Thursday, August 23, 2018

We suck is a hard lesson.

Mrs. Trautwein (I’m not sure of the spelling) was my 7th grade English teacher at Johnston Jr. High in Houston. Her classroom was in what were referred to as one of the "temporary buildings," wooden buildings on pylons -- with two rooms sharing a common porch and set of steps. I failed English that year. I am forever in her debt.

She allowed me to write.

I didn’t write what she wanted me to. I was called up to her desk numerous times; the conversation was always the same.

When told to write, even when given a specific topic, I always found a way to twist my response in a way that allowed me to talk about our detrimental effect on the planet and its other inhabitants.

That was in 1965 or 66 (I’m not good with dates.)

She’d say, “Rick. Rick, Rick.”

She had very short hair. It was dark, maybe with a peppering of gray. Her face was round and pock-marked from acne. The hair on her face was a thick soft pelt; it’s funny the things we remember.

I don’t know how it got into my head. I recall reading lots of nature books -- or at least the captions -- and I’d been reading novels since I was ten. Mostly science fiction, so it’s likely some were dystopias.

My recurring unwavering theme in response to Miss. Trautwien’s many writing assignments was my worry that we would develop space travel. I did and do envision the possibility as strongly parallel to the biology of viruses; consuming our hosts and using them to scatter our spore; or in the case of us, scatter humans, to the detriment of our next host.

I wonder if she got it or just wrote it off as the angst of a twelve or thirteen-year-old boy?

In any case, I’m glad I had her as a teacher.

Recognizing Fake News

It can be hard for many of us to spot some fake news. This becomes even more difficult when the purveyor is believed to be honest and forthcoming. A case in point is the propensity of universities to publish statements and articles that are not true. I looked at numerous examples from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in my book "We All Operate in the Same Way."

Peta has recently been running bus ads and billboards pointing to the plain fact that vivisectors kill animals.

UW-Madison responded with a fake news blast. I'm copying it here because I don't trust them to change or delete it.
PETA bus ads target animal research

Posted on August 15, 2018

University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers study animals, including monkeys like the one depicted in an advertisement on a Madison bus, to learn about human disease and to explore basic biological processes.

Alternatives to animals are always considered before research begins, and whenever possible methods without animals are used. However, animals remain the only way to study many vital aspects of human and animal health. UW–Madison scientists rely on animal studies to design new treatments and advance our knowledge of AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dangerous infections like influenza, many types of cancer and more.

All animal research on campus includes the attention of skilled veterinarians. All animal research is closely reviewed and regulated by our animal care and use committee and several federal agencies.

Everyone benefits from what scientists have learned from these studies. Where there is a better way, UW–Madison researchers use it. To exclude animals from research would leave us without the opportunity to answer many questions about the way our bodies work, and leave many people — and future generations — struggling with deadly and debilitating conditions without prospects for help.

That is why UW–Madison is committed to conducting responsible and ethical research with animals.

Learn more about animals in research and teaching at UW–Madison at

Posted in UW News

Let's deconstruct this nonsense. Like all good propaganda, they start out with some facts. They use monkeys like the one seen in the ads. And they use animals in research on human diseases and biology. But from there, the truth quickly falls apart.

1. "Alternatives to animals are always considered before research begins, and whenever possible methods without animals are used."

In 2008, the British government reviewed the use of goats in research on rapid decompression, like that experienced in diving or submarine accidents. They reported that: "the remaining associated areas of uncertainty in submarine escape and rescue relate to events that are considered highly unlikely and do not therefore need to be addressed by means of animal testing."

And yet, the university refused to stop its horrifically cruel decompression experiments on sheep. (There was just too much money associated with it.) And that's just one example.

2. "However, animals remain the only way to study many vital aspects of human and animal health."

The misleading implication is that every terrible thing they do to animals is done only because there is no alternative. In fact, I don't think that is ever the case. One way to test this is to look at whatever it is that the vivisectors say they are studying and check the National Library of Medicine's database of research publications, PubMed, to see if there is research on the topic that was not a report on research using animals. I'll wager there is no human medical research topic at the university that isn't being explored somewhere with non-animal methods, vital or otherwise.

3. "UW–Madison scientists rely on animal studies to design new treatments and advance our knowledge of AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dangerous infections like influenza, many types of cancer and more."

This is straight-up fear-mongering. Why didn't they include trivial topics? For instance, Paul Kaufman's invasive experiments on monkeys to study presbyopia -- the age-related need for reading glasses. And just what are those "new treatments" for Alzheimer’s? Gibberish.

4. All animal research on campus includes the attention of skilled veterinarians.

This is like saying that all the experiments on people at Auschwitz had the attention of medical doctors. That's true, but that only added to the depravity. Likewise, the ranks of vivisectors claiming to be studying human disease are filled with veterinarians. A case in point is the attending veterinarian at the university's primate center, Saverio (Buddy) Capuano III. Capuano is a co-author of many papers reporting on the terminal course of monkeys infected with infectious diseases.

5. All animal research is closely reviewed and regulated by our animal care and use committee and several federal agencies.

In fact, veterinarian Capuano has argued during these committee meetings that the committee has no right to stop funded projects. He was outspoken on this point when Ned Kalin's plan to revive some of Harry Harlow's grotesque methods became public and the shit hit the fan.

The referred to regulations are cursory and proforma. Worse, enforcement has become secretive and opaque to the public.

6. "Everyone benefits from what scientists have learned from these studies. Where there is a better way, UW–Madison researchers use it."

By "everyone" maybe they mean the people at the university whose salaries are tied to tax-payer-funded research. Certainly, most people, the overwhelming majority, will receive no benefit from killing sheep by means of decompression, staging fights between mice, raising birds in isolation, blinding monkeys, inventing more mutant rodents, or breeding dogs with genetic illnesses. And clearly, someone who has been getting paid for twenty years isn't about to change course.

7. "To exclude animals from research would leave us without the opportunity to answer many questions about the way our bodies work, and leave many people — and future generations — struggling with deadly and debilitating conditions without prospects for help."

Wow. Just wow. Talk about dissing one's colleagues. I suspect there is a clinical researcher or two who might think that their efforts might someday provide a prospect for help. In fact, their work is exactly where all advancements come from.

8. "That is why UW–Madison is committed to conducting responsible and ethical research with animals."

Well, at least they end with a joke! Everyone knows its all about money. Everyone knows how irresponsible it is. And no one but a fake news glutton could believe it is ethical.

Finally, there is something particularly ethically distasteful when those who the public is told to trust mislead them; and doubly so when they knowingly mislead them to benefit themselves. It's despicable. But then, this isn't even news.

"It is hardly to be expected that a man who does not hesitate to vivisect for the sake of science will hesitate to lie about it afterwards...." -- George Bernard Shaw. "The Doctor's Dilemma." 1909.

"Forgive me Father, for I have sinned."

The parallels between the way Catholic dioceses and the NIH and USDA deal with priests and vivisectors who harm those in their power are hard to miss. I wrote a little about this last year.

There is something in our nature that can make us turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of those we have a responsibility to supervise. The more intimate we are with those misdeeds, the more we relate to those committing them, the more likely we are to make excuses for them and to offer only mild rebukes.

The parallels between the two cases -- priests and vivisectors -- are not uniform. In the case of Catholic priests, there are no reports of them killing their victims or letting them die of hunger or thirst. Another difference is that there are probably many genuinely compassionate and kind priests.

One of the similarities that struck me is shuffling people around. If a priest becomes too obvious, his Bishop sometimes just moves him to a new parish. In the case of vivisectors, they sometimes find jobs elsewhere if too much noise is made over their abuses. It is likely that a good recommendation is common. Michele Basso is a case in point. Even UW-Madison's hardened staff had to admit that her brain experiments on monkeys were slipshod error-filled nightmares. And so, she moved to UCLA, got a promotion, and kept at it.

I couldn't help but notice too, that the universities, NIH, USDA, and the Catholic dioceses seem to share opinions on when to redact information in written records; particularly embarrassing facts that implicate specific people are held back. Though, in defense of the Catholics, this is much more common among the vivisectors.

A particular similarity between these parallel worlds of abuse is that confession is often sufficient for forgiveness. In the case of priests sodomizing children, asking for forgiveness results in a letter of sympathy for the stress the priest has endured in fighting his urges. In the case of a university reporting violations of animal welfare laws, a letter from NIH expresses their thanks for reporting the problem and the hope that it isn't reported again.

You can read the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report here:

You can read about the Michelle Basso case and a host of other similar hideous examples in my book, "We All Operate in the Same Way."

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Hurry up, lab grown meat!

Miss Virginia Smith -- Smitty -- on my back watching the deer. Circa 1996.

I'm 65 years old and (knock-wood) in good health. I suspect that my 46 years of veganism is a contributing factor. Living another 20 years is a mixed bag, what with climate change and the totalitarian direction of the country and world in general, but barring an accident, I think it reasonable to suppose that I'll be around for another twenty years.

I'd like to spend those years with a couple of cats. We don't have cats right now because of the ethical morass of feeding them. Maybe we should bite the bullet and feed them a taurine-fortified cat food, but I have doubts about the effects of those products on cats' long-term health.

Lab-grown meat, grown in a non-animal medium of some sort, has the potential of being win-win.

Hurry up lab grown meat people, I don't have forever.


grifter: someone who cheats others out of money. Grifters are also known as chiselers, defrauders, gougers, scammers, swindlers, and flim-flam men. Selling a bridge and starting a Ponzi scheme are things a grifter might do. The difference between a grifter and a thief is a grifter tricks you out of money through lies, while the thief takes it by force. [From]

UW-Madison is a textbook case of "experts" overlooking obvious nonsense and falsehoods from the charlatans in their midst when the elixirs they are selling are bringing in lots of money -- typically taxpayers' money. The most straightforward and incontrovertible example was Rick Heber. For some reason, the university doesn't remind people about the miracle cures he was selling or about the university's head-over-heals embrace and promotion of his snake oil. I briefly summarized the Heber incident in my book, "We All Operate in the Same Way."

Peas in a pod.

Before continuing, I need to address the question of why Waisman was chosen by the Kennedy Foundation if his research had been largely unnoticed by clinicians working in the PKU arena. If his work did not contribute to the identification or treatment of the condition, if his research was worthless, as I believe the evidence at hand makes clear, why was the university singled out as the Foundation's very first recipient of funding?

There are two likely contributing factors. The first is straightforward: Waisman had been Rosemary's physician at St. Coletta up until his death. Both Rose Kennedy and her daughter Eunice Kennedy Shriver wrote letters of condolence to the school when Waisman died.

The second involves the Kennedy Foundation's push into the area of cognitive disabilities and the subsequent President's Panel on Mental Retardation, both the result of the efforts of Eunice and Sargent Shriver. The Foundation and the Panel were intimately interconnected; two of the Shrivers' three original advisors, Robert E. Cooke and George Tarjan, both medical doctors, were members of the President's Panel. Tarjan was the Panel's vice-chairman. The Panel's chief staff member, sometimes referred to as its Director of Research, was Rick F. Heber, sometimes referred to as F. Rick Heber, a University of Wisconsin professor in the School of Education.

Heber's inclusion in the panel is probably due to his authorship of A Manual on Terminology and Classification in Mental Retardation in 1959. Heber's definition of mental retardation was used and widely accepted at the time the Foundation was determining its possible grant recipients. Eunice Shriver and others mention Heber or conversations with him in the oral histories preserved in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Heber knew Shriver, Cooke, and Tarjan. He probably knew Waisman; they were both speakers at the 1960 World Conference on Mental Deficiency in London. It seems probable and understandable that he would have used his influence to steer funds to Waisman and his institution regardless of whether or not there was merit in Waisman's experiments on monkeys and rats.

It is not likely that Heber cared one way or the other, but if asked, he probably would have said that Waisman was on the verge of a miraculous cure, whether he believed it or not. When Waisman died, Heber was chosen to succeed him and officiated at the ceremony renaming the facility in Waisman's honor. Rick Heber was the Waisman Center's director from October, 1973, until December, 1980, when he was summarily replaced.

Heber was a crook. I learned about Rick Heber's exploits while trying to find an answer to the question I posed above regarding the reason anyone would have noticed Waisman and given him any money. Those who have written about Heber mention that the scandal was not well-reported outside Madison, or in the science journals. In 1981, he was convicted on multiple counts of diverting institutional funds into his own pocket and was sentenced to three years in federal prison. Wisconsin then sentenced him to an additional four years.

Heber was a charlatan. Heber was the principal investigator on a NIH-funded project that is reported to have paid him $14 million over fifteen years for something called The Milwaukee Project. The prestige he had gained from his work on the Presidential Panel and his subsequent directorship of the Waisman Center must have contributed to the NIH and the university supporting him and overlooking many of the problems associated with his work. Heber said that he had recruited children of black mothers with low IQs for the project. Twenty children received the experimental treatment and twenty did not. The treatment consisted of various educational and enrichment activities. Reports in the popular press said that Heber's methods had resulted in miraculous improvements in IQ; in some cases over 30 points and raising the average IQ of children in impoverished neighborhoods to over 125. His results were incorporated into numerous textbooks and reported as fact. But Heber's results were never reported in a scientific journal, leading some to question whether the project had even taken place.

When the university finally dismissed Heber, they said it was because of his repeated and protracted absences. He is reported to have had a horse breeding farm that took up most of his time. Heber's apparent disregard for those he claimed to be trying to help and his disregard for the possible consequence of his behavior coupled with what appears to have been his very successful efforts to manipulate and influence those around him to benefit himself suggests to me that he was probably a psychopath. It seems reasonable to suppose that it was Rick Heber's manipulations that resulted in the university receiving the Kennedy Foundation grant and subsequent rich support from the NIH.

For his conviction in federal court, Heber served three years at the federal prison in Bastrop, Texas. Fifteen years later, I and thirty or so other people protested for three days at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Bastrop where about 175 chimpanzees were incarcerated; they were innocent and being treated much more poorly than Heber probably was. It is a small world.


Driving to work the other day, I heard a stealth PR spot on Wisconsin Public Radio about a report from the university's HealthEmotions Research Institute that the brains of some boys and girls 11 to 14 years old who played a video game that encouraged empathy were different from the brains of other children who played the game, and that the game might teach some people to have empathy. Sounds like more flim-flam to me. From the university's PR piece:
“If we can’t empathize with another’s difficulty or problem, the motivation for helping will not arise,” says [Richard] Davidson, who headed the research team.

Well, duh. And the cost? According to the published paper: Funding of an amount I have not been able to run down, came from a Gates Foundation grant OPP1033728 to Richard Davidson, a core grant to the Waisman Center from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) P30 HD003352, and from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health award number T32MH018931.

Easy-to-come-by money seems to make some people soft in the head... most people? The core grant from NICHD has been funding the Waisman Center for about fifty years. Harry Weisman died in 1971, that's when Heber was named the director of the center named in his honor. Funding details are incomplete, but over the past 35 or so, it has paid out $39,474,602.

T32MH018931 is one of Davidson's grants. Since 1996, it has paid out about $9.5 million. He currently has 10 active projects with annual yearly combined payments of over $6 million. About a million of that is for his research on meditation. There have been numerous papers and articles generated by the money proving (or at least strongly implying) that meditation is a good thing and, of course, that more money is needed to study it further. One thing they say occasionally, much like the big news about the video game, is that meditation can make one more compassionate. But then, Davidson is a long-time collaborator on a long-running project led by his fiend, whoops, friend, Ned Kalin. They have been making even more money with the claim that what they learn from the brains of young monkeys who were frightened and killed will one day lead to a cure for anxiety and depression.

Hey, if someone tells you they're looking for ways to make people more compassionate, kind, and empathic but is also making money from frightening anxious young monkeys and mutilating their brains, you ought to notice the dichotomy; a red flag ought to go up. A frickin cannon ought to go off when they tell you that they have a personal compassion meditation practice. It's a dark concept indeed. By thinking compassionate things -- trying to feel love for all beings -- one gains something. Maybe you feel better some way. And then you go look at brain scans of young monkeys being frightened.

This is very similar to why some people give to the poor, not for the poor so much, but more to gain merit for themselves. And, seemingly, the dichotomy is so plain and blatant that the people at NICHD giving Davidson such obscene amounts of money, may also think along the same lines as he does.

Davidson's claimed quick fixes seem to be of an absurdity of the same sort as Heber's claims that a little extra tutoring could turn amazing numbers of impoverished inner city kids into near geniuses. But in both cases, the university was and is eager to promote whatever rings the cash register.

There is a distinct pattern of flim-flam from the Waisman Center. I'd be surprised if there isn't good work going on there too, but the leadership, the most senior people, beginning with Waisman and Heber and down to the present, have been less than stellar. The current director is a veterinarian. A veterinarian leading a facility, "Dedicated to the advancement of knowledge about human development, developmental disabilities, and neurodegenerative diseases." [My emphasis, as if you couldn't tell.] Messing's own research is on Alexander disease. calls it an "extremely rare" disease. NIH says, "The prevalence of Alexander disease is unknown. About 500 cases have been reported since the disorder was first described in 1949." In 2018, NIH gave Messing more than $1.5 million to study the disease. Wow. A million and a half bucks to study a disease that has only rarely been seen. His work will never be tested. What gig. What a scam.

Messing's predecessor at Waisman was Marsha Mailick, who now is the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education at the university. I don't know much about her work, but skimming the titles of her papers back to 1977, it looks to me like her work has been entirely clinical in nature, but then, so was Heber's. Replacing a clinician with a veterinarian is a decidedly backward step. The one thing I know she got completely wrong was Waisman's research on PKU or phenylketonuria. It was a sham, based on monkey and rat models that later reviewers dismissed as unimportant and misinterpreted (flim-flam in layman's terms.) That was the area of Waisman's work that got the most promotion from the university, so maybe Mailick was just duped by the universit's PR, like the local press was.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

How Ought We Behave During the End Days?

It seems to me that people have only a few choices in in response to the research on climate change. We have to believe it, disbelieve it, or just ignore it. Maybe there are more choices if one thinks that some part of some of the research is accurate, but generally, I suspect most people who pay attention to the news on climate change can generally be sorted into one of two groups: believers and nonbelievers.

I'm a believer.

When Trump was elected, the American science community freaked out (understandably and at least somewhat appropriately, I think) and organized marches and probably increased its already obscene spending on lobbyists. If you have an interest in science, you are probably familiar with the common theme of that community's efforts.

A recent extended piece from the New York Times Magazine is very worth reading, and also depressing. Here's the short version: we had a chance to avert a cataclysm but missed it.

Assuming that numerous climate scientists are right that we missed our chance to avert a heat wave of apocalyptic intensity and duration, how ought we be spending our time?

There are some things that seem pretty clear. The first is that everyone should stop having children. If things don't get as bad as most experts expect they will, the children already here can have babies sometime down the road. But bringing new people into the world right now shrieks of ignorance, insanity, grandiose selfishness, or a complete lack of regard for those who will experience the worst of what's to come. I wonder how many of those who marched for science are still having children?

Second, we ought to cancel all research on fertility. Why in the world should we be inventing new ways for couples to get pregnant?

Third, we should all stop eating animals and animal products right now. No one who trusts science and cares an iota about people can justify even one more burger or glass of milk in light of the scientific evidence that animal agriculture is a big contributor to the production of green house gasses. I wonder how many of those who marched for science are still eating animals? I'll wager that at least some of those who marched are actively involved in so-called meat and dairy sciences.

Fourth, we should forego any and all research that causes harm. With Armageddon just over the horizon, most forward-looking research appears to be rooted in denial of the climate science and more than a little indulgent. Where research isn't harmful to others, it probably doesn't matter too much, but when it entails hurting or killing, it just can't be justified.

In the face of the climate science, the future looks bleak. The four suggestions above respond to that science with things that we should stop doing. But how ought we live our lives if we believe the reports that say we missed the chance to avoid turning Earth into Venus?

I can't help but think of Nevil Shutes's novel On the Beach. For those unfamiliar with it, it is set in Australia after WW III, a nuclear war of planetary annihilation. Everyone else in the world has been killed. Everyone in Australia is going to die from the radiation at some fast approaching time.

The sane course is to love each other. To be kind, to listen to each other, to the cicadas, birds, and crickets; to notice the sunsets and sunrises, the small things.

We had a chance. We are smart enough to have preserved the Eden our planet is. But greed, the thirst for power, hatred, bigotry, all those kinds of things got in the way. At the very least, we ought to stop hurting each other.

Making Waves.

Thanks to A.E. for sending me this flash from the past.