Saturday, July 7, 2012

The meaning of love

Context and intent make all the difference when it comes to a word’s meaning. Consider these sentences:

“Everything we do is defined by love and compassion for our children.”

“Everything we do is defined by love and compassion for our animals.”

These sentences seem on their face to be parallel in meaning and in certain contexts they are, in others, they aren't. It matters whose mouth they come out of.

“Everything we do is defined by love and compassion for our animals” is something one might naturally expect to hear from a sanctuary director or an animal rescue organization.

But, “Everything we do is defined by love and compassion for our animals” is something that might also be said by a dairy farmer – someone who takes baby cows away from their mothers a few days after they are born – causing the calves and the cows great anguish. This doesn’t seem to be a case of what most people would call love or compassion; it’s more a case of money I think, the love of money.

“Everything we do is defined by love and compassion for our animals” is something that might be said by someone in the circus – someone who keeps their elephants chained in place for most of their lives, who uses a bull-hook to hurt and intimidate them into instant obedience. This doesn’t seem to be a case of love or compassion either; it’s another case of the love of money.

“Everything we do is defined by love and compassion for our animals” is in fact something said by Cindy A. Buckmaster, Director, Center for Comparative Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

She is also deeply involved in directing the vivisection industry's propaganda machine: she is a member of the Texas Society for Biomedical Research Board of Directors; she is the newly elected Vice-President of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science Board of Trustees; and she a member of the Board of Directors of the Americans for Medical Advancement.

Buckmaster went on at some length about her “love” for animals in the June issue of Lab Animal, a thin mean magazine:
You have called for a campaign of visibility from the lab animal science community. Why is this issue so important to you?

Everything we do is defined by love and compassion for our animals and everyone who benefits from the life-changing work they support. Animal-based research is deeply misunderstood by the public, and the philosophy of sticking our head in the sand and not talking about what we're doing has supported this misunderstanding. The activists are waging a campaign with the public that is based in emotion, while most of our responses are grounded in reason. We go on and on about why our work is important and how it improves lives, and half of Americans still do not support us. That's because that isn't what they want to know. What they really want us to tell them is that the activists are lying to them about how we feel about our animals. They want to know that we value and care about them. They want to know that we treat them with compassion and respect, and they need to know that our work is a labor of love for all living things. The selfless nature of this love is extraordinary and uncommon; we are heroes.

As society learns who we are, through conversations and images depicting our expertise and compassion, the activists' claims will lose validity. We don't have to argue with them; all we have to do is share our truth. Every time I meet someone who asks me what I do, I tell them about our technicians and their devotion to our animals. I tell them about the special relationships they develop with our animals and the grief they experience when they're gone. And I tell them that they do all of this because they love animals and people. Some of them cry. Some of them hug me. All of them thank me for making them feel better about our work. That's really the shift in the culture I'm trying to effect, and that shift will change everything.
It’s hard to know with certainty what the Center for Comparative Medicine actually is and does since the “Center” doesn’t seem to have an official web page, but “comparative medicine” is a common euphemism for vivisection. See for instance the UC-Davis Center for Comparative Medicine, the Northwestern University Center for Comparative Medicine, or the Harvard Center for Comparative Medicine. I think it somewhat fair to say that Cindy Buckmaster is the Director of Baylor College of Medicine’s vivisection program.

Cindy Buckmaster’s history with monkeys doesn’t seem to have been a love fest in any honest sense of the word. She apparently doesn’t experiment on monkeys any longer, but when she did her methods were highly invasive:
Sixteen young adult rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) were the subjects of the present study. The monkeys were housed individually and were fed a controlled diet of Purina primate chow supplemented with fruit. Four of these monkeys received aspiration lesions of the perirhinal cortex (group PRh), 4 received excitotoxic lesions of the hippocampus (group H), and 8 monkeys were retained as unoperated controls. ....

The main finding of the present study was that whereas monkeys with lesions of the perirhinal cortex were significantly impaired in acquisition of transverse patterning, monkeys with excitotoxic lesions of the hippocampus were significantly facilitated.... (Impairment and facilitation of transverse patterning after lesions of the perirhinal cortex and hippocampus, respectively. Saksida LM, Bussey TJ, Buckmaster CA, Murray EA. Cereb Cortex. 2007.)
In non-techical language, "aspiration lesions of the perirhinal cortex" means that she and her colleagues cut through these monkeys' scalps, drilled a hole in their skulls, pushed a small tube into their brain, and vacuumed out a part of it. "Excitotoxic lesions of the hippocampus" refers to brain injections of something called NMDA which kills nerve cells by over-exciting them.

Sucking out parts of monkeys' brains or killing parts of their brains with injections of some noxious chemical isn't what most of us call to mind when someone says that everything they do is guided by their love and compassion for the animals.

It seems fair too to look at the way animals are being used at Baylor right now to get a sense of just what Cindy Buckmaster means when she speaks of her “love and compassion for animals” since she probably has some oversight responsibility for much of the vivisection at Baylor.

When I did just that, I was surprised to see a familiar name. The Little Angel of St. Louis, a.k.a. Dora Angelaki, has recently moved to Houston and taken on the position of Chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Baylor. Here’s an essay I wrote in 2001 after stumbling across a paper written by her: "The Little Angel of St. Louis."

Coincidentally, a friend recently sent me a picture of The Little Angel’s house. It’s located at 22 Forsythia Lane in Olivette, Missouri and was being offered for sale for about $1 million. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that vivisectors aren’t into it for the money. No wonder it was for sale, The Little Angel relocated to Houston.

It turns out that The Little Angel’s husband went with her to Baylor. His name is David Dickman. Apparently, they share their love for animals, although his favorite animals to love are birds.

In their paper “Inactivation of Semicircular Canals Causes Adaptive Increases in Otolith-Driven Tilt Responses” (Dora E. Angelaki, Shawn D. Newlands and J. David Dickman. J Neurophysiol. 2002.) they explain a bit of their loving behavior toward monkeys:
All six semicircular canals were plugged in two juvenile rhesus monkeys (animals R and B) implanted with skull bolts to restrain the head during experiments and a dual search coil for three-dimensional eye movement recordings. Each canal to be plugged was exposed and a small hole was drilled in the bony wall of the canal. The membranous duct was then cut with the tip of a sharp knife. Subsequently, the hole was firmly filled with bony chips and covered with a piece of muscle fascia. All surgeries and animal handling were in accordance with National Institutes of Health and Institutional guidelines. The effectiveness of plugging was verified by the absence of any response during low-frequency earthvertical axis rotations

During experiments, the monkeys were seated in a primate chair with their heads restrained in a position such that the horizontal stereotaxic plane was tilted 15° nose-down. The primate chair was subsequently placed inside a motorized three-dimensional turntable that rode on top of a linear sled. The experimental protocols were as follows....
That was in 2002. Now, a decade later, The Little Angel explains her loving and compassion-filled methods:
Materials and Methods
Animal preparation

Four male monkeys (Macaca mulatta) were used for neurophysiological recordings. Our general procedures have been reported in detail elsewhere, so they will be described only briefly here. Under sterile conditions, monkeys were chronically implanted with a ring-type device for head stabilization. Scleral coils were implanted in both eyes for monitoring eye position, including both version and vergence. A bilateral recording grid was positioned in the horizontal plane and extended from the midline outward to the areas overlying MSTd and VIP bilaterally. The recording grid contained staggered rows of holes (0.8 mm spacing) and was stereotaxically secured inside the head cap using dental acrylic. Vertical microelectrode penetrations were made via transdural guide tubes inserted through the grid holes. Behavioral training was performed using standard operant conditioning techniques. (Binocular disparity tuning and visual-vestibular congruency of multisensory neurons in macaque parietal cortex. Yang Y, Liu S, Chowdhury SA, DeAngelis GC, Angelaki DE. J Neurosci. 2011.)
Coincidentally, in the middle of writing this, I was sent new paper from the Spring issue of the Journal of Animal Ethics that also takes note of vivisectors' Orwellian use of certain words: “What Dictionary Are Animal Researchers Using?” by Franklin D. Mcmillan. He explains:
The public largely supports the use of animals in biomedical research, but only if they are sure that the animals are treated humanely. The scientific community has provided these assurances. Is this a truthful claim? I argue that when examined systematically, the claim that animals in research are treated humanely is not truthful by any existing definition of the word. This article does not argue for or against the morality of using animals in research; rather, the reasoning set forth herein argues that in this use of animals, the scientific community is not being truthful to the public.
Mcmillan gives some telling examples of the industry's twisted use of “humane” and sums up with this: “Is animal research conducted humanely? No. Is animal research cruel? Yes, according to any dictionary currently in print.”

Are animals in labs loved? Hardly. But if one's intent is to mislead, or equally likely, if one isn't in close touch with reality, words like humane, compassion, cruelty, and love can mean something completely at odds with the words' normal everyday usage.

1 comment:

Charlie Talbert said...

I'm glad the vivisectors don't "love" me!