Sunday, September 27, 2009

The 100 Million Person Minority

A friend sent me a link to a recent survey that I missed seeing from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. It is pretty interesting.

The results are fascinating.

“Animal Testing.”

Among the public, there is a striking gender gap in opinions about using laboratory animals in scientific research. Most men (62%) favor the use of animals in research while just over half of women (52%) oppose this. There also are sizable age, education and partisan differences in the public’s views of using animals in research. A majority of those younger than 30 (58%) oppose the use of animals for research while majorities in older age groups favor using animals in research. College graduates (59%) are more likely than those with some college (49%) or no more than a high school education (49%) to favor using animals in research. And while 62% of Republicans favor this, smaller shares of independents (51%) and Democrats (48%) agree.

As the high level of support among scientists would suggest (93% favor), there is very little variation in opinion among different types of scientists about the use of animals in research. There also is very little difference among men and women scientists: 94% of men and 89% of women favor using animals in scientific research.
What other controversial issue has 52% of women opposing it, and yet, is essentially ignored by media and politicians?

Running out the approximate numbers (and I make no claim concerning the accuracy of such hypotheticals), and basing the estimates on a population of 230,000,000 persons 18 and older, we can put a number on the totals behind the percentages.

“Most men (62%) favor the use of animals in research while just over half of women (52%) oppose this.”

The US population is approximately 51% female. So, there are about 117,300,000 women and 112,700,000 men altogether. This then means that 69,874,000 men and 56,304,000 women, or 126,178,000 people altogether, support vivisection, while 103,822,000 oppose it.

College graduates (59%) and scientists (93% favor) support vivisection. At first blush, one might think that this is related to education, but I wonder whether that’s true. Looking at only college graduates, education doesn’t make too much sense when you stop to think about what they studied in college.

According to one source, in 2006-2007, the most common undergraduate degrees were Business (327,531) Social Sciences and History (164,183), and Education (105,641), none of which are likely to have provided a significant science component, and certainly not a serious evaluation of the use of animals in research.

Likewise, the most common master’s level degrees were in Education (176,572; 30%) and Business (150,211; 25%). Only when we come to the much smaller number of doctoral degrees awarded is there a large-ish percentage of degrees awarded in areas of study that presumably provide more exposure to the use of animals in research: Health and clinical sciences (8,355; 14%) and Biology and biomedical sciences (6,354; 10%). And still, that's less than a quarter of all the doctoral level degrees conferred.

It looks to me that education per se doesn’t explain the 59% support reported for college graduates. I suspect that what is demonstrated by these figures is actually an expression of the phenomena explained by Social Identity Theory.

This would explain as well the overwhelming support of vivisection by scientists. It is unlikely that astronomers, geologists, climatologists, physicists, etc., scientists working in fields removed from animal experimentation, are very well informed. Much more likely, the 93% reflects strong in-group bias, the same emotional phenomena that motivates appeals to academic freedom (see my reply to Robert Sreiffer for my thoughts on academic freedom.)

Apparently, according to the results of this poll, the people least likely to be biased by a social group affiliation or perceived group identity are the same people most likely to be opposed to animal research.

100 million adults in the U.S. oppose vivisection.

That’s good news.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

526 Years of Suffering

Michael Budkie, the principal and driving force of Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! or SAEN! filed a complaint over what he felt was significant unwarranted redundancy of National Eye Institute-funded invasive brain experiments using monkeys.

He called attention to text of the Animal Welfare Act and USDA regulations that are apparently intended to “prevent unintended and unnecessary duplication of research involving animals” [Sec. 2.31 Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. NIH. 2nd Edition. 2002.]

The pro-vivisectionist website, Speaking of Research pointed out the erroneous claim he made in his complaint. I agree with the essential criticism being leveled at Mr. Budkie's complaint. He misinterpreted the large and significant data set he amassed.

It is important to note that critics of his complaint have not claimed that his data set is inaccurate. I don’t know why he misinterpreted the data, but I know from my own work that delving into the details of what is happening in the labs can be excruciating. It can sometimes be genuinely mind-numbing.

Detailed knowledge of what is happening in labs across the country is borne by relatively few activists. I doubt that there are a dozen people in the country who are as conversant with these details as Budkie; perhaps he was simply swept away by the absolute horror reflected in his data.

If you haven’t done so, look at his data. If you've seen it, look again.

These fifty vivisectors are responsible for a combined total of 526 years of restraining monkeys (commonly for long periods), keeping them thirsty and/or hungry, sewing coils to their eyes, drilling holes in their skulls, bolting hardware to their heads, and manipulating their brains.

It strains credibility to suggest that there absolutely isn’t any unnecessary duplication of research involving animals in these five centuries of experiments.

No one who actually gets their head around the details Budkie points to in his data set can come away unscathed. (No human, that is; monsters might bask in this knowledge.) The suffering alluded to in the details surrounding these 526 years of experiments may be impossible to grasp. At some point, injustice and cruelty crosses a threshold that makes it impossible to describe, comprehend, or rate. Was the Holocaust worse than slavery in the Deep South? Were the Rawandan massacres worse than the Cambodian killing fields?

The real wonder is that knowledge of what is happening in the labs hasn’t led to more insistent methods of protest and resistance.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Speaking of Research

Speaking of Research is apparently a de facto synonym for Pro-Test, which I have mentioned before. I like Speaking of Research. Really. You have to give credit where credit is due, and even though I find the actions of the folks lending their names to the group depraved, I appreciate and admire their willingness to say publicly that they think experimenting on animals is a good thing. I don't admire their morality and paper-thin ethics, but I admire their gumption.

I'd admire them more if they'd describe exactly what it is that they are defending doing to the animals, but that might take more gumption than they've got.

The question of whether their research has, ever will, or even can lead to improvements in human medical care is an interesting intellectual question. Pursuing this question in an honest and broad manner requires a close look at the history of medicine, some study of the genetics underlying evolution, and the problems associated with models of complex systems. These are all interesting and engrossing areas of study, and taken together they contribute a few footnotes to the overarching matter of how we should interact with each other.

Speaking of Research bases its claim that we can dismiss any notion that the animals have a right not to be hurt and killed with an argument presented here.

It's not a very compelling argument, but at least they are making some attempt to defend their actions. I doubt though that they do the things they do because of any real belief in the claims in this argument. If these claims were disproved, they'd likely just come up with a different excuse and defense for the suffering they inflict.

They imply that it is the human invention of rights that makes it wrong to do the things to humans that they think are ok to do to other animals because these other animals can't understand the concept of rights or the duties that they believe are unavoidably required in order to enjoy or deserve rights.

They say: "With a right comes a duty."

But this isn't true. The Declaration of Independence famously says: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Likewise, the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that the "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

In neither case is it claimed that these rights are dependent on meeting some imagined duty. Our most basic rights are acknowledged widely to be unalienable, inalieable, and that we are born with them (long prior to being able to meet any duties).

If it isn't true for humans, why should other animals be required to scale a higher hurdle? The notion that rights exist only so long as obligations or duties are met seems a nefarious effort to disenfranchise individuals and groups who might be construed as being unable to rise to some invented challenge; this reminds me of the now unlawful literacy tests that were used to bar blacks from voting in the South. If they can't read, how will they be able to perform the duties we require of them?

Speaking of Research isn't certain whether it is the attention to duties they claim bestow rights or whether, as they also claim: “It is the power for entirely autonomous thought and action which grants rights to human, uniquely among all animals."

I like this claim. I have no idea why any informed or thoughtful person would think this, but it sounds so highfalutin. I wonder whether they think Rush Limbaugh's dittoheads have rights? I wonder where they get the idea that humans are entirely autonomous in thought and action, but that absolutely no other animals are? Not from science or history, that’s obvious. Maybe there is some secret authoritative holy text that they refer to for guidance on these matters.

Speaking of Research, like everyone else who makes such silly arguments, invents them to explain why torture is a good and wholesome practice that we should be happy to support. They can’t believe their arguments; they are so often just too outlandish.

See for instance the wildly entertaining Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Medical Research. Ellen Frankel Paul and Jeffrey Paul, editors, The Social Philosophy and Policy Foundation and Transaction Publishers, 2002, and my crushing rebuttals to the essays: “Animal experimentation and human rights.” Human Rights Review, June, 2003.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

In response to Robert Streiffer

I’m writing in response to Robert Streiffer’s comments on my earlier post “Robert Streiffer's Ethical Blindness.”

He begins the substantive part of his response trying to counter my assertion that a passage in the Capital Times is essentially false. (“I think it's good to have an active, informed discussion about these things and I think Rick Marolt has helped to stimulate that debate,” says Rob Streiffer, a UW-Madison associate professor of bioethics and philosophy. “But I think it's also important to note that this conversation was ongoing.”) He says that my assertion that such conversation isn’t ongoing is an overgeneralization.

There is a chance that we are talking past each other on this matter. The debate Mr. Marolt is trying to stimulate isn’t about “these things” if by that Streiffer is referring to animal use in society generally. As is made clear in the title of the article (“Is monkey experimentation ethical?”), his presentation to the All Campus Animal Care and Use Committee, and throughout the article, Mr. Marolt is asking the university to take up the very narrow question of whether or not experiments on monkeys -- as practiced at UW-Madison -- is ethical.

Assuming that Streiffer’s comment was on point, and that by “this conversation” he means the ethics of experiments on monkeys at UW-Madison, he points to one instance that he feels disproves my contention that the university has repeatedly refused, point-blank, to engage in any discussion of the matter. He writes: “[Eric] Sandgren and researcher Richard Davies [sic] had a brief, televised discussion with Rick Marolt (whose letter to UW sparked the article by Finkelmeyer) and Bogle about the ethics of nonhuman primate research.”

This brief televised discussion is the sum total of all formal public conversation dedicated to the topic of primate experimentation at the university that has included university staff and critics. That’s it.

In the twelve years that I have been actively engaged with this topic, the university has been asked repeatedly to participate in public discussion about its use of monkeys. In every case, it has refused. The instance above isn’t even an exception to this refusal because Davidson and Sandgren made it clear that they did not represent the university. In spite of that, it is still the single instance that can be pointed to of a dedicated public discussion of the matter. (As an aside, I am aware of no other such discussion in the sixty-plus year history of primate research at the university.) The university has repeatedly refused, point-blank, to engage in any discussion of the matter. This isn’t hyperbole or overgeneralization; it is a simple statement of fact.

Streiffer points to two other instances of debates on campus concerning (apparently related) topics: a debate between Ray Greek, MD and Eric Sandgren regarding the predictive value of animal models of human disease and a debate about the ethics of eating meat. Neither of these addressed the question being raised by Mr. Marolt.

The question of the predictive value of animal models sidesteps the question being raised by Marolt. (The moral question of the appropriateness of experiments on Jews in Nazi Germany for example, has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not Jews are predictive models of non-Jews.) I have no knowledge of the debate on meat-eating (it must not have been very well advertised.) Going back as far as 1998, there have been a total of four public debates addressing the use of animals in laboratory research generally. (I participated in three of them.) It would be an overgeneralization to characterize these four events (the two Streiffer mentions and two others) as “ongoing conversation.”

Streiffer then says that internal discussions between researchers and staff (whose livelihoods depend on the use of animals, I must add,) amount to other examples of this conversation occurring on campus. I have read years of UW Animal Care and Use Committee (ACUC) minutes and am unaware of any discussion regarding the ethics of using monkeys. If such minutes exist, I hope that Streiffer or someone else will make them public. Discussion at these committee meetings begin and are firmly planted on a fundamental conviction that experiments using monkeys and the other species used are good things: ethical, laudable, and worthy of public support. This is the ground from which all discussion at the ACUCs grows. Streiffer’s claim that discussion by these committees amount to “this conversation” is far-fetched. These meetings are, as I noted in my original post, more akin to Bible study groups.

In his final effort to show my comment to be an overgeneralization, he calls attention to classes at the university that occasionally address the ethical use of animals. He admits however that “these fall short of the kind of open and robust discussion at a higher level in the university which Bogle and Marolt have in mind.”

[As an aside, consider the apparently similar classes at UCLA being taught by Aaron Blaisdell who argues that humans are the only sentient species on the planet, or at UW-Madison, the classes taught by Patricia McConnell who tells her students that she raises and eats sheep because she is worried that without us eating them that they might go extinct. I’d be pleased to learn that the ethics of experiments on monkeys at UW-Madison is being given serious consideration in university classrooms.]

Taken together, Streiffer’s arguments fail to bolster his original claim that “this conversation” is ongoing on the university campus. The conversation that does occur is led by strong supporters of the university’s practices.

Streiffer says that he teaches classes and contributes to classes that address the larger issue of animal use in agriculture and research. That’s great, but without conversation with informed critics, I don’t believe that the students are receiving a balanced and fully-informed education. I wonder whether Streiffer himself has engaged in much conversation with critics. He met with me and a small group of people a year or so ago. We asked him for help creating “this conversation” on campus. Nothing came from out meeting.

Here’s an email I sent to him five years ago that likewise led nowhere.
Mon 10/3/2005 1:39 PM

Dear Dr. Streiffer,

I was asked to contact you by an indirect common acquaintance, Ms. [H.] You don't know Ms. [H.], but she was at a birthday party for her grandson that your wife attended. [She and Ms. H.] had a conversation concerning the use of monkeys (and animals generally) at the UW and our efforts to foster greater public discussion about this matter. Your wife suggested to Ms. [H] that we might find a discussion with you worthwhile.

After reviewing abstracts of your work, I am certain that any discussion with you regarding the use of animals would be enlightening and interesting.

I hope this note will serve as a polite request for some further conversation. The two links below will adequately explain [sic] my position and our current efforts. If you have any interest in talking about our undertaking, how to create dialogue with the UW, or anything else, please contact me or suggest a time that we might chat over the phone or a cup of coffee.


Rick Bogle
[my phone number]

National Primate Research Exhibition Hall

How like us need they be?
Before leaving this notion of overgeneralizing the refusal of the university to openly discuss the matter of experiments on monkeys, let me go one step farther. Not only does the university refuse point-blank to engage in such discussion, it actively and aggressively works to avoid and quell such discussion, and has actively worked to demonize its critics.

Though a small example, such discussion in the ACUCs apparently isn’t entertained. In the Cap Times article, chairman Norlin Benevenga admits that he lied to Mr. Marolt when he said that his committee had discussed Mr. Marolt’s request.

The most telling example of aggressively quelling public debate on the matter of experimenting on monkeys at the university is the $1,000,000 the university recently spent to block my acquisition of private property adjacent to the primate center and the Harlow Lab where we intended to establish an educational facility dedicated to a critical examination of the use of monkeys and other animals throughout society.

Jordana Lenon, in her role as public relations director for the primate center and urging them to be wary of my intentions concerning the property, wrote to the Madison Alders and made false allegations about me. She wrote that I was “very careful not to get arrested himself, but rather [recruited] minors to do his dirty work [and law breaking.]”

It’s worth noting too, that the debate between Greek and Sandgren mentioned by Streiffer was almost cancelled after university police contacted the Wisconsin Historical Society (where the debate was held) and warned them that violence could break out if the debate was allowed to proceed.

Streiffer’s claim that “this conversation” is ongoing on campus is false. His claim that I overgeneralized this lack of discussion has no foundation.

Strieffer's second and third points concern my disagreement with his claim that the university’s practices should not be strongly influenced or controlled by the public.

Streiffer writes:
[W]hile public discussion can bring to light important reasons for restricting research, the basis for those restrictions is not that the public wants them; the basis for those restrictions are the reasons which public discussion brought to light. Bogle conflates these two kinds of reasons, and it is important that they be kept distinct.
I agree with Strieffer to a degree. This is the ideal, but it seems to only rarely happen this way when the issue at hand is both controversial and financially beneficial to the university. One example is the May 1966, UW student occupation of an administration building to protest the draft. The protest was resolved by a promise that the faculty would review the school's draft policy. Prior voiced concerns and ideas had been dismissed. And certainly, in the case of Paul Soglin and other UW-Madison students, university authorities were willing to beat them senseless rather than seriously consider their concerns and their reasons for their concerns. It can be argued, I think, that it was public pressure -- rather than government seriously considering the reasons for concern -- that forced the US out of Viet Nam.

Has there ever been a case of the university acting positively on the public’s concerns involving a controversial and financially lucrative area of activity by the university? If not, then the distinction noted by Streiffer isn’t very compelling. If there are such examples, I’ll wager that they are exceedingly rare and outliers of the nom.

Streiffer writes:
Restricting animal or human subjects research out of concern for harms to the subjects can be perfectly appropriate; restricting animal or human subjects research out of concern to avoid a negative public reaction is a different matter altogether, and would threaten the very basis of academic freedom, an idea essential to the core of the university’s mission.

Whose “concern for harms to the subjects”? Not the public’s. The university dismisses the public’s concerns and won’t engage in public conversation about them.

I recommend reading Martha Stephens’s The Treatment: The story of those who died in the Cincinnati radiation tests (Duke University Press, 2002) and Allen M. Hornblum’s Acres of Skin: Human experiments at the Holmesburg prison (Routledge, 1999) as a starting place for understanding the realities of public pressure as essentially the only real curb to research excesses. This relates back to my original post and my observation that we are woefully unable to monitor and make decisions about our actions and especially so when our careers and egos are tied to those actions and decisions. This is why codes of ethics are established and ethics boards are created. In the case of primate research at UW-Madison for instance, for seventeen years Ei Terasawa restrained awake fully-conscious female rhesus macaques for up to 48 hours at a time while she pumped and sucked a cacophony of potential bio-active chemicals into and out of (literally) the deepest recesses of their brains. Throughout this episode, her experimental methods and practices were repeatedly approved by the ACUCs in spite of concerns voiced by critics. Only when the United States Department of Agriculture discovered that monkeys were being left unattended and dying during the procedure – albeit in violation of her approved protocol – did the university ban her use of push-pull perfusion. Sandgren had the audacity to claim that this proves that the oversight system works. Where was the ACUC discussion about the ethics of Terasawa’s methods during the seventeen years prior to the USDA citation?

Let me address this notion of academic freedom being “essential to the core of the university’s mission.” I fully support the right of people everywhere to say and write about whatever they want. But talking, writing, and physically injuring others and killing them should not be conflated under academic freedom, and doing so is odious.

It is this unsavory appeal to academic freedom that allowed Harlow and his students to isolate monkeys for years on end; it is what allows Richard Davidson to identify highly anxious young monkeys and then to frighten them before and after damaging their brains (all the while being promoted by the university’s PR machine as a champion of Buddhist compassion and meditation!) Academic freedom is not an adequate answer to the public’s concerns, and using it as such has a long and ongoing history of leading to cruelty and atrocity.

Streiffer defends his comment that research using animals must be decided on a case-by-case basis:
Bogle says, “In the case of monkeys, is it ethical to capture them, breed them, keep them in conditions that lead to self-mutilation, chronic diarrhea, mental illness, and subject them to painful or frightening or otherwise distressing experiments?” But not all research on nonhuman primates raises these issues.
But all research using monkeys at UW-Madison does raise these issues. And it is research with monkeys at UW-Madison that motivates Marolt’s question and motivated the Cap Times article. If, in the article, Streiffer had delineated the difference between observational field studies and laboratory experiments we would not be at odds on this point, but it isn’t clear that this is what he means. He writes:
A nutritional study, for example, designed to test whether a slightly modified diet improves the monkey’s health in comparison to the standard diet, would be ethical even on the assumption that it was wrong to capture monkeys, breed them, and so on. So would a study investigating how to improve normal housing conditions to ameliorate the very problems to which Bogle is pointing.
I disagree with both of these examples if it is assumed that, otherwise, the status quo is maintained. For instance, when Carole Noon took control of the chimpanzees at The Coulston Foundation, it was ethical to strive for improvements in the animals’ diet and the housing conditions because the goal was genuinely an improvement in the welfare of the chimpanzees driven by a belief in the inherent right of each of them individually to live free from torment by us and free from incarceration. But similar efforts at UW-Madison would not be ethical because the underlying goal would be the supply of healthier less mentally deranged monkeys for use in painful or frightening or otherwise distressing experiments. Even if the person performing the experiments naively had the monkeys’ best interests at heart, the experiments would be unethical still because the reality behind the funding for the improved diet or housing would be the production of “better” monkeys for research. To me, (skipping ahead a bit) the idea that any experiments can be deemed ethical when the backdrop happens to be a laboratory intent on breeding and using monkeys the way the university does seems to miss the larger issue all together, as if it can be simply overlooked or dismissed, or as if it simply can’t be seen.

Streiffer misses my point when he writes:
[C]ontrary to what Bogle, incredibly, implies, in saying that animal research must be decided on a case-by-case basis, I am not appealing to the same “ethic” used to justify Nazi experiments on Jews.
It would have been immoral to decide on a case-by-case basis the experiments conducted on Jews held in what was an entirely unethical system. Or, maybe Streiffer would argue here, as above, that experiments on their diet and housing wouldn’t have been unethical if the goal was to ameliorate the problems in the prison and death camps. My point here is that the ground condition – the labs, the camps – is so far to the evil end of the scale that “ameliorations” are swallowed up and discharged as just more evil. A case-by-case basis sounds reasonable when talking about student admissions to a college or even sentencing in a criminal trial, but the profundity of the backdrop of the labs and the camps trumps any notion of a case-by-case ethical decision-making methodology.

Streiffer finishes up with a lament on the title of my post and tone:
Finally, I feel that I must express my disappointment with Bogle’s choice of title for the blog post, as well as with his jumping to the conclusion that I view this matter in “a shallow elitist way” and that I am biased. To characterize me as biased, ethically blind and with a shallow elitist view on the basis of four comments in a newspaper article is obviously an unjustified attack on my character.
But defending the university’s history of avoiding and resisting “this conversation” does seem elitist to me. If Streiffer comes to realize that such conversation isn’t taking place, then what appeared elitist to me may have been a false impression or misunderstanding on his part. The notion that scientists should be allowed to do pretty much what they want to animals is elitist. Arguing that some experiments on monkeys in the university labs might be ethical seems to miss the depravity of the setting altogether. Does that reflect a shallow understanding of the realities of the labs or some ethical blindness? It seems to me that it does. This observation doesn’t attack Streiffer’s honesty, morality, intelligence or any other part of his character. It notes merely that he is missing the bigger picture and the details of the monkeys' daily lives and why their lives and experiences matter.

I agree with Streiffer that the issue is important, but his desire that discussion of the matter not devolve into an unconstructive, disrespectful exchange of insults comes over a century too late. At best, we can hope to raise it up from that devolved state.

Let me end with this: Streiffer claims that there is an ongoing discussion on campus concerning the ethics of using monkeys in the university’s labs (or at least that’s what I think he has claimed.) If so, who are the critics involved in this discussion?

An acquaintance of mine retired from the university a few years ago. That person, I’ll call him Bob, was adamantly opposed to the use of not just monkeys but most other animals as well by the university. But he was afraid to say anything about his concerns in public. He was afraid to come to protests, to speak out at faculty meetings, to allow his name to be used. He was afraid of possible retaliation by the university and the NIH.

Bob conducted NIH-funded research. Even after retiring, he remains afraid to speak out because he worries that he will be punished by having the project he started killed by a cut-off of funding. I understand Bob’s concerns.

The best known case of similar retribution came when Roger Fouts testified to an NIH committee when Jane Goodall was unable to attend. Fouts was adamant that the standard manner in which chimpanzees were being kept in government-funded labs was immoral. His funding was stopped very shortly thereafter.

If there is an ongoing conversation on campus concerning the use of monkeys in the university labs, Dr. Streiffer should help expose it to the light of day and let the public listen in and even participate. Maybe he can even help Mr. Marolt find some university body that will try honestly to answer Mr. Marolt’s question: “Is monkey experimentation ethical?”

Friday, September 18, 2009

Robert Streiffer's response

Robert Streiffer asked me whether I would link to his response to my recent post concerning his recent comments in a Capital Times article. I told him I would, so here it is. I may not have time to reply today, and tommorrow I am helping with a vegan chile contest. I wanted to get the link posted here right away in fairness to Streiffer.

Nonhuman Primate Research at UW: A Response to Rick Bogle [.pdf]
Robert Streiffer
September 18, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Robert Streiffer's Ethical Blindness

I'm responding here to comments made by Robert Streiffer, a UW-Madison associate professor of bioethics and philosophy in an article that appeared on the Captital Times website on September 15, 2009, "Is monkey experimentation ethical?"

The relevant passages from the article:
"I think it's good to have an active, informed discussion about these things and I think Rick Marolt has helped to stimulate that debate," says Rob Streiffer, a UW-Madison associate professor of bioethics and philosophy. "But I think it's also important to note that this conversation was ongoing and that all of the researchers here that I've had contact with take their responsibilities very seriously."
Conversely, Streiffer, the UW-Madison bioethicist and philosopher, argues that it's not necessarily a good thing for a university to bow to public pressure when it comes to what its professors and researchers study.

"Is animal research ethical?" Streiffer asks. "It depends. We have to look at it on a case-by-case basis. But the thought that we should restrict anybody's research just because the public is upset strikes me as not a good idea. Part of the reason universities exist is to have a place where a wide range of research can be conducted."
First, a caveat: I've been misquoted, quoted out of context, and have read things written about me that are inaccurate on a number of occasions. I don't know that what was written above and attributed to Streiffer is fair or not. In any case, it is these passages from the article that motivated my comments here, and for the sake of argument, I am responding as if they are accurate.

Streiffer: "I think it's also important to note that this conversation was ongoing."

Coincidentally, UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin had a guest editorial printed just last week. She said:
A new initiative at UW-Madison is designed to make a larger point about what it means to engage in a process of integrated, rigorous and unfettered thinking.... We have developed additional events .... - all to provide opportunities for community participation... I believe promoting rigorous discussion of ideas, including those that are controversial, is one of a university's particular gifts to the larger society.... we hope our community will come away with a greater understanding of the complex issues.... Our long-term goal for Go Big Read is to continue to provoke questions and stimulate debate on issues of relevance. In this way, we hope to instill in our community a lifelong love of learning and a commitment to the continuous "sifting and winnowing" that defines the character of this great university.
Streiffer says that the issue of whether or not experimenting on monkeys (maybe he was speaking broadly, and about animal experimentation more generally?) has been the subject of ongoing conversation at the university. If so, it has been hidden from the public's observation, let alone participation. The faculty senate, as is noted in the Cap Times article, refused to discuss the matter. Where is this discussion taking place? Chancellor Martin's words reflect the role that a university should have when it comes to controversial issues affecting society. Unfortunately, and sadly, the university hasn't lived up to this ideal or even come close on the issue of primate experimentation. It has repeatedly refused, point-blank, to engage in any discussion of the matter. I suspect that they fear the results of genuine and fearless "sifting and winnowing." In light of the reality of the university hiding from the matter, Martin's editorial should be seen as a sad joke that dupes the state's citizens.

Further, who is having this discussion that Streiffer claims is ongoing? If the discussion doesn't include multiple points of view, then it amounts to something akin to Bible study where everyone involved is a devout believer.

Streiffer: "[I]t's not necessarily a good thing for a university to bow to public pressure when it comes to what its professors and researchers study."

But all Marolt is asking for is genuine discussion. And, researchers at universities should not be given the carte blanche implied by Streiffer's comment. There are absolute limits on what can be done in experiments involving humans. The roots of these limits are the direct result of public pressure brought to bear after learning what was being done. (See for instance, my essay, "Human Experimentation".) Public opinion should influence what is and isn't allowed to be done in a university lab.

Streiffer: "Is animal research ethical? It depends. We have to look at it on a case-by-case basis."

But the question of experimenting on monkeys is just that. In the case of monkeys, is it ethical to capture them, breed them, keep them in conditions that lead to self-mutilation, chronic diarrhea, mental illness, and to subject them to painful or frightening or otherwise distressing experiments?

Maybe Streiffer means that we should consider the individual experiments on a case-by-case basis. But this would sidestep the issue of whether we should use them in the first place. Consider following this "ethic" in the case of innocent humans, Jews for instance, locked into small cells. The notion of considering how they might be used on a "case-by-case basis" would be odious and clearly immoral. Streiffer's suggestion suggests that he has missed the larger issue altogether or else made up his mind (based on some fearless sifting and winnowing that took place in a prayer meeting?)

Streiffer: "[T]he thought that we should restrict anybody's research just because the public is upset strikes me as not a good idea."

This comment reflects profound confusion. Who pays for this research? Who is it that the researchers claim will benefit? Who is it that the university itself claims benefits from its mere existence? The answer in every case is "the public." From Streiffer's lofty ivory tower behind the wide moat it must be hard to see just who is footing the bill and who is supposed to be beholden. Dismissing the public's concerns strikes me as not a good or ethical idea.

Why is it that someone with training as an ethicist, purported to be an 'expert' can view this matter in such a shallow elitist way? I think the answer is that we aren't able to do a very good job of self-policing. Our self-interests are so overwhelming that they blind us to other perspectives and truths. Streiffer is paid by the university. This simple fact biases him. He has made friends with people on the animal oversight committees. (For an on-point look at the difficulty of self-policing see Plous, S., & Herzog, H. (2001). Reliability of protocol reviews for animal research. Science, 293, 608-609. [See also the press release]

As we know from a litany of past problems associated with self-policing, humans commonly find it difficult or impossible to fairly judge and control their own actions or the actions of their friends or close colleagues when self-interest conflicts with societal norms or plain facts. This is exactly why institutions and industries involved in potentially harmful or ethically problematic endeavors must have public oversight of their decisions and practices. This is exactly why broad public discussion and involvement is needed in decisions regarding the use of monkeys in research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and elsewhere.

Monday, September 14, 2009

“[H]umans are the only sentient animal currently on Earth.”

1 : responsive to or conscious of sense impressions
2 : aware
3 : finely sensitive in perception or feeling
Now, a comment by University of California, Los Angeles Associate Professor of Psychology, Aaron Blaisdell — September 14th, 2009, on
Pat wrote: “We view sentient animals as morally relevant beings who are not means to human ends.” So do the scientists who conduct animal research. The weight of evidence, however, is that humans are the only sentient animal currently on Earth (Area 51 and UFO sightings aside). For an excellent contemporary article that exhaustively deals with this issue see “Darwin’s mistake: Explaining the discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds” by Penn, Holyoak, and Povinelli (Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2008, Vol. 31). And despite the evidence that non-human animals are not sentient, we scientists who conduct animal research do feel compassion for our research subjects and take every effort to minimize their discomfort and to ensure their health and well being (including psychological well being) in the laboratory environment. This is likely an easier task when a domesticated species like rats and pigeons–which are now adapted to human environments (as are dogs–is used, but nevertheless holds true with all species of animal used in research, from fruit fly to sea slugs to chimpanzee–to humans.

Wow. Maybe the post was from some other Aaron Blaisdell posing as a scientist or someone else posing as Blaisdell. Given UCLA Associate Professor Blaisdell's own work and his affiliation with the article's subject, I suspect it is him. His students should sue UCLA for failing to provide them with informed instructors.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Adapted from a chapter in Monsters and Pygmies. Have you heard of the advocacy group NAMBLA? The North American Man/Boy Love Association advocates (or advocated, they seem to be more or less defunct) the lowering of the age of consent in sexual relationships. As their name makes clear, they want to change the law to make it legal for adult men to have sex with young boys. They claim to believe that an eight- or nine-year-old boy is old enough to give his informed consent to be buggered. And like the American Civil Liberties Union, I too believe that they have the right to advocate this change to the law. But I don’t think such a change should be enacted, and I suspect most of the ACLU attorneys who make arguments in favor of free speech, no matter how outrageous, don’t either.

NAMBLA reminds me of the relatively new group advocating for their right to torture animals. Pro-Test is the monsters’ response to the mob’s demand that they stop their dark and evil experiments. Like all mobs that have marched to monsters’ lairs, torches and pitchforks in hand, the mob yelling for them to leave the animals alone isn’t above setting fire to their cars and homes. This has been particularly true in Los Angeles where monsters at the University of California Los Angeles have been harried by their critics.

As a consequence, vivisectors at UCLA banded together and started a chapter of Pro-Test, a group that was founded in 2006, in Oxford, England, by a sixteen-year-old boy named Laurie Pycroft. Vivisectors at Oxford were ecstatic that (finally!) a teenager was supporting them and lifted him to their shoulders and marched through town shouting "Hurrah!" The boy was quickly sanctified by the monsters and anointed the industry’s moral compass.

UCLA’s new Pro-Test leader, David Jentsch (pronounced “yench” nearly rhymes with Grinch, and they have the same eyebrows), had been targeted in March 2009. His Volvo was parked next to his house when a firebomb destroyed it very early in the morning.

According to the LA Times, Jentsch claims that UCLA’s Pro-Test, was started to support research that uses animals “in what he calls a humane, carefully regulated way.”
At a UCLA lab, he administers methamphetamine to about two dozen monkeys and then withdraws them from it; about half a dozen are killed each year for postmortems. He contended that the animals suffer no pain from the work.

“The pain in addiction is when you lose your relationships, lose your children, lose your job, when your health goes down. Animals don't suffer those things,” [Jentsch] said. “They suffer none of the psychosocial pain that is what addiction is all about.” [Animals don’t suffer loss of children or decline of health?] Larry Gordon. “UCLA professor stands up to violent animal rights activists.” Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2009.
Nowhere in the many articles covering Pro-Test’s first rally, held on April 22, 2009, is there much detail about what this grinch actually does to animals. The blurb about methamphetamine is odd given that he has apparently never published a paper on that particular drug. (A colleague of mine has pointed out that he has a current NIH grant (through 2010) titled NEUROCHEMICAL DETERMINANTS OF MA-INDUCED COGNITIVE DEFICITS, And that at least one report mentions Jentsch and methamphetamine.) He has published occasional papers describing his injections of nicotine, cocaine, THC (the active compound in marijuana), and a couple esoteric chemicals into rats and monkeys, but so far, not one scientific paper mentioning methamphetamine. Of his approximately 55 published papers, about one third describe his use of phencyclidine, or PCP, to induce schizophrenia-like mental duress in these animals.

He has been injecting PCP into monkeys and rats almost continuously since about 1997. In one 1997 paper, he cited others’ research from 1962, and wrote that: “PCP and the PCP analog ketamine induce schizophreniform symptoms in normal humans and cause profound worsening of symptoms in schizophrenics.” Jentsch JD, Elsworth JD, Redmond DE Jr, Roth RH. Phencyclidine increases forebrain monoamine metabolism in rats and monkeys: modulation by the isomers of HA966. Journal of Neuroscience. 1997.

In a paper from 2008, Jentsch explains:
Young adult male or female St Kitts green (vervet) monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops sabaeus) at the St Kitts Biomedical Research Foundation (St Kitts, West Indies) were used. As the subjects were feral monkeys, their exact age was not known. These studies were approved by the relevant institutional animal care and use committee. Monkeys, housed individually in squeeze-cages, were injected with PCP twice daily for 14 days, as described before (Jentsch et al, 1997).… John D Elsworth, J David Jentsch, Bret A Morrow, D Eugene Redmond Jr and Robert H Roth. Clozapine Normalizes Prefrontal Cortex Dopamine Transmission in Monkeys Subchronically Exposed to Phencyclidine Neuropsychopharmacology. 2008.
Let’s try to put Jentsch’s PCP injections into context and imagine the situation from the monkeys’ perspective.

First, PCP is almost never injected. It is almost always smoked – sprinkled on tobacco or marijuana, and only very occasionally, snorted like cocaine. But it is almost never injected.

Second, nearly everyone who uses PCP knows they’re using PCP.

Third, the commonly reported recreational dose of PCP is 0.01-0.02 mg/kg.

Jentsch is injecting 15 to 30 times (0.3 mg/kg) the normal recreational dose of PCP into animals, ripped from their families, trapped in cages and being manhandled, who then start having unending nightmarish hallucinations for reasons they can’t imagine. And this goes on for two weeks, prior to them being killed.

And this grinch does this, he claims, because the biochemical actions of a drug (clozapine) that has been used since the mid 1970s to treat schizophrenia aren’t well understood.

And then, he has the audacity to claim that people who see him for what he is — a monster of the worst sort — should stop trying to make him and his ilk stop their monstrous behavior.

Pro-Test is interesting because it is so very unusual for monsters to stand up in public and declare that the general public should countenance their monstrous behavior. This is what makes Vice President Dick Chaney’s public defense of torture such an oddity.

At UCLA, the Pro-Test “Founding Members” are:

* J. David Jentsch, UCLA Professor, Psychology
* Dario Ringach, UCLA Professor, Neurobiology and Psychology
* Tom Holder, Speaking of Research, Founder and Pro-Test (UK) Spokesman “There is round-the-clock treatment, there are people, veterinarians in research labs whose only job is to make sure that animals are treated well and are essentially happy in their lives.”
* Lynn Fairbanks, UCLA Professor, Psychiatry
* Kathy Wadsworth, UCLA Associate Director-Animal Subjects Research
* Megan Wyeth, UCLA Graduate Student, Neurobiology
* Donald Kalar, UCLA Graduate Student, Psychology

Dario Ringach may be one of only two vivisectors in the world to have even temporarily capitulated to anti-cruelty activists due to harassment. (The other was Michael Podell*) From the LA Times:
[Then acting Chancellor] Abrams said the Bel-Air incident, [in which an “incendiary device” that did not ignite was left at Lynn Fairbanks’ front door] along with the decision this month by neurobiology professor Dario Ringach to stop his primate research after several years of harassment and threats to his family, led to the announcement [of a $60,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those who left the device.] Abrams said he was deeply saddened by Ringach's decision, describing him as a promising young professor, doing significant - and the chancellor emphasized, legal - research.

Ringach, whose work involved studies of the brain and the ways it receives information from the retina, sent an e-mail Aug. 4 [2006] to the Animal Liberation Press Office.

Posted on the website, the e-mail reads, in part: “You win. Effective immediately, I am no longer doing animal research.”
“Studies of the brain and the ways it receives information from the retina.” That’s not much detail. How can one form a thoughtful opinion without the details of what he’s doing? I guess you could simply say that no matter what he’s doing, since he’s doing it only to animals, that you support it, because you support anything scientific. I don’t think humans could hold such a position. That’s the position of a monster; a human would want to have at least some knowledge of the specifics before taking sides.

Ringatch uses monkeys and cats. Once they are prepared by him, they are used for at least a few days before they are killed or die. It isn’t clear from his papers whether they are always killed or just die. His experiments would look quite gruesome if we could watch them, but the monkeys and cats are reportedly anesthetized throughout the experiments. He puts electrodes in their brains, puts the animals in a metal frame, and then puts simple images (usually groups of dots or gratings) in front of their eyes, and then records the output from the electrodes in their brain. If the monkeys and cats are genuinely unconscious, then at least he isn’t causing them much discomfort aside from being raised in an environmentally and socially deprived laboratory setting. So, as far as Ringach’s current experiments are concerned, the moral question is whether he should be killing monkeys and cats in order to generate a mathematical approximation of the neuronal response to visual stimuli. He isn’t working on finding a cure for some widespread and hideous disease, his research is among the most arcane, much like the Little Angel of St. Louis.

Lynn Fairbanks, another of the Pro-test founders, says that:
[S]trong similarities to humans make [monkeys] particularly valuable for understanding complex behavioral traits and brain structure and function… Like humans, NHPs [nonhuman primates] experience a prolonged period of postnatal development, together with strong family ties and complex social relationships. Furthermore, most features of human behavior have recognizable counterparts in NHPs, enabling the examination of traits such as anxiety and impulsivity, which are central components of human behavioral disorders. Freimer NB, Service SK, Ophoff RA, Jasinska AJ, McKee K, Villeneuve A, Belisle A, Bailey JN, Breidenthal SE, Jorgensen MJ, Mann JJ, Cantor RM, Dewar K, Fairbanks LA. A quantitative trait locus for variation in dopamine metabolism mapped in a primate model using reference sequences from related species. Proceeding of the National Academy of Science USA. 2007.
And this makes hers and her cohorts’ experiments all the more monstrous. We can see ourselves in the monkeys. When people who are upset with this cruelty point this out, the vivisectors laugh and say their critics are being inappropriately anthropomorphic; but then they say to each other, ‘look, these animals are just like us, let’s hurt them in sundry ways’.

Here, she explains a few of the ways she does this:
For this study, METH [methamphetamine] was administered to adult male vervet monkeys living in social groups containing a full range of different age/sex animals. The social housing was considered a critical component of the study design because it allowed for behavioral assessments of drug-related changes in affiliative and agonistic behaviors. Such measurements are highly relevant for behavioral models of the human condition, but are not possible to obtain in individually housed animals….

Study 1: METH Pharmacokinetics Study
Subjects METH-naive male animals (age range: 5–7 years; n=4) that were not included in the long-term METH study were transferred to UCLA and housed in individual cages for the duration of the study. The animals were habituated to sitting in a customized primate chair for 2 weeks before the pharmacokinetics study.

METH administration and experimental design
On the study day, the animal was placed in the chair and a catheter was inserted in the tail vein 30 min before injection of methamphetamine …Blood samples were obtained at 0.25, 0.5, 0.75, 1, 2, and 4 h. The animal was returned to its cage and blood samples were obtained at 6, 8, 10, 12, and 24 h from either the tail or femoral vein while temporarily restrained…

Pharmacokinetic parameters for the human METH exposure were obtained from prior human METH studies (Cook et al, 1993.)

Study 2: Escalating Dose-METH Exposure
Subjects and housing The focal subjects in this study were 12 adult male vervet monkeys (age range 6.9–9.9 years, weight range 6.8–8.7 kg) that were housed in three outdoor social groups at the joint UCLA/VA Vervet Research Colony. …

The social groups were formed and allowed to habituate for approximately 3 months before study initiation. After focal subjects were randomly assigned to a group, they were randomly designated as either METH or Control subjects…[There were] two METH and two Control focal subjects in each of three social groups concurrently. Each group also consisted of 3–4 adult females, 2–7 juveniles, and 0–3 infants, with no other adult males present throughout the study. One METH subject died of an unknown illness during the study. There was no evidence that experimental manipulation caused this death. Subjects were always housed within their social groups except during experimental manipulations….

Experimental design
The study took place over a 1-year period. An initial 3-month habituation was followed by a 4-week pretest period, 8 Dose periods of 4–5 weeks each, and a 3-week abstinence period.


Abnormal Behavior Composite Score
Dose-dependent increases in species-typical stereotypic actions were observed in the METH subjects …Post hoc tests of simple main effects indicated significantly higher levels of abnormal behavior during ‘injection’ days compared to ‘no injection’ days for METH subjects at Dose 5, 6 and Dose 7, 8. METH subjects also showed significantly higher levels of abnormal behavior during Dose 7, 8 compared to the other three Dose periods... This increase was significant for both ‘injection’ days as well as for ‘no injection’ days. In addition, METH subjects showed significantly higher levels of abnormal behavior compared to Controls only during Dose 7, 8. This difference was also significant for both ‘injection’ days as well as for ‘no injection’ days.

Aggression Composite Score
Levels of aggression changed across Dose periods for both Control and METH subjects…

Anxiety Composite Score
Increases in the anxiety scores were observed in the METH subjects for most Dose-Analysis periods during ‘no injection’ days when AMPH but not METH was present in pharmacologically active concentrations… Tests of simple main effects indicated METH subjects showed significantly lower levels of anxiety-related behavior during ‘no injection’ days compared to ‘injection’ days for Dose 1, 2, but showed significantly higher levels of anxiety during ‘no injection’ days compared to ‘injection’ days for Dose 3, 4; Dose 5, 6; and Dose 7, 8. In addition, METH subjects during 'no injection' days showed significantly higher levels of anxiety-related behavior during Dose 5, 6 and Dose 7, 8 compared to Dose 1, 2. Control subjects also showed higher levels of anxiety-related behavior during Dose 7, 8 compared to Dose 1, 2 during ‘no injection’ days.

Social Behavior Composite Score
The METH subjects generally showed lower social behavior on ‘injection’ days, ie following METH administration…
And then she killed them and cut up their brains.
The aim of this study was to establish in socially housed vervet monkeys a profile of behavioral and brain alterations resulting from modeling an ED-METH exposure extending over 8 months. The principal observations were dose-dependent increases in abnormal and anxiety-related behaviors, activity levels, and decreases in aggression….

In conclusion, this METH administration protocol in the monkey modeled some aspects of a human daily multiple dose exposure and caused significant behavioral alterations in categories relevant to the human METH condition, eg anxiety, abnormal behavior, that were likely the result of alterations in both dopaminergic and nondopaminergic systems. Melega WP, Jorgensen MJ, Laćan G, Way BM, Pham J, Morton G, Cho AK, Fairbanks LA. Long-term methamphetamine administration in the vervet monkey models aspects of a human exposure: brain neurotoxicity and behavioral profiles. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2008.
William Melega, one of Fairbanks’ coauthors has been injecting monkeys with methamphetamine since at least 1995. (Kuczenski R, Segal DS, Cho AK, Melega W. Hippocampus norepinephrine, caudate dopamine and serotonin, and behavioral responses to the stereoisomers of amphetamine and methamphetamine. Journal of Neuroscience. 1995.) Vivisectors have been injecting monkeys with methamphetamine since at least 1971 (Ellinwood EH Jr. Effect of chronic methamphetamine intoxication in Rhesus monkeys. Biological Psychiatry. 1971), but have been injecting other animals, namely, mice, rats, dogs, cats, and pigeons since the early 1950s. (Harrisson JW, Ambrus CM, Ambrus JL. Tolerance of rats toward amphetamine and methamphetamine. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association (Baltimore). 1952.)

Kathy Wadsworth, another Pro-Test founder and UCLA Associate Director-Animal Subjects Research, seems a bit like the ubiquitous Igor character in mad scientist movies — mewling, unhappy with their lot, but dedicated to keeping their master(s) supplied with victims.

Tom Holder (a friend of St. Pycroft) seems to be involved simply to call attention to himself. Although he occasionally speaks in public and presents slides, his information is nonsense taken from industry front groups’ websites and regurgitated without hesitation or critical evaluation.

The two graduate students named as founding members of Pro-Test seem to be children, naïve and enamored with tenured scientists taking notice of them. I wrote to Megan Wyeth and asked her about an article in the school newspaper, The Daily Bruin, that showcased her:
Hoisting a sign and marching with several hundred others, Megan Wyeth was not just protesting in favor of animal research. She was also trying to protect the safety of her friends.

Wyeth is one of seven founding members of Pro-Test at UCLA, a group formed to speak out against animal rights extremism…

Wyeth works with mice in her research on epilepsy…

Wyeth said the public generally doesn’t realize how much training researchers undergo before they are even allowed to touch an animal.

“It seems like they think we’re sadistic or get pleasure out of using animals for research,” she said. “We minimize the numbers we have to use. It’s not my favorite part, but we have to do it.”

In the three years of her main epilepsy research, Wyeth has been working with the same six mice….

“All of my animals are anesthetized when I work on them. I make sure they’re out – extra double sure.” ... Audrey Kuo. “Scientists seek to research in peace.” The Daily Bruin. April 23, 2009.
“Hum,” I wondered to myself, “if she’s been anesthetizing and ‘work[ing] on’ the same six mice for the past three years, are their small brains still functioning normally?” So I wrote to her and asked. I also asked whether she knew what Jentsch actually does.

It turns out that she killed these twelve, not six, mice three years ago and has been studying slides made from sections of their brains all this time. She also claimed to be using other mice in other experiments.

She also said that she didn’t know what Jentsch does to monkeys. She marched behind him, chanting for his right to, well, it turns out she didn’t have any idea what she was demanding that he ought to be allowed to do. Not knowing what one is marching and chanting for is not a good sign in a young aspiring scientist; critical well-informed decision-making would seem to be a key component in making any difficult discovery. She's a perfect fit for Pro-Test.

*Andrew Goldstein. A Win for the Kitties. Time Magazine, June 24, 2002.
Ohio State University Veterinarian Michael Podell has spent the past two years infecting cats with the feline version of HIV, shooting them with methamphetamines (commonly known as speed), cutting into their brain tissue to examine their responses and then killing and dissecting them. His goal: to explore what happens when HIV-positive humans abuse drugs. But animal-rights activists did everything they could to stop the research, and last week, when Podell announced he was quitting the project and leaving the university, they declared victory. The university says Podell had received more than a thousand protest letters and e-mails, including nearly a dozen death threats. Demonstrators sprayed graffiti on campus calling on him to STOP TORTURING CATS.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Liars, sadists, and English professors

As I was growing up my parents indulged my interest in animals. My shelves were filled with books on nature and science. I started my birding lifelist when I was in fifth grade. We subscribed to Time-Life’s Nature and Science Libraries, various nature magazines, and watched all the science specials on TV -- back in the days of three television channels. I grew up thinking of scientists as honorable people working in the most interesting careers imaginable. But I eventually quit thinking like a child.

And when I did, and finally turned my attention to the scientists using animals, I saw immediately that most of them – those working in the thousands of labs around the world – were torturing and killing animals for reasons that couldn’t be justified and that they tried to justify the suffering they caused with false appeals to past scientific advances, wild speculation about future cures, and a calculated effort to frighten people. What I saw, and see, is an industry filled with liars, sadists, and failed medical doctors.

It’s not just the vivisectors who are the villains; the industry supporting them is immense; its financial interests swamp any notion of concern for the animals; but that’s been noticed and written about many times.

A new thing I’ve come to understand is that the vivisectors’ support system isn’t limited only to politicians who use expanding “research” expenditures as evidence that they are concerned about their constituents’ health, or to the cage and equipment makers, the food suppliers, the scalpel makers, or even to the university schools and departments completely dependent on publishing ever more scientific reports on their vivisections, no, as responsible as all of those are, just as responsible are many of the rest of the universities’ staff members.

When a history professor, and English professor, a math teacher, a chemist, an engineer, a professor of education, and any one else who works at a university reads in the local paper about some heinous series of experiments, or some violation of the Animal Welfare Act, they have an obligation to find out the details of what is happening on their campus and not to swallow the institution-crafted pr pap that follows every unsavory revelation. They have an obligation to learn the facts, to get involved if they find a problem, to police their peers.

Academics working at an institution are, it seems to me, more responsible than are people outside the institution who read the same newspaper articles. Their silence helps provide a cover that outsiders likely view as evidence that there isn’t actually very much wrong. Except for only one or two exceptions, every staff member I’ve spoken to who also voices concern has had a reason that they can’t speak out and criticize their colleagues. Very convenient.

Those who remain silent, like the Germans who turned a blind eye, bear a responsibility for every atrocity occurring at their school.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Richard Davidson Big Bucks

Richard Davidson has said in public that he has received no money from the experiments on fear and anxiety in young monkeys in which he has participated. He has said this on multiple occasions.

Project Number: 5P50MH069315-05 Principal Investigator (PI): DAVIDSON, RICHARD J

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): This application requests five years of funding to establish an Interdisciplinary Behavioral Science Center for Mental Health (IBSC). Our Center builds upon our previous Center for Behavioral Sciences Research and is focused on affective style--consistent individual differences in particular parameters of emotional reactivity and affect regulation. Why some individuals respond especially intensely and persistently to negative events while others appear considerably more resilient, is a question of profound significance to understanding vulnerability to psychopathology. Each of the projects in this Center is focused on different, but related aspects of affective style. Each of the projects converge toward an understanding of the behavioral, neural and hormonal substrates of vulnerability toward mood and anxiety disorders, with a focus on understanding the interconnected roles of different territories of prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, amygdala and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) in these processes. The Center is comprised of five projects and three cores. The projects are focused on different populations including normal adults, adults at putative risk for mood and anxiety disorders based upon biological indices that reflect emotion regulation, adolescents at risk for internalizing disorders, MZ and DZ twin children well-characterized with behavioral and other measures of temperament, and rhesus monkeys also selected to differ on temperamental features that are likely to confer risk for psychopathology. The twin and adolescent samples are tested across multiple projects in both behavioral and MR imaging protocols. There are many common behavioral (supported by a Behavioral Assessment/Clinical Diagnosis Core) and biological measures (supported by a Biological Measures Core that includes MR and microPET imaging, neuroendocrine measures and psychophysiological measures) across the projects. The science proposed will significantly advance our understanding of the neural and behavioral substrates of affective style and this new knowledge will aid in the prediction, prevention and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders.

Ethical Blindness

The top image is from "Farm matchmaking a way to preserve rural America," an article by SHARON COHEN, an Associated Press contributer. The article was on the front page of the Monday, August 31, Wisconsin State Journal.

There wasn't a word anywhere in the article about what was in store for the piglet in the picture. Newspapers seem to be run by zombies; the editors seem dead, to be unaware of the gross inconsistencies of the messages they send. On the one hand, they print stories about puppy mills and people running down deer and ducks on snowmobiles, presumably because they think the public should know about certain instances of animal abuse.

On the other hand, they ignore or even defend and champion the lifetime starvation of monkeys, remain mute on likely violations of state laws and federal regulations in local animal labs, and see nothing wrong with printing a photo of an infant pig getting ready to be tortured on the front page.

The problem with this is that this confused mushy-headedness is served up as high-level journalism. Far from it.

A friend wrote them a letter about the image and the very misleading glossing over of just what "confinement agriculture" actually is; I doubt that it will get printed, so I'm posting it here:
“Love-of –land , but of animals…?

I wonder how many of your readers have any idea of the mutilation the innocent piglet “Wannabe farmer” Phillips and his “old time mentor” are holding, will be subjected to? In factory farms, piglets are taken from their mothers when they are less than a month old, their tails cut off and their testicles ripped out of their scrotums without any pain relief. Pliers are used to break off the ends of their teeth and for ID purposes, farmers cut out chunks of the ears. These social animals will spend the rest of their short lives in overcrowded pens on tiny slabs of concrete. To find out more about this unnecessary suffering, watch Mary Tyler Moore on, on-line, live stream, or on Ch 95or 991 [in Madison, WI] at 11 pm this Thursday Sept 3rd.

The reporter misleads us. Animals in these “confinement” farms live a horrible existence. They are only seen as commodities. Gestation crates, battery cages and veal crates have been banned in Europe. Such cruel methods only continue in the US because the public is intentionally kept unaware of the cruel reality these sentient, intelligent beings are subjected to daily.