Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Invasive Species

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 13, 2018

This Post-Truth Era.

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 18. The Abuse of Authority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes.

1. Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. "During the 20th century, virtually every major advance in medical knowledge and treatment involved research using animal models." Web retrieved in 2010. http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/research/pibr/p39-41.html.

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

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

3. "Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century..." Web retrieved on 12-3-2014 http://www.marshallbio.com/BenefitsOfAnimalResearch.html.

4. "Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century." Society for Neuroscience. Web retrieved 2010. http://www.sfn.org/SiteObjects/published/0000BDF20016F63800FD712C30FA42DD/03DD3776C9F5095493F35285BA861663/file/Responding_to_FOIA_Requests.pdf.

5. "Virtually every major medical advance of the 20th century involved the use of animals..." March of Dimes. In 2010, the statement was at http://www.marchofdimes.com/professionals/691_14438.asp, but in 2014, that or a similar statement is no longer on the MOD website.

6. "Without animal research, virtually every medical breakthrough of the past century would not have been possible." Kids 4 Research. Web retrieved in 2010. http://www.kids4research.org/teens/qna.asp.

As of 12-3-2014, their statement reads: "Without animal research, millions of people would die each year from a variety of illnesses. Thanks to research working with animals, diseases such as polio have been virtually wiped out. Other illnesses, such as diabetes and arthritis, are controlled through animal research." http://kids4research.org/Helping. Kids 4 Research appears to be a child-targeting tool of the industry group, American Association for Laboratory Animal Science.

7. In 2010, the statement read: "Virtually every major medical advance of the 20th century involved the use of animals...". http://www.faseb.org/Policy-and-Government-Affairs/Science-Policy-Issues/Animals-in-Research-and-Education/Teaching-Advocacy-Material.aspx. on 12-4-2014, it read: "virtually every major medical advance of the last century is due, in part, to research with animals."

8. In 2010, their statement read: "Former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop says 'Virtually every major medical advance for both humans and animals has been achieved through biomedical research by using animal...'"[sic] Texas Society for Biomedical Research http://www.tsbr.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=123. On 12-4-2014, it read: "Animal research has been responsible, at least in part, for every major medical and veterinary advance made over the past one hundred years." Web retrieved from http://tsbr.org/?page_id=38.

9. This was the 2010 statement from the decommissioned/absorbed into other NIH agencies, the Center for Research Resources [mostly animals] http://www.ncrr.nih.gov/publications/about_ncrr/brochure.pdf "virtually every major medical advance of the last century was the result of research involving animals." The NIH no longer seems to have the statement on its website, and as of 12-4-2014, says that: "Results from animal studies are crucial for closing knowledge gaps about health and disease in both humans and animals." grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/air/AnimalResearchFS06.pdf

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

"Virtually all medical advances of the last century would have been impossible without animal research." Yale University. http://news.yale.edu/2010/07/13/statement-yale-university-humane-use-animals-research-and-education.

10. Robert AJ Matthews. "Medical progress depends on animal models - doesn't it?" J R Soc Med. Feb 2008. Web retrieved 12-3-2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2254450/.

11. "The Importance of Animals in Biomedical and Behavioral Research [:] A Statement from the Public Health Service." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter, Summer 1994, Vol. 5, no. 2. Web retrieved 12-3-2014. http://www.nal.usda.gov/awic/newsletters/v5n2/5n2phs.htm.

12. Animal Welfare Information Center. Web retrieved 12-5-2014. http://awic.nal.usda.gov/.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Eugenics


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Monday, April 16, 2018

UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine

The old bait-and-switcheroo.


UW's School of Veterinary Medicine campaigns for multi-million dollar expansion

By Kalie Greenberg | Posted: Fri 8:49 AM, Apr 13, 2018 | Updated: Fri 12:00 PM, Apr 13, 2018

MADISON, Wis.(WMTV)-- The School of Veterinary Medicine said it is still working to fundraise and spread awareness about its Animals Need Heroes Too campaign. Friday's canceled University of Wisconsin-Madison's Spring Football game was a fundraiser for the project.

"In the end, it's about doing things to get our story out and I think that's still happening," said Mark Markel, Dean for the School of Veterinary Medicine. [more...]
Yes, animals need heroes, but the vet school raising money for more lab space is like Joseph Mengele using the slogan "Children Need Heroes Too."



Lest you think I'm being too hyperbolic or just unfair, consider these simple facts:

The vet school says:
Our Team "The compassion and excellence you’ll find at UW Veterinary Care is fueled by our world-class team of veterinarians, technicians, pharmacists, and staff, working together to deliver the best possible care for all animals."
Visitors to that page are invited to get to know the veterinarians. The vet school dean is Mark D. Markel. It seems reasonable to assume that his feelings about and attitude toward animals sets the tone and influences the attitudes and opinions of others at the vet school.

On his vet school webpage, he lists some of his recent scientific papers. The first one on his list [right now that is, the university commonly deletes things when a critic points to them] is Bleedorn JA, Sullivan R, Lu Y, Kalscheur V, Markel MD: Percutaneous lovastatin accelerates bone healing but is associated with periosseous soft tissue inflammation in a canine tibial osteotomy model. J Orthop Res 2014 Feb;32(2):210-6. doi: 10.1002/jor.22502. Epub 2013 Oct 25. This is a passage from the paper:
MATERIALS AND METHODS Experimental Design

Eighteen spayed female adult purpose‐bred hound dogs were used in a block randomized, parallel group study design (treatment n = 12, control n = 6). Briefly, a 1 mm mid‐diaphyseal osteotomy was performed on the right tibia, and the bone was stabilized with an external fixator. Dogs received a percutaneous injection at the osteotomy site with lovastatin in vehicle (treatment), or vehicle (control) 4 days after surgery. Results were evaluated with serial radiography until bone union. Histologic evaluation of fracture healing and soft tissue inflammation surrounding the osteotomy was performed after sacrifice at 10 weeks postoperatively, except in two control dogs at 11 weeks at time of radiographic bone union. All data were collected and analyzed by personnel who were unaware of treatments. The university animal care and use committee approved all procedures.
Here's a picture from the paper showing the dogs' cut leg bones:



It is true that the the vet school has helped and probably saved the lives of many animals over the years. But it isn't at all clear to me that good works erase monstrous acts. When Mengele gave candy to some of the children he was using, did it erase or even slightly mitigate his crimes?

I knew a dog named Cap who had been used at the vet school for years as a tool for teaching students how to examine a dog. He was a basket of nerves; he was clearly suffering from intense post traumatic stress. Though he recovered somewhat, he was never a normal or happy dog.

I doubt that the terrible things being done to animals at the vet school are altogether the result of having a leader who experiments on dogs and kills them. The view that it is just and right to view animals as disposable tools permeates the institution. I mentioned above that the vet school website invites visitors to meet the vets. Let's start our tour here.

The page explains that there are four academic departments: Comparative Biosciences, Pathobiological Sciences, Medical Sciences, and Surgical Sciences. The chair of the department of Comparative Biosciences is Ted (Thaddeus) Golos. Here's data from the NIH that gives some idea of what he does all day when he isn't doing paper work:
5 R01 AI107157 04
THE MATERNAL-FETAL INTERFACE IN LISTERIA-INDUCED PREGNANCY LOSS. GOLOS, THADDEUS G. UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON. 2017 NIAID. $399,347. Total project funding since 2014: $1,597,388.

1 R21 AI129308 01
NONHUMAN PRIMATE MODEL TO ASSESS FETAL ZIKA VIRUS INFECTION COMPLICATIONS. GOLOS, THADDEUS G. UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON 2017 NIAID. $221,550.

1 R21 AI136014 01
IMMUNE RESPONSE TO ZIKA INFECTION AT THE PRIMATE MATERNAL-FETAL INTERFACE. GOLOS, THADDEUS G. et al. UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON 2018 NIAID. $229,500.

5 R21 HD091163 02
NONHUMAN PRIMATE MODEL TO ASSESS EMBRYONIC ZIKA VIRUS INFECTION. GOLOS, THADDEUS G. UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON 2017 NICHD. $191,250. Total project funding since 2016: $420,750.

5 R24 OD021322 03
CCR5-MUTANT MONKEY MODEL TO FACILITATE THE DEVELOPMENT OF NOVEL STEM CELL-BASED THERAPIES FOR AIDS. GOLOS, THADDEUS G. et al. UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON 2018 OD $670,737. Total project funding since 2016: $2,530,877.
Other than the Lecturers/Instructors, the other 30-ish people, from their publication lists, are all vivisectors, which makes sense since "comparative medicine" is the term of art for vivisection. One of them, James Tracy, was a supporter of hosting the Department of Homeland Security's proposed giant infectious animal disease research facility in the nearby Town of Dunn.

Moving along to Medical Sciences. The majority of the staff listed on this page seem to be genuine clinicians dealing with naturally occurring problems in animals, but not all. Nigel Cook and Dorte Dopfer's primary focus is keeping animals healthy before the are slaughtered, they co-authored a paper explaining an experiment they conducted using young cows:
Bovine digital dermatitis (DD), also known as papillomatous digital dermatitis (foot warts), has been recognized as a major cause of lameness in cattle, with important economic and welfare consequences.... A group of 4 yearling Holstein heifers free of any clinical evidence of hoof disease was recruited from a commercial dairy farm and housed in an experimental facility in 1 pen with slatted flooring. The hind feet were wrapped to mimic conditions of prolonged moisture (maceration) and reduced access to air (closure) and inoculated at the heel and dewclaw areas with a homogenate of a naturally occurring DD lesion skin biopsy or a culture broth of Treponema spp. After a period of 12 to 25 d, 4 of 6 and 1 of 4 dewclaw areas inoculated with biopsied DD lesion or a Treponema spp. culture, respectively, had gross lesions compatible with DD. [Gomez, A., Cook, N. B., Bernardoni, N. D., Rieman, J., Dusick, A. F., Hartshorn, R., ... & Döpfer, D. (2012). An experimental infection model to induce digital dermatitis infection in cattle. Journal of dairy science, 95(4), 1821-1830.]
And then, there's Ian Duncan. Thirty-five or so years ago, he identified a gene mutation in Welsh springer spaniels. The mutation goes by the moniker sps, which stands for shaking puppy syndrome. Since then, apparently, he has maintained a colony of these dogs at the university for use in his experiments. I wonder how many people taking their dogs to the vet school know that one of the vets there is breeding dogs with a debilitating brain illness? Here's a photo from one of his papers pointing out the differences between the brains of healthy dogs and his dogs. [In: Mayer, J. A., Griffiths, I. R., Goldman, J. E., Smith, C. M., Cooksey, E., Radcliff, A. B., & Duncan, I. D. (2015). Modeling the natural history of Pelizaeus–Merzbacher disease. Neurobiology of disease, 75, 115-130.]



He also uses mice and rats with mutations that cause severe disease.

Veterinarian Fernando Marqués, reported in 2017, that meloxicam , a drug used to treat tenderness, swelling, and pain, reduced stress in bull calves after castration compared to those who received no pain medication. Who would have imagined that! [Creutzinger K.C., Stookey J.M., Marfleet T.W., Campbell J.R., Janz D.M., Marqués F.J., Seddon Y.M. An investigation of hair cortisol as a measure of long-term stress in beef cattle: results from a castration study. Can. J. Anim. Sci 97:499-509 (2017). http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/cjas-2016-0206.]

According to the vet school, veterinarian Harry Momont "...is currently investigating the use of diagnostic ultrasonography of the male genital tract as a breeding management tool."

Veterinarian Garrett Oetzel is an Associate Professor in the Food Animal Production Medicine Section. I'm sure he's filled with compassion.

Veterinarian Lennart Backstrom, Professor Emeritus of Large Animal Medicine/Swine, isn't likely to be of much help to the people being targeted in the vet school's Animals Need Heroes Too campaign. Nor is veterinarian William Bosu, a professor whose interest lies in the theriogenology of cows and horses. (Theriogenology is the branch of veterinary medicine concerned with reproduction, including the physiology and pathology of male and female reproductive systems of animals -- WP.) Nor is veterinarian Sheila McGuirk, Professor of Large Animal Internal Medicine and Food Animal Production Medicine. Nor is Kenneth Nordlund or Susan Semrad, both vets working to keep cows healthy enough to be eaten or milked for a few years.

I looked at all the details given for all the listed staff of the Medical Sciences division because it seemed the most hopeful one for finding people with a genuine concern for animals, for finding vets who see themselves as animal doctors, whose responsibility is to their patient. Those not named here, seem to be close to that ideal. They publish papers recounting clinical cases and seem uninvolved in the dark side of the vet school's activities. But those people seem to be in the small minority.

Moving on to the Department of Pathobiological Sciences, I see names of people I have mentioned in previous posts. I'll just list them here so that those with an interest can search for them in other posts. Thomas Friedrich, Yoshihiro Kawaoka, Eric Sandgren, Timothy Yoshino, Gary Splitter, and Susan West. A fine and representative bunch. None of the others appear to have anything to do with the medical care of companion animals.

The Surgical Sciences Department is also filled with people who hurt and kill animals. For instance, veterinarian Dale Bjorling's work is centered around the use of mice and occasionally rats. He was also a university spokesperson when the Alliance for Animals exposed their illegal killing of sheep in decompression experiments. Bjorling was either grossly uniformed or lied when he defended the university's illegal activity.

Veterinarian Jason Bleedorn was a coauthor with vet school dean Mark D. Markelon on the paper I mentioned above in which the dogs' leg bones were sawed through and then later killed.

Veterinarian Sabrina Brounts points to one of her recent publications: Chamberlain CS, Duenwald-Kuehl SE, Okotie G, Brounts SH, Baer GS, Vanderby R. Temporal healing in rat Achilles tendon: ultrasound correlations Ann Biomed Eng 2012.

Veterinarian Rebecca Johnson points to one of her recent publications: Nichols NL, Duncan ID, Punzo AM, Mitchell GS, Johnson RA (2012). Cervical spinal demyelination with ethidium bromide transiently impairs respiratory (phrenic) and forelimb motor behavior in rats. Neuroscience Jan 15; 229: 77-87.

Veterinarian Jonathan McAnulty is listed as the current Chair of the Department of Surgical Sciences. In a current paper [Csomos, R. A., Hardie, R. J., Schmiedt, C. W., Delaney, F. A., & McAnulty, J. F. (2017). Effect of cold storage on immediate graft function in an experimental model of renal transplantation in cats. American journal of veterinary research, 78(3), 330-339.] he reports:
To assess the effect of cold storage (CS) on immediate posttransplantation function of renal autografts in cats. ANIMALS 15 healthy 1-year-old cats. PROCEDURES Cats were assigned to 2 groups and underwent autotransplantation of the left kidney followed by nephrectomy of the right kidney.... renal transplantation in cats may serve as a desirable model for investigating the effects of renal transplantation in human patients.
From his publications, McAnulty's main work appears to be the study of wound healing. Here's a representative passage:
Design of wound model

As a wound host, we chose male mice that are homozygous for Leprdb. Such db/db mice exhibit an impaired wound-healing response , which increasing the sensitivity of wound-healing assays as well as clinical relevancy. The course of wound healing in these mice mimics that in humans with adult-onset type II diabetes mellitus.

As a wound type, we chose excisional wounds. These wounds heal from the margins, enabling the broadest assessment of the various parameters for wound healing, including re-epithelialization. We were aware, however, that the healing of mouse wounds is distinctly different from that of human wounds. In mice, contraction is the major mechanism of wound closure. In humans, re-epithelialization and granulation tissue-formation dominate. We devised a means to overcome this dichotomy. The use of splints around excisional wounds in db/db mice had been shown to allow healing by fibrovascular tissue formation and re-epithilialization, while minimizing the effects of contraction. In addition, a splinted wound model can provide two side-by-side wounds on the same mouse and facilitates the application of topical agents directly onto a wound bed. Accordingly, we used splinted wounds in db/db mice for our analyses. [Chattopadhyay, S., Guthrie, K. M., Teixeira, L., Murphy, C. J., Dubielzig, R. R., McAnulty, J. F., & Raines, R. T. (2016). Anchoring a cytoactive factor in a wound bed promotes healing. Journal of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, 10(12), 1012-1020.]
Coauthors of the paper, Kathleen M. Guthrie, Leandro Teixeira, Richard R. Dubielzig, and Richard R. Dubielzig are also veterinarians at the vet school.

Veterinarian Gillian McLellan kills cats. In a recent publication coauthored with other UW-Madison veterinarians [Teixeira, L. B., Buhr, K. A., Bowie, O., Duke, F. D., Nork, T. M., Dubielzig, R. R., & McLellan, G. J. (2014). Quantifying optic nerve axons in a cat glaucoma model by a semi-automated targeted counting method. Molecular vision, 20, 376.] The authors explain:
Subjects

We used fixed optic nerve tissues collected postmortem from cats in a research colony that had been established from a pedigree of cats with spontaneously occurring recessively inherited PCG. Samples were selected from animals ranging in age from 6 months to 6 years and representing a range of different stages in the progression of disease. Weekly intraocular pressure (IOP) data, as measured by rebound tonometry, were available for all cats in the study. All glaucomatous animals had persistently elevated IOP,... The cup-to-disc ratio cannot be reliably assessed on ophthalmoscopy in cats, but all cats in the former group exhibited abnormalities consistent with glaucoma ... Single optic nerves were selected from normal cats (n = 6) and from cats that demonstrated mild to severe PCG due to a consistent mutation in LTBP2 (n = 9). All procedures were conducted with the approval of the University of Wisconsin-Madison institutional animal care and use committee.
Veterinarian Samantha Morello's page says that she has "personal background in the show horse and race horse industry." Those are two industries which generally seem to treat animals very poorly.

Veterinarian Peter Muir is the Melita Grunow Family Professor of Companion Animal Health. But don't be fooled, Muir and vet school dean Markel are co-directors of the vet school's Comparative Orthopaedic Research Laboratory. It isn't a good place for animals. They say:

"We have vast experimental and clinical experience in an array of animal models including mice, rabbits, dogs, sheep, pigs and horses in which have evaluated cartilage, bone, ligament and tendon repair and healing."

"Chronic and acute osteoarthritis in dog models and acute osteoarthritis in sheep and pony models have been successfully created."

"Sheep stifle external immobilization has been successfully established and developed for studies of cartilage implantation," and provide a photo to suggest what this means for the animals they use:



"Osteochondral grafts and implantation have been proficiently performed in both sheep stifles and pig mandibular bone," and provide another photo:



"Achilles, patellar tendon, and shoulder rotator cuff repairs have been evaluated in both rabbit and sheep models. Fracture healing has been also determined in horse models."

The lab seems to be doing pretty well financially.

Veterinarian Lesley Smith's page says that she is a mover and a shaker. Unfortunately, she seems to be lacking in ... hum, intuition? She says on her page that she has: "Over 35 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters published. See pubmed for list." Doing so is predictably unhelpful. Maybe the page is missing a hyperlink. She has to have known that she is not the only L. Smith whose papers are indexed on PubMed. In fact, there are 9,188 papers authors by L. Smiths. There are 139 papers authored by Lesley Smiths. It turns out that she sometime publishes as L.J. Smith, but there are 602 papers authored by L. J. Smiths. But I did locate a few of her papers.

One of those is a yet to be cited report titled, Comparison of the effects of alfaxalone and propofol with acepromazine, butorphanol and/or doxapram on laryngeal motion and quality of examination in dogs. [Radkey, D. I., Hardie, R. J., & Smith, L. J. (2018). Comparison of the effects of alfaxalone and propofol with acepromazine, butorphanol and/or doxapram on laryngeal motion and quality of examination in dogs. Veterinary anaesthesia and analgesia.] The abstract notes that they used "Ten female Beagle dogs, aged 11-13 months." Given that beagles are by far the most commonly used dogs in the labs, I suspect that these were not pets.

And I found this paper: Epidural Administration of Liposome-Encapsulated Hydromorphone Provides Extended Analgesia in a Rodent Model of Stifle Arthritis.

There is, to me, something particularly stomach-tightening about intentionally hurting animals, inducing chronic pain, in order to study pain and analgesia. It seems to me that in most cases some things can be studied ethically only in the course of an effort to help someone. The one exception to this moral baseline is the use of volunteers who have the opportunity to opt out any time they choose.

Veterinarian Sara Colopy experiments on mice. Veterinarian Susannah Sample does as well. One of the papers she co-authored with others from the vet school [Sample, Susannah J., Ryan J. Collins, Aliya P. Wilson, Molly A. Racette, Mary Behan, Mark D. Markel, Vicki L. Kalscheur, Zhengling Hao, and Peter Muir. "Systemic effects of ulna loading in male rats during functional adaptation." Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 25, no. 9 (2010): 2016-2028] provides a sketch of what they did to the mice they used:



Not all of the vets listed on the department's page provide a sample of their published papers. I did not look for publications from those who didn't, so I don't know what their attitude toward animals might be. It is clear though from my brief review of the veterinarians in the four departments that comprise the School of Veterinary Medicine that the general attitude is that animals are disposable tools whose experiences, whose lives, are of little consequence or concern.

The seemingly large majority of the veterinarians associated with the vet school care about animals the way a mechanic might care about your car. They see animals as a means to an ends, or as the property of their actual client, the human who owns them.

This attitude makes a mockery, a sick joke, of the school's new fund-raising drive under the banner of Animals Need Heroes Too.



I don't think it likely that someone would take their child to a clinic if they knew that the clinic was breeding children with genetic defects for use in terminal sometimes painful experiments. Nor would they take their child to a clinic if they knew that the clinic was buying children to experiment on.

It's true that not all the vets at the vet school do these things, but it seems that most do, and those that don't remain quiet about the animals being hurt and killed in their colleagues' labs.

I suspect that were the school to get rid of all the vivisectors and hire a few more vets who really do care about animals, that there would be more than adequate space for a public clinic; and if they then ran out of room, I'd be writing here asking people to make a contribution.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Behind the headlines... suffering and spin.

Cue the public relations gibberish. The public isn't well-served by science writers who seek out and then swallow whole the nonsense foisted off by those with vested interests in the public's opinion and perception of their work. In this article from Nature, I couldn't help noticing the uncritical repetition of simple nonsense. [NEWS 22 March 2018. Alison Abbott: Reduced-calorie diet shows signs of slowing ageing in people. Most comprehensive study yet demonstrates that cutting people’s energy intake dials down their metabolism.]

The history alluded to in the article regarding the effects of caloric restriction in animals is cherry-picked, to say the least.

Not mentioned at all of course is the harsh reality behind the allusion.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Crating Dogs

A little off topic.


Micky and me. I'm the one in the hat.

A few years ago, we learned that a neighbor was locking their dog in a crate whenever they left. We told them that they could drop her off at our house instead; we gave them a key for times when we were gone. For some reason, they didn't care whether we were home or not; they were happy to just drop her off. Now, they never lock her in a crate. I suspect that she is happier looking out the window than being locked in a cage.



I've not been able to pinpoint the rise in popularity in cages for dogs, but from what I have been able to glean it might coincide with the dramatic change in the number of women in the workforce. Puppies could be house trained fairly easily if there was always someone who could catch them in the act and take them outside.



Like so many things that are sometimes thought of as signs of progress, the move from housewife to wage-earner had some negative consequences, and in this case, it may be that one of them was a massive increase in the number of dogs spending most of their waking hours locked in a cage.



A somewhat common claim on the internet is that there is nothing wrong with locking a dog up for hours on end everyday. Like this one: "It is not unreasonable to leave your dog in a crate for 9 to 10 hours at a time, which is a traditional workday."



In the myriad advertisements and images of dog crates one can see on line, it is seemingly the norm to leave them on the floor. When we are away for the day, our boy Micky is always parked on the back of a couch looking out a window. From there he can keep watch and bark at anyone walking by, at the mail carrier, and any truck that happens to stop, or heaven forbid, has letters pained on the side, and of course, he can keep a sharp eye out (when not asleep) for our car pulling into the driveway.



If he were left locked in a cage on the floor all day, I suspect he would perceive it to be a torturous experience. Over the weeks, months, and years of being caged, he might get used to it, but the idea that he would like it seems absurd and ethically blind to me.

In my reading about this phenomena, I happened upon a much more reasonable and humane option for people who for whatever reason, think their dog should not have the run of the house when they are gone. Turn a room into dog-safe space and put a gate in the doorway. Even this, if a chronic practice, seems wrong-headed to me, but it isn't as bad as putting a dog in a cage for long periods. The room would be best with a window and a place to lie down and be able to see out.

Mainly, I think that people who can't have a dog without keeping them in a crate should not be allowed to have a dog.

One final note note for the many people who think exceptions justify the general case. In rare cases, a dog recovering from surgery might be best served by being kept in a small space when no one can be with them. There might be other rare cases, maybe when in a car, that a reasonable argument could be made to justify caging a dog, but those cases are rare exceptions and have no bearing on the routine and cruel practice of daily crating that has gained in popularity over the years.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

They were only Jews.

What did you do during the animal holocaust? Did you stay quiet like most Germans did?

They were only Jews. They are only monkeys.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Cultured Meat Misses the Mark


The idea of growing meat in a vat instead of on an animal is gaining traction, and a handful of new companies have been formed to pursue the dream of animal-free meat. It appears that there is almost all upside to the notion. Were everyone in the world who currently eats animals to make the switch, the benefits to the planet’s health would be immense.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about cultured meat which almost resulted in a $100 wager. He thought that cultured meat would have a huge effect across the board: ethically, environmentally, and economically. And, if a large part of the population embraces the product, it could.

But the more we talked, him the optimist, me the pessimist, the less sure he became. He said that he thought cultured meats would follow a market penetration path somewhat similar to the plant-based milks, which he thought was about 10%. He decided that with luck, we might see a 5% market penetration of cultured meat within 20 years. I suggested that if many of those buying the plant milks would be those also buying the cultured meat, then maybe the meats would not result in a significant change.

Further consideration led him to abandon the bet. I gloated to myself a bit, but further study of the issue has nudged me toward his side of the argument.

The plant-based milks seem to have been more successful than we assumed. Here are numerous bits of data and projections that make it look like the plant-based milks are kicking-ass, market-wise. Plant-based milks have enjoyed a 33% market penetration, and the projections are that this number is increasing.

But, as happy as that statistic made me, the success of the plant milks do not seem to have had a noticeable impact on the U.S. dairy industry so far:

Thinking of other animal product replacements that have come along, I am hard-pressed to point to many that have resulted in a reduction in animal use. Faux fur doesn't seem to have had much if any impact on the fur industry, and since leather is a byproduct of beef production, plastic shoes, even if everyone was wearing them, probably wouldn't have any effect on the number of animals slaughtered.

Someone else suggested that plastic had replaced the use bone for knitting needles and vegetable oil has replaced lard, but in spite of those replacements,
American consumption of red meat and poultry per capita is forecast to hit 222.2 pounds per person in 2018, up from 216.9 pounds in 2017 and 210.2 pounds in 1998, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s the highest amount of meat consumption within the last 50 years. Production of both red meat and poultry will increase in 2018, at the same time the U.S. economy is growing and Americans have more money to spend on food, it found. [MarketWatch.com]
The one case I thought of as being an example of a widely used animal product being forced out of the market by consumer preferences was whale oil. Apparently though, that wasn't the case either.

The internal combustion engine must have resulted in a drastic reduction in the horse population, so it isn't impossible for technological advances to lead to less animal use, but then, the opposite is possible as in the case of the cotton gin leading to a dramatic increase in the number of slaves in the antebellum south.

All of this brings me to the point of this essay: namely, that new product introductions will not lead to advances in ethics and moral behavior. In order to see real improvement in how we treat the planet, in how we treat its other residents, we have to change people's minds, we have to instill a concern for others, we have to sell them on the universality of the Golden Rule.

Without a change of heart, no technological advance is likely to mean very much in a statistical sense when if comes to the animals we harm and kill, the animals whose homes we destroy, whose lives remain unnoticed and unimportant to us. But a change in popular belief would have an immediate and sweeping impact because behavior would be instantly altered.

To the degree that the animal rights movement has had an effect, that veganism has become more commonly mentioned, this has been caused by words rather than new products. Likewise for every social gain we have made. Words motivate action. Words lead to changes in the law. Words change people's beliefs. Words have always been the catalyst for social progress. We need more and better words. Louder words, and of course, lots of pictures.

[For those with an interest in the science behind the lab-grown meats, I found this article to be helpful.]

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Mindful magazine and the new age hoodwink



We just received an offer in the mail to subscribe to a new age magazine called Mindful. The piece was high-end glossy and filled with images of seemingly happy people. One image, apparently the lead off to an article from a past issue, was titled, "A Kinder, Gentler World." What really caught me eye was the image above, both on the envelope and then again as the largest image in the enclosed advert.

The universe is complex. Things that seem impossible sometimes aren't. So, it isn't absolutely impossible that a university program led by a primate vivisector could teach people to be kind, but the notion is creepy and the endeavor somehow tainted. It is sort like the faith healer Benny Hinn urging people to be charitable.

It seems to be little more than a charade, a bamboozle of sorts, a gimmick that benefits the purveyor. The benefits to the buyer, though not necessarily always zero, are secondary to the interests of the seller. Even faith healers sometimes heal people; even snake oil has had its successes; the mind is complex and the placebo effect is real.

But there is something particularly distasteful about a primate vivisector telling people that he has discovered an ancient secret from the Great Masters of the Himalayas for becoming more compassionate, and that really is Richard Davidson's schtick. And then he dresses it up in science to make it appear respectable. And boy, people really lap it up.

Of course, most of his adorers have no knowledge of his long intimate relationship with Ned Kalin or the nature of their twenty-five year collaboration into the neurobiology of fearful young monkeys' brains.

It seems to me that if someone peddling a way to be more compassionate is hurting and frightening young monkeys who they have identified as having "excessively fearful dispositions," is publishing reports on the invasive surgeries on the monkeys, is comfortable isolating newborn infant monkeys in order to induce heightened anxiety and depression, that this is proof that their claim of being able to teach someone how to be more compassionate is probably nonsense and at least suspicious.

I've written thousands of words about Davidson already, so I won't go on. If you are interested in learning more here are some resources in (almost) no particular order:

"Compassion." Chapter 11 in "We All Operate in the Same Way."

June 22, 2008 Primate research at the University of Wisconsin. Host Neil Heinen moderates the discussion on this 22, 2008 episode of For the Record, WISC-TV.

June 24, 2008 Looking at Richard Davidson's Assertions

April 13, 2008 Richard Davidson's Mushy-Headedness

Tuesday, March 6, 2007 Could You Recognize Evil if It Stared You in the Face? (Will the anti-Christ come wearing a t-shirt saying I'm the anti-Christ?)

February 3, 2009 Richard Davidson's Choices Are Evidence That Thinking Good Thoughts Won’t Make You a Good Person

November 27, 2007 A minimal amount of suffering

October 24, 2007 Compassion and Kindness Redefined

May 9, 2010 The Dalai Lama is Coming Back to Madison, or "'Callooh! Callay!' He chortled in his joy."

April 25, 2010 Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

March 20, 2009 Richard Davidson

September 3, 2010 Monsters: Lojong

And, if you want to know even more about Davidson's use of monkeys, this is a current bibliography of a his work in this area: A selected Davidson bibliography. Reports on his experimental use of monkeys:

Heightened extended amygdala metabolism following threat characterizes the early phenotypic risk to develop anxiety-related psychopathology. Shackman AJ, Fox AS, Oler JA, Shelton SE, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Mol Psychiatry. 2017.

Connectivity between the central nucleus of the amygdala and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in the non-human primate: neuronal tract tracing and developmental neuroimaging studies. Oler, Jonathan A., Do PM Tromp, Andrew S. Fox, Rothem Kovner, Richard J. Davidson, Andrew L. Alexander, Daniel R. McFarlin et al. Brain Structure and Function. 2017.

Intergenerational neural mediators of early-life anxious temperament. Fox AS, Oler JA, Shackman AJ, Shelton SE, Raveendran M, McKay DR, Converse AK, Alexander A, Davidson RJ, Blangero J, Rogers J, Kalin NH. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015.

Extreme early-life anxiety is associated with an evolutionarily conserved reduction in the strength of intrinsic functional connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the central nucleus of the amygdala.mBirn RM, Shackman AJ, Oler JA, Williams LE, McFarlin DR, Rogers GM, Shelton SE, Alexander AL, Pine DS, Slattery MJ, Davidson RJ, Fox AS, Kalin NH. Mol Psychiatry. 2014.

Evolutionarily conserved prefrontal-amygdalar dysfunction in early-life anxiety. Birn RM, Shackman AJ, Oler JA, Williams LE, McFarlin DR, Rogers GM, Shelton SE, Alexander AL, Pine DS, Slattery MJ, Davidson RJ, Fox AS, Kalin NH. Mol Psychiatry. 2014.

Neuropeptide Y receptor gene expression in the primate amygdala predicts anxious temperament and brain metabolism. Roseboom PH, Nanda SA, Fox AS, Oler JA, Shackman AJ, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Biol Psychiatry. 2014.

Neural mechanisms underlying heterogeneity in the presentation of anxious temperament. Shackman AJ, Fox AS, Oler JA, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013.

CRHR1 genotypes, neural circuits and the diathesis for anxiety and depression. Rogers J, Raveendran M, Fawcett GL, Fox AS, Shelton SE, Oler JA, Cheverud J, Muzny DM, Gibbs RA, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Mol Psychiatry. 2013.

Central amygdala nucleus (Ce) gene expression linked to increased trait-like Ce metabolism and anxious temperament in young primates. Fox AS, Oler JA, Shelton SE, Nanda SA, Davidson RJ, Roseboom PH, Kalin NH. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012.

Evidence for coordinated functional activity within the extended amygdala of non-human and human primates. Oler JA, Birn RM, Patriat R, Fox AS, Shelton SE, Burghy CA, Stodola DE, Essex MJ, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Neuroimage. 2012.

Amygdalar and hippocampal substrates of anxious temperament differ in their heritability. Oler JA, Fox AS, Shelton SE, Rogers J, Dyer TD, Davidson RJ, Shelledy W, Oakes TR, Blangero J, Kalin NH. Nature. 2010.

Orbitofrontal cortex lesions alter anxiety-related activity in the primate bed nucleus of stria terminalis. Fox AS, Shelton SE, Oakes TR, Converse AK, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. J Neurosci. 2010.

Subgenual prefrontal cortex activity predicts individual differences in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity across different contexts. Jahn AL, Fox AS, Abercrombie HC, Shelton SE, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Biol Psychiatry. 2010.

Serotonin transporter binding and genotype in the nonhuman primate brain using [C-11]DASB PET. Christian BT, Fox AS, Oler JA, Vandehey NT, Murali D, Rogers J, Oakes TR, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Neuroimage. 2009.

Serotonin transporter availability in the amygdala and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis predicts anxious temperament and brain glucose metabolic activity. Oler JA, Fox AS, Shelton SE, Christian BT, Murali D, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. J Neurosci. 2009.

The distribution of D2/D3 receptor binding in the adolescent rhesus monkey using small animal PET imaging. Christian BT, Vandehey NT, Fox AS, Murali D, Oakes TR, Converse AK, Nickles RJ, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Neuroimage. 2009.

Trait-like brain activity during adolescence predicts anxious temperament in primates. Fox AS, Shelton SE, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. PLoS One. 2008 .

Automatic physiological waveform processing for FMRI noise correction and analysis. Kelley DJ, Oakes TR, Greischar LL, Chung MK, Ollinger JM, Alexander AL, Shelton SE, Kalin NH, Davidson RJ.PLoS ONE. 2008.

The serotonin transporter genotype is associated with intermediate brain phenotypes that depend on the context of eliciting stressor. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Fox AS, Rogers J, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ. Mol Psychiatry. 2008.

Automatic physiological waveform processing for FMRI noise correction and analysis. Kelley DJ, Oakes TR, Greischar LL, Chung MK, Ollinger JM, Alexander AL, Shelton SE, Kalin NH, Davidson RJ. PLoS One. 2008.

Role of the Primate Orbitofrontal Cortex in Mediating Anxious Temperament. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. Biol Psychiatry. 2007.

Brain Regions Associated with the Expression and Contextual Regulation of Anxiety in Primates. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Fox AS, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ. Biol Psychiatry. 2005.

Calling for help is independently modulated by brain systems underlying goal-directed behavior and threat perception. Fox AS, Oakes TR, Shelton SE, Converse AK, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005.

The role of the central nucleus of the amygdala in mediating fear and anxiety in the primate. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. J Neurosci. 2004.

The primate amygdala mediates acute fear but not the behavioral and physiological components of anxious temperament. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kelley AE. Related Articles, J Neurosci. 2001.

Cerebrospinal fluid corticotropin-releasing hormone levels are elevated in monkeys with patterns of brain activity associated with fearful temperament. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. Biol Psychiatry. 2000

Asymmetric frontal brain activity, cortisol, and behavior associated with fearful temperament in rhesus monkeys. Kalin NH, Larson C, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. Behav Neurosci. 1998.

Individual differences in freezing and cortisol in infant and mother rhesus monkeys. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Rickman M, Davidson RJ. Behav Neurosci. 1998.

A new method for aversive Pavlovian conditioning of heart rate in rhesus monkeys. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Lynn DE. Physiol Behav. 1996.

Lateralized response to diazepam predicts temperamental style in rhesus monkeys. Davidson RJ, Kalin NH, Shelton SE. Behav Neurosci. 1993.

Lateralized effects of diazepam on frontal brain electrical asymmetries in rhesus monkeys. Davidson RJ, Kalin NH, Shelton SE. Biol Psychiatry. 1992.

Monday, December 25, 2017

This Little Mutant Pig Might be Seriously Impaired


Wisconsin miniature pigs, an image used in both articles mentioned below.

To help kids battling a rare disease, scientists forge a genetic link between people and pigs [https://news.wisc.edu/nf1]
December 19, 2017 By Kelly April Tyrrell

This is a recent PR piece from UW-Madison. If you don't read it very carefully, you will come away with the belief that creating mutant pigs has in some way helped children suffering from a rare genetic disease. But a careful reader will learn that no children have been helped. The article is the same sort hype that has filled newspapers ever since the mid 1930s as a result of the wildly successful fundraising for polio, the first commercialization of medical research. (See Polio: An American Story. David M. Oshinsky. Oxford University Press. 2005.)

The author, a UW-Madison news writer (aka propagandist) is a past mouse vivisector, so it makes some sense she gets giddy about "advances" in the scientific use of animals. In this article she describes symptoms children with neurofibromatosis type 1, or NF1, can experience; she makes no mention of the symptoms in the pigs.

Oddly, perhaps not, a version of the article was published in The Atlantic a week earlier: "Turning Piglets Into Personalized Avatars for Sick Kids." The author was Ed Yong, he also left out any description of the disease in the pigs.

It may be that neither author plagiarized the other. They are after all telling the same story, but the parallels are suggestive, For instance:

Ed Yong: "... Once Mason’s diagnosis was in, [Charles “Chuck” Konsitzke, Mason's father] started asking around about NF-1 research. In particular, he wanted to know where the bottlenecks are. What was the single thing he could do that would most accelerate research into his son’s condition? And the answer that he kept hearing was: Find better animals to experiment on."

Kelly April Tyrrell: "Upon Mason’s diagnosis [Charles “Chuck” Konsitzke, Mason's father] began to delve into published NF1 research. He wanted to know where it was happening, who was doing it and how he might be able to help. He sought opinions from experts, wondering how the field could be improved. Many identified the same bottleneck: the lack of a good research model."

Ed Yong: "When studying diseases, scientists often turn to laboratory animals like mice and zebrafish. They can use these so-called model organisms to work out how mutations cause diseases, and to find and test possible treatments. But the usual lab animals aren’t a good fit for NF-1. They’re too small, and they don’t react in the same way to the mutations that cause the disease in humans. For example, studies in mice suggested that a drug called lovastatin might help to address the learning and attentional problems that accompany NF-1. But when the drug was tested on actual children, in a large clinical trial, it did nothing.

"To better understand NF-1, Konsitzke learned, you need a species that’s closer in both size and biology to a person, and yet is still relatively easy to raise and study. That is, you need pigs. “Pigs closely represent humans,” says Neha Patel, who directs the UW neurofibromatosis clinic. “People with NF-1 have varied cognitive deficits, from severe learning issues to subtle problems. If you imagine studying those in a rat, you’d only get a crude picture of how that translates to humans. But pigs are intellectual animals."

Kelly April Tyrrell: "In biology, research models are animals, cells, plants, microbes and other living things that allow scientists to study biological processes and recreate diseases in order to better understand them. Good models yield information relevant to humans, but the right model can sometimes be difficult to find.

"NF1 is especially complex, affects many systems of the body and touches many areas of scientific inquiry, from cancer research to neurobiology. Chuck began to search for a better model and in 2013, when Mason was 3, he settled on pigs. Pigs are similar to humans in many ways that other common research animals, such as mice and flies, are not. That includes their size, which means drugs and devices that work on humans can also be tested on pigs. They have a robust immune system, which rodents lack. And they’re intelligent, so scientists can study changes to their cognition."

In any case, there at least seem to be some prepared talking points that both authors heard from some of the people they interviewed.

One thing that caught my eye in both articles was the bit about Charles “Chuck” Konsitzke being told that no one was making progress on treating the disease because their was not a good animal model. Ed Yong describes Konsitzke as an "administrator at the University of Wisconsin’s Biotechnology Center." Kelly April Tyrrell is less vague, she notes that he is the associate director of universit’s Biotechnology Center, "a sort of one-stop shop for scientists in need of DNA sequencing, genome editing and other services."

Konsitzke may have gotten a different answer to his questions if he had spoken with someone outside the animal research bubble. The Biotechnology Center he helps direct is deeply involved in promoting and facilitating animal use. His intimate involvement in this part of the university helps explain the talking points repeated in both articles.

A significant difference between The Atlantic and the UW-Madison articles is that the university article implies that individual children's disease will be modeled by a group of pigs with the gene defect from the child, and that the course of the disease in the pigs will inform doctors about the disease course in the children. The Atlantic article quotes the researchers saying that ethical problems might arise if they do do that, so the researchers might blind themselves to the source of the pigs' mutations, which eliminates one potential benefit claimed in the university article.

Missing from both articles was mention of the need for genetic counseling for couples intending to have children. The prudent course would be to forego breeding in cases with a likelihood of producing children with genetic illnesses. I suspect most readers will come away from the articles thinking that making pigs sick is a good thing.

And who knew that UW-Madison has a 1,500-pig research facility? I learn new things every day.