Monday, April 27, 2015

Stealthy Advertising

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present -- and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself could become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Address. January 17, 1961.
Unfortunately, Eisenhower's prescient warning failed to protect us. Today, federal policy and funding of research is controlled largely by those affected by the policies and who receive the funding. This easily explains why taxpayers are forced to pay for so much crap and cruelty. The university-based basic bioscience slice of the industry has become more concerned with public relations than with public health, because it depends almost entirely on the public's dollars. With little to show for the continuing massive public investment, and worried by those who keep pointing out the cruelty and suffering in the animal labs, public relations efforts commonly make much ado about nothing and sidestep mention of anything that might serve to lessen their carefully groomed public image.

Consumers, at least some, recognize that for-profit businesses will overstate the value of their products or services. Every fast-food chain simply can't be making the best burger in the world. The public has a right to expect that publicly funded institutions are more forthcoming, more honest.

Commercial businesses' and even politicians' communication with the public is readily recognized as self-interested advertising because it is usually presented as such in signage, television and radio commercials, print ads, direct mail, and on line.

Some government agencies and public universities' on the other hand can and do promote their public images and hoped for continuing public support with advertising that is made to look like important public announcements. Doing so violates the publics' trust. When those within government agencies and public universities use their position and power in a misleading or dishonest way to benefit themselves, even indirectly, they abuse their authority. Announcements about research using animals are often stealthy promotions of the use of animals; those who use this tactic believe that their industry is dependent on public perception. These are particularly noxious examples of advertising masquerading as news because it isn't just the taxpayers who are being harmed.

There is a near constant rain of this sort of advertising from the vivisection industry. A recent example was the University of Wisconsin's announcement that vivisector Louis Populin had received a grant from a private charity for $100,000 a year for three years to develop a game for children with ADHA that might help doctors better predict the optimal dosage of methylphenidate, more commonly known by the trade name Ritalin, but also Concerta, Methylin, Medikinet, Equasym XL, Quillivant XR, and Metadate.

His hypothesis seems to be that a child's impulsivity predicts the rate at which they metabolize methylphenidate. The current method used by doctors is to start children on a very low dose and slowly increase the dose over time until a therapeutic effect is achieved. That seems like a prudent method to treat children with this powerful drug. Populin's conceived method would apparently allow doctors to prescribe a higher initial dose. You can read the university's April 7, 2015 hype here: Two receive awards for research to benefit children.

Whether or not his plan makes sense, the university says that he learned that different individuals react differently to methylphenidate through his experiments on monkeys. They imply that it will be his use of monkeys that is responsible for any success he might have with his envisioned diagnostic game. If it is unsuccessful, we'll never hear about it again.
.... The work grows from Populin's studies of monkeys, which measured the effects of methylphenidate (Ritalin, a common ADHD drug), on working memory and other aspects of executive functioning.

"We found that the effect varied depending on the dose and the individual, which could explain why these dosing decisions often come down to educated trial and error," he says.

Executive functioning refers to one's conscious decisions and willful behavior. Habitually acting impulsively is sometimes thought to result from an impairment of one's executive functioning. Cognitive control is sometimes used synonymously.

Some close observers of the university's use of animals may recall that Populin collaborated regularly with cat vivisector Tom Yin whose retirement was hastened by the negative publicity generated by the photographs of the mutilated cats he was using in his sound localization experiments. Populin's publication list provides the gist of his career:

1: Dopamine transporter gene susceptibility to methylation is associated with impulsivity in nonhuman primates. J Neurophysiol. 2014.

2: The inferior colliculus encodes the Franssen auditory spatial illusion. Eur J Neurosci. 2013.

3: Dissociative effects of methylphenidate in nonhuman primates: trade-offs between cognitive and behavioral performance. J Cogn Neurosci. 2012.

4: Target modality determines eye-head coordination in nonhuman primates: implications for gaze control. J Neurophysiol. 2011.

5: Rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) do recognize themselves in the mirror: implications for the evolution of self-recognition. PLoS One. 2010. [This is Populin's only positive contribution to posterity. Unfortunately, the import was lost on him and his like-minded colleagues.]

6: Time course of allocation of spatial attention by acoustic cues in non-human primates. Eur J Neurosci. 2010.

7: Human sound localization: measurements in untrained, head-unrestrained subjects using gaze as a pointer. Exp Brain Res. 2008.

8: Monkey sound localization: head-restrained versus head-unrestrained orienting. J Neurosci. 2006.

9: Anesthetics change the excitation/inhibition balance that governs sensory processing in the cat superior colliculus. J Neurosci. 2005.

10: (With Yin.) Sound-localizationperformance in the cat: the effect of restraining the head. J Neurophysiol. 2005.

11: (With Yin.) Neural correlates of the precedence effect in the inferior colliculus of behaving cats. J Neurophysiol. 2004.

12: (With Yin.) Effect of eye position on saccades and neuronal responses to acoustic stimuli in the superior colliculus of the behaving cat. J Neurophysiol. 2004.

13: Human gaze shifts to acoustic and visual targets. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002.

14: (With Yin.) Bimodal interactions in the superior colliculus of the behaving cat. J Neurosci. 2002.

15: Fundamental differences between the thalamocortical recipient layers of the cat auditory and visual cortices. J Comp Neurol. 2001.

16: (With Yin.) Kinematics of eye movements of cats to broadband acoustic targets. J Neurophysiol. 1999.

17: (With Yin.) Pinna movements of the cat during sound localization. J Neurosci. 1998.

18: (With Yin.) Behavioral studies of sound localization in the cat. J Neurosci. 1998.

19: (With Yin.) Topographical organization of the motoneuron pools that innervate the muscles of the pinna of the cat. J Comp Neurol. 1995.

Populin's publications don't show much evidence of him ever having worked with humans. There was the one paper from 2008 that reported on a small project. He explained that he used, "Three female and six male humans ranging from 21 to 43 years of age that were free of neurological disease and reported having normal hearing served as subjects." And there was the even smaller study with four men and a woman in 2002. It isn't clear that he has any research experience with children or in designing games for them.

He has published two papers, nos. 1 (2014) and 3 (2012) in the list above, that sound as if they might be related in some meaningful way to his envisioned diagnostic game, but neither are.*

The university says that: "Luis' study showed that methylphenidate made the impulsive monkeys more willing to wait. We will use the game to look for a similar effect in children with ADHD...".

But methylphenidate's effect on impulsivity in hyperactive children has been known for almost half a century. (Cognitive styles in hyperactive children and the effect of methylphenidate. Campbell SB, Douglas VI, Morgenstern G. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 1971.) In children with hyperactivity disorder for over 30 years (Effects of methylphenidate on reading in children with attention deficit disorder (Ballinger CT, Varley CK, Nolen PA. Am J Psychiatry. 1984.) And in children with ADHD since 1993. (Effects of methylphenidate on impulsive responding in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Malone MA, Swanson JM. J Child Neurol. 1993.)

The university says that Populin's knowledge came from his experiments showing "that methylphenidate made the impulsive monkeys more willing to wait...". This is what tipped him to the fact that the drug reduces impulsivity? And why was he surprised or uniformed about the fact that there is variation in response to the medication. This has been a topic of study in human children for at least a decade. (Pharmacogenetics of methylphenidate response in preschoolers with ADHD. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2006.)

So, Populin's work merely replicated again in monkeys what had already been recognized and studied in children for many years; he has no evident experience with studying children or designing games that might engage them, and his hypothesis that impulsivity measured through game playing predicts a child's response to methylphenidate seems wildly speculative. But, a charity was convinced to give him some money, so hey, the PR folks must have thought, let's use this to make people think that experiments on monkeys are going to help children.

This sort of baseless hype about the results of animal experimentation is par for the course. It is essentially never challenged or questioned; the public trusts that spokespersons for public universities will be accurate and honest with them. But when a large portion of an institution's income depends on the public's perception, an institution like the University of Wisconsin-Madison is less concerned about the facts than it is about what people believe. Propaganda is accepted and reported as fact. Decision makers at all levels are financially vested in the system so want to grow the industry. They promote and fund research modalities -- like the use of animals -- that validate their own grant requests. Most of the senior decision-makers are themselves vivisectors.

Ike must be turning over in his grave.

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* The earlier of the two papers is freely available. Dissociative effects of methylphenidate in nonhuman primates: trade-offs between cognitive and behavioral performance. J Cogn Neurosci. 2012.

In that paper he reported that he drugged three monkeys with varying doses and recorded the effects on their performance of visual and memory tasks. He says the monkeys participated, but that's a euphemism used to soften the raw and jagged reality of the situation these three animals found themselves in. They weren't participants, they were victims. This is how he prepared them:
Three adult male rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) ranging from 8 to 13 kg participated in this study. These animals were purchased from the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center. The three animals were prepared for eye movement recordings by implanting scleral search coils [Sewing them to the monkeys' eyes] (Judge, Richmond, & Chu, 1980), constructed from teflon-coated stainless steel wire (SA632; Cooner Wire, Chatsworth, CA) and a lightweight titanium head post [screwed to their skull], which was used to restrain the head for experimental sessions and for cleaning the implant area. All surgical procedures were approved by the University of Wisconsin Animal Care and Use Committee and were in accordance with the National Institutes of Health Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. [Which underscores the fact that anything goes in these labs.]

The more recent paper explains that he used four male rhesus monkeys, three had been used in the project mentioned above. The surgical preparation was the same for the fourth monkey. Populin says in the more recent paper that:
The animals were housed individually in two rooms with other monkeys of the laboratory colony in the same hallway of the same facility, permitting rich visual, olfactory, and auditory interactions.

Surgical procedures were carried out under aseptic conditions while the animals were under general anesthesia. All efforts were made to minimize suffering of the subjects.

Double-talk gibberish. Individually housed male rhesus monkeys have high rates of stereotypic behavior and self injury. And all efforts to minimize their suffering certainly weren't taken because he didn't have to hurt them in the first place.

1 comment:

Joshua Carl Davis said...

It should be a scandal that such an award go to such a notorious animal abuser.