A few readers might have seen the I Love Lucy episode where Lucy feigns being sick and tells Ricky that she has a case of the gobloots. Gobloots, it seems, is a rare zoonotic disease one contracts from the even rarer boo-shoo bird. In the disease's final stages - as death approaches - the victim turns green. And sure enough, Lucy sees herself turning green, after Ricky secretly puts a green bulb in Lucy's bedside lamp to teach her a lesson.
Silliness like the gobloots might be on funny on a TV screen, but the study of a lab-induced malady based on a far-fetched and ridiculous claim that it mimics or models human biology is even sillier, but not funny at all when it entails hurting others.
Allyson Joy Bennett, a vivisector at the UW-Madison, claims that the goal of her research project, “Long-term Cognitive and Neuroanatomical Consequences of Childhood Stress,” is to "determine how different experiences in infancy affect aspects of behavior, cognition, brain morphology and health across the lifespan."
She goes on to say that her project is
important for advancing our understanding of factors that contribute to individual differences in both human and laboratory animal health. Human studies provide strong evidence of the deleterious consequences of early childhood stress. What is far less clear—but critically important to research aimed at developing strategies to improve human health—is the specific mechanisms by which these changes occur, how they unfold across the lifespan, and which changes are long-lasting in absence of additional, or cascading, adverse events. Understanding these and other aspects of the consequences of a range of childhood adverse experiences is essential to developing treatment and intervention strategies.Bennett’s project is designed to study a problem that doesn’t exist and that obvious fact ought to have been noticed before she was awarded a large pot of the taxpayers’ money.
She is using 15-year old male monkeys who were raised without mothers and then separated from other monkeys when they were 4 to 6 years of age.
She says that 15-year old monkeys are equivalent in age to middle-aged humans and that a 4- to 6-year old monkey is an adolescent. The World Health Organization defines “adolescents” as young people between the ages of 10 and 19 years.
Presumably then, a 15-year old monkey in her study is a model of a middle-aged man who, when he was maybe 10 years old, and was placed alone in a mind-numbingly small barren cage. He has endured profound environmental and social deprivation through out his life and who knows what else.
Even if people really exist who were treated in this way, there must be a vanishing small number of them. Nevertheless, the NIH has so far awarded Bennett $367,756 to pursue this odd and macabre line of study. They'd probably fund a study of the gobloots too.
In the real world, socially and environmentally deprived children aren’t similarly deprived throughout their lives. They don't remain in solitary confinement for the rest of their lives. Bennett’s monkeys are not duplicating any known human situation. Her results, no matter what they might be, will pertain only to the monkeys she is studying and probably to the other male rhesus macaques who have suffered similar cruelty.
Surely, if such people actually exist, the most pressing and urgent question is how to rescue them right away and how to help them recover.
The monkeys Bennett is studying have been abused throughout their lives. Her project is an extension of that abuse. A humane and caring person would not continue studying the negative consequences of a lifetime of profound deprivation without simultaneously acting in their subjects’ best interests – doing everything in their power to improve their lives. Allison Joy Bennett appears uninterested in helping these victims; her own financial and professional interests seem to come before their unambiguous need to be helped.
The members of the UW-Madison committee that approved this gobloot study are equally responsible for the continuation of this cruelty. The system supports them and reinforces their ethical lapses. A person with sufficient will and independence of thought to break free of a system that exerts such strong pressure to conform and believe is even rarer than a boo-shoo bird.