Monday, July 30, 2018

To the best of my knowledge...

About a month ago I wrote about trying to get locally-based NPR host, Anne Strainchamps (that's her on the right in the picture above) to ask UW-Madison professor Richard Davidson about his continuing involvement in the use of young monkeys to study the neurobiology of anxiety and fear during her live public interview with him. He was promoting his new book promoting meditation. He and the university cultivate his public persona as a personal friend of the Dalai Lama's and a man of compassion. Unless pointedly asked, he never mentions the young monkeys frightened, hurt, and killed in that part of his work.

Ms. Strainchamps didn't ask him about it; she left her audience in the dark.

I used to think that thoughtful people who don't care about animals just hadn't taken the time to learn and think about the likelihood that they have inner lives and experience a range of emotions that are probably similar to ours. But that was before I took off my rose-colored glasses.

The unfiltered world is bleak. It is filled with people like Richard Davidson who not only believe that animals share emotions like fear and anxiety with us, but exploit those similarities and get rich from doing so. I think people who hunt likewise imagine the animals' fear and pain. Certainly this is true for other horrific activities like dog and bull fighting.

On the Saturdays I work, I sometimes catch Ms. Strainchamp's show on the radio. Its called "To the Best of Our Knowledge - Exploring the Deeper End of Ideas." This past Saturday, the show was titled “Loving Bees.” (A cause du jure rather than a concern for small animals?) In any case, the program featured a brief interview with a neuroscientist who had some interesting ideas about the mind of insects, something I've also written a little bit about.

Here's a transcript from part of that section of the show: “How Do We Wrap Our Minds Around Bee Consciousness?”
Anne Strainchamps: “Every couple of months, it seems like, there’s some startling new discovery about bees intelligence.... for Christof Koch, a neuroscientist in the field of consciousness, the moral is never underestimate the intelligence of another species...”

Christof Koch, : “...yes, I do believe, and I try not to kill bees or other wasps or other insects anymore, that it feels like something to be a honey bee, and it probably feels very good to be dancing in the sun light, it feels very good to have access to some nectar and be able to drink that and carry that back to the hive.” ...

I’m talking about the potential for sentience in individual bees, that’s correct, because a priori, there is no reason to exclude them. Why, because they can’t talk? Well, lots of people can’t talk. Babies can’t talk, patients can’t talk. That’s rather arbitrary, because they don’t have a human brain? Well, that’s completely arbitrary. So it’s very difficult on any fundamental grounds to presuppose that they are totally different from us. And of course they share a lot of the basic metabolism, a lot of the basic machinery of the brain they share with us. They have action potential, they have neurons, they have ionic channels, they have neurotransmitters, they have dopamine, just like we have, they have some of the same reward circuitry that we have...”

Interviewer and the program's Executive Producer, Steve Paulson, also in the photo in the image above: “So brain size is not the be-all and end-all here of consciousness.

Koch: “That’s entirely correct. There’s no principal reason to assume that brain size should be the be-all and end-all.”

I don't know, but I'll wager that no one associated with the show will alter their behavior toward animals as a result of this expert opinion that it feels like something to be a bee. No one had much doubt that it felt like something to be an Indian or a slave, and yet the most highly educated people in colonial America bought and sold slaves and killed Indians and took their land.

There is something odious about educational and news programing that does not seem to affect even the people producing it. It has to have something to do with the altitude of their lofty towers; the rarefied atmosphere somehow interferes with putting two and two together. To the best of my knowledge, in most cases no amount of data is sufficient to sway the opinion, let alone behavior, of someone with a vested interest in the status quo.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Weighing Suffering

Vivisectors are a breed unto themselves. For some reason, some of them feel like they have to justify the terrible things they and their ilk do to animals; not all vivisectors of course, most of them don't say a word in public about the things they do to animals in their labs, and when asked are circumspect about it. Those who are driven to defend their industry frequently lament the fact that most of their colleagues would rather not draw their neighbors' and non-vivisecting friends' attention to the nitty-gritty of their gritty work.

If it weren't for the few outspoken apologists, we wouldn't have as much insight into their beliefs and worries as we do, albeit limited as it is.

One of the claims made by the outspoken vivisectors, and by all the pro-viv public front groups, is that they really do care about the animals and wish they didn't have to hurt and kill them. Images like this are common on the pro-industry propaganda websites:

The impression is that, doggone it, vivisectors are animal lovers too. The impression, not necessarily the truth.

In fact, some vivisectors don't think the animals they hurt can suffer. As wild as that sounds, it is worth noting that there are white doctors and nurses who still don't think people with skin darker than theirs feel pain the way they do. [Hoffman, Kelly M., et al. "Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113.16 (2016): 4296-4301.] This is nothing new.

Juan Carlos Marvizon is a vivisector who likes to share his thoughts. He is a regular contributor to the misleadingly-named pro-vivisection group Speaking of Research. He uses rats to study pain. Here's a recent piece from him: More Thoughts on Animal Suffering, and a couple passages from the essay:
...I think that suffering requires the presence of a self because otherwise the existence of the subjective experience of suffering doesn’t make sense. This is a variant of the problem of consciousness: do non-human animals have a self? That’s doubtful. Maybe apes and dolphins do, rats and mice probably don’t. But, again, that is highly speculative. Hence, there has to be a scale of suffering. In that scale, humans are capable of much deeper suffering (and much deeper happiness) because we can see ourselves as selves with an existence extending in time, so we not only suffer in the present, but we can see that we have suffered in the past and that we will suffer in the future. Without episodic memory and extended consciousness, animals do not have selves with that continuity in time.

Questioning the ability of animals to suffer doesn’t mean that scientists are looking for a justification to inflict pain on animals. Rather, here scientists face two different moral imperatives. The first is the fundamental dictate of science of looking for the truth unhindered by cultural and societal biases. This leads us to examine the questions of animal pain and suffering in an objective way. The second moral imperative is not to be cruel to animals that can potentially suffer. It is because of this and the cautionary principle that we treat animals like rats and mice as if they can suffer, even when we don’t know for sure that they can. However, we do know with absolute certitude that humans can suffer, which is an additional argument to put human suffering before putative animal suffering. Therefore, it is morally justifiable to use animals in biomedical research to alleviate human suffering, while at the same time taking all possible measures to minimize the distress of animals involved in research.
He doesn't believe the rats he hurts can suffer because he thinks they don't have a sense of self. So, seemingly, whatever nominal welfare standard he is required to give lip-service to, it is to him not really necessary since rats are little more than animated machines, an opinion that has been relied on to absolve vivisectors since it was first voiced by Rene Descartes 1640.

He explains the terrible things he does to rats on his webpage:
Biography Dr. Marvizón’s research field is pain neurophysiology. He investigates chronic pain disorders at the physiological, cellular and molecular levels using the Latent Sensitization animal model. Latent Sensitization is triggered by injuries that cause long-term inflammation or nerve damage, such as skin incision, injection of inflammatory agents or nerve transection. This is followed by a period of increased sensitivity to mechanical (for example, poking with nylon filaments known as von Frey filaments) or thermal (focusing a hot light on the paw) stimuli. The key part of the Latent Sensitization model is that when that period of hypersensitivity has ended it can be reinstated temporarily by an injection of an antagonist of opioid receptors (mu, delta or kappa) or of alpha-2 adrenergic receptors. This reveals that the neural pathways that process pain remain sensitized but at the same time are suppressed by the activation of these opioid or adrenergic receptors. It is likely that similar process occur in chronic pain patients. Another important characteristic of Latent Sensitization is that pain can also be reinstated by stress (like making a rat swim in a bucket of water or exposing it to a new environment). Again, this happen to chronic pain patients.
All Marvizón’s nastiness aside, what initially caught my attention was his claim that "there has to be a scale of suffering." I think he's wrong in the context he is talking about. Obviously, suffering isn't the same for everyone in every circumstance. I suffer a heck of a lot more when I stub my toe really hard. Marvizón’s claim is that humans suffer more than other animals, and there is some sort of step-wise increase in their potential for suffering in species more like us.

This suggests to me that we should be able to compare these imagined levels of potential for suffering and come up with some sort of calculus that would give us the ability to weigh the potential benefits against the certain harms.

A straightforward case might be something like this: If we test some drug on 1,000 rats (and kill them) and it leads to saving 1,000,000 humans, would that be ethical? If we had some unit of measure, say a potential for suffering (pfs) score that we could assign to humans and rats, we could plug in the numbers and get an objective answer. Of course, such a scheme could be used to justify human vivisection as well, so maybe that plan would be too dangerous.

Nevertheless, if there is a scale of suffering, it could at least shed some light on the amount of suffering animals of different species might be subjected to from us using them. I suspect though, that people like Marvizón don't actually believe there is a meaningful scale of suffering. I think most people who use animals, even most people who simply eat them, actually believe that animals have no ethical weight at all.

Many people at least claim to care about other humans. This led me to wonder about the horrible things we do to each other. Among the worse, and almost universally decried as heinous (in public) is genocide. There have been a lot more cases of genocide that I thought, and they have been of various size. Here's a little graph I made based on data from Wikipedia; a range is given, I chose the high end number in every case:

43,003,883 people killed since 149BCE simply because they had the wrong religion, language, color... this led me to wonder how many people have been killed in wars. The upper estimate is 1 billion. When compared to the genocide deaths, genocide starts to look a little less serious (as if 43 million deaths aren't serious):

So combined, between war and genocide, we have killed somewhere in the neighborhood of one billion, 43 million people, or 1,043,000,000 of us. The population of the U.S. is about 325,000,000 right now.

But, compare that number, a tally of killings over about 2000 years, with the number of animals we killed in commercial slaughter in 2017 alone: [Data for the animal numbers for this chart comes from and]

In this chart, genocide has been dwarfed to near nonexistence. The entire history of war deaths is a small slice of the pie. That's the number of animals killed in one year and the number of each other we have killed for as far back in history as we can look.

I was surprised by this data. It's hard to grasp the numbers involved, the individual animals it represents. Moreover, this pie chart represents a single year. The chart from the previous year is essentially exactly the same.

The purple section is repopulated every year. Every year. While the other sections, the white and sliver of blue, represent what happened in the past -- no new human victims are being represented in previous or succeeding charts.

We, as in the general public, think the war and genocide deaths are bad, evil things, yet, we kill many times over that number of animals every year. And that number does not include the animals we kill hunting and fishing, the millions of mice and rats killed in the labs, the dogs and cats killed because no one wants them, the poisoned animals, the trapped animals, the animals hit by cars, killed for fun, or culled in some notion of population management...

And for the most part, we say those deaths are proper and OK because they are legal or regulated or whatever.

And if that is so, then we must have in our heads some calculus, some ethical ratio that says one human life is worth, a billion animals? This is why the planet is in such dire shape. We are consumed by our own image. We believe ourselves to be gods.

In 2005, I launched an effort to establish a sort of living animal holocaust showcase between the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the Harlow lab. It turned out to be just another animal rights failure. The Anti-Defamation League wrote to tell us that they thought it outrageous to compare what was happening in the monkey labs to the Holocaust. This is my reply to them:

Mark Juster
Lonnie J. Nasatir
Anti-Defamation League
Greater Chicago/Upper Midwest Regional Office
309 W. Washington St., Suite 750
Chicago, IL 60606-3296

Dear Mr. Juster and Mr. Nasatir:

We are writing in response to your June 28, 2005 letter. You expressed concerns regarding the explicit comparisons the National Primate Research Exhibition Hall is making between the Holocaust and harmful experiments using animals.

The sentiments you express seem to be based on the simple implicit claim that whatever is done to an animal other than a human, cannot rise to the same level of moral concern as it would if it were being done to a human.

This is the common, widely held view of most people today. It is however, based on pre-scientific assumptions. Consider the following experiment:

Rhesus monkeys were trained to pull on one of two chains, depending on the color of a flashing light, in order to receive food. After training, another monkey, held in restraints, was displayed through a one-way mirror.

By pulling the chains in the correct fashion, the first monkey would receive the food reward, but one of the chains now delivered a powerful and painful electric shock to the restrained monkey. It was discovered that most of the monkeys would not shock another monkey even if it meant not being able to eat. One of the animals went without food for twelve days rather than hurting the other monkey. Monkeys who had been shocked in previous experiments themselves were even less willing to pull the chain and subject others to such torment. [Masserman J, Wechkin S, Terris W. 1964. ‘Altruistic’ behavior in rhesus monkeys. American Journal of Psychiatry vol. 121: 584-5.]

Quite clearly, the monkeys in this study were following the Golden Rule. If we choose to live a moral and ethical life, it would seem profoundly wrong to intentionally hurt others who seem to understand this radical and history-changing idea. It seems monstrous that we would take such animals from their homes in the wild, destroy their social systems, breed them, experiment on their children, and on them, and justify the entire endeavor with the claim that it might be beneficial to us. This seems to be a profound case of hubris.

You stated that it is disrespectful to compare the “alleged mistreatment of animals with the enormous human suffering that took place during the Holocaust.” You state that calling the National Primate Research Exhibition Hall “another” Holocaust museum “evinces a fundamental misunderstanding of the Holocaust.”

We are offended that decades of documented cruelty are dismissed in such an offhand manner. There is nothing being "alleged". We state the facts.

You claim that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of the Holocaust. My personal understanding of the Holocaust is based on years of reading and teaching. I brought the National Holocaust Museum’s traveling exhibition to my small community in 1995. That same year I had a survivor come to my classroom and speak with my students. I have read most of the works written for adolescents many times over the years with my students. I have read many scholarly works devoted to various aspects of Germany’s policies and practices during the Nazi era.

When learning about the Holocaust, slavery, racial strife, the Killing Fields, and other examples of our inhumanity to each other, my students invariably asked why people allowed such things to happen; why didn’t they do some thing to stop them. Although I had no concise answer for them, we always agreed that the people who spoke out, who hid Jews, who helped blacks escape to freedom, who stood with the oppressed, were acting as we hope we would have acted if we had lived through those times.

Once the implication of the discoveries regarding animal mind are understood, the realities of the current situation become impossible to describe in terms other than those used to talk about past atrocities.

The Holocaust, I hope you agree, was not an experience unique to the Jews. The Final Solution was a unique aspect of the Holocaust. We do not claim that a parallel event is occurring today. There is no genocide occurring today in the primate labs. We do not claim there is.

I finished reading Vivian Spitz’s Doctors From Hell (Sentient Publications, 2005) just recently. As you may know, she was a court reporter during the Medical Case (Case #1) of the Subsequent Proceedings of the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials. The convicted medical doctors and medical assistants were found guilty of Crimes Against Humanity. Their victims – their experimental subjects – were a very heterogeneous group comprised of common criminals, political prisoners, Russian prisoners of war, Gypsies, Poles, the infirm, Jews, and others.

It is this aspect of the Holocaust and the fact that no one was speaking out in protest, that we draw attention to in our literature. Given that in both situations, medical doctors and scientists were and are being given authority to make society’s moral decisions; given that the justifications are the same: we will benefit from their suffering and death; given that science has demonstrated, and continues to demonstrate, that the brains of monkeys and humans are so similar that the species’ subjective experiences are necessarily similar; given that scientists claim that monkey psychological reactions are directly applicable to humans due to our close evolutionary relationship and the attendant physiological and emotional similarities; given the demonstrable horrors of laboratory life, we feel that the parallels we draw are appropriate.

Further, given the lack of education regarding animal mind, the historic willingness to ignore that which government tells us to ignore, and the historical facts regarding the consequences of doing so, we feel obliged to call attention to the issue and to draw parallels with the Holocaust where parallels exist.

We believe that, if you consider this issue with an open mind and compassionate heart, you are bound to understand the accuracy and importance of what we are doing. Given your commitment to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive and trying to assure that it does not happen again, we sincerely hope that you will lend your voice to our growing list of supporters.

You state that our “objectionable use of Holocaust imagery ultimately taints your campaign and detracts from the message your organizations seek to convey.”

I hope you can see why I believe you are wrong. The message we seek to convey is that the suffering today is indistinguishable from past suffering. The silence today is indistinguishable from the past silence.

Thank you for taking the time to write to us. I have enclosed information about the Exhibition Hall. Please do not hesitate to contact us with further questions or concerns.


Rick Bogle

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Notion of Tansparency - This Too Shall Pass

The recent public relations scheme to make the labs more transparent in order to make the public believe that hurting and killing animals in labs isn't so bad is probably the result of vivisectors not being able to come up with a winning argument in answer to the truth behind the chant, "Nothing to hide? Let us inside!"

In modern times, they have ginned up a handful of excuses for keeping the public in the dark about what is going on behind their locked doors. They say things like: "visitors will disturb the animals," "the animals' health would be put at risk," or, in the case of activists, "they might go berserk."

Those claims are a harder sell when it comes to the vivisectors' reticence at providing copies of photographs or videos. Then the arguments become something like "people wouldn't understand what they are seeing," or, "the photos would divulge trade secrets."

But really, the reasons are the same ones that drove vivisectors from more than a century ago to keep what they were doing a secret. When their neighbors found out, they picked up pitchforks and ran them out of town. It is the vivisectors' recognition of their neighbors' potential outrage and disgust that explains more accurately why the labs are so secretive.

It isn't likely that the labs will become more transparent. They might develop little quasi-Potemkin villages to help with the big hood-wink, but the people involved are, it seems to me, constitutionally incapable of recognizing what it is that the public is slowly coming to understand, namely, that animals are people too, beings with interests, concerns, emotions, precisely the things that are said to endow us with inherent rights. This means that if they proceed with a transparency gambit, it will be short-lived because they are unable to see animals through the eyes of the growing number of people who recognize them for who they are.

A case in point is a picture used to introduce an article from a recent edition of News from Science titled "'Gene drive' passes first test in mammals, speeding up inheritance in mice.":
This mouse and her pups are being used here simply as props. Mice are adverse to open fields; they naturally hide and avoid being out in the open, particularly during the day. In this image, the mouse and her pups appear to have been placed on a white surface and brightly lit. It is very likely that the open field coupled with the exposure of her pups is causing the mouse significant anxiety.

Science magazine is a long-time defender of vivisection. It is using it's wide circulation to help promote the idea that vivisectors are pushing for openness and transparency; but the editors were blind to the plight and likely distress of this mouse. This ethical blindness is at the root of every failed attempt to promote and defend the the use of animals in harmful experiments by engaging with knowledgeable critics. Vivisectors can't really prepare for such encounters anymore than a deaf person can prepare to discuss the tonal qualities of musical instruments.

But it is apparently impossible to know what you are incapable of knowing, and so, every so often a vivisector can be convinced participate in a public debate or speak frankly about what is happening in a lab, but these events are very rare because even a blind person gets burned when they touch a flame.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Propaganda, Fake News, Echo Chambers, and the Sway of Authority

Evolution has fitted us with the propensity to believe what we are told, to do as we are ordered, and to march behind those we take to be our leaders, those in authority, the bosses, the experts. Those of us who say, “Wait a minute, let’s talk about this, let’s do some fact-checking, let’s think about this for a while first,” are in the minority. We are the doubters, the square pegs, the friction in the otherwise smooth road the totalitarians, the corporations, the self-interested would otherwise see before them.

Doubt has led me to read much more slowly than I used to back in the days before the Internet. Now, when I read something, I find myself fact-checking the author or reading up on some bit of history or scientific claim alluded to. And now, I find myself much more skeptical when an authority makes claims about themselves or their field of endeavor when those claims are laudatory, because, mainly, I’ve learned that some authorities are prone to spin the plain facts or else just make things up. More dangerous than the liars, are those who have been told and have believed falsehoods. When they claim this or that, and are wrong, they aren’t lying, they are simply repeating a lie they believe to be true. In some cases, the original lie is many steps back in a chain of dupes unknowingly bamboozled.

I don’t think it is always possible to tell whether someone repeating a falsehood is doing so knowingly, but there are cases when there simply isn’t an adequate explanation or justification for passing on false information. If a coworker repeats something they read that turns out to be wrong, they can be excused for have been misled. But if a reporter for a news outlet does this, it is harder to excuse them.

In reputable news sources, the information being reported should be, and I expect it usually is, vetted or reviewed prior to public dissemination. Sometimes, particularly when reporting on breaking news, it might not always be possible to be as thorough as might be the case in a weekly publication. That’s understandable, and I see the better newspapers and periodicals occasionally printing corrections. Unfortunately, our propensity to rely on the veracity and integrity of those we deem experts can and too often does result in otherwise prudent media outlets unwittingly misleading the public. A well known example was the New York Times’ gullibility and reporting on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. But they owned up. Germane to this blog, a case in point was the recent USA TODAY article, “Let's continue animal testing: America's scientific community.” June 20, 2018. [See my comments: “Vivisectors call for more transparency.... yeah, right. June 23, 2018.]

There are some news sources that we expect to hold themselves to a higher threshold of accuracy than do daily papers. Among these are the top-tier science journals. While I understand that a headline on a checkout line tabloid should be read with doubt, a headline on the cover of the flagship journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science should be accurate. When top-tier science journals massage the facts to influence public opinion, the harm is great.

The cover of the June 29, 2018 issue of Science featured an article on our future titled “Tomorrow's Earth.” Too little too late, I fear, but I haven’t read it, so I’ll reserve judgment. The titles of three other featured articles were printed across the top of the cover. The first one promoted the article “Opening the lab door,” by staff writer David Grimm. The blurb on the cover read: “To fight critics, animal researchers urge greater transparency.”

The article itself is (as I write this) available here and here.

There seem to be only a few, two I think, possibilities to account for the misleading nature of Mr. Grimm’s article and claims in the Science Podcast, transcribed at the end of this essay. He might be actively and knowingly misleading readers and listeners. He might believe and accept the industry’s propaganda without question. Whatever the actual reason, his editors bear equal responsibility.

The notion that vivisectors are going to let the public see what they do to animals is ridiculous. No one who has read, even passingly, the history of the industry’s understandable reticence at letting the public see the things they do to animals will believe that the vivisectors have had a change of heart. So the headline alone teeters toward frank nonsense; and given its placement and claims, I think it fair to call it fake news because the editors and Mr. Grimm must know it isn’t true. If they know it isn’t true, they are passing on propaganda dressed up to look like truth. This violates the public’s trust and is part of the academy’s long seedy pattern of ethical deficit.

Below, I have annotated the pod cast Mr. Grimm participated in and inserted some links. To the journal’s credit, the host seems to express some doubt that the proposed PR gambit will shift the tide in the labs’ favor.

Increasing transparency in animal research to sway public opinion, and a reaching a plateau in human mortality By Sarah Crespi, David Grimm, Jennifer Golbeck Jun. 28, 2018 , 2:00 PM

~1:13. Sarah Crespi: Welcome to the Science pod cast for June 29, 2018. I’m Sarah Crespi. In this week’s show David Grimm has the story on sharing more on how and why animals are used in labs in an attempt to counter animal activists and win back the public.

~1:55: First up we have David Grimm; he’s here with a story, a new story, on animal research. Hi Dave.

David Grimm: Hey Sarah.

Sarah: Here in the U.S, public opinion about animal studies appears to be on the move. A poll last year recorded a substantial change since 2001. Back then 65% of adults found animal studies morally acceptable. As of 2017, only 51% feel that way. And this changing attitude appears to be having an effect on policies, like what Dave?

Dave: Well Sarah, there are a couple of new animal advocacy organizations on the scene. When people think of animal rights or animal advocacy organizations, often they tend to think of Peta, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or the Humane Society of the United States.

One of these new outfits is called the White Coat Waste Project which just came into being a few years ago. It’s shtick is basically trying to capture conservative voters and politicians as well as liberals. Not only do they talk about torture inside laboratories, but they also talk about animal research being a waste of taxpayer money.

[I think it telling, in a Freudian way, that Mr. Grimm characterizes the efforts of an organization dedicated to ending taxpayer support of serious harm to animals as their shtick, a term he is unlikely to affix to the claims of the vivisectors.]

Dave: There’s also a group called the Rescue and Freedom Project. And their goal is basically to also get animals out of labs; they’ve been advocating for laws at the state level around the country too, what are called “beagle freedom bills” to force researchers to adopt out their lab animals, typically cats and dogs, at the end of research studies. They’ve had success in eight states so far, two in just the last six months. And the White Coat Waste Project has helped shut down a nicotine study on monkeys at the FDA and also a bunch of canine research at the USDA system.

[I think he meant the VA system.]

Dave: And all of these efforts have been really opposed by the scientific community [Sarah: Um-hum.] at the state and federal level. And yet, these animal advocacy groups keep on winning.

Sarah: Right. And so there is this change in public opinion and there’s some concern that, you know, as it gets below 50%, which is what is projected, a lot of laws are going to come into effect and that’s going to have a serious, that’s going to cause serious problems for researchers.

Dave: Yeah. Researchers are really worried that funding is going to dry up when public opinion reaches this tipping point. It’s going to be a lot harder to do animal research. And so they are really tying to come up with a way to combat a lot of this stuff that’s been happening, not only public opinion but in the legislations as well.

Sarah: Okay. So one of the places you focus on in your story that’s trying this, I guess we’d call it transparency approach, [Dave: Right.] was out in Oregon. So you got to visit a different a different kind of primate research facility for once.

Dave: Right. This is the Oregon National Primate Research Center [ONPRC]; it’s one of the biggest, it’s actually is the biggest primate research center in the country. It’s located in Beaverton, Oregon, just a few miles outside of Portland, and their whole thing is transparency. And what they mean by that is they’ve got about 5000 monkeys there. And what they do is they actually bring the public in to take a look at the monkeys in their habitat. To take a look at them in the places that they live; also meet the scientists there, and the scientists talk to visitors; sometimes its high school students, when I was there it was a group of high school students, sometimes it’s Rotary Clubs, sometimes it’s wedding parties; just anybody who wants to visit. Everyday of the year they offer tours. And the goal is: ‘Let’s break down these barriers,’ because labs have traditionally, at least in the past couple of decades, been pretty shy about their animal research.[Sarah: Right.] Not posting about it on the web, not talking about it in their press releases, and certainly not inviting the public into the laboratories or even their animal facilities to see what’s going on. So this Oregon center is really at the forefront. What a lot of advocates are saying that a lot of other research facilities in the U.S. should be doing which is being a lot more transparent, a lot more proactive in engaging the public, here are the animals we use, and here’s why we use them.

[It is grossly misleading to say that ONPRC’s “whole thing is transparency.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The visitors (wedding parties?) are shown some of the breeding colonies. You can see these outdoor corrals in the image below from Google maps.
A USDA inspector resigned about 10 years ago after nothing was done when she reported, among many other problems, that during one spring it became very muddy and the monkeys were having to wade through feces and mud to get their food. I suspect it still rains in Portland.

Also in the image, you can see some large buildings. Visitors are not shown what is happening in them. In a previous article on this topic, “‘A cataclysmic wake-up call’: Can more candor win back support for animal research?” David Grimm. Science Jun. 26, 2018. Mr. Grimm tried to explain why the buildings are off-limit to visitors. He reported:
More than 3000 macaques live in enclosures like those or in larger open-air arenas. Another 1500, which researchers are actively studying, are housed in a building off-limits to the tour. Gordon says those animals may be susceptible to human diseases and, unlike the others, aren’t used to seeing large groups of people and would be stressed by visitors.
This puts the lie to the notion that ORPRC’s “whole thing is transparency.” It demolishes the claim that there is any truth to the claim that vivisectors want the public to know what they are doing. In the two undercover investigations of ONPRC I am aware of, the images and videos that came out were startling. In one case involving capuchin monkeys, other researchers at ORPRC were so disturbed by them that they forced the project’s closure. You can see one on the monkeys in this video at about time: 2:54. The short video demonstrates why visitors are not allowed to see what is happening in the labs.]

Sarah: Now that’s a stand-alone facility. Their main thing is animal research. But there are animal research labs all over the country, especially in universities, and that’s been, there’s a long history of universities kind of hushing up any animal research; is that something you see changing?

[Just to clarify, no, ORPRC is not a stand-alone facility. Like most other large primate centers, it is part of a larger institution. In the case of ORPRC, it is part of Oregon Health & Science University.]

Dave: Right. And one of the big motivators for that was, you know, a lot of extreme animal activism in the 80s and 90s, and not just protests and letter-writing campaigns, but car bombings and things like that.

[Mr. Grimm is not right. In fact, the labs’ secrecy dates back even earlier than 1921, when the Journal of Experimental Medicine began refusing to publish photographs or detailed descriptions of what was being done to the animals. [See: Lederer, Susan E. "Political animals: The shaping of biomedical research literature in twentieth-century America." Isis 83.1 (1992): 61-79.]

Mr. Grimm may have accepted the hyperbole regarding “bombings and things like that” from organizations with a financial interest in frightening vivisectors. See my essays: “American Scientist.” 4-4-2008, and “‘Illegal Incidents’ on the rise?” 5-8-2008.]

Dave: That made a lot of scientists and universities very shy about, even though they thought they were doing very important work, shy about promoting about it.

[But, as Lederer’s work and history demonstrate, that’s not true. They have never been transparent or forthcoming. And really now, would someone making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year really say that what they are doing isn't important?]

And so, one of the goals is, like the Oregon primate center, let’s talk more about the animals we use, you know, and even if we don’t let the public come in on a tour, if people come to our website, you know, they should be able to see all the animals we are using, but more importantly, why we’re using them, what therapies they’re leading to, you know, what we do to them, you know, as one of the people I talked to in the story said, ‘It’s always worse in people’s minds when a lot of the public hears animal research or animal experimentation, they conjure up these very, almost like sci-fi frightening images which aren’t always the case. And the researchers say, you know, if people saw what we are doing, they wouldn’t be as willing to buy into what they see as propaganda from the animal rights animal advocacy community.

[But the reality is that what is going on in some of the labs is far beyond what many people might imagine; and even in research projects not using permanently attached devices or surgically altered animals, the animals are frequently sick, are in environmentally bleak surroundings, have nothing to do, and are permanently stressed or hypersensitive to the presence of laboratory staff. [Balcombe, Jonathan P., Neal D. Barnard, and Chad Sandusky. "Laboratory routines cause animal stress." Journal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science 43.6 (2004): 42-51.]

Sarah: Is there any evidence that, you know, this transparency approach, letting people into labs, letting people see what’s happening, you know, with animal research in much more detail, is there any evidence that that works to sway public opinion?

Dave: So, the U.K.’s actually been kind of ahead on this. And they started doing this a few years ago; they launched a thing called the Concordat which a lot of UK institutions sign on to in fact a majority have signed sign on to which they promise to be more open and what U.K. has seen since that happened, there’s been a up-tick for the first time in years, in support for animal research, and one of the sources I quote in the story says there has also been a lot less negative news stories in the press about animal research. Now that’s just a correlation, but the U.S. looks at that and says, well, it seems to have had success in the U.K., will it work here as well.

[As of July 5, 2018, the Concordat website [] was not working. The associated “Understanding Animal Research” was though. They pointed to a page featuring images and videos from four labs. The term Potemkin village comes to mind. See my essay: “Up is Down, or Happy Lab Rats,” 6-16-2017.]

Sarah: I mean but, in the past couple months you’ve been reporting on, you know, the changes in the status of chimps in research, and then there’ve been some stories that come out about, you know, how often inspections are going to happen in labs, and where those results are going to be posted and how often. You know, it doesn’t seem like that is the trend in terms of like animal research in the U.S. right now.

Dave: Yeah. I mean, you know, again, animal researchers, animal facilities have been pretty shy. So I think the big open question is A: is transparency the answer? Is that the way to sort of bring the public back, to combat some of these animal activist campaigns? But, B: are scientists and you know, universities in the U.S. actually willing to do that? [Sarah: Um hum.] You know, are they willing to sort of expose themselves? Are they willing to expose themselves tin a way they haven’t for decades and sort of risk maybe more animal activity, but perhaps along with that get more public understanding about what they are actually doing, and why they are doing it.

And that ended his segment.

Maybe Mr. Grimm does not live near a large university. Or, maybe the one I live near is the exception. UW-Madison’s public relations department has consistently kept pro-animal research articles in the local press, and these have frequently been picked up by national news outlets. Two examples are fair bookends to this phenomena: misleading reports about Harry Harlow’s experiments were printed across the country for thirty years, and recently papers have featured misleading articles about the university’s caloric restriction research with monkeys.

Claims about why they are using animals abound; details of what they are doing to them not so much.

A couple small things just to tie up loose ends. Mr. Grimm says that ORPRC is the largest primate center. Here’s some dated info from PrimateInfoNet.

Oregon National Primate Research Center
Supported Species: 244 Macaca fuscata (Japanese macaque), 3659 Macaca mulatta (rhesus macaque)

California National Primate Research Center
Supported Species: 72 Callicebus cupreus (coppery titi), 242 Macaca fascicularis (long-tailed macaque), 5111 Macaca mulatta (rhesus macaque)

New Iberia Research Center
Supported Species: 1200 Chlorocebus aethiops (grivet), 1200 Macaca fascicularis (long-tailed macaque), 1500 Macaca mulatta (rhesus macaque), 450 Macaca nemestrina (pigtail macaque), 350 Pan troglodytes (common chimpanzee)[now relocated.]

Tulane National Primate Research Center
Supported Species: 6 Aotus nancymaae (Peruvian red-necked owl monkey), 2 Aotus trivirgatus (owl monkey), 47 Cercocebus atys (sooty mangabey), 7 Cercocebus atys lunulatus (white-collared mangabey), 2 Chlorocebus aethiops (grivet), 8 Erythrocebus patas (patas monkey), 1 Lophocebus aterrimus (black mangabey), 36 Macaca fascicularis (long-tailed macaque), 3523 Macaca mulatta (rhesus macaque), 670 Macaca nemestrina (pigtail macaque), 217 Papio (baboon), 6 Papio anubis (olive baboon), 18 Saimiri sciureus (common squirrel monkey)

The Washington National Primate Center in Seattle has monkeys in many locations around the country and in Asia. I think it possible that they may have the most monkeys on hand.

And, how should the size of a primate center be determined? Though not a primate center, Covance, here in Madison, consumes about 9,000 monkeys a year. Many of the monkeys in the NIH National Primate Research Centers are used for breeding, and many are used in long term projects. I don’t think they are killing anywhere close to 9,000 monkeys a year.

More transparency is needed, but unlikely, because in truth, the vivisectors are afraid of the outrage and backlash if they were to actually reveal the truth.

Two more bits that may be of interest.