I didn't mention it at the time, but a couple weeks back some animal-rights terrorists flooded a scientist's home because she did research on animals, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage. They threatened her further by saying that she should feel lucky because their first choice was to use fire, not water.
This naturally led to wide-spread condemnation among sciencebloggers. However, most of the bloggers responded by pointing out that animal research is exceptionally useful for creating cures for humans, and is absolutely irreplaceable. We could not, for instance, use computer models to do the studies we need. They also pointed out that it animal researchers are not, in fact, sadists who get their jollies torturing cute and fluffy animals, and no, they didn't spend their childhood plucking the wings off of flies. Researchers are very concerned with the care of animals and there are strict rules in place to prevent unnecessary animal testing, and to make it as humane as possible.
I agree with all this, and I in no way mean to detract from any of these points. It's very important to point out that these despicable stereotypes of scientists who work with animals is completely fanciful. However, many of the animal rights groups have a reasonable concern: they don't think it's appropriate to study animals to benefit humans. So when Shelley Batts at Retrospectacle writes
Biomedical scientists do not live a wicked life, as the ALF [Animal Liberation Front] seems to believe. They are involved in research due to a passion for knowledge and a reduction of human suffering,
she's partly talking past these people. They don't care about any reduction in human misery (except maybe their own) that comes at the expense of misery in animals. And this may be a valid complaint.
Except, as you've already concluded by reading the banner at the right of this post, it's not entirely true. Researching animals helps humans, sure, and that's a perfectly valid reason to do it. But for those concerned about the animals, this research also helps animals. I'm surprised that in all of the blog posts or comments that I read on this subject, apparently no-one thought to bring up this simple fact--animals benefit from our research, as well.
For instance: antibiotics were, and are, tested in animals. Antibiotics clearly are used to help humans, but they're also used to help animals. My parents have an antibiotic salve for the purpose of treating animals--horses, dogs, cats--which came in handy recently when one of our cats was injured. This page points out numerous benefits to animals that have resulted from animal research, which include vaccines against numerous diseases and improved treatment of other ailments. HorseFacts.org, where I got the banner, point out other wonderful developments in equine treatment that resulted from animal research.
If animal rights activists really want to help animals, the best way is to let scientists study them so that we can help keep them healthy, and cure them when they're ailing.