Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dr. Sandgren should have done his homework.

At last night’s debate (9/26/07), “Are animal models predictive for humans?” Dr. Eric Sandgren, arguing that animal models are predictive for humans, presented three case studies that he felt proved his position. Dr. Ray Greek, arguing that animals are not predictive, presented innumerable surveys published in peer reviewed journals by scientists demonstrating that animal models consistently fail as accurate predictors of human disease and drug response. Dr. Greek’s evidence simply overwhelmed Dr. Sandgren’s three anecdotes.

Dr. Sandgen based his claim on William Harvey’s discovery, using animals, that the blood moves in a circle; Harry Harlow’s demonstrations with rhesus monkeys of some of the consequences of isolation; and UW researcher Michael N. Gould’s rat models of human breast cancer gene locus.

Dr. Greek argued that animal models do, very occasionally, predict human response. Dr. Sandgren’s position rested on his recitation of the three animal-based studies above, one from the early 1600s, one from the 1960s, and one from today.

Dr. Sandgren argued that, like it or not, Harlow’s work was beneficial. His claims concerning possible justifications for Harlow’s work were based on his misunderstanding of Harlow’s motivations and a misunderstanding of the medico-social milieu of the day. This isn’t entirely Dr. Sandgren’s fault since he seems to have relied heavily (solely?) on the opinions of history-rewriter Deborah Blum, an apologist for Harlow and the primate vivisection industry generally.

Dr. Sandgren’s defense of Harlow rested on his understanding of Blum; that, at the time, the standard advice to mothers from their doctors was to avoid touching their babies more than necessary to avoid disease and the creation of an overly dependent personality. But this claim is rubbish.

Deborah Blum makes the historically erroneous claim that prior to Harlow's publications on attachment no one was paying attention to the work of psychologists studying the effect of social and environmental deprivation in human children. She pointedly claims that Harlow began his work on "... mother love at a time when British psychiatrist John Bowlby could barely persuade his colleagues to join the words `mother' and `love' together." (p 150, Love at Goon Park)

But Bowlby was commissioned by the World Health Organization to study the effects of institutionalization on orphaned children. He published his landmark work, Maternal Care and Mental Health, in 1951. Harlow published "Love in Infant Monkeys" in Scientific American in 1959. And Bowlby was neither a pioneer in these studies of human children nor a lone voice; his was the establishment’s opinion.

Even more telling, in 1946, at the time when there were some doctors arguing for a hands-off approach to infant care, over a decade before Harlow began his experiments on attachment, Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care sold three quarters of a million copies in its first printing by telling parents to embrace their children and to trust their parenting instincts. Baby and Child Care was an instant and mammoth success becoming the number two best seller in history, second only to the Bible.

In fact, Harlow wasn’t interested in trying to change the way children were parented. His work on attachment was solely his contribution to an argument among theoretical psychologists over the reasons and theories employed at the time to explain the clear and widely acknowledged need of children to be raised by nurturing loving caregivers.

Harlow’s work predicted nothing; it duplicated in monkeys what had been long accepted as detrimental in children. Dr. Sandgren should have done his homework.

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