Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hungry Americans and Opportunity Costs


A brewski or a hoagie?

In economics, opportunity costs are the things we lose when we choose something else. If you have a dollar and choose to spend it on a beer, you can’t spend it on a sandwich. Everything we buy comes with an opportunity cost; everything we do has opportunity costs associated with it because we can’t be in two places at the same time and don’t have infinite resources. We can spend our time and money here or there, but not everywhere.

What this means, or should mean, is that we have to prioritize the things we do and things we spend our money on. If I buy a big screen TV and don’t have enough money left over to pay my mortgage or to buy food for my family, it seems pretty clear that the opportunity cost of the TV was too high. Food and shelter for one’s family are more important than a TV, and in most cases, food is more important than shelter.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the recipients of the tax dollars funneled through the agency don’t seem to see the world in this way.

A child or a rat?

The statistics on hunger in the US are sobering.

And yet, NIH pours ever-increasing amounts of money into the gaping maws of vivisectors, paying them to perform cruel experiments designed to answer questions of dubious value.

Vivisectors regularly make the claim that most people would choose the life of a child over the life of an animal, like a rat they commonly say, and I suspect they are right. But, in fact, vivisectors choose experiments on rats over meals for kids.

The opportunity costs of animal experimentation can’t be overstated. In plain simple language, food and shelter for everyone should be government’s number one concern. Until everyone is guaranteed a healthful diet and snug shelter from the elements, every other government expenditure of tax dollars, particularly dollars spent in the name of health care, is immoral.

Moreover, the people lining up at the public trough and competing for those tax dollars by claiming that they are concerned about their fellow humans are particularly grotesque.

It’s one thing for, say, a plumber, to hire him- or herself out to fix a leaky faucet or to install a new toilet, and to put the money earned from providing that service into the bank or to spend it on a new TV, but someone eating taxpayer dollars in the name of public health and medical advancement, who argues that their work is justified by the potential benefits to sufferers of some malady, those people seem to bear a greater – a much greater – responsibility for the lost opportunities to feed hungry kids that result from their career choices and competition for limited tax dollars.

If someone really cared about people’s wellness and health, the last thing they would do, it seems to me, would be to use tax dollars to investigate the biology of mice, rats, dogs, or monkeys, while human children and human families are struggling to find food and shelter.

Let’s look at some specific examples and put a dollar amount on them and try to measure the opportunity costs in terms of hungry children in the United States.

The vivisection industry recently spent $1 million in an effort to convince people that spending public funds to hurt animals would be a good thing if the harm and torment they are forced to endure led to some medical advance; they didn’t put it in so many words, of course, but they may as well have. See: Animal researchers spend $1M to drum up support. Minneapolis Star Tribune. November 9, 2009. [See too: ProTest and Hansen's Disease]

According to NIH’s Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool(RePORTER), nearly 1000 studies involving experiments on rats were funded by the recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Here’s one example:

JAMES DANIEL AKULA: CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL BOSTON: DOWNREGULATION OF ROD METABOLISM IN RETINOPATHY OF PREMATURITY. $402,379

“We will conduct a preclinical trial in rat models of ROP [retinopathy of prematurity] by downregulating two energy-demanding processes in the rods: the dark current and the visual cycle. We anticipate that this approach will compare favorably with the best currently available medical management. To produce in rats vascular abnormalities similar to those that characterize human ROP, pups are exposed to high and low oxygen during the first days after birth; the induction ends at postnatal day 14.”

According to Feeding America, every fifty cents donated provides one bag of groceries. Assuming that an average child can be fed for three days with an average bag of groceries (and that seems wildly conservative to me), the $402,379 in tax dollars the NIH gave to Akula could have purchased 804,758 bags of groceries, or, in other terms, it could have fed 2,414,274 children for a day.

I’m not singling out Akula; the $402,379 he received is a tiny speck of the multi-billion dollar Recovery Act monies that were awarded to NIH. Akula is merely is one of the approximately 990 named researchers receiving Recovery Act funds who are using rats.

NIH’s RePORTER tool has a handy feature: you can export data to an Excel file. Unfortunately, it has a 500 record limit. Even so, exporting the first 500 rat vivisection records and totaling the tax dollars they are receiving yields $124,499,092.

Two million kids or 500 vivisectors?

Putting this in terms of children who may go hungry because the National Institutes of Health chose to fund experiments on rats rather than provide those most in need of the most fundamental thing in life – food – we can begin to see and draw conclusions about just who in society benefits from animal experimentation. 500 rat vivisectors shared $124,499,092 while 746,994,552 children went without food for a day, or 106,713,507 kids went hungry for a week, or 62,249,546 went hungry for a month, or 2,046,560 went hungry for a year.

Apparently, we chose to pay 500 vivisectors to experiment on rats rather than feed over two million American kids for a year. Something seems out of whack here. We seem to have lost sight of our responsibility to the weakest most vulnerable members of society and to the opportunity costs associated with animal experimentation.

And that $1 million the Foundation for Biomedical Research just spent on misleading billboard ads?

That could have fed 32,876 kids for a year.

As if they care.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On “Responsible research with monkeys”

I am commenting here on the blog post by Dario Ringach, a researcher who claimed to have stopped experimenting on monkeys after being harassed by animal rights activists.

Previously I came across his name on a scientific paper that suggested to me that either he had never stopped hurting monkeys or else had started up again. I commented on this on the public listserv primfocus:
Dario Ringach swore that he had stopped vivisecting monkeys. His statement to that effect was spread around widely and was used by the vivisection community as evidence that intimidation had stopped “important” research. It appears that he was either lying all along or else has decided that he won’t be harassed again, but I don't believe that the people who were pressuring him previously won't do so again... maybe he thinks that people have forgotten about his cruelty.

R

Nat Neurosci. 2009 Jan;12(1):70-6. Epub 2008 Nov 23.
Stimulus contrast modulates functional connectivity in visual cortex.
Nauhaus I, Busse L, Carandini M, Ringach DL.

Biomedical Engineering Department, University of California Los
Angeles, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.

Neurons in visual cortex are linked by an extensive network of lateral connections. To study the effect of these connections on neural responses, we recorded spikes and local field potentials (LFPs) from multi-electrode arrays that were implanted in monkey and cat primary visual cortex. Spikes at each location generated outward traveling LFP waves. When the visual stimulus was absent or had low contrast, these LFP waves had large amplitudes and traveled over long distances. Their effect was strong: LFP traces at any site could be predicted by the superposition of waves that were evoked by spiking in a approximately 1.5-mm radius. As stimulus contrast increased, both the magnitude and the distance traveled by the waves progressively decreased. We conclude that the relative weight of feedforward and lateral inputs in visual cortex is not fixed, but rather depends on stimulus contrast. Lateral connections dominate at low contrast, when spatial integration of signals is perhaps most beneficial.
Shortly thereafter, I was threatened by Roberto Peccei, UCLA’s Vice Chancellor for Research.
from Peccei, Roberto
to Rick Bogle
date Thu, Jan 8, 2009 at 10:50 AM
subject RE: Dario Ringach
mailed-by conet.ucla.edu

Dear Mr Bogle



Dr. Ringach did stop doing experiments involving animals in summer 2006. The paper in question represents work he did before that time.

Now that you have been made aware of this I would ask you to retract your blog, otherwise I will consider you personally responsible for any further harassment Dario may suffer.

Thank you

Roberto Peccei
Vice Chancellor for Research
UCLA
It seems to me that Ringach has been working pretty hard lately to call attention to himself. I support his right to speak his mind, good for him for doing so, but it seems pretty clear that the claims made by UCLA, claims that fueled passage of the AETA, that researchers were being frightened away from using animals, appears to no longer be true, if it ever really was. Like their claims about saving human lives by hurting and killing animals, the claim about scientists being frightened off appears to be hyperbole intended to benefit only themselves.

Ringach’s post about Nikos Logothetis’s research is misleading. I’ll begin by dissecting his first paragraph:
At the last Pro-Test for Science rally (then UCLA Pro-Test) I was trying to explain opponents [sic] of research that the images of bleeding monkeys shown in their signs were either from decades ago or from other countries, not the US or the European Union, and certainly not representative of research at the University of California.
I don’t know which pictures he is referring to because I wasn’t at the rally. If he is referring to the photograph on Logothetis’s website, then he is at least correct about that picture not coming from the US or the EU. The monkey in the image on Logothetis’ website is Malish who was used at Hebrew University laboratories in Jerusalem, Israel in about 2000.

As far as the photographs of Malish or photographs of other monkeys sometimes seen on posters not being representative of research at UCLA, we can’t really make that determination one way or the other, because UCLA won’t let the public see what is going on in its labs.

On the other hand, the agencies that oversee research at UCLA are the same ones that oversee research in the preponderance of labs in the US receiving federal funding. The director of the NIH Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, Joe Kemnitz, has pointed out that all such labs in the US “operate in the same way.” So, looking around our own country, contemporary images probably are representative of research at UCLA. The undercover images from within the Covance lab in Virginia are one example. The photos of the capuchins used by Daniel Casey at the Oregon National Primate Center are another. And we can only wonder at what was shown on the 628 videotapes of over fifteen years of research that were shredded by UW-Madison to keep the public from seeing them.

Also, speaking of Daniel Casey’s research and Ringach’s broad claim about research at UCLA, it bears repeating that when Matt Rossell’s undercover video from the Oregon Primate Center was seen by researchers there, behind the public relations effort to whitewash his report there was an internal response to the obvious suffering being endured by Casey’s subjects. Casey was studying psychotropic drugs. Some of the monkeys had been receiving injections of Haldol and Haldol-like drugs for over twenty years. The monkeys had developed severe and debilitating dyskinesia. The internal concern led to Casey’s monkeys being sent to a sanctuary. The point is that few people at the primate center knew about the suffering in Casey’s lab, and at least some of them were making public statements about how all the animals there were well cared for and that the research was subject to strict oversight. I doubt that Ringach has more than passing knowledge of what’s actually happening in UCLA’s many labs.
To counteract the effect of such misleading images, one of my colleagues in Germany has made a large amount of information available to the public . . .
There really isn’t a “large amount of information” available. There is some, but what’s there is carefully chosen and composed. More about that later.
. . . not only publishing their animal protocols and methods (which can also be obtained by reading the scientific publications),
This isn’t true. If it were, universities would not resist public records requests asking for protocols. The Methods sections of published papers are frequently short summaries of what was actually done to the animals. Often, in a published paper, an author will say that the method(s) they used were described more fully in a previous paper, and often that paper itself will say that the methods being used were previously described elsewhere.

This means two things: Ringach is wrong when he says that methods can be learned from reading a published paper, and also, that many of the methods used today have been used for years, sometimes for decades, which could mean that even some of the older photographs aren’t really out of date. It is true that some of the hardware being used has been refined, but monkeys are still being kept in small cages, strapped into chairs, and have electrodes implanted in their brains and other organs. That hasn’t changed.
... but also illustrating the experiments with both actual pictures and videos taking [sic] from his laboratory.
Let’s think about those pictures, videos, and the claims being made about them, but first, Ringach’s caption under the image of Logothetis’s surgical suite deserves a response.
The surgical suite of Prof. Logothetis showing anesthesia and monitoring equipment comparable to those found in the best human surgical suites in hospitals.
So what? Can’t someone be hurt or tortured in a modern surgical suite? As far as I know, criticism of the Tuskegee syphilis studies, the Cleveland radiation experiments, or even of Mengele’s twin studies never focused on or even mentioned the modernity of the equipment or the cleanliness of the room where the experiments took place.

On to the images and videos.

Ringach: “You can see the animals in their living quarters…”

You can see some of the monkeys in a group-housed setting, and, if this was how monkeys in labs everywhere were housed, their lives would be much less miserable than they generally are. But in the videos on Logothetis’s website, it is clear that this isn’t how all the monkeys are housed, and at least some of them appear to be housed individually, a condition that is inherently cruel. In the United States, single housing, essentially solitary confinement, is a common housing method. Pair housing is the claimed ideal, and group housing, as depicted on Logothetis’s website, is far from the norm.
Ringach: You can watch a monkey perform a task while the activity of neurons in their brains is being recorded and a video camera follows the movement of the eyes.
The total footage showing the “monkey perform a task” lasts less than 10 seconds; the rest tells us nothing about the monkey’s experience. Notice that the monkey is sipping something. Typically, monkeys being used in experiments like this one are kept thirsty to motivate them to perform.
Ringach: There is a detailed and illustrative explanation of how recording chambers are implanted, and how a description of the entire surgical suite and protocols. [sic]
Notice the boilerplate claim that there aren’t pain receptors in the brain: “The animal does not feel the electrodes in its brain, because the brain has no pain receptors.” Yes, that’s true, but not half the story. Scalp and bone are richly enervated tissues. Cutting through the scalp and drilling a hole through the cranium are painful procedures, as is screwing the titanium post directly to the skull. Claims about the brain not having pain receptors are mere distraction, a claim that might divert our attention from the realities of the surgery involved in readying an animal for the electrodes.

I’d like to be able to comment on the files listed here, but I am unable to open them.

On the page Implant Technology there is an unsettling comment:
Together with improved (intracutaneous) suture techniques, these innovations in implant materials have substantially shortened the time the animals must spend in a special post-operation chair from around 10 days to only 1 ½ to 3 days.
Keeping a monkey locked in a chair for any length of time for anything other than medical care intended to benefit them is torture.

Look again at the so-called “Videos of Training Sessions.” The technician has a surgical mask over his nose and mouth for some reason, but no eye protection. Primate vivisectors at UW-Madison told county representatives that the public was at risk of contracting the potentially deadly herpes-B virus when standing about a dozen feet away from a caged rhesus monkey. They made this claim after Beth Griffin died of the disease after, apparently, getting a small bit of saliva in her eye from a young rhesus monkey she was transporting at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. I mention this only to again call attention to the vivisectors’ willingness to say whatever they think will sway public opinion, regardless of the actual facts.

And this is barely a recording of a training session. There doesn’t seem to be much training being depicted.

Finally. I hope the picture being painted by Logothetis is a fair depiction of primate experimentation in Europe. Europe is far ahead of the US on matters having to do with the treatment of animals in science. Here in Madison, the situation is much different.

One current example is Michelle Basso whose work is something like Logothetis’s. She implants recording chambers and posts on monkeys’ skulls and coils on their eyes. Over the past few years monkeys have died as a result of her fumbling surgical methods. Her work was so inept that the university finally suspended her access to monkeys. She has driven screws completely through their craniums and punctured the dura, the lining of the brain, and caused brain infections that have killed monkeys. She has killed monkeys when trying to repair the post implants. She has a string of many dead moneys behind her. And, to keep this embarrassing situation out of the public eye, the university reinstated her when she threatened to challenge her suspension through a lawsuit.

Primate experimentation in the United States is an ugly suffering-filled business. UCLA’s sister facility the University of California San Francisco has been no exception, nor has the University of California, Davis. At UCSF, a stand out only because some of the details became public, is Steven Lisberger. The monkeys in his studies are similarly fitted with skull posts and other hardware. In the haunting undercover image from his lab shown here we see a monkey chained inside a cage. At Davis, titi monkeys, maybe the most trusting and tightly pair-bonded of all the primates, have had parts of their brains burned away to study the effect on their bonding.

It’s an evil dark sick business. No vivisector-edited propaganda film can escape the simple facts spelled out in the necropsy reports, the APHIS reports, the daily care logs, the published papers, or the extreme efforts by the vivisectors to keep the real details hidden from public view.

Ringach needs to look at his own institution before pointing at propaganda from Germany.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A look at responsible research with monkeys

Posted on November 18, 2009 by speakingofresearch [on SpeakingofResearch] (See my comments on this post here.)

At the last Pro-Test for Science rally (then UCLA Pro-Test) I was trying to explain opponents of research that the images of bleeding monkeys shown in their signs were either from decades ago or from other countries, not the US or the European Union, and certainly not representative of research at the University of California. To counteract the effect of such misleading images, one of my colleagues in Germany has made a large amount of information available to the public, not only publishing their animal protocols and methods (which can also be obtained by reading the scientific publications), but also illustrating the experiments with both actual pictures and videos taking from his laboratory.
The surgical suite of Prof. Logothetis showing anesthesia and monitoring equipment comparable to those found in the best human surgical suites in hospitals.

You can see the animals in their living quarters, and watch training sessions and how the animals are transferred from their cages to the Laboratory. You can watch a monkey perform a task while the activity of neurons in their brains is being recorded and a video camera follows the movement of the eyes. There is a detailed and illustrative explanation of how recording chambers are implanted, and how a description of the entire surgical suite and protocols. There is also a nice explanation of why alternative methods are not available that would allow investigators to study brain electrophysiology in the intact animal.

This impressive effort by Professor Nikos Logothetis to set the record straight on what is going on inside the laboratories is to be commended and replicated. We hope UCLA and other US institutions can follow up on his example, once researchers and institutional officials become more confident that our openness won’t lead to more threats from animal right extremists. After all, the only way to counteract a campaign of mis-information by opponents of research is to show the public the truth — that research with animals at academic institutions like the Max Plank Institute or the University of California is carried out with responsibility using the most advanced methods available.

Regards

Dario Ringach

P. Michael Conn is a Liar

I hope by now you’ve had a chance to watch and digest the CNN segment on “animal testing.” The host was pretty weak, and whoever did the ahead-of-time preparations is probably deeply in debt since they more than likely believe every advertiser’s wild claim. They, and thus the host, swallowed hook, line, and sinker every bit of nonsense and venom spewed by the well-funded public relations machine misleadingly named the Foundation for Biomedical Research.

Let’s start with P. Michael Conn’s second claim: “… if you look at recent history, things like polio, tuberculosis, and smallpox, they’re almost gone from the planet. These are triumphs of animal research.”

Setting polio aside for the moment, is tuberculosis “almost gone from the planet”? Not even close. Here’s what the World Health Organization says:
•Someone in the world is newly infected with TB bacilli every second.
•Overall, one-third of the world's population is currently infected with the TB bacillus.

In 2005, estimated per capita TB incidence was stable or falling in all six WHO regions. However, the slow decline in incidence rates per capita is offset by population growth. Consequently, the number of new cases arising each year is still increasing globally and in the WHO regions of Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia.
The Mayo Clinic calls it “a common infectious disease.” What a triumph for animal research.

I always smile when I hear a defender of vivisection claim that the near eradication smallpox is a result of animal experimentation. The story they tell goes something like this: Edward Jenner studied animals and invented small pox vaccinations. Thus, animal research is responsible for the victory over smallpox.

This to gibberish. Jenner did study animals; he is credited as being the first person to observe and write about newly hatched cookoos pushing the eggs of the nest-builder(s) out of the nest. This is called brood-parasitism or sometimes nest-parasitism. But his work on smallpox and smallpox vaccinations had absolutely nothing to do with animal research even though animals were part of the story.

Jenner used humans. In fact, he used his son as an experimental subject. Inoculation was not invented by Jenner. Records are sketchy as to when inoculation against smallpox began, but it was widely practiced in Asia for many years, maybe centuries, before Europeans learned about the practice and began to utilize it.

At first, inoculation aganist smallpox was with pus from lesions on a human victim. A small bit of “matter” was collected and inserted into a series of intentional cuts on the person being inoculated. This was called variolation after variola, the Latin name for smallpox. A very readable and interesting book on the history of variolation in the West is Jennifer Lee Carrell’s The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox. (E. P. Dutton, 2003.)

In fact, Jenner had been variolated against smallpox. Variolation was not without risks, and a small but not insignificant number of people contracted serious cases of smallpox and some died. Jenner was hoping to find a safer method when he inoculated his son with pig pox.

His interest in a safer method than variolation led him to try pus from lesions on the hands of milkmaids who had contracted cowpox, or vaccinia. It was generally recognized that milkmaids were rarely stricken with smallpox. And thus, vaccination replaced variolation, and vaccination and vaccine became the generic terms used for all future inoculants and inoculations. Animal research had absolutely nothing to do with any of this.

It is worrisome that a publicly-funded scientist like P. Michael Conn, who has appointed himself spokesperson for the vivisection industry and has received over $1million in tax-payer support, is either unaware of the historical facts behind the invention of vaccination, the current incidence of tuberculosis, or is simply a liar. He is either wrong or else dishonest.

Polio is an interesting case. Until polio could be grown in vitro, reservoirs of the virus were maintained through serial inoculations of rhesus macaques with tissue containing the virus. If one looked only at that fact, it could appear that the monkeys were a key element in the effort to develop a vaccine. But the whole story suggests something else.

Monkeys harboring the virus were killed and their brains harvested. This is the tissue that was used to inoculate the next batch of monkeys in order to keep a supply of the virus on hand. The virus-laden tissue was injected into their nasal passage and the virus quickly migrated into their brain. But the repeated reinoculations with brain tissue led to the development of a strain of polio much different from that circulating in the human population.

Additionally, because the results were so unambiguous, that is, injecting polio infected tissues into the nasal passages did indeed cause polio, it was falsely believed for a generation that polio was air-borne, when in fact, in natural settings it is ingested orally and lodges first in the gastrointestinal tract.

This was recognized early on by scientists studying humans, but the animal data was so compelling that a generation was lost as scientists based their studies on a different strain transmitted in a different way. The breakthrough came when scientists stopped culturing the virus in monkeys. Nobelprize.org says:
The 1954 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to John Franklin Enders and his junior associates Thomas Huckle Weller and Frederick Chapman Robbins "for their discovery of the ability of poliomyelitis viruses to grow in cultures of various types of tissue." For forty years, dependence on a monkey host for propagation of the polio virus limited progress in basic studies until 1949 when Enders, Weller and Robbins showed how cultures of kidney and other human and monkey cells could produce large quantities of the virus. This breakthrough opened the way to studies that set standards for precision in investigations of other viruses and led directly to the engineering of the Salk and Sabin vaccines that eliminated the dreaded specter of a disabling and often lethal disease.
And then there’s Tom Holder. Wow. He says:
No matter what Dr. Greek [MD, medical historian, author of five books on the animal model] says, the fact is, is that every single medical advance, we’re not just talking about most, we’re talking about every, single, medical advance in human history has come about because of research using animals.
Where did this kid go to school? He must read only industry-supported websites; it’s clear that he hasn’t bothered to read even a tiny bit about the history of medicine. Every, single, medical advance in human history. Words fail me. How can anyone be this totally ignorant; this indoctrinated? It defies belief.

The story of smallpox recounted above is sufficient to disprove Holder’s entire shtick, since even one example disproves his desk-pounding: every, single, medical advance. Not most, by God, every, single, one.

Here are a couple of medical advances that Tom Holder might consider reading about if he doesn’t want to continue looking like a total ignoramus: x-rays, the prevention of scurvy, cholera, the treatment of vesico-vaginal fistula, or even cleanliness in hospitals. I would strongly recommend that Holder start reading. A good first choice might be Roy Porter’s The Greatest Gift to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity. (Norton, 1997.)

Holder is so woefully uninformed that nothing he says can be taken with much seriousness. He claims for instance that although there are differences between humans and all other species, that the similarities make one species a good productive model of another. I know it’s a lot to ask, but Holder ought to read LaFollett and Shank’s Brute Science (Routledge, 1996) if he can get through Porter.

At about 9:15 into the broadcast, the host cites statistics from the Foundation for Biomedicaal Research, essentially giving CNN’s stamp of approval, as far as viewers are concerned, to what is really nothing other than a front group for the industry.

Like Holder’s and Conn’s silliness, there isn’t much to these statistics if one looks at them closely. They are like a partially remembered dream; the more one thinks about them, the more vaporous they become. The plain facts behind what Conn calls the animal research war amount to a bare trickle of illegal and generally not very serious incidents. As far as illegal activities are concerned, there is nothing vaguely like a war going on. See: Illegal Incidents" on the rise?

At about 19:19, just as the segment is coming to a close, Greek challenges Conn to a debate noting that the animal research community isn’t genuinely interested in public discussion. Conn’s response is a gem of deception, delusion, an outright lie or some insane conglomeration of all three:
Dr. Greek knows very well that we’ve had discussions in the literature before, we’ve pointed out problems in his fact-gathering. My co-author of The Animal Research War [James Parker]documented the vast majority of the quotes Dr. Greek uses in his books and we were able to show that when you trace them back to the origins they bear very little resemblance to the original quote; [Holder begins nodding his head in agreement] they’ve undergone some sort of literary Photoshopping. When you find the individuals who these quotes were attributed to, in most cases they will distance themselves from the quote saying: "this is not my opinion, it’s not what I said, and its so far taken from context as to be unbelievable."

So we’ve done that experiment a number of times. Also, in the book we take Dr. Greek on head-on. In The Animal Research War we talk about a number of his issues. And if he’d like I’d be happy to send him a copy – no charge.
I paid for my copy of Conn’s little book. I say little not as a disparagement, but simply because it’s a little book. It’s just barely five and a half inches wide and not quite eight and a half inches tall. It's 199 pages long, including 42 pages of appendices, notes, bibliography, and index. Appendix A is a list of twenty questions; a sort of FAQ. Appendix B is a list of pro-vivisection websites. There are an additional 20 pages of front matter, title, contents, forward, and preface.

There are two entries in the index for Dr. Greek. (Three for me!) One entry is on page 24, the other is on page 121, which should seem a little odd if, as Conn claims, he and Parker took “Dr. Greek on head-on” and "documented the vast majority of the quotes Dr. Greek uses."

On page 24, Conn and Parker write a paragraph that mentions Greek:
As soon as Rossell’s press conference about ONPRC began, animal rights groups began circling around for the kill. Ray Greek, president of Americans for Medical Advancement—it’s hard to tell how many besides Greek belong to this antiresearch group—rushed forward with his comments on the lack of value of animal models, notably monkeys, in studying health. Of course, Greek did not mention that Rossell had once worked for his wife, veterinarian Jean Greek. She had attested to his skills in animal care at the time of his application for employment at the Primate Center. Veterinarian Sheri Speede, DVM, at the head of the local chapter of IDA, weighed in, indignantly discounting the value of “any research derived from the use of a stressed out primate” and claiming, wrongly, that “the public cannot see what they’re paying for” (Avgerinos).
When whackos like Conn and Parker get going, there doesn’t seem to be a limit to their wild claims. The bibliographic entry says: Avgerinos, Zoy. Animal cruelty caught on tape. CBS Worldwide. September 7, 2000. http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2005/08/323248.shtml?discuss Check out the discussion for yourself.

On page 121, the only other time Conn and Parker mention Greek, they complain about a quotation that he included in Sacred Cows and Golden Geese. Here’s what Conn and Parker write:
Ray Greek, MD, whom we met in Chapter 2 [the passage above from page 24], cites Mark Feinberg, a leading AIDS researcher:
What good does it do you to test something [a vaccine] in a monkey? You find five or six years from now that it works in the monkey, and then you test it in humans and you realize that humans behave tottaly differently from monkeys, so you’ve wasted five years.

“Monkeys do not die of AIDS. Humans do. (Greek, 203.)
When Dr Feinberg had a chance to speak for himself, he said:
There are many instances where the use of animal model research is absolutely essential for evaluating the efficacy of [AIDS] candidate vaccines. Moreover, the statement that ‘Monkeys do not get AIDS; humans do,” is completely false. The SIV [simian immunodeficiency virus] infection model for AIDS has been extremely important for understanding critical aspects of AIDS pathogenesis that cannot be studied in humans. I do not wish to be held responsible for comments . . . that have been so removed from their context that they no longer convey the meaning I had intended. (personal email from mark Feinberg, MD, PhD, to Charles Nicoll, PhD.)
These two pages are the only places in The Animal Research War where Conn and Parker “Take Dr. Greek on head-on.” If, as Conn says, “we’ve pointed out problems in his fact-gathering, my co-author of The Animal Research War documented the vast majority of the quotes Dr. Greek uses in his books,” that they would have included more than a single claimed misquote or intentional bit of “literary Photoshopping” in their little book.

In fact, Conn and Parker lied in their book, and Conn apparently lied on CNN assuming he can recall what he wrote in The Animal Research War.

Here’s what Greek actually wrote on page 203:

The federal government has devoted billions to discovering a vaccine to protect against AIDS. As already indicated, too much of that money has been utterly wasted on animal experiments. Dr. Mark Feinberg, a leading AIDS researcher wrote:
To make an AIDS vaccine, we really need to know more about the basic human immune system and how it works. They knew next to nothing about it when they made the polio vaccine, but that’s not going to work here. We need to understand more about how the immune system recognizes and deals with HIV antigens. Clearly few, if any, people can deal with HIV once they’re infected with it; nobody that we know of has ever cleared the virus from their bodies after infection. Somehow we have to demand that the vaccine be better than that. I think the way of doing that is doing studies in human beings at very early stages of the development of vaccines to test whether certain ideas work; then you go back to the laboratory to modify them and then back to human beings . . . What good does it do you to test something in a monkey? You find five or six years from now that it works in the monkey, and then you test it in humans and you realize that humans behave totally differently from monkeys, so you’ve wasted five years.” [M.A.J. McKenna, “Science Watch ‘Manhattan Project’ for AIDS Q&A With Dr. Mark Feinberg, a Leading AIDS Researcher ‘We Need the Human Trials as Well,’” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 21 Sep. 1997.]
Of course, because Dr. Feinberg has a vested interest in animal-models he went on to say that animal models are “incredibly important.” He explained quite well why they are useless but did not go into to detail as to why they are so “incredibly important.” Could money have anything to do with why they are so important?
Notice how selective Conn and Parker were in quoting Greek. Notice too that they were misleading about what Greek said about Feinberg's beliefs about animal models. And notice particularly that they added the sentence “Monkeys do not die of AIDS. Humans do.” I don't see how an author could be any more dishonest than this.

Conn and Parker also display significant confusion about the instances they write about.
As soon as Rossell’s press conference about ONPRC began, animal rights groups began circling around for the kill. Ray Greek, president of Americans for Medical Advancement—it’s hard to tell how many besides Greek belong to this antiresearch group—rushed forward with his comments on the lack of value of animal models, notably monkeys, in studying health. Of course, Greek did not mention that Rossell had once worked for his wife, veterinarian Jean Greek.
But Rossell had been in contact with IDA for some time prior to the press conference they are referring to. He had begun talking with IDA for months prior to going public. Matt was employed by the Oregon Primate Center as an enrichment technician and had spent months documenting the problems he was observing. IDA asked Dr. Greek, perhaps the leading authority on the problems associated with animal models, and USDA/APHIS past-inspector of the primate center, Dr. Isis Johnson-Brown to participate in the news conference. The claim about animal rights groups circling around for the kill is not only a poor metaphor, but also misrepresents Greek’s role.

Conn and Holder are clearly uninformed and in the case of Conn, apparently willing to lie. I suspect Holder is just a dupe. I could go on at length about nearly every claim they made and about every “fact” attributed to the Foundation for Biomedical Research, but won’t. For more about FBR, see: "Illegal Incidents" on the rise?

See too: AETA and FACE, American Scientist, Frankie L. Trull

Friday, November 13, 2009

CNN Struggles with the Animal Issue

Please Lord, let Conn and Holder be the official spokespersons for all vivisectors.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

University of Utah

Just in case you haven't seen it:


Undercover Investigation Reveals Kitten Deaths and Other Animal Suffering. Learn More.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

ProTest and Hansen's Disease

Have you heard about their billboard ad campaign?


Have you been vaccinated for leprosy?

No? That’s because there isn't a vaccine available for the prevention of leprosy. And why don't you have leprosy? Here's what Norihisa Ishii, MD, PhD, Director, Department of Bioregulation, Leprosy Research Center, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Higashimurayama, Tokyo, Japan, has to say in the Dermatology Online Journal:
Leprosy, which was endemic in Western Europe in the medieval period, was eliminated from Scandinavian countries only as recently as the early twentieth century, before the advent of antibiotic therapy. Obviously, this decline must be attributed to improvement in living standards, better housing, clean water supplies, and improved nutrition and hygiene.” (Ishii N. Recent advances in the treatment of leprosy. Dermatol Online J. 2003. Review.)
Yes, there has been research on leprosy using animals. Armadillos are susceptible to the disease and so are severely immunocompromised macaques. But the reasons you don't have leprosy are clean water supplies, good nutrition, and modern sewage systems, no matter how loudly the ProTest goofballs shout that it is otherwise.

The "Best Science"

I am sometimes asked, if animal experimentation is so heinous and dead-end, why does it keep getting funded?

In simple terms, we’re stupid.

Humans have the capacity to create complex systems that are too large and multifaceted for us to manage. UW-Madison vivisector and chair of the university’s Research Animal Resource Center, Eric Sangren, has used this plain fact as an excuse for the continuing problems associated with the university’s animal use. This inability to manage large complex organizations is akin to an economic diseconomy of scale.

We continue to receive information from within the university concerning Michele Basso. Basso has a long history of inept surgical implantation of hardware on the skulls of rhesus macaques. Veterinarians have repeatedly called attention to her clumsy ways, the unplanned deaths of the monkeys she tortures, and her pre-germ theory theories about cleaning surgical tools.

I write about Basso here because of a recent article in TheScientist.com titled “NIH Continues to Support the Best Science through R01s: A response to accusations that the agency is biased against senior scientists.” The NIH office of Extramural Research says R01s are “an award made to support a discrete, specified, circumscribed project to be performed by the named investigator(s) in an area representing the investigator's specific interest and competencies, based on the mission of the NIH.”

The notion in the article that R01s represent the “best science” caught my eye. I looked at Michele Basso’s currently funded cruelty and saw that she has an R01:

5R01EY013692-06 Principal Investigator(s): BASSO, MICHELE A
Title: VISUAL TARGET SELECTION FOR SACCADIC EYE MOVEMENTS
FY 2009: $359,754

Is this an example of the “best science”?

NIH grants are awarded when proposals receive high ratings from “Study Sections” made up of scientists working in the area that the research addresses. Turning decision-making over to small groups is like General Motors breaking its business into smaller units; giant complex enterprises do this in order to reduce the inefficiencies that come with diseconomies of scale.

This made me wonder about the Study Section that would have approved Basso’s cruelty. That Study Section is the Central Visual Processing Study Section, referred to as the CVP.

The CVP has seventeen members. There are eleven vivisectors (~65% of the committee) and six clinical researchers (~35% of the committee). It is small wonder that this Study Group would give high marks to vivisectors’ research. Of the eleven vivisectors, 1 uses cats, 1 uses frogs, 1 uses mice and ferrets, 1 uses rats, and 7 use monkeys

I’ve listed the members of the Study Group below and have included a citation of a representative paper if they use animals.

The fact that vivisectors are chosen to determine which studies will get funded, especially vivisectors like Basso who has such fumbling methods and pre-germ theory ideas, suggests that this so-called “best science” is really something else entirely.

CENTRAL VISUAL PROCESSING STUDY SECTION (CVP)
Center For Scientific Review
ROSTER

CHAIRPERSON

PARADISO, MICHAEL A.
BROWN UNIVERSITY
Macaque V1 activity during natural vision: effects of natural scenes and saccades.
MacEvoy SP, Hanks TD, Paradiso MA. J Neurophysiol. 2008

MEMBERS

ALONSO,JOSE-MANUEL
STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK
On and off domains of geniculate afferents in cat primary visual cortex.
Jin JZ, Weng C, Yeh CI, Gordon JA, Ruthazer ES, Stryker MP, Swadlow HA, Alonso JM. Nat Neurosci. 2008

BASSO, MICHELE A.
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON

BORN, RICHARD T.
HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL
Integrating motion and depth via parallel pathways. [macaques]
Ponce CR, Lomber SG, Born RT. Nat Neurosci. 2008

BOYNTON, GEOFFREY M.
UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
human

CALLAWAY, EDWARD M.
SALK INSTITUTE FOR BIOLOGICAL STUDIES
Parallel processing strategies of the primate visual system.
Nassi JJ, Callaway EM. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2009

CANDY, T. ROWAN
INDIANA UNIVERSITY
human

CHAPMAN, BARBARA
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
Molecular correlates of laminar differences in the macaque dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus.
Murray KD, Rubin CM, Jones EG, Chalupa LM. J Neurosci. 2008

COHEN-CORY, SUSANA
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, IRVINE
Netrin participates in the development of retinotectal synaptic connectivity by modulating axon arborization and synapse formation in the developing brain. [Xenopus]
Manitt C, Nikolakopoulou AM, Almario DR, Nguyen SA, Cohen-Cory S. J Neurosci. 2009

CULLEN, KATHLEEN E.
MCGILL UNIVERSITY
Different neural strategies for multimodal integration: comparison of two macaque monkey species. Sadeghi SG, Mitchell DE, Cullen KE. Exp Brain Res. 2009

DEANGELIS, GREGORY C.
UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER
Fine discrimination training alters the causal contribution of macaque area MT to depth perception.
Chowdhury SA, DeAngelis GC. Neuron. 2008

GUIDO, WILLIAM
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY
Ablation of Ca2+ channel beta3 subunit leads to enhanced N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor-dependent long term potentiation and improved long term memory. [mice]
Jeon D, Song I, Guido W, Kim K, Kim E, Oh U, Shin HS. J Biol Chem. 2008

KASTNER, SABINE
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY
human

KIRKWOOD, ALFREDO
JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
Neuromodulators control the polarity of spike-timing-dependent synaptic plasticity. [rats]
Seol GH, Ziburkus J, Huang S, Song L, Kim IT, Takamiya K, Huganir RL, Lee HK, Kirkwood A. Neuron. 2007

LEIGH, RICHARD J.
CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY
human

WATANABE, TAKEO
BOSTON UNIVERSITY
human

WERNER, JOHN S.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, DAVIS
human

Monday, November 2, 2009

Learned Helplessness. Inescapable Electrical Shock

Adapted from a chapter in Monsters and Pygmies


I began researching Martin Seligman’s experiments on dogs in 2003 for a (unpublished) book I was working on. While working on Monsters and Pygmies, I happened upon a statement by Dr. Seligman in The Daily Pennsylvanian (“the University of Pennsylvania's independent student newspaper”) from 2008.

He sums up his position:
Forty years ago, several dozen dogs got 64 brief shocks that were moderately painful. From the knowledge that was gained, depression was relieved for hundreds of thousands of people. Inflicting pain on animals or humans in medical experiments can only be justified if it is likely that the knowledge gained will eliminate vastly more suffering.

This is what I believed then, and what I still believe today. (Martin Seligman. Opinion: “Data that opens countless doors” (Counterpoint). The Daily Pennsylvanian. August 7, 2008.
“[S]everal dozen dogs got 64 brief shocks that were moderately painful.” What’s the big deal?

The cold, unflinching repetition of torture is a hallmark of a monster.

Several dozen dogs. More than a dozen dozen, actually. Treating even one dog the way Seligman did would be monstrous.

“64 brief shocks that were moderately painful.” What’s the big deal?

Seligman reported that his observations were based on over 150 dogs.
When an experimentally naive dog receives escape-avoidance training in a shuttle box, the following behavior typically occurs: at the onset of the first traumatic electric shock, the dog runs frantically about, defecating, urinating and howling, until it accidentally scrambles over the barrier and so escapes the shock. On the next trial, the dog, running and howling, crosses the barrier more quickly than on the preceding trial. This pattern continues until the dog learns to avoid shock altogether. Overmier and Seligman (1967) and Seligman and Maier (1967) found a striking difference between this pattern of behavior and that exhibited by dogs first given inescapable electric shocks in a Pavlovian hammock. Such a dog’s first reactions to shock in the shuttle box are much the same as those of a naive dog. In dramatic contrast to a naive dog, however, a typical dog which has experienced uncontrollable shocks before avoidance training soon stops running and howling and sits or lies, quietly whining, until shock terminates. The dog does not cross the barrier and escape from shock. Rather, it seems to give up and passively accepts the shock. On succeeding trials, the dog continues to fail to make escape movements and takes as much shock as the experimenter chooses to give. (Seligman, M.E. “Depression and Learned Helplessness.” In (R.J Friedmand and M.M. Katz Eds.) The Psychology of Depression: Contemporary Theory and Research. Washington D.C.: V.H. Winston and Sons, 1974.
Now, Seligman in the The Daily Pennsylvanian, quoted below, should be read with some skepticism, because “this brings us to an obvious but mostly overlooked weakness in the vivisector's position: that is, his inevitable forfeiture of all claim to have his word believed. 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.” (The Doctor's Dilemma, Getting Married, and The Shewing-up of Blanco. George Bernard Shaw. 1911.)
I arrived at Penn as a graduate student in psychology in 1964, when Richard Solomon's laboratory was doing experiments with electric shocks and dogs. Dogs that received 64 brief inescapable shocks became passive, and this seemed to me a likely model of human helplessness and depression.
So we have to understand Seligman from the position of someone who willingly entered and became part of a vivisectionist’s lab. He wasn’t ordered to do it, like a Nazi soldier or a U.S. reservist at Abu Ghraib, people who were simply easily led, he apparently sought out Solomon’s lab.
As excited as I was by the possibilities of this discovery, I was dejected about something else.

Could I work in a laboratory that gave shocks to perfectly innocent animals? I have always been an animal lover, particularly a dog lover, so the prospect of causing pain - if only minor and temporary pain - was very distasteful. I shared my doubts with one of my philosophy teachers (who went on to become one of the world's leading philosophers), Robert Nozick.
Minor and temporary, he says. But this was written after the fact. He had already explained forty years earlier that: “at the onset of the first traumatic electric shock, the dog runs frantically about, defecating, urinating and howling,” and that “On succeeding trials, the dog continues to fail to make escape movements and takes as much shock as the experimenter chooses to give.”

“I've seen something in the lab that might be the beginning of understanding helplessness,” I started out. “No one has ever investigated helplessness before, yet I'm not sure I can pursue it, because I don't think it's right to give shocks to dogs. Even if it's not wrong, it's repulsive.”

“Marty,” Bob asked, “do you have any other way of cracking the problem of helplessness?” It was clear to both of us that case histories of patients were a scientific dead end. It was equally clear that only well controlled experiments could isolate cause and discover cure. Further, there was no way I could ethically give shock to human beings. This seemed to leave only experiments with animals.

“Is it ever justified,” I asked, “to inflict pain on any creature?” Bob reminded me that most human beings, as well as household pets, are alive today because animal experiments were carried out. Without them, he asserted, polio would still be rampant and smallpox widespread.

“Let me ask you one thing about what you propose to do,” Bob said finally. “Is there a substantial chance that you will eliminate much more pain in the long run than the pain you cause in the short run?”

My answer was “yes.”
Maybe Seligman remembers this more-than-four-decade-old conversation accurately, but one has to wonder given the fact that Robert Nozick is remembered for his 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, in which he argues at length that ethical treatment of animals isn’t adequately defined by such utilitarianism. Nozick writes:
[I]sn’t utilitarianism at least adequate for animals? I think not. But if not only the animals’ felt experiences are relevant, what else is? Here a tangle of questions arises. How much does an animal's life have to be respected once it’s alive, and how can we decide this? Must one also introduce some notion of a nondegraded existence? Would it be all right to use genetic-engineering tech­niques to breed natural slaves who would be contented with their lots? Natural animal slaves? Was that the domestication of ani­mals? Even for animals, utilitarianism won't do as the whole story, but the thicket of questions daunts us. (Robert Nozick. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, 1974.
Unfortunately, Robert Nozick died in 2002, so we can’t ask him.

Robert Seligman, on the other hand is alive and well. His current shtick is the promotion of happiness; go figure.

This is from the University of Pennsylvania website:
Dr. Martin Seligman is the Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center and founder of Positive Psychology, a new branch of psychology which focuses on the empirical study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions. His research has demonstrated that it is possible to be happier — to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, and probably even laugh and smile more, regardless of one’s circumstances. Positive psychology interventions can also lastingly decrease depression symptoms. The research underlying these rigorously tested interventions is presented in the July/August edition of the American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychology Association.

Authentic Happiness has almost 700,000 registered users around the world.
Maybe Seligman has turned over a new leaf. Let’s hope so. But he hasn’t come close to apologizing for the things he has done or the lives he destroyed (from The Daily Pennsylvanian):
From the knowledge that was gained, depression was relieved for hundreds of thousands of people. [Actual improvement of symptoms is almost entirely due to a serendipitous discovery that resulted from the treatment of tuberculosis in the early 1950s. The resulting pharmacological revolution had no connection to Seligman’s experiments.] Inflicting pain on animals or humans in medical experiments can only be justified if it is likely that the knowledge gained will eliminate vastly more suffering.

This is what I believed then, and what I still believe today.
But what he did was monstrous.
[I]t is not an accident that we have used the word “helplessness” to describe the behavior of dogs in our laboratory. Animals that lie down in traumatic shock that could be removed simply by jumping to the other side, and who fail even to make escape movements are readily seen as helpless. Moreover we should not forget that depressed patients commonly describe themselves helpless, hopeless, and powerless. (Seligman, M.E. “Depression and Learned Helplessness.”)
And even if what he did was monstrous, he did it 40 years ago, right? So what’s the big deal? Yet others, who have been accused of arguably lesser crimes from 60 years ago, are being brought to justice. A March 2009, Associated Press story (Nazi war crimes suspect loses extradition appeal) reported that: “Charles Zentai is accused of beating to death teenager Peter Balazs in 1944 in Budapest while serving as a soldier in the army of his native Hungary, then allied with Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.”

Beating a teenager to death is certainly a serious crime, but it has to be evaluated in light of Stanley Milgram’s famous discovery that the weight of authority is too often sufficient to compel us to hurt others. In a letter dated 1961, Milgram wrote to Henry Riecken, head of Social Sciences at the National Science Foundation:
The results are terrifying and depressing. They suggest that human nature—or more specifically, the kind of character produced in American society—cannot be counted on to insulate its citizens from brutality and inhumane treatment at the direction of a malevolent authority. In a na├»ve moment some time ago, I wondered whether in all of the United States a vicious government could find enough moral imbeciles to meet the personnel requirements of a system of death camps, of the sort that were maintained in Germany. I am now beginning to think that the full compliment could be recruited in New Haven. A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act, and without pangs of conscious, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority. (Thomas Blass. The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram. New York: Basic Books, 2004.)
Charles Zentai may be guilty of being swept up in the Nazi frenzy and following orders and as a result committing what is now viewed as a crime, but this is much different than simply heading out on his own and beating people to death. There is a fundamental difference between a "moral imbecile," as most of are wont to be at times, and monsters, who proceed independently, without outside direction to torture and murder others.

If Zentai should be held to account for killing one boy, while perhaps following orders to do so, then so too must someone who tortured 150 dogs and other animals so severely.

We can’t leave Seligman without thinking about his recollected conversation with Robert Nozick. Seligman claims to recall that Nozick said that “most human beings, as well as household pets, are alive today because animal experiments were carried out. Without them, polio would still be rampant and smallpox widespread.” But this is pure unadulterated bunk; how handy it would be if it were correct.

All epidemic diseases ebb and flow. Whether or not polio ebbed because of polio vaccinations is not as clear as it might seem. Polio wasn’t ever really "rampant." Heart disease and cancer account for over 40% of the deaths that occur in the U.S. In 1952, at the peak of the polio epidemic in the U.S., 3,145 died from complications related to the disease. This is a lot of people, but polio doesn’t even make the 1952 (or any other year's) top ten list of the leading causes of death.26 Polio was hyped only because President Roosevelt had the disease. [See: “Leading Causes of Death, 1900-1998.” Centers for Disease Control. And David M. Oshinsky. Polio: An American Story. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.] Polio research got funded while the real killers were left largely ignored. Most human beings are not alive today because animal experiments were carried out during the development of the polio vaccine. Seligman is wrong.

How about smallpox? A readable and informative book on the topic is Jennifer Lee Carole’s 2003 novelized science history, The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox (New York: Plume, 2003.) In short, a British woman who had herself survived smallpox, as most people did, accompanied her husband to his post as the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. In Turkey, she learned of the practice of inoculation against small pox. She carried the practice home with her to England where it was tried and written about, which led to its introduction in America.

Edward Jenner, credited with the invention of vaccination, had himself been inoculated against smallpox the old fashioned way, with a small bit of the pus from a smallpox lesion being placed into a small intentional wound. This practice, called variolation, was becoming fairly widespread and accepted by the time Jenner began trying vaccination as a safer less-stressful alternative.

Moreover, Jenner didn’t conduct animal experiments. He wondered why milkmaids didn’t seem to be as susceptible to small pox as other people. He had been inoculating people with pus from lesions on smallpox victims, but tried using pus from lesions on the hands of a milkmaid. The people he tried the new procedure on were his experimental subjects.

Any claim that “animal experimentation” led to the small pox vaccination is woefully uninformed or intentionally misleading. Seligman is wrong again. Monsters dearly want people to accept as “a necessary evil” the tortures they visit on their victims. They can’t be trusted. They can’t be believed.

Our fear is special?

A few days ago, I posted a conversation between Richard Dawkins, the well-known bulldog of Darwinian evolution and Peter Singer, arguably the father of the modern animal rights movement. As I said then, it’s well worth listening to.

I want to comment on a couple of the things that were said. I will specify the time in the video where the section begins, but for some reason the counter seems glitchy, so I don’t promise that 3:55 is exactly 3:55 on your machine.

In any case, at approximately 3:55 Dawkins asks Singer what he thinks is special about humans – voicing the caveat that there are special things about every species.

Singer says that humans have a "biographical" life. That is, we, and only humans, have a sense or knowledge of our past and our possible future. Only humans have the capacity to plan their lives. Dawkins says that because other animals don’t think about their future, that killing them is “less bad” than killing humans – animals who do have a sense of their own future.

One of the irksome things about this conversation is that neither participant seems well informed. In the case of humans, we can ask, “Why are you doing that?” and can get an answer, “I’m storing food for the winter months ahead.” But many rodents and a number of birds who live in climates with hard winters store food.

Another case of thinking ahead is the story told by Jane Goodall about Mike, who discovered that the banging caused by pushing empty kerosene cans in front of him during his charging displays frightened the other chimpanzees. Goodall writes, “[I]t seemed that Mike actually planned his charging displays; almost, one might say in cold blood. Often when he got up to fetch his cans he showed no visible signs of frustration or excitement; that came afterward when, armed with his display props, he began to rock from side to side, raise his hair, and hoot.” [Emphasis in the original.](In the Shadow of Man. 1971. Houghton Mifflin. Paperback. p 114.)

There are many other examples of animals planning ahead. This is seen in wolves’ and dolphins’ cooperative hunting.

On a more mundane note, Millie, an old Chihuahua mix-breed dog who lived with us up until the time of her death, clearly remembered street food that she had found the day before that she had not been allowed to eat. On our walk the next day, she led us back to it, and if I was daydreaming, she would gobble it quickly before I realized that she had it again.

It’s hard to say whether or not Millie or Mike thought about what they would do the next day as they drifted off to sleep, but they behaved as if they did. This apparent similar look into the future means that we aren’t the only beings with a sense of a possible future and who might plan ahead to make it a future we prefer. Likewise, many animals remember things that occurred to them in the past, and in the obvious cases, avoid dangers they had encountered or, like Millie, use past knowledge to plan ahead.

We simply can’t know at this time whether other animals have thoughts about their long-term futures. Unfortunately, in the absence of this knowledge, both Singer and Dawkins are content to act as if our absence of knowledge is proof of absence.

Dawkins claims, and isn’t challenged by Singer, on his claim that killing someone (another animal) who doesn’t have our sense of the future is “less bad” than killing those of us who do have this awareness of the future.

This isn’t so clear.

One of the common themes of spiritualism (I don’t mean this in a pejorative sense) is mindfulness, of being here now, of being in the present moment and not thinking about what you need to do. The idea is that such experiential immediacy is a more authentic more spiritual mode of being. If killing someone is “less bad” when they have no thoughts of their potential future, then killing a spiritual person while they are in such a meditative state would be “less bad’ than killing someone who is plotting their future financial wealth.

Extending this idea, it would mean that it would be "less bad" to kill a poor destitute young child from the Third World than it would be to kill an affluent adult in, say, Madison Wisconsin.

At approximately 7:35, Dawkins and Singer more or less come to the consensus that oysters have rudimentary nervous systems which they feel means that they don’t feel pain like we (or other vertebrates do) and thus don’t matter too much. Singer seems to joke that people who eat oysters could still think of themselves as vegetarians or vegans.

Once again, their speculations are far from being fact-based. Singer seems to hang his concerns neatly on the vertebrates and Dawkins seems happy to go along with him. In fact, the vertebrate/invertebrate physiological difference doesn’t mean too awfully much. Oysters are mollusks. A relative, the scallop, is a highly alert and active being. Check out this short video of captive scollops.

Other mollusks, namely the octopi, squid, and cuttlefish, behave in complex ways. The intelligence of the octopi is more or less well-known.



Dawkins picks up again on this theme at approximately 9:45.

Paraphrasing, he says that our moral responsibility to an oyster is quantitatively less than our moral responsibility to a pig and that our moral responsibility to a pig is quantitatively less than our moral responsibility to a human for the reasons mentioned by Singer, to wit, that invertebrates don’t feel much pain and that humans have a "biographical" life.

But Singer’s position is based on simple and apparently only shallow conjecture. His belief that invertebrates must not be as sensitive to pain as he is has a familiar and arrogant ring to it. It was accepted as fact not long ago that blacks were similarly less sensitive to pain and misery than whites.

Later, at around 10:20, Dawkins says that the only justification of eating meat lies in the differences in animals' abilities to see what’s coming, the ability to feel fear, the ability to be bereaved, “and things like that.”

Singer lets this comment pass and politely takes Dawkins to task when he says that he doesn’t know too much about the way animals are raised on factory farms or slaughtered.

Individuals of many animal species have the ability to see and to guess what is and might be coming. Otherwise, rabbits wouldn’t run from predators. But most astounding and disturbing is Dawkin’s comment about fear. Apparently, he feels that other animals don’t feel fear like we do, and Singer let the statement go unchallenged.

Dawkin’s apparent belief is wildly inaccurate and profoundly ignorant. Fear may be the most widely shared of all emotions. Dawkins should review Seligman’s learned helplessness experiments with dogs, which I comment on here.