Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Notion of Tansparency - This Too Shall Pass

The recent public relations scheme to make the labs more transparent in order to make the public believe that hurting and killing animals in labs isn't so bad is probably the result of vivisectors not being able to come up with a winning argument in answer to the truth behind the chant, "Nothing to hide? Let us inside!"

In modern times, they have ginned up a handful of excuses for keeping the public in the dark about what is going on behind their locked doors. They say things like: "visitors will disturb the animals," "the animals' health would be put at risk," or, in the case of activists, "they might go berserk."

Those claims are a harder sell when it comes to the vivisectors' reticence at providing copies of photographs or videos. Then the arguments become something like "people wouldn't understand what they are seeing," or, "the photos would divulge trade secrets."

But really, the reasons are the same ones that drove vivisectors from more than a century ago to keep what they were doing a secret. When their neighbors found out, they picked up pitchforks and ran them out of town. It is the vivisectors' recognition of their neighbors' potential outrage and disgust that explains more accurately why the labs are so secretive.

It isn't likely that the labs will become more transparent. They might develop little quasi-Potemkin villages to help with the big hood-wink, but the people involved are, it seems to me, constitutionally incapable of recognizing what it is that the public is slowly coming to understand, namely, that animals are people too, beings with interests, concerns, emotions, precisely the things that are said to endow us with inherent rights. This means that if they proceed with a transparency gambit, it will be short-lived because they are unable to see animals through the eyes of the growing number of people who recognize them for who they are.

A case in point is a picture used to introduce an article from a recent edition of News from Science titled "'Gene drive' passes first test in mammals, speeding up inheritance in mice.":
This mouse and her pups are being used here simply as props. Mice are adverse to open fields; they naturally hide and avoid being out in the open, particularly during the day. In this image, the mouse and her pups appear to have been placed on a white surface and brightly lit. It is very likely that the open field coupled with the exposure of her pups is causing the mouse significant anxiety.

Science magazine is a long-time defender of vivisection. It is using it's wide circulation to help promote the idea that vivisectors are pushing for openness and transparency; but the editors were blind to the plight and likely distress of this mouse. This ethical blindness is at the root of every failed attempt to promote and defend the the use of animals in harmful experiments by engaging with knowledgeable critics. Vivisectors can't really prepare for such encounters anymore than a deaf person can prepare to discuss the tonal qualities of musical instruments.

But it is apparently impossible to know what you are incapable of knowing, and so, every so often a vivisector can be convinced participate in a public debate or speak frankly about what is happening in a lab, but these events are very rare because even a blind person gets burned when they touch a flame.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Propaganda, Fake News, Echo Chambers, and the Sway of Authority

Evolution has fitted us with the propensity to believe what we are told, to do as we are ordered, and to march behind those we take to be our leaders, those in authority, the bosses, the experts. Those of us who say, “Wait a minute, let’s talk about this, let’s do some fact-checking, let’s think about this for a while first,” are in the minority. We are the doubters, the square pegs, the friction in the otherwise smooth road the totalitarians, the corporations, the self-interested would otherwise see before them.

Doubt has led me to read much more slowly than I used to back in the days before the Internet. Now, when I read something, I find myself fact-checking the author or reading up on some bit of history or scientific claim alluded to. And now, I find myself much more skeptical when an authority makes claims about themselves or their field of endeavor when those claims are laudatory, because, mainly, I’ve learned that some authorities are prone to spin the plain facts or else just make things up. More dangerous than the liars, are those who have been told and have believed falsehoods. When they claim this or that, and are wrong, they aren’t lying, they are simply repeating a lie they believe to be true. In some cases, the original lie is many steps back in a chain of dupes unknowingly bamboozled.

I don’t think it is always possible to tell whether someone repeating a falsehood is doing so knowingly, but there are cases when there simply isn’t an adequate explanation or justification for passing on false information. If a coworker repeats something they read that turns out to be wrong, they can be excused for have been misled. But if a reporter for a news outlet does this, it is harder to excuse them.

In reputable news sources, the information being reported should be, and I expect it usually is, vetted or reviewed prior to public dissemination. Sometimes, particularly when reporting on breaking news, it might not always be possible to be as thorough as might be the case in a weekly publication. That’s understandable, and I see the better newspapers and periodicals occasionally printing corrections. Unfortunately, our propensity to rely on the veracity and integrity of those we deem experts can and too often does result in otherwise prudent media outlets unwittingly misleading the public. A well known example was the New York Times’ gullibility and reporting on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. But they owned up. Germane to this blog, a case in point was the recent USA TODAY article, “Let's continue animal testing: America's scientific community.” June 20, 2018. [See my comments: “Vivisectors call for more transparency.... yeah, right. June 23, 2018.]

There are some news sources that we expect to hold themselves to a higher threshold of accuracy than do daily papers. Among these are the top-tier science journals. While I understand that a headline on a checkout line tabloid should be read with doubt, a headline on the cover of the flagship journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science should be accurate. When top-tier science journals massage the facts to influence public opinion, the harm is great.

The cover of the June 29, 2018 issue of Science featured an article on our future titled “Tomorrow's Earth.” Too little too late, I fear, but I haven’t read it, so I’ll reserve judgment. The titles of three other featured articles were printed across the top of the cover. The first one promoted the article “Opening the lab door,” by staff writer David Grimm. The blurb on the cover read: “To fight critics, animal researchers urge greater transparency.”

The article itself is (as I write this) available here and here.

There seem to be only a few, two I think, possibilities to account for the misleading nature of Mr. Grimm’s article and claims in the Science Podcast, transcribed at the end of this essay. He might be actively and knowingly misleading readers and listeners. He might believe and accept the industry’s propaganda without question. Whatever the actual reason, his editors bear equal responsibility.

The notion that vivisectors are going to let the public see what they do to animals is ridiculous. No one who has read, even passingly, the history of the industry’s understandable reticence at letting the public see the things they do to animals will believe that the vivisectors have had a change of heart. So the headline alone teeters toward frank nonsense; and given its placement and claims, I think it fair to call it fake news because the editors and Mr. Grimm must know it isn’t true. If they know it isn’t true, they are passing on propaganda dressed up to look like truth. This violates the public’s trust and is part of the academy’s long seedy pattern of ethical deficit.

Below, I have annotated the pod cast Mr. Grimm participated in and inserted some links. To the journal’s credit, the host seems to express some doubt that the proposed PR gambit will shift the tide in the labs’ favor.

Increasing transparency in animal research to sway public opinion, and a reaching a plateau in human mortality By Sarah Crespi, David Grimm, Jennifer Golbeck Jun. 28, 2018 , 2:00 PM

~1:13. Sarah Crespi: Welcome to the Science pod cast for June 29, 2018. I’m Sarah Crespi. In this week’s show David Grimm has the story on sharing more on how and why animals are used in labs in an attempt to counter animal activists and win back the public.

~1:55: First up we have David Grimm; he’s here with a story, a new story, on animal research. Hi Dave.

David Grimm: Hey Sarah.

Sarah: Here in the U.S, public opinion about animal studies appears to be on the move. A poll last year recorded a substantial change since 2001. Back then 65% of adults found animal studies morally acceptable. As of 2017, only 51% feel that way. And this changing attitude appears to be having an effect on policies, like what Dave?

Dave: Well Sarah, there are a couple of new animal advocacy organizations on the scene. When people think of animal rights or animal advocacy organizations, often they tend to think of Peta, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or the Humane Society of the United States.

One of these new outfits is called the White Coat Waste Project which just came into being a few years ago. It’s shtick is basically trying to capture conservative voters and politicians as well as liberals. Not only do they talk about torture inside laboratories, but they also talk about animal research being a waste of taxpayer money.

[I think it telling, in a Freudian way, that Mr. Grimm characterizes the efforts of an organization dedicated to ending taxpayer support of serious harm to animals as their shtick, a term he is unlikely to affix to the claims of the vivisectors.]

Dave: There’s also a group called the Rescue and Freedom Project. And their goal is basically to also get animals out of labs; they’ve been advocating for laws at the state level around the country too, what are called “beagle freedom bills” to force researchers to adopt out their lab animals, typically cats and dogs, at the end of research studies. They’ve had success in eight states so far, two in just the last six months. And the White Coat Waste Project has helped shut down a nicotine study on monkeys at the FDA and also a bunch of canine research at the USDA system.

[I think he meant the VA system.]

Dave: And all of these efforts have been really opposed by the scientific community [Sarah: Um-hum.] at the state and federal level. And yet, these animal advocacy groups keep on winning.

Sarah: Right. And so there is this change in public opinion and there’s some concern that, you know, as it gets below 50%, which is what is projected, a lot of laws are going to come into effect and that’s going to have a serious, that’s going to cause serious problems for researchers.

Dave: Yeah. Researchers are really worried that funding is going to dry up when public opinion reaches this tipping point. It’s going to be a lot harder to do animal research. And so they are really tying to come up with a way to combat a lot of this stuff that’s been happening, not only public opinion but in the legislations as well.

Sarah: Okay. So one of the places you focus on in your story that’s trying this, I guess we’d call it transparency approach, [Dave: Right.] was out in Oregon. So you got to visit a different a different kind of primate research facility for once.

Dave: Right. This is the Oregon National Primate Research Center [ONPRC]; it’s one of the biggest, it’s actually is the biggest primate research center in the country. It’s located in Beaverton, Oregon, just a few miles outside of Portland, and their whole thing is transparency. And what they mean by that is they’ve got about 5000 monkeys there. And what they do is they actually bring the public in to take a look at the monkeys in their habitat. To take a look at them in the places that they live; also meet the scientists there, and the scientists talk to visitors; sometimes its high school students, when I was there it was a group of high school students, sometimes it’s Rotary Clubs, sometimes it’s wedding parties; just anybody who wants to visit. Everyday of the year they offer tours. And the goal is: ‘Let’s break down these barriers,’ because labs have traditionally, at least in the past couple of decades, been pretty shy about their animal research.[Sarah: Right.] Not posting about it on the web, not talking about it in their press releases, and certainly not inviting the public into the laboratories or even their animal facilities to see what’s going on. So this Oregon center is really at the forefront. What a lot of advocates are saying that a lot of other research facilities in the U.S. should be doing which is being a lot more transparent, a lot more proactive in engaging the public, here are the animals we use, and here’s why we use them.

[It is grossly misleading to say that ONPRC’s “whole thing is transparency.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The visitors (wedding parties?) are shown some of the breeding colonies. You can see these outdoor corrals in the image below from Google maps.
A USDA inspector resigned about 10 years ago after nothing was done when she reported, among many other problems, that during one spring it became very muddy and the monkeys were having to wade through feces and mud to get their food. I suspect it still rains in Portland.

Also in the image, you can see some large buildings. Visitors are not shown what is happening in them. In a previous article on this topic, “‘A cataclysmic wake-up call’: Can more candor win back support for animal research?” David Grimm. Science Jun. 26, 2018. Mr. Grimm tried to explain why the buildings are off-limit to visitors. He reported:
More than 3000 macaques live in enclosures like those or in larger open-air arenas. Another 1500, which researchers are actively studying, are housed in a building off-limits to the tour. Gordon says those animals may be susceptible to human diseases and, unlike the others, aren’t used to seeing large groups of people and would be stressed by visitors.
This puts the lie to the notion that ORPRC’s “whole thing is transparency.” It demolishes the claim that there is any truth to the claim that vivisectors want the public to know what they are doing. In the two undercover investigations of ONPRC I am aware of, the images and videos that came out were startling. In one case involving capuchin monkeys, other researchers at ORPRC were so disturbed by them that they forced the project’s closure. You can see one on the monkeys in this video at about time: 2:54. The short video demonstrates why visitors are not allowed to see what is happening in the labs.]

Sarah: Now that’s a stand-alone facility. Their main thing is animal research. But there are animal research labs all over the country, especially in universities, and that’s been, there’s a long history of universities kind of hushing up any animal research; is that something you see changing?

[Just to clarify, no, ORPRC is not a stand-alone facility. Like most other large primate centers, it is part of a larger institution. In the case of ORPRC, it is part of Oregon Health & Science University.]

Dave: Right. And one of the big motivators for that was, you know, a lot of extreme animal activism in the 80s and 90s, and not just protests and letter-writing campaigns, but car bombings and things like that.

[Mr. Grimm is not right. In fact, the labs’ secrecy dates back even earlier than 1921, when the Journal of Experimental Medicine began refusing to publish photographs or detailed descriptions of what was being done to the animals. [See: Lederer, Susan E. "Political animals: The shaping of biomedical research literature in twentieth-century America." Isis 83.1 (1992): 61-79.]

Mr. Grimm may have accepted the hyperbole regarding “bombings and things like that” from organizations with a financial interest in frightening vivisectors. See my essays: “American Scientist.” 4-4-2008, and “‘Illegal Incidents’ on the rise?” 5-8-2008.]

Dave: That made a lot of scientists and universities very shy about, even though they thought they were doing very important work, shy about promoting about it.

[But, as Lederer’s work and history demonstrate, that’s not true. They have never been transparent or forthcoming. And really now, would someone making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year really say that what they are doing isn't important?]

And so, one of the goals is, like the Oregon primate center, let’s talk more about the animals we use, you know, and even if we don’t let the public come in on a tour, if people come to our website, you know, they should be able to see all the animals we are using, but more importantly, why we’re using them, what therapies they’re leading to, you know, what we do to them, you know, as one of the people I talked to in the story said, ‘It’s always worse in people’s minds when a lot of the public hears animal research or animal experimentation, they conjure up these very, almost like sci-fi frightening images which aren’t always the case. And the researchers say, you know, if people saw what we are doing, they wouldn’t be as willing to buy into what they see as propaganda from the animal rights animal advocacy community.

[But the reality is that what is going on in some of the labs is far beyond what many people might imagine; and even in research projects not using permanently attached devices or surgically altered animals, the animals are frequently sick, are in environmentally bleak surroundings, have nothing to do, and are permanently stressed or hypersensitive to the presence of laboratory staff. [Balcombe, Jonathan P., Neal D. Barnard, and Chad Sandusky. "Laboratory routines cause animal stress." Journal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science 43.6 (2004): 42-51.]

Sarah: Is there any evidence that, you know, this transparency approach, letting people into labs, letting people see what’s happening, you know, with animal research in much more detail, is there any evidence that that works to sway public opinion?

Dave: So, the U.K.’s actually been kind of ahead on this. And they started doing this a few years ago; they launched a thing called the Concordat which a lot of UK institutions sign on to in fact a majority have signed sign on to which they promise to be more open and what U.K. has seen since that happened, there’s been a up-tick for the first time in years, in support for animal research, and one of the sources I quote in the story says there has also been a lot less negative news stories in the press about animal research. Now that’s just a correlation, but the U.S. looks at that and says, well, it seems to have had success in the U.K., will it work here as well.

[As of July 5, 2018, the Concordat website [] was not working. The associated “Understanding Animal Research” was though. They pointed to a page featuring images and videos from four labs. The term Potemkin village comes to mind. See my essay: “Up is Down, or Happy Lab Rats,” 6-16-2017.]

Sarah: I mean but, in the past couple months you’ve been reporting on, you know, the changes in the status of chimps in research, and then there’ve been some stories that come out about, you know, how often inspections are going to happen in labs, and where those results are going to be posted and how often. You know, it doesn’t seem like that is the trend in terms of like animal research in the U.S. right now.

Dave: Yeah. I mean, you know, again, animal researchers, animal facilities have been pretty shy. So I think the big open question is A: is transparency the answer? Is that the way to sort of bring the public back, to combat some of these animal activist campaigns? But, B: are scientists and you know, universities in the U.S. actually willing to do that? [Sarah: Um hum.] You know, are they willing to sort of expose themselves? Are they willing to expose themselves tin a way they haven’t for decades and sort of risk maybe more animal activity, but perhaps along with that get more public understanding about what they are actually doing, and why they are doing it.

And that ended his segment.

Maybe Mr. Grimm does not live near a large university. Or, maybe the one I live near is the exception. UW-Madison’s public relations department has consistently kept pro-animal research articles in the local press, and these have frequently been picked up by national news outlets. Two examples are fair bookends to this phenomena: misleading reports about Harry Harlow’s experiments were printed across the country for thirty years, and recently papers have featured misleading articles about the university’s caloric restriction research with monkeys.

Claims about why they are using animals abound; details of what they are doing to them not so much.

A couple small things just to tie up loose ends. Mr. Grimm says that ORPRC is the largest primate center. Here’s some dated info from PrimateInfoNet.

Oregon National Primate Research Center
Supported Species: 244 Macaca fuscata (Japanese macaque), 3659 Macaca mulatta (rhesus macaque)

California National Primate Research Center
Supported Species: 72 Callicebus cupreus (coppery titi), 242 Macaca fascicularis (long-tailed macaque), 5111 Macaca mulatta (rhesus macaque)

New Iberia Research Center
Supported Species: 1200 Chlorocebus aethiops (grivet), 1200 Macaca fascicularis (long-tailed macaque), 1500 Macaca mulatta (rhesus macaque), 450 Macaca nemestrina (pigtail macaque), 350 Pan troglodytes (common chimpanzee)[now relocated.]

Tulane National Primate Research Center
Supported Species: 6 Aotus nancymaae (Peruvian red-necked owl monkey), 2 Aotus trivirgatus (owl monkey), 47 Cercocebus atys (sooty mangabey), 7 Cercocebus atys lunulatus (white-collared mangabey), 2 Chlorocebus aethiops (grivet), 8 Erythrocebus patas (patas monkey), 1 Lophocebus aterrimus (black mangabey), 36 Macaca fascicularis (long-tailed macaque), 3523 Macaca mulatta (rhesus macaque), 670 Macaca nemestrina (pigtail macaque), 217 Papio (baboon), 6 Papio anubis (olive baboon), 18 Saimiri sciureus (common squirrel monkey)

The Washington National Primate Center in Seattle has monkeys in many locations around the country and in Asia. I think it possible that they may have the most monkeys on hand.

And, how should the size of a primate center be determined? Though not a primate center, Covance, here in Madison, consumes about 9,000 monkeys a year. Many of the monkeys in the NIH National Primate Research Centers are used for breeding, and many are used in long term projects. I don’t think they are killing anywhere close to 9,000 monkeys a year.

More transparency is needed, but unlikely, because in truth, the vivisectors are afraid of the outrage and backlash if they were to actually reveal the truth.

Two more bits that may be of interest.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Vivisectors call for more transparency.... yeah, right.

Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border into the U.S.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2018

Let's continue animal testing: America's scientific community
USA TODAY June 20, 2018

We call upon our country’s research institutions — large and small — to embrace openness. — Speaking of Research, et al.

USA Today’s headline slipped across the ethical journalism line. It is an example of what has become known as “fake news,” though in this case I doubt it was an intentional hoodwink. But implying that America’s “scientific community” had reached some sort of consensus on the use of animals was frankly wrong.

It’s hard to know how many people there are in the U.S. who should be counted when thinking about the “scientific community,” but it’s a whole lot more than the roughly 500 people who have signed the letter (as of 6-22-2018). Most of those who have signed are involved in the use of animals; of course they want to keep using animals. Quite clearly, the scientific community hasn’t voted in favor of using animals, but maybe a majority might be in favor of greater transparency, but there is no way to know at the moment.

What can be said unequivocally is that the labs generally keep the ugly details of what they do to animals hidden from the public. They started doing this big-time more than a century ago. See for instance, Lederer, Susan E. "Political animals: The shaping of biomedical research literature in twentieth-century America." Isis 83, no. 1 (1992): 61-79.

A minuscule sliver of the scientific community signed a letter that said in part: “We call upon our country’s research institutions — large and small — to embrace openness. We should proudly explain how animals are used for the advancement of science and medicine, in the interest of the wellbeing of humans and animals.” Indeed.

Peta commented on the letter saying it welcomed the call for transparency. “We urge animal experimenters to video everything they do, from inducing heart attacks in dogs to shocking the feet of mice to cutting open the skulls of monkeys, and release it to the public that funds most of it. We ask them to be open about the fact that 90% of animal studies fail to lead to treatment for humans and to explain why they still use animals in drug research when 95% of new drugs that test safe and effective in animals fail in human trials.”

I have to laugh at the vivisectors' sugary call for greater openness. As of June 23, the directors of six of the seven NIH National Primate Research Centers (Nancy L. Haigwood, R. Paul Johnson, Jon E. Levine, John H Morrison, Jay Rappaport, Sally Thompson-Iritani) has signed on. Only Robert E. Lanford, director of Southwest is missing.

They know full well that they are the ones keeping the public from seeing what is going on in the labs. Implying otherwise is no different than Trump saying that he wishes children didn’t have to be taken from the parents.

Thinking only about the six NIH Primate Center directors who are calling for an embrace of openness, I have a couple easy suggestions for them.

1. When someone asks for a copy of a video or photograph, give it to them.

2. Better yet, put all your video footage and photographs on line.

3. Make your daily care logs accessible to the public.

4. Advertise the time and place of your IACUC meetings. Make sure they are open to the public. Make the minutes publicly available.

There is no reason they can’t do these things any more than Trump couldn’t order a halt to separating children from the parents.

I’ve got $100 that says none of them will.

Like many other claims about their use of animals, this one rings hollow; it appears to be simple propaganda intended to mislead the public about the morality of the participants in their cruel and lucrative profession.

I mention an example of the videos they could easily put on line in my essay, “The Future of Primate Vivisection.” (4-15-2017)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Through the looking glass, or, holy cow, I'm an FBI fan now.

I wanted to vote for Jill Stein. And I understand why many voted for her or Bernie Sanders. But, as I repeatedly said on Facebook, it wasn't a normal race. As the election neared, I commented quite a bit on this; I've included some below and have added a few links where it appears I was correct in my concern and worry:
Votes matter. Individuals vote. I believe Trump could turn out to be Hitler: Moslems and Hispanics rounded up and put in internment camps, deported, that a Trump presidency would give free reign to the KKK, to white supremacy, that things would be off-the-chart bad for animals, the planet... if you live in a state where the outcome isn't absolutely certain and you don't vote for slime-ball dishonest Hillary, you own the the Trump presidency.
I think its OK to vote for Stein if the polls show a high likelihood that Trump won't win your state. I will as well if the polls show a strong likelihood that he isn't going to win Wisconsin. Anything near the MOE and the risk is just too great.
I vote Green and progressive when given the opportunity, but things are a little different this time. It does not seem true to me that Stein could win if only those who don't want either Hillary or Trump would vote for her. First, I don't believe that very many people support Trump because they don't want Hillary. Trump's supporters seem to be sold on racism and authoritarianism. His 40% looks solid to me. Second, only some of Hillary's supporters, people like me, do so because we fear Trump is Hitler. A significant percentage of her supporters are the real deal; they genuinely want her to be President, and would vote for her no matter who she runs against. If Trump's 40% is solid, and if only half of Hilary's is, then there simply aren't enough votes out there to elect Stein, even if everyone like me put fear behind us. If we were to do so, it looks like a plain fact to me that Trump would win.
Yep. internment camps for Mexicans and Moslems, musing about using nuclear weapons, the strong support by police and military, that stuff scares the hell out of me. Enough to vote for a lying piece of shit who will change nothing.
If you live in a state that is clearly going one way or the other, definitely vote for Stein. It you are in a toss-up state one must be pragmatic and help stop Hitler.
Lying sack of shit or Hitler... I'm forced to go with the shit.
And seemingly, at least some people in the FBI also thought, correctly, that Trump would be a danger to the better things about America. And that brings me to wondering what an FBI insider should do, or should have done, if they see a neo-Hitler rising to power.

I never imagined that I would be rooting for the FBI, the agency's history is so very dark; it has actively opposed many of the things I believe are the leading edge of progress. But here I am.

I've truly stepped through the looking glass. We've got picture of Robert Mueller on our refrigerator along with a prayer for his well-being. He was the Director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013, when agents were running amok, and targeting animal rights activists. Crazy.

Trump's base is in convulsions. Peter Strzok and Lisa Page's texts in the DOJ Inspector General's report make it clear that they too were alarmed at the prospect of Trump winning the election. Strzok seemingly had input and some control of the direction of the Clinton email probe and the Russia collusion investigation. The sometimes-rational Chair of the House Oversight Committee, Trey Gowdy, was beside himself that Strzok had been involved.

That begs the question, are FBI investigations always staffed by neutral agents? Obviously not. And do FBI agents and other law enforcement personnel prejudge the subjects of their investigations? Of course they do. It would be absurd to think otherwise, and yet, that seems to be what Congressman Gowdy was claiming in his harangue.

And that brings me to the point of this essay: law enforcement officers of all sorts, military officers, FBI and CIA agents, exactly the people I worry are sometimes attracted to their chosen professions because of a lust for power, who might be attracted to the notion of totalitarianism, are also those who will have to act independently and with principle should a Hitler-like person seem to be coming to power in the U.S. And to the degree that they might believe this to be the case, they will have to be counted on to take some affirmative steps to stop him or her. To the degree that Strzok was motivated by a genuine fear that Trump could be a neo-Hitler, I think he is to be thanked.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

More on the Academy's Failure

I pointed to the parallel between colonial colleges' and universities' involvement in the slavery of black people and modern colleges' and universities' involvement in the use of animals in a previous essay, "The Academy’s Failure." The academy is much more than just colleges and universities of course. It also includes all those academic institutions that spring from them or that directly direct support them. Two of those are public broadcasting and libraries.

I'm actually a big fan of both, but they are diminished by their embrace of the academy's normalization of cruelty to animals and their self-censorship of the opposing philosophy.

There is a risk in referring to institutions in this way because the term is an abstraction. They are collections of people. It is people within the institutions who are bigots, who defend the party line, who promote harm to animals, or who champion their consumption. Not everyone within one of the institutions that comprise academia are to blame, though all them have a moral obligation to speak out when they learn that their institution is.

On my way home from work, I was listening to NPR news on my local member station, Wisconsin Public Radio. They were reporting on the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, writer, chef, and TV host. They characterized him as kind and compassionate. Across most media his death is being lamented as a great loss with no mention of his influence on the perception of animals. From the animals' perspective, he was a monster. His celebrity was seemingly enough to dissuade NPR from mentioning his loud disregard for animals and criticism of those who care about them. A disregard for animals is rooted in the academy's culture.

Bourdain was a winner of a Peabody Award, a prestigious annual honor for the "most powerful, enlightening, and invigorating stories in television, radio, and online media," for his show "Parts Unknown," a "culinary travelogue." Maybe the Peabody Board of Jurors were invigorated by watching Bourdain chewing out the brain of a live octopus. The Peabody Award organization is located on the University of Georgia campus.

Another Peabody winner is Wisconsin Public Radio's "To the Best of Our Knowledge," which the Peabody Award says is "the consummate audio magazine of ideas and oddities for people with curious minds." One of the producers and interviewers is Anne Strainchamps. On March 28, 2018, Ms. Strangechamps had a live interview with UW-Madison Professor Richard Davidson, sponsored by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters.

Davidson's public shtick is his claim that his friendship with the Dalai Lama and his meditation have taught him how to be happier. He always throws in something about compassion and mindfulness. He is a local celebrity that the Birkenstock-Whole Foods crowd can't get enough of. When playing the guru, he never mentions his long collaboration with Ned Kalin. Kalin and Davidson discovered a way to identify particularly anxious and fearful monkeys with a brain scan. Davidson has been the Director of Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging & Behavior, University of Wisconsin-Madison for a number of years; Kalin is the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry. Their collaboration has resulted in the publication of more than 30 papers since 1992 documenting their highly invasive and on-going experiments on young monkeys with these characteristics.

I wrote a polite letter to Ms. Strangechamps asking her to ask Davidson about the mismatch between his claim that thinking about being compassionate and kind while meditating would make one happier, and his history of frightening and killing young fearful monkeys. I included a bibliography in the letter. I never heard back, and she did not ask him about this contradiction.

Her interview with Davidson was probably driven by the release of his book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body (Avery, 2017.)

It was somewhere around ten years ago that I got in contact with NPR's Ombudsperson. I don't recall her name. I talked to her about Wisconsin Public Radio's biased reporting or absence of reporting about the university's use of animals and federal violations of animal welfare laws. She acknowledged that NPR understood that university-based public radio stations censored their own reporting. She lamented the fact that they didn't know how to fix the problem. It is still a problem. According to NPR, about two-thirds of their 900 member and affiliated stations are licensed to, or are affiliated with, colleges or universities.

Davidson promoted the book again at a talk sponsored by local library a short time later.

When I learned of that talk, I again wrote ahead of time and addressed by concerns to Jocelyne Sansing, Library Director and Jim Ramsey, Head of Adult Services, Middleton Public Library. Middleton is an upscale community just a few minutes from the university. I again provided a bibliography and pointed to a few of his public claims about meditation making you more compassionate. I wrote:
I believe, and hope you do too, that public libraries have some pretty strong obligations to the public. It seems to me that one of these is the avoidance of knowingly misleading them. Unless the audience of the upcoming Scholar'd for Life event know the scope of Dr. Davidson’s work, it is likely that they will come away with a misunderstanding or false impression of the effects that Davidson’s personal experience with meditation have had on him. He is in fact, proof that meditation may not make one a more compassionate person.
And again, I didn't hear back and assume that they kept quiet.

I once held librarians in much regard. But in 2002, I began asking for a copy of videos made during one one of Ned Kalin's experiments. The university refused. I and colleagues asked for them a few more times and then asked a local reporter to ask for them, at which point the university destroyed them.

At the time, the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, a part of the university, was the site of the Lawrence Jacobsen Library, also known as the Primate Center Library. The library was the site of an archive of primate research history. I wrote to the university library, the Wisconsin Library Association, and the National Library Association about this blatant destruction of public records.

January 1, 2007

Wisconsin Library Association 5250 East Terrace Drive, Suite A Madison WI 53718-8345

Dear WLA and the Intellectual Freedom Round Table:

I am writing to complain about an instance of censorship of information that may have, and should have, involved University of Wisconsin librarians.

Attached, is an article from the Isthmus that provides some details of the situation. (Primate tapes get trashed, 08/11/2006.)

Briefly: the university denied public records requests for information held by the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. Sixty-two days after one denial, documents, photographs, and sixty boxes of videotapes were destroyed by the primate center.

This matter should be of concern to the WLA for at least two reasons.

1. Important historical documents and unique visual records have been lost forever through an act of intentional destruction carried out under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin even as members of the public were asking for that information.

2. The Lawrence Jacobsen Library is housed at the primate center. It is a part of the primate center and a part of the University of Wisconsin General Library System. The library violated its mission when it chose not to collect this unique collection of information regarding research occurring at its own institution:
The Wisconsin Primate Research Center Library and Information Service supports the research and outreach missions of the National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison. The library acquires, organizes, develops, provides access to, and delivers information resources in a variety of formats to Center scientists and staff, University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty and students, and persons worldwide with an interest in primatology. Essential to this mission is the effort to comprehensively collect and provide access to print, audiovisual and digital materials related to nonhuman primates in research, conservation, education, and veterinary care.
The mission of the June Northrop Barker Archives, part of the Lawrence Jacobson Library:
The June Northrop Barker Archives serves to enrich and support the cross-disciplinary field of Primatology by acting as a repository for the history and science of this emerging field. To do this, the Barker Archives solicits, collects, organizes, describes, preserves and provides access to the research and historical documents, as well as the records of the international, national and regional organizations related to the field of Primatology.
The destruction of these documents, photographs, and sixty boxes of videotapes is grossly at odds with the library’s mission. Even if the tapes were damaged, the librarians should still have saved, repaired, and archived that information, and made it available to the library’s present and future users.

So much unique information has been irretrievably lost to the public – to say nothing of the loss to history and science – while these librarians either did nothing to prevent this loss or have remained silent after the fact.

The librarians at the Lawrence Jacobsen Library violated a fundamental professional ethic of the field of librarianship:
The American Library Association defines intellectual freedom, a fundamental professional ethic of the field of librarianship, as the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.
These librarians did not advocate for the intellectual rights of those seeking the information. The destruction of this information raised barriers to an exploration of all sides of the question of primates in research and animal rights. The Lawrence Jacobsen Library may not have been able to stop the destruction of this information, but book burning is book burning, and librarians must call attention to it wherever it occurs.

I did not hear back.

It seems to me that the academy has not changed very much since the time it was so heavily invested in the slave industry and was promoting and defending the destruction of the Indian nations. The evidence is overwhelming that animals have minds, emotions, see into the future, have inner lives and desires, and that the academy is working around the clock against their interests.

A few years ago, friends and I met with then Wisconsin's Senator Russ Feingold to talk to him about federal funding for experiments on monkeys. He was somewhat sympathetic and was disturbed by the undercover video we showed him of animals being used at Covance. But when we brought up the subject of federal limits on the sort of experiments that should be allowed, he jumped immediately to a defense of academic freedom. He was unable to see or chose not to see the parallels between the results of academic freedom in Nazi Germany and what is happening in American labs today.

Like our idiot-king, the academy is above the law and outside the bounds of morality.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Academy’s Failure

African slavery was thriving in the new college towns…. The ubiquity and persistence of servitude on both sides of the college wall was not a mere coincidence of the colonial academy’s location in the greater Atlantic economy. Human slavery was the precondition for the rise of higher education in the Americas. (Wilder. p. 114)
How should we judge the academy?

Should the number of scholarly papers produced by its members be a factor in our judgment? Should the number of degrees conferred be the measure?

Has the academy made the world a better place? If so, for whom?

As the title of my essay makes clear, I think higher education and the institutions that purport to provide it have largely been failures if success is measured by the state of world affairs, our quality of life, and our relationship with others on the planet.

It’s true that some of our technological marvels are the result of advanced studies, but it is less clear that our lives are actually better because of them. Different than they otherwise would have been, but maybe not better.

There is ample research, thanks to the academy, that shows that people living in pre-industrial societies sometimes lead more leisurely lives with less stress, and even less illness. [Gurven, Michael, and Hillard Kaplan. "Longevity among hunter‐gatherers: a cross‐cultural examination." Population and Development review 33.2 (2007): 321-365. Raichlen, David A., et al. "Physical activity patterns and biomarkers of cardiovascular disease risk in hunter‐gatherers." American Journal of Human Biology 29.2 (2017).]

I’d been thinking about the academy's detrimental effects on society when I happened upon the book Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. [Wilder, Craig Steven. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2013.]

The briefest summation of the author’s theme is that the wealth of many American universities today is the result of their first 200 years of immense profit from slavery and the confiscation of the Indians’ lands.

Author Craig Wilder makes the case that America’s early wealth was the result of stealing the Indians’ lands, trading in African slaves, and the use of slaves in lucrative, labor-intensive businesses. Colleges and universities got rich by promoting the world view that black people and Indians were much less deserving than whites; some argued that black people were an altogether different species. Graduates became academic, religious and political leaders, invested in the slave trade, owned slaves, took the Indians’ lands, destroyed their cultures, killed them, and reaped enormous financial benefit.
... to the extent that science supplanted theology, it eroded ecclesiastical control over the academy. But if science could be used to displace theology by claiming a superior position for understanding human history and social relations, then it could also be impressed into the service of slavery. In fact, the politics of slavery hastened the ascent of the academy in public affairs. (Wilder. pp 225-226)
It seems to me that much that has gone wrong in the world and our slow social progress is the result of academia defending the status quo. This seems to me to be the opposite of what we should expect from those who have graduated from an institution purporting to deliver higher learning.

Racial integration probably would have occurred much sooner if colleges and universities had been a part of the vanguard of equality rather than acting as guards at the doors. Indian nations would still exist if money had been less important than others’ interests and sovereignty. The academy defended the status quo and promoted the financial interests of its members and its member institutions over the interests of those less powerful, and it continues doing so today.

More of us might be happier, our quality of life better, if education had been more focused on instilling an appreciation for leisure, charity, and a concern for those with whom we share the planet. More of us might be happier, our quality of life better, if higher education instilled a desire to be of direct service to others, to put the interests of others before our own. More of us might be happier, our quality of life better, if kindness to others was more important to us, if we were taught to be kind to others, to take notice of the needs of others, and to care about those who will come after us. This has always been what the academy’s job should have been; it is what it should be.

It is unlikely that someone familiar with the academy’s use of animals -- its promotion of their consumption and use and the riches it accrues by doing so -- would miss the strong parallels in the academy’s past use of humans.

Wilder writes:
The transition to a more focused scientific racism required not a leap but a casual step. The institutionalization of medicine -- the organization of science faculties and medical colleges in the colonies -- happened as slave owners, planters, land speculators, and Atlantic merchants began sponsoring scientific research. The families who paid for the establishment of medical schools and science faculties also oversaw those developments. The founding of medical colleges on American campuses brought science, particularly the human sciences, under the political and financial dominion of slave traders, slave owners and their surrogates. ... As slaveholders and slave traders paid for medical colleges and science faculties, they also imposed subtle and severe controls on science. (p 228)
Today, the largest universities are getting much if not most of their money from the U.S. government in the form of research grants, and a large part of that pays for experiments on animals. And just like scholars in the slave-trade-dependent colonial Americas did, they defend the indefensible with appeals to the superiority of a chosen group and claims that utility and profit justify generations of pain and suffering.

The moral failures of the academy are particularly striking because of its assertion of its authority.
The academy refined and legitimated the social ideas that supported territorial expansion, a process that transformed the people of the new nation from revolutionaries to imperialists. … Colonial students had been crowding the medical and science programs of Europe for two generations… Students from North America crafter a science that justified expansionism and slavery—a science that generated broad clams to expertise over colored people and thrived upon unlimited access to nonwhite bodies. (Wilder. p 182)
We are seemingly genetically programmed to follow a leader, to trust an authority. This seems to be a somewhat common pattern in social mammals. Human society is largely a pyramid of authority, or interlocking chains of command, as our structuring of the military, government, and nearly all large ventures recapitulate.

As a consequence, prejudices, biases, mistaken notions get amplified and reinforced when they are endorsed at multiple levels of the authority pyramid. Broadcast and print media routinely call attention to and accept the claims of those in academia. When authoritative news outlets point to the opinions of scholars, mistakes and prejudices can become normative facts.

This was clearly the case in the broadly held belief that white Europeans were destined and ordained to subjugate black people and take the Indians’ lands. Our destiny was manifest.
In the decades before the Civil War, American scholars claimed a new republic role as the racial guardians of the United States. They interpreted race science into national social policy to construct the biological basis of citizenship and to assert that the very presence of nonwhite and non-Christian peoples threatened the republic. They laid the intellectual foundations for a century of exclusion and removal campaigns. The intellectual roots of the cyclical political and social assaults on Native Americans, African Americans, Jews, Irish, and Asians can be traced back to this scholarly obsession with race. (Wilder. pp 272-273)
One, maybe the main reason prejudices, biases, and mistaken notions endure and are accepted as plain fact by those in academia is money. We, no matter our titles, are easily swayed and convinced by authority and money; they blind us. When it comes to the use of animals on university farms and in their labs, cash-caused blindness is a universal affliction.

Just as the antebellum colleges and universities embraced slavery and taking the Indians’ lands, today’s colleges and universities embrace all manner of torture and cruelty because of the money and subsequent power and prestige that flow from it.

Scholars supported by these riches are unable to see or unwilling to acknowledge what is in front of them; and because these riches have become the lifeblood of the academy, even scholars in non-animal areas of study and senior administrators are wedded to it and find ways to convince themselves that they are in some meaningful way unlike their bigoted predecessors.

Maybe those from within the academy can’t, or refuse to see, who they are hurting or who is being hurt by their silence or arguments. One standard moral defense for hurting, killing, or eating other animals is that they are so different from us that their suffering is so different that it doesn’t matter very much. Or, even if they suffer, the benefit to us -- what we might learn, the taste of their flesh, the spectacle of their fights -- are more important than the detriment to them.

There are other possible reasons for so many highly educated people not caring about hurting and killing others. One likely dark explanation is that they like it.

The idea that many people, a significant proportion of us at any rate, like to see others hurt and killed is unsettling, but it explains a lot. Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale, wrote in The New Yorker, “The thesis that viewing others as objects or animals enables our very worse conduct would seem to explain a great deal. Yet there is reason to think that it’s almost the opposite of the truth.”

I think Bloom is correct that we don’t first or need to de-humanize people before abusing them, but he did not stop to ponder the fact that to a large degree people like to see animals hurt and killed because they attribute human emotional and mental characteristics to them. They gain enjoyment by “humanizing” them, or by acknowledging their mental or emotional similarity to us. Dogs in staged fights are called smart or stupid; bulls are noble; rabbits enjoy life.

Some in the academy have made it clear that it is the strong similarities between us and other animals that motivates them to hurt and kill them.
“Animals do a lot of things instinctively…. But people--and probably monkeys--have the ability to think 20 steps into the future: `In the end I'm going to feel great, because I worked hard to get there,' or `I'm going to get a lot of credit for this.' It's the prefrontal cortex that brings those emotions into play and guides us in our behavior. If we didn't have a sense of what would be wonderful or awful in the future, we would behave very haphazardly.” -- Ned Kalin (UW primate vivisector) in Wired For Sadness. Discover. April, 2000.
The academy was corrupted centuries ago by money; it has never recovered. I don’t think it can be fixed without a revolution. But that revolution will not occur as long as people within the academy are afraid to speak out. I’ve known senior researchers who are opposed to the terrible things done to animals at their institutions but who are afraid to voice their concerns openly for fear of the risk to their own research. Similarly, I’ve known students and employees at all levels of study and authority who also are afraid to voice their concerns publicly because they fear the repercussions. These people are the small minority. They recognize the unlikelihood of being able to change the culture; a culture rooted in exploiting animals.

The needed revolution will not occur for as long as the authority of the academy lends its influence to the corrupt notion that animals are here for our eating and any uses we might imagine.

As long as the good life and success are measured by wealth and power, we will continue down the road we are on -- blundering head-long into an overheated world devoid of clean water, clean air, most wild animals and overflowing with hungry self-centered humans. We could change course, and many people are trying to nudge the runaway train onto a different track. The academy could help, it could take the lead. But that would require many people in the less economically productive schools in the academy usurping power, and it is hard to see how that could happen very easily, especially since they were taught to believe that the good life and success are measured by wealth and power and that authority is determined by the degrees conferred upon a member.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Invasive Species

A friend asked me to write an essay explaining my general aversion to the control of the plants and animals typically thought of as invasive species.

Here's a July 31, 2012 article from that captures the classic issue: When It’s Okay to Kill 80,000 Wild Goats.

Scientific American blogger Jason G. Goldman got it mostly right, I think, when he said, "So one of the questions we might ask is whether we can reasonably infer the short-range consequences of a species management decision, but I think we also have to be generally aware that the long-range consequences are a great big unknown. Ecosystems exist across space, but also across time. Can we do better than deciding a priori that management decisions should be made from a particular perspective?"

We humans are extraordinarily myopic. We quickly forget what came before and don't see very far ahead. Taking domestic plants and animals out of the picture for the moment, it seems likely to me that nearly every plant and animal species is invasive. If we were not, we would not have large ranges. For instance, there had to be an original group of ponderosa pine trees. (Pinus ponderosa). Today, they are widespread in the western part of the country:

I think it reasonable to assume that these trees spread into areas that were already inhabited by other plants and animals dependent on those plants. At least some, maybe many of the plants and animals that had been there prior to the arrival of these trees were push out or eliminated altogether.

If we could have seen this transition in time-lapse, I suspect many of us would have been appalled and would have urged that taken steps be taken to eradicate these invaders.

Presumably, modern elephants' ancestors moved out of Africa into Asia in the mid-Pliocene, three or four million years ago. They must have competed with and displaced or reduced the resources available to at least some other species. They were invasive.

Generally though, when people speak of invasive species, they are referring to species that are present in a new area because of human activity, are flourishing, and are displacing other species or causing some other change deemed harmful. The Washington Post published an article in 2015 titled: "The dirty dozen: 12 of the most destructive invasive animals in the United States." It's a good example of the commonly heard excoriations.

Not mentioned in the article are species like humans and earthworms -- both invasive species and the cause of dramatic ethological changes. But change is the one constant feature of all ecosystems. People fret because things don't stay the same, but they never do. In all cases, populations are self-limiting; unchecked, they will run out of space and or food, and the population will crash. Over time, new species will colonize new territory, ecosystems will change, sometimes dramatically.

All of that aside, to me, when it comes to animals, it all comes down to the Golden Rule. We ought not intentionally harm others; we know how being harmed hurts. Claims about which species should be where and which shouldn't miss the perspective of each individual animal. Potential future generations have no feelings at all and cannot be harmed because they do not exist, but seemingly, it is these potential animals that are appealed to in many of the claims that all the members of an "invasive" species should be exterminated.

Species don't have feelings; species is merely an idea.

Additionally, it appears to me that our opinions on non-native species are inconsistent. The range of non-native wheat grasses in the U.S. now extend over millions of acres in the western states. They have displaced native species and in conjunction with cattle grazing have dramatically changed the ecosystem. And yet, range managers continue to recommend the use of these grasses.

Cows are not native to the U.S. Data suggests that there are roughly 2 million cows grazed on public lands each year. Cows don't seem to show up too often on invasive species lists. The term seems to be more commonly reserved for species we can't figure out how to exploit or that compete with species we already exploit, or for species that are likely to overwhelm resident species pushed to the edge of extinction by us. Species in the last group are sometimes transformed into something bigger than life -- they seem to take on near occult properties to people and organizations dedicated to the preservation of endangered species -- organizations that hold barbecues to raise funds to help control the invasive species that threaten to finish the job we have almost completed.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

This Post-Truth Era.

If you read the news, you’ve probably been seeing this term more often.

Wikipedia’s article, “Post-truth politics,” [web-retrieved 5-13-18] is informative. It notes that the term may first have been used in 1992, but the phenomena of authorities lying to the public, and the public believing their lies, is nothing new. What is somewhat new in the mainstream, is how widespread this has become as a result of anyone or any agency or business being able dress up quasi-news or invented facts as if they are from a legitimate news source.

While the phenomena is finally getting some much-needed attention which might lead to a few more people doing a little more digging to verify a claim, it is probably not going to be meaningfully curtailed without some sort of regulations, which run the risk of bumping into the 1st Amendment. It’s a tough problem.

But the issue of fake news and false claims from those claiming to be authorities is obviously not new. One of the less examined examples is the vivisection industry claiming that their work is worthwhile and important.

Below is an excerpt from a chapter in my book, “We All Operate in the Same Way.” The Use of Animals at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Chapter 18. The Abuse of Authority

In the previous chapter about the National Primate Research Exhibition Hall, my effort to create a national showcase for promoting discussion about the harmful use of animals in science, I called attention to the University of Wisconsin, Madison's fabrication of Jeremy Beckham's illegal activities. The university's use of fear is not unique when it comes to defending experiments on animals. The industry at large has a rich history of hyperbole and fear mongering at nearly every level. The industry's broadest assertions along those lines are the claims that:

-- Every medical advancement is the result of using animals, and that without the use of animals that all medical progress would stop; and,

-- Animal rights activists are violent dangerous people, and that researchers are at grave risk from attacks by them.

That is actually four separate claims, but they seem to go together as pairs.

The first claim in the first pair, that animal research is responsible for just about every medical advancement, is a frequently repeated myth. I have collected a number of these statements. Notice their similarity:

"During the 20th century, virtually every major advance in medical knowledge and treatment involved research using animal models." Wisconsin National Primate Research Center.(1)

"... virtually every major advance in medicine has resulted directly or indirectly, from research performed on animals. The contributions of animal research to public health cannot be overestimated."(2)

"Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century..." Marshall BioResources (was Marshall Farms), "Marshall BioResources provides purpose bred research animals and related services for biomedical research. Within our federally regulated and inspected facilities in Upstate New York we maintain breeding colonies of beagles, mongrel/hound dogs, ferrets, and Gottingen Minipigs. Marshall Beagles are also raised in China." (3)

"Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century." Society for Neuroscience. (4)

"Virtually every major medical advance of the 20th century involved the use of animals..." March of Dimes. (5)

"Without animal research, virtually every medical breakthrough of the past century would not have been possible." Kids 4 Research. (6)

"... virtually every major medical advance of the last century is due, in part, to research with animals." Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). (7)

"Former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop says 'Virtually every major medical advance for both humans and animals has been achieved through biomedical research by using animal[s]...'" Texas Society for Biomedical Research. (8)

"... virtually every major medical advance of the last century was the result of research involving animals." National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health. (9)

It is easy to understand why this falsehood is repeated so often and uncritically. Organizations like the NIH, state universities, and scientific associations have the public's trust and that naturally leads to their use of an appeal to authority, a somewhat common fallacy or device used in persuasive writing. When it comes to such organizations' assertions concerning activities that are so tightly entwined with their financing, that trust has proven to be unwarranted. "Trust us," they say, "because we are experts." The repetition of knowingly erroneous claims by such institutions is ethically inexcusable because doing so victimizes all those who put their trust in them. Even worse is their use of the public's trust to manipulate our opinions in ways intended to benefit themselves. In the notes associated with the above list, you will notice that a few of the organizations are not currently using the statement. None of those that have stopped have explained the change.

In Chapter 10, "The Tangible Benefits of Animal Research," I referenced the 2008 paper, "Medical progress depends on animal models - doesn't it?" published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine which reported on the author's investigation concerning this widely, oft repeated claim.(10) The author, Robert A. J. Matthews, traced the source of the claim to a 1994 U.S. Public Health Service one page, unreferenced statement published in the journal, The Physiologist. It was titled "The Importance of Animals in Biomedical and Behavioral Research." It was also published in the Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter the same year. The statement is prefaced with the title: "A Statement from the Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services."(11)

Also mentioned earlier, the Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC) operates under the auspices of the U.S. Deptartment of Agriculture. It is mandated by the Animal Welfare Act and is charged with providing "information for improved animal care and use in research, testing, and teaching." According to the AWIC website, it "is staffed by a two full-time and two part-time information specialists, and one information technology specialist," which must make it one of the smallest agencies in the U.S. government.

Matthews pointed out that while there are isolated anecdotal instances of knowledge gleaned from experiments on animals leading to advancements in clinical medicine, the 1994 U.S. Public Health Service statement is unequivocal: "Virtually every medical achievement of the last century has depended directly or indirectly on research with animals." [My emphasis.]

Matthews recognized the ethical implications in the wide endorsement and repetition of the claim by individuals and institutions claiming to be authorities and deserving of the public's trust:
Demanding validation of the statement that ‘virtually all’ medical achievements of the last century have involved animal models may seem pedantic, but there is a point of principle here. The eminence of many of those who have repeated this claim, and in particular their scientific eminence, places an obligation upon them to be able to substantiate it. The failure - and, in all likelihood, inability - to do so exposes some of our most respected academic institutions to a charge of abuse of authority. [The "virtually every/virtually all" variation is due to slight differences in the wording of the statement in the Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter and The Physiologist.]
Matthews pointed to the very great difficulty others have encountered in trying to test or validate the claim. He referenced a frequently appealed to 1976 survey of the scientific literature concerning medical discoveries written by Julius Comroe and Robert Dripps, "Scientific Basis for the Support of Biomedical Science,"(13) that purported to have demonstrated that a high percentage of the articles judged to be essential for later clinical advances were reports on experiments using animals. Attempts to verify the Comroe and Dripps results have been unsuccessful. One careful effort from 2010 concluded that their methods and results are "not repeatable, reliable or valid."(14)

You might suspect that such a blanket dismissal of a report that some have suggested was and may still be a significant factor in the very large increases in government funding for basic research using animals may have come from a critic of animal experimentation, but it comes from the Health Economics Research Group (HERG) at Brunel University which describes itself as being "involved in a long-term programme analysing the benefits from health research, with an emphasis on the payback from health services research." The lead author was Jonathan Grant, formerly Head of Policy at the Wellcome Trust, and at RAND Europe at the time the report was published. The Wellcome Trust is decidedly not an animal advocacy organization.

In recent years, others have analyzed the efficacy of research using animals and have generally agreed that clear evidence of benefit is sparse at best.(15) In spite of the embarrassing lack of evidence that animal-based research has led to much advancement, essentially every institution and individual making money by being involved in animal experimentation continues to recite the U.S. Public Health Service's wild unsubstantiated un-testable assertion. Given that legitimate science rests firmly on the notion that only testable claims have respectability, it strains credibility that taxpayer-funded experiments using animals are based on the financially self-interested un-testable and oft-repeated assertion that "Virtually every medical achievement of the last century has depended directly or indirectly on research with animals." Matthews observes that the claim exposes those making it to being charged with an abuse of authority, but to me it appears to convict them.


1. Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. "During the 20th century, virtually every major advance in medical knowledge and treatment involved research using animal models." Web retrieved in 2010.

The statement was later rewritten. On 12-3-2014, it read: "Most major medical advances in this century have resulted in part from research on animals."

2. Adrian R. Morrison. An Odyssey with Animals. Oxford University Press. 2009. Adrian Morrison is Professor Emeritus of Behavioral Neuroscience at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. He has also served as Director of the Program for Animal Research Issues at the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration and the National Institute of Mental Health. Morrison has been an outspoken defender of the use of animals.

3. "Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century..." Web retrieved on 12-3-2014

4. "Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century." Society for Neuroscience. Web retrieved 2010.

5. "Virtually every major medical advance of the 20th century involved the use of animals..." March of Dimes. In 2010, the statement was at, but in 2014, that or a similar statement is no longer on the MOD website.

6. "Without animal research, virtually every medical breakthrough of the past century would not have been possible." Kids 4 Research. Web retrieved in 2010.

As of 12-3-2014, their statement reads: "Without animal research, millions of people would die each year from a variety of illnesses. Thanks to research working with animals, diseases such as polio have been virtually wiped out. Other illnesses, such as diabetes and arthritis, are controlled through animal research." Kids 4 Research appears to be a child-targeting tool of the industry group, American Association for Laboratory Animal Science.

7. In 2010, the statement read: "Virtually every major medical advance of the 20th century involved the use of animals...". on 12-4-2014, it read: "virtually every major medical advance of the last century is due, in part, to research with animals."

8. In 2010, their statement read: "Former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop says 'Virtually every major medical advance for both humans and animals has been achieved through biomedical research by using animal...'"[sic] Texas Society for Biomedical Research On 12-4-2014, it read: "Animal research has been responsible, at least in part, for every major medical and veterinary advance made over the past one hundred years." Web retrieved from

9. This was the 2010 statement from the decommissioned/absorbed into other NIH agencies, the Center for Research Resources [mostly animals] "virtually every major medical advance of the last century was the result of research involving animals." The NIH no longer seems to have the statement on its website, and as of 12-4-2014, says that: "Results from animal studies are crucial for closing knowledge gaps about health and disease in both humans and animals."

A couple more: "Nearly every major development in modern medicine, from polio vaccine to organ transplantation, has been made possible by research and training using animals, most bred specifically for use in the laboratory." University of Michigan.

"Virtually all medical advances of the last century would have been impossible without animal research." Yale University.

10. Robert AJ Matthews. "Medical progress depends on animal models - doesn't it?" J R Soc Med. Feb 2008. Web retrieved 12-3-2014.

11. "The Importance of Animals in Biomedical and Behavioral Research [:] A Statement from the Public Health Service." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter, Summer 1994, Vol. 5, no. 2. Web retrieved 12-3-2014.

12. Animal Welfare Information Center. Web retrieved 12-5-2014.

13. Comroe JH Jr, Dripps RD. "Scientific basis for the support of biomedical science." Science. 1976. Apr 9;192(4235):105-11.

14. Grant, Jonathan, Liz Green, and Barbara Mason. "From bedside to bench: Comroe and Dripps revisited." The Health Economics Research Group. 2010.

15. These investigations are of two general types, they analyze the outcomes of basic research generally or the use of animals specifically. They are often exhaustive reviews of the all the publications on a particular medical or health research topic. These are but a few examples:

"The methodological quality of animal research in critical care: the public face of science." Bara M, Joffe AR. Ann Intensive Care. 2014 Jul 29:
BACKGROUND: Animal research (AR) findings often do not translate to humans; one potential reason is the poor methodological quality of AR. We aimed to determine this quality of AR reported in critical care journals.

METHODS: All AR published from January to June 2012 in three high-impact critical care journals were reviewed. A case report form and instruction manual with clear definitions were created, based on published recommendations, including the ARRIVE guidelines. Data were analyzed with descriptive statistics.

CONCLUSIONS: The reported methodological quality of AR was poor. Unless the quality of AR significantly improves, the practice may be in serious jeopardy of losing public support.
"Can animal models of disease reliably inform human studies?" van der Worp HB, Howells DW, Sena ES, Porritt MJ, Rewell S, O'Collins V, Macleod MR. PLoS Med. 2010:
The value of animal experiments for predicting the effectiveness of treatment strategies in clinical trials has remained controversial, mainly because of a recurrent failure of interventions apparently promising in animal models to translate to the clinic.
"Comparison of treatment effects between animal experiments and clinical trials: systematic review." Perel P, Roberts I, Sena E, Wheble P, Briscoe C, Sandercock P, Macleod M, Mignini LE, Jayaram P, Khan KS. BMJ. 2007 Jan. Review.
What is already known on this topic: The relevance of animal models to human health is questioned because of differences between the species.

What this study adds: Many studies in animal models are of poor methodological quality. Lack of concordance between animal experiments and clinical trials may be due to bias, random error, or the failure of animal models to adequately represent human disease.
"Misleading Mouse Studies Waste Medical Resources: A retrospective analysis of more than 100 failed drugs show that many should never have made it to clinical trials". Erika Check Hayden and Nature magazine. Scientific American. 3-27-2014. Web retrieved 12-5-2014.
Perrin, chief scientific officer of the ALS Therapy Development Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used mice with symptoms similar to ALS to test more than 100 compounds that had previously been identified as candidate drugs. Most — including eight that had shown promise in previous mouse work but ultimately failed in humans trials — failed to slow the progressive, fatal degenerative disease, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease or motor neuron disease.

Thursday, May 3, 2018


If I were more focused, I would look at Facebook much less often which would probably be a good thing. But I'm not.

There is so much about FB that irks me, but one thing in particular is the showcasing of a mistaken notion that a writer thinks is a gem of their wisdom, insight, revelation... and then seeing that it has been shared a gazillion times. It is hard for me to pass these by when they are what I believe to be false notions about what is moral and ethical and about the nature of science. When these things get mixed together in one of these FB meme-ish thingys, I am (stupidly, no doubt) compelled to comment. Such was the case with this one:

I might have had the good sense to pass it by, but someone had already commented: "Eugenics 'was once considered science'. That doesn't mean it really was science....". To which, I replied, "Eugenics is science. If wheat can be Improved through selective breeding, so too can humans, cows, or most other organisms. Science is amoral, like a hammer."

And then, someone replied to me: "Rick, this wasn't eugenics in whatever way you're referring to. This was claiming that certain morphological characteristics of humans meant that they were superior to other humans with different morphological characteristics. It is a race thing. It is a heritage thing. It is a word heavily associated with the Holocaust."

I agreed that racism is vile, but then pointed to an example of modern eugenics in Iceland.

The FB page's owner replied: "I don't think I can articulate how horrified I am that you would argue that eliminating people with Down syndrome is objectively a positive thing, and is somehow different than racial eugenics. I have friends on here with loved ones who have Down syndrome. You've basically just told them and everyone with Down syndrome that getting rid of them improves our species. How is that "uncoupled from bigotry." I'm disgusted."

I asked: "... if I understand you correctly, you seem to be saying that no genetic illness, no matter the consequences to the person born with it, should be eliminated from our genome through any form of selective breeding. Is that what you are saying?"

They replied: "I'm saying that telling people who are disabled or not neurotypical that eliminating them from our population is a good thing, and that our species would be better off if they didn't exist, is ableist and reprehensible."

A new voice jumped in: "Eugenics cannot be decoupled from bigotry, and non-disabled people are not qualified to decide which disabled lives are worth living. What you're describing here is genocide." And then followed up with: "Disabled people have culture, we have shared language, struggles, and history. We aren't disabled by the way our bodies or brains work, we're disabled by the decisions of people with power. There's no reason why a Deaf parent or a Little Person shouldn't be allowed to have children who are like them, who move through the world like them, who share common experiences and values. The onus shouldn't be on disabled people to assimilate or disappear, the onus should be on the broader culture to protect the human rights of every person, including the right to exist in disabled bodies."

Clearly, we had wandered away from the question of whether or not eugenics is science. The quote at the top of this page is from Google; it suggests that there may be a general consensus that it is.

But this leaves the question of whether we ought to intervene in the expression of genes that cause disabilities or illness. Admittedly, it's a slippery ethical slope, but that doesn't mean that sliding to the bottom is inevitable. I think there are matter-of-fact clear examples of cases where intervening is unequivocally the most ethical course of action. Consider the case of deformed dogs.

While I am opposed to our breeding of all domestic animals, I think it much worse to breed animals with deformities or inherited illnesses. Like humans with deformities or disabilities, those here now deserve our concern, respect, and care. But we ought not allow cows with gigantic utters, dogs who have trouble breathing, or featherless chickens to breed.

So what about humans? Consider Tay-Sachs disease.
In the most common form, the infantile form, infants have no enzyme activity, or an extremely low level (less than 0.1%). They typically appear healthy in the newborn period, but develop symptoms within 3 to 6 months of age. The first symptom may be an exaggerated startle response to noise. Infants with this form begin to lose milestones such as rolling and sitting (regression) and develop muscle weakness, which gradually leads to paralysis. They also lose mental functions and become increasingly unresponsive to their surroundings. By 12 months of age, they begin to deteriorate more rapidly, developing blindness, seizures that are hard to treat, and difficulty swallowing. Infants with this form of Tay-Sachs disease typically do not survive past 4 years of age. The most common cause of death is complications from lung inflammation (bronchopneumonia).

Presumably, those who argue that eugenics is "ableist and reprehensible," would say that if an early pregnancy test could show that a fetus has this mutation, that it would be immoral to counsel the mother to consider an abortion or to consider counseling carriers of the genes involved to forego having children. I disagree, and I'll wager that most parents who learn that their child has Tay-Sachs wish that they could have avoided bringing their child into the world; but maybe I'm just an ethically blind cad.

The list of potential diseases and debilitating conditions that might be eliminated from the human gene pool through genetic testing is significant. I don't understand the claim that we should accept all of these conditions as just part of the rich variety of human types. [For the record, I support universal mandatory sterilization; we are a blight on the planet.]
Genetic Disorders Achondroplasia
Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency
Antiphospholipid Syndrome
Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease
Breast cancer
Colon cancer
Cri du chat
Crohn's Disease
Cystic fibrosis
Dercum Disease
Down Syndrome
Duane Syndrome
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
Factor V Leiden Thrombophilia
Familial Hypercholesterolemia
Familial Mediterranean Fever
Fragile X Syndrome
Gaucher Disease
Huntington's disease
Klinefelter syndrome
Marfan syndrome
Myotonic Dystrophy
Noonan Syndrome
Osteogenesis Imperfecta
Parkinson's disease
Poland Anomaly
Prostate Cancer
Retinitis Pigmentosa
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID)
Sickle cell disease
Skin Cancer
Spinal Muscular Atrophy
Turner Syndrome
Velocardiofacial Syndrome
WAGR Syndrome
Wilson Disease