Friday, December 20, 2013

USDA Fines Harvard $6.61

The USDA has fined Harvard University the equivalent of $6.61 for 11 animal welfare violations at its research labs in Massachusetts between 2011 and 2012.

The violations included the death of four monkeys as well as inadequate training of the people "managing" the animals. That works out to be sixty cents per violation.

This is what the USDA and spokespersons for the vivisection industry mean when they claim that there is rigorous oversight of their industry.

$24,000 fine / $185,000,000 - Harvard's annual gift from taxpayers = $6.61 / $51,000 - the average U.S. household income.

Would you slow down if a speeding ticket cost you a mere sixty cents?

"USDA has resolved its review with an agreement that we feel was appropriate."
-- Harvard spokesperson

What a joke. A sick depraved joke.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Crocodilians use tools for hunting

Crocodilians use tools for hunting
V. Dinets, J.C. Brueggen, J.D. Brueggen
Ethology Ecology & Evolution


Using objects as hunting lures is very rare in nature, having been observed in just a handful of species. We report the use of twigs and sticks as bird lures by two crocodilian species. At least one of them uses this method predominantly during the nest-building season of its prey. This is the first known case of a predator not just using objects as lures, but also taking into account the seasonality of prey behavior. It provides a surprising insight into previously unrecognized complexity of archosaurian behavior.

It wasn't so very long ago that we believed that no animals other than white men had souls, minds, or inherent rights. But things change. A woman has just been named CEO of General Motors and on Monday, December 2, 2013, a writ of habeas corpus was filed in a court in New York on behalf of Tommy, a 26-year-old chimpanzee.

To those who take the time to notice, it appears that there are thinking beings all around us, beings with complex minds and interests. Their interests are the subject of increasing concern, discussion, action, and demand.

The fact that there are those among us who are concerned, won't let the conversation fade away, keep advocating for those who have no voice, and keep making demands on their behalf, is very hopeful.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Those Damn Extremists

UW Madison's apologist for all terrible things done to animals in the name of money, excuse the slip, science, was miffed by my observation that on many issues the "extreme" view is the only moral one. You can read my original post here, and his confused denial of this plain truth here. He'd rather that people with strong views different from his not speak loudly enough to be heard. I'd be shocked if I didn't know who he was or his history of trying to keep the public in the dark. [Here, here, and for a laugh, here.]

[It's a real knee-slapper to me that he sees himself and his cronies as holding a middle position on hurting animals and that he thinks of himself as someone willing to compromise.]

Unless you live in a cave, you've heard by now at least someone lionizing Nelson Mandela. In fact, even UW Madison professors have joined in.

This must be troubling to the vivisectors who try so hard to use "extremism" as a cudgel to turn the curious away from careful thought about what they do to animals.

Up until 2008, the U.S. government considered Mandela a terrorist. See US government considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist until 2008, NBC News.

Apparently, Sandgren would have argued in 2007, that Mandela ought not be allowed to be part of the public conversation on racial discrimination.

I suspect that more than a few white South Africans would have agreed with him.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

UW-Madison: Stacking the deck against animals

The university has announced the creation of new service that is apparently intended to provide assistance to campus scientists who have questions about the ethics of the experiments they plan to conduct.

On Campus: UW-Madison creates ethical consultation service for researchers

November 25, 2013 1:30 pm • JEFF GLAZE | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6138

UW-Madison researchers dealing with human or animal test subjects will have a new tool for navigating ethical uncertainties.

The university announced last week the creation of the Research Ethics Consultation Service, which will provide assistance to researchers on campus and at affiliated research centers.

The announcement comes roughly seven weeks after the National Institutes of Health cleared a UW-Madison laboratory of cat abuse allegations made by the animal rights group PETA. While there had been a recurring problem of infections related to the placement of head caps, eye coils and ear coils, the NIH found that cats generally were treated according to industry standards.

The consultation service is co-directed by Norman Fost, professor of pediatrics and bioethics in the School of Medicine and Public Health; and Pilar Ossorio, professor of law and bioethics and ethics scholar-in-residence at the university’s Morgridge Institute for Research. The idea is to provide varying levels of consultation based on the challenges of each case. For more complex situations, the consultation service will bring together a panel of university experts in topics such as human subjects, animal welfare, intellectual property or conflict of interest.

Ossorio estimates the service will get 20 to 30 inquiries a year based on consultation programs at other universities.
See too: New ethics consulting service to help UW scientists navigate gray areas

You might imagine, and I'll wager that the spin-doctors expected that you naturally would, that Norman Frost and Pilar Ossorio are well qualified to advise on the ethical, dare I say moral issues that could come into play when one takes the time to consider the use of animals as research tools. But no, they aren't. I suspect they were selected because of the absence of evidence that they have ever given the matter an iota of consideration.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think that choosing someone without a clear opinion on a particular matter can at times be the best course, particularly so if the issue is a moral one and you hope that an opinion can be formed based on the presentation of a body of evidence. We do this to a degree when selecting juries, and we tried to do this when we pushed to have Dane County create a citizens advisory committee to consider the ethics of using monkeys as research tools at the university a few years ago. (The possibility of a genuinely honest evaluation of what they do to the monkeys frightened the begeezus out of the university and they worked successfully behind the scenes to convince then county board chair Scott McDonell to scuttle our effort.)

But this case isn't like that at all. These two "bioethicists" have publication histories that provide some insight to what they believe. Norman Frost has been writing about the ethical quandaries surrounding medical research since at least 1973. PubMed lists about a hundred papers by him on the topic. That's 40 years of thinking about the ethics of medical research. As far as I can tell, during the past four decades he has brushed up against the issue of using animals only once; that was in a very brief paper from 2006, titled "The great stem cell debate: where are we now? Cloning, chimeras, and cash." You can read it here.

He says:
Stem cell lines, like most other new biomedical technologies, will have to be tested in animals. When the organs involved are hearts or livers or kidneys, the ethical questions are familiar ones about animal welfare and avoiding spread of infectious diseases. The new issue involves studies in which human brain cells could be implanted into a laboratory animal. In the worst case—and at this point imaginary—scenario, creative thinkers wonder whether a fully functioning human brain could develop inside, say, a goat, and if that did happen, should we think of it as a really smart goat, or as a human trapped in a goat’s body: the so-called “Help, let me out of here” fear.

Most scientists believe this is, and will remain, science fiction. They feel it is biologically highly implausible that human brain cells could organize themselves inside a goat’s head and function in a sufficiently organized way to raise concerns. National and local committees have developed guidelines to reduce the risk of such experiments. For example, one recommendation is that these studies not be allowed to use non-human primates, where the likelihood for a functioning brain might be higher. And ethicists are increasingly directing their attention to the legitimacy of such concerns, and whether further restrictions are needed.
Two implications of his opinions of animals that emerge from this passage seem fairly clear. 1. The "familiar" ethical questions that arise when using animals have never motivated him to address them; and 2. His only concern is the creation of neurological chimeras that could have human minds. Apparently, the experiences being lived by a goat don't rise to the level of needing even a comment.

You can visit his university page here.

And then there's Pilar Ossorio. Here's what her webpage says:
Dr. Ossorio's research interests revolve around research ethics and the protection of research participants, including: governance of large bioscience projects; data sharing in scientific research; the use of race in biomedical and social science research; ethical and regulatory issues in human subjects research; and the regulation and ethics of online research. She is also quite interested in novel ethical, regulatory, and policy issues raised by research aimed at moving scientific and engineering findings from the laboratory to the product development and medical/therapeutic applications (translational research).
PubMed lists seventeen publications from her since 1999 that address the ethics of medical research, none of which have anything to do with animals. In the thirteen or so years that she's been thinking about the ethics of medical research, not once, as far as I can tell, has she addressed the use of animals in her published papers.

I did though find a pdf of a set of slides from a presentation she gave. You can see the file here.

Here's the germane slide, notice the close similarity to the points raised by Frost. It seems reasonable to imagine that they hold similarly vacant views about harming animals. Neither of them seem to have noticed that there is someone looking back at them. They both appear to me to be dead to the notion.
Animal Safety Concerns...

• Injecting human stem cells into animals could create a variety of chimeras
– Yuck factor!!! But...
• We already make a variety of human – non-human chimeras during research
• Beyond the yuck factor: “What is actually wrong with making chimeras???”

– One possible problem
• Create an organism that has human-like cognitive or emotional qualities. It’s existence could constitute a harm, or we could inadvertantly [sic] harm it in research by failing to recognize its interests or rights
And yet, these are the two "experts" named by the university who will help guide vivisectors through the possible ethical issues they might encounter. (I wonder if either of them are vegan?) The new "Research Ethics Consultation Service" would be a scream if the actual screams from the labs weren't quite so blood-curdling.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why does Dario Ringach hate people? Or,

Back to the burning building.

The keystone of Dario Ringach's claim about his intuitive sense that we ought to always choose a human over another animal was illustrated by him at his recent lecture in Madison. He showed a slide that looked something like this this:

He makes the simple claim that the only moral option would be to save the child from the burning house and leave the mouse behind to be burned to death.

That's fine, but he could have used other examples, like this one:

A more germane image would have been one like this:

Ringach says things like: "... those working with animals also feel in such a way, but they also feel for the mothers that fight breast cancer, the children with leukemia, the elderly with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s."

"While searching for answers to difficult problems (such as developing a cure for cancer), it is expected for many paths to lead to dead ends..."

"... cancerous tumors can certainly be grown in humans as they are in mice, but we do not consider the practice morally acceptable."

"... if you learn that a member of your family has terminal cancer, you will suffer in ways that a mouse cannot comprehend. If you are exposed to the sights of millions of children with AIDS in Africa, you will suffer in ways monkeys cannot understand. This is real suffering and it should matter to you."

And he is entitled to his opinions. But his frequent appeals to mothers, children, and cancer, particularly cancer, are indeed odd when considered against the backdrop of his own research. Interestingly, when he was asked various questions, he said more than once something like: "Well, I don't do those things," or "I'm not talking about product testing on animals." Indeed. But he wasn't talking about the things he does do either. This image fairly demonstrates his actual practice:

It looks like the hundreds or thousands of humans in the burning skyscraper matter less to Ringach than the people who might be trapped in the smoking house. He must really hate people. Why else would he decide to spend his time working on theoretical details about ocular dominance rather than try to find a way to cure some mother's baby of cancer? Why does he talk primarily about the diseases that frighten people rather than his actual work? Maybe he intuitively recognizes that most people wouldn't be so quick to choose the human over a mouse, or a dog?

Since about 2000, according to the National Institutes of Health, Dario Ringach has recieved about $5 million in taxpayer dollars to investigate "the nature of ongoing cortical activity, what it represents, and how it interacts with external stimuli to generate a "real-time" response in primary visual cortex." From: 5R01EY012816: QUANTITATIVE STUDIES OF CORTICAL VISUAL PROCESSING. $2,839,896.


"A hallmark of primary visual cortex is its organization into maps of visual space, orientation and ocular dominance. Despite remarkable advances in our ability to measure the structure of cortical maps and their mutual relationships, many important questions remain unanswered. How do these maps develop? Why are maps missing in some species? What role do maps play, if any, in cortical computation? The central goal of our research is to seek answers to these fundamental questions of cortical development, organization and function that have eluded us for decades." From: 5R01EY018322: THEORETICAL STUDIES OF VISUAL CORTEX. $2,083,837.

According to the National Federation for the Blind the number of non-institutionalized, males or females, of all ages, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States reported to have a visual disability in 2011 were:

Total: 6,636,900
Age 18 to 64: 3,372,400
Age 65 and older: 2,743,600

About 1.2 million people in the U.S. die each year from cancer or heart disease.

No one dies from a visual disability.

Taking him at his word, he'd rush into a burning building and save a child rather than a mouse. But the implication of his actions is that he'd rush into a burning house rather than a burning skyscraper, no matter the number of people who might suffer the consequences of his ethical intuition. It looks to me like his intuition might be colored by the millions of dollars that he thinks is stuffed under the mattress in the house. He studies the arcane details of animals' brains, but defends his choices with appeals to mothers and cancer. It's dishonest, but if he actually used his own work to justify his industry's cruelty, well, even he seems to be less than convinced.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Dreaded Question

Are you vegan?

It's a simple question. And it brushes aside a lot of posturing and pontificating.

Dario Ringach was bothered enough at being asked this simple question during his recent presentation at UW-Madison that he felt compelled to write about it.

His response offers some insight into his perceptions of the animal issue. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, yet again, he seems confused by the lack of compartmentalization of concern on the part of people who are opposed to cruelty.

If one genuinely believes, as Ringach and essentially everyone who experiments on animals claims to do, that he wishes he didn't "have" to hurt and kill them, but that animal experimentation is exactly like having to choose between saving a child or a mouse from a burning building, then he wouldn't eat animals. Deciding to have a meat burger rather than a bean burger is nothing like having to choose between a child and a mouse.

If one chooses the meat burger, then why bother with highfalutin excuses for experimenting on animals? Clearly, someone who is motivated by the simple gustatory delight of flesh isn't dependent on the notion of saving children from a burning building to justify their actions.

Ringach seems to think that in a discussion about experimenting on animals that one ought not talk about one's food choices, but that one should talk about burning buildings.

Ringach provided some evidence to help us make sense of his claim that talking about being vegan in a discussion about the use of animals in research isn't appropriate. He showed this slide, or a different photo of the same display:
It seems to me that someone who eats animals but then reaches to the stars to find a justification for experimenting on them is either a liar or a dolt.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


In Dario Ringach's presentation to university vivisectors, he relied heavily on his claim that the development of Trastuzumab, or herceptin, as a breast cancer treatment is a glowing example of the tremendous benefits that stem directly from animal experimentation.*

It's been my experience that whenever a vivisector makes a specific claim in a public venue about the benefits of animal experimentation that it always bears close scrutiny.

Well, I didn't have to scrutinize very much:
From Wikipedia: Trastuzumab (INN; trade names Herclon, Herceptin) is a monoclonal antibody that interferes with the HER2/neu receptor. Its main use is to treat certain breast cancers.

The HER receptors are proteins that are embedded in the cell membrane and communicate molecular signals from outside the cell (molecules called EGFs) to inside the cell, and turn genes on and off. The HER proteins stimulate cell proliferation. In some cancers, notably certain types of breast cancer, HER2 is over-expressed, and causes cancer cells to reproduce uncontrollably.

The original studies of trastuzumab showed that it improved overall survival in late-stage (metastatic) breast cancer from 20.3 to 25.1 months. In early stage breast cancer, it reduces the risk of cancer returning after surgery by an absolute risk of 9.5%, and the risk of death by an absolute risk of 3% however increases serious heart problems by an absolute risk of 2.1% which may resolve if treatment is stopped. Trastuzumab is controversial partly because of its cost, as much as $54,000 per year, and while certain private insurance companies in the U.S. and government health care systems in Canada, UK and elsewhere have refused to pay for trastuzumab for certain patients, some companies have since accepted trastuzumab treatment as a covered preventative treatment.

*When asked about animal experimentation that was apparently an uncomfortable question for him, he side-stepped the issue with the excuse that he didn't do that sort of work -- like product testing. His work deals with the minutia of brain function in (previously, monkeys) in mice. That did not stop him from cloaking himself in the new clothes of a "cure for cancer."