after preparing the abridged version of The Principles, I now found it difficult to see what Russell and Burch had intended to convey. I therefore looked back at the original book, and found this paragraph on pages 156−157:

In efficacy, or yield of information, the advantages of humane technique apply almost universally. The correlation between humanity and efficacy has appeared so often in this book that we need not labour the point. There is, however, a more fundamental aspect of this correlation, specially important in research. Science means the operational method — telling somebody else how to see what you saw. This method is one of the greatest of all human evolutionary innovations. It has, however, one drawback. It prevents permanent acceptance of false information, but it does not prevent wastage of time and effort. The activity of science is the supreme expression of the human exploratory drive, and as such it is the subject to the same pathology. The scientist is liable, like all other individuals, to block his exploration on some front where his reactions to childhood social experiences are impinged upon. When this happens to the experimental biologist, we can predict the consequence with certainty. Instead of really exploring, he will, in his experiments, act out on his animals, in a more or less symbolic and exaggerated way, some kind of treatment which he once experienced in social intercourse with his parents. He can rationalise this as exploration, and hence fail to notice the block. But in fact such acting out invariably occurs precisely when real exploration is blocked, and must be relinquished before real exploration can begin again. Hence, such experiments will be utterly wasteful, misleading, and uninformative. The treatment of the animals, for one thing, will inevitably be such as to impair their use as satisfactory models. The interpretation of the results will be vitiated by projection. Really informative experiments, must in fact be as humane as would be conceivably possible, for science and exploration are indissolubly linked to the social activity of cooperation, which will find its expression in relation to other animals no less than to our fellow humans. Conscious goodwill and the social operational method are useless as safeguards against the mechanism of rationalisation (in the pathological sense of the term).

Here, the underlining indicates what I omitted from the abridged version, and I now wonder why I did so. These words clearly reflect Russell’s interest in psychology — he later became a psychotherapist, and undoubtedly will have been influenced by discussions with his psychotherapist wife, Claire Russell. They could be seen as an explanation why some scientists did not appreciate the essential link between humanity and efficacy, and why Russell thought they needed what was offered by the Three Rs and the humanity criterion.

It is not clear what is meant by “the social operational method”, and consulting Google leads to only one hit — The Principles itself! “Conscious goodwill” is probably meant to contrast with unconscious rationalisation.  Perhaps what Russell meant is that, however sincere the intention may appear to be, support for the Three Rs is useless, unless it leads to active and practical commitment to their development and application.

We are often confronted with rationalisation, the pseudo-rational justification of irrational acts,3 and its relative, intellectualisation, a different defence mechanism (or way of making excuses), “where reasoning is used to block confrontation with an unconscious conflict and its associated emotional stress, where thinking is used to avoid feeling. It involves removing one’s self, emotionally, from a stressful event. Intellectualisation is one of Freud’s original defence mechanisms. Freud believed that memories have both conscious and unconscious aspects, and that intellectualisation allows for the conscious analysis of an event in a way that does not provoke anxiety.”4

I am not a psychoanalyst, and I think it would be unwise, even dangerous, were I to seek to delve into the underlying reasons why some scientists are so keen to run to animal experimentation as the first resort and to do so little to make possible its replacement. Nevertheless, I can say, without fear of contradiction, that this is another great example of how Russell and Burch’s wonderful book continues to give us food for thought and calls for action.

Professor Michael Balls
E-mail: michael.balls@btopenworld.com

1 Balls, M. (2009). The Three Rs and the Humanity Criterion, 131pp. Nottingham, UK:  FRAME.
2 Russell, W.M.S. & Burch, R.L. (1959). The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, xiv + 238pp. London, UK: Methuen.
3 Anon. (2015). Rationalization (psychology). San Francisco, CA, USA: Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationalization_(psychology) (Accessed 26.08.15).
4 Anon. (2015). Intellectualization. San Francisco, CA, USA: Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectualization (Accessed 26.08.15).

The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique is now out of print, but the full text can be found at http://altweb.jhsph.edu/pubs/books/humane_exp/het-toc. The abridged version, The Three Rs and the Humanity Criterion, can be obtained from

Download a pdf copy of this post by clicking here.

Previous Wisdom of Russell & Burch posts from Michael Balls:

The Concept, Sources and Incidence of Inhumanity and its Diminution or Removal Through Implementation of the Three Rs.
The Wages of Inhumanity.
Fidelity and Discrimination.
The Factors Governing Progress. 
UFAW and Major Charles Hume. 
The Toxicity Testing Problem. 
The Use of Lower Organisms.
The Analysis of Direct Inhumanity.
William Russell: Polymath, Wordsmith, Classicist and Humourist .
Rex Leonard Burch: Humane Scientist and Gentle Man.
On the Proper Application of Appropriate Statistical Methods. 
Comparative Substitution. 
The Three Rs: The Way Forward .
The Choice of Procedures .
Rationalisation and Intellectualisation.


The Three Rs: The Way Forward

Michael Balls

It is now 20 years since Russell and Burch
last met to discuss, with others,
the way forward for the Three Rs concept


Sitting at my computer, faced with the challenge of deciding what I could say in Wisdom 16, I suddenly realised that it was almost 20 years, to the day, since Bill Russell and Rex Burch met in Sheringham, a small seaside town in Norfolk, UK, for the first scientific meeting they had attended together since the publication of The Principles in 1959 (Figure 1). Sadly, it was also to be the last such meeting, as Rex died a few months later.

Rex Burch and Bill Russell 31 May 1995 and Ecvam Workshop report


The meeting took place on 31 May to 3 June 1995, in the form of an e, which I chaired in partnership with Alan Goldberg of CAAT. Our reason for being in Sheringham was that Rex was too ill to go more than a few miles from home, so Alan and I decided that we would invite some of those committed to the Three Rs, to travel to meet him. The other participants included Claire Russell, and some of our colleagues from Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, the UK and the USA (Figure 2).

Workshop participants May 1995


An opening ceremony was held in the council chamber of Sheringham Town Hall, where Rex had rented space for his microbiology laboratory since the early 1970s. All the participants made a brief statement, and Bill sang a song, as he always did on special occasions. These opening proceedings were recorded on videotape. The rest of the workshop took place at the Links Country House Hotel in West Runton, about a mile from where I now live.

The principal aims of the workshop were to discuss the current status of the Three Rs and to make recommendations aimed at achieving greater acceptance of the concept of humane experimental technique, and, in the interests of both scientific excellence and the highest standards of animal welfare, the more active implementation of reduction alternatives, refinement alternatives and replacement alternatives.

The report of the workshop was published in the November/December 1995 issue of ATLA.1 It reviewed the origins and evolution of the Three Rs concept as originally outlined in The Principles,2 the selection of appropriate animal species, reduction alternatives, refinement alternatives and replacement alternatives, education and training, and certain special considerations (vaccines and immunobiologicals, transgenic animals, special protection for selected animals, benefit and suffering, and the setting of targets). It concluded with 58 conclusions and recommendations, which were preceded by the following remarks: The workshop participants unanimously reaffirmed the principles put forward by Russell & Burch, that humane science is good science and that this is best achieved by vigorous application of the Three Rs: reduction alternatives, refinement alternatives and replacement alternatives.

Thus, the only acceptable animal experiment is one which uses the smallest possible number of animals and causes the least possible pain or distress which is consistent with the achievement of a justifiable scientific purpose, and which is necessary because there is no other way of achieving that purpose. Any proposed experiments on animals should be subjected to prior and effective expert review by an ethics committee or an equivalent body. The Three Rs should be seen as a challenge and as an opportunity for reaping benefits of every kind — scientific, economic and humanitarian — not as a threat.

Many of the conclusions and recommendations are as relevant today as they were in 1995. The workshop was a memorable occasion in many other ways. It was run according to the ECVAM tradition — five days of hard work, interspersed with good food and good wine, with a determination to have the words of detailed conclusions and recommendations down on paper by the end. One of my lasting memories will be witnessing the pleasure shown by Bill and Rex, as they took the opportunity to sit and talk quietly together after a gap of more than 30 years. All I have to show of that is one out-of-focus photograph, taken during the final reception and dinner at Blickling Hall, on 2 June 1995 (Figure 3).

Bill Russell and Rex Burch 2 June 1995

Many developments of many kinds have taken place since 1995, but, as Roman Kolar spells out in the latest issue of ATLA,3 there is still much to be achieved, if the aims of the workshop and of The Three Rs Declaration of Bologna,4 to which it led, are to be achieved, resulting in the revolution in biomedical research and its application which was proposed in The Principles. For my own part, I am concerned that stating allegiance to the Three Rs concept has become a convenient smokescreen, to which lip service can be paid, whilst little is actually permitted to change. I have therefore proposed that the focus should now be more squarely on humane science, which avoids the problem of seeming conflicts between human benefit and animal welfare,5 and I am rather confident that Bill and Rex would approve.

Professor Michael Balls
Russell & Burch House
96–98 North Sherwood Street
Nottingham NG1 4EE
E-mail: michael.balls@btopenworld.com

1 Balls, M., Goldberg, A.M., Fentem, J.H., Broadhead, C.L., Burch, R.L., Festing, M.F.W., Frazier, J.M., Hendriksen, C.F.M., Jennings, M., van der Kamp, M.D.O., Morton, D.B., Rowan, A.N., Russell, C., Russell, W.M.S., Spielmann, H., Stephens, M.L., Stokes, W.S., Straughan, D.W., Yager, J.D., Zurlo, J. & van Zutphen, B.F.M. (1995). The Three Rs: The way forward. The report and recommendations of ECVAM Workshop 11. ATLA 23, 838-866.
2 Russell, W.M.S. & Burch, R.L. (1959). The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, xiv + 238pp. London, UK: Methuen.
3 Kolar, R. (2015). How long must they suffer? Success and failure of our efforts to end the animal tragedy in laboratories. ATLA 43, 129-143.
4 Anon. (2000). The Three Rs Declaration of Bologna. ATLA 28, 1-5.
5 Balls, M. (2014). Animal experimentation and alternatives: Time to say goodbye to the Three Rs and hello to humanity? ATLA 42, 27-333.

The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique is now out of print, but the full text can be found at http://altweb.jhsph.edu/pubs/books/humane_exp/het-toc.
An abridged version, The Three Rs and the Humanity Criterion, by Michael Balls (2009), can be obtained from FRAME.

Download a pdf of this article here:

Wisdom 16