Sunday, April 23, 2017

They all operate the same way.

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The 2017 March for Science

People gathered all over the world yesterday in support of science.

In the U.S. at least, their motivations were mixed. In the U.S., the main impetus was Donald Trump’s election and the subsequent official denial of human-caused, or anthropogenic, climate change, in the face of compelling evidence that we are changing the global environment in ways that will cause dramatic and severe problems in the not too distant future. The scale and severity of the impact of our activities could be and likely will be cataclysmic and may already be irreversible. Government’s denial of the body of evidence and the opinions of the majority of scientists studying the matter was the catalyst for the marches. The Trump administration seems decidedly opposed to limits on industry’s freedom to pollute, seems opposed to preserving undeveloped lands, and seems altogether made up of ignorant self-centered greedy bigots. There is plenty to be worried about.

But at least some of the marchers were walking for other reasons. Some of them are motivated by money. Here’s a nice chart from Science.

In broad terms, U.S. funding for science in order of the amounts in billion of dollars (2016) looks like this: NIH-$32, NASA-$19, NSF-$7, NOAA-$6, DOD/DARPA-$5, FDA-$6.

Much of that money finds its way to universities. It keeps a university and its labs up and running. It pays salaries and buys equipment. The flow of tax dollars from the NIH and the NSF has become the life-blood of the large universities; it has led to a system that has turned its back on science. The system is controlled by those whose livelihoods are dependent on the system; conflicts of interest and bias are inevitable and widespread.

Science is a very large umbrella. In common usage, it includes a wide array of activities, not all of which are based on the classic scientific method, but they do have things in common. One of those things is the belief that decisions and research directions ought to be based on what is believed to be likely, or better yet, has been proven. A decision driven by personal interests and desires isn’t science.

When decisions are made by scientists about their and their colleague’s work that seem to ignore a preponderance of evidence, it seems reasonable to infer that something has displaced the dispassionate consideration of evidence, which is at the heart of science. My interpretation of the dismissal of evidence, in the area of science I know best, is that the main goal of these scientists and their universities is securing funding.

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn pointed out in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that scientists are constrained by the status quo in their field of study. It is apparently almost impossible for a scientist to think outside the box. They spend their time trying to make new data fit into their shared beliefs, even when it can’t actually be squeezed into the box, or paradigm in Kuhn’s terms. They sometimes literally can’t see what is directly in front of them. Kuhn points to examples like Galileo’s observations of the motion of a pendulum which are not seen today. Galileo saw the world though a different lens than do today’s observers.

Kuhn argues convincingly that it takes a crises before scientists are able to begin operating under a new paradigm. A crises usually arises slowly as a result of the current paradigm being increasingly unable to explain observable data and unable to offer ideas that lead to successful new tools for solving the problems being encountered. At some point the working model is supplanted with a new view of the world that does a better job of explanation. That’s the way science has generally progressed over the years. But that was before money got mixed into the pot. Money has served to retard notice of a crisis and to forestall the development of new paradigms.

In years past, when a scientist’s work was judged on its content and consequences, he or she was forced to try something new, to abandon failed methods, and to rethink problems if what they were doing wasn’t working. But not anymore. Today, the work conducted by a scientist working in a university NIH-funded lab doing basic biomedical research is judged solely on their ability to attract funding and the frequency of their publications.

You might imagine that those making decisions about what projects to fund would look at a scientist’s success at generating information that led to some clinical benefit, but that’s not so. The NIH study sections that make the determinations are themselves staffed by others receiving NIH grants for projects that also have been funded without an evaluation of clinical benefit.

Kuhn’s ideas were the result of having to teach a class on the history of science; he was particularly focused on the physical sciences, and he was writing in the early 1960s. If he had seen into the future, he might have written about the consequences of massive financial support for scientists working in a system that does not demand success. Revolutions are unlikely, progress stalls.

The dominant paradigm in taxpayer-sponsored biomedical science today is that discoveries in mouse biology will lead to human benefit down the road, at some later date. To the degree that this isn’t true, then the degree to which mouse-based research continues to be supported by NIH is a rough measure of how off course science can go when influenced by a funding system that dispenses money to scientists who will certainly publish only data of no consequence and of no use to medical practitioners or patients. Less than 30% of NIH grant dollars go to clinical research -- research using humans. That’s telling. (Rubio, Doris McGartland, Ellie E. Schoenbaum, Linda S. Lee, David E. Schteingart, Paul R. Marantz, Karl E. Anderson, Lauren Dewey Platt, Adriana Baez, and Karin Esposito. "Defining translational research: implications for training." Academic medicine: journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges 85, no. 3 (2010): 470.)

When I say that the mouse model is the dominant paradigm I am using a bit of shorthand. More precisely, it is animal models generally, but the gigantically overwhelming number of animals used in research are mice. The failure and the reasons for the failure of the animal model paradigm has been written about in a scholarly way for at least 30 years, and the evidence continues to amass. For instance:

“... the limitations of preclinical tools such as inadequate cancer-cell-line and mouse models make it difficult for even the best scientists working in optimal conditions to make a discovery that will ultimately have an impact in the clinic.” Begley, C. Glenn, and Lee M. Ellis. "Drug development: Raise standards for preclinical cancer research." Nature 483, no. 7391 (2012): 531-533.

That article has been cited 1,160 times, which means it has been seen by lots of people in the biosciences, but 5 years later, and many similar papers preceding it and following it over the years pointing to the same phenomena, NIH still has at its helm, a mouse vivisector. I suspect that mouse-based research continues to lead the pack in funding and in the number of projects funded.

So, back to the March for Science: in Madison, vivisectors were key-note speakers, as they were at the few other marches I took the time to look at. The animal-model paradigm is a bust; the suffering experienced by the animals is beyond comprehension. And yet, on it goes.

Science has demonstrated beyond any doubt, that animals of numerous other species are emotional, thinking, complex beings. That’s clear. It is a statement based on a large and fast-growing body of verifiable enlightening evidence. And yet.

And yet, the geologists, the chemists, the physicists, the climatologists, the archeologists, the limnologists, the paleontologists say nothing. And yet, federal agencies continue to actively promote the use of animals in extraordinarily cruel projects that have no hope of helping anyone.

Climate scientists have a responsibility as scientists to speak out when they see colleagues doing things in the name of science that are obviously cruel. They have an obligation to try and find out what is being dome to animals in the name of science.

Claims of scientific expertise carry with them responsibilities not borne by non-scientists. One of those, it seems to me, particularly in light the unprecedented call from the scientific community for all people everywhere to stand up in support of Science!, is that they take notice of the work of those they pull to their bosom and take definite steps to stop any and all inhumane practices.

I didn’t march with them. The last thing I needed was to hear primate vivisector and keynote speaker Richard Davidson talking about how Buddhist meditation makes people more compassionate.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Future of Primate Vivisection

A friend and I recently attended a workshop put on by the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service’s Animal Care division (APHIS-AC) and the USDA Center for Animal Welfare (CAW), a part of APHIS-AC. It was titled, “Nonhuman Primate Symposium: Practical Solutions to Welfare Challenges.” USDA-AC is the branch (twig) of the government responsible for overseeing and enforcing the Animal Welfare Act.

The two-day event was held in a large conference room at the USDA Beacon Building at 6501 Beacon Dr. in Kansas City, Missouri. The first presentation was an informal greeting by the facility’s chief security officer who told us that the (crazy) security precautions and presence were due to the building being a “level 4” facility..., whatever that means. One thing it means, according to the security guy, is that the building can’t be photographed. Someone should have told Google:

(Prior to the symposium, the organizers sent an email to all the registrants, inadvertently or unknowingly letting everyone know who else was attending. Maybe security is a one-way street.)

We went because it was open to the public, free, and featured presentations from primate vivisectors. It is very unusual for primate vivisectors to speak in public about their dirty hideous profession.

The intended audience was apparently people with backyard zoos who had monkeys, but it was billed as appropriate for a wide audience.

The presentations were grouped by topic. At the end of each set of presentations, the speakers responded to written questions from the audience. My questions were never addressed. One of the first speakers was CAW director, Norma Wineland, DVM. I submitted a question to her about USDA-APHIS’s deletion of on-line records of inspection reports. The question was handed to her by the woman reading the questions. Dr. Wineland, veterinarian and lamb-producer, chose to leave that can of worms unopened. Wineland raises sheep with her husband and produces "great tasting, local lamb!" It makes perfect sense to me that someone who raises lambs to slaughter would be appointed to head the USDA Center for Animal Welfare.

Three of the speakers were or had been intimate participants in primate vivisection.

Gwendalyn Maginnis, DVM, Nonhuman Primate Specialist, Center for Animal Welfare, Animal Care, USDA, was apparently, the symposium's organizer, She is a good example of the cozy relationship between the vivisectors and USDA-AC. She worked previously at the UC-Davis California National Primate Research Center and at the Oregon Health Sciences University’s Oregon National Primate Research Center She also worked in the toxicology department at WIL Research Laboratories in Ohio (recently acquired by the hideous Charles River Labs.) An acquaintance who worked at the Oregon primate center when Maginnis was there told me that she wasn’t particularly concerned about the monkeys which seems right since serious concern is not compatible with assisting in this Mengele-like thread of the animal holocaust. Maginnis led a workshop at the end of the second day on preparing an AWA-required primate Environmental Enrichment Plan, a pro forma written document statutorily exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and of little impact in the labs, as the videos in a later presentation made painfully clear.

The second primate vivisector to make a presentation was Suzette D. Tardif, Associate Director of Research at Southwest National Primate Research Center. According to the The University of Texas Health Science Center's web site, “The Tardif laboratory's activities center on the development of the marmoset monkey as a disease model.” That’s pretty messed up; it seems like an open-ended invitation to hurt these small monkeys in any way she can imagine. In a very recent paper (1), she wrote: “Marmosets given the partial MPTP dose (designed to mimic the early stages of [Parkinson’s disease]) differed significantly from marmosets given the full MPTP dose in several ways, including behavior, olfactory discrimination, cognitive performance, and social responses. Importantly, while spontaneous recovery of PD motor symptoms has been previously reported in studies of MPTP monkeys and cats, we did not observe recovery of any non-motor symptoms." She seems too, to find humor in the things she does to the monkeys.(2)

But of all the sad and disturbing things she said, and didn’t say, the pièce de résistance was her answer to the question: “What do you see being different in the primate labs 50 years from now?” Now, I don’t think like a vivisector, but I think it reasonable to imagine that she might have said something about a possible reduced need for animals given the advances in technology or, if she weren’t quite so sheltered, something about the public’s changing mores, but no, her vision of the future of the primate labs is just more automation. Apparently, robots will be caring for the monkeys.
Wow. Dystopia on steroids. Tardif gave two presentations. She seemed sort of dead in a way to me.

The third primate vivisector was Yerke’s Mollie Bloomsmith. It’s hard to convey how disconnected with what I take as normalcy, she was. Her presentation was titled, “Understanding Abnormal Behavior and Fear-related Behavior in Primates.” In her slides were videos of monkeys exhibiting some of the common severe aberrant behaviors common to rhesus monkeys in the common laboratory colony environment.

She showed both pair-housed monkeys and singly-caged monkeys. It is broadly held that pair-housed rhesus monkeys are somewhat less emotionally disturbed than singly-caged monkeys, particularly males. The very pro-vivisection group, the Association of Primate Veterinarians reports that nearly 20,000 monkeys in the U.S. labs are caged alone.

The pair-housed monkeys were living in two cages with the panel between the cages removed. They had exactly twice the space given to a single monkey. But the walls, floor, and ceiling were still stainless steel panels and mesh.
Their environment was bleak and cold. There was barely room to move, there was no place to hide. Bloomsmith showed a segment and commented that one might not be able to tell the proximate cause of a monkey’s symptoms just by looking at them. In the video, one of the monkeys became very aggressive and held down the other monkey and pulled out clumps of hair on the other monkey’s back.

In other videos she showed monkeys biting themselves, pulling out their hair, poking themselves in the eye, and making stereotyped movements. She commented on one of them saying something like, “We don’t know why they hurt themselves.” I almost choked.

One of the questions that was asked after Bloomsmith’s presentation was how long the monkeys were in those cages and whether the cages in the videos were holding cages of some sort. She fumbled with the answer; it seemed likely to me that at least some people in the audience, maybe many or most, were seeing for the very first time how monkeys are kept in the labs. She chose not to say that those small barren cages are where they spend their lives. The implications and recognized risks associated with the public seeing such videos has led to decades of battles with universities to get copies of them. A good example is the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s destruction of 628 videotapes in order to keep just one from being shown to the public.

All in all, the symposium was informative. I hope APHIS will invite the public to attend many more.

(1)Phillips, Kimberley A., Corinna N. Ross, Jennifer Spross, Catherine J. Cheng, Alyssa Izquierdo, K. C. Biju, Cang Chen, Senlin Li, and Suzette D. Tardif. "Behavioral phenotypes associated with MPTP induction of partial lesions in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)." Behavioural brain research 325 (2017): 51-62.

(2)Phillips, Kimberley A., M. Karen Hambright, Kelly Hewes, Brian M. Schilder, Corinna N. Ross, and Suzette D. Tardif. "Take the monkey and run." Journal of neuroscience methods 248 (2015): 27-31. From that paper; the link below is to a must-see video:

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Dear America's Scientists

Dear America's Scientists,

I was glad to see that there are some among you speaking up for publicly-funded science at a time when six-day creationists, climate change deniers, and simple greed seem to be ascendant in American politics.

I hope the March for Science Mission Statement will be widely embraced by scientists and everyone else:
The March for Science champions publicly-funded and publicly-communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, non-partisan group to call for science that upholds the common good, and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest. This group is inclusive of all individuals and types of science!
I hope you will do all in your power to resist the sequestration and censorship of information needed by the general public in order for us to make educated and informed decisions. I am writing to you today to suggest one proactive step you can take that will demonstrate that you stand for the pursuit of truth and are champions of informed decision-making.

On February 3, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture removed from its website thousands of documents regarding its oversight of compliance with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Horse Protection Act (HPA). The agency says it deleted the records because it was concerned about privacy.

AWA compliance inspections of universities, colleges, and private research companies are conducted by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a part of the USDA. During an inspection, Veterinary Medical Officers document any violations they find and cite specific language in the federal regulations that stipulate the standard that is not being met.

Repeat violations of the AWA can result in fines and in a few cases of apparent willful violation or the inability to correct serious problems have resulted in a facility's closure. This was the case with Santa Cruz Biotechnology and Harvard University's New England National Primate Research Center, respectively.

In both cases and many others, it took repeated complaints from citizens alarmed by what they learned was occurring at these facilities before any meaningful action was taken by the USDA. They learned about these violations and government's lack of action by examining the inspection reports.

The USDA's decision to expunge these records was not driven by a concern for privacy, because no personal data is included in inspection reports. The USDA deleted these records in an effort to shield universities and animal breeders from public watchdogs. They tried this in the early 2000s as well, but a threatened lawsuit caused them to capitulate and restore some of the deleted data.

The use of animals in ways that harm and kill them is a small slice of science. Those working in this area have traditionally resisted efforts by members of the public to bring their practices to the light of day. The USDA's decision to hide evidence of federal violations from the public helps no one but those committing the violations.

You have an opportunity to prove that you are standing up against those who are working to deny the facts and potential and real problems associated with climate change, pollution, overpopulation, nuclear proliferation, and all the rest of the realities that inconvenience certain industries and investors. I know that many of you agree that we have a right to know these things.

The USDA's ad hoc sudden public censorship of its records will not go unchallenged, but you can take direct action right now. Your silence will be seen by the government as an endorsement of its actions. Now is the time to step up and speak up for truth, honesty, and public access to information.

Tell your institution's administrators to place all its correspondence with government agencies concerning compliance with the Animal Welfare Act on a publicly accessible web page and let the public know that it has done so.

I urge you to stand with those who believe in the importance of a well-informed electorate.