Sunday, May 15, 2016

UW-Madison Lied to Feds, Misled Public, Put Humanity at Dire Risk

Note: Over the past almost two decades I have learned that when it comes to universities' and university officials' statements about their care and use of animals, about the benefits that have resulted and that will result in the future as a result of the things they do to animals, that they lie easily and repetitively. This lesson has led me to look carefully and with much doubt about every assertion they make, but particularly so when money and animals are involved. This doubt and skepticism and my anger and sorrow over the things they do to the animals they use contributed to my close watch of UW-Madison's promotion and hype about the influenza research conducted by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, particularly his efforts to invent viruses more deadly than any yet encountered and to test their effects on ferrets and monkeys. I have written about it with some regularity.

Estimates of the number of deaths cause by the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic vary from 20 to 100 million. John M. Barry, in his book The Great Influenza says:
Although the influenza pandemic stretched over two years, perhaps two-thirds of the deaths occurred in a period of twenty-four weeks, and more than half of those deaths occurred in even less time, from mid-September to early December 1918. Influenza killed more people in a year than the Black Death killed in a century; it killed more people in twenty-four weeks than AIDS has killed in twenty-four years.
Over half of those who died in the 1918 pandemic were in their 20s and 30s, in the prime of their lives, not the elderly.


Two years ago, I again called Madisonians attention to the grave risks associated with Yoshihiro Kawaoka's influenza research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. ("Flu lab accident could leave millions dead within weeks." Jul 8, 2014.) University officials Tim Yoshino and Susan West fired back with the claim that my "alarmist" letter was "irresponsible," but they provided nothing in rebuttal other than simple ad hominems. ("Tim Yoshino and Susan West: Rick Bogle's flu lab column irresponsible." Tim Yoshino and Susan West. Jul 11, 2014.)

Yoshino and West must have known when they wrote their response that serious accidents had recently occurred in the Kawaoka lab and that federal regulators had ordered a halt. At the time of their letter, Yoshino was the "responsible official" for UW-Madison Select Agent Program, and West was the chair of UW-Madison's Institutional Biosafety Committee.

International concern over influenza research like that occurring in the Kawaoka lab led to the current international moratorium and much continuing international debate.

Following the initiation of the moratorium, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services instituted their own review citing the grave risks of the research and the serious biosafey errors and accidents with highly infectious agents at top labs across the country. News of these accidents led USA Today to investigate. The resulting report, "Biolabs in Your Backyard," was recently awarded a Scripps Howard Award for public service reporting. That report includes many thousands of pages of documents and correspondence that were obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The documents compiled by USA Today include over 400 pages of biosaftey committee minutes, laboratory accident reports, and correspondence between UW-Madison officials and the National Institutes of Health concerning accidents and violations. Local media has not reported on the serious problems in Kawaoka's lab discovered by USA Today.

Kawaoka's influenza research is conducted in a BSL3+ laboratory built for him by the university in 2006 for $11.4 million after the University ran into trouble with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) over its approval of Kawaoka's Ebola experiments without the required level of biosafety. The BSL3+ lab (sometimes referred to as a Biosafety Level-3Ag lab) has been repeatedly characterized in local media as being only "half a notch below the top level" of biosafety. ["Following controversy, UW researcher's findings on bird flu virus published." Wisconsin State Journal. May 2, 2012; "UW-Madison study: New bird flu in China could cause global outbreak." Wisconsin State Journal. Jul 11, 2013; "UW-Madison flu studies raise risk more than prevent it, biosafety panelist says." Wisconsin State Journal. Jun 29, 2014.]

The very top level of biosafety is provided in BSL4 laboratories. In a BSL4 lab, workers wear space suits. In the documents obtained by USA Today, it is apparent that the "half a notch" difference between a BSL4 lab and Kawaoka's BSL3+ is pretty big.

On November 9, 2013, barely six months before I warned readers about the risks associated with an accident in the Kawaoka lab and Tim Yoshino and Susan West said my alarmist op-ed was irresponsible, a worker in Kawaoka's BSL3+ lab dropped a stack of culture plates infected with two varieties of influenza viruses: HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) and H5Nl. The plates broke and spilled the contents onto the floor and may have splashed the researcher's bare ankles. University officials have said that the mutations of H5N1 studied in Kawaoka's lab are very dangerous. [Susan West and Timothy Yoshino: UW flu research is important and safe. Wisconsin State Journal. Jul 2, 2014.] The university reported the event to the NIH, as they are required to do. In their report, they said that the researcher did not think that the material had come into contact with his or her exposed bare skin, but wiped their legs with disinfectant nevertheless. The doctor on call at the University hospital did not think there was a need for the researcher to take Tamiflu, but the person involved in the incident and others more familiar with the seriousness of the risk insisted.

The NIH chastised UW-Madison for allowing anyone to work in a BSL3+ laboratory with exposed skin. Essentially all biosafety accidents are the result of human error and institutional malaise. The potentially exposed researcher was not quarantined.

Kawaoka's influenza experiments have been of particular concern to public health officials outside Wisconsin due to his manipulations of the viruses' genes to produce new-to-the-world influenza viruses, or what some scientific reports have termed "novel potential pandemic pathogens" or PPPs. These are recombinant viruses; they are laboratory creations and worry many observers. These genetic recombinations can result in what is termed a gain-of-function, and are used in what is termed GOF research.

Genetic manipulations can make viruses more pathogenic and more easily transmitted. In GOF research, viruses with only limited virulence can be altered to be more dangerous. Kawaoka was making already very dangerous viruses even more dangerous. His work is a big part of what led to the current, perhaps temporary, international moratorium on this line of research. Kawaoka was one of only two researchers pursuing this supercharging of influenza viruses; the other was a scientist in The Netherlands. Kawaoka et al have reported that infected monkeys were euthanized after developing a high fever, were huddled in a corner of their cage, their hands and toes clenched, and were bleeding from the skin. [Itoh, Yasushi, et al. "Protective efficacy of passive immunization with monoclonal antibodies in animal models of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus infection." PLoS Pathog 10.6 (2014): e1004192.]

On November 16, 2013, a worker in Kawaoka's BSL3+ laboratory stuck him- or herself with a hypodermic needle containing recombinant H5N1 containing genes from a strain of H1N1. It was an H1N1 strain that was responsible for the 1918 Spanish flu, the most deadly disease yet encountered. The seriousness of the exposure was recognized by university doctors, but the university's response put the public at risk. The use of the needle in and of itself was apparently a violation of University policy concerning activities in the BSL3+ laboratory.

But more troubling and much more worrisome from a public heath perspective is that the University appears to have misled federal regulators in order to get approval for these experiments.

In a December 16, 2013, letter to the University, included in the US Today documents, the NIH writes to Daniel Uhlrich, Ph.D., Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Policy, UW-Madison:
In follow-up conversations with you and Rebecca Moritz regarding your occupational health plans, you state that all exposures, including high risk exposures, would follow the same protocol, i.e. home isolation after removing the family from the house. Your decision was based upon consultation with your infectious disease experts and the state health department. You had rejected using a hospital room for quarantine because of the stress on the laboratory worker. This policy is not what was communicated to us in Dr. Kawaoka's application to perform research with mammalian transmissible strains of H5N1 that was provided to the Department of Health and Human Services. In a May 6, 2013, plan provided to NIH, Dr. Kawaoka indicated that he had access to a "designated quarantine apartment" in which researchers could be placed for 10-14 days in the event of an accidental exposure.

The University must find a dedicated facility outside of the individual's permanent residence in which (1) an individual can be safely isolated for up to 10 days, and (2) that can be decontaminated easily after the individual's departure. [This requirement and emphasis was contained in two separate letters from the NIH in response to the University's explanation of the accident.] An isolation room in a hospital would be appropriate. An individual's permanent residence is not appropriate due to the fact that many residences are in buildings with high occupancy that share air exchange and other infrastructure. Please provide revised SOPs that reflect an appropriate quarantine arrangement. No research with mammalian transmissible H1Nl stains may be carried out until this plan is operationalized. [Emphasis in original]

Contrary to what they had said they would do, the University simply called the researcher's family and told them to vacate their residence. Then, in an apparently unsecured vehicle, they took the accident victim home -- a potential patient zero for a global pandemic -- with a glove on their hand and wearing a mask without an exhalation vent -- and told him or her to stay there. There is no mention of any additional security.

In their response letter to NIH, dated December 20, 2013, the University promised that in the future, "Sharp needles will only be used for administering drugs to animals and drawing blood from animals. When either of these procedures are being done with reconstructed 1918 influenza or mammalian transmissible influenza viruses, two people will be required for the procedure."

On March 10-11, 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine held its second symposium on gain of function research. (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Gain of Function Research: Summary of the Second Symposium, March 10-11, 2016. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.) Nothing was decided, but it is clear from the report that many scientists and public health officials remain very worried that GOF research with influenza viruses will be allowed to resume.

Tim Yoshino and Susan West called my letter to Madisonian's irresponsible and alarmist, probably because I observed that an accidental (or intentional) release of a modified influenza virus from the Kawaoka lab could result in millions of deaths within a matter of weeks. They claimed that I had not taken the time to learn about that which I was writing.

I believe that they each and together violated the public's trust; I believe that senior University of Wisconsin-Madison officials and local public health officials have violated the public's trust.

Very well informed and senior infectious disease experts have voiced their alarm. Yet, locally, little is reported, much is hidden. I believe that these violations of the public's trust were and are predictable because of the very large sums of money added to the University's coffers as a result of Kawaoka's research and the propensity of people to obey those they deem to be authorities. Added to this is the phenomena of conforming to the norm, which probably led public health officials to remain silent; after all, local media was not doing any significant or investigative reporting on these problems. Media's silence may have encouraged public health officials to get in line and to avoid a close observation of the situation and to go along with whatever the University experts told them to believe. Madisonians have largely been kept in the dark.

"Given historic estimates of influenza’s spread across the globe (∼24–38% of the world’s population), it is estimated that a pandemic of a highly virulent influenza strain, such as those created in GOF/PPP experiments, could cause between 20 million and 1.6 billion deaths." Evans, Nicholas Greig, Marc Lipsitch, and Meira Levinson. "The ethics of biosafety considerations in gain-of-function research resulting in the creation of potential pandemic pathogens." Journal of Medical Ethics 41.11 (2015): 901-908.

Friday, April 15, 2016

" unbearable kind of suffering."

NIH Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee - June 2014

After listening to about an hour of discussion concerning the housing and biocontainment methods required for nonhuman primates used in bio-safety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratories, the University of Wisconsin-Madison representative on the committee, Norm Fost, offered a comment. No one on the committee or any of the representatives from institutions with these high-containment laboratories using monkeys responded to him. But what could they have said? (Stick BSL-4 in the search window above for many essays and links concerning biosafety in these labs.)

Norm Fost is a Professor Emeritus, Pediatrics and Bioethics.

A video of the meeting is available here: The discussion about monkeys begins at about 4:00:00; Fost's comments at about 5:00:00. This is my transcription of his oral comments, any errors are mine.

I apologize if anything I say offends any of the many investigators and lab personnel and others who I know care deeply about these animals and obviously about the scientific importance of the research, but I must say all of this I find very troubling.

We would obviously not put humans in any of these kind of cages or rooms or [undecipherable]

In fact its a reason it's a preferred method of torture because it constitutes an unbearable kind of suffering.

It's been now 40 years since Harry Harlow at the University of Wisconsin, his disciple Steve Suomi at NIH, formally at Wisconsin, and Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer prize-winning writer on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin wrote her famous book about all this.

It's been well established for 40 years that the way monkeys experience this kind of deprivation, isolation and so on is indistinguishable from humans. That is, any measures you can make: hormonal, behavioral, long-term psychosocial and behavioral problems, it's not possible to discriminate any difference in the way monkeys respond to these sorts of things from the way humans [do]. That's why they are such fabulous animals if you're studying at least psycho-scocial responses to stress and deprivation you can draw conclusions about interventions that would be highly likely to be replicable in humans, unlike rats or mice or other kinds of animals.

So, if we would never do this to a human, and we wouldn't say its justified by the enormous amount of benefit that would come out of it, its hard to come up with a reason for doing it to primates other than just sheer speciesism, just that we can do it, we have the power to do it.

So, this discussion about big cages versus small cages or big rooms versus little rooms is beside the point.

I find the whole enterprise very troubling, with complete respect for the dedication of the people who are doing this for very admirable reasons and for the benefits that hopefully come out of it.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Blue Ribbon Panel Announced

An April 4, 2016 news release from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was titled: "Blue Ribbon Panel Announced to Help Guide Vice President Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative." It seems inevitable that their eventual recommendation will be dressed up with lots of words and will be widely ballyhooed when it is published, projected to be sometime in December 2016.

The ballyhoo has already begun with universities announcing the inclusion of their experts on the panel.

Distilled, it will be easy to understand: "Give us more money."

The Moonshot will apparently add an additional $1 billion to the cancer research public expenditure.

The National Cancer Institute's allocation in the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act is already $5.21 billion, an increase of $260.5 million over fiscal year 2015. Oddly, the NIH also reports that NCI is currently providing $7,215,203,202 in funding for 9,759 projects. NCI is the largest agency in the NIH, in terms of number of funded projects and expenditures.

The Chair and Co-Chair's research suggests that the Blue Ribbon Panel's recommendations are unlikely to deviate from the current norm; the biases inherent in normal science will guide the panel and probably led to the selection of the members.

The Chair is Tyler Jacks. His lab's webpage explains: "The Jacks Lab is interested in the genetic events contributing to the development of cancer. The focus of our research has been a series of mouse strains engineered to carry mutations in genes known to be involved in human cancer. We also study the effects of these mutations on normal embryonic development and use cells derived from mutant animals to study the function of these genes in cell culture models." Just more of the same dead-end lunacy.

The Co-Chair is Elizabeth Marion Jaffee. She has argued that what are needed are cancer vaccines and has already identified the sort of work that she will probably recommend for more funding, the majority of which use mouse models.

It appears that about a third of NCI's 9,759 funded projects involve vertebrate animals including 3,053 projects already involving the use of mice.

The use of the term moonshot was unfortunate. Vice President Biden explained it this way:
Fifty-five years ago, President John F. Kennedy stood before a joint session of Congress and said, “I believe we should go to the moon.”

It was a call to humankind.

And it inspired a generation of Americans — my generation — in pursuit of science and innovation, where they literally pushed the boundaries of what was possible.

This is our moonshot.

I know that we can help solidify a genuine global commitment to end cancer as we know it today — and inspire a new generation of scientists to pursue new discoveries and the bounds of human endeavor.
[Italics in original]
The use of the term moonshot is unfortunate because it suggests that ending cancer is possible if we just commit enough resources to the problem; after all, it was just such a commitment that got us to the moon. But the two problems are not at all the same. Getting to the moon was essentially a technical problem while ending cancer is a scientific problem. Science and technology are not synonyms.

Science and technology frequently inform and contribute to advances in the other endeavor and there is much overlap. Better microscopes led to an increased appreciation and study of a previously unimagined part of nature. Technological advances are often the result of scientific discoveries like x-rays. But before the accidental discovery that the rays could pass through our bodies, no one imagined it ahead of time. The possibility was outside the paradigm. Prior to the discovery, no amount of money would have led to the development of x-ray machines.

There has been much written over the years about the lack of progress that has resulted from the use of animal models of cancer. Many voices have come from within the research community. Irwin D J Bross, head of research design and analysis at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute was consistent in his criticisms. Dr. Richard Klausner, director of the National Cancer Institute, famously told a Congressional committee that: "The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades--and it simply didn't work in humans." Here's a list germane quotations.

All the money in the world will not lead to the end of cancer because the dominant paradigm leads to researchers being paid to keep doing more of the same. A huge industry rests firmly on the flow of money from the federal government to keep creating animal models of cancer. Huckleberry Finn told Tom Sawyer that the best way to get rid of warts was to take a dead cat to a graveyard where someone wicked was buried, wait until midnight for the devil to come, and then to throw the cat at the devil while saying, "Devil follow corpse, cat follow devil, warts follow, cat, I'm done with ye!" Neither method is efficacious.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Dave O'Connor: "Sad and heartbroken."

One of the most insidious accomplishments of the vivisection industry has been the corruption of science journalism. This happened because life science writing programs are housed at universities that benefit from having articles about their research published in mainstream media. Students have access to local scientists for interviews and practice their writing under the tutelage of accomplished writers who have already written favorably about the use of animals in research. The indoctrination is probably subtle, but the effects are seen everywhere one looks.

A recent example is NPR's report on David O'Connor's experimental infection of rhesus monkeys with the Zika virus, the disease de jure. The science writer seems to want her readers to have a good impression of O'Connor:

"O'Connor says that he can feel a moral need to do this kind of animal research and at the same time feel 'sad and heartbroken' at what the work entails. 'I don't think those two are mutually exclusive,' he says. And then she quotes him again: "I've come to the conclusion that there is an ethical and a moral imperative to study the most relevant animal model to get the most impactful and valuable data."

What a guy.

But O'Connor's lament and ethical justifications should be examined in light of his previous work rather than an appeal to a "public health emergency" during which, apparently, anything goes. That's pretty much the same excuse that was used to justify the torture at Abu Ghraib prison. In both cases, better, more useful information was and is available through less hideous means.

O'Connor says, according to NPR's science writer, that he feels "sad and heartbroken" about infecting monkeys with the Zika virus. He should have added that he feels that way all the way to bank. That would have been a little more honest. So far, in his Zika studies, O'Connor seems to have infected three young males and one pregnant female. At the same time, public health officials and medical doctors have been studying hundreds, maybe thousands of women and their babies. The history of medicine gives a good notion of which body of research is likely to provide benefit.

Looking at O'Connor's publishing history on PubMed, it appears that he has been using and killing monkeys since at least 1999; I suspect even he may not know how many monkeys he has infected and killed, but his career rests squarely on their corpses. Over the ensuing years he has made millions of dollars infecting and killing monkeys. This is his (partial) NIH grant history while at UW-Madison. They all use monkeys:

2009-2013: DEFINING THE IMPORTANCE OF CD8+ T CELL BREADTH IN SIV/HIV PROTECTIVE IMMUNITY. Total project funding amount: $3,241,340.


2005-2013: IMMUNOGENETICS OF PRIMATES USED FOR BIOTERROR RESEARCH. Total project funding amount: $4,406,491.

2006-2007: SIV-SPECIFIC CD8+ T-CELL IN MAURITIAN CYNOMOLGUS MACAQUES. Total project funding amount: $507,040.

2008-2015: ADOPTIVE TRANSFER OF IMMUNITY ELICITED BY ATTENUATED HIV VACCINES. Total project funding amount: $5,433,316.


2016: DEFINING SOUTH AMERICAN ZIKA VIRUS SUSCEPTIBILITY AND PATHOGENICITY IN ADULT AND NEONATAL NONHUMAN PRIMATES. $263,233. This project is a subproject of his 2015 grant GBV-C-MEDIATED PROTECTION FROM AIDS IN HUMANS AND GBV-C/SIV CO-INFECTED MACAQUES which received $665,879. Total funding for the grant in 2015 and 2016 was $929,112.


On top of that, he also receives $186,311 in salary from the university.

If you visit his lab's website, you'll see that he loves selfies. He does not appear to be someone wracked with sadness or suffering from a broken heart. No, he seems quite happy, giddy even at times, which makes sense given the fact that in his line of work, the only thing that matters is getting papers into journals -- no matter the actual low value of the information in the papers for the purported beneficiaries, taxpayers. Check out the videos on his website.

Watch the video here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Responding to Another Pile of VS* from UW-Madison

One way to tell whether or not your criticisms are having an impact is to consider the response from those you criticize. Using that measure, it is clear that Dr. Ruth Decker's criticisms of UW-Madison psychiatrist Ned Kalin's experiments on baby monkeys and her criticisms of publicly-funded experiments on monkeys across the country is having a significant impact on vivisectors at the University of Wisconsin Madison. They seem to be pooping their pants.

The UW primate vivisectors' knee-knocking response to Dr. Decker's new petition is understandable. Her first petition was a large factor in forcing the university to (slightly) modify the cruelty to the infant monkeys being used in one of Kalin's richly-funded projects. He was forced to abandon his use of maternal deprivation. Dr. Decker's new petition casts a much wider net, putting the university's tax-dollar gravy train in some jeopardy.

I have included a link to their tiresomely long effort to defend themselves and discredit Dr. Decker below. (The university did not include a link to Dr. Decker's petition.) Here, I am going to make some observations about a few of their claims. Keep in mind that the university's new chief vivisection propagandist, a likely co-author of the university's unattributed essay, is Allyson Joy Bennett, a primate vivisector with close ties to Stephen Suomi, the co-inventer of the diabolocal "vertical chamber" or "Well of Despair," as his co-inventor Harry Harlow liked to call it. Bennett is a leading member of the pro-vivisection anything-goes extremist cult "Speaking of Research," a branch of the pro-vivisection anything-goes extremist cult "Pro-Test," started by a 14-year-old boy in England.

The title of the university's essay is "Responding to another Ruth Decker petition," which makes it pretty clear that she has their attention. I wonder how the authors' time to write this essay was billed? Whenever the university has to respond to a public records request they always make claims about the labor costs of having to do so. I don't wonder about the billing too much though, they are being paid by taxpayers to hoodwink taxpayers; what a job.

The university starts out with their most stinky bit of VS and says that they "appreciate and share the concern for animals that leads people to add their names to the petition." They share the same concern for animals that leads people to ask them to stop hurting and killing animals? Up is down.

The university's anonymous authors say that Dr. Decker's petition piles up mistakes, myths, exaggerations, omits important information, and tells people with "little understanding" of "real science" to speak out. The authors expound on what they imply is the evidence of Dr. Decker's purported failings and say that those failings are unfair to the people who signed the petition, are unfair to Kalin and Suomi, to other vivisectors, or to the millions of people suffering from mental illness.

It must be reassuring for the vivisectors to believe that most of their critics are simple bumpkins who don't understand science. But in fact, the vivisectors either don't understand science or else know that what they are doing isn't good science and simply don't care. It's apparently easy not to care when you are getting rich by doing so.

You may think that my statement about the lack of good science in the animal labs is hyperbole or simple rhetoric, but it's not, and the problem has been recognized and written about in mainstream science journals for a fairly long time now which makes its continuation all the more troubling, particularly when those being paid for conducting the junk science, like the university's vivisectors, keep telling the public that they are doing important work.

The most recent example (as of 2-16) was the June 9, 2015 paper, "The Economics of Reproducibility in Preclinical Research." The authors lead off with this matter-of-fact observation:

"Low reproducibility rates within life science research undermine cumulative knowledge production and contribute to both delays and costs of therapeutic drug development. An analysis of past studies indicates that the cumulative (total) prevalence of irreproducible preclinical research exceeds 50%, resulting in approximately US$28,000,000,000 (US$28B)/year spent on preclinical research that is not reproducible—in the United States alone."

("Preclinical" includes all animal-based biomedical research outside of veterinary research on the species of animals the research is looking at, like studying FIV in cats by using FIV-infected cats.)

The authors go on to say that. "Flawed preclinical studies create false hope for patients waiting for lifesaving cures; moreover, they point to systemic and costly inefficiencies in the way preclinical studies are designed, conducted, and reported." It is exactly this false hope and fear that the vivisectors cultivate as they prey on the public; a public misled by the vivisectors into thinking that what they are doing is "real science."

A foundation stone of real science is reproducibility. If no one working in another lab can reproduce another scientist's work then it is of no merit. The vivisectors' work largely fails on this point alone. But equally damning is the very poor applicability or translation rate of the preclinical studies. This problem too has been written about ad nauseam. In response, using a tactic seeming out of Orwell's 1984, the bloated research universities fell all over each other rushing to establish this and that "Center for Translational Research," (be sure to use a grandiose intonation) as if saying that they were doing "translational research" would magically transform junk data from animal experiments into wonder drugs for humans.

Again, you may think that my statement about the overall failure of the science in the animal labs is hyperbole or simple rhetoric, but it's not. Here's a passage from the June 5,2014 BMJ that provides a nice summation:
Ten years ago in The BMJ Pandora Pound and colleagues asked, “Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans?”(doi:10.1136/bmj.328.7438.514). Their conclusions were not encouraging. Much animal research into potential treatments for humans was wasted, they said, because it was poorly conducted and not evaluated through systematic reviews.

Since then, as Pound and Michael Bracken explain this week (doi:10.1136/bmj.g3387), the number of systematic reviews of animal studies has increased substantially, but this has served only to highlight the poor quality of much preclinical animal research. The same threats to internal and external validity that beset clinical research are found in abundance in animal studies: lack of randomisation, blinding, and allocation concealment; selective analysis; and reporting and publication bias. The result, said Ioannidis in 2012, is that it is “nearly impossible to rely on most animal data to predict whether or not an intervention will have a favourable clinical benefit-risk ratio in human subjects.”

Such wastage is as unethical in animal as in human research. Poorly done preclinical research may lead to expensive but fruitless clinical trials exposing participants to harmful drugs. And of course there is the unnecessary suffering of the animals involved in research that brings no benefit.

Again, the fact that animal-based studies are usually worthless, frequently misleading, and usually altogether forgotten isn't a secret. Anyone the least bit tuned in to the debate about the use of animals knows about these problems, the junk science, the waste of public dollars. And yet, university vivisectors continue to sing the same siren song -- all medical progress relies on animal experiments. That's wrong. If they know it, and say otherwise, as the authors of the university's attack on Dr. Decker do, then they are liars who have no concern for the people suffering from the ailments and maladies putting their trust in the decision-makers at the university and the NIH. It appears to me to be wholly immoral.

The authors go on to say that the truth doesn't matter to "activists" trying to stop the vivisectors. But as the evidence above makes clear, it is they who deny the plain facts as reported in the mainstream science journals.

The authors then attempt further wool-pulling by ginning up some nonsense that they believe will fool the average reader.

They claim that the "scientific and medical leadership of our country have determined that animal research plays a fundamentally important role in scientific studies that advance the health of the nation." But that's far afield from the actual facts. Taxpayer dollars are used to fund the NIH's lobbying efforts. The senior scientists at the NIH are for most part vivisectors who have gained positions of power. When they send a letter or meet with a member of Congress, it is understandable that they are believed when they say that NIH is making good decisions. We tend to believe those we deem to be authorities. This is what the university and the NIH bank on -- all the way to the bank.

Then the authors make the claim that experiments on monkeys are "critical" to scientific research and as evidence they provide a list of serious ailments that are understood, prevented, and treated they say, as a result of experiments on monkeys. They are in good company. In 2000, NIH/NCRR (a defunct branch of the NIH) endorsed an expansion of primate-based biomedical research in the "Full Scale Evaluation of the Regional Primate Research Centers Program—Final Report (Office of Science Policy and Public Liaison, National Center for Research Resources/NIH. 2000), saying that experiments on monkeys and chimpanzees were "crucial" to the study of the most frightening diseases. I looked into their claims in 2003, and found them to be as silly then as the university's are now. See the accompanying article here.

The university's authors say, "Although the petitioners may believe that animal research supported by NIH is a waste, there is no evidence that the majority of the American public concurs." But they are again being misleading, which they must realize. The Pew Research Center wrote in 2015 that: "The general public is closely divided when it comes to the use of animals in research. Some 47% favor the practice, while and a nearly equal share (50%) oppose it. Support for animal research is down somewhat since 2009, when 52% of adults favored and 43% opposed the use of animals in scientific research." They went on to report that 62% of women are opposed to vivisection.

The authors then make the wild assertion that they have the moral high ground! "... failing to engage in and support research that is ethical, humane, and well regulated would be an abdication of our moral obligation...". Wow. Torturing baby monkeys will never be seen as the moral high ground.

Then they say that Kalin's and Suomi's career-long torture of young monkeys is valuable and ethical and calls them "two of the nation’s leading scientists." While they could be among the richest and while Suomi must be one of the tallest, they lead only those who conduct similarly worthless, non-replicable, cruel experiments. The university then claims that Kalin's work must be good and important because it was "reviewed and supported by panels of scientists at the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH)."

But again, they know full well that the majority of the scientists serving on the panels that approved Kalin's cruelty are themselves vivisectors. Again, the authors seem intent on hoodwinking their audience.

They appeal to authority rather than facts when they write that Tom Insel, director of NIMH until November 2015, claimed that the Ebola outbreak proved the importance of animal research. The authors fail to mention that Insel is a past Director of the NIH's Yerkes Primate Research Center, a mega-lab at Emory University in Atlanta infamous for its cruelty to monkeys and to chimpanzees, or that Insel was an outspoken proponent of the use of chimpanzees in HIV studies, a completely discredited line of research. His opinions on any matter having to do with the ethics of animal experimentation are biased at best.

And, Insel's claim that animal research had any impact whatsoever on the course of the recent Ebola outbreak is far afield from reality, but hey, as we've seen already, facts hardly matter to those whose incomes are dependent on bamboozling the public. The World Heath Organization is hopeful but says clearly that, "At this time, there are no vaccines to protect against EVD [Ebola virus disease] licensed for use in humans."

The authors repeat Kalin's debunked claims about the importance of his experiments on monkeys, blowing more spoke up the behinds of those they hope don't understand science or take the take the time to do a little research on their own. That's the sort of thing charlatans count on.

And the VS just keeps coming. The authors -- and let me remind you that Allyson Joy Bennett is a past co-author with Suomi -- claim that because Suomi published over 500 papers and that because he has been cited over 10,000 times that his work must be important. But there are a lot of citations of various claims made in all sorts of matter-of-factly wrong reports. I hate to say it, but no one has risen from the dead -- no matter how many times it is claimed otherwise. Sillier still is their claim that because professional associations of vivisectors defended Suomi after it was announced that the NIH was shutting his lab down, that his work was important. The assertion simply underscores the fact that they assume their readers are ignorant, wowed by big numbers and too stupid to see through their fiction.

The claim that publishing many papers proves someone's work is important is just another example of the authors not really understanding science. Quantity and quality have little to do with each other. In case you think being published in a science journal means that someone's work is important, consider this: "Why most published research findings are false." (John Ioannidis. PLoS Med, 2(8), e124. 2005.)

The authors claim that the decision to use animals to study human psychiatric disorders (or for any other reason, presumably) is not made lightly, and they are right. It is made only after one learns that they can get rich doing so, regardless of the results.

And then, heaping absurdity upon absurdity, they state that "consideration of viable alternatives to research with live animals is a basic ethical principle that undergirds the conduct of all research with nonhuman animals." What a sad joke on the animals. Ethics and the use of animals have nothing in common. They are opposites. If it were otherwise, lifetimes would not be spent moving from animal experiment to animal experiment as so many vivisectors do.

The authors claim that Dr. Decker and those who have signed her petitions may not be aware that there is a regulatory system in place that is supposed to assure that animals are used only when necessary and only as humanely as possible. They claim that "the petitioners" ignore this "to further their agenda." But the authors are in a position to know full well that the regulatory system does not work. They are in a position to know that the university violated Wisconsin's anticruelty statutes for years while killing sheep in decompression experiments and staging fights between mice. They are in a position to know that researchers have hidden expired medications from federal inspectors, have paid no attention to dogs suffering after surgeries, have let cows die of starvation, allowed slipshod surgical procedures on monkeys's brains to continue for years, let hundreds, maybe thousands of animals die of thirst, to mention just a few of the problems that have come to light while operating under the "stringent regulatory oversight system" they claim should put everyone at ease.

It is possible that the authors simply can't recognize suffering when they are so enmeshed in the system that causes it.

The authors write: "Research animals are treated humanely. Research conducted with animals is highly regulated at the local, state and federal levels. The No. 1 priority for UW–Madison’s scientists, veterinarians, animal care personnel and institutional animal care and use committees is ensuring the welfare and humane treatment of animals used in ethically and scientifically sound research. In addition to honoring their ethical obligation, scientists maintain the highest standards of animal care to ensure that research results are scientifically valid."

I don't think one single assertion in that statement is correct. Not one. This would have been much closer to the truth: "Research animals are treated like the tools they are. Research conducted with animals is not regulated at the local or state level and is only nominally regulated at the federal levels. The No. 1 priority for UW–Madison’s scientists, veterinarians, animal care personnel and institutional animal care and use committees is cashing their pay checks. They have no ethical obligation to maintain anything other than the most minimal standards of animal care and get angry when someone says otherwise. They all know that their research publications pretty much meaningless."

Publicly-funded scientific research with animals receives no meaningful review; career scientists receive rubber stamp approvals. Proposals for research undergo scientific review from other vivisectors who know that their own proposals will be treated similarly. The importance of the research questions don't matter too much, the quality of the research approach and investigators, and the likelihood of the project’s success is of little account. Senior researchers get long-term funding even though everyone knows or should know that nothing of value will result from their tortuous experiments.

The authors conclude with the hollow observation that oversight at the university is the obligation of committees that include veterinarians, members of the public, scientists and others; but they fail to mention that these committees have been handmaidens to all the regulatory and legal violations that have occurred at the university over the years. They must have forgotten to say that.

Here is a link to Dr. Ruth Decker's petition, I urge you to add your name to it:

The university's VS:

* VS is much stinkier than plain old BS.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Disease Du Jour: Polio, HIV, Ebola, the Zika Virus

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the vivisectors sucking from that public teat have a strong interest in the public's perception of their work. They have in-house public relations departments and hire public relations companies to convince the public that the horribly cruel things they do are not cruel and that the worthless and frequently misleading experiments they pay for with tax dollars aren't worthless and misleading.

PR in place of demonstrable benefit may have gotten its start in the formation of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. David M. Oshinski explains in the introduction to his Pulitzer Prize winning Polio: An American Story:
In truth, polio was never the raging epidemic portrayed in the media, not even at its height in the 1940s and 1950s.... Polio's special status was due, in large part, to the efforts of a remarkable group, of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which employed the latest techniques in advertising, fund raising, and motivational research to turn a horrific but relatively uncommon disease into the most feared affliction of its time.
The wildly successful fund-raising schemes of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis became the model for all subsequent disease-focused PR campaigns and the use of charities to fund raise around particular illnesses. It is all-in-all a very misleading business.

Universities and the NIH have capitalized on the public's easily activated fear -- a favorite tactic used by all manner of people with ill intent. While HIV/AIDS is a serious illness, the use of monkeys and chimpanzees infected with HIV, SIV, and/or SHIV contributed nothing to the treatment regimes and prevention methods recommended by doctors.

HIV was a gigantic financial windfall for all the larger primate labs and continues to be so even today after decades of failure.

Ebola, a recent money-maker and publicity-grabber, was briefly milked for every dime the vivisectors could wring out of it. And exactly like HIV, multiple proclamations of important breakthroughs were dutifully reported on by local newspapers and the misleading claims reported on far and wide by other gullible reporters with little knowledge or interest in the past claims that also failed to hold up in human trials.

The new kid on the block, but certainly not the last, is the Zika virus. On February 10, 2016, the University of Wisconsin announced that David O'Connor -- who had made his fortune [$27,408,246 in NIH grants since 2005] and contributed to the university's overflowing treasure chest by using monkeys in biodefense and HIV "research" -- had snagged an NIH deal to infect pregnant monkeys with the virus to see what would happen. And of course, the (University of) Wisconsin State Journal, dutifully published the university-written article under the name of one of its reporters the very next day.

O'Connor is quoted saying, "The more hyperbolic the media coverage is, the more it gets repeated, reposted, retweeted," ... "The key messages are that we don’t know a lot. We will know a lot 12 months from now. But it’s really important we let data guide the decision making, not our guts."

But then, only two days later, the World Health Organization reported that they would have real data from actual women within weeks. Indeed, like HIV, the monkey data will add little and will probably be wrong anyway.

These diseases of the day are windfalls for vivisectors and their universities. NIH is anxious to appear responsive and also wants good press. It is an altogether sick system. But sick people aren't the system's real concern.

Meanwhile, monkeys and other animals are poisoned, sickened, and otherwise tormented for no good reason other than money. That's what the university and all the rest have their eyes so clearly fixed on.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dear Xodarap

I'm writing here in response to a comment on my essay: The Alliance for Animals.

I appreciate your comments Xodarap. My thought experiment contained a large error. The size of the 1/300-millionth is at least four or five times larger than I cited above. But the experiment still seems to suggest a probable truth. Using the larger number, perhaps using any larger number, it still seems to me that a reduction of 1/300-millionth of the demand will have no effect on supply. 1/300-millionth of the demand has no effect on supply. Individual vegans have no effect on the meat supply. I am doubtful even about the cumulative effect of all the vegans in the US combined, which is apparently about 1/2 of 1 percent of the U.S. population.

Corporate outreach may be worth trying sometimes. On the farm animal welfare front, as THL notes, it isn't new, and the outreach efforts have been welfarist in nature. You write: "you can track how much effort you put into the boycott or whatever and then if the company changes you can divide how many animals were saved by how much work you put in to get cost-effectiveness... Groups like MFA and THL have had successes which are pretty astonishing, often on the order of $.20 per animal."

I dearly wish that astonished me. I wish I weren't so uncertain about the best method(s). It's not clear to me that cage-free is particularly significant; I'm inferring from your comment above that $.20 per animal refers to chickens. I suspect that cage-free chickens lead miserable lives. I don't think that suffering is an easily quantifiable phenomena. I worry that announcements heralding news that this or that restaurant or supplier has switched to cage-free eggs or meat encourages consumers believe that farming animals is OK when done humanely.

Based on what appears to me to be a parallel case, it may be reasonable to assume that the farm animal welfare movement is unlikely to achieve what it may hope to achieve through the promotion of more humane methods.

Antivivisectionists worked for passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act of 1966, P.L. 89-544, the earlier version of today's Animal Welfare Act. Prior to passage, conditions in many of the labs across the country were worse than you might be able to imagine. Minimum standards of care and use were stipulated, institutions receiving federal funds were required to meet the standards or risk losing their funding. Improvements were made.

But conditions in the labs are terrible. It is true that scientists are more constrained than they were, animals have to have a certain tiny amount of space and they usually have to be be given adequate food and water. Maybe, if you could take a monkey from 50 years ago and whisk him to this time, he might say he now had it better, but to the monkeys and other animals here now, like I suspect it is for the chickens in the better prisons, its terrible. Really terrible. I can't discern much progress on the animal rights front or even any less suffering in the labs as a result of passage of this legislation. And, the Act is always pointed to by the industry as evidence that they are humane.

Calculations regarding the number of animals "saved" as a result of the more humane methods being used in the labs might be possible, a number might be generated, but it would have little real meaning. Trying to determine the dollar amount spent to bring about the improvements experienced per animal seems pointless, even absurd to me.

I appreciate you pointing to The Humane Leagues' three reviews of social movements. (There are BTW, some really good scholarly efforts to trace the development of animal advocacy. Norm Phelps's The Longest Struggle is an excellent starting point. Anyone interested in suggesting a new direction for an existing animal rights organization has an obligation, I think, to familiarize themselves with this body or work.) Like THL's Reports on the efficacy of various images and messaging, I found the articles interesting but not supportive of THL's fundamental claim. I also found them somewhat misleading and self-promoting at times, ignoring the lack of conclusive data in the THL Reports. I found their conflation of "animal groups" and "animal activism" annoying and misleading.

The last "case study" was interesting. The take-home message was that the fight to make the world a safer, more humane place for children has been a long one that continues to involve efforts on multiple fronts. I was a special education teacher in a rural community; I appreciate people's efforts for children.

As far as the Kool-Aid is concerned, because of the continuing reference by THL to its Reports as substantiation of their claims about the number of animals they save, it is fair to characterize their beliefs as overly zealous or wild. I don't think there is evidence that their ideas about helping animals are better than average; the animal question is a very hard problem. When I see others swoon, otherwise smart people, it looks to me like they have had some sort of shared experience, a conversion so to speak. Perhaps something was slipped into their food.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Alliance for Animals

I am writing here in response to a couple comments on the Alliance for Animals Facebook page. This seems a little long for a Facebook comment, but I will put a link to this essay on the group's page. I don't know how much longer the Alliance will have a FB page since there is effort by some of the Board members to dissolve the organization and give all of its cash and other assets to The Humane League (THL). I hope that rational thought and a concern for animals will prevail and that the Alliance will remain intact and active; but I am deeply worried that foolishness will prevail.

I posted a comment on my FB page and reported that the Alliance Board President, Gina Stuessy had removed one of my comments because, she said, I had insulted someone who had announced that he committed to making regular donations to "effective farm animal charities." Charlie Talbert, a past AFA Board president responded that my comment had been removed because, "It’s common practice and appropriate for FB groups to remove ad hominem attacks on individuals." The announcement I was responding to had been shared on the Alliance page. Unfortunately, my comment is not in my FB activity log, so I can't quote it here. It was removed within moments of me posting it, so I don't know that Talbert even saw it. It is my recollection that I said something like: "It's too bad Josh was taken in by the hype." I don't think I said anything that should have been construed as an attack on or criticism of Josh's character, if I did, I'm sorry. I don't know him. I suspect he's a caring and thoughtful person.

It isn't a coincidence though that Josh's announcement was shared on the Alliance FB page. It was a not so subtle promotion of the group and groupthink that is at the root of the effort to kill the Alliance and give all of its assets to THL.

Before going further, I want to respond to a comment by Melissa Smith (an important voice for wolves and other wild animals in Wisconsin) who mistakenly interpreted the situation with the Alliance and my criticism as just more of the in-fighting that plagues the animal rights movement. It is one thing to get into a dust-up over whether we should work on one issue or another or who's the purest vegan, but in this case, we are talking about eliminating the main vehicle for animal activism in Wisconsin.

A Two-Headed Coin

One of the observations I made that clearly rankled Talbert concerns the relationship between THL and Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE). I characterized the groups as two sides of the same coin. Talbert wrote to ACE and posted their response in the Alliance FB thread. ACE stringently denied this association, saying in part, "Any insinuation that ACE and THL are ‘two-sides of the same coin’ or that ACE ‘rates ourselves at the top of the list’ are unfounded." But really, what else could he say?

The plain fact that ACE rates THL as the most effective animal charity, most worthy of receiving donations from people who care about animals, is in and of itself evidence that something is amiss.

The "effective animal activism" community is tiny; it is a small subset of the animal rights community, itself very tiny. ACE is a spin-off of 80000 Hours, an effective altruism (EA) organization. ACE was at one time named Effective Animal Activism. 80000 Hours and ACE help promote the work of Nick Cooney, the founder of THL. It strains credibility that the main players in this very small community don't know each other, aren't friends, or don't communicate with each other.

This is what ACE says about THL, it's top-rated charity:

"The Humane League (THL) works to reduce suffering of farm animals through conducting online advertising, organizing grassroots outreach, instigating cage-free and Meatless Monday campaigns, giving presentations, and engaging in corporate outreach. THL shows exceptional strength in their desire to test for effectiveness, as evidenced by their efforts with Humane League Labs, a program designed to evaluate advocacy presentation and methods. They also use the evidence they find to guide their efforts."

They go on to say that they recommend giving to THL because: "THL has an exceptionally strong commitment to using studies and systematic data collection to guide their approach to advocacy."

This means one of two things: Either ACE did not look and think about the studies and systematic data collection that THL points to as evidence that they do this, or else, the evaluators at ACE didn't understand them. Since THL's "studies" are so weak and contradictory how else can we explain ACE's claims? There is one other possibility, the Kool-Aid may have been spiked.

Lest you think the confusion is mine, think about this: in some of THL's "studies" of the effectiveness of leafleting using various images and covers, the control groups showed equal or even greater effect than the experimental groups. That is, they found that the people who did not get a pamphlet changed their behavior more than the people who got one. Such results completely demolish any pretense of meaning from the "studies." In fact, the phenomena they claim to be looking at -- people choosing to be more compassionate toward animals -- is complex. The number of variables is large and poorly defined; THL's confused results are predictable.

Here's where the Kool-Aid comes in.

ACE: "From an average $1,000 donation, THL would spend about $320 on online ads, leading to 3,000 online video views. They would spend about $450 on grassroots outreach, resulting in the distribution of about 1,319 leaflets and reaching about 7 students through humane education lectures. THL would also spend about $220 campaigning for cage-free egg and Meatless Mondays policies and about $10 on research. Our rough estimate is that these activities combined would spare about 13,400 animals from life in industrial agriculture."

THL says things like this about their studies' results: "3.27 animals spared per cruelty-focused booklet vs. 2.94 animals spared per health-focused booklet."

That "rough estimate" is the sort of calculus that drives the effective animal activism community. A simple thought experiment might help explain why ACE and THL's claims are more illusion than fact.

A Thought Experiment

One of the techniques taught in formal problem-solving is to consider a simpler problem. A simplified version of a problem can sometimes help one see into the core issue and not be as distracted and confused by the variables. So here's a simplified thought experiment:

Imagine that there are no vegans or vegetarians in the U.S. We all eat the standard American diet; each of us consumes exactly the average amount of each type of meat, dairy, and eggs. That is, we all contribute equally to the consumption of the 3 billion animals killed. (Most of these were chickens of course, which actually hides the fact that the real number is actually about twice that because of the male chicks who were ground-up, suffocated, or just thrown away and were not counted.)

Anyway, 3 billion animals killed for food, all 326 million of us eat the same amount of meat, etc.

Now, one of us adopts a vegan diet.

It is obvious that a 1/326 millionth reduction in demand will have no effect whatsoever on the number of animals raised and killed.

There are not animals standing by waiting to be slaughtered who might not be killed if someone decides to reduce their meat consumption.

There must be some number of people which could affect demand to such an extent that it effected supply, but it is probably bigger than 1. And yet, ACE and THL claim that when someone adopts a diet that reduces their meat, egg, and/or dairy consumption that they are directly responsible for reducing the number of animals being raised and killed. That's obviously not correct.

Let me get back to my observation that ACE and THL are the same side of the same EA coin. The fact that ACE says that the group who thinks the most like them is the most effective makes this coin shine.

Consider what PETA can point to as evidence of their effectiveness: It seems readily obvious to me that by comparison, THL hasn't done very much and doesn't plan to do very much. And yet, ACE rates THL as the most effective animal charity. It looks like a back-patting club to me.

Stuessy's Ethical Duty

Let's move on to the question of whether Gina Stuessy has an ethical obligation to resign from the Alliance's Board of Directors. Talbert claims that because Stuessy has contributed a significant amount of money to the Alliance and has been a hardworking volunteer that she should be trusted to make a fair decision about the organization's fate.

Stuessy has taken an intern position with Animal Charity Evaluators. Coincidentally, I just received a LinkedIn notice about this. She may have an interest in a larger role with ACE, perhaps she could get a paid position. Perhaps the other interns are also hoping for paid jobs with ACE, I think that is a reasonable possibility.

How might the ACE leaders be swayed by the fact that one of the interns was able to finagle a very large donation to ACE's favorite charity?

Stuessy has admitted that she hopes THL might hire her if she is able to turn the Alliance's assets over to THC.

I think any neutral observer could easily conclude that Stuessy should not be involved in any decision-making with regard to the future of the Alliance. She simply has too many conflicts of interest.

The plain fact is that she now has a new favorite animal charity and wants to give the assets of her old favorite charity to them. In any case, even the appearance of a conflict of interest regarding a decision of this magnitude should disqualify her.

THL vs the Movement

That said, let's compare the effectiveness of the rest of the animal rights movement with the effectiveness of THL. Trying to turn the world vegan, one person at a time, or for one day a week, seems to me to have a low probability of changing the world into a place where animals are treated fairly and compassionately. So far, it hasn't been more effective than anything else.

It is a matter of fact that everyone involved with ACE and THL and you and me and every other animal activist and most of the vegans, are who we are, believe what we believe, because of the effectiveness of the past decades of work by thousands of activists.

I remember when there wasn't an animal rights movement. Essentially everything that has happened in the U.S., has happened in my lifetime. When I was working (unsuccessfully) to establish the Primate Research Exhibition Hall, I was collecting items for display. I have a large tub filled with animal rights leaflets and pamphlets, they are all different. No one design or message can be pointed to as the best, most effective one because the settings and situations that led to them are so varied.


Let's compare the effectiveness of THL with the effectiveness of the Alliance. The Alliance has been able to get media coverage of many local animal issues. The Alliance has had its issues talked about on the front pages of all the main local print media and on local television and radio. To the degree that anyone in Madison or Dane County knows what is happening to animals in their community, its largely because of the Alliance. The Alliance has repeatedly gotten its issues discussed by and sometimes acted on by local elected officials. Because of the Alliance, others learned about Ned Kalin's revival of some of Harry Harlow's methods; the Alliance's work led directly to Dr. Ruth Decker's petition and the one million signatures on it. The Alliance has the ability to motivate the sort of letter writing that has some chance of affecting legislators and government officials' decisions. Additionally, the Alliance has actively promoted veganism in many ways and has exposed hundreds maybe thousands of local people to good vegan food and the philosophy behind veganism.

Madison and Dane County host one of only seven federal primate vivisection labs; Madison and Dane County host the contract animal labs of Covance, which may kill more monkeys and dogs in their labs here than are killed anyplace else in the U.S. Dane County hosts one of the largest breeders of dogs for research in the country. THL is handing out leaflets hoping to get people to reduce their animal consumption and arguing their methods are the most effective. They argue indirectly that activists ought not waste their time speaking up for the animals in Madison's labs, for the geese who are rounded up in the parks when they are molting and then gassed, for the animals caught and killed in traps in Dane County parks, that no one should be wasting their time trying to help feral cats, or trying to stop pig wrestling throughout the state. They argue that because more chickens, pigs, and cows are killed than other animals, that we should ignore the others.

THL and ACE seem not to agree that we need changes in the law or that such change is the key to making the world a less terrible place for animals. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But the Alliance is a coalition of people who have contributed their time and money to address local issues, to try and affect local change. Supporters expected that their donations would go to those efforts. The Alliance Board of Directors has a clear obligation to do its best to meet that expectation. Killing the Alliance would violate the trust placed in them; it would all but give all the local animal abusers a free pass to continue without much concern that someone might be paying attention.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

I'm not a Jehovah's Witness.

I'm also not a Mormon and don't personally know anyone who is. And yet, according to some fairly recent claims by some within the animal rights-ish movement, the world should be teeming with both because of Mormons' and Witnesses' diligent leafleting and door-to-door proselytizing.

According to some, the most effective way to help animals is to hand out leaflets about the use of animals in agriculture. Those making this claim argue that because more animals are raised and killed for food, that this is the area of animal use and harm that should be focused on to the exclusion of all other use and abuse because it will have the greatest effect.

Those making this argument also claim to have evidence to back up their claim, but they actually don't. It is the evidence they claim that proves their activism is more effective than others' activism. They even call themselves Effective Altruists, a demeaning backhand to all the rest us ineffective activists. It is true that meat production results in an inconceivable number of animals being hurt and killed every year. But it isn't true that there is any real evidence that telling people this will change their behavior. It will change the behavior of a few, just as a few people probably become Jehovah's Witnesses after reading a copy of The Watchtower.

It isn't that words can't change people's minds. Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Jungle, Silent Spring, and Animal Liberation are examples of words doing just that. Those books led to people doing much more than leafleting or simply giving their money to those who were spending their time trying to get people to leaflet.

The main claim of Effective Animal Activists, the claim that they say justifies their use of the term effective, is that they have evidence to back it up.

Those who know me, know that I've spent nearly two decades looking at "evidence" that experiments on animals have been a significant factor in the improvement of human health over time. That "evidence" turns out to be largely hyperbole. My hyperbole-detecting radar was activated by the claim that a purported animal rights group had discovered the Holy Grail of helping animals.

Let's look at the evidence pointed to by Effective Animal Activists aka The Humane League. These reports are at:

They introduce it with this bit of hyperbole: "Our work is guided by a clear bottom line: How many animals are we helping? How much suffering are we reducing? Our programs are data-driven and informed by the latest research in social psychology, as well as the work of our research wing, Humane League Labs."

They list ten "Reports" produced by them that apparently are intended to prove that their work is more effective than the work of other groups, and thus, it would be more effective to give your money to them.

The earliest Report is from July 19, 2013: "Which Leaflet Is More Effective?" They explain: "The goal of the study was to see how much diet change is brought about – and how many animals are spared – through college leafleting. Approximately 450 students at two major east coast state universities filled out a survey two to three months after receiving a leaflet."

While the results of such a small study could be interesting or suggestive, the effect would need to be pretty robust before any conclusion could be drawn. The Report claimed that "About one out of every 50 students who received a leaflet indicated they became vegetarian or pescatarian as a result." That is not a robust effect.

One of the apparent authors (probably all with a personal interest in seeing a positive effect), seems to have been Nick Cooney, who reported in bold letters: "In summary, for every 100 leaflets distributed, we can conservatively estimate that approximately 50 farm animals are spared each year from a lifetime of misery."

That is matter-of-factly nonsense. I estimate that my 40 years of veganism has resulted in 5 fewer cows, 7 fewer pigs, and 755 fewer chickens being eaten (by me). [See "40 Years of Veganism" July 26, 2012.] According to the Effective Animal Activists, my 40 years of veganism, had I have been the one out of the 50 who reported becoming vegetarian or pescatarian, that I would have saved 1000 animals. It remains to be seen whether any of the 9 students who reported being moved by the pamphlets will maintain their conviction or whether it will just have been a college fad that they embraced for a moment.

Since the study group was so small, The Humane League's claims based on the results of this very unscientifically conducted study are anecdotal at best and provide no evidence that leafleting is particularly effective. Additionally, no other method of changing the world was compared.

"Which Factory Farming Video Is More Effective?" is dated July 19, 2013. The results are pretty much meaningless, which the unnamed authors acknowledge: "The best measure of video impact immediately available is what percentage of visitors where inspired enough by the video to order a Vegeterian [sic] Starter Pack/ Guide To Meat-Free Meals. Using Google Analytics, we measured what percentage of ad-originating visitors (those who came to the site because they clicked on an ad) were inspired enough to click to order a Guide. This does not necessarily reflect the actual amount of dietary change each video inspired." Fewer than 3% of viewers of either video ordered a Pack or Guide. And of course, as the "Which Leaflet Is More Effective?" report above suggests, very few of those receiving printed information are likely to change their behavior anyway.

"Large-Scale Survey of Vegans, Vegetarians, and Meat Reducers" is dated April 7, 2014. It seems to be the best of the reports, but is essentially little more than an unscientific poll with questions about respondents' beliefs about their diets. It does provide interesting data. The survey does not attempt to delineate or identify reasons that people adopted a vegan or vegetarian diet. All questions are about respondents' opinions about animals are couched in questions about animals on farms. Oddly, one reported result is that people were most affected by documentary films and books, but the Effective Animal Activists rely primarily on on-line ads and leafleting.

"What Elements Make A Vegetarian Leaflet More Effective?" May 20, 2014. This Report is another insignificant bit of data with little if any value for the animal right movement. The unnamed authors admit as much. The Report starts out with hyperbole: "Between July 2013 and February 2014, Humane League Labs carried out a large-scale study to determine what elements would make a pro-vegetarian booklet more effective at inspiring young people to reduce their consumption of animal products." But concedes that "The data for the individual booklets is not reliable due to small sample sizes (45-95 participants per booklet completed the three month follow-up survey)." They also reported that "in the three month follow-up study, those in the control group (those who never received a booklet ) reported more of a reduction in animal product consumption than those who received any of the other booklets." The authors dismissed the problem by saying that the group size was too small to be meaningful.

"What Cover Photos Make People Most Interested In Reading Pro-Veg Literature?" August 29, 2014. The authors report that people are more likely to choose a pamphlet with a human or a burger on the cover than they are to choose a pamphlet with a picture of an animal. But who didn't know this? Additionally, the methodology is murky. They explain, "Respondents were presented with a random selection of 3 of 12 photos of booklet covers, each presented one at a time. Respondents were then asked to choose, based on their initial impression of the three covers, one booklet they would like to read." This might be helpful to people designing covers for magazines on newsstands, but it is hard to see how it applies directly to leafleting or particularly to tabling.

"Is One Message or Multiple Messages More Effective For Inspiring People To Reduce Meat Consumption?" September 22, 2014. The authors were unsure of the meaning of the results. They concluded that it is probably best to mention a number of issues in a leaflet about eating animals, contrary they say to (un-cited) sociological evidence suggesting the opposite when it comes to asking people to be more altruistic.

"Which Vegan Meals Do Omnivores Find Most Appetizing And Accessible?" January 24, 2015. Here, The Humane League explained that they, "presented omnivores aged 18 and older with a random selection of 7 vegan food photos out of a set of 21 photos. Each photo was shown one at a time, and the viewer was asked to rate how appetizing they felt the dish was, how likely they would be to order it at a restaurant, and how likely they would be to make the dish at home. All food photos were stock or stock quality images." And concluded that: "Familiar dishes that happened to be vegan were consistently ranked as most appetizing, most likely to be ordered at a restaurant, and most likely to be cooked at home." Well, duh.

"Which Farm Animal Photos Are Most Likely To Inspire People To Eat Vegan?" January 25, 2015. The conclusion in this Report was that graphic images of dead or suffering animals rated the highest when omnivores were asked how much the photo made him or her want to stop eating animal products. There was no follow up on whether any of the images actually did make any of the participants stop eating animals, so the actual degree of inspiration any image really had remains unknown.

"Is Animal Cruelty or Purity (“Abolitionist”) Messaging More Effective?" September 20, 2015. This is an altogether odd inclusion in what is purported to be the meaningful body of evidence for the rationale guiding the work of Effective Animal Activists. They write, "[A] small segment of activists believes that focusing on the suffering of farmed animals is counter-productive. These activists, who often refer to their approach as “abolitionist,” believe that advocacy materials should focus on the inherent rights of animals and the need to live a vegan lifestyle in order to morally consistent." The Effective Animal Activists claim that it is wholly the immediate numbers that should be used to evaluate effectiveness, it doesn't make sense that they would take a moment of their time to address the criticisms of a small segment of activists whom they believe are ineffective anyway. Go figure. They concluded that their way was better than the abolitionists' way.

The Effective Animal Activists always try to ground their claims in some measurable reduction in suffering. I don't believe this is actually possible, but to the degree that it might be, the Effective Animal Activists seem to have a confused way of calculating it, which this Report helps illustrate. (An aside, how do you compare the suffering experienced by a broiler hen, who will be killed when she is about 45 days old and the suffering of a monkey held in isolation for years and experimented on repeatedly? How do you compare the suffering of 100 animals for a year and the suffering of one animal for 10 years? Weighing suffering is fraught with difficulty.)

In this Report they explain their metric:
Given background knowledge about how much meat, eggs, and dairy the average American eats per year, we can make educated guesses about the number of days of suffering prevented by a given % reduction in consumption. For example, the average American eats enough chicken to cause approximately 1220 days of suffering (i.e., days of life that a chicken must lead in misery being raised for meat). If an individual expresses an intention to reduce their chicken consumption by 10%, then we can extrapolate that this will spare about 122 days of suffering on the part of chickens.

Days of suffering experienced by animals per year were estimated as follows:
Fish: 1500
Chicken: 1220
Eggs: 365
Red Meat: 113
Dairy: 12
I can't imagine what 1500 days of suffering per year for fish might mean. It is undoubtedly true that a fish caught in a commercial trawler's net will suffer, but how do you calculate "days of suffering" from that? Maybe you can figure it out from these federal statistics, I can't.

The most recent Report is from September 20, 2015: "Which request creates the most diet change, 'vegan,' 'vegetarian,' 'eat less meat,' or 'cut out or cut back on' animal products?" The Report explains its purpose:
In this study, college students were approached at random on campus and asked to complete a short survey on how often they consume various animal products. They were then given a booklet that promoted veg eating. Booklets were identical to each other except for the type of diet change that was encouraged. Some booklets encouraged “vegan” eating, some encouraged “vegetarian” eating, some encouraged readers to “eat less meat,” and some encouraged readers to “cut out or cut back on” meat and other animal products. A control group was given no booklet.

But it determined nothing, because, as the Report explains, "... the study’s small control group, which was not given any booklet, reported changing its meat consumption the most, which is unexpected and counter-intuitive."


Taken either individually or in toto, the Reports relied on by The Humane League do not rise to the level of being actionable evidence. If, in fact, and as they seem to say, that this is the body of evidence that drives and guides the group's activities, then quite clearly, they are simply guessing what they ought to be doing to help animals, and in this sense, they are little different than any other animal advocacy organization or group. But they are different in a way, they say only their way is effective, and that, based on what the claim is their evidence, is absolute bunk.

The Effective Animal Activists' calculations and assertions are suspect. Human slavery was ended because of legal challenges and protest in the U.S. and England, not because a few people were deciding to use fewer slave-produced products. I wish it was all as easy as handing out a few more pamphlets.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Whipless Wednesdays

Effective Altruism (EA) is a relatively recent arrival on the social activism front. It is an idea that many people find appealing, and it makes sense on its face. The essential claim is that we ought to donate to charities that will use the money to do the most good. The underlying philosophy is that we ought to be helping the most (humans, usually) we can with our limited resources. As laudable and logical as that sounds, the conclusions it leads to sometimes seem questionable to me even when EA is applied to the animal issue; determining what "the most good" actually is turns out to be much harder than the simplistic formulas appealed to by some effective altruists.

One example is the embrace and promotion of Meatless Mondays by effective altruists trying to help animals. The EA organization, Animal Charity Evaluators estimates that in the United Kingdom, about 1,203,484,253 chickens and mammals are killed for food every year. If everyone in the UK participated in Meatless Mondays it would result in about 23 million fewer animals being killed every year. Effective altruists look at that large number of animals and conclude that it might be more effective to support charities promoting Meatless Mondays rather than charities trying to stop animal experimentation or fox hunting or banning horse-drawn carriages.

As compelling as the numbers are, they don't seem to me to add up to real progress; they don't seem likely to solve the problem, and until the problem is solved the carnage will continue. The title of this essay is an attempt to cast the issue in some historical light. I don't see how Whipless Wednesdays would have hastened the end of slavery in the U.S., no matter how many fewer lashes might have resulted every week. And imagine those British and later American abolitionists being content with asking people to forego sugar, cotton, and tobacco. Doing that alone would not have ended slavery even if it could have reduced the number of slaves; that might explain why the early abolitionists were doing other things as well.

The embrace of effective altruism has naturally led some to conclude that the most good they can do with their donations is to support charities working in the poorest areas of Africa. Dollars have more buying power in poor countries. The goal is to reduce those people's suffering by improving their standard of living. The EA organization, Give Well, promoted by Peter Singer, recommends supporting organizations that are giving mosquito nets to people in areas with a high incidence of malaria or to organizations treating children with parasitic diseases.

It will never be popular to say that maybe we shouldn't try to save the poorest sickest children on the planet, but maybe we shouldn't. Every one of the children who lives to adulthood will contribute to an increase in the local population and an increase in the consumption of consumer goods. The evidence is clear that an increase in living standard is associated with increased meat consumption which means increased environmental harm and suffering. See for instance: China in the Next Decade.

The main problem with effective altruism is the sad fact that we are unable to reliably predict the outcome of specific efforts promoting social change. Who could have predicted the result of one woman refusing to give up her seat on a bus? Using the EA model, since only she would perhaps get to keep her seat, it would have been seen ahead of time as unlikely to be effective. She would have been counseled to handout leaflets instead.

Unfortunately, numbers alone cannot and never have predicted which animal-related issue will attract public attention and lead to a change in the laws that regulate our interactions with animals. The Silver Spring monkey case is but one example. The Animal Welfare Act is largely the result of a single Life magazine article about a few dogs being stolen by bunchers and sold to university labs. It is impossible to accurately predict what campaign will do the most to hasten change; to the extent possible, and as some animal rights organizations have always done, it seems best to address the problem simultaneously on a number of fronts.