Thursday, July 3, 2008

"When I use a word..."

On April 18, 2008 I wrote to the 87 authors of the letter that appeared in the April 15th issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry, “Attacks Against Medical Researchers: Time to Take a Stand.” I haven’t heard back.

I wrote:
In the fourth paragraph, you made the claim and assertion that in spite of improvements in animal care, activists continue to be unruly. “The recent events at UCLA make clear that diligently improving the ethical standards for primate research procedures is not, by itself, sufficient to prevent attacks.” I am a very close observer of primate research in the U.S. and have no idea what this claim might be referring to; no reference was included in your statement.
I’m still searching for evidence that might support these 87 authors’ claim that the industry has been diligently improving the ethical standards for primate research. I’m currently reading the National Research Council’s 2008 publication Recognition and Alleviation of Distress in Laboratory Animals but have yet to come across any evidence in support of their claim. Maybe it’s hiding elsewhere.

One thing in Distress that seems particularly troubling and indicative is the caveat that distress should be understood as a negative deviation from an animal’s “normal” state of being. (The authors note that all animal behavior in a laboratory setting is abnormal. They note that “normal” in a laboratory setting refers to the species-typical behavior of an animal in a lab when not being subjected to or anxious about husbandry- or research-related negative stressors.)

They write:
Recognition of stress and distress in laboratory animals requires an understanding of the species-, gender-, and age-specific norms, because the normal range of some of these variables may vary as a function of gender, age, physiological state, or genetic characteristics. Values outside normalcy, therefore, may or may not serve as clinical indicators of a disease state. Various transgenic and knockout mice that exhibit severe behavioral and physiological phenotypes appear abnormal relative to their control littermates, but are normal for their genotype. For example, it is appropriate to evaluate Huntington’s disease transgenic mice for signs of stress and distress only relative to their own “normal” behavior, taking into account their particular genetic makeup, their abnormal motor patterns, and reduced weight gain. (25-26)
In other words, when vivisectors intentionally breed an animal to have characteristics that are normally seen as indicators of stress or distress, they can (and should apparently) simply claim that the animal is normal and not stressed or in distress.

No matter how much suffering is induced by these intentional mutations vivisectors can claim that they are behaving normally.

This twisting of common sense and the accepted meaning of words fits the pattern. Another example is Richard Davidson’s strong denial that monkeys in his research are hurt. Holes are drilled through their skulls, parts of their brains damaged, and they are intentionally frightened. (And of course, they are living in a bleak laboratory environment.) But, he says, because the protocol does not stipulate the use of pain, the monkeys aren’t being hurt.

This pattern explains why vivisectors routinely chant the mantra of meaningful oversight. In spite of strong evidence that the oversight system doesn’t work well, they claim it does, and point to the pages of putative regulation. It’s form over substance.

This pattern predicts that key words used by vivisectors will have meanings different from their meaning in common parlance. This, not too coincidentally, means that they can say that animals aren’t being hurt and that the research is well regulated and mean something quite different than the common meaning of the words they use.

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