Thursday, July 22, 2010

Vested Interests, Double-Talk, Ethical Blindness

Two Dane County Committees have listened to testimony and deliberated on County Resolution 35. One modified the original version and eliminated consideration of Covance’s annual use of about 7000 monkeys from the proposed citizens’ advisory panel’s purview, requiring the panel to consider only the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s use of monkeys. The second committee took no action at all, leaving the resolution alive but in parliamentary limbo.

At the first meeting, supporters outnumbered those opposed by about five to one. At the second meeting, supporters still outnumbered those opposed, but not as overwhelmingly. In both cases, the opposition was almost uniformly made up of UW animal researchers and staff.

At the first meeting, an HIV-positive man spoke in opposition, but he said that he knew UW primate vivisector David O’Connor, who’s confusion I have discussed previously. Another person who spoke, Peter C. Christianson, identified himself as a Dane County resident, but did not add that he is on the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Alumni Association or that he is a full time paid lobbyist, or that he is employed by a law firm representing the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). A friend of mine sitting next to him told me that he was playing solitaire on his phone throughout the meeting. Everyone else who spoke in opposition seemed to have a direct financial interest in animal experimentation.

At the second meeting, everyone who spoke in opposition had a direct financial interest in animal experimentation, and most of them had a direct financial interest in primate experimentation.

In the case of O’Connor, he erroneously claimed that a British study of primate experimentation was particularly important because it was completely unbiased, made up of people who, he erroneously claimed, didn’t have a vested interest in primate experimentation (unlike him and most of his colleagues urging the committee to kill the resolution.)

Also at the second meeting, we heard a new line from the university, laid out first by Martin T. Cadwallader. I think most people in attendance felt that he was saying that the public would now be allowed to tour the primate center. You can listen to him here (he starts talking at about 22:50). This is a transcript of his statement:
I’m Martin Cadwallader, and I’m the vice chancellor for research and the dean of the graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The university is not in favor of Resolution 35 as currently written. However, the university proposes to increase opportunities for citizens of Dane County and beyond to learn about our animal research program, raise issues, and engage in dialog.

To this end, we propose a series of forums that would involve research scientists, ethicists, veterinarians, and others engaged in, or interested in, animal research both on and off campus. The purpose would be to provide periodic opportunities to exchange ideas, become aware of the changing federal landscape in research, and provide an open forum on a broad range of animal research topics.

The issues might include: Who funds research of this kind? Are experiments involving animals necessary? Are there alternatives to using animals for research? Who is looking out for the animals? What happens when animals are no longer needed for research projects? What’s the value of research with animals?

In addition, we are committed to offering tours of our primate center, and we encourage you to take a careful look at our website on animal research which provides a great deal of information about the research underway at UW-Madison. It also provides information about our animal care and use program.

Our aim is to make our animal research program more transparent to interested citizens, and to provide valuable information on the concerns and interests of our community.

Following up on this was Deb Hartley, animal technician training coordinator. (Her comments start at approx. 75:05. Below is an excerpt starting at about 75:40)
.... I give lectures, training sessions, and actually tours. We have at the local level, many people coming in for tours. [I] orchestrate that. People that come across the United States from other facilities will come to learn from us our expertise and techniques, and also learn a couple other things about the monkeys. And also that reaches globally, we do international tours or international people and things like that as well.

I do encourage you participate in the tour. It doesn’t take a resolution or a citizens’ act to get into the facility. It is secure, but it is closed, or not closed, but it is secure because we want to protect our animals as well and our staff. I do encourage you to come on the tour, learn what we do....

(78:27) Like I said, anybody can come in. You have to be 18 and older, get your TB test done, bring your paper work, because we want to keep you safe as well. Come on in, and we’ll show you what we have, we are as transparent as possible [unclear] can be, and we’re proud of that.

So, Dean Cadwallader and Deb Hartley appear to have said that the public would be able to tour the primate center.

Cadwallader: “[W]e are committed to offering tours of our primate center.... our aim is to make our animal research program more transparent to interested citizens.”

Hartley: “[A]nybody can come in.”

After Hartley spoke, she was asked in the hall whether she meant what she had seemed to say about a tour, and she said absolutely. She said to email her and she would set it up. So, she was emailed the next day, July 9, but as of July 22, has not responded.

Follow-up inquiries about possible tours were met with stonewalling. All the people who could make a decision seemed to have quickly gone out of town. In a response to a separate inquiry, she sent this:
From: Deborah Hartley
Date: July 14, 2010 10:22:43 AM CDT
Subject: Re: Lab tour

Good Morning,

Due to several staff members out of the office until next week, we will address your questions upon their return.

Thank you for your patience,
Deb

Multiple follow-up inquiries about possible tours finally led to a clear, if mealy-mouthed, NO!

Either Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate School Dean Cadwallader was blowing smoke, or else he has much less say in or control over what happens at the primate center than he believed. [Insider gossip factoid: Insiders claim that the primate center is essentially opaque to RARC oversight.] Either Hartley was lying about the opportunity for tours, or else, and more likely, her perception of the university’s secrecy and aversion to public view and consideration is warped and unconnected to reality.

The primate center is right to be alarmed about the possibility of the public getting to see inside or to critically evaluate their work.

A notable example of primate vivisectors mistaking the public's likely reaction to the realities of the lab environment might be Jane Goodall's and Roger Fouts's tour of SEMA:
In 1986, an underground animal rights group called True Friends broke into SEMA, Inc. [now BIOQUAL], an NIH-funded laboratory in Rockville, Maryland. Scientists there did AIDS research. They had close to 500 apes and monkeys in the laboratory. When True Friends broke in – apparently tipped off by an unhappy employee – they brought video cameras with them. In the classic manner of such break-ins, they were interested in publicizing laboratory conditions. For their purposes, SEMA was perfect.

The AIDS-infected animals were boxed up alone. That meant each in a metal cube, with one small window. These “isolettes” were 40 inches high, 31 inches deep, 26 inches wide. Inside the boxes, animals were rocking back and forth in the blind, ceaseless motion of the mentally ill, of children who are emotionally starved. The resulting videotape was released through people for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, among the largest and most aggressive animal advocacy groups in the country. PETA sent the tape to television stations and newspapers. One copy was also sent to Jane Goodall in England.

Goodall’s specialty was chimpanzees. But her long relationship with them made her feel – as Fouts did – responsible. She felt, also, an obligation to speak out on their behalf. She was already in contact with Roger Fouts, and after seeing the tape, she asked him to visit SEMA with her. They were escorted by a top-level NIH administrator. Fouts, who knew caged chimpanzees better than Goodall, was still shocked. “It was a nightmare in there. They had these chimps in metal boxes. One wasn’t even rocking anymore. She was just lying on the floor of her cage. When we walked in, the chimp lifted her head and looked up. It was like those children you see in Somalia, that blank look. They’re not there. And the vet said, ‘See, she’s not screaming,’ and he told the tech to take her out. ‘See, she’s just fine.’ They were holding her like she was a typewriter, and she was just lying there.

Afterward, driving away, Fouts remembers, the government officials began cheerfully remarking that they must be reassured by what they had seen. Clearly, the facility met NIH standards. Fouts and Goodall sat silently in the back of the car. He looked over at her. She was crying, tears dripping off her chin. The experience convinced Fouts that NIH was indifferent to the animals. ... (The Monkey Wars. Deborah Blum. Oxford. 1994. 23-24.)

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