Sunday, September 28, 2008


Pygmies ©1998
In One Act

Characters, in order of appearance:

Babe - Dr. Barbara Goldfarb, Ph.D. in swine management, confinement practices; Gourmet cook with a fondness for foie gras, veal etc; Asked by USDA to develop intensive breeding program for pygmies. Married to Harry.

His Holiness (HH) - The Right Reverend Jeremiah Christian, D.D.; Big Book scholar; Gamecock producer; Favorite charity: Salvation Through Immortality by Cryogenics for Youth.

Jenny - Dr. Jennifer Kindheart, D.V.M.; animal lover; owner of So Cute Kennels, supplier of dogs for pets, biomedical labs, and fighting. Vet for "Helping Hands Foundation." Avid big game trophy hunter. Hates trappers and trapping.

Mary - Preschool teacher and Harry's identical twin sister. She is confused on many topics. [Yes, Mary's a woman, Harry's a man; she's blond, he's dark. None of the characters seem to notice this inconsistency, but then, they seem to overlook very many inconsistencies.]

Margaret, a TV anchor woman.

Kitty, a TV reporter.

Steam-O-Matic commercial characters:
Woman's husband
911 Operator
Steam-o-matic spokesmodel

Harry - Dr. Ishmael Mohandas Abernathy Harold Krishna, M.D., Ph.D., D.V.M., D.D.S., Chief researcher for Good Samaritan Foundation's Retarded African Pygmy Experimental Laboratory. Married to Babe.

Scene One

Babe and HH are sitting together sipping red wine and after some small talk begin to discuss the exciting news of Harry's Nobel Prizes.

HH: Praise be! to the Lord's undiscriminating compassion! Mysterious are His ways! Isn't this just the most inspiring evidence of His love for us?

Babe: Well, I'm sure Harry must feel vindicated at last. He has been saying for years now that (with great emphasis) pygmies are not human! I've even heard that after he receives the Nobel prizes for Medicine, Genetics, and Peace that he's been invited to England to be knighted.

HH: Praise be! to the Lord's undiscriminating compassion! If anyone deserves these high honors it must be Dr. Krishna. Imagine three Nobels to the same scientist, and one for peace! He has had to secretly work in his secret underground pygmy laboratory for so long!

Babe: Maybe now people will learn of the sacrifices he's had to make. Once he even had to leave a dinner I was giving to go back to the lab to check on some young pygmies he was using. He has made such sacrifices! Weren't you at that party Your Holiness?

HH: Praise be! to the Lord's undiscriminating compassion, yes my child I was at your dinner party, and a fine meal it was if I remember right. The veal was particularly tender and pale, how are you able to create such sumptuous fare?

Babe: It's true that I do love to cook, but that dish started with my company's new techniques to process vegetables. First, we place the brand new baby processing units in a new smaller container. This has proven very effective at making the processed vegetables very sweet and tender. We have also discovered that the tails, ears, and lower legs are simply unnecessary to the efficient processing of vegetables. With these new methods, tenderness and flavor are guaranteed.

HH: Praise be! to the Lord's undiscriminating compassion! [Abbreviated hereafter as PB!TTLUC!] Will the unbeliever never be convinced? Do you know what time Dr. Krishna will be returning?

Babe: No, Your Holiness, but did you hear that his twin sister is flying in for the ceremonies? She will be staying with us for a while. She's Harry's identical twin.

HH: PB!TTLUC! I look forward to meeting her. How honored she must feel.

A knock at the door. Jenny enters and is clearly upset and going on and on about her latest efforts to ban trapping.

Jenny: My God! What's wrong with those people? Can't they see how cruel trapping is? I must have asked fifty people to sign my petition and all I heard was, "Hey! We've got to get fur from somewhere!" and, "What are you wearing those leather boots for?" God! I told them that crocodile skin had nothing to do with trapping, but God! They just didn't get it!

Oh! Hello Your Holiness, I'm sorry. I didn't see you sitting there. What you must think of me.

HH: PB!TTLUC! God looks on those with money with unlimited love. A small contribution to my favorite charity: Salvation Through Immortality by Cryogenics for Youth will make Him love you even more. Now write that check child so I can continue on my way.

Jenny grabs her handbag and quickly scribbles a check.

HH: Tell Dr. Krishna I will be by later to congratulate him on his profound victory for love. PB!TTLUC!

Exit HH

Jenny: I am going to have to start paying more attention to the people in the room when I come in. I must have given The Reverend ten thousand dollars by now just to pay for my language.

Babe: But Jenny, it is for a good cause. He has been able to freeze thirty-five rich children so far. Now those children still have a chance at salvation. The Reverend is such a kind man. He cares so much for their souls and their money.

Jenny: I guess you're right. I mean, I know you are. I guess I'm still just a little upset from my ordeal this morning. There I was trying to get out of the office early with my anti-trapping petitions, when three beagle pups escaped from the back of one of my customer's pick-up trucks. It took us forever to get them back in. If they hadn't run back to their mother I don't think we could have caught them.

Babe: Who was buying them?

Jenny: One of our regular customers: Acme Animal Supply. They sell them to researchers all over the country. They say So Cute Kennels always has the best prices. Oh, you should have seen how cute those little puppies were. I just love my job.

Babe: Have you heard about Harry's three Nobel Prizes?

Jenny: What? You're kidding! Here I am going on and on about my own day and here it is Harry's big moment. I just knew he would get this break eventually. I'm so glad that I've been able to do some of the veterinary work at the secret labs. It makes me feel a little important too.

Babe: He should be home any minute, but I doubt he'll remember your help. Why don't you wait for him? Oh look! I think there's something on TV about him right now. I'll turn it up.

Scene Two

A typical TV newsroom scene. An anchorwoman seated at a counter with notes in front of her. She has an earplug in.

Anchorwoman: In what is being called the greatest biomedical breakthrough of the century Dr. Harold Krishna has announced to the world that (with great emphasis) pygmies are not human. Ever quick to see the benefits for humans, religious leaders and medical experts have declared this the biggest breakthrough in medical history with a possibility of curing everything now in sight.

Shortly after Dr. Krishna's announcement the Nobel Prize Commission announced its plans to award Dr. Krishna a Nobel Prize in veterinary medicine, a Nobel Prize in animal genetics, and a Nobel Peace Prize for this heroic humanitarian effort.

For more on this important story we go live to Kitty Smith standing by at the once secret labs of Dr. Krishna.

Kitty, are you with us?

Scene Three

Reporter in front of primate lab.

Kitty: Yes Margaret, I'm here. And the excitement that this story is generating can only be described as electric. It was only yesterday that people thought all the experimentation going on in these labs was on monkeys. At first people were shocked to learn that they had been misled, but now that shock has turned into pure jubilation after learning that (with great emphasis) African pygmies are not human!

Back to you Margaret.

Scene Four.

TV studio

Anchorwoman: Well! This is exciting news! Stay tuned to Channel 15 for more on this unbelievable story.

Steam-o-matic Commercial

Scene: A woman is ironing a shirt. She irons her hand and screams. Her husband runs in and asks what happened. She tells him and, with urgency, tells him to call 911 and he does. The woman weeps while holding her wrist throughout the scene.

We hear his conversation with the 911 operator.

Operator: 911 emergency.

Husband: My wife just ironed her hand. I think she is hurt really bad!

Operator: What brand of iron is it?

Husband: What? (To wife): Honey, they want to know what kind of iron it is.

Wife (incredulous): What? It's a Steam-o-matic. Why do they need to know that?

Husband: She says it's a Steam-o-matic.

Operator: Is that the 900 model or the SuperSafe 10,000?

Husband: Honey, the operator wants to know what model it is.

Wife: (With understandable incredulity.) What model? My hand's been pressed!

Husband: I know honey, but they say they need to know.

Wife: It's a SuperSafe 10,000.

Husband: She says it's a Steam-o-matic SuperSafe 10,000.

Operator: Well that's good news sir. Product safety tests with the Steam-o-matic SuperSafe 10,000 have shown that young monkeys who have had their hands ironed almost always recover some use of the ironed hand.

Husband smiles, wipes brow with back of hand in relief and signs a-ok to wife.

Cut to spokesmodel with Steam-o-matic sign under her close-up.

Spokesmodel: We at Steam-o-matic are doing everything we can to guarantee you the safest products possible. With Steam-o-matic, if you should ever have an accident with one of our products, you can rest assured that we have already tested every possible injury on a dog or a monkey. We at Steam-o-matic really care about you!

Cut to man and woman. Her hand heavily bandaged.

Both: Thanks Steam-o-matic!

Cut to Steam-o-matic logo. Exit with Steam-o-matic jingle.

"Steam-o-matic, we test on dogs and monkeys for you!" Spoken: Steam-o-matic!

Scene Five

Babe and Jenny are sitting on a couch having just watched the news blurb and commercial.

Jenny: You must be so excited.

Babe: This should make us very rich and famous.

A knock at the door. Babe goes to the door. Enter Mary, Harry's identical twin, carrying suitcases.

Babe: Honey, your home early! What are all those bags for?

Mary: Babe! It's me! Mary! I've forgotten how often people get me and Harry confused. Even mother made mistakes sometimes.

Babe: Oh Mary! How silly of me. Come in. You must be exhausted.

Mary: Thanks.

Babe: Jenny, I don't know if you've ever met Harry's identical twin sister Mary. Mary, this is our dear friend and family vet Jenny Kindheart.

Jenny: My God the resemblance is uncanny. If you had not said something I'm sure I would have been confused.

Mary goes to a chair, sits, and starts crying.

Babe: Mary! What on earth's wrong dear?
Aside to Jenny: She's always been high strung.

Mary: A month before I left, Joseph fell off a high tower he was working on. I've been embarrassed to tell anyone about it.

Babe to Jenny: Joseph works as an antenna installer all over the world.
To Mary: Poor Joseph. Was he hurt dear?

Mary: Well, he fell quite a ways and landed on an open toolbox. Somehow a crowbar was shoved into his anus.

Babe and Jenny together: Oh no! How horrible! etc.

Mary: The doctors say he's going to be OK but are unsure whether he will be able to father a child, and that is his biggest wish.

Jenny: So you and Joseph don't have any children?
Mary: No, not really. (Pause) We do have five girls, but Joseph and I really want a boy, I'm sure you can understand.

Jenny: Of course I understand. Your concern for yourselves is admirable, wouldn't you say so too Babe?

Babe: Absolutely. And I am sure Harry will be sad to hear about Joseph's accident too. In fact I think I hear him now.

Harry enters.

Everyone: Hello honey, congratulations Harry, etc.

He sees Mary, goes to her and greets her seemingly blind to her tears and quiet sobs.

Harry: Mary! I am so glad you could come.

Babe (aside to Harry): Harry, Mary's upset. Joseph has been in an accident.

Harry: (aside to Jenny and Babe): She's always been high strung.
Harry to Mary (genuinely worried): Joseph has had an accident?

Babe: Joseph fell off a tower and somehow fell on a crowbar. It went up his anus and the doctors don't know whether he will be able to be a father again.

Harry: Be a father again? To Babe: They don't have any children; oh wait, I remember now. To Mary: Mary, don't you and Joe have a couple of girls?

Mary: Yes Harry. We have five girls, but Joseph really wanted to have a boy. I'm sure you understand.

Harry: Of course I do! And (brightening) I also have wonderful news for you. My experiments have shown unequivocally that African pygmies with metal rods shoved into their rectums are still able to ejaculate. Isn't that wonderful news? You see? You and Joe can keep trying for that boy.

Mary: That is definitely good news. But doesn't that hurt the pygmies?

Harry: But Mary! (With great emphasis) We are not pygmies! That is what all the excitement is over. We now know without question that pygmies are only 99.996% genetically similar to humans. (With great emphasis) We are not pygmies! This means that they do not feel things the way we do.

Mary: Oh, I see. We are not pygmies so we don't have to care about them?

Harry: Not the same way we care about people! And because they are so small we can fit many into a cage. They breed so easily that we are going to be able to send them to laboratories all over the world.

Jenny: Harry, have you discovered a way to overcome the problem of them mutilating and killing themselves?

Harry: This was a big problem for quite awhile. We are beginning to do some controlled studies to determine just how much boredom they can endure. This will teach us many important things, and help TV producers plan for new shows.

But now we are breeding retarded African pygmies and the problem seems to be solved. Retarded African pygmies are really very easy to manage. Of course we will keep some normal pygmies around for the boredom and suicide studies and we may be able to find other uses for them as well.

Mary starts to sniffle again and seems on the verge of tears once more.

Babe: What on the earth could be wrong now Mary?

Mary: I was afraid to say anything, but after Joseph's accident he was home from work for a while and was cooking some pan-fried prawns for me and the girls. Babe, do you ever make that dish? I think we got the recipe from you.

Babe: Is that the one where you remove the prawns' legs so they cannot crawl out of the skillet just before you drop them into the hot lard?

Mary: Yes that's it.

Harry and Jenny: They are so delicious fixed that way!

Mary: Well, (sniffling again) one of the prawns thrashed around with its tail - almost as if it was in pain or something.

Babe: The recipe calls for putting a lid on the skillet right away and holding it there for three or four minutes or until you can't feel them jumping around any longer.

Mary: I don't know what went wrong, but Joseph was splashed with the hot lard and somehow managed to pull the entire pan off the stove on to himself. He received third degree burns from his stomach all the way to his knees. And he hadn't really recovered from the crowbar up his anus yet.

Harry: This is no problem! We have discovered in our laboratory that retarded African Pygmies dipped briefly into boiling oil with metal rods inserted into their rectums are still able to ejaculate! You see? There is nothing to worry about.

Babe: Doesn't the hot oil hurt them?

Harry: There may be some discomfort, but don't forget, they are only 99.996% genetically similar to us. (With great emphasis) They are not human beings. We are not pygmies, so we don't have to care!

Mary: I guess Harry's right. After all he is going to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work, and Harry I am so proud of you. Just look how your work is already helping people like Joseph.

A knock at the door.

Babe: That must be Reverend Christian. He wanted to come by himself to congratulate you Harry. He was here earlier. With all this going on about Joseph's injuries I forgot to tell you.
Babe (to Jenny): Jenny, could you get the door, and don't forget to watch your language around Father Christian.

Jenny: OK

Jenny exits. Enter HH accompanied by Jenny. HH walks up to Mary; he doesn't notice Harry at first.

HH: PB!TTLUC! Dr. Krishna! Let me congratulate you on your incredible discovery and secret research. You are to be commended sir. Your work will heal much suffering.

Harry comes over before Mary can speak.

Harry: Your Holiness. I'm over here. But allow me to introduce my identical twin sister, Mary.

HH: PB!TTLUC! I feel like I'm looking in a mirror. Amazing, simply amazing!

Harry: Your Holiness, we were just discussing the ethical implications of using pygmies in biomedical experiments. What do you think?

HH: PB!TTLUC! These are not questions mere mortals can answer. The Book has answered them for us already.

HH goes to a large black book sitting on a nearby table. He opens it randomly to the center.

HH: It is written: "And man shall use every animal as a tool to avoid any small discomfort and the final judgment." There. All the answers are there. No one has to think about these things themselves. The important decisions have all been made for us. PB!TTLUC!

Babe: You make it all so easy to understand Your Holiness.

Mary: Yes. Coming from you Reverend, I guess dipping pygmies in hot oil and shoving metal rods up their anuses is just God's way of showing compassion for His human children.

HH: PB!TTLUC! You must have had some religious upbringing!

The phone rings. Harry answers it.

Harry: Mary, it's for you. Long distance.

Mary takes the phone. Everyone else begins small talk but soon notice Mary is crying once more. Mary hangs up the phone.

Jenny: Mary, what's wrong dear? Not more bad news?

Mary: Oh God! Excuse me Your Holiness.

HH: God always forgives the rich.

Jenny [aside]: As long as you make a donation.

Mary: There's been an accident! Joseph went back to work last week. They had a job high in the Alps. He slipped and fell into a shallow lake and lay in freezing water for three days. He has frostbite from the waist down.

Harry: Don't worry Mary! My retarded African pygmy studies have shown that very often even after weeks of submersion in freezing water, even with open sores from being dipped briefly into boiling oil, with a metal rod shoved into their rectums, retarded African pygmies are still able to ejaculate! Isn't this wonderful news?

Mary: (Through her tears) But you said pygmies are different from people.

Harry: But you are forgetting that they are 99.996% genetically similar to us. And, we can do anything to them we want to because (With great emphasis) we're not pygmies! This is the beauty of biomedical research. If we do a study, sooner or later it is bound to be useful.

HH: PB!TTLUC! Dr. Krishna, after hearing these explanations from you I know that you deserve every humanitarian award there is. Never have I known a man with such concern for others. Doctor, you are an inspiration to us all! A toast!

Babe brings wine for everyone.

HH: PB!TTLUC! To the man who has taught the entire world about love and kindness through his discovery that (With great emphasis) we are not pygmies!

All: To Health! To us! To Humans! To Pygmies!


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Memories of Dorothy and Intent

In Loving Memory of Dorothy

Between 3:00 and 4:00 pm on September 22, 2008 our sweet, sweet Dorothy died. She died from what appeared to be heart failure in a forested enclosure, surrounded by the chimpanzee family who loved her.

Dorothy spent at least 25 lonely years, and probably closer to 40 years, chained by her neck before a daily parade of people at an amusement park - people who thought it hilarious that she would beg for cigarettes and savor the butts they threw at her. After the first ever armed confiscation of primates in Cameroon in May 2000, Dorothy enjoyed eight years and four months at Sanaga-Yong Center surrounded by people and chimpanzees who cherished her.
I met Dorothy when she was still chained to the tree. A hundred feet away Nama was chained by the neck to a steel bar driven into the ground at the center of a barren circle of well-worn earth. I got to be with them again about a year later after they had been rescued. They were very lucky to have discovered by Dr. Speede.

Thinking about Dorothy and Nama's years in chains made me think again about intent.

Intent is commonly used as a blanket excuse for much of the harm we do to others. Richard Davidson, for instance, appeals to the Dalai Lama's position that good intentions excuse the experimental brain surgeries and fearful experiences Davidson and his colleagues subject young monkeys to. This position seems to be essentially universal in the vivisection community.

The hotel owner probably wanted to entertain his guests. His intent was not to hurt the chimpanzees and monkeys he had chained, but to make his quests smile and laugh; and by all accounts he was successful. But I don't think his good intentions were sufficient to justify the suffering he was causing.

In the best case scenario, a vivisector genuinely believes that the work they are doing is the best chance for developing a treatment, cure, or prevention of some malady, but why is the very slim chance of success considered an adequate excuse to hurt an animal, while entertaining people isn't? Why should knowledge be given higher status than fun and excitement?

Why should dog fighters be imprisoned but vivisectors be lauded?

Maybe the answer lies in the numbers. It might be argued that some advancement in healthcare could benefit many people while a sporting event entertains only a relatively few. We should keep in mind too, the therapeutic effects of being happy, so if watching a dog or rooster get mangled makes someone happy and improves their health, why is it that even vivisectors sometimes decry staged fights or slaughters?

Of course the numbers game can't explain sport hunting or trapping.

Intention can serve as a universal get out of jail card in some circumstances. Good Samaritan laws protects us somewhat from unintended or inadvertent harm we might do if we are trying to help someone in an emergency.

Few people are likely to support the idea of kidnapping the neighbor's child to provide one's own child with a new liver. But what about paying for a piece of liver or a kidney? It is generally considered unethical to pay for an organ, yet the black market organ dealers could be acting with the best of intent. Why should their motives be viewed as less moral or ethical than the motives of someone who hurts and kills animals in the pursuit of arcane biological minutia?

Intent does matter but it is not a universal excuse. When we accidentally hurt someone or even kill them, the legal consequences are justifiably less severe than if we are caught intentionally harming or killing someone.

So back to Dorothy and Nama. Why is the intention to entertain considered an inadequate excuse but the intention to cure is considered adequate? This seems ethically out of balance; it suggests that either animal fighting is good or that the rest of the harm we visit on animals is bad. I don't see a logical and consistent way to reconcile these contrary positions.

Consistency seems to require that we embrace vivisection, factory farming, and bull fighting, or else, that we call all of it atrocity.

Friday, September 19, 2008


It seems a matter of plain fact that the suffering endured by a minority group coincides neatly with the amount of power we have over them.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Harry Harlow's Dark Shadow

If I worked in a field or in an institution associated with the name Harry Harlow, I too might think that his work needed defending; he was, and is, after all, an icon of the complete inability of an industry to regulate itself; its lack of a moral compass; and a willingness to rely on arcane and meaningless theoretical minutia to justifify cruelty.

Some (most?) within the industry must bear an unspoken sense of guilt over Harlow’s career. Some, even his past students, have spoken about their ethical failures:
Harlow’s colleagues, me included, never challenged him on the ethical points,” [John ] Gluck says, flatly and with regret. “The strength of our spines were [sic] not sufficient to carry the weight of our professional goals and our conscience.” (Blum. Love at Goon Park. 2002.)
Frank C. P. van der Horst and Rene van der Veer published three papers in the journal Integrative Psychological & Behavioral Science in 2008 that, in part, argue that Peter Singer’s criticism of Harlow is unjust or inaccurate. (See: Harlow and Bowlby for links to these papers.)

In “‘When Strangers Meet’: John Bowlby and Harry Harlow on Attachment Behavior” they write in the introduction: “Although it has been argued (Singer 1975) that Harlow’s experimenting had no influence on Bowlby’s theorizing, here it will become clear that [it did].” They follow up more forcefully in the conclusion:
We may conclude that Harlow’s scientific influence on Bowlby has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt: Harlow’s experiments showed in a remarkable way what Bowlby had been theorizing about since his introduction to ethology in the early 1950s. Our findings make abundantly clear that Singer (1975) was completely wrong in asserting that Harlow’s findings had no impact on Bowlby’s theory whatsoever….
That’s a strong statement. But it refers to a straw man.

Singer does not argue that Harlow didn’t influence Bowlby’s theorizing.

Here’s the only passage in Animal Liberation (Singer, 1975) that mentions Bowlby and Harlow:
In another article Harlow and his former student and associate Stephen Suomi described how they were trying to induce psychopathy in infant monkeys by a technique that appeared not to be working. They were then visited by John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist. According to Harlow’s account, Bowlby listened to the story of their troubles and then toured the Wisconsin laboratory. After he had seen the monkeys individually housed in bare wire cages he asked, “Why are you trying to produce psychopathology in monkeys? You already have more psychopathological monkeys in the laboratory than have ever been seen on the face of the earth.”

Bowlby, incidentally, was a leading researcher on the consequences of maternal deprivation, but his research was conducted with children, primarily orphans, refuges, and institutionalized children. As far back as 1951, before Harlow even began his research on nonhuman primates, Bowlby concluded:
The evidence has been reviewed. It is submitted that evidence is now such that it leaves no room for doubt regarding the general proposition that the prolonged deprivation of the young child of maternal care may have grave and far-reaching effects on his character and so on the whole of his future life.
This did not deter Harlow and his colleagues from devising and carrying out their monkey experiments. In the same article in which they tell of Bowlby’s visit, Harlow and Suomi describe [details of their efforts to induce depression.]
This is the sum total of Singer’s comment. He says nothing about Bowlby’s theorizing. Singer says only that according to Bowlby, the matter of a child’s need for maternal care was resolved, yet in spite of that, Harlow and his colleagues demonstrated the effect of maternal deprivation in monkeys; ad nauseam, I would say.

The story of Bowlby’s visit to Harlow’s lab has been retold often. It is repeated by Debra Blum in Love at Goon Park as well as by Stephen Suomi in “Rigorous Experiments on Monkey Love: An Account of Harry F. Harlow’s Role in the History of Attachment Theory.”

It raises the question of Harlow’s and his students’ insight and qualifications. You have to wonder what they missed, what they couldn’t see, what passed them by without notice. They seem to have been nearly blind. If someone who claims to be studying the behavior of an animal is unable to see the animal's distress, then how likely is it that his or her observations of the animal's behavior and motivations are accurate, complete, or at all meaningful?

According to Horst and Veer, Harlow and Bowlby were introduced to each other by British ethologist Robert Hinde. Hinde visited Harlow’s laboratory some time in the late 50s or early 60s:
I must have next met Harry when I visited Madison and was appalled by his room full of of cages with babies going “whoowhoowhoo” [a distress call] and Harlow had no sensitivity at that point that he was damaging these infants.
Notable too, is the fact that Harlow had been studying the behavior of primates since the early 1930s, and yet, more than twenty-five years later he was unaware that the monkeys in his lab were psychopathic. How sensitive to the implications of his research data could he and his students have really been?

Horst and Veer base their high opinion (defense?) of Harlow on his contributions to Bowlby’s theories. But Bowlby’s theories were just that. By the time Harlow entered the scientific argument in 1958 concerning the theoretical reason that children suffer when deprived of contact with a caregiver, the matter that children needed such care was not in dispute, no matter the rewriting of history that Harlow’s defenders are wont to rely on.

For instance, in 1962, the World Health Organization published Deprivation of Maternal Care. A Reassessment of its Effects. Public Health Papers No. 14 as a follow-up to John Bowlby’s 1951 landmark WHO report: Maternal Care and Mental Health. From the Preface:
Bowlby’s monograph Maternal Care and Mental Health was published by the World Health Organization in 1951, and was at once acclaimed as an unequalled contribution to its subject. Its success is shown by the frequency with which it has been printed and the many languages into which it has been translated.

The conclusion Bowlby reaches in his monograph is that prolonged deprivation of the young child of maternal care may have grave and far-reaching effects on his character and so on the whole of his life; and he draws the corollary that the proper care of children deprived of a normal life is not merely an act of common humanity, but essential to the mental and social welfare of a community. His indictment on that score of the nurseries, institutions, and hospitals of even the so-called advanced countries has contributed to a remarkable change in outlook that has led to a widespread improvement in the institutional care of children.

While the practical effects of Bowlby’s monograph in the realm of child care have been universally acknowledged to be wholly beneficial, his theoretical conclusions have been subjected to considerable criticism….
It is this arcane argument that Harlow contributed to. In his 1951 Maternal Care, Bowlby mentions a single animal study—one using twin goats—to bolster his supposition that differences in rearing conditions were adequate to induce behavioral abnormalities. In his 1952 follow-up work and restatement, Child Care and the Growth of Love, he cited only two animal studies. He again mentioned the goats:
Though there can be no mistaking that these findings all point the same way, their value is frequently questioned on the grounds that many children in institutions are born of parents of poor stock, physically and mentally, and that heredity alone might well account for all the differences. Those who make this objection do not seem to be aware that in the majority of the studies described, care has been taken by the investigators to ensure that other groups of children, brought up in either their own home or in foster homes and of a similar social class and as nearly as possible of similar stock, were studied at the same time for purposes of comparison. The only certain method of ruling out the effects of heredity is by comparing identical twins. Though there are no human twin studies of the problem, one psychologist is doing experimental work on twin goat kids, one of whom is separated from its mother for a brief spell each day and the other is not. Except for the daily experimental period of forty minutes, both kids live with and feed from their mother. During the experimental period, the lights are periodically extinguished, which is known to create anxiety in goats, and this produces very different behavior in the twins. The one which is with its mother is at ease and moves about freely; the isolated one is ‘psychologically frozen’ and remains cowed in one corner. In one of the first experiments the isolated kid discontinued suckling from its mother and, the experimenters being unaware of this and so unable to help, it died after a few days. This is ample demonstration of the adverse effects of maternal deprivation on the young of mammals, and disposes finally of the argument that all the observed effects are due to heredity.
He also cited Konrad Lorenz’s work on imprinting in goslings.

Horst and Veer argue that Harlow’s work influenced Bowlby. In fact, the opposite seems to be a more accurate characterization of their interaction. Harlow based his work on Bowlby’s. Harlow wasn’t even original.

Stephen Suomi, in "Rigorous Experiments" writes:
…Two years later [in 1964] Hinde did essentially the same thing in a slightly different setting, and indeed maternal separation studies are still being carried out today, but if one goes back to the very first published studies carried out in Harlow’s lab (Seay et al. 1962, and Seay and Harlow 1965), in the Introduction and in the Discussion sections of those papers there is nothing but Bowlby. These monkey studies were modeled exactly on Bowlby’s published accounts of the effects of maternal separation on children, including the use of exactly the same terms—“protest,” “despair,” and “detachment,”—that Bowlby had employed in describing the reactions of children following separation from and reunion with their mothers….
Horst and Veer argue that Harlow was a “giant” in his field. But Harlow was well known and a standout before he began his experiments on attachment in monkeys. "The Nature of Love" was part of his inaugural address as the new president of the American Psychological Association in 1958. His published papers, prior to 1958 (and after) do not seem to warrant the leadership positions he has held.

Harlow’s fame and notoriety appear to have been based on a remarkably strong personality rather than on any contribution to human well-being. This is probably why psychologist and colleague Duane Rumbaugh could observe, “It was surprising to me how fast the citations dropped off after his death.” (Love at Goon Park) And it explains why no one had the spine to stand up to him.

Harlow’s affect on childcare is little more than a myth. Even in the 1964 WHO reassessment of Bowlby’s work cited above, of the six papers, two include a single reference to Harlow ("Nature of Love") and one includes "Nature" and two others simultaneously, out of about 273 other referenced works between the authors. From 1959 through 1964 Harlow had published at least 27 papers.

There is a large dollop of irony in all of this. Some psychologists, so-called experts in human behavior, are unable to overcome the power of Harlow’s dominant personality, even decades after his death.

Wisconsin Discovery Portal

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison and many other large research universities around the country, responses to open records requests are censored—redacted, in the parlance of public records statutes and regulations.

The number one redaction is a researcher’s name. The claim made by industry to justify this particular bit of censorship is that researchers must be protected from wild revolutionaries and domestic terrorists who might go berserk upon learning the name of someone torturing animals. It’s a bogus claim all the way round of course since federal databases like CRISP and PubMed are easily accessible by the public, to say nothing of researchers’ labs’ web pages.

And, as if further evidence of this odd schizoid duplicity about privacy is needed, UW has published a database of UW researchers called Wisconsin Discovery Portal that
… contains over 2,600 carefully maintained research profiles, is an outgrowth of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery project’s goal of facilitating collaborative research. Each profile has been gathered by WDP staff by searching existing public websites and contains information such as:

Contact information, title, and appointments
Research tools and facilities
Publications, patents, and funding
A detailed description of research interests
And, it allows keyword searches. So, if someone wanted to know who on campus tortures dogs, cats, birds, primates, turtles, or some other animal, much information is now more readily available.

It’s a good resource for those who want to know who is doing what to whom. I guess UW isn’t as worried about animal rights activists as they like to claim in public.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Harlow and Bowlby

The journal, Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, has published a series of papers on the relationship between Harry Harlow and John Bowlby. The are well worth reading. Five of these papers are published online as open access articles.

Introduction to the special issue:"When Strangers Meet": John Bowlby and Harry Harlow on Attachment Behavior
Frank C. P. van der Horst, Helen A. LeRoy and René van der Veer

Loneliness in Infancy: Harry Harlow, John Bowlby and Issues of Separation
Frank C. P. van der Horst & René van der Veer

Rigorous Experiments on Monkey Love: An Account of Harry F. Harlow's Role in the History of Attachment Theory
Stephen J. Suomi & Frank C. P. van der Horst & René van der Veer

The Monkey as a Psychological Subject
Harry F. Harlow

Harry Harlow: From the Other Side of the Desk
Helen A. LeRoy

I've commented on this topic previously and will again at some length.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Slime molds and mind

Twice now, an anonymous poster has argued that because altruism is seen in social amoebas, pointing to altruism as evidence of a similarity between human and non-human mind is illogical.

Anonymous said...
The existence of altruistic behavior in other species cannot be denied. In fact, I previously pointed that it also exists in other species, such as insects and even social amoeba.

However, one cannot infer from such behavior that "the mind of animals is like our own". Otherwise, one would be led to conclude the mind of social amoeba also shares similarities to the human mind. This, I hope we all agree, does not make any sense.
Let’s clarify the terms altruism, social amoeba, and mind.

Biological Altruism
First published Tue Jun 3, 2003 [Okasha, Samir, "Biological Altruism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)]

In evolutionary biology, an organism is said to behave altruistically when its behaviour benefits other organisms, at a cost to itself. The costs and benefits are measured in terms of reproductive fitness, or expected number of offspring. So by behaving altruistically, an organism reduces the number of offspring it is likely to produce itself, but boosts the number that other organisms are likely to produce. This biological notion of altruism is not identical to the everyday concept. In everyday parlance, an action would only be called ‘altruistic’ if it was done with the conscious intention of helping another. But in the biological sense there is no such requirement. Indeed, some of the most interesting examples of biological altruism are found among creatures that are (presumably) not capable of conscious thought at all, e.g. insects. For the biologist, it is the consequences of an action for reproductive fitness that determine whether the action counts as altruistic, not the intentions, if any, with which the action is performed.
It is this apparent “conscious intention to help another” seen in de Waal and in Masserman that is indicative of a similarity in the minds of humans and other animals. Anon’s appeal to the behavior of "social amoeba" as a reason to reject the likelihood of conscious intention by monkeys to help others is spurious.

But what about those "social amoeba" and insects?

There is reason to believe that honeybees (Apis mellifera) have minds. (See: Donald R. Griffin: The Question of Animal Awareness, 1981; Animal Thinking, 1984; Animal Minds, 2001.)

"Social amoeba" aren’t what are normally called amoebas. The Amoebae are a diverse group of unicellular species These amoebas include the organisms responsible for amoebic dysentery.

"Social amoeba" refers to a distinct phase of various organisms loosely grouped into the slime molds. There are some interesting images here.

Whether a "social amoeba" acts with conscious intention to help another remains to be seen, but an assertion that there is no possibility that such organisms act willfully is dogmatic and unsupported by any evidence whatsoever. Some slime mold plasmodiums have been claimed to be good maze solvers.

But what of mind?

My Oxford Companion to the Mind (1987) is 819 pages long, not counting the front and end matter. As you might suppose there are many interesting and sometimes contradictory essays about mind and related notions. But none of them do as good a job at summing up what is generally meant by mind as does neuroscientist Sam Harris in The End of Faith (2005).

Harris: "The fact that the universe is illuminated where you stand, the fact that your thoughts and moods and sensations have a qualitative character, is an absolute mystery."

We have such little understanding of the biological basis for this illumination that when we see organisms behaving as if they too live in such a world, then, until a body of relatively unambiguous evidence says otherwise, we should act as if they too exist mentally in a way similar to the way that we do. The degree of similarity might be a function of evolutionary relatedness, but as Harris implies, the truth is anyone's guess right now.

The fundamental notion of the Golden Rule seems to be common to many species. It is only arrogance or ignorance that compels us to say that their suffering is so unlike our own or that their mere existence or internal world is so inferior to our own that any harm we deign to visit on them is justified by our own magnificence.


In my last post, Research negligence results in death, I mischaracterized the behavior of UW vivisector Schultz-Darken and UM vivisector Craig Ferris as negligence.

Let me correct myself: They were not negligent.

The marmoset died as a direct result of their willful disregard of federal law, regulations, and the promises they made to the members of the IACUCs that approved the protocol.

The plain bald fact that nothing was done about this speaks clearly about the charade of oversight of animal research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and by extension, the industry generally.

Was Ei Terasawa punished for negligence because of some hidden racism? Maybe this explains the penalties for her negligence and the lack of penalties for Schultz-Darken's and Ferris's willful violation of federal law.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Research negligence results in death

“Baby's smell tamps down dad's testosterone levels”

First, read the UW press release.

Now read the local insightful coverage from the local newspaper.

I wonder whether the CapTimes story would receive a high mark in a journalism class?

I shouldn’t be too critical since the entire story is taken almost verbatim from the UW news release; how could they have known the back-story?

Spinmeister Terry Devitt typically leaves out the big Whys? or the dark details; instead he writes a piece about the oh-so-cute little monkey dads. His job after all is to put the university in as good a light as possible, to entertain the public with his right hand and cover up the dirt with his left.

So, what didn’t he say and what didn’t the CapTimes know?

Two marmosets died in research associated with this news article. In the most egregious case, researchers violated the approved protocol and neglected to monitor a monkey while they scanned his brain in an fMRI machine at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW).

The protocol, the document approved by the UW-Madison Graduate School IACUC guaranteeing that the research is very important and humanely conducted, they tell us, stipulated that the vital signs of the monkeys used in the study would be recorded every 15 minutes while they were being scanned.

The moneys are anesthetized, placed into a restraint device, and then revived. Then they are placed in the magnet and scanned while being exposed to various scents. One of the monkeys squirmed apparently, and dislodged the temperature probe that was in his rectum.

The researchers also thought that due to the monkey’s movements – his efforts to free himself – that the other recordings – respiration and heart rate – were unreliable. The monkey was scanned, apparently, for an extended period of time.

Unlike the federal violations that occurred in the Terasawa affair, when a monkey having chemicals pushed and pulled into and out of her brain died while the technician was at lunch, in this case, senior researchers were present and negligent. In the Terasawa affair, Terasawa was banned from using monkeys for two years and the technician quit or was asked to resign.

In a letter to Axel V. Wolff, Director of the Division of Compliance Oversight, Office of Laboratory Animals Welfare, NIH, David Gutterman, Senior Associate Dean of Research at MCW, wrote that: “The animals were being studied in the physical presence of Dr. Craig Ferris, from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dr. Schultz-Darken was also present.”

Oddly, since most protocols have a single primary investigator (PI), this one had three. Gutterman explained: “The protocol was initially approved at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (UW); the PI there is Nancy Schultz-Darken, PhD.... an MCW faculty member will be the PI responsible for an outside researcher using our imaging facility.... Dr. ShiJiang Li assumed this role of the PI for this experiment.” Named as the PI in the UW primate center annual report is Craig Ferris.

The relevant portion of the approved protocol indicates that during the imaging session in the MR unit, the animal would be monitored for body temperature, heart rate, respiration rate, and oxygen saturation.... Values were to be recorded every 15 minutes. Ranges for all the parameters noted were given, and if any of the values recorded deviated from previously noted ranges, and correction attempts failed, the individual study would be terminated.... Mr. Mat Brevard, operator of the scanner from the University of Massachusetts, physically observed the animal and identified no respiratory abnormalities or apparent behavioral changes. He also touched the animal and did not perceive any noticeable increase in body temperature. Dr. Ferris therefore proceeded with the imaging session despite the inability to perform the required monitoring. The MCW veterinarian present at the time concurred with this decision prior to leaving the room. The animal was found deceased when it emerged from the magnet. The exact time of death was uncertain.

It was later said that the monkey’s brain had over heated.

What were Ferris and Schultz-Darken doing while the monkey was being cooked? What kind of scientists promise in writing to monitor an animal’s vital signs and then determine that poking him is just as good?

This whole affair is indicative of the crap that’s passed off as science and meaningful oversight and paid for by the taxpayer.

And what happened to Ferris and Schultz-Darken as a result of this gross and fatal violation of federal regulations? Apparently, nothing whatsoever. In fact, today, Schultz-Darken is the chair of the UW Graduate School IACUC.

And finally, as if more evidence of the system’s failure is needed, Devitt neglected to say that the research itself is beyond speculative. The scent-informed world of marmoset physiology, behavior, and motivation is worlds away from our own. Using marmosets to study scent-induced behavior in humans is like using dolphins to study walking.