Saturday, October 31, 2009

Payola. Kickback. Graft.

Call it what you want, but by any name it’s seedy and corrupt.

In 1997/98 when the University of Wisconsin, Madisons’s NIH primate center acting-director Joseph Kemnitz successfully disposed of the Vilas monkeys and destroyed the monkey house, thereby reducing the likelihood of the public remembering the UW primate center’s and NIH’s apparent collusion to get rid of the monkeys the university had promised not to torture, but did, he was rewarded with the Primate Center Directorship. Insiders felt he was incompetent and not up to the job, but his success at sweeping the scandal under the rug and out of sight seems to have been more important to those in power than good science or administrative acumen.

When the university learned that a public education center was going to be installed next door to the primate center, they pressured the property owner, Roger Charly (that's him in front of one of his stores) owner of Budget Bicycle and Machinery Row Bicycles, to break his contract with us. The law firm they turned to for help was Foley & Lardner.

We will probably never know for sure, but it is interesting to wonder just how nervous NIH was over the possibility of its primate experimentation program being nationally showcased. One potential measure of NIH’s gratitude for Foley & Lardner’s services is the recently announced $208 million NIH contract they were just awarded.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"No real accountability."

First, read this (and note the multiple mutilations of the poor mouse's ear.): UW-Madison seeks better supervision of research. Deborah Ziff | 608-252-6234 | dziff@madison.com | October 23, 2009


I attended the "town hall meeting" mentioned at the end of the article and came away with some interesting impressions.

1. The meeting was held in the Humanities building; most of the attendees apparently, from their comments, were from the humanities and non-biological sciences. I was struck by how uninterested in the university’s problems the audience seemed to be. I don't think they know what the problems are; their questions were uniformly: "How will the restructuring affect me, my ability to get funding, my program?" Me, me, me.

They seemed to have no idea or knowledge that the university is being investigated for NIH Major Action violations, violations of its Public Health Service Assurance, or that the university fears loss of its AAALAC accreditation. (Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.) They didn't seem to understand or care about the reasons that the administration is alarmed. They didn't seem to understand that UW administration's conversation with people in the humanities was more or less done for the sake of appearance. Even a statement by Provost Paul DeLuca that federal funding -- somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion a year -- is at risk because of the university's failed oversight of its scientists' use of animals and infectious disease research didn't seem to really sink in with this crowd.

When English professors and historians sit quietly by as the university violates regulation after regulation involving its animal care and use we don't have to think too deeply or for very long to understand how and why past atrocities were allowed to occur without comment from within.

2. DeLuca said that the point of the restructuring was to make issues regarding compliance with animal care and use and biosafety “not on the table for discussion any more.” He said that by having a new position at the top – someone who would be "responsible" for all the problems currently plaguing the university’s billion-dollar enterprise – would solve all these problems.

3. Chancellor Biddy Martin said that there had been “a number of near misses” and that the university can not make assurances to federal agencies right now that it is in compliance with federal regulations concerning animal care and biosafety.

4. She said that there have been only 2 or 3 biosafety personnel trying to keep tabs on 200-300 projects.

5. Chancellor Martin also said that the restructuring is needed because right now, and for a long time apparently, there has been “no real accountability” for failures in the oversight of animal care and biosafety.

The take home message from the meeting is that past assurances from the university that there is good and stringent oversight of its animal care and use and of the safety of its infectious disease labs, has been pure and unadulterated public relations crap. Chancellor Biddy Martin and Provost Paul DeLuca as much as admitted this and used it as an excuse for the restructuring they intend to put in place.

The main change they want to make is the establishment of a permanent lobbying office in Washington D.C. It appears from their statements at the meeting that the substance of the problem – the twisted culture that allows animals to be starved, experimented on without observation, cut into without expertise, that allows diseases to be genetically modified to be more dangerous – is of little real concern. The main issue to them is the possible loss of funding and the opportunity to lobby for more taxpayer dollars.

It’s a corrupt and sick system from top to bottom.

For the idiot who doesn't know who I am.

An anonymous (how very brave) comment recently claimed that I hide my true identity on this blog. It's true that I don't paste my name in neon on everything I am involved with, but anyone other than a complete idiot with an interest in knowing who I am will find it easy to discern.

You can watch me rant on TV here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tradition and Delight

Mostly, we don’t think too deeply about the things we do. We do them for various reasons. Tradition and fashion, though apparently and sometimes genuinely in conflict, are common motivators for our behaviors and actions.

We paint the house in subdued colors if the other houses on the street are painted in subdued colors. We wear clothes similar to the clothes others are wearing, style our hair similarly, and eat similar foods. We sometimes, sometimes habitually, choose to do things that make us feel good, like eating a favorite food.

Seldom do we do these things with much introspection or questioning.

People eat animals for two reasons. Eating them is a tradition, and we have developed a taste for their flesh and secretions. These are relatively trivial reasons when weighed against the suffering inherent in animal agriculture.

Usually, when people pause to consider this equation they come up with a few other possible reasons for eating animals, but none of them have much weight unless, perhaps, one is an Inuit or a Kalahari bushman with no access to grocery stores. For most people, tradition and gustatory delight are adequate reasons to keep eating them.

If the suffering inherent in eating beef, pork, poultry, and fish is justified with such trivialities then no real consideration of other uses of animals seems possible. This explains why the vivisector with the monkey strapped into the chair is so confused by the public’s complaints and concerns. If tradition and flavor are believed to be reason enough to keep animals in miserable conditions and to treat them poorly and kill them, then surely they can be sacrificed on the alter of scientific knowledge without qualm.

If you sit in the stands and eat a hotdog, how could you care about a terrified calf being roped around the neck and slammed to the ground?

Discussions about animal use in science and entertainment are hard to have with people who believe their tasty fat is reason enough to make their lives hell.

Alzheimer's Disease

chicagotribune.com
Leading Alzheimer's researcher: Animal experiments will not help humans
MCT News Service
October 23, 2009

The Society for Neuroscience just held its annual conference in Chicago.

I attended _ not as a member, though neuroscience is my field, but to protest the organization's stated goal of broadening support for animal research. The society, like animal experimenters everywhere, perceives "growing threats" to animal research and seeks to recruit additional allies with a "vested interest" in promoting animal experimentation.

Every vested interest is entitled to its own propaganda, but such an effort warrants a response from neuroscience researchers who instead advocate kindness to animals.

Neuroscientists with established research credentials and a PETA membership are rare. They are often viewed by faculty colleagues as untrustworthy or even treasonous agents provocateurs as they are inclined to raise both scientific and ethical objections to the most egregious abuses of animals within our own universities. Yet medical school faculty members who are also animal activists are uniquely well-qualified to expose basic scientists' disingenuous, misleading or overreaching claims their animal research is scientifically and ethically justified because the results may someday, somehow, possibly benefit humans.

Contrived connections between cruelty-intensive basic neuroscience research and future human welfare is a tacit admission by neuroscientists the general public, which ultimately funds most research, would recoil in horror from their more grotesque monkey, dog or cat experiments and overwhelmingly condemn them if they knew they were not going to help humans.

One particularly egregious example is a decades-long series of highly invasive monkey experiments performed at universities across the country to study neural control of visual tracking. Luckless monkeys have coils implanted in both eyes, multiple craniotomies for electrode placements in their brains and head immobilization surgeries in which screws, bolts and plates are directly attached to their skulls. This is followed by water deprivation to produce a "work ethic" so they will visually track moving objects.

First impressions are usually correct in questions of cruelty to animals, and most of us cannot even bear to look at pictures of these monkeys with their electrode-implanted brains and bolted heads being put through their paces in a desperate attempt to get a life-sustaining sip of water.

Such cruelty is justified in the corresponding grant application by invoking the possibility the resulting data may allow us to find the cause and cure for diseases such as Alzheimer's. But we who have spent decades in Alzheimer's disease research recognize such a blank-check justification is an ethical bait-and-switch since this neural pathway is not even involved in Alzheimer's disease and these experiments have never been referenced in real Alzheimer's disease research.

Because such monkey torture will not lead to improved human health, you don't need to be an animal rights advocate to wonder if an ethical cost-benefit analysis might conclude the ends just don't justify the means, especially since rapid advances in sophisticated high-resolution neuroimaging on humans will very soon obviate the need for such invasive techniques.

Because grant money comes with animal research, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees mandated by the Animal Welfare Act to prevent excessive cruelty have been rendered largely ineffectual, as their membership is stacked predominantly with animal researchers.

Most animal experiments on monkeys, dogs, cats and other animals are not related to human benefit, and describing such research as "humane" requires an Orwellian-newspeak definition of the word. "Humane" means to treat with kindness, consideration or mercy, and as long as words have meanings that cannot be twisted Humpty Dumpty-like into whatever we want them to mean, animal experimentation is not and can never be humane.

___

Lawrence A. Hansen, M.D., is a board-certified pathologist and neuropathologist and a professor of neuroscience and pathology at the University of California-San Diego, where he also leads the neuropathology core of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center. In March 2009, he was recognized by the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease as one of the top 100 Alzheimer's disease investigators in the world. Dr. Hansen may be reached c/o People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Science of Empathy

Worth listening to, but I wish de Waal would be a whole lot more empathic and sympathetic when it comes to his colleagues at Yerkes's hideous experiments on monkeys. His silence about the problems at the Wisconsin primate center, where he used to work, and at Yerkes, doesn't suggest that he himself is very empathic or concerned about others' suffering.

http://www.emorywheel.com/detail.php?n=28850

Early behavior may predict career choice

I suspect that early in some children's lives, they demonstrate a propensity toward callousness or cruelty. If a caring caregiver is nearby and can instill the idea that such behavior is inappropriate, these children probably develop more or less normally and go on to lead lives that are not filled with hurting others routinely.

But if someone isn't nearby to correct them when these first manifestations of cruelty emerge, then the enjoyment they receive may be sufficient reinforcement to crystallize the behavior, to make cruelty a part of their "normal" repertoire of behavior.

By the time these children get to college, they may have already determined that a career in a branch of biology that gives them access to animals is a good fit for them.

Take the case of Erin D. Gleason, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Somewhere in her past, if we could replay her life, after she had already learned to be cruel, someone encouraged her to keep it up. Maybe it was a family member, a twisted neighbor or teacher, even she may not know when or why she started to enjoy hurting animals. It probably came naturally to her and was not stifled when she was first acting out her inclinations.

Most behaviors can be reinforced with an appropriate system of reward and punishment. Erin was recently rewarded for her cruelty by being able to make a presentation to others like herself in a setting that she probably felt was prestigious. She was further reinforced by having her research showcased in the paper:
Fatherly behavior may be learned early

Chicago Sun-Times
Monifa Thomas
October 19, 2009

How a father raises his offspring may be influenced by the care he received from his own father as an infant, new animal research suggests.

The study, presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience being held at McCormick Place, is one of the first to show that paternal behavior, like maternal behavior, may be passed on from generation to generation through non-genetic means.

To test this idea, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison observed the parenting skills of two sets of male California mice: those raised by castrated fathers and those whose fathers weren't castrated. Castrating California mice makes them less attentive, hands-on fathers.

Researchers found that the sons of castrated mice spent less time with their offspring and left the nest more frequently. These mice also engaged in less huddling and grooming with their offspring.

"Our results suggest that early behavioral environment, and in particular the paternal care received during development, may shape the amount and quality of paternal behaviors expressed by mammalian fathers, perhaps including humans," lead researcher Erin Gleason said.
To me, her results suggest that castrating California mice disrupts their behavior. Period. Conjecture about what this may or may not say about human behavior is pure prattle, something young developing vivisectors are taught to say in order to give their work a facade of justifiability and to shield their ilk and industry from public condemnation.

Consider some of her past experiences:
2003-2004, Senior Honors at Bates College: In Cheryl McCormick’s lab, we had previously determined that chronic restraint and social stress during adolescence cause long-term, sex-specific changes in a rat’s behavioral response to nicotine. I repeated these studies and performed Fos-immunocytochemistry on females to identify brain regions involved in this phenomenon.
(A look at the publication list from the McCormick lab helps explain how one might become ever more inured to suffering.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

New Comers

It's a sad irony that the few vivisectors with the cojones to speak out in defense of hurting animals are so poorly informed about the history of the animal rights movement, and particularly the movement's past twenty or so years. They seem to have no knowledge of the years of failed effort by activists to engage with them in public discussion about the way animals are treated.

These newcomers seem to think that people like Dr. Jerry Vlasak have come to a snap conclusion that violence will likely be necessary to curtail the massive unrelenting enslavement and torture of animals. Vlasak is a trauma surgeon who actually saves people's lives as opposed to, for instance, vivisectors who make wild claims about pie-in-the-sky possibilities that driving monkeys insane might one day lead to some understanding of the chemical mechanisms of some currently used drug.

These newcomers have no knowledge, apparently, of the literally hundreds, maybe thousands of polite invitations to talk about and debate the issue publicly that have been left unanswered, dismissed curtly, or that have been ridiculed by their peers and predecessors. They seem not to know that people like Vlasak, very long-time activists, have come to their conclusions by way of years of refusal by vivisectors (and other monsters) to talk openly in public with their critics, of the industry's legendary secrecy, of case after case of hideous abuse and essentially no punishment.

The current state of affairs is the natural consequence of a long history of arrogance; a history of hiding in the ivory towers and hoping that the mob outside the door would just go away. They haven't, and they won't.

The newcomers don't seem to understand who made the bed they are lying in today.

A pretty good article that demonstrates this increasingly hopeless morass can be read here:

Researchers to animal-rights activists: We're not afraid. CNN October 9, 2009.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Is Brian Blanchard a Racist or Just Under Bucky's Spell?

Is Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard a bigot or is he just overawed by Badgers in white coats?

There is some evidence that he may be racially bigoted. This was suggested in a recent letter published in the Wisconsin State Journal:
Iglesias charged, but not UW researchers
October 13, 2009

I am struck by District Attorney Brian Blanchard's apparent unequal treatment of unnamed researchers at the UW-Madison - even though he acknowledges their illegal killing of animals by "decompression" for decades - and Jorge Iglesias, whom Blanchard has charged with 13 felonies for staging cockfights.

Blanchard says Dane County can't be bothered to prosecute the UW researchers. Is the university above the law? Could Iglesias' ethnicity have played a role in the unequal application of the law? Cruelty is cruelty.
Another letter noted a similar and possibly racial disparity in Blanchard’s decision to give UW researchers a pass:
Time to end study of decompression
October 13, 2009

When Michael Vick violated the law by mistreating and killing dogs, he was fined and served prison time. When UW-Madison was exposed for violating Wisconsin law by killing 26 sheep by means of decompression, the judicial system refused to fine or prosecute.
In his letter to the university, in which he explains his non-reasons for why he doesn’t care whether they break the law or not, he makes some pretty goofy and uninformed statements. Rather than go through each of them, no matter how entertaining that might be, I wanted to point to one particular bit of university nonsense he regurgitates in his conclusions:

"Peer reviewed articles demonstrate that [this research] has not been hidden from public scrutiny."

Compare that statement with a passage from a copy of the most recent version available to the public of the university-approved protocol for these experiments:That big black redaction appears to be a citation of one of the articles not hidden from public scrutiny. They must be proud.

Maybe Mr. Blanchard isn’t a racist or in awe of white coats. Maybe, like many Madisonians, there isn’t anything that the university does or could do that he would criticize. Maybe he just worships Bucky.

Monday, October 12, 2009

BSL-3s are Hazardous to Your Health

This is an addendum to an opinion I had published in the Isthmus on October 8, 2009: “Say no to new UW-Madison germ lab.” Space limitations did not allow me to point out other reasons to be concerned about the proliferation of BSL-3 labs at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and elsewhere.

The rules governing procedures used at these labs to safeguard workers and the public are necessarily based on what is known about the organisms and agents being studied. But emerging technologies are allowing ever-easier genetic manipulations. The results of these manipulations are generally unpredictable. An organism that is only mildly virulent could become much more dangerous without warning and much harder to contain.

A recent nearby example of unrecognized risk, and thus potentially insufficient biosafety procedures, was the death of University of Chicago Professor Malcolm J. Casadaban on September 13, 2009. According to the Chicago Sun-Times:
An initial autopsy showed that Casadaban ‘showed no obvious cause of death’ except for the presence of the weakened strain of the plague bacteria Yersinia pestis in his blood, the U. of C. Medical Center said in a statement. …

Because this form of the bacteria is not known to cause problems in healthy people, special safety procedures are not required to handle it, said Dr. Kenneth Alexander, a virologist and chief of pediatric infections at the U. of C. Medical Center. …

Two key questions in Casadaban's death will be whether there was anything different about the strain of bacteria he was handling and whether Casadaban had any underlying conditions that may have made him more susceptible to infection…”. (Monifa Thomas. “Plague researcher dies of infection: Autopsy shows weakened strain of bacteria in blood of U. of C. prof -- officials say no public health threat.”)
The proliferation of BSL-3 labs (and even more alarming, BSL-4 labs) means that more pools of deadly organisms are being maintained in more locations around the county. Probability makes it inevitable that more accidents will occur. As these labs are built and put into operation, more disease-causing organisms are being mailed around the world.

A recent near miss was the discovery that tissues taken from pigs who had died in Vietnam of a suspected outbreak of “blue ear disease” (PPRSV, or Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus), were sent to Plum Island, the BSL-3 federal laboratory near Long Island, New York. There appears to be some controversy as to whether blue ear disease should be studied in a BSL-2 or BSL-3 laboratory.

It turns out that the pigs didn’t die of blue ear. They died of Ebola. Fortunately for everyone involved, it was the benign-to-humans strain known as Reston Ebola, but this was just dumb luck. (See: Jennifer Landes. "Move Over Swine Flu, Ebola’s Back: Porcine discovery rouses moribund Plum Island." The East Hampton Star. July 16, 2009.)

And finally, though I alluded to it in the Isthmus, the human factor may be the greatest risk of all, and not just human error. Sometime in the first few days of September 2009, lab assistant Raymond Clark III apparently murdered 24-year-old vivisector Annie Le and hid her body in a wall cavity in a lab complex at Yale University. Why he did this, assuming he did, hardly matters. The real concern is that someone with access to a high security lab was willing to commit murder.

According to one article, “Access to the basement area where her corpse was found is restricted to certain specially authorized individuals who must use their Yale identification cards to access the floor.”

What if Clark had worked in a BSL-3 lab tending mice being infected with SARS or one of the other dangerous diseases studied in these labs? What if he had gotten angry with city officials instead of a co-worker? Would he have tried to unleash the plague in City Hall, or on the bus?

It is clear is that the risk of these diseases being accidentally or intentionally released into the community increases along with the proliferation of these labs. Given UW-Madison’s history of violating NIH and CDC regulations governing biosafety, the university’s history of lying to the public, of ignoring state laws, and their erroneous evaluation of the biohazard risks associated with these labs, it makes absolutely no sense to allow them to keep building and operating these potentially deadly facilities.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Sheep. Spin, spin, spin.

No fines for sheep deaths at UW-Madison
By DEBORAH ZIFF. Wisconsin State Journal. October 8, 2009.

UW-Madison researchers violated state law when 26 sheep died in experiments on decompression sickness, but Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard won't prosecute the university because the infraction is relatively minor, he wrote in an opinion.
A few excerpts:
"We're trying to decide now that we have this information how to proceed," [Eric] Sandgren said.
I wonder what he means by this? Now that the university and the researchers know they won't be prosecuted or fined? Now that they know this is illegal? Now that they know what? (Previous posts that mention Eric Sandgren.)

If it's the latter, that they didn't know that killing animals by means of decompression was illegal, and that's how I read his comment, it must mean that the animal research oversight committees have never taken the time to learn what the state laws are regarding the treatment of animals. If that's what he meant, that they are just now learning that what they've been doing since 1986 is a violation of Wisconsin's "Crimes Against Animals" statutes (Chapter 951), it speaks poorly for their interest in the public's desires and wishes as spelled out in the state's legal code and paints the UW vivisectors as being just as arrogant and self-important as I have ever imagined them to be.
The studies are funded by the U.S. Navy and other federal and state agencies. UW-Madison is one of three main sites where such research is conducted, Sandgren said.
This claims seems to be rooted in something other than reality. One of three main sites?

Here's another chance to use PubMed to put a vivisector's claims to the test.

The key paper here, the most recently published paper by UW vivisectors on the topic of decompressing sheep is Oxygen pre-breathing decreases dysbaric diseases in UW sheep undergoing hyperbaric exposure. Sobakin AS, Wilson MA, Lehner CE, Dueland RT, Gendron-Fitzpatrick AP. Undersea Hyperb Med. 2008.

There are two easy ways to use PubMed to check out the veacity of this claim. 1. Look at the related articles on the right. 2. Click on each of the authors' names to access their list of indexed articles.

In the first case, and imposing the limits: "Publication Date from 2007 to 2009, Animals" results in a list of 49 items. Ten of these are comments on other papers and one is a conference announcement. The thirty-eight remaining papers are reports of scientific research. Each one includes the name of the lead author’s primary institution. The institutions named, and the number of times each one is named in one of the papers, if more than once, is listed here:

Israel Naval Medical Institute (5)
Dartmouth College
Università di Padova, Italia
University of St Andrews
Virginia Commonwealth University (3)
Naval Medical Research Center, Silver Spring, MD (4)
State University of New York at Stony Brook
University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston
University of Texas Medical School, Houston
University of Virginia
Copenhagen University (3)
Naval Medical Institute, France
Ministry of Defense, Government of India, Delhi (2)
Norwegian Underwater Intervention, Bergen, Norway
George Mason University
New York College of Osteopathic Medicine
University of Wisconsin-Madison (the paper cited above)
Wright State University
Swedish Defence Research Agency, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.
[An article in Russian]
North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium
National University of Singapore
NTNU, Trondheim, Norway
University of Dundee
[An article in Slovak]
Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi, India.

From this list spanning the past three years of publications, it doesn’t appear that UW-Madison is a leader or even very involved in this area of animal experimentation, let alone “one of three main sites where such research is conducted.” Additionally, the animals used in the studies represented in the above list are primarily rats, then pigs. The UW paper is the only one using sheep.

The second way to test Sandgren’s claims with PubMed is to look at the publishing history of each of the authors in the paper cited above. You can do this by clicking on each of their names.

The authors are: Sobakin AS, Wilson MA, Lehner CE, Dueland RT, and Gendron-Fitzpatrick AP.

AS Sobakin seems to have authored only this paper.

Not surprisingly, there are many MA Wilsons. PubMed lists 492 papers authored or co-authored by an MA Wilson. Searching for papers on decompression authored by MA Wilsons again returns only this original paper.

CE Lehner has coauthored eight papers related to decompression:

Oxygen pre-breathing decreases dysbaric diseases in UW sheep undergoing hyperbaric exposure.
Sobakin AS, Wilson MA, Lehner CE, Dueland RT, Gendron-Fitzpatrick AP.
Undersea Hyperb Med. 2008

Estimation and confidence regions for multi-dimensional effective dose.
Li J, Nordheim EV, Zhang C, Lehner CE.
Biom J. 2008

Predicting risk of decompression sickness in humans from outcomes in sheep.
Ball R, Lehner CE, Parker EC.
J Appl Physiol. 1999

Dysbaric osteonecrosis in divers and caisson workers. An animal model.
Lehner CE, Adams WM, Dubielzig RR, Palta M, Lanphier EH.
Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1997

Experimental respiratory decompression sickness in sheep.
Atkins CE, Lehner CE, Beck KA, Dubielzig RR, Nordheim EV, Lanphier EH.
J Appl Physiol. 1988

An in vivo technique for the measurement of bone blood flow in animals.
Rosenthal MS, DeLuca PM Jr, Pearson DW, Nickles RJ, Lehner CE, Lanphier EH.
Phys Med Biol. 1987

Hydrogen washout in bone cortex and periosteum.
Lightfoot EN, Rudolph RF, Lenhoff AM, Lanphier EH, Lehner CE, Whiteside LA.
Undersea Biomed Res. 1986

Lack of harmful effects from simulated dives in pregnant sheep.
Bolton-Klug ME, Lehner CE, Lanphier EH, Rankin JH.
Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1983

By the way, this last paper, from 1983, wasn't illegal because the statute barring killing animals by means of decompression took effect, apparently, in 1985.

This amounts to two papers in the 2000s, two papers in the 1990s, and four papers in the 1980s, or, approximately, 2.7 papers per decade.

RT Dueland has authored only one paper associated with decompression, the paper cited above.

AP Gendron-Fitzpatrick has also authored only one paper associated with decompression, the paper cited above.

Looking at the list of eight papers authored by Lehner, the names Dubielzig and Lanphier appear more than once.

Lanphier has an extensive list of diving-related publications, the majority of which are human-based studies. All but one of his animal-related experiments are those listed above coauthored with CE Lehner.

The single paper using animals, not coauthored with Lehner is:

Responses of fetal sheep to simulated no-decompression dives.
Stock MK, Lanphier EH, Anderson DF, Anderson LC, Phernetton TM, Rankin JH.
J Appl Physiol. 1980.

Lanphier’s last paper was published in 1997 and is listed above.

RR Dubielzig has an even more extensive publication list, but has authored only two papers associated with decompression, both listed above.

So far, there does not appear to be much evidence supporting Eric Sandgren’s claim that the UW is “one of three main sites where such research is conducted.”

Another way to test his claim is to search the UW-Madison website looking for references to diving physiology. There is one tantalizing bit of evidence in support of Sandgren's claim. There is an obsure reference to Marlowe Eldridge, M.D. being the Director of the Diving Physiology Laboratory. But this is the only reference to such a facility. Marlow Eldridge's lab's webpage makes no mention of such a lab but does mention two funded studies on diving. His publication list mentions nothing about decompression in sheep. One of his grants is

Improving Risk Estimation, Safety and Cost-effectiveness in Scuba Diving.
Principal Investigator: Marlowe Eldridge M.D.
Agency: COMM NOAA # A06OAR417001 (144PD98)
Status: Funded 03/01/2006 – 01/31/2008 ($268,177)

The major goal of this project is to improve risk estimation and improve strategies to minimize decompression illness in recreational and occupational scuba drivers.,

The other, and the likely source for Sandgren's claim, is

Neurological Decompression Injury: Is Deep Stop Decompression Protective?
Principal Investigator: Marlowe Eldridge M.D.

Agency: DOD Navy

Status: Pending 10/01/2008-09/31/2011 (~$1,300,000)

This major goal ofthese studies is to improve our understanding of neurological decompression sickness and help evaluate deep stop use as a protective decompression strategy. We will use our established sheep model of the diver to determine the effects of various decompression scenarios with and without a deep stop on neurological decompression sickness. A variety of MR imaging techniques, will be used evaluate for subtle neurological injury and more importantly to gain insight into the mechanisms that may contribute to decompression neuronal injury.

But $1.3 million over four years is hardly enough to make Eldridge's lab “one of three main sites where such research is conducted.”

Another piece of evidence that might be said to support Sandgren’s claim is an old UW webpage named "Milestone Accomplishments, 1972-1997."

Under the section: Milestones in UW Sea Grant Diving Physiology and Safety Research, 1972-97, there are three bulleted claims:
Prototype development of wristwatch "dive computers" that calculate and alert a diver to remaining air supplies and the proper length of ascent decompression stops — now a standard part of scuba diving equipment.

Leading research on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of decompression sickness — including the risks diving poses to the fetuses of pregnant women, and the discovery of "limb bends," bone death, "the chokes" and paralyzing spinal cord hits among commercial and recreational divers who repeatedly make short, deep "bounce" dives.

Investigation of the under-estimated risks of panic among divers, especially in cold waters like the Great Lakes, and the development of a test that predicts with 88 percent accuracy which novice divers are prone to panic.
The only part of the above claims that is related to the decompression of the sheep is the part about potential risks diving poses to the fetuses of pregnant women, but even this is suspect. In Scuba Diving Explained: Questions and Answers on Physiology and Medical Aspects of Scuba Diving (1997), author Lawrence Martin, M.D. writes:
WHAT ABOUT DIVING DURING PREGNANCY?

A short exposure to increased ambient pressure, per se, appears of no consequence to the fetus. However some studies on pregnant animals have shown an increased rate of fetal abnormality from decompression sickness, particularly among sheep; different studies in other animals have not shown an ill effect on the fetus. Like many other medical conditions, the available studies on this issue are inconclusive.

Based on what is known about pregnancy, and about diving, my recommendation (and that of most physicians) is that pregnant women should not dive.
And even the claim about wristwatch "dive computers" seems sketchy. See Scuba Diving History and something about the real inventors of the “dive computer,” Craig Barshinger, and Karl Huggins.

Sandgren claims that UW Madison is one of three main sites where such research is conducted. As I showed above by listing the locations of the institutions where decompression experiments on animals are being conducted, UW Madison isn’t one of the three main sites. But maybe Sandgren was being circumspect and was claiming that UW was one of only three Sea Grant Schools. But even on this point, if that is what he was claiming, he’d also be wrong.

If you visit the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant site, and click on Research, nothing is mentioned about diving physiology or decompression. On the page called "Water Safety & Recreation," under the section titled "Related Research," we finally come to something that might be germane titled, “Improving Safety and Efficiency in Scuba Diving.” But, alas, the link from there is broken; this, apparently is a gateway to research that might lend credence to Sandgren’s claim that UW-Madison is "one of three main sites where such research is conducted."

And finally, Sandgren claims that: “They've made important discoveries that are used now, that are applied, in the case of individual diving sicknesses.”

Like what?

According to the BBC, decompression experiments on goats were suspended in the United Kingdom in March 2007. A UK Ministry of Defense review committee examined non-animal methods for studying decompression sickness. Defense Secretary Des Browne stated that: “The review has concluded that the remaining associated areas of uncertainty in submarine escape and rescue relate to events that are considered highly unlikely and do not therefore need to be addressed by means of animal testing.”

Just what is it, does Sandgren feel, that came out of those eight papers published by vivisectors at UW-Madison that constitute the important discoveries that are being used now to treat diving sickness? None that I can see. And if the university is "one of three main sites where such research is conducted," they are doing a damn fine job of keeping it hidden.
It is hardly to be expected that a man who does not hesitate to vivisect for the sake of science will hesitate to lie about it afterwards to protect it from what he deems the ignorant sentimentality of the laity. George Bernard Shaw. The Doctor's Dilemma. 1909.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Standing Above the Law


“It’s grotesquely painful and unambiguously illegal, but fuck the sheep, the university can do whatever it wants,” said Brian Blanchard, Dane County District Attorney in response to having it called to his attention that beginning in at least 1988, the University of Wisconsin, Madison has repeatedly violated one of the state’s “Crimes Against Animals” statutes. The law bars killing animals with decompression. Apparently, the university intends to keep breaking this law and DA Blanchard could care less.

Blanchard didn’t actually say, “fuck the sheep” of course, but he might as well have. Read his letter.

In 1985, the Wisconsin State Legislature passed into law statute 951.025. This short statute is short and unambiguous:
Decompression prohibited. No person may kill an animal by means of decompression. (Bolded text in the original.)
Even DA Blanchard acknowledges that the university’s attempt to distort this plain language is as lame as a sheep crippled in one of its hideously cruel decompression experiments:
If the death of each sheep by means of decompression does not qualify as a forfeiture violation, one is hard pressed to imagine what conduct, not intentional or negligent, would fit the definition of a forfeiture violation. No intent whatsoever is required. The plain terms of the substantive statute and its penalty provision ban any practice that kills by this means.

It is irrelevant that Wisconsin’s flat prohibition appears to have arisen out of concern about use of decompression chambers as a euthanasia technique, because the plain language of the statute is unambiguous and no purpose other than a flat ban can be read into the statute. The legislature established a per se category of offense, assigned it to the forfeiture level, and decided not to shield bona fide research from its reach, regardless of the degree to which these experiments are scientifically sound and morally justified. Legislators settled on language that goes beyond the euthanasia context. Whether or not the explicit thought ever passed through the mind of any legislator, the legislature decided to use sweeping language that unambiguously prohibits the use of decompression chambers for any use, even peer reviewed scientific research, that kills an animal.
Why would the legislature have passed an unambiguous flat ban? Because rapid decompression is so terribly painful.

The fact that the university argued that it wasn’t breaking the law is illustrative of many of the deep-seated problems inherent in its use of animals (and the use of animals generally in research around the United States.)

You don’t have to be an attorney to understand the plain language of the law: “No person may kill an animal by means of decompression.” Period.

Yet, instead of admitting that it had violated this simple restriction, the university argued that the plain language doesn’t mean what it says. Likewise, it claims that the experiments in its labs are humane. (Here's their response to Blanchard.)

The university argues: “There certainly has been no … reason to believe there was any debate regarding the legitimacy or legality of this research until this particular complaint was lodged.”

University of Wisconsin, Madison animal research oversight committees do not have any such discussions. Why would they? The university feels that it is exempt from all animal cruelty laws, and acts accordingly. The university has simply ignored the state law. If this isn’t the case, then there would be a discussion of the law in an oversight committee’s minutes, but the university acknowledges that it can find no record of such discussion.

The university’s self-interested lame arguments are to be expected. DA Blanchard’s decision to ignore decades of violations and his apparent decision to turn a blind eye to all further violations reinforce the notion that working within the confines of the legal system is bound to fail on a matter so deeply entrenched in society.

No matter how carefully or well-argued, the problem of human slavery was unable to be solved through a reliance on the law. Even after the Civil War, the law was unable to stop de facto slavery, and Jim Crow was robust even into the 1970s. (Some might argue that Jim crow is still with us today.) Throughout that fight for equality, the sometimes violent confrontations with law enforcement and with the defenders of the status quo were keys to victory.

This isn’t to say that legal efforts should cease or that the few and narrow legal avenues that are available should not be utilized, but that such work in and of itself is unlikely to be successful. It is unlikely to be successful because the authorities in positions to enforce the laws are so often part and parcel of the system that is being challenged. Like judges and police officers in the South who were themselves bigots, today’s officials making decisions about enforcing anti-cruelty laws eat the animals they are being asked to protect. That’s a recipe for consistent failure.

We may see a further instance of this phenomena when the NIH learns of the university’s now clear and unambiguous violation of its Animal Welfare Assurance. Unlike the Animal Welfare Act, enforced by the USDA through nominally annual inspections of labs using species covered by the Act, the National Institutes of Health relies on a signed statement by an institution receiving funding from the NIH. This statement is a written promise to the NIH that the institution will adhere to The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (The Guide). (National Research Council, 1996.)

Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (the policy regulating NIH-funded research using animals) explains that the Policy “does not affect applicable state or local laws or regulations which impose more stringent standards for the care and use of laboratory animals.”

The Guide states:
Animal facilities and programs should be operated in accord with this Guide, the Animal Welfare Regulations, or AWRs (CFR 1985); the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, or PHS Policy (PHS 1996); and other applicable federal (Appendixes C and D) state, and local laws, regulations, and policies. (p 2)
The University of Wisconsin, Madison has assured the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare in its Public Health Service Assurance (A3368-01) that it would follow the The Guide, but since at least 1988, researchers at the university have been killing sheep by means of decompression. The most recent instances of these crimes against animals and noncompliances with its PHS Assurance are documented in “Oxygen pre-breathing decreases dysbaric diseases in UW sheep undergoing hyperbaric exposure.” Sobakin AS, Wilson MA, Lehner CE, Dueland RT, Gendron-Fitzpatrick AP. Undersea Hyperb Med. 2008.

I suspect that PHS Assurances will prove to be a sham. But we’ll see.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dario L. Ringach and J. David Jentsch

A letter from Dario L. Ringach and J. David Jentsch titled “We Must Face the Threats” was recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience (September 16, 2009) and (as of October 1, 2009) is available online.

Their letter illustrates and acknowledges an unfortunate phenomenon: generally, it is the vivisectors who have been subjected to harassment in one from or another who engage in public discussion about vivisection. Ringach and Jentsch write:
Traditionally, academic institutions and individual researchers have opted to remain silent about the activities of animal-rights extremists and organizations. Such reasoning was based on the fact that, unless the attacks were directed at you or your institution, it would be unwise to draw attention by offering a response.
I went to my first animal rights protest in 1997. Craig Rosebraugh was leading a campaign to stop Jane Macpherson’s neurological research using cats at Legacy Health System's Good Samaritan Hospital.

According to Legacy, Macpherson currently uses four cats raised for research. Her work is supported by two National Institute of Health grants totaling $311,000.

It takes Macpherson four or five years to complete the experiments on each cat. She takes a year or two to train a cat to stand on four metal balance sensors. Then, a veterinarian injects an antibiotic drug into its head to destroy part of its inner ear, simulating a brain injury. The most invasive part of the research occurs when electrodes are implanted on the cat's body, underneath the skin. The wires meet in a monitoring box surgically attached to the animal's head.

Over the next three or four years, Macpherson observes the cat and how it uses its vision, the vestibular system inside its ears and the pads of its paws to maintain balance. At the end of that cycle, the cat is killed. In 20 years of balance studies at Legacy, hospital officials say, roughly 20 cats have been killed.

Despite repeated requests from Rosebraugh, Legacy refuses to discuss Macpherson's research with the Liberation Collective. "The Liberation Collective doesn't want to discuss anything," says Kiesow. "These are young people with a quasi-religious zeal. They are a cult. This is what they've found to believe in."

Claudia Brown, spokeswoman for Legacy, says other researchers have advised the hospital to ignore the activists. "Saving the world, one cat at a time." (Elizabeth Manning, Willamette Week - Cover Story - Dec. 3, 1997.)
Rosebraugh, like the majority of activists I’ve known, seemed to genuinely believe that given the opportunity to listen to debate and to ask questions, that resulting public pressure would lead to a drastic reduction in the number of animals used, and perhaps even an outright ban on most experimental uses of many animal species.

I have tried for over a decade to organize public forums with vivisectors. I have been more succesful at this than have most other activists; still, I can count the times that vivisectors have have discussed animal experimentation with their critics, in front of a public audience, over the past decade, anywhere in the U.S., in single digits. Altogether, in modern times, such discussion has been exceedingly rare.

The silence is a nasty and double-edged sword. The exceptions come almost exclusively from among those who have been harassed, with Ringach and Jentsch being two recent cases.

I am in complete agreement with Ringach and Jentsch on two key points: that the public should be given the opportunity to learn firsthand what is occurring in the labs, and vivisectors should start talking in public and with the public about the details of their work and their justifications for the things they do.

From their letter, it seems that Ringach and Jentsch are confused about a few things. They say: “animal-rights activists are against all forms of research involving animals.” Maybe this is hyperbole; in any case, it isn’t correct and is needlessly misleading. Many, perhaps every activist I know, would allow one of their companion animals to be used in clinically-based research in a manner and in a situation similar to that of a human patient being asked to volunteer as a research subject or being asked to allow their sick child to be a research subject. I’ve heard few complaints about field-based observational studies of animals. Animal rights activists aren’t against all forms of research involving animals, they are against research that is knowingly harmful or likely harmful, just as they are against similar research using human animals.

Throughout their letter, Ringach and Jentsch employ a rhetorical device frequently used by their industry to generate sympathy for their claims. They characterize the debate as being between the “anti-research lobby” and “scientists;” as if people opposed to drilling holes in monkeys’ skulls are anti-science.

Ringach and Jentsch continue:
Obviously, the use of nonhuman primates in research presents a unique set of ethical issues because of their complex cognitive and emotional abilities, and accordingly, they represent fewer than 1% of all the animals used in research.
Their claim is fallacious in two ways. First, it remains to be seen whether the use of nonhuman primates presents (or is perceived by the vivisection community to present) a unique set of ethical issues. It also isn’t clear which of these complex cognitive and emotional abilities are unique to monkeys and humans, or why the set of cognitive and emotional abilities unique to monkeys and humans (if such a set exists) presents a special case. What characteristics do humans and monkeys have that dogs and rats do not have, that present this so-called “unique set of ethical issues”? What elements comprise this “unique set of ethical issues”? These are the sort of questions that should be discussed in a public venue.

Ringach and Jentsch are likely mistaken when they say that it is this undefined “unique set of ethical issues” that accounts for the relatively smaller number of monkeys used. This may be true to a small degree when it comes to the use of chimpanzees; it isn’t true with monkeys. If a low number of any specific species signaled a special ethical hurdle to their use, it would mean that vivisectors have even greater reservations about using hyenas and naked mole rats.

Ringach and Jentsch defend the use of monkeys with two arguments. First, they say:
For those researchers studying complex brain functions, including vision, hearing, memory, attention, thinking, and planning, as well as how those processes fail in diseases of the CNS, rodent species simply are not adequate alternatives.
Either Ringach and Jentsch are dolts or else they think poorly of their rat-using colleagues. As much as I distrust such binary characterizations, I can’t make out an alternative possibility.

You can test the veracity of their claim yourself. Go to the National Library of Medicine’s index of life scientific publications, PubMed. Do a couple simple searches. Enter (without the quotation marks): “rat vision brain”. Doing so results in 609 papers. Try: “rat auditory brain” (3,557 papers). Try: ‘rat memory brain” (12,329 papers); “rat attention brain” (2,724 papers); “rat cognition brain” (5,639 papers); “rat planning brain” (183 papers.)

Secondly, they claim that nonhuman primates have "an irreplaceable role in neuroscience research" and that society will lose something of apparently overwhelming importance if we were to close the animal labs. One response to Ringach and Jentsch's letter, published by The Journal of Neuroscience is from Ray Greek, MD. If Ringach and Jentsch believe the benefits to the public from their work are easily demonstrated, they should accept Greek's challenge to them to debate the matter in public.
Ringach and Jentsch make the claim that messages from the “anti-research lobby” have been presented with “little opposing force from the scientific community.” Maybe, but President Obama just dumped an additional $5 billion into the NIH, of which 40% or more will probably go to the vivisectors, and as far as I know, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is the only law of its kind. Someone has been listening and acting on the vivisectors’ pleas for more money and protection from the public. Cry me a river.

Finally, I had to laugh at the authors’ recitation of The Myth of Oversight. They intone:
Everyone agrees that the welfare of animals and the ethical issues raised by their use in research cannot be taken lightly, but the general public seems to be under the impression that investigators are free to experiment on animals in any way they please. Much needs to be done to explain what exactly goes into conducting animal research: the various settings in which students and trainees are exposed to complex issues of ethics in research, the multiple levels of scrutiny, including review of our grants by the National Institutes of Health, the approval of the research by a university committee (composed of veterinarians and community members), the inspections from federal and state regulators, and accreditation from independent organizations that evaluate the compliance of animal programs. Above all, we should convey to the public our commitment (from students, staff, and faculty) to animal welfare, to refining our procedures, and to reducing the number of animals used in our studies.
The proof’s in the putting, as they say. No one familiar with the details of the lives being endured by the monkeys in the labs will fail to see this for the sad silliness that it is.

See too: Pro-Test