A look at the NIH workshop "Continued Responsible Oversight of Research with Non-Human Primates"
Part 3. Some Interesting Bits and Pieces.
The "workshop" was kicked off with a greeting from NIH Director Francis Collins. He is certainly in the running for making the most outlandish comment. He said, "Looking around the room, I am impressed to see the diversity of expertise presented here...". It's true that there were people sitting around the table who were doing different horrible things to monkeys, but calling them a "diverse group" was laughable. He continued with the joke that "we need lots of perspectives from the various views that are represented around this table...." But there were only two views; one represented by 28-ish vivisectors and their crew and the other by 2 outsiders. Jeez.
Then we heard from the main moderator, Carrie Wolinetz, Associate Director for Science Policy at NIH. One thing she said was particularly interesting to me. (Quotations are in capital letters because that is how they appear in the closed captioning file. The paragraphing is mine.)
Wolinetz: ... IT'S INTERESTING, HAVING READ SOME OF THE COMMENTS IN ADVANCE, TWO STRIKING THEMES THAT I THINK ARE RELATED TO THE STRUCTURE OF OUR WORKSHOP CAME TO ME. ONE, THERE WERE A LOT OF COMMENTS THAT SAID, WELL, YOU'RE TALKING TOO MUCH ABOUT THE SCIENCE, THEREFORE, THIS REALLY ISN'T A REVIEW OF THE ETHICS, AND THEN THERE WERE THOSE WHO SAID, YOU'VE GOT A SESSION ON ETHICS, THEREFORE, YOU'RE SOMEHOW COMPROMISING THE SCIENCE. AS IF THESE ARE TWO COUNTER VEILING FORCES, SCIENCE AND ETHICS, THAT ARE TOTALLY ANTAGONISTIC.
I THINK THAT IS SOMETHING THAT WE REJECT, THAT ETHICS AND SCIENCE REALLY GO HAND IN HAND, THE BEST SCIENCE IS INFORMED BY GOOD ETHICAL THINKING, AND AS WE THINK ABOUT PROTECTION OF ALL OF THE ORGANISMS USED IN RESEARCH, WHETHER IT'S HUMAN, ANIMALS, OR BACTERIA IN A PETRI DISH, CERTAINLY THAT IS INFORMED BY OUR BEST UNDERSTANDING OF THE SCIENCE OF THOSE SPECIES. THEY PROVIDE THE EVIDENCE BASE FOR MAKING SURE WE'VE GOT THE BEST WELFARE STANDARDS IN PLACE.
It isn't at all clear that ethics and science go hand-in-hand. The U.S. Declaration of Independence was a statement of an ethical position; the authors and signatories did not consult a biology text nor did they need to in order to proclaim that we are all equal. No amount of scientific benefit (that's code for any published paper) would be sufficient to tip the balance toward harmful experimentation on humans who do not consent, to breeding them, to keeping them in cages, or killing them to collect "needed" tissues. What science textbook should we consult to help us decide whether we should unleash more Josef Mengeles on unprotected populations?
The moderator for the first orchestrated section was UW-Madison primate vivisector David O'Connor who has recently cashed in on Zika. He has a track record of hitting NIH-paid jackpots. He currently has four funded projects together receiving over $3 million a year in NIH grants.
It is worth noting that the "workshop" lasted just over six and a half hours. The first part, moderated by O'Connor was a series of talks by vivisectors extolling their work and promising the world to those they imagined were tuning in, lasted for about 4 hours and 40 minutes. It concluded with a primate veterinarian promoting pro-vivisection trade groups and saying how supportive the Association of Primate Veterinarians is for the continued use of monkeys.
There was very limited discussion about ethics. Jeffrey Kahn makes a few comments at about 2:37:50, and continues briefly at about 2:41:36. Then, at about 5:10:00 into the program Tom Beauchamp spoke up. His entire comment is worth listening to, even if few others at the table understood him. He said, "... I CAN SEE FROM A NUMBER OF COMMENTS AROUND THE TABLE THIS MORNING THAT THERE'S STILL DEEPLY EMBEDDED [in] SOME FOLKS AROUND THE TABLE, THAT SCIENTIFIC NECESSITY IS THE KEY ISSUE. IF YOU CAN SHOW IT'S NECESSARY TO USE THE ANIMAL THEN IT'S JUSTIFIED TO DO THE RESEARCH. THAT'S JUST WRONG." A little later he gets into an interesting back-and-forth with Kathy L. Hudson, the Deputy Director for Science, Outreach and Policy at the National Institutes of Health, who says she thinks NIH is very open to change. She might have a career as a stand-up comic.
At about 5:15:00 into the meeting, the moderator of the section on oversight, Margaret (Mimi) Foster Riley asks how ACUCs assure that "ethical analysis" is represented on the ACUC? That's a crazy question from someone who ought to be well informed. (See my discussion Animal Research Ethics. 3/2012.)
Even crazier is the response from the top NIH watchdog, the Director of the misleadingly named Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), Patricia Brown (about 5:26:30): "SO FEDERAL AGENCIES THAT SUPPORT RESEARCH WITH ANIMALS, FORMED A WORKING GROUP IN THE LAST TWO YEARS AND HAVE PROVIDED JOINT FUNDING TO DEVELOP A NEW TRAINING PARADIGM USING ACTIVE LEARNING PEDAGOGY TO HELP DEVELOP IACUC TRAINING TO IMPROVE IACUCs SO THEY'RE THE HIGHEST FUNCTIONING IN TERMS OF ALL OF THE TOPICS THAT THEY ARE REQUIRED TO LOOK AT. NOT JUST FOCUSING ON THE ETHICS. BUT FOCUSING ON ALL THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES AS AN IACUC, BECAUSE IT GOES BEYOND JUST LOOKING AT IS IT ETHICAL TO USE THIS PARTICULAR MODEL OR THAT PARTICULAR MODEL."
One of the IACUCs at UW-Madison was chaired by an ethicist. He was hard pressed to point to an ethical evaluation of any proposed project that came before his committee. Pushed on the question he claimed that an ethical consideration perfuses the system, that it happens all along the way, from the initial application, to the NIH study section's deliberations, and throughout the ACUC's evaluation. But the minutes of his ACUC's discussions rarely included any record of such a consideration. The study sections certainly can't be relied upon because of members' clear biases. (See The "Best Science". November, 2009. See too:
Animal Research Ethics. March, 2012.)
To her credit, Brown admits that the ACUC system hasn't been evaluated by NIH. But to the detriment of her credibility is the plain fact that OLAW could somewhat easily evaluate the ACUC system if or she cared to do so. USDA/APHIS inspection reports sometimes include citations for failures of ACUCs to meet the letter of the law. It would not be too difficult to quantify the reported ACUC violations and to sort them by type. The needed information is readily available to Brown; she simply doesn't look at it.
Jeffrey Kahn makes a few comments at about 2:37:50, and continues briefly at about 2:41:36. Then, at about 6:06:00, additional discussion with Kahn occurs, apparently because of on-line viewers questions, and runs more or less to the end of the session.
All in all, in the six-and-a-half hours, there were only a few minutes where the larger overarching questions were raised; the participants were primarily primate vivisectors and senior members of their federal support system. Peta has pointed out that in a workshop purportedly intended to address the ethics of using monkeys, a workshop filled with presentations about the claimed benefits of using monkeys, there was not a single presentation from an ethicist, a critic of any sort, nor from anyone who wasn't professionally or financially vested in the status quo. It is wildly far-fetched to imagine they might have had someone speak on behalf of the monkeys. In fact, in keeping with a common pattern, almost no monkeys were seen during the many hours of talks about using them. (See: "Forum" Keeps Details Hidden. October 2011. Particularly the observations by Susan Lederer.)
The general inability of the attendees to understand questions raised by Kahn and Beauchamp was the same sort of blindness or deafness that I have seen in other vivisectors. It appears to be a common characteristic. (One example, coincidentally also involving Jeffrey Kahn: Moral Similarities Continue to Confound Vivisectors. October, 2014.)