Sunday, October 19, 2014

Vivisectors, a Living Sociological Laboratory

Most government-funded vivisectors are probably fairly smart and have been to college. Those and other characteristics of that group further inform modern thinkers about potential and observable effects of various situational influences on behavior.

History and past research provide an immense body of evidence demonstrating that otherwise normal people otherwise destined to live more or less benign lives, can be easily induced to do bad things to other people. Stanley Milgram showed us that a random person off the street will almost always hurt, sometimes kill, a total stranger simply because someone who they perceived as an authority told them to. Our moral rudders are apparently very flimsy.

If a random person off the street can be so easily made to do the worse things to someone they don't know, we don't need to wonder why or how someone trained to do bad things can do them. But the behavior of vivisectors provides us with something that is not as easily discerned in past research into the causes of cruelty.

Past studies have had to rely on reports from people who committed atrocities after they were widely condemned and stopped. Those people have tended to speak somewhat guardedly. See for instance the interviews of people who were interrogators or members of state-sanctioned death squads in Violence Workers: Police Torturers and Murderers Reconstruct Brazilian Atrocities by M. Huggins, M. Haritos-Fatouros, and  P. Zimbardo. (2002).

There are a handful of reports that have sought some understanding of vivisectors' self perceptions and feelings about the things they do. See for instance  The Sacrifice: How Scientific Experiments Transform Animals and People by LIA Birke, A. Arluke, and M. Michael. (2007). There are also some books and articles written for the public by vivisectors trying to justify their work, see for instance, Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Medical Research, a collection of essays edited by EF Paul and J Paul (2001). And there is a collection of books written by vivisectors vilifying their critics. See for instance The Animal Research War by PM Conn and JV Parker. (2008).

Today, there are on-line sources that provide some of insight into the twists and turns of the vivisection industry's self-justifications. Some of these are produced by lobbying groups and trade organizations trying to promote the use of animals. These are groups like the National Association for Biomedical Research and the Society for Neuroscience. Many universities put up web pages to defend and promote their use of animals as well.

A relatively new source of insight into the beliefs of vivisectors is the on-line presence of some collections of writing by them. One recent example is a defense of experiments on baby monkeys written by University of Wisconsin, Madison vivisector Allyson J. Bennett: "Child health benefits from studies of infant monkeys – Part 1". Bennett's apology is her rebuttal to recent criticism of the use of infant monkeys at UW-Madison and at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a part of the NIH.

Bennett's own work is focused in part on the long-term consequences to monkeys from having been raised in deprived conditions. See for example: Long-term effects of differential early rearing in rhesus macaques: behavioral reactivity in adulthood. Corcoran CA, Pierre PJ, Haddad T, Bice C, Suomi SJ, Grant KA, Friedman DP, Bennett AJ. Dev Psychobiol. 2012. 

It isn't a coincidence that Bennett defends the use of baby monkeys. Bennett and Steven Suomi are frequent collaborators. Stephen Suomi was Harry Harlow's star pupil and deeply involved in imprinting an infamously dark stain on the university's legacy. Suomi is the director of the NIH in-house lab being criticized as a result of records being brought to light by PETA, particularly video recordings of baby monkeys being used in macabre, psychological pulling-the-wings-off-butterflies sorts of experiments, and the vivisectors' shocking (to some!) laughing response to young monkeys' distress.

Bennett's  defense of the use of baby monkeys may be motivated as well by the national criticism that has erupted over the resurrection of maternal deprivation at UW-Madison where Bennett is now currently employed and being paid by taxpayers to study the long term effects on monkeys raised in social isolation.

Bennett defends the use of baby monkeys generally by pointing to their use: because vivisectors use baby monkeys, it must be proper to use them. She provides a list of examples that she believes  justify frightening, physically and psychologically harming, and killing young monkeys; or in her words, "demonstrate how the work contributes to public health," as if, even if true, that could justify the infants' terror, pain, and deaths.

She provides 29 bulleted examples. She was a busy badger.

The majority of them don't amount to anything at all. At all. She simply points to projects that involve hurting and killing young monkeys, more or less saying, wouldn't it be great if this project helps someone someday? Her assertion is illustrative. Her point is exactly the one used to justify every taxpayer-funded project using animals in the U.S. today. Maybe she can be excused for succumbing to her industry's rhetoric.

Bennett points to only five examples that she believes are evidence that experiments using young monkeys have benefited human patients, and therefore are justified and justify all future use of infant monkeys.

1. "Work conducted by Martha Neuringer at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) on visual development established the importance for infant nutrition of two nutrients, taurine and omega-3 fatty acids, and led to the addition of these substances to infant formulas worldwide. (,"

Martha Neuringer. I heard a description of her work at a law conference in 1996; it contributed to who I am today. Really briefly, she took infant rhesus monkeys from their mothers and raised them on a formula without taurine, did serial brain biopsies on them, and reported that the absence of taurine affected brain development in infant rhesus monkeys. And then she repeated the experiment. And then she did it again -- she had to do something to justify her draws on her taxpayer-funded grant.

Taurine is the most abundant free amino acid in breast milk. Think infants might need it? Neurenger's work is not much different than a demonstration that oxygen is a necessary component of the air children breathe.  Neurenger's work was and continues to be cruel garbage. Even now, she is reporting that monkeys fed nutrient deficient diets suffer long term health consequences. Dietary omega-3 fatty acids modulate large-scale systems organization in the rhesus macaque brain. Grayson DS, Kroenke CD, Neuringer M, Fair DA. J Neurosci. 2014.

2. "Scientists at the CNPRC developed the SIV/rhesus macaque pediatric model of disease, to better understand the pathogenesis of SIV/HIV in neonates and test strategies for immunoprophylaxis and antiviral therapy to prevent infection or slow disease progression. Drug therapies used to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to infant were developed in nonhuman primate models at the CNPRC, and are now being successfully used in many human populations to protect millions of infants from contracting HIV. ("

Koen van Rompay's university webpage says that: "Dr. Van Rompay was on the forefront of developing HIV treatments at the CNPRC in the 1990s. He helped to develop and test the anti-viral drug tenofovir."

But not so much. SIV, the simian immunodeficiency virus was not identified until after HIV the human immunodeficiency virus was described. When scientists studying HIV in vitro discovered an agent that might have value in treating AIDS, monkeys researchers were quick to try it out on monkeys intentionally infected with some version of SIV, a different disease in a different species. Research using monkeys has never resulted in advancements in treating HIV. At best, primate vivisectors have demonstrated that some methods of preventing HIV in humans can sometimes be effective in preventing SIV in monkeys. Big whoop.

3. "Eliot Spindel at the ONPRC has shown that large doses of Vitamin C can protect developing lungs from the damage caused when mothers smoke. This work has been duplicated in clinical trials. ("

It is true that Spindel is involved in a clinical trial of using vitamin C in pregnant women who smoke to see whether it might ameliorate some of the known deleterious effects of nicotine to developing fetuses. And, it is true that Spindel has given pregnant monkeys nicotine, or as he explains, "Nicotine was delivered by continuous infusion using subcutaneously implanted osmotic minipumps," (what mother smokes 24/7?) Oddly though, and I wonder if the women in the clinical trial know this, he reported that in the pregnant monkeys being infused with nicotine, "Vitamin C substantially increased the nicotine concentration in the amniotic fluid." See: Effects of prenatal nicotine exposure on primate brain development and attempted amelioration with supplemental choline or vitamin C: neurotransmitter receptors, cell signaling and cell development biomarkers in fetal brain regions of rhesus monkeys. Slotkin TA, Seidler FJ, Qiao D, Aldridge JE, Tate CA, Cousins MM, Proskocil BJ, Sekhon HS, Clark JA, Lupo SL, Spindel ER. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2005.

I'm no pediatrician, but I'll wager that increased nicotine concentration in the amniotic fluid isn't good for a developing baby of any species.

4. "WNPRC scientists and surgeons at UW Hospital successfully tested a new compound, mycophenolate mofetil, in combination with other drugs in monkeys and other animals, and then in human patients in the 1990s. Their work has saved the lives of patients needing kidney or other organ transplants. These new therapies have also kept patients with chronic kidney diseases, including lupus nephritis, which strikes many children and teens, from needing transplants. (Hans Sollinger, Folkert Belzer, Stuart Knechtle, others.) (,,"

Maybe it was getting late when Bennett was writing this and she simply forgot her theme: the benefits to children from experimenting on baby monkeys, because she didn't provide any evidence to support her assertion; there probably isn't any

It is an easily demonstrated fact that mycophenolate mofetil was tested on animals, I don't know of any drugs that haven't been. Mycophenolate mofetil was tested in rats, mice, and dogs before it was tried on humans, and I don't think they were pups or puppies.

Here's a passage from a paper reporting on the first clinical trial:
RS-61443 synthesized by Dr. Peter Nelson(Syntex Corporation, Palo Alto, CA)was found to have improved bioavailability as compared with mycophenolic acid. In vivo, the drug blocks proliferative responses of T and B lymphocytes' and inhibits antibody formation and the generation of cytotoxic T-cells. In vivo, monotherapy with RS-61443 was shown to prolong the survival of heart allografts in rats and islet allograft survival in mice. When combined with low doses of cyclosporine A (5mg/kg)and prednisone (0.1 mg/kg), RS-61443 significantly prolonged the survival of renal allografts in mongrel dogs. The first clinical trials with RS-61443 were conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. The purpose of this study was to test the safety and tolerance in patients receiving primary cadaver kidneys. RS-61443 (mycophenolate mofetil). A multicenter study for refractory kidney transplant rejection. Sollinger HW, Belzer FO, Deierhoi MH, Diethelm AG, Gonwa TA, Kauffman RS, Klintmalm GB, McDiarmid SV, Roberts J, Rosenthal JT, et al. Ann Surg. 1992.

(An aside) "Recent findings from nonhuman primates studied by Ned Kalin at the WNPRC suggest that an overactive core circuit in the brain, and its interaction with other specialized circuits, accounts for the variability in symptoms shown by patients with severe anxiety. The ability to identify brain mechanisms underlying the risk during childhood for developing anxiety and depression is critical for establishing novel early-life interventions aimed at preventing the chronic and debilitating outcomes associated with these common illnesses. (,"

I just had to include this here. Notice that she cites nothing from Kalin's decades of experiments on young monkeys  that have benefited children. Nothing. It's just the same old song and dance; his work has suggested this or that, but has led to nothing. Nothing. Literally millions of taxpayer dollars and immense suffering. He's hurting and killing baby monkeys, so it must be good, it must be important. This is a stellar example of the mindset of someone doing and trying to defend evil behavior. The simple facts are ignored; excuses are made; nothing but hubris. And it's easy to understand why someone becomes such a cork head, the research into this sort of blind evil behavior has been consistent. Most of us would succumb; people are weak and almost always go along when an authority figure -- a king, general, God, NIH, a man in a white coat -- tells them to do something, no matter how odious. And, the propensity to act so badly is reinforced when the authority figure awards you for your work and holds you up as an example of the good. Most of us will do anything and believe anything we are told to believe. The research on this is unequivocal. Unequivocal.

And since I have for a moment stepped aside from looking at Bennett's claims actual benefit, I deviate a bit further and call your attention to an implication of her apparent inability to locate an example of actual benefit to children or adults from Kalin's experiments.

A few years ago, Kalin's regular collaborator and co-author Richard Davidson was speaking at a local book store. Most of the audience was there to adore him and moon over his close association with the Dalai Lama (there's an example of screwing with a child's early development). But I and a few friends had other questions in mind.

Put on the spot to point to one single benefit to human patients that have resulted from his and Kalin's decades of cruelty, the only thing he could come up with was to say that there was a Phase I clinical trial underway to test something -- he wouldn't say what -- that had come out of the experiments. If he wasn't lying, and there is absolutely no reason to think he wasn't -- then whatever it was must have been an abject failure.

5. "The first pluripotent stem cell derived clinical trials to treat childhood blindness are now underway, using stem cell technologies discovered using monkeys first, then humans, by WNPRC scientist James Thomson in the 1990s-2000s. (,,,

If clinical trials are underway to treat macular degeneration using stem cells, why is Martha Neuringer, blasted in number 1 above, conducting stem cell experiments on the eyes of rats and monkeys and claiming that her work will lead to some new treatment for macular degeneration?

As far as Thompson's work on the isolation and culture of pluripotent stem cells is concerned, he certainly didn't need monkeys, he could have used any muticellular organism at its very early stages of development. He used monkey blastocysts because they were readily available. He reported his isolation of an embryonic cell line in monkeys in 1995 and then moved to the use of human cells almost immediately. The notion that the first pluripotent stem cell derived clinical trials to treat childhood blindness are now underway because of Thomson's very few monkey cell experiments is farfetched and simply ignores his publication history. And, unless you want to call a blastocyst a baby, this too is far off the mark Bennett claims to be addressing.

And that's it. That's part and parcel of the "benefits" Bennett has been able to identify as a result of experiments on infant monkeys. 

So, looking at Bennett's efforts to defend the use of baby monkeys in harmful experimentation we gain further evidence and insight into the effects of situational influences on behavior. It may have been Peter Singer who pointed out the conditioned ethical blindness of vivisectors. It can work like this: A student is confronted with a science lesson in school that involves hurting and killing and animal or even dissecting an already dead animals. When they voice their concern, the teacher, the authority figure, consoles and encourages them, saying something along the lines of, "No one likes to hurt animals, but sometimes in science there is no other choice."  

Most of us in that situation, as research readily demonstrates, will be swayed by the weight of the authority's opinion. Students who find biology interesting and choose to follow a course that leads to a life science education in college will have many reinforcing experiences, and at every turn, if they voice some reticence, they will be consoled or challenged by the current authority with the admonition that science sometimes requires scientists to make tough decisions.  

By the time they get to graduate school and land a job in some scientist's lab, they have been thoroughly indoctrinated and are surrounded by others who have been through similar conditioning. They see around them scientists being honored by their institutions, media, authoritative profession organizations, and receiving lavish monetary rewards for their experiments on animals. It becomes ever more unlikely that they will be able to think independently. Additional factors come into play as well. Because medical research is often cast as a war against this or that malady, ethical constraints are further weakened because we think war can necessitate actions that would be unthinkable in times of peace. Additionally, vivisectors rightly feel that they are under attack from people like me. Having a common enemy lends itself to being less than critical about the things their fellow-victimized colleagues are doing, and so little to no self-criticism or questioning of the ethical premise is tolerated. I have an acquaintance who was drummed out of a primate lab because she stopped and spoke with people protesting outside the lab and then asked her laboratory colleagues what they thought about the protestors' concerns. A current example of the matter-of-fact acceptance of their peers' opinions on the ethics and value of animal experimentation is UW-Madison's promotion of Bennett's essay (near the bottom of the right hand column.)

Because of the conditioning and the situational influences on their behavior, vivisectors' ethical positions and confused arguments to support their positions and beliefs are understandable and largely predictable. I believe that they, as a group, offer those who have an interest in the roots of evil behavior, a living laboratory which could further our understanding of a phenomena that has most often had to be examined retrospectively.

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