Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Slow News Day at NIH



“NIH-funded mouse study sheds light on neural risks associated with prenatal alcohol exposure.”

“The team administered alcohol to pregnant mice at levels that resulted in peak blood alcohol concentrations approximately like those of people who either drink socially or who have severe alcohol use disorder. They then examined fetal brain cell response to alcohol and two other environmental stressors --hydrogen peroxide and methyl mercury—all known to induce oxidative stress...”.

PI/Project Leader: HASHIMOTO-TORII, KAZUE

ROLES OF PRIMARY CILIA IN THE DEVELOPING CORTEX EXPOSED TO ALCOHOL
Project Number: 1R21AA024882-01A1
Total Funding: $207,813.
Direct Costs: $118,750. Indirect Costs: $89,063

THE ROLES OF ALCOHOL-INDUCIBLE RNA-OPERONS IN THE FETAL BRAIN
Project Number: 1R01AA025215-01
Total Funding: $368,513.
Direct Costs: $210,579. Indirect Costs: $157,934

BIOMARKER FOR INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY IN CHILDREN PRENATALLY EXPOSED TO ALCOHOL [“The Hashimoto-Torii lab will perform the single-cell droplet digital PCR- based biomarker analyses (drop-PCR) with both human and mouse blood samples. The Torii lab will collect the mouse blood samples, perform comprehensive mouse behavior analyses, and statistically evaluate potential correlations between the animal behaviors and drop-PCR results.”] Project Number: 1UH2AA026106-01 Total Funding: $261,791.
Direct Costs: $157,340. Indirect Costs: $104,451

Meanwhile,

In 2007, it was reported that women who received 10- to 15-minutes of counseling from a nutritionist about the risks of drinking were 5 times more likely to report abstinence during their pregnancy. [O’Connor, Mary J., and Shannon E. Whaley. "Brief intervention for alcohol use by pregnant women." American journal of public health 97.2 (2007): 252-258.]

Friday, June 16, 2017

Up is Down, or Happy Lab Rats

It seems to be a law of human nature that whenever someone or some group is routinely doing something evil, and the public learns of it, the person or group denies it and is compelled to dress it up in a way that is nearly or even exactly the opposite of reality.

The propaganda from people and organizations whose incomes rest squarely on hurting and killing animals in the name of $cience are examples of this phenomena. For as long as I have been reading about the use of animals in science, people like me have have been pointing to the terrible things occurring in the labs, while the people working in or in support of the labs have been claiming that the people hurting and killing the animals care about them and respect them.

Most of the images above come from a somewhat new website created by the not-so-new Americans for Medical Progress, whose name is an Orwellian twist on the group's actual work and goal which is clearly the defense and promotion of vivisection.

This strategy isn't new. Not at all.

As criticism of slavery in the South escalated, pro-slavery propaganda made absurd claims about how much slave owners cared for their slaves and how very happy they were.



The National Holocaust Memorial Museum explains that in response to growing international awareness of Nazi atrocities, that the Red Cross was allowed to visit the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia.

"Elaborate measures were taken to disguise conditions in the ghetto and to portray an atmosphere of normalcy. This footage, showing an orchestral performance, is part of a German propaganda film made following the Red Cross visit to Theresienstadt."

The term used for such intentional deceit, the effort to make those on the outside think things on the inside are much better than they are, is Potemkin village.
To my knowledge, the most extreme case(s) of using a Potemkin village to delude people are the websites run by the vivisection industry's lobbyists and front groups. They vary a bit, but a common deception is the use of images of attractive people holding seemingly happy animals in a friendly manner, but that representation is a facade that hides a cold and gruesome reality.

These images serve the same purpose as the drawings of happy slaves and the Nazi's staging at Theresienstadt. They are intended only to deceive.

It seems that the elaboration of the facades, the absurdity of the falsehoods, increase in step with the degree of horror the perpetrators are trying to hide. Covering up and hiding atrocities is always despicable. It is particularly odious when taxpayer-funded entities become participants. At that point, it is tantamount to government trying to fool the public into believing something that is the opposite of what it is actually doing and paying others to do.

Treason is the term used when a citizen betrays their country; I don’t think there is a word for government hoodwinking citizens, but betrayal comes close.

The reality hidden behind the smiling faces is much different.

USDA inspection reports, the materials and methods sections of published papers, undercover videos and photographs reveal an altogether different world than the happy nonsense and fake news from the industry's propagandists. To them, the animals are disposable.

Plain unalterable facts make it clear that in many cases the animals are treated poorly. And even when they are treated relatively well, it is a prelude to their eventual use. In essentially all cases, their living conditions are severely constrained and commonly bleak.

There is no way to dress up vivisection without a gross misrepresentation of the plain facts.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Speaking of misleading people...

There is a big and important difference between being wrong and trying to fool people. Anyone who writes very much about things done in secret is bound to get things wrong every now and then. But knowing the truth and telling people something different is a whole other matter.

When one knows the truth, but tells someone something different, to financially benefit oneself, it is an example of the worse sort of lying. It will come as no shock to my regular readers to learn that a very recent case of this sort of swindle involves the group of self-interested vivisectors who misleadingly call themselves Speaking of Research.

The group wrote on their website something they titled “Open letter: Private workshop on the “necessity” of monkey research does not represent broad public interests or the scientific community.” (Isn’t everything on a public website an “open letter”?)

They were up in arms that Jeffrey Kahn, Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, had the gall and timidity to convene a workshop centered around the question of using monkeys in biomedical research. How dare he, they complained, since the NIH (forced by concerns from member of Congress) put on a workshop less than a year earlier (“Continued Responsible Oversight of Research with Non-Human Primates”) that came to the (NIH-wanted) conclusion that the use of primates in NIH-funded research was just as it should be.

To understand the fullness of their deceit, you should review what transpired at the NIH “workshop.” It was a sham, a show-trial for those pesky members of Congress.

Continued Responsible Oversight - Part 1
Continued Responsible Oversight - Part 2
Continued Responsible Oversight - Part 3 (Which you might want to read first.)

Speaking made the outlandish claim: “The scientific community has publicly weighed in on the necessity of primate research,” and pointed to hundreds of vivisectors who support the continued use of primates. (Previously, Speaking was all hot and bothered by the change in U.S. policy regarding the use of chimpanzees.) But the “scientific community” has decidedly not weighed in. Moreover, since it is claimed that science per se is morally neutral, opinions held by scientists on moral questions should not have more weight than anyone else’s. Particularly not when the opining scientists have a clear vested interest in the answer to the question. Examples of scientists accepting cash and then providing a wanted scientific opinion for a company or industry are legion.

The claim that the “scientific community” has weighed in is also very misleading. A tiny number, relative to the size of the entire scientific community, have voiced an opinion, and the opinions of those who have, have been cherry-picked by the vivisection community to bolster their claim that without experiments on animals all medical progress will screech to a halt and babies will die.

But nearly all of those who have added their names to the claim that we must keep hurting and killing monkeys are financially vested in the practice or in the practice of hurting and killing other animals. Characterizing this extraordinarily biased constituency as the “scientific community” is either a grandiose delusion or else just simple propaganda, in other words, a lie. Here’s the vivisection community’s spiel which includes a list of the people who signed on in agreement: “Primate research is crucial if we are to find cures for diseases like Parkinson's.” The Guardian, 9-16.

Reading down the list of people who added their names, almost all have clear professional and financial ties to animal experimentation. It’s like saying that the energy production community says that without coal we won’t have electricity and to prove it, here’s a letter saying so signed by coal company executives and miners.


Moreover, Speaking says that the conclusion of the NIH-convened workshop, stacked with those vested in the system, proves that everything is as it should be, but the self-serving nature of the workshop was blatant.

Speaking’s criticism that the Johns Hopkins workshop on the necessity of monkey research did not represent “broad public interests or the scientific community” is ludicrous. Polls show that public opinion is shifting, with a clear majority of women opposed to animal experimentation. Published surveys have shown unequivocally that the general public has significantly more concern over the use of primates than the use of rodents.

It is clear that the Johns Hopkins workshop was much more in tune with broad public interests than the silly and staged NIH workshop, let alone vivisectors’ self-serving endorsement of hurting and killing more monkeys.

In looking at the publications on this topic, I happened across one in Science that reported on the changes in a response that resulted from changes in the words used in the questions asked by pollsters. [How much does the public support animal research? Depends on the question Science 9-14.)] In the U.K., people seem to be more supportive of “animal research” than they are of “animal experimentation.” That begs the question of whether any words can adequately express what is being asked in such polls. It would tell us much more about public opinion if people could get a good idea what they are being asked about.

Let’s educate people about what is done to the animals, how they are stored, and how the data from the experiments is used. They should see videos of the animals in the cages and bins, and of the animals being used, and be provided with an accounting of the clinical benefits or lack thereof that resulted, and then asked whether they are comfortable paying for it all. Don’t hold your breath though, such video documentation is vigorously guarded by the vivisection community; the very last thing they want is an informed public.

Speaking’s protestation notwithstanding, it is awesome that ethicists are looking more seriously at our treatment of those less powerful but no less sensitive or deserving than ourselves.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

How Like Us Need They Be?

Rick Bogle, 2002
Revised and presented at Kindred Spirits, Indiana University. September 9, 2006.

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The laboratory use of monkeys and apes is a potent backdrop for discussing the human/animal relationship. Laboratory research with nonhuman primates has contributed significantly to the large and growing body of evidence that mind is not a uniquely human trait. This knowledge has emerged partly from a century of usually harmful laboratory experiments on monkeys. It is today’s national standard that evidence of mind in another species is an appropriate and sufficient justification for nearly any harm we might wish to impose on them in biomedical or behavioral studies associated with brain function. The evidence gathered by past and current research, when considered alongside the harm we cause in the labs, necessitates a reexamination of our relationship with other species. How similar to us do animals have to be before harming them should be deemed criminal? How like us need they be?

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The behavioral repertoire of nonhuman primates is highly evolved and includes advanced problem-solving capabilities, complex social relationships, and sensory acuity equal or superior to humans.(1)

Thomas M. Burbacher and Kimberly S. Grant
Few individuals with more than a passing knowledge of who monkeys and apes are would argue with the assertions being made by Burbacher and Grant. But such an understanding tends to segregate people into one of two groups. Either, like Burbacher and Grant, they see the close similarities between human and nonhuman primates as an opportunity for exploitation, or else, like a growing segment of society, they see the affinities between the primate species as cause for concern, especially in light of the ways that nonhuman primates are being used in the labs.

When Jeremy Bentham wrote:
The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor (see Lewis XIV's Code Noir). It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?(2)
he meant that the similarities between species, even between races, are, in fact, the point on which decisions regarding our interactions with others should turn.

Burbacher and Grant, quoted above, are representative of the group that sees similarity as an opportunity to exploit without much pause for the ethical questions that, for others, spring so readily to mind. Burbacher and Grant reinforce their position quite strongly:
Nonhuman primates are capable of advanced behaviors that share important and fundamental parallels with humans. These parallels include highly developed cognitive abilities and binding social relationships. The behavioral repertoire of these animals makes them valuable models for research on the functional effects of exposure to neurotoxic agents.(3)
Apparently, the “important and fundamental parallels” and the “highly developed cognitive abilities and binding social relationships” that many primate species share are insufficient, in the minds of Burbacher and Grant, to suggest, by way of Bentham, that these animals should not be “abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor.” The neurotoxic agents considered by Burbacher and Grant include methylmercury, methanol, PCBs, lead, as well as other neuroactive agents such as cocaine, LSD, morphine, and PCP. They comment, “Drugs such as phencyclidine (PCP) produced an overall disruptive effect on all test measures.”

The cognitive abilities of monkeys and apes have increasingly been shown to be strikingly like the cognitive abilities of humans. Some of those uncovering these abilities have realized that there is an implication to such discovery. Fagot, Wasserman and Young, writing with regard to their own work on abstract conceptualization in baboons note: “To be sure, the stakes are high. What is at issue is no arcane point, but the very distinction between the minds of human beings and nonhuman animals.”(4)

As the distinction between the mind of a human and the mind of a monkey becomes more subtle and less easily defined, it becomes more obvious that the moral distinctions we make throughout our dealings with them must be more carefully considered. This, also, is no arcane point. Approximately sixty thousand nonhuman primates are used in the U.S. alone every year for various scientific and educational purposes.(6) The methods used to raise, house, and utilize these animals are inherently cruel.(5) These practices result in much mental duress and, not uncommonly, physical pain and death.

Harry Harlow used the similarity between young rhesus monkeys and human infants to study the nature of love. He understood clearly, even in 1958, that the two species’ similarities are such that what is learned about the emotions and psyches of one species informs us of the emotions and psyches of the other.
The macaque infant differs from the human infant in that the monkey is more mature at birth and grows more rapidly; but the basic responses relating to affection, including nursing, contact, clinging, and even visual and auditory exploration, exhibit no fundamental differences in the two species. Even the development of perception, fear, frustration, and learning capability follows very similar sequences in rhesus monkeys and human children.(7)
Harlow used these similarities to the detriment of the baby monkeys on whom he experimented. He showed that rhesus monkeys reared without contact with others – monkeys or humans – developed severe mental problems and behavioral aberrations. He apparently missed altogether, the most profound implication of his work – the moral implications raised by the similarity of emotional need between the species. He seems to have missed the implication of the claim that what is learned about the mind of one of the primate species informs us of the minds of the other species. Thus, what would hurt us also hurts them in very similar and familiar ways.

This similarity and familiarity with the minds of other primates is not surprising. Charles Darwin pointed out there should be a continuum of attributes throughout all species, with the most similar attributes being found in the nearest relatives. We should be able to recognize the emotions being experienced by chimpanzees and monkeys precisely because we are all so closely related. This close relationship means that much about us, about the way we perceive and feel, is the same.

Researchers studying the neurological basis of emotion have exploited our similarities in a manner that suggests that they too have missed the more profound moral implications of the familial relationship that exists within the primate order. David Amaral, at the University of California, Davis, and Ned Kalin, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, experiment on the emotion centers of monkeys’ brains. The techniques used by these scientists are similar.

The amygdala is the almond-shaped region of the brain involved in basic emotions such as fear, anger and aggression. There is an amygdala in each hemisphere of the brain. Amaral and Kalin destroy or otherwise damage these structures in monkeys’ brains and then observe the changes in the monkeys’ behavior.

The monkeys used by Kalin and Amaral are macaques. These monkeys have amygdalae relatively larger than human amygdalae.(8) Comparative neurophysiology suggests that the emotions experienced by these animals are more intense and central to their lives than are the emotions experienced by humans.(9) As relatively reduced as emotional experiences must be in humans, we recognize them to be a fundamental part of our innermost being.

Kalin provides a description of one facet of his work:
“In nonhuman primates, we are examining behavioral and physiological correlates of human anxiety. We have identified a fearful endophenotype that is characterized by high levels of trait anxiety, a specific pattern of prefrontal brain electrical activity, and increased levels of stress hormones in the blood and in the brain. We have developed new techniques to selectively lesion the primate amygdala and these studies have provided new insights into the role of the amygdala in mediating acute fearful responses as compared to states of long term anxiety.”(10)
Amaral et al. write:
The amygdaloid complex is a prominent temporal lobe region that is associated with "emotional" information processing. Studies in the rodent have also recently implicated the amygdala in the processing and modulation of pain sensation, the experience of which involves a considerable emotional component in humans. In the present study, we sought to establish the relevance of the amygdala to pain modulation in humans by investigating the contribution of this region to antinociceptive processes in nonhuman primates. Using magnetic resonance imaging guidance, the amygdaloid complex was lesioned bilaterally in six rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) through microinjection of the neurotoxin ibotenic acid. This procedure resulted in substantial neuronal cell loss in all nuclear subdivisions of this structure. (11)
Amaral writes to justify one federal grant with an implicit statement of the similarity between monkeys and humans:
[C]omplete amygdala lesions will be produced in neonatal macaque monkeys. The effects of these lesions on mother-infant and juvenile-juvenile interactions will be evaluated. Future studies (when the neonates have matured) will analyze dyadic and tetradic social interactions and thus allow comparisons of the severity of effects of neonatal or mature amygdala lesions on social behavior. During these experiments, the pituitary-adrenal activation of lesioned and control monkeys in response to social and restraint stressors will also be analyzed. These studies will provide important insights into the neurobiology of normal social behavior and may contribute to an understanding of pathologies of social communication in disorders such as autism.(12)
The similarities between the primate species’ minds, emotions, and social behaviors are being relied on and used as justifications for modern experiments on the brains of awake, usually restrained, monkeys. Commonly, the monkeys are required to perform some cognitive task in order to receive a small food reward or a few drops of liquid. It is a standard procedure in these types of studies to deprive the monkeys of food and/or water in order to motivate them to perform for the vivisector. The clear recognition that monkeys and humans have minds and thought processes that are very similar motivates some scientists to utilize them as experimental subjects in these ways, as at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
The ability to abstract principles or rules from direct experience allows behaviour to extend beyond specific circumstances to general situations. For example, we learn the 'rules' for restaurant dining from specific experiences and can then apply them in new restaurants. The use of such rules is thought to depend on the prefrontal cortex (PFC) because its damage often results in difficulty in following rules. Here we explore its neural basis by recording from single neurons in the PFC of monkeys trained to use two abstract rules.(13)
Advances in technology are allowing scientists to make ever-finer measurements of physiological processes in alert monkeys performing cognitive tasks. Much of what is known regarding the neurophysiologic similarities of the primates is a result of these technological advances, and an argument might be made that it is only in recent years that the profundity of the discoveries has begun to amass into a noticeable body of evidence. But this is not the case at all.

The close mental, emotional, and behavioral similarities between humans and other primate species have been known for many years, while careful scientific observation and experimentation have been demonstrating these facts for nearly a century. Wolfgang Kohler, whose investigations Jane Goodall has cited(14) as among the most important in the literature, wrote in 1925 that: “The chimpanzees manifest intelligent behavior of the general kind familiar in human beings.”(15)

In the early 1960’s scientists were subjecting monkeys, increasingly, to experiments that displayed the emotional vulnerability and cognitive depths of these animals. Harlow’s decades-long career as well as his success at inspiring young experimental psychologists, resulted in an explosion of papers associated with maternal and social deprivation and stress, particularly in infants. These scientists were exploiting what they already believed to be true regarding the similarity between the emotional fragility of infant monkeys and young humans.(16)

Masserman, Wechkin, and Terris published the results of a study that underscores the fact that those who were experimenting on monkeys, even forty years ago, clearly expected them to behave as humans might in similar situations. Rhesus monkeys were trained to pull on one of two chains, depending on the color of a flashing light, in order to receive food. After training, another monkey was displayed through a one-way mirror.

By pulling the chains in the correct fashion, the first monkey would receive the food reward, but one of the chains now delivered a painful electric shock to the other monkey. It was discovered that most of the monkeys would not shock another monkey even if it meant not being able to eat. One of the animals went without food for twelve days rather than hurting his or her companion. Monkeys who had been shocked in previous experiments themselves were even less willing to pull the chain and subject others to such torment.(17) (The scientists who had seen monkeys shocked, however, continued to test more monkeys in the box.)

If evidence for the close similarity between a human’s and a nonhuman’s mind and sense of self was observed and published so long ago, and if continuing experimentation has contributed to and expanded that understanding throughout the century, why hasn’t something been done to bring our treatment of these animals more in line with the guidelines we tend to employ when dealing with those in society less able to care for themselves and assert their own interests?

The answer to this question is moderately complex. Primate vivisection increased rapidly in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Prior to this time the availability of monkeys was more limited and many fewer researchers were using these exotic animals. This changed largely due to the importation of millions of monkeys for polio research(18) as well as the U.S. government’s decision to keep pace or surpass the Soviet’s primate-based biomedical research programs. In the early nineteen sixties the U.S. government began funding facilities for the breeding, housing, and utilization of monkeys and apes for research purposes. Today, federally funded projects around the country maintain many thousands of monkeys and make them available to government-funded researchers.(19) A few large private primate suppliers and consumers of primates imported over sixty-four thousand monkeys between 1995 and 2000.(20)

Part of the answer to the question lies in the fact that the number and type of experiments have increased dramatically in a relatively short period of time. The public was unaware of the issue simply because many fewer experiments were being performed and much less information concerning the minds and emotions of these animals was being published. Now, more people are being exposed to, more people are being made aware of, and also more people are deciding to participate in these studies than only a few decades ago.

Another factor is the absence of checks and balances. No bureaucratic or regulatory mechanisms are in place to assess the information or consider the implications of the body of evidence and guide our policies in this area. Without such a mechanism, the federal government continues to promote primate research, provide animals to researchers, make funds available, and invent reasons to use primates in harmful experiments.(21) There is nothing built into the system to regulate it in any moral manner, to evaluate current knowledge and consider the implications for new proposals. Those in a position to raise any doubt are themselves financially and professionally interested in seeing the practice continue, and they work within a community of similarly interested individuals.

Within the private sphere there are professional organizations that should be monitoring scientific endeavor and providing leadership to lawmakers and the public with regard to the discoveries that animals other than humans have minds and emotions so similar to our own that experimenting on them, that keeping them in concentration-like conditions,(22) that killing them and harming them to further our own real or perceived interests is as unthinkably immoral as it would be if humans were being treated in similar ways. These organizations include the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, and the American Society of Primatology. They each have members who claim to be primate experts.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has not published a position specific to the use of primates in research. The AVMA lumps all animals together and states: “We oppose unnecessary restrictions on the use of animals in scientific research” but remains mute on what “unnecessary” might mean. Given the close similarity between the primate species, it is apparent that restrictions are necessary. Given the Association’s claim that it is the authorized voice for the profession (23) and the claim that veterinarians have an ethical duty to: “[F]irst consider the needs of the patient: to relieve disease, suffering, or disability while minimizing pain or fear,”(24) it seems that this possible check on the use of these animals has failed completely. The public tends to view veterinarians as animal experts; the Association’s silence in this area might be seen by policy-makers in Congress as support for the status quo, which it probably is.

The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) is the professional organization for technicians and veterinarians working in laboratory settings. The only reasons the organization might be expected to speak out for these animals are the intimacy that the members have with the many ways the animals are harmed and the fact that the public (mistakenly) expects veterinarians to be advocates for animals. But, the members are financially beholden to the institutions for which they work, and it is rare for anyone to speak out since doing so will jeopardize their livelihood. And, the members are generally willing and enthusiastic participants in the experiments themselves.

AALAS has no policy concerning the care of, or experimentation on, primates. AALAS defers to federal regulation in all matters dealing with animal care and use.(25) This is akin to the National Educational Association or the National Rifle Association allowing the federal government to decide what their policies concerning education or gun control should be. The public cannot look to AALAS for any leadership in this area.

The American Society of Primatology (ASP) should be the body speaking the loudest about the implications raised by the notable similarities between the species. The ASP counts among its members: Sarah Boysen (“The present findings demonstrate that chimpanzees can classify natural objects spontaneously and that such classifications may be similar to those that would be observed in human subjects.)(26); Frans de Waal (“It is really hard for me to imagine that they do not [have an imagination]. Chimpanzees are very innovative creatures - they deceive each other (and us!) all the time and invent many different games for themselves. All of these abilities require some degree of forethought to what might be the outcome of an action.”) (27); Roger Fouts (“Humans and chimpanzees differ in their intelligence by degree, not in the kind of mental processes.”)(28); Robert Ingersol (“Nim’s last words to me were, ‘Out—Hurry—Key—There…. Key—Out’, very sad. Nim passed away March 10, 2000. I did not expect that he would die at a very young twenty-six years old since chimps usually live well beyond forty years quite regularly. It has taken me this entire year to be able to speak and now write about Nim. He was my friend. Maybe my closest friend. He taught me about right and good, and trust and certainty, and he taught me what true friends are. Life long friendship, and if you had ever seen us together you would know what I mean. I knew Nim for twenty-two of his twenty-six years.”)(29); Vernon Reynolds (“There is no satisfactory way to convince ourselves of our separate nature, to be certain we feel or experience something they do not feel or experience; all the evidence points the other way, to commonality.”)(30); Duane Rumbaugh (“Although nonhuman primates such as rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) have been useful models of many aspects of cognition and performance, it has been argued that, unlike humans, they may lack the capacity to respond as predictor-operators. Data from the present series of experiments undermine this claim, suggesting instead a continuity of predictive competency between humans and nonhuman primates.”)(31); and Shirley Strum (“I was constantly struck by how much more like humans the baboons now seemed. They learned through insight and observation, passing new behaviors from one to another both within a single lifetime and across many lifetimes. This is social tradition, the beginnings of what eventually became ‘culture.’”).(32)

In spite of this thread of understanding within the ASP, the leadership is dominated by laboratory researchers intent on exploiting the similarities nonhuman primates share with us. Often, very often in fact, the leadership is involved in research of questionable value and blatant cruelty. The leadership’s understanding of the complexities of monkeys’ minds, the emotional sensitivity of the animals, and the fragility of their developing psyches is cause for these scientists to sometimes devise the most absurd and deviant experiments. A paper published by two past presidents of the Society is illustrative of this point.

John Capitanio is a researcher at the California National Primate Research Center at the University of California, Davis. His colleague, also at Davis, William Mason, are both past presidents of the Society. Mason was a student of Harry Harlow’s.

Capitanio and Mason write:
Cognitive style, reflected in the generation of novel solutions and the use of identifiable response strategies in problem-solving situations, was contrasted in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) reared individually with either canine companions or inanimate surrogate mothers. Four experiments were conducted over a 5-year period, examining problem solving in relatively unstructured as well as more formal situations. Results indicated that whereas the 2 rearing groups did not differ on most measures of performance, consistent response strategies were identified for the dog-raised monkeys. The results were compared with previously published data from the same monkeys demonstrating rearing group differences in abilities to engage in complex social interaction. The animate nature of the early rearing environment may facilitate the development of a cognitive style that influences problem-solving abilities in both the social and nonsocial realms.(33)
The ASP leadership is comprised of those who conduct harmful experiments on primates themselves or are employed in the support of such experiments.(34) Many members are similarly employed.(35)

So, a second part of the answer to the question of why our treatment of these animals is not more in line with the guidelines we tend to employ when dealing with those in society less able to care for themselves and assert their own interests, is the fact that there is not a regulatory mechanism in place that would cause or encourage an evaluation of current policies, nor is there a professional organization acting on behalf of the animals – due to a vested interest – such as AALAC or the ASP, or else for some other, less clear reason, as the AVMA.

These two factors – the relatively recent mounting of evidence and experiments, and the lack of checks or balances – reinforce the tendency in society to discount the interests of others. This is a third part of the answer. We tend not to notice those who have no voice when no voice of protest nor assertion of their rights has been raised. When a voice does arise, those in power tend to work to discount and marginalize it. When the issue of rights has arisen, whether involving race, gender, mental faculty, sexual orientation, nationality, religion or any other category, history is clear that the group in power has resisted the extension of protected status to other groups. Simply, prejudice against others, bigotry, the perceived protection of one’s own interests, is a fundamental aspect of human behavior.

How like us do they have to be before the evil we do to them should be termed criminal?

This question deserves an answer. Historically, the segregation of nonhuman animals has been based on premises that have evaporated in step with discoveries concerning the animals’ capabilities and characteristics. None of the reasons have been able to withstand close investigation and observation. Whether the claim has been that only humans use tools, make tools, can communicate with language, are altruistic, engage in war, have beliefs, engage in ritual, possess a culture, are capable of abstraction, of humor, of courage, of deceit, or of responsibility to others, the claims have all failed. And they have failed with regard to other primates precisely because, as we attempt to describe ourselves, we also describe those with whom we share such close and intimate ancestry.

How like us do they have to be before the evil we do to them should be termed criminal?

This question deserves an answer, and those with the greatest access to these animals should be required to answer it. And until they are willing and able to do so to the satisfaction of society at large, they should be compelled, legally, to cease their manipulations of these animals.

A common concern of the vivisectors is that if primates are acknowledged to be so like us that we should stop our experiments on them, then where will it all stop? If chimpanzees are given the simplest rights today, and monkeys tomorrow, then how long will it be before dogs, cats, rabbits, rats, mice and flies are similarly protected? The answer must lie in the question: How like us do they have to be before the evil we do to them should be termed criminal?

Those wishing to maintain a sharp distinction between humans and all other species must explain what it is that keeps us apart. Why are compassion, sympathy, concern, and justice concepts we should reserve for humans alone? Why should each of these terms be redefined when speaking of humans or other animals? When we speak of humane care, why should the term be differently applied to human children and monkeys?

How like us do they have to be before the evil we do to them should be termed criminal? How like us need they be?

Notes (Web addresses may be stale.)

1. Burbacher TM, Grant KS. 2000. Methods for studying nonhuman primates in neurobehavioral toxicology and teratology. Neurotoxicology and Teratology. Jul-Aug; 22(4): 475-86. Review.

2. Bentham, J. 1823. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Chapter XVII, note.

3. See note 1.

4. Fagot J, Wasserman EA, Young ME. 2001. Discriminating the relation between relations: the role of entropy in abstract conceptualization by baboons (Papio papio) and humans (Homo sapiens). Journal of Experimental Psychology and Animal Behavioral Processes. Oct; 27(4): 316-28.

5. United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. 1998. Animal Welfare Report, Fiscal Year 1998. Table 6. “Number of Animals Used by Research from First Reporting Year (1973) to the Present.”

6. Normal social bonding in primates begins nearly at birth between the mother and infant. Normal social situations allow monkeys to interact with mothers, siblings, and peers almost constantly. This is critical to normal social and mental development. Repetitive motions such as twirling, pacing, and flipping are termed stereopathies, and are a recognized result of social deprivation in monkeys. Self-mutilation, or self-injurious behavior, is a recognized result of individual housing and social deprivation in monkeys. At the Washington Regional Primate Research Center (WaRPRC) infants are routinely removed from their mothers at birth and nursery reared. There, infants have contact with other infants for one hour a day, five days a week. At the Tulane Regional Primate Research Center infants are removed from their mothers within three days of birth. It is estimated by the New England Regional Primate Research Center that at least ten percent of the monkeys there self-mutilate themselves to such a serious degree that veterinary intervention is required. At the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center, at least one thousand monkeys are individually housed; self-mutilation is not uncommon there or at the California Regional Primate Research Center. A veterinarian, who worked at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center a decade ago, claims to have achieved pair housing of seventy percent of that facility’s primate population. After leaving, he believes that the percentage has fallen to no more than thirty percent pair or group housed. This is the norm throughout the industry.

7. Harlow H. 1958. The nature of love. Address of the President at the sixty-sixth Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Washington, D. C., August 31, 1958. First published in American Psychologist, 13, 573-685.

8. Amaral DG, Corbett BA. The amygdala, autism and anxiety. Novartis Found Symp. 2003;251:177-87. “The primate amygdala is a relatively small brain region located in the temporal lobe, just anterior to the hippocampus. In the macaque monkey it is approximately 0.6 cm3 in volume and in the human it is about 3.0 cc3.”

The average rhesus cranial capacity is 80 cm(3) versus 1250 cm(3) in humans. Thus, the amygdala makes up 1.5% of a rhesus monkey’s brain .48% of a human’s. See: Gonen O, Liu S, Goelman G, Ratai EM, Pilkenton S, Lentz MR, Gonz├ílez RG. Proton MR spectroscopic imaging of rhesus macaque brain in vivo at 7T. Magn Reson Med. 2008 Apr;59(4):692-9.

9. Comparative neurophysiology teaches that the relative size of the regions or structures of an animal’s brain explains much concerning their abilities and behavior. Cats possess a better sense of balance than humans because their cerebellum is relatively larger. Dogs have better senses of smell because their olfactory lobes are much larger. That humans are so much better problem solvers is related to our own relatively large cerebral cortex.

10. Kalin N. 2001. “Brain Mechanisms Underlying Fear, Anxiety and Depression.” Neuroscience Training Program, University of Wisconsin, < http://ntp.neuroscience.wisc.edu/faculty/kalin.html > (as of) December.

11. Manning BH, Merin NM, Meng ID, Amaral DG. 2001. Reduction in opioid- and cannabinoid-induced antinociception in rhesus monkeys after bilateral lesions of the amygdaloid complex. Journal of Neuroscience. Oct 15;21(20):8238-46.

12. Amaral D. Neurobiology of Primate Social Behavior. Grant no. 5R01MH057502 National Institute of Mental Health: 1998-2003. CRISP (Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects) database http://crisp.cit.nih.gov/.

13. Wallis JD, Anderson KC, Miller EK. 2001. Single neurons in prefrontal cortex encode abstract rules. Nature. Jun 21; 411(6840): 953-6.

14. Goodall J. 1986. The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior (p 7). Boston: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

15. Kohler W. 1925 (2nd edition, 1951, p 265) The Mentality of Apes Routledge & Kegan Paul LTD.

16. For an overview of these experiments up until 1986 see Stevens ML 1986 Maternal Deprivation Experiments in Psychology: A Critique of Animal Models. Published jointly by the American, National, and New England Antivivisection Societies. But maternal and social deprivation experiments continue to be funded by the National Institutes of Health today throughout the country.

17. Masserman J, Wechkin S, Terris W. 1964. ‘Altruistic’ behavior in rhesus monkeys. American Journal of Psychiatry vol. 121: 584-5.

18. “Before the race for the polio vaccine, there were an estimated 5 to 10 million rhesus macaques in India. During the height of the vaccine work, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the United States alone was importing more than 200,000 monkeys a year, mostly from India. By the late 1970s, there were fewer than 200,000 rhesus macaques in India,” (p. 250). Blum D. 1994. The Monkey Wars. Oxford University Press.

19. See note 5. Of these animals, many are held in National Institutes of Health (NIH) sponsored facilities. The eight National Primate Research Centers have approximately twenty thousands monkeys on hand at any one time. Outside this system, other universities such as Wake Forest and the University of Southwestern Louisiana have large populations, also sponsored directly by the NIH. NIH maintains approximately one thousand monkeys itself at the National Animal Center in Poolesville, Maryland. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a large population at the National Center for Toxicological Research just outside Little Rock, Arkansas, and owns another 3000 monkeys kept on Morgan Island off the coast of South Carolina. The Department of Defense maintains monkey colonies at various facilities. Of the nearly sixty thousand primates being used every year, a very large percentage must be paid for directly with tax dollars.

20. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service LEMIS [Law Enforcement Management Information Service]. Data tabulated and itemized at the Coalition to End Primate Experimentation (CEPE) website: http://cepe.enviroweb.org/imports_chart.html

21. As a single example among many: NONHUMAN PRIMATE MODELS OF NEUROBIOLOGICAL MECHANISMS OF ADOLESCENT ALCOHOL ABUSE AND ALCOHOLISM Release Date: October 4, 2001 RFA: RFA-AA-02-006 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/) Letter of Intent Receipt Date: January 21, 2002 Application Receipt Date: February 19, 2002 “PURPOSE: The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) invites applications using nonhuman primate models to focus on the following areas: 1) neurobiological mechanisms and risk factors for alcoholism during late childhood through adolescence; 2) the relative contribution and/or interaction of genetic, environmental, and social factors (e.g., stress, peer influences) with neurobiological mechanisms in the development of adolescent alcohol abuse; 3) evaluation of the immediate and long-term consequences of heavy drinking during adolescence on cognitive/brain functioning; and 4) the contribution of early alcohol exposure (juvenile and adolescent periods) to excessive drinking and abnormal cognitive and social functioning during subsequent developmental stages…. FUNDS AVAILABLE: The NIAAA intends to commit approximately $2.5 million in FY 2002 to fund approximately 6 to 8 new and/or competitive continuation grants in response to this RFA….” (Viewable at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-AA-02-006.html as of January 1, 2002.)

22. For instance: On December 15-18, 1998, during an inspection of the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center, the USDA inspector, Dr. Isis Johnson-Brown, DVM, noted in her written report that “the area in front of the feeding pads in corral 3 that the animals have to cross to enter the inside feeding area is excessively wet, composed of a mixture of mud, algae, urine and feces, and the same conditions exist in the corners of corrals 4 and 6.”

23. American Veterinary Medical Association Constitution 2000 Revision. Article II.

24. Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), (1999 Revision). Part II, Professional Behavior, paragraph A

25. American Association for Laboratory Animal Science. Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. "The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) endorses the United States Government Principles for the Utilization and Care of Vertebrate Animals Used in Testing, Research, and Training."

26. Brown DA, Boysen ST. 2000 Spontaneous discrimination of natural stimuli by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Journal of Comparative Psychology Dec; 114(4): 392-400.

27. DeWaal responding to a PBS broadcasted Scientific American Frontiers viewer’s online question: “Do chimpanzees have emotions?” April 17, 2001. http://www.pbs.org/saf/1108/hotline/hdewaal.htm

28. Fouts R. 1997. Next of Kin: What Chimpanzees have Taught Me about Who We Are, p 350 (emphasis in original). William Morrow and Company, Inc.

29. Ingersol B. 2000. (unpublished manuscript) "Chimp Friends: Nim Chimpsky 1973-2000."

30. Reynolds V, Reynolds J. 1993. "Riding on the backs of apes." In Ape, Man, Apeman: Changing Views Since 1600. Evaluative Proceedings of the Symposium Ape, Man, Apeman: Changing Views Since 1600, a part of the Pithecanthropus Centennial (1893-1993) Congress “Human Evolution in its Ecological Context.” Leiden, The Netherlands, 1993.

31. Washburn DA, Rumbaugh DM. 1991. Rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) complex learning skills reassessed. International Journal of Primatology. Aug; 12(4): 377-88.

32. Strum SC, 1987. Almost Human: A Journey into the World of Baboons, p 153. Random House.

33. Capitanio JP, Mason WA. 2000. Cognitive style: problem solving by rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) reared with living or inanimate substitute mothers. Journal of Comparative Psychology. Jun; 114(2):115-25.

34. Besides Capitanio and Mason, past president, Melinda Novak, the current (2002) treasurer, Steven Shapiro, and the current executive secretary, Janette Wallis, are all affiliated with primate vivisection. Novak works with the primate colony at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is a frequent research collaborator of Steven Suomi’s, another of Harlow’s students. Steven Shapiro is a primate veterinarian at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Janette Wallis works in direct support of the Baboon Research Resource Program at the University of Oklahoma, a supplier of baboons to “three colleges of the Health Sciences Center, two non-profit research institutions on the Oklahoma Health Center Campus, the three main university medical teaching and research institutions in the State of Oklahoma, and 10 medical centers located throughout the United States,” (from CRISP entry for grant# 5P40RR012317). (Note not updated.)

35. Of the 797 members listed in the ASP’s 1999 Directory, 101 were either known by name to this author as primate vivisectors or listed themselves as affiliated with institutions such as the NIH Regional Primate Research Centers dedicated to the experimental use of primates. Many others were listed as affiliated with institutions known to be involved in primate experimentation, but not exclusively so. Persons from this latter group are not included among the 101. The percentage of ASP members directly involved with the primate experimentation industry is likely significant with regard to ASP policy decisions.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Trump and Global Warming

Oh no! Our idiot president just pulled us out of the of the Paris agreement on climate change.

And just about every progressive media outlet is having a cow. And that's a problem. Just about every progressive media outlet is blaming Trump for the fearful and bleak future climate scientists see ahead of us.

But which major outlet is telling their readers, listeners, or viewers that the planet's future is in their hands? Beats me.

No one likes the plain simple fact that the serious, maybe civilization-ending, problems in the road ahead, recognized by all reasonable people, are of our own making, and could be mitigated by us; by you. In this case, the strong reaction to yet another of our president's poor decisions seems to be tied to an over-reliance on what the right calls the nanny state.

If you give a damn, you must be a lot like me.

You have one or no children.

You're vegan.

Maybe you weren't paying attention when you were having kids, fair enough, but if you aren't vegan right now, global warming and pretty much every other environmental problem we have is on you.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

UW-Madison Urges Lawmakers to Gut Regulations

On April 26, 2017, Rebecca M. Blank, Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, testified at the Hearing on “Duplication, Waste, and Fraud in Federal Programs,” before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

She fed them a line of crap pandering to the Republican majority’s hell-bent desire to strip away all constraints on money-making. She made no mention of her institution’s duplication, waste, or fraud in federal programs, nor did she mention the university's many animal welfare violations, biosafety violations, or her institution’s repeated violation of the public trust. No, her message was clear: universities should not have to follow so many federal rules or be audited so much:

“We have spent many years adding layer upon layer of federal regulations, and we’re at a point where this is seriously impeding the productivity of our scientists.”

The underlining is in the original document. That was her main claim. But it isn’t because of the regularly violated regulations that the largest number of scientists at the university are not very productive. They aren’t productive because their major premises are dead wrong, though I am using productive differently than Blank. Universities use the word to mean the number of papers that someone gets published and the dollars they are able to bring in through successful grant applications. The actual result of the research, the measure of whether it leads to better healthcare, is not a factor in their calculations. It’s all financial bottom lines.

In the words of Blank, UW-Madison operates a “more-than a billion-dollar research enterprise.” Here’s a nice graphic from the university’s 2016-2017 Data Digest (I edited out previous years):

The largest slice of the funding pie comes from the Department of Health and Human Services, which is largely from the National Institutes of Health. In 2016, the university received $285,269,042 from NIH and $83,715,200 from NSF (about $370 million) according to the agencies’ webpages. The university’s 2015-2016 “Budget in Brief” reports that:

“The largest portion of the university’s budget, approximately $890 million, or 31 percent, is from the federal government. Most of this is competitively awarded to the UW for specific research projects and supports research time for faculty, staff, and students, as well as research facilities.”

Blank told the lawmakers that, "We can’t afford to sideline potentially life-saving research. And we know the system can work better, because we’ve seen it work better. Just consider the battle against the Zika virus:
... scientists at UW-Madison are leading the fight to control Zika. Several of them are posting their data publicly online in real time to quickly give others working to control the disease the best possible information. Because of the threat to public health, their initial proposal was given high priority and approved by the UW Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) and biosafety committees about a month after the researchers submitted their materials for approval. This was at a time when South America was seeing 20,000 new Zika infections every week, so even a one-month delay came at a significant cost, but this expedited process demonstrates what is possible with good communication and a common-sense approach....
She implied that the work the scientists conducted was in someway helpful in containing the epidemic or in treating the infected children. But it wasn't on either front. David O'Connor's lab which did report on a publicly-accessible webpage some of the results of their experimental Zika infections of rhesus monkeys. The rest of the story is that the lab's use of infant monkeys doesn't seem to have had very much to do with the response from doctors and health officials. The most important information emerged from epidemiology and clinical observation.

She went on to criticize the annual federal audits which she called excessive but admitted that they are conducted to be sure that institutions have "systems and procedures in place to provide proper stewardship of federal funds." She argued that because few problems are found, that the audits aren't needed. But the fear and worry that problems could be found is probably why they aren't. She of course didn't bring up the university's difficulty with keeping track of its money.

She told the lawmakers that the audits, conducted by Inspectors General were an overreach, but she did not mention the USDA's Office of Inspector General's repeated reports on oversight on animal use at institutions like the university which have been terribly damning and largely ignored.

She said:
Federal research grants come with many strings for a number of good reasons:
▪ To guard against improper spending of taxpayer dollars.
▪ To help to ensure research integrity.
▪ To increase access to research data and results.
▪ And most important of all, to help protect humans and animals involved in research.

We must operate from a shared set of ethical principles that guide scientific research. But the way in which these principles are translated into regulations by various federal agencies has created a system of unnecessary delays and expenses.
It would be awesome if she believed that protecting animals was at all important, if the university's culture reflected that, if it were the truth. But taxpayer dollars are wasted every time another animal is injected, cut into, poisoned, hurt, or killed at the university. If regulations protecting animals matter at all to the university, they would not have repeatedly broken state anti-cruelty laws by killing sheep through rapid atmospheric decompression or staging fights between mice, but they did and then slipped in a last minute amendment to the state budget exempting the university from the state laws protecting animals. Her claims were worse than just plain nonsense. On the matter of hurting animals she and a large number of citizens definitely don't share any ethical principles. Maybe the "we" was intended for the Committee Chairman, that man of the people, Ron Johnson R(WI).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Monday, May 15, 2017

NIH Feeds Monsters

monster: something monstrous; especially: a person of unnatural or extreme ... wickedness, or cruelty. His father was a monster who beat his children for no reason. Merriam-Webster
The National Institutes of Health had been targeted by the Trump administration for a reduction in funding, but the agency’s billions of dollars in grants has created a wealthy constituency. These millionaires and their institutions not only depend on NIH largesse, but because of it, they have the resources to hire the best lobbyists to promote the agency that enriches them. It isn’t any surprise that the proposed cut was replaced with a $2 billion increase. Some of it will end up as campaign contributions for those voting to grow the agency or argue against any reduction in its funding.

Day in and day out, there is a steady stream of “news” produced by the agency with claims about yet another scientific advancement, within just the past 30 days:

May 10, 2017: New light-sensing molecule discovered in the fruit fly brain. The discovery could help inform future research into degenerative retinal disorders.

May 3, 2017: Brain “relay” [in mice] also key to holding thoughts in the mind. Thalamus eyed as potential treatment target for schizophrenia’s working memory deficits.

May 2, 2017: NIH discovery in mice could lead to new class of medications to fight mid-life obesity

April 28, 2017: Zika virus persists in the central nervous system and lymph nodes of Rhesus monkeys

April 27, 2017: Antidepressant may enhance drug delivery to the brain. NIH rat study suggests amitriptyline temporarily inhibits the blood-brain barrier, allowing drugs to enter the brain

April 18, 2017: Researchers discover mitochondrial “circuit breaker” that protects [mouse] heart from damage

April 12, 2017: Gene silencing shows promise for treating two fatal neurological disorders. “... researchers showed that injections of the same type of drug into the brains of mice prevented early death and neurological problems associated with ALS, a paralyzing and often fatal disorder.” (Mice don’t get ALS.)

April 12, 2017: NIH scientists advance understanding of herpesvirus infection. “The scientists found they could reactivate latent HSV in a mouse model...”

April 11, 2017: NIH researchers trace origin of blood-brain barrier ‘sentry cells’— Finding in zebrafish may contribute to understanding cognitive decline of aging.

Not one of those discoveries is likely to result in even the smallest advancement in clinical care if the history of the agency’s previous announcements regarding breakthroughs using animal models is any indication of future value.

One of the outlets for NIH-crafted “news” is the NIH Record, a magazine published by the agency since 1949. The featured article in the May 5, 2017 issue was about the work of primate vivisector Michael Shadlen, a professor in the department of neuroscience at Columbia University: "A Look Under the Head: What Can Brain Mechanics Tell Us About Decision-Making?" written by the magazine’s associate editor, Carla Garnett. Not one clinical advance has emerged from his highly invasive and cruel use of monkeys.

Michael Shadlen’s experiments have been paid for by taxpayers for 20 years: MECHANISMS OF VISUAL PERCEPTION 5R01EY011378-20 Former Number: 5R01EY011378-19. Total project funding over the past 20 years: $4,419,543. He also receives an undisclosed amount of funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), and probably receives between $2 and $300,000 a year in salary. Experimenting on monkeys’ brains pays well.

The overwhelming bulk of Shadlen’s published papers are reports and speculations on the data gathered during experiments conducted on rhesus macaques. In the 80-ish papers linked to from the Shadlen lab’s website, there are no pictures of the monkeys he has used. There are cartoons of monkeys, but they at best wildly misleading. For instance:

But the monkeys he uses are decidedly not sitting on a stool happily playing a game. In his papers he commonly refers to one of his earlier papers that describes what is actually happening to the monkeys:
Subjects, surgery, and daily routine Three adult rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta, two male and one female) were used in this study. Prior to recording, a stainless steel device for stabilizing head position was surgically attached to the skull (Evarts, 1966) and a scleral search coil for measuring eye movements was implanted around one eye (Judge et al., 1980). Following several months of training on a direction discrimination task, a stainless steel cylinder was surgically implanted over occipital cortex, allowing a posterior electrode approach for electrophysiological recording ... Following recovery from surgery, the monkeys began daily training or recording sessions that lasted from 2 to 6 hr. Each animal was comfortably seated in a primate chair with its head restrained during recording sessions, and was returned to its home cage following the session. The animal’s fluid intake was restricted during recording or training, and behavioral control was achieved using operant conditioning techniques, with water or juice as a positive reward.*
A number of Shadlen’s public lectures are available for public viewing and one is pointed to in the NIH Record article. In that lecture, he concluded with a slide showing a size progression of three brains from mouse to monkey to human, and said: “As we evolved cognition and got bigger and bigger cortical mantle, what was growing essentially was the association cortex,” he said. “I think the basic principles of decision-making that can be studied in these very simple direct paths could be telescoped out to decisions about decisions about decisions—that’s sort of what abstraction is—and that the principles understood at the level of the monkey brain will have some relevance to the kind of complicated things we do with the human brain.” He doesn't understand the basics of evolution; he seems to think it is an action verb. But then, he thinks his work will have relevance someday...

Not to put too fine a point on it, but NIH’s and HHMI’s support for this extremely cruel line of research underscores a profound and damning problem with the modern institution of science. The recent outrage by American scientists over the Trump administration’s funding cuts to this and that program have resulted in a constant barrage of advertising in the form of posts to FaceBook by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the publisher of Science and other journals. I suspect Trump’s anti-science stance has been a financial windfall for lobbying groups like AAAS.

What really gets under my skin about their ads is their repeated exhortation to readers to “Defend evidence-based policymaking,” even though they don’t and wouldn’t if law- and policymakers had the gall to make it a requirement. Doing so would immediately force a halt to the majority of the NIH-funded projects underway, and interfering with that torrent of capital would be unthinkable; its all about money, not evidence. Shadlen’s concluding statement during one of his lectures makes it clear that NIH is more than willing to fund projects without any evidence whatsoever of clinical benefit:

“And I think ultimately to treat diseases one day,” he concluded, “and restore these kinds of operations, integrations and bounds-setting—and lots of things we don’t yet understand obviously—will require manipulating brains at the levels of molecules and circuits. I know in my lab, and for many of you, there’s already at least a dialogue with [scientists] working in all of these levels, interaction with people who do human [brain] imaging and circuit dissection.”

It’s all very richly funded pie-in-the-sky at the expense of millions of animals' suffering-filled lives.

The evidence shows clearly that when money is available, many people will do terrible things to animals and to each other. And in the face of that evidence, NIH keeps paying people to do monstrous things.

*Britten, Kenneth H., Michael N. Shadlen, William T. Newsome, and J. Anthony Movshon. "The analysis of visual motion: a comparison of neuronal and psychophysical performance." Journal of Neuroscience 12, no. 12 (1992): 4745-4765.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Henry Vilas Zoo's Mission

Madison, Wisconsin has a reputation as a progressive city; it sort of is, in some ways. Madison was the birthplace of the Progressive Movement. Madison is home to The Progressive magazine and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Madison is gay-friendly. Many of its restaurants point out their vegan options. There is a local political party called Progressive Dane (Madison is in Dane County). The library and the services it provides are awesome. Madison/Dane County has significant green space and some nice largish parks that include some wild areas. Madison/Dane County has some very nice dog parks. Dane County has also banned the exhibition of elephants, though whether the future ban is enforced remains to be seen. There is a lot for nominally liberal-leaning people to like about Madison. But everything is relative.

To my mind, any measure of enlightened thinking, of progressive policies, must include a community’s treatment of its animals. By this metric many nominally progressive/liberal communities fail miserably.

In the case of Madison, it is easy to point to examples of terrible abuse supported by the city and county. Madison is home to Covance, one of, perhaps the the largest single consumer of animals in the country, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of top recipients in the country of tax dollars for experiments on animals. Additionally, the city pays the USDA to round up adult Canada geese and their goslings and kill them. The city has paid trappers to drown beavers. The county permits trapping in some parks.

And there is the Henry Vilas Zoo, located in Madison, but paid for by county taxpayers at-large. The zoo says, “Our mission at the Henry Vilas Zoo is to conserve and protect the wonders of the living natural world and to help build understanding between people and animals by promoting conservation and providing a high quality recreational and educational experience to our visitors.”

Mission statements are rarely dashed off; writing and agreeing to one commonly motivate significant discussion by the members of a board of directors. Mission statements are commonly pointed to in board meetings, retreats, and in decision-making. At least they should be and have been in my experience. It appears to me that either the Henry Vilas Zoo isn’t fulfilling its mission or maybe not even trying to.

Let’s vivisect the zoo’s claims:

1. “Our mission ... is to conserve... the wonders of the living natural world...”. According to Google, conserve, in this sense, means: “to protect (something, especially an environmentally or culturally important place or thing) from harm or destruction.”

Setting aside the plain simple fact that the zoo’s activities and practices involve (in any way whatsoever) only an infinitesimally small sliver of the wonders of the living natural world, the second part of the meaning of conserve is “to protect (something, especially an environmentally or culturally important place or thing) from harm or destruction.”

I think it is important in any debate or criticism like this one, to state fairly what one believes to be the belief and sense of those who hold the other position. I believe that the zoo would argue that its involvement with species survival plans is evidence that it is working to conserve some things -- some species, thus trying to meet to some degree its mission.

2. “... to help build understanding between people and animals by promoting conservation...”. This is the passage that led me to write earlier that mission statements are not typically dashed off.

Presumably, the meaning was not intended to be obscure; it seems reasonable to take it as written. Were I to say that there was an understanding between you and me, it would mean that I believed that both of us understood what the other intended and were agreeable to it. But in this context, the notion is altogether silly. A few animals coming to the understanding that humans are the reason for their captivity can hardly be what the authors intended.

I suspect that they intended to say, or meant that, zoo visitors would gain a better understanding of animals.

But visitors don’t get a particularly better understanding of animals. To a very large extent, they are misled and come away with ideas about the animals they see that are far afield from the truth. They walk away with a misunderstanding of animals.

There are badgers, prairie dogs, and bison at the zoo. But seeing them is little different that seeing a stuffed specimen. The animals at the zoo are unable to do what badgers, prairie dogs, and bison normally do. If the zoo’s mission is to increase an understanding of animals, it would do an exponentially better job by having small theaters throughout the property where people could learn much more authentic things about animals. For instance:


There are gibbons at the zoo. But what can one really learn about gibbons by seeing them in the tiny cage they are kept in? Nothing like this:


or this:


And this is the case with all the live-animal displays; visitors aren’t learning too much more than they could by seeing a stuffed specimen. An animal removed from their natural environment, unable to engage in the full range of their normal behaviors isn’t really an example of the species anymore that someone in a prison cell is an informative authentic example of Homo sapiens.

The zoo’s claim that it is conserving the natural wonders of the world only makes sense in the context of natural wonders that are at risk of being lost. We don’t need to conserve granite for instance, since it is so common and not at risk of being lost. Likewise, there is no conservation value in caging and displaying prairie dogs; they aren’t at risk of being lost.

The notion of breeding endangered or threatened species simply to have some on display begs the question of whether it is a good thing to save a few members of a species. In some cases, protecting threatened and endangered species leads to protections for many other species and wild areas. In the Pacific northwest, protection for marbled murrelets and spotted owls resulted in large tracts of old growth forest being protected from logging. All the species that comprise those areas were protected. That seems like a good thing to me; we have only a handful of these areas left. If we don’t protect them, we will lose them.

Putting owls and murrelets in zoos would not have benefited them. People seeing them in cages would have learned almost nothing about them. It seems that the way to preserve threatened and endangered species is to preserve and protect their natural environment; that’s real conservation.

Collecting, breeding and trading in wild animals is a fairly common fetish of sorts; it can get dressed up and gentrified at times by being associated with government or business in some way that provides financial support, but for every “legitimate” zoo there are many others that provide insight into the sort of people who are drawn to this profession and hobby. See for instance, National Geographic’s article, "Exotic Pets".

Not everyone associated with a zoo is necessarily a bad person. In the case of “legitimate” zoos, an aura of respectability and public support by authorities leads many people to believe that they are good things, wholesome for the entire family. We tend to be easily influenced by authority and rarely engage in critical thinking about the status quo. Most zoo-goers spend only a moment in front of a display; the brutal boredom endured by the animals doesn’t cross their minds. A visit to the zoo is for most just a brief diversion at the animals’ incalculable expense.