Monday, June 4, 2007

Cogitating monkeys can calculate statistics

Arguments defending animal research inevitably appeal to the image of a sick child who can't be saved unless countless animals are sacrificed to $cience. Only a cad wouldn't want to save a poor dying child. Deborah Blum used just this appeal to baseless angst when she repeatedly asked me during a debate she moderated whether pediatric drugs should be tested on babies rather than animals. (I said they are tested on babies because the animal tests are meaningless and misleading.)

In any case, much painful research with animals makes no claim about saving sick dying babies or anyone else; much of it is bluesky nonsense driven solely by curiosity.

Consider the research adressed in the article Cogitating monkeys can calculate statistics.

Tianming Yang and Michael Shadlen at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of Washington in Seattle, US, tested the reasoning of two rhesus macaques ...

After several weeks of training on thousands of trials per day - clearly, the monkeys are no Einsteins - both macaques learned to match their choices closely to the actual probabilities revealed by the shapes they saw, choosing the correct target more than 75% of the time.

This is the first time monkeys have been shown to make such subtle probabilistic inferences.

"When we started this, we thought it was a high-risk project," says Shadlen. "When we had monkeys doing it, I was pretty shocked."...

The researchers also used electrodes in the brain to record the activity of 64 neurons in the lateral intraparietal area - a region on the side of the brain that is involved in attention and visual processing....

"We're exposing the basic elements, the fundamental biology of higher cognition," says Shadlen. Further work should allow the researchers to begin to understand the decision-making process in more detail.
Michael N. Shadlen (here, here, and here) has a long history of sticking electrodes in monkeys' brains. Tianming Yang is one of Shadlen's assistants (the cycle of abuse continues.)

The simple statement, "The researchers also used electrodes in the brain to record the activity of 64 neurons in the lateral intraparietal area..." is an antiseptic way of saying that Shadlen cut away part of the scalp, exposed the skull, drilled a hole, screwed and glued a box to the skull, and then pushed wires down into the monkeys' brains.

It also fails to mention the fact that monkeys having had this done to them must have continual medical care to cut away the developing scar tissue and be treated for recurring infections. Brain abcesses are not uncommon.

And, the monkeys, once surgically mutilated, are then restrained for hours on end and must work (follow lights on a screen) for (very commonly) an occasional drop of liquid. The monkeys are kept chronically thirsty and sometimes hungry.

And this undeniable suffering has absolutely nothing to do with curing sick children. It's just mental masturbation, knowledge for knowledge sake.

I wonder if Shadlen can cogitate the liklihood of him and his evil cronies being view as monsters by future generations. I wonder if he can mentally calculate the odds of being grouped with Dario Ringach?

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