A look at the NIH workshop "Continued Responsible Oversight of Research with Non-Human Primates"
The Back Story
The National Institutes of Health held a "workshop" on Wednesday, September 7, 2016, titled, "NIH Workshop on Ensuring the Continued Responsible Oversight of Research with Non-Human Primates." It was a sham.
Here's the reason for the NIH show: In 2014, in response to their public records requests, Peta received hundreds of hours of video footage from Stephen Suomi's lab at the NIH. They publicized some clips on their website and successfully lobbied some members of Congress to ask NIH to evaluate the ethics of using monkeys in its funded research.
Stephen J. Suomi had been the Director of the NIH Laboratory of Comparative Ethology and the Section on Comparative Behavioral Genetics for many years. Suomi's work has never helped anyone (not counting himself and his staff.) Suomi was trained by Harry Harlow who discovered and demonstrated repeatedly that infant monkeys taken from their mothers at birth and kept in a profoundly bleak environment were likely to go insane. Harlow began publishing in 1963, and worked with graduate students such as Suomi for nearly two decades devising endless ways to emotionally devastate baby monkeys.
A sampling of titles of papers documenting Suomi's earlier work:
1971 - Social recovery by isolation-reared monkeys.
1973 - Surrogate rehabilitation of monkeys reared in total social isolation.
1974 - Induced depression in monkeys.
1975 - Depressive behavior in adult monkeys following separation from family environment.
1976 - A 10-year perspective of motherless-mother monkey behavior.
1978 - Effects of imipramine treatment of separation-induced social disorders in rhesus monkeys.
1983 - Shuttlebox avoidance in rhesus monkeys: effects on plasma cortisol and beta-endorphin.
[Note: The shuttlebox is a device with two side-by-side compartments and a removable wall between them. The floor of each compartment is wire mesh which can be electrified. When the floor of the compartment holding the monkey is turned on, the monkey receives a shock and escapes by "shuttling" to the other compartment by jumping over the wall.
Once the monkey has learned that she can escape from the shock, the other floor is turned on and the first turned off. So now she learns that she can shuttle back to safety. The next step is to turn on both floors simultaneously. She will continue jumping from side to side hoping to escape. Finally, the clear plexiglass wall is placed between the compartments and the floor is turned on. After repeated tries she learns that she cannot escape and lies on the floor quivering and convulsing. She is now classified as "helpless."]
1983 - Therapy for helpless monkeys.
1991 - Nonhuman primate model of alcohol abuse: effects of early experience, personality, and stress on alcohol consumption.
1991 - Rationale and methodologies for developing nonhuman primate models of prenatal drug exposure.
1994 - Responses of free-ranging rhesus monkeys to a natural form of social separation. - Parallels with mother-infant separation in captivity.
1995 - Biobehavioral comparisons between adopted and nonadopted rhesus monkey infants.
1996 - A nonhuman primate model of type II excessive alcohol consumption. Part 1. Low cerebrospinal fluid 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid concentrations and diminished social competence correlate with excessive alcohol consumption.
1998 - Crowding stress and violent injuries among behaviorally inhibited rhesus macaques.
And on and on. As recently as 2016 he was still publishing, for instance: OPRM1 genotype interacts with serotonin system dysfunction to predict alcohol-heightened aggression in primates. Driscoll CA, Lindell SG, Schwandt ML, Suomi SJ, Higley JD, Heilig M, Barr CS. Addict Biol. 2016 Aug 3.
In any case, the videos were evidence that much of what was going on in the NIH lab was beyond the pale, they exposed the sort things a certain sort of people in animal labs are doing to animals when they think no one is watching. NIH's knee-jerk reaction was to defend Suomi. (NIH defends monkey experiments. Director Francis Collins says the agency has changed how it conducts controversial studies, but argues the work is necessary. Sara Reardon. Nature. 28 January 2015. ) But the evidence of science gone mad was hard to dismiss; a little less than a year later in a transparently face-saving capitulation, NIH reversed its decision, but claimed that it was doing so for financial reasons. (Decision to end monkey experiments based on finances, not animal rights, NIH says. David Grimm. Dec. 14, 2015. Science.)
Unfortunately, Peta made a fatal tactical error when they (I assume) advised members of Congress to ask NIH to evaluate itself. They should have asked them to look for a less aligned third-party evaluation like the Institute of Medicine's evaluation of the use of chimpanzees. (See: Raising the Bar: The Implications of the IOM Report on the Use of Chimpanzees in Research. Jeffrey Kahn. Hastings Center Report.)
I think it very likely that the shut-down of the Suomi lab, the Congressional interest, and the NIH decision to put on a show for a few members of Congress, frightened the primate vivisecting community. I think it likely that they lobbied aggressively to be included in the "workshop" committee. But it had probably been intended all along to be exactly what it turned out to be.
Part 2: The Big IACUC