Showing posts sorted by relevance for query davidson. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query davidson. Sort by date Show all posts

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Mindful magazine and the new age hoodwink



We just received an offer in the mail to subscribe to a new age magazine called Mindful. The piece was high-end glossy and filled with images of seemingly happy people. One image, apparently the lead off to an article from a past issue, was titled, "A Kinder, Gentler World." What really caught me eye was the image above, both on the envelope and then again as the largest image in the enclosed advert.

The universe is complex. Things that seem impossible sometimes aren't. So, it isn't absolutely impossible that a university program led by a primate vivisector could teach people to be kind, but the notion is creepy and the endeavor somehow tainted. It is sort like the faith healer Benny Hinn urging people to be charitable.

It seems to be little more than a charade, a bamboozle of sorts, a gimmick that benefits the purveyor. The benefits to the buyer, though not necessarily always zero, are secondary to the interests of the seller. Even faith healers sometimes heal people; even snake oil has had its successes; the mind is complex and the placebo effect is real.

But there is something particularly distasteful about a primate vivisector telling people that he has discovered an ancient secret from the Great Masters of the Himalayas for becoming more compassionate, and that really is Richard Davidson's schtick. And then he dresses it up in science to make it appear respectable. And boy, people really lap it up.

Of course, most of his adorers have no knowledge of his long intimate relationship with Ned Kalin or the nature of their twenty-five year collaboration into the neurobiology of fearful young monkeys' brains.

It seems to me that if someone peddling a way to be more compassionate is hurting and frightening young monkeys who they have identified as having "excessively fearful dispositions," is publishing reports on the invasive surgeries on the monkeys, is comfortable isolating newborn infant monkeys in order to induce heightened anxiety and depression, that this is proof that their claim of being able to teach someone how to be more compassionate is probably nonsense and at least suspicious.

I've written thousands of words about Davidson already, so I won't go on. If you are interested in learning more here are some resources in (almost) no particular order:

"Compassion." Chapter 11 in "We All Operate in the Same Way."

June 22, 2008 Primate research at the University of Wisconsin. Host Neil Heinen moderates the discussion on this 22, 2008 episode of For the Record, WISC-TV.

June 24, 2008 Looking at Richard Davidson's Assertions

April 13, 2008 Richard Davidson's Mushy-Headedness

Tuesday, March 6, 2007 Could You Recognize Evil if It Stared You in the Face? (Will the anti-Christ come wearing a t-shirt saying I'm the anti-Christ?)

February 3, 2009 Richard Davidson's Choices Are Evidence That Thinking Good Thoughts Won’t Make You a Good Person

November 27, 2007 A minimal amount of suffering

October 24, 2007 Compassion and Kindness Redefined

May 9, 2010 The Dalai Lama is Coming Back to Madison, or "'Callooh! Callay!' He chortled in his joy."

April 25, 2010 Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

March 20, 2009 Richard Davidson

September 3, 2010 Monsters: Lojong

And, if you want to know even more about Davidson's use of monkeys, this is a current bibliography of a his work in this area: A selected Davidson bibliography. Reports on his experimental use of monkeys:

Heightened extended amygdala metabolism following threat characterizes the early phenotypic risk to develop anxiety-related psychopathology. Shackman AJ, Fox AS, Oler JA, Shelton SE, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Mol Psychiatry. 2017.

Connectivity between the central nucleus of the amygdala and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in the non-human primate: neuronal tract tracing and developmental neuroimaging studies. Oler, Jonathan A., Do PM Tromp, Andrew S. Fox, Rothem Kovner, Richard J. Davidson, Andrew L. Alexander, Daniel R. McFarlin et al. Brain Structure and Function. 2017.

Intergenerational neural mediators of early-life anxious temperament. Fox AS, Oler JA, Shackman AJ, Shelton SE, Raveendran M, McKay DR, Converse AK, Alexander A, Davidson RJ, Blangero J, Rogers J, Kalin NH. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015.

Extreme early-life anxiety is associated with an evolutionarily conserved reduction in the strength of intrinsic functional connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the central nucleus of the amygdala.mBirn RM, Shackman AJ, Oler JA, Williams LE, McFarlin DR, Rogers GM, Shelton SE, Alexander AL, Pine DS, Slattery MJ, Davidson RJ, Fox AS, Kalin NH. Mol Psychiatry. 2014.

Evolutionarily conserved prefrontal-amygdalar dysfunction in early-life anxiety. Birn RM, Shackman AJ, Oler JA, Williams LE, McFarlin DR, Rogers GM, Shelton SE, Alexander AL, Pine DS, Slattery MJ, Davidson RJ, Fox AS, Kalin NH. Mol Psychiatry. 2014.

Neuropeptide Y receptor gene expression in the primate amygdala predicts anxious temperament and brain metabolism. Roseboom PH, Nanda SA, Fox AS, Oler JA, Shackman AJ, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Biol Psychiatry. 2014.

Neural mechanisms underlying heterogeneity in the presentation of anxious temperament. Shackman AJ, Fox AS, Oler JA, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013.

CRHR1 genotypes, neural circuits and the diathesis for anxiety and depression. Rogers J, Raveendran M, Fawcett GL, Fox AS, Shelton SE, Oler JA, Cheverud J, Muzny DM, Gibbs RA, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Mol Psychiatry. 2013.

Central amygdala nucleus (Ce) gene expression linked to increased trait-like Ce metabolism and anxious temperament in young primates. Fox AS, Oler JA, Shelton SE, Nanda SA, Davidson RJ, Roseboom PH, Kalin NH. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012.

Evidence for coordinated functional activity within the extended amygdala of non-human and human primates. Oler JA, Birn RM, Patriat R, Fox AS, Shelton SE, Burghy CA, Stodola DE, Essex MJ, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Neuroimage. 2012.

Amygdalar and hippocampal substrates of anxious temperament differ in their heritability. Oler JA, Fox AS, Shelton SE, Rogers J, Dyer TD, Davidson RJ, Shelledy W, Oakes TR, Blangero J, Kalin NH. Nature. 2010.

Orbitofrontal cortex lesions alter anxiety-related activity in the primate bed nucleus of stria terminalis. Fox AS, Shelton SE, Oakes TR, Converse AK, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. J Neurosci. 2010.

Subgenual prefrontal cortex activity predicts individual differences in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity across different contexts. Jahn AL, Fox AS, Abercrombie HC, Shelton SE, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Biol Psychiatry. 2010.

Serotonin transporter binding and genotype in the nonhuman primate brain using [C-11]DASB PET. Christian BT, Fox AS, Oler JA, Vandehey NT, Murali D, Rogers J, Oakes TR, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Neuroimage. 2009.

Serotonin transporter availability in the amygdala and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis predicts anxious temperament and brain glucose metabolic activity. Oler JA, Fox AS, Shelton SE, Christian BT, Murali D, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. J Neurosci. 2009.

The distribution of D2/D3 receptor binding in the adolescent rhesus monkey using small animal PET imaging. Christian BT, Vandehey NT, Fox AS, Murali D, Oakes TR, Converse AK, Nickles RJ, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Neuroimage. 2009.

Trait-like brain activity during adolescence predicts anxious temperament in primates. Fox AS, Shelton SE, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. PLoS One. 2008 .

Automatic physiological waveform processing for FMRI noise correction and analysis. Kelley DJ, Oakes TR, Greischar LL, Chung MK, Ollinger JM, Alexander AL, Shelton SE, Kalin NH, Davidson RJ.PLoS ONE. 2008.

The serotonin transporter genotype is associated with intermediate brain phenotypes that depend on the context of eliciting stressor. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Fox AS, Rogers J, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ. Mol Psychiatry. 2008.

Automatic physiological waveform processing for FMRI noise correction and analysis. Kelley DJ, Oakes TR, Greischar LL, Chung MK, Ollinger JM, Alexander AL, Shelton SE, Kalin NH, Davidson RJ. PLoS One. 2008.

Role of the Primate Orbitofrontal Cortex in Mediating Anxious Temperament. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. Biol Psychiatry. 2007.

Brain Regions Associated with the Expression and Contextual Regulation of Anxiety in Primates. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Fox AS, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ. Biol Psychiatry. 2005.

Calling for help is independently modulated by brain systems underlying goal-directed behavior and threat perception. Fox AS, Oakes TR, Shelton SE, Converse AK, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005.

The role of the central nucleus of the amygdala in mediating fear and anxiety in the primate. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. J Neurosci. 2004.

The primate amygdala mediates acute fear but not the behavioral and physiological components of anxious temperament. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kelley AE. Related Articles, J Neurosci. 2001.

Cerebrospinal fluid corticotropin-releasing hormone levels are elevated in monkeys with patterns of brain activity associated with fearful temperament. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. Biol Psychiatry. 2000

Asymmetric frontal brain activity, cortisol, and behavior associated with fearful temperament in rhesus monkeys. Kalin NH, Larson C, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. Behav Neurosci. 1998.

Individual differences in freezing and cortisol in infant and mother rhesus monkeys. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Rickman M, Davidson RJ. Behav Neurosci. 1998.

A new method for aversive Pavlovian conditioning of heart rate in rhesus monkeys. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Lynn DE. Physiol Behav. 1996.

Lateralized response to diazepam predicts temperamental style in rhesus monkeys. Davidson RJ, Kalin NH, Shelton SE. Behav Neurosci. 1993.

Lateralized effects of diazepam on frontal brain electrical asymmetries in rhesus monkeys. Davidson RJ, Kalin NH, Shelton SE. Biol Psychiatry. 1992.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Richard Davidson's Mushy-Headedness

On Saturday, April 12, I went with friends to hear Richard Davidson speak and to handout fliers about his primate vivisection to the audience.

When asked why he continues to conduct invasive brain experiments on monkeys, given the sophistication of the scanning technology at his disposal – the basis for essentially all the discoveries he talked about during his lecture – he made three interconnected claims.

First, he said that there are some experiments that cannot be performed on humans; the only ethical way to answer some questions is through experiments on animals. Second, he said that depression is such an important and debilitating condition, that trying to find ways to treat it justifies his invasive experiments on monkeys. And third, he said that it would be irresponsible not to do those experiments given the seriousness of this public health issue.

His primate-related papers are listed below. It is obvious from even a cursory glance at the titles that a) he is not studying depression; and b) he is is not looking for ways to treat depression or even to mitigate anxiety or fear – emotions he is studying.

Further, his claim that the scientific questions he is asking necessitate the use of monkeys is specious. For instance, a very recent study looked at the effects of the anticipation of pain on neurological parameters during fMRI in women with irritable bowel syndrome. (Berman SM, Naliboff BD, Suyenobu B, Labus JS, Stains J, Ohning G, Kilpatrick L, Bueller JA, Ruby K, Jarcho J, Mayer EA. Reduced brainstem inhibition during anticipated pelvic visceral pain correlates with enhanced brain response to the visceral stimulus in women with irritable bowel syndrome. J Neurosci. 2008.)

It might be thought that damaging the brains of humans is unethical, and so, it must be done in monkeys in order to answer Davidson’s questions. But, in fact, the areas of the brain that Davidson is studying in relation to fear and anxiety have been removed partially or entirely in clinical cases. For instance:
Bilateral stereotactic amygdalotomy for the management of patients with severe aggressive behavior disturbances was first introduced by Hideki Narabayashi in 1961. Since then, more than 500 cases have been reported in scientific literature, with a variety of cited behavior improvement rates. (Fountas KN, Smith JR, Lee GP. Bilateral Stereotactic Amygdalotomy for Self-Mutilation Disorder. Stereotact Funct Neurosurg 2007.)
Davidson seeks out practioners of Tibetan Buddhist meditation for his research, but seems unwilling to seek out patients with a history of damage to the brain regions he is interested in. This seems unethical, given the harm he does to the monkeys, and scientifically irresponsible, given the greater predictive value of human data.

But more interesting than Davidson’s apparent laziness and false claims are two other claims he made to his audience. He said that he had canceled some of the experiments that he had planned to do because of the harm they would have done to the monkeys. So, here’s a challenge to Davidson (please don’t hold your breath dear reader): Please compare and contrast the studies you decided to cancel with the procedures you used in "Role of the Primate Orbitofrontal Cortex in Mediating Anxious Temperament" (2007) or "Brain Regions Associated with the Expression and Contextual Regulation of Anxiety in Primates" (2005).

The second claim is the granddaddy of philosophical mushy-headedness. Davidson claimed, as he has done previously when challenged on this matter, that his invasive experiments and fear-inducing procedures are justified by his meritorious intent.

What’s different this time around is that he has co-authored a document stating that anonymous direct actions against vivisectors “are horribly misguided.”

In other words, his intent justifies hurting, frightening, and killing animals he claims are like us emotionally, but flooding someone’s house in order to get them to stop poisoning monkeys with nicotine, and then killing them, isn’t.

I wonder what he thinks people are justified in doing to make him and others like him stop torturing animals? Do animals rate so very low that one’s intent to help them can never measure up to Davidson’s intent to demonstrate something (already known) about monkeys’ brains and emotions?



Automatic physiological waveform processing for FMRI noise correction and analysis. Kelley DJ, Oakes TR, Greischar LL, Chung MK, Ollinger JM, Alexander AL, Shelton SE, Kalin NH, Davidson RJ.PLoS ONE. 2008 [See my comments.]

Role of the Primate Orbitofrontal Cortex in Mediating Anxious Temperament. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. Biol Psychiatry. 2007

Brain Regions Associated with the Expression and Contextual Regulation of Anxiety in Primates. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Fox AS, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ. Biol Psychiatry. 2005

Calling for help is independently modulated by brain systems underlying goal-directed behavior and threat perception. Fox AS, Oakes TR, Shelton SE, Converse AK, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005

The role of the central nucleus of the amygdala in mediating fear and anxiety in the primate. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. J Neurosci. 2004

The primate amygdala mediates acute fear but not the behavioral and physiological components of anxious temperament. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kelley AE. Related Articles, J Neurosci. 2001

Cerebrospinal fluid corticotropin-releasing hormone levels are elevated in monkeys with patterns of brain activity associated with fearful temperament. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. Biol Psychiatry. 2000

Asymmetric frontal brain activity, cortisol, and behavior associated with fearful temperament in rhesus monkeys. Kalin NH, Larson C, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. Behav Neurosci. 1998

Individual differences in freezing and cortisol in infant and mother rhesus monkeys. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Rickman M, Davidson RJ. Behav Neurosci. 1998

A new method for aversive Pavlovian conditioning of heart rate in rhesus monkeys. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Lynn DE. Physiol Behav. 1996

Lateralized response to diazepam predicts temperamental style in rhesus monkeys. Davidson RJ, Kalin NH, Shelton SE. Behav Neurosci. 1993

Lateralized effects of diazepam on frontal brain electrical asymmetries in rhesus monkeys. Davidson RJ, Kalin NH, Shelton SE. Biol Psychiatry. 1992

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Could You Recognize Evil if It Stared You in the Face? (Will the anti-Christ come wearing a t-shirt saying I'm the anti-Christ?)


If you looked into the eyes of evil, would you even know? What if someone claimed to be good, compassionate, or even holy? If evil wasn't branded with a swastika, wearing a mask, or had a pointed tail, could you distinguish it from good?
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On February 13, 2007, Richard Davidson, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, gave a public talk titled “Be Happy Like A Monk.” For his work on the neurobiology underlying Buddhist meditation, Davidson was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of 2006. He is a personal friend of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2005.

Davidson explained to the audience his methods for studying emotion and the effects of meditation in volunteers, both members of the general public and Buddhist monks. He defined happiness and talked about some epidemiological studies that have looked at possible correlations between happiness and marriage and happiness and money. The research strongly suggests that neither marriage nor money buy happiness. Then he went on to discuss the “Voluntary Cultivation of Compassion.”

The lecture hall was completely filled. The overflow was placed in a nearby hall and watched on closed circuit television. Davidson took questions after his presentation.

As people arrived they were given a leaflet that called attention to a part of Davidson’s research that he was unlikely to call attention to himself.

He finished his presentation with what he explained was one of his favorite quotations and a short video clip of the Dalai Lama urging students at MIT to embrace compassion. The quotation was from a letter to a friend written by Albert Einstein:
A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Davidson announced at the beginning of his lecture that he would respond to the leaflet at the beginning of the question and answer session at the end of his talk. He did; this was his response:
I want to ask myself and respond to the issue that was raised in the leaflet that was handed out. Let me begin by saying that this is a very complicated and nuanced issue and I think that it is important at the outset to calmly and dispassionately reflect on this question. We have – I personally as a scientist have struggled with this issue a lot, and in fact I’ve spent many hours talking with the Dalai Lama himself about this issue, because it is something that has been of deep concern to me.

It is very clear to me as a scientist, that research on animals is important for the alleviation of suffering on our planet. I’m committed to that as a scientist and I believe that there are certain kinds of research which are just critical to do which will have enormously widespread impact in the relief of suffering.

One of the things that the Dalai Lama always asks us is, “What is your intention?” What is the scientist’s intention in the work that he or she is doing? The leaflet refers to the fact that a good portion of my work is on fear and anxiety, and it is.

If you look at the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, the first noble truth is that life is suffering and we don’t have to look very far to see suffering in our world, and my research is deeply committed to understanding the nature and roots of suffering and to eradicating suffering in whatever ways that I can contribute to that enterprise. And so the work that we do in rhesus monkeys, and I must say it’s a really small portion of what we do, and it’s all done collaboratively, is done, in that context and with that intention.

The research on fear and anxiety is not because we want to promote fear and anxiety, it’s because we want to eradicate suffering of all sentient beings. And moreover, at the Waisman Brain Imaging Laboratory one of the things that we have been among the world’s leaders in is developing ways to non-invasively image the rhesus monkey brain, the non-human primate brain so that we don’t have to use invasive procedures. We actually have at the Waisman Brain Imaging Laboratory a small PET scanner that is specifically designed for pets, for rhesus monkeys, and it is a way that we can image the brain using the same imaging devices that I go into all the time. So this has been a tremendous advance because we can now see things in the brain of an animal without having to actually do surgery and engage in invasive procedures.

So it is a very important issue and I think that anyone who does research at the animal level needs to ask him or herself what his or her intention is, and if the intention is, the work is being done for the purpose of alleviating suffering and if everything possible is done to minimize the discomfort and suffering the animal subjects and if there’s reason to believe that the work will benefit the alleviation of suffering in sentient beings.

I personally have made the decision that this work is important and should go forward, and I will stand up to that position and I will advocate for it and I will defend it. [Seemed to wait for applause that never came.]

So, I do think it is an important issue. I appreciate it being raised. I think it’s important for those of us who do work at that level be reminded us of its importance. So, I will now take questions from the audience.
The remainder of this essay is a response to Davidson’s remarks above and a few others from the lecture.

Davidson: “Let me begin by saying that this is a very complicated and nuanced issue and I think that it is important at the outset to calmly and dispassionately reflect on this question.”

The issue is neither complicated nor nuanced. Beginning his response in this manner suggests that the simple details of the matter will leave him looking anything but compassionate. His admonition to reflect on the question dispassionately seems contrary to his comments concerning compassion. He mentioned compassion nearly 20 times during his talk. Compassion is the deep emotional response to suffering in others. Telling his audience that a deep emotional response to life is laudable except when it has to do with him injecting acid into the emotion centers of monkeys’ brains, frightening them, and taking public funds to do so, should signal us that he is a little less than transparent or a man of compassion.

Davidson: “It is very clear to me as a scientist, that research on animals is important for the alleviation of suffering on our planet. I’m committed to that as a scientist and I believe that there are certain kinds of research which are just critical to do which will have enormously widespread impact in the relief of suffering.”

Davidson seems to view science as a fundamentalist. When he says that it is clear to him – as a scientist (is this like being a Baptist?) – that research on animals is important and critical to relieve suffering, just what could he be referring to?

It is a simple matter of fact that very little actual science exists to support his claim. It is only very recently that any careful study of this question has taken place. The results have supported the anecdotal studies that have seemed to demonstrate the generally uniform failure of using any species as a good predictive biological model of another species.

Davidson either ignores or is ignorant of the recent and widely reported conclusions by Perel et al., in the British Medical Journal: “Discordance between animal and human studies may be due to bias or to the failure of animal models to mimic clinical disease adequately.” [Perel P, Roberts I, Sena E, Wheble P, Briscoe C, Sandercock P, Macleod M, Mignini LE, Jayaram P, Khan KS. Comparison of treatment effects between animal experiments and clinical trials: systematic review. BMJ. 2007 Jan 27;334(7586):197. Epub 2006 Dec 15. Review. See too: Pound P, Ebrahim S, Sandercock P, Bracken MB, Roberts I; Reviewing Animal Trials Systematically (RATS) Group. Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans? BMJ. 2004 Feb 28;328(7438):514-7. Review. ]

Making a claim that “as a scientist” he is convinced, implies that he is aware of scientific evidence to support his claim. But there isn’t such evidence. Davidson was actually citing the dogma he thought might convince his audience that he isn’t evil, that the ends justify his means, that a man of compassion can torture restrained animals.

Davidson: “One of the things that the Dalai Lama always asks us is, ‘What is your intention?’ What is the scientist’s intention in the work that he or she is doing.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Intention is very important, there is little doubt about that and good intention is why we have Good Samaritan laws that protect people from being sued if an injury occurs during the course of trying to rescue someone. And no one faults a dentist when she drills out your cavity.

But intention is not the carte blanche that Davidson implies. If a scientist wants to find ways of helping rape victims recover, she is not at liberty to have people raped, no matter how honorable her intention. Davidson argues that because he wants to study the neurobiology of fear and potentially alleviate anxiety in human patients, he is then at liberty to experiment on the brains of monkeys and frighten them.

Davidson: “If you look at the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, the first noble truth is that life is suffering and we don’t have to look very far to see suffering in our world, and my research is deeply committed to understanding the nature and roots of suffering and to eradicating suffering in whatever ways that I can contribute to that enterprise.”

Davidson’s comment is misleading. The Four Noble Truths are at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings. Upon his enlightenment, awakening to the nature of reality, Siddhartha Gautama, now the Buddha, the Enlightened One, met some fellow aspirants with whom he had previously wandered and practiced various deprivations.

He said to them that he had realized four truths concerning the cause of suffering and its cessation. He explained that suffering was an inevitability of life. Being born means that one will experience various pains, sorrows, illnesses, losses, and finally, death.

He explained that this suffering is caused by the fact that we have desires and that all of our desires are for things that are impermanent. Everything that we want, good health, love, wealth, friends, satisfaction, power, life, everything, will pass.

He explained that if we can overcome our desires, our longing, our wanting, that we can escape from suffering.

The Fourth Noble Truth is the Buddha’s method for doing this. He called his method the Eightfold Path.

Right View
Right Intention
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration

This is the Buddhist path to ending suffering. Right action includes abstaining from harming sentient beings. Right livelihood includes abstaining from dealing in enterprises based on using sentient beings. Not one of these parts orders us to hurt others or condones hurting them, no matter our intention. Buddha explains the certain detriment to anyone intentionally harming another.

This message of concern and compassion for all is repeated throughout the Buddhist canon.

Davidson: “And so the work that we do in rhesus monkeys, and I must say it’s a really small portion of what we do, and it’s all done collaboratively, is done, in that context and with that intention.”

Davidson makes two interrelated arguments: a little sin isn’t so bad, and he wasn’t the only one doing it. (And he appeals to his “good” intention once again.)

Imagine using this argument in a court of law. Your Honor, torturing children is a very small part of how I spend my time, and it was, after all, a gang rape. What’s the big deal? In fact, I was helping a scientist who wants to learn how to help rape victims.

Davidson: “[A]t the Waisman Brain Imaging Laboratory one of the things that we have been among the world’s leaders in is developing ways to non-invasively image the rhesus monkey brain, the non-human primate brain so that we don’t have to use invasive procedures.”

Davidson’s experimental work using rhesus monkeys is decidedly invasive.
Experimental subjects. Rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) were used as experimental subjects. The animals were housed at the Harlow Primate Laboratory and at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. Animal housing and experimental procedures were in accordance with institutional guidelines. Eighteen males underwent lesioning procedures at an average age of 34.9 months. Sixteen unoperated male controls were used for comparison and at the beginning of the study were on average 34.6 months of age. [The role of the central nucleus of the amygdala in mediating fear and anxiety in the primate. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ . J Neurosci . 2004 Jun 16;24(24):5506-15.]
Davidson: “I personally have made the decision that this work is important and should go forward, and I will stand up to that position and I will advocate for it and I will defend it.”

In spite of Davidson’s claim that he has thought long and hard about this issue and has had long talks with the Dalai Lama about the use of animals, this seems to be his first public comment about the matter. It looks to me that he was embarrassed into making these comments because everyone in the audience had the flier that made his claim of compassion appear to be something other than genuine.

Before ending, I want to point out two interesting facts. First, His Holiness, the purported Dalai Lama, the incarnation of Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, supports animal experimentation. He has said so on a number of occasions at public presentations. This suggests that either Tibetan Buddhism is an aberration or there was an error made by the Lamas who identified Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, as an incarnation of Avalokiteśvara. If the Buddhism practiced by the Tibetans is authentic, there seem to be few other possibilities.

Second, Davidson appealed to Martin Seligman as an authority on happiness. This is telling. Martin E. P. Seligman should be remembered for his studies on the behavior of dogs exposed to uncontrollable electroshock under a variety of conditions. Generally, dogs were placed in slings and repeatedly shocked. After a period of time, a dog was placed in a shuttle-box to test the dog’s ability to learn to avoid electroshocks.

A shuttle box is an apparatus with two sections that an animal is able to move back and forth between. The floor of each side can be electrified independently. Dogs who had been restrained and shocked repeatedly were less able to learn to avoid the energized floor of one compartment by jumping to the other compartment.

Seligman reported that his observations were based on over 150 dogs.

When an experimentally naive dog receives escape-avoidance training in a shuttle box, the following behavior typically occurs: at the onset of the first traumatic electric shock, the dog runs frantically about, defecating, urinating and howling, until it accidentally scrambles over the barrier and so escapes the shock. On the next trial, the dog, running and howling, crosses the barrier more quickly than on the preceding trial. This pattern continues until the dog learns to avoid shock altogether. Overmier and Seligman (1967) and Seligman and Maier (1967) found a striking difference between this pattern of behavior and that exhibited by dogs first given inescapable electric shocks in a Pavlovian hammock. Such a dog’s first reactions to shock in the shuttle box are much the same as those of a naive dog. In dramatic contrast to a naive dog, however, a typical dog which has experienced uncontrollable shocks before avoidance training soon stops running and howling and sits or lies, quietly whining, until shock terminates. The dog does not cross the barrier and escape from shock. Rather, it seems to give up and passively accepts the shock. On succeeding trials, the dog continues to fail to make escape movements and takes as much shock as the experimenter chooses to give. [Seligman, M.E. “Depression and Learned Helplessness.” In (R.J Friedmand and M.M. Katz Eds.) The Psychology of Depression: Contemporary Theory and Research. V.H. Winston and Sons. 1974.]
Seligman and Davidson seem peas in a pod. They both claim to be experts on happiness, yet their careers are studded with instances of profound callousness and cruelty.

The idea that society accepts them as experts and looks to them to help people be happy seems to be a corruption of truth, of justice, and to subtly victimize those who seek them out as authorities on anything good and wholesome.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Richard Davidson's Choices Are Evidence That Thinking Good Thoughts Won’t Make You a Good Person

Think of a wonderful thought
Any merry little thought
Think of Christmas, think of snow
Think of sleigh bells-off you go!
Like reindeer in the sky
You can fly! You can fly! You can fly!


Below is text from a flier handed out at public presentation by Richard Davidson on Tuesday, January 27, 2008 at the First Unitarian Society of Madison:
Can we train ourselves to be compassionate? A new study suggests the answer is yes. Cultivating compassion and kindness through meditation affects brain regions that can make a person more empathetic to other peoples’ mental states, say researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
That is the opening paragraph in a 2008, University of Wisconsin press release calling attention to an aspect of Richie Davidson’s research.

A favorite quote of Davidson’s, one he might use in his talk this evening, is attributed to Albert Einstein: “Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

It seems reasonable to consider Dr. Davidson’s personal choices over time as a measure of the truth of his working assumption – as described in the UW press release: “[T]hrough training, people can develop skills that promote happiness and compassion.”

In the 1990s, working with colleagues Ned Kalin and Steve Shelton at UW Madison, Davidson discovered that some rhesus monkeys have what they termed “trait-like fear-related behaviors,” or “trait-like anxious temperament,” and that these monkeys could be identified using brain scans.

They say that threat-induced freezing in young rhesus monkeys is analogous to behavioral inhibition in human children. Children with a behaviorally inhibited temperament tend to be exceptionally fearful and withdrawn in situations that are novel or unfamiliar; and so do the monkeys identified by Davidson and his colleagues.

Once they were able to identify exceptionally fearful young monkeys, they began frightening them in various ways before and after destroying parts of their brains.

If sitting quietly and cultivating a feeling of compassion for all beings genuinely leads us to being more compassionate, then Davidson’s research methods should have become less invasive and less harmful and more compassionate over time. But they haven’t.

In fact, it could be argued that there has been no discernable change, or even that his experimental methods have become more brutal.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Davidson, Kalin, and Shelton were drilling holes through the monkeys’ skulls and injecting acid into the emotion centers of their brains. They frightened these especially fearful young monkeys before and after this highly invasive and painful procedure.

As recently as 2007, they reported on a new method of damaging these monkeys’ brains. They wrote:
An experienced surgeon made an opening in the frontal bone posterior to the brow ridge to expose the frontal cortex. Both hemispheres were lesioned in a single procedure by lifting the brain to expose its ventral surface. Using microscopic guidance, electro-cautery and suction were applied to the targeted brain area.” From: Role of the primate orbitofrontal cortex in mediating anxious temperament. (Kalin N. H., Shelton S. E., Davidson R. J. Biological Psychiatry. 2007.)
Why does any of this matter?

It comes down to this: Through the use of scientific methods, careful observation, controlled experimentation, repeated demonstrations, and various manipulations, we have discovered that animals other than ourselves – the other primates – have complex minds with sophisticated mental capabilities like analogical reasoning (Fagot J, Wasserman EA, Young ME. 2001), numerical computation (Sulkowski GM, Hauser MD. 2001), a sense of fairness (de Waal, 2005), tool use (Ducoing AM, Thierry B. 2005), and that they possess unique and describable cultures (Sapolsky RM, Share LJ. 2004).

In other words, we have discovered another group of intelligent and emotional beings within our midst. This discovery should give us pause.

Davidson’s colleague Ned Kalin says:
Animals do a lot of things instinctively…. But people – and probably monkeys – have the ability to think 20 steps into the future: ‘In the end I'm going to feel great, because I worked hard to get there,’ or ‘I’m going to get a lot of credit for this.’ It’s the prefrontal cortex that brings those emotions into play and guides us in our behavior. If we didn’t have a sense of what would be wonderful or awful in the future, we would behave very haphazardly. (From: Wired For Sadness. Discover. April, 2000.)
We cannot rely on the scientists using these animals to make the right moral choices; they see the profound similarities between us as a reason to exploit these animals further, as a justification for hurting and killing them.

If just thinking that you are compassionate could make it so, then Davidson, after years of meditation and telling himself that he feels compassion for all beings, would no longer be frightening and hurting the most vulnerable young animals he can find. This seems transparently clear. It also refutes his working assumption.

The only way to become more compassionate and caring is to try and see the world through others’ eyes and to behave toward them in the way you would want them to behave toward you.

Just thinking good thoughts and hoping for the best is self-indulgent and delusional. Davidson’s behavior is an example of the failure of this philosophy. The history of his research methods is good evidence that it doesn’t work.

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“You don't have to bother with the notes.”


Professor Harold Hill, in the 1957 Broadway musical, The Music Man, explaining “The Think Method” of learning to play a musical instrument.

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What are the alternatives to using monkeys in these ways? First, if hurting and killing them is wrong, then we should simply stop. Second, very many researchers and medical doctors devote themselves to studying and trying to help inhibited children directly. They don’t rely on or even cite the monkey studies.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A minimal amount of suffering

Richard Davidson is a well-known and much-admired scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His work on the neurobiological effects of meditation, particularly that of Tibetan Buddhist monks resulted in Time Magazine naming him one of the world’s most influential people in 2006 and the local Madison Magazine naming him Person of the Year for 2007.

In the past year or so, Davidson has twice spoken about his research in public venues, and on both occasions activists handed out leaflets as people arrived that called attention to his experiments into the neurobiology of fear and anxiety using rhesus monkeys and the contradictions inherent in his claim of compassion and concern for all beings.

At both events, the leaflets led to Davidson making specific claims about his use of monkeys and about Buddhism. In a previous essay, I addressed a number of claims he made during the first presentaion.

This is a reasonably accurate transcript of the comments he made on this topic on November 7, 2007, at the Madison Public Library in a program titled “How the Brain Changes.” An audio recording is available here.
It’s actually, I feel, wonderful that people know that I do do some research in nonhuman primates, it’s not the bulk of what I do, I have that work, I continue to do that work, and I’m proud of that work, and I really welcome the opportunity to directly address it.

I’ve been, I have had many soul-searching discussions about this issue with myself, with my colleagues, and with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. One of the things which is the most important issue for me is what one’s motivation is to do the work that one’s doing. Actually this is something the Dalai Lama has always asked [about] any kind of work, and my motivation is really to eliminate suffering, and that is why I do my science and why I’m dedicating my life to [it].

In addition to the research that we do on meditation and always compassion, we also study devastating disorders like depression which is responsible for extraordinary morbidity and fatality across the world. There are untold numbers of suicides daily in this country as a function of these disorders. A recent epidemiological study that was done in Scandinavia found that just asking people how happy or unhappy they are in a large epidemiological study predicted over a 20-year interval the extent to which a person would commit suicide with a tenfold increase in suicide rates among people who consider themselves to be very unhappy.

So these are issues which are really profound, they affect people’s lives and they are responsible for devastating suffering on the planet to the extent that the work that we do can help develop new interventions which I firmly believe they can and will and are currently doing. That is something that I think is critical in this program of research and the work that we do in nonhuman primates has been done with noninvasive methods to image the brain, we are actually one of the pioneers in developing methods to study the brain in nonhuman primates in ways in which actually don’t create suffering which are the same methods which I subject myself to all the time.

Modern brain imaging methods we have one of the few systems in the world today for doing that kind of noninvasive imaging of the nonhuman primate brain. So I believe this work is really important, it is done with the intention of relieving suffering. I also do it in a way in which I try to muster all of the gratitude I can for the animals that participate in our research and if you bring that quality to the work that you’re doing I think it transforms it and so I appreciate the sensitivity that this issue raises, I applaud the efforts of people who are working to relieve suffering throughout the animal kingdom and I welcome the opportunity to address this and to underscore the fact that this work is done to actually eradicate suffering on the planet, so I thank you for listening to that.

[A question from the audience] I’d like to follow up on what you just said given the fact that you’re involved with Buddhism and compassion and [unclear] the right to induce pain or kill sentient creatures [unclear] you said that you do experiments on monkeys at the primate center that you do noninvasive work, well my understanding is that you’ve done experiments with Dr. Ned Kalin, and I know that Dr Ned Kalin does a lot of basic brain experiments on monkeys who have been [unclear] restrained for extended periods of time, who’s amygdala is burned and destroyed with acid. These are sentient creatures who should be living in their natural environment and frankly it causes me great pain to think of their suffering.

Well, thank you for that articulate statement I can tell you that we have been pioneers in the development of noninvasive methods to image the brain. To the extent that there is suffering that occurs in the context of the research that we do, we believe that the motivations that we have for doing the research are critical to take into account, we do everything we possibly can to minimize both of the animals, the nonhuman animals as well as the humans.

The experiments that we do in humans require a great deal of sacrifice as well and we can have a very extended discussion here and take the rest of the time on this issue, I think there are probably other questions, but I think the most important thing is the attitude of the scientist who is doing this work, the motivation the scientist brings to the task and also the extent to which gratitude is expressed in the act of doing the work that we’re doing which transforms the nature of one’s relationship with the monkeys that we study.

You know, I think in the best of all possible worlds it would be wonderful to have outdoor enclosures where the animals are not within cages, there are places where the climate permits where that kind of work can be done, it’s not possible to do it in Wisconsin because of the climate and if I had my druthers I would much rather have that kind of facility, but given, sort of the circumstances that present themselves, the opportunities, and the difference I believe we can make in terms of treatment for dramatic suffering that exists on the planet, I’m proud of this work and I think the good that it does so far exceeds the minimal amount of suffering that we create and I think that some of the comments that you made are comments that are made, frankly, for lack of knowledge of the details of this work, and if it really is of interest you should actually look at the papers which are all available free online and take a careful look at what it is that’s actually done.
Let's look at his separate claims:

1. “It’s actually, I feel, wonderful that people know that I do do some research in nonhuman primates, it’s not the bulk of what I do, I have that work, I continue to do that work, and I’m proud of that work, and I really welcome the opportunity to directly address it.”

I don’t really know whether this total crap or not. Eric Sandgren, Director of the UW-Madison Research Animal Resource Center, has said that he is unable to find anyone on campus (other than himself) willing to publicly debate the use of animals in biomedical research. [Note to Eric: Why not give Davidson a call and find out whether he would welcome the opportunity to address this issue at length in a public venue.]

2. “I’ve been, I have had many soul-searching discussions about this issue with myself, with my colleagues, and with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. One of the things which is the most important issue for me is what one’s motivation is to do the work that one’s doing. Actually this is something the Dalai Lama has always asked [about] any kind of work, and my motivation is really to eliminate suffering, and that is why I do my science and why I’m dedicating my life to [it]….”

Davidson appeals to his motivation to do good and his good intent as justifications for his actions throughout his statement. It’s a hackneyed aphorism but appropriate to point out that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In considering this defense, we should keep in mind past instances when the same justification was employed.

In the most infamous case, the Nazi medical experiments on unwilling human subjects, we see immediately the risk of any appeal to good intention. An outstanding and important essay on these experiments in this context is “The Ethics Of Using Medical Data From Nazi Experiments.” Baruch C. Cohen. Jewish Virtual Library. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise

The Nazi’s experiments were not intended as torture. This is an important point to bear in mind when considering Davidson’s work and his claims. The Nazis experimented on unwilling subjects in the pursuit of medical treatments and cures for those they valued more than those who they used. According to Cohen, they were, in some cases, successful in their pursuit of benefit.

But few people would be willing to claim that the experiments – no matter the possible or even actual benefit – were justifiable. They were heinous. They were depraved. They were unethical and immoral. Yet, Davidson defends himself just as the Nazi doctors and scientists did. The harm he does is cancelled out by the potential benefit, or so he claims.

This is the identical claim used by the U.S. government in its radiation experiments on unsuspecting human subjects and in all secret potentially harmful experimentation that has ever occurred. It is only and precisely the complete discounting of an actual individual’s interests and the conflating of a (sometimes hypothetical) larger population’s interests that allows doctors, government, and scientists to use us as they wish without pause or concern for our personal preferences not to be harmed.

We should keep in mind the company in which Davidson places himself.

3. “the work that we do can help develop new interventions which I firmly believe they can and will and are currently doing.”

Davidson’s primate-based experiments have led to no new interventions and it is unlikely that they ever will or even could. His fundamental implicit claim is that anxiety and fear in monkeys and humans are biochemically and metabolically identical. This is the only possible justification for using these animals given the complex nature of emotion. Here’s a challenge: Name one intervention for depression in humans that is a direct result of studies into the neurobiology of induced fear, anxiety, or depression in monkeys. (I won’t hold my breath.)

4. “That is something that I think is critical in this program of research and the work that we do in nonhuman primates has been done with noninvasive methods to image the brain, we are actually one of the pioneers in developing methods to study the brain in nonhuman primates in ways in which actually don’t create suffering which are the same methods which I subject myself to all the time.”

This is so misleading. I suspect that it was intentionally misleading. Here are a few passages from a 2007 paper, “Role of the primate orbitofrontal cortex in mediating anxious temperament.” (Kalin N. H., Shelton S. E., & Davidson R. J. Biological Psychiatry):
Methods and Materials

Experimental Subjects Twelve experimentally naïve adolescent colony-born rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) were the subjects. Animal housing and experimental procedures were in accordance with institutional guidelines. The animals were housed as pairs; each experimental animal lived with a control animal. At the beginning of the study, subjects were, on average, 34.4 months of age. Six randomly selected males underwent surgery at an average age of 35.6 months. Six nonoperated male control animals were used for comparison, since we previously demonstrated that the nonspecific effects of the surgery do not significantly affect the behavioral and physiological measures of interest.

Surgical Procedure Prior to surgery, atropine sulfate was given to depress salivary secretion, and dexamethasone was given to reduce potential brain swelling. Animals were pre anesthetized with ketamine hydrochloride, fitted with an endotracheal tube, and maintained on isoflurane anesthesia. An experienced surgeon made an opening in the frontal bone posterior to the brow ridge to expose the frontal cortex. Both hemispheres were lesioned in a single procedure by lifting the brain to expose its ventral surface. Using microscopic guidance, electro-cautery and suction were applied to the targeted brain area.
But Davidson told his audience that he is “one of the pioneers in developing methods to study the brain in nonhuman primates in ways in which actually don’t create suffering which are the same methods which I subject myself to all the time.” I wonder how often he has the ventral surface of his brain exposed and electro-cauterized and sucked out? Oh yeah, “all the time.”
Threat-Related Anxiety To assess defensive and anxiety-related behaviors, all animals were tested before and after the lesions were made using two different paradigms, each with three different conditions (alone [A], no eye contact [NEC], and stare [ST]). Control and experimental subjects were tested at the same time, and the mean time between the lesioning procedure and the first postsurgical behavioral test was 4.3 months. The first test was conducted using the classic human intruder paradigm (HIP), consisting of 9-min periods of A, NEC, and ST. As part of a separate study, the second test used a modified HIP paradigm. In the classic HIP, during the A condition, animals were placed alone in a test cage for 9 min. This condition predominantly elicits coo vocalizations and locomotion. This was followed by the NEC condition, in which a human entered the test room, stood motionless 2.5 m from the cage, and presented her profile to the monkey while avoiding eye contact. The NEC condition elicits freezing behavior. After NEC, the intruder left the test room for 3 min and returned for the ST condition, during which the intruder stared at the monkey with a neutral face 2.5 m from the test cage. The ST condition elicits defensive hostility and barking, an aggressive vocalization. The modified HIP consisted of 20 min of each of the three conditions (A, NEC, ST) on three different days. The classic and modified HIP paradigms were repeated for all subjects after the experimental animals were lesioned.

Assessing Snake Fear Subjects were adapted to the Wisconsin General Testing Appa-ratus (WGTA) test cage, and their food preference was determined. Subjects were taught to reach for their preferred rewards on top of the clear plastic stimulus presentation box. Subjects were presented with two of their most preferred foods randomly placed on the distant left and right corners of the clear plastic stimulus presentation box, requiring the subjects to reach over the stimulus for the food rewards. The box contained one of four stimuli: 1) nothing: empty box; 2) tape: roll of blue masking tape; 3) rubber snake: curled black rubber snake 120 cm long; and 4) snake: live northern pine snake (Pituophis melanoleucus) 170 cm long. Subjects were tested for 1 day, during which each stimulus was presented six times in a pseudorandom order. The real snake was never presented during the first five trials and no item from either the snake or the non snake stimulus categories was presented for more than three consecutive trials. Each monkey received the same order of stimuli. Each trial lasted 60 seconds regardless of the subject’s response, and the inter-trial interval was 45 seconds. Latency for the animal’s first reward retrieval in each trial was used for analysis.
We should also keep in mind that the monkeys Davidson uses are born into a captive environment known to induce mental illness and that all the monkeys, or a significant portion of them, are sick all the time. This is the baseline suffering he adds to in his own unique way.

5. “You know, I think in the best of all possible worlds it would be wonderful to have outdoor enclosures where the animals are not within cages, there are places where the climate permits where that kind of work can be done, it’s not possible to do it in Wisconsin because of the climate and if I had my druthers I would much rather have that kind of facilility...”

Davidson is an ignoramus. And worse, he’s an ignoramus who people trust and believe. No matter the climate – balmy or tropical – every monkey used in the sort of studies Davidson does and in essentially all others, are kept in small barren cages. Davidson either doesn’t know this, in which case he speaks about something he has no knowledge of, or else, he was just telling the public what he imagined they would like to hear from a Buddhist initiate, a man of compassion, a personal friend of the Dalai Lama, or a Person of the Year.

6. “I’m proud of this work and I think the good that it does so far exceeds the minimal amount of suffering that we create and I think that some of the comments that you made are comments that are made, frankly, for lack of knowledge of the details of this work, and if it really is of interest you should actually look at the papers which are all available free online and take a careful look at what it is that’s actually done.

“The minimal amount of suffering.” This is always what one hears from those who don’t have to do the suffering. Suffering is a relative term; it is always greater for the one enduring it or being subjected to it. This discounting of others’ pain and fear is grotesque and monstrous.

Davidson’s claim about the “ignorance” of his questioner is an insult given the realities of his work as highlighted above in his 2007 paper. I hope people will look at his papers as he urges. Here they are. These are his primate-related papers:

Role of the Primate Orbitofrontal Cortex in Mediating Anxious Temperament. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. Biol Psychiatry. 2007

Brain Regions Associated with the Expression and Contextual Regulation of Anxiety in Primates. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Fox AS, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ. Biol Psychiatry. 2005

Calling for help is independently modulated by brain systems underlying goal-directed behavior and threat perception. Fox AS, Oakes TR, Shelton SE, Converse AK, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005

The role of the central nucleus of the amygdala in mediating fear and anxiety in the primate. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. J Neurosci. 2004

The primate amygdala mediates acute fear but not the behavioral and physiological components of anxious temperament. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kelley AE. Related Articles, J Neurosci. 2001

Cerebrospinal fluid corticotropin-releasing hormone levels are elevated in monkeys with patterns of brain activity associated with fearful temperament. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. Biol Psychiatry. 2000

Asymmetric frontal brain activity, cortisol, and behavior associated with fearful temperament in rhesus monkeys. Kalin NH, Larson C, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. Behav Neurosci. 1998

Individual differences in freezing and cortisol in infant and mother rhesus monkeys. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Rickman M, Davidson RJ. Behav Neurosci. 1998

A new method for aversive Pavlovian conditioning of heart rate in rhesus monkeys. Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Lynn DE. Physiol Behav. 1996

Lateralized response to diazepam predicts temperamental style in rhesus monkeys. Davidson RJ, Kalin NH, Shelton SE. Behav Neurosci. 1993

Lateralized effects of diazepam on frontal brain electrical asymmetries in rhesus monkeys. Davidson RJ, Kalin NH, Shelton SE. Biol Psychiatry. 1992

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Compassion and Kindness Redefined

Brain Storm, the cover story by Frank Bures in Madison Magazine, is enough to make any kind and compassionate person puke their guts out. In this 3500+ paean to Richard Davidson, certain words are missing altogether. Words like: fear, anxiety, experimental brain ablation, ibotenic acid, restraint chair, or monkey.

Instead, we find comments like, "He's visionary. He's brilliant. He's compassionate and kind. And he's a very, very good scientist. And what he's done attests to all that."

"And what he's done attests to all that."

Here's some info not included in the article that attests to his compassion and kindness:

"METHODS: Twelve adolescent rhesus monkeys were studied (six lesion and six control monkeys). Lesions were targeted at regions of the OFC that are most interconnected with the amygdala. Behavior and physiological parameters were assessed before and after the lesions. RESULTS: The OFC lesions significantly decreased threat-induced freezing and marginally decreased fearful responses to a snake. The lesions also resulted in a leftward shift in frontal brain electrical activity consistent with a reduction in anxiety. The lesions did not significantly decrease hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) concentrations of corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF)." Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ.
Role of the Primate Orbitofrontal Cortex in Mediating Anxious Temperament. Biol Psychiatry. 2007.

"In primates, during times of need, calling for help is a universal experience. Calling for help recruits social support and promotes survival. However, calling for help also can attract predators, and it is adaptive to inhibit calls for help when a potential threat is perceived. Based on this, we hypothesized that individual differences in calling for help would be related to the activity of brain systems that mediate goal-directed behavior and the detection of threat.By using high-resolution positron emission tomography in rhesus monkeys undergoing social separation, we demonstrate that increased [18F]-fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose uptake in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and decreased uptake in the amygdala independently predict individual differences in calling for help. When taken together, these two regions account for 76% of the variance in calling for help. This result suggests that the drive for affiliation and the perception of threat determine the intensity of an individual's behavior during separation...." Fox AS, Oakes TR, Shelton SE, Converse AK, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Calling for help is independently modulated by brain systems underlying goal-directed behavior and threat perception. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005.

"Eighteen males underwent lesioning procedures at an average age of 34.9 months. Sixteen unoperated male controls were used for comparison and at the beginning of the study were on average 34.6 months of age." Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. The role of the central nucleus of the amygdala in mediating fear and anxiety in the primate. J Neurosci. 2004.

"To examine the role of the amygdala in mediating this endophenotype [an anxious temperament] and other fearful responses, we prepared monkeys with selective fiber sparing ibotenic acid lesions of the amygdala. Unconditioned trait-like anxiety-fear responses remained intact in monkeys with >95% bilateral amygdala destruction. In addition, the lesions did not affect EEG frontal asymmetry. However, acute unconditioned fear responses, such as those elicited by exposure to a snake and to an unfamiliar threatening conspecific were blunted in monkeys with >70% lesions." Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kelley AE. The primate amygdala mediates acute fear but not the behavioral and physiological components of anxious temperament. J Neurosci. 2001 Mar 15;21(6):2067-74.

"CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that, in primates, the fearful endophenotype is characterized by increased fearful behavior, a specific pattern of frontal electrical activity, increased pituitary-adrenal activity, and increased activity of brain CRH systems." Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. Cerebrospinal fluid corticotropin-releasing hormone levels are elevated in monkeys with patterns of brain activity associated with fearful temperament. Biol Psychiatry. 2000.

From the article:
"We have far more control over our wellbeing, over how we respond to the world, than a simplistic, deterministic view would permit," says Davidson. "This work leaves us with a much more hopeful and optimistic message. It also places more responsibility on us. In some sense, this work is really a call for us to take ownership over our own minds.

"We have an extraordinary ability to transform our minds, if we so choose."
Cruelty, like all our behvioral choices, are actions that begin in our minds. According to Davidson, changing who we are, how we behave, is just a matter of practice, "What my work suggests," says Davidson, "is that our capacity to experience free will is a skill that can, to some extent, be enhanced through training."

So, what are the likely long-term results of Davidson's continuing practice of burning away the emotion centers of monkeys' brains with acid and then trying to frighten them with a snake? Greater compassion and kindness or increased callousness and an increased ability to justify cruelty? According to Davidson himself, the answer is clear.

See too: Dalai Lama Disciple Makes Big Discovery!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Looking at Richard Davidson's Assertions

During WISC-TV’s Sunday, June 22, program, "For The Record," Dr. Richard Davidson made a series of assertions to justify the use of monkeys in his invasive brain experiments and his study of fear and anxiety.
Davidson: ... the judicious use of nonhuman primates to address illness models is absolutely crucial. The disease that we are primarily focused on is depression. Depression is the worldwide leading cause of disability for individuals age 5 and older.
The following table is from the National Council on Disability’s letter to the President of the United States, “Keeping Track: National Disability Status and Program Performance Indicators.” April 21, 2008.

In the U.S., at least in the adult population, it doesn’t appear that depression is the leading cause of disability. It isn’t clear what part of “Mental Disability” would include depression, but it’s certainly not all of it. See for instance: Defining mental illness: An interview with a Mayo Clinic specialist.
Davidson: There are almost 100 suicides per day in the United States every year, and those suicides are primarily committed by people with depression… and so it is very clear that the current understanding and current treatments for this devastating illness are thoroughly inadequate to address the magnitude of this problem.

I believe that the judicious use of nonhuman primates for this research has the potential of saving enormous numbers of lives...
This is a graph illustrating data from the 2008 New York Times Almanac (p 384.)


It seems reasonable that a health problem’s magnitude should be judged in relation to other health problems, in this case, causes of death. What Davidson and others are really saying in claims like his, is that any and every cause of human death is of sufficient magnitude to justify the use of nonhuman primates in harmful experimentation. In other words, the magnitude of the problem is inconsequential when deciding whether or not to hurt animals; otherwise, Davison would have to argue that the causes with lower magnitude than suicide aren’t important enough to justify the use of animals. Claims about “the magnitude of the problem” serve only to make his work look more important than it actually is. This is what all vivisectors say about their own work no matter what area or problem they are studying.
Me: [paraphrasing: “The oversight system has been shown to be a failure, but that’s beside the point.] The question that we’re more interested in is how similar to us does another species have to be? We’ve already begun to … ban research on apes around the world. Some countries have already banned research on chimpanzees. Austria has banned research on all apes; that includes all the way down to gibbons. [As if there is an up and down.]

So how similar to us do they have to be? What are the characteristics that an animal has to have before you would think it would just be wrong to hurt it?

I would never hurt you no matter what the benefits for me would be. But you’re saying that the benefits can be so good for you that it’s ok to hurt an animal. So there must be some clear qualitative characteristic that I have that they don’t have, and I just don’t understand what that is.
Davidson: If I can just respond to that. First of all let me clarify the issue of hurt.

In the work that we, I’ve collaborated on in nonhuman primates, I think the word hurt is very misleading. The protocols that we use do not involve pain to the animals. In fact, the research that we do in humans, I would say, we are permitted to inflict more pain, if the protocol requires it, than we can in nonhuman primates.

And so, I think it is deeply misleading to use the term hurt.
This is an astounding statement. If he is being honest, then he simply doesn’t recognize that the monkeys in his studies are being hurt. That’s a degree of numbness to animals’ experiences that seems psychotic or else, he was intentionally misleading.

First, we have to put the monkey labs in context.

Viktor Reinhard, former UW primate veterinarian, has asked: "Is it really so farfetched to compare this situation with that of human prisoners kept in concentration camps?"

In the wild, rhesus monkeys remain with their mothers in their natal groups for many years. Some will spend their entire life in the same group. In the labs, the babies are taken from their mothers early on, in the Harlow lab, where Davidson’s monkeys are bred and kept, they are taken from their mothers at three months of age according to lab director, Christopher Coe.

In the wild, rhesus monkeys live in environmentally complex habitats and interact with many other monkeys in complex social hierarchies. In the labs, they are housed in small barren cages.

The subset of moneys selected by Davidson and his colleagues for use in these studies on fear and anxiety were identified by them as being much more anxious than other monkeys. Thus, they are using the monkeys most likely to be frightened by threats and disruptions.

The monkeys are taken from their home cage to a lab where they are frightened. In various studies, they are confronted with larger unfamiliar monkeys, staring lab workers, and real and rubber snakes.

Afterwards, their scalp is sliced open, a hole drilled through their skull, acid is injected into their brain or parts of their brain is cauterized and sucked out, and then the wound is sewn up. Once they "recover," they are again confronted with the frightening objects, and changes in their behavior are noted. In some studies, the monkeys are killed and their brains examined.

Davidson says, “I think it is deeply misleading to use the term hurt.” Can you imagine doing these things to a child, getting caught, and then claiming that you hadn’t hurt them? Davidson is allowed to hurt human subjects more than this? Doing so would land him in jail. Davidson’s claims are grossly misleading.

Here are some excerpts from his published work:

“This study assessed the role of the primate OFC in mediating anxious temperament and its involvement in fear responses. METHODS: Twelve adolescent rhesus monkeys were studied (six lesion and six control monkeys). Lesions were targeted at regions of the OFC that are most interconnected with the amygdala. Behavior and physiological parameters were assessed before and after the lesions. RESULTS: The OFC lesions significantly decreased threat-induced freezing and marginally decreased fearful responses to a snake.”

“One microliter of ibotenic acid was infused … into 16-23 sites distributed over the entire volume of the amygdala on each side of the brain. During surgery, mannitol was administered over 30 min to control brain swelling. After the ibotenic acid injections were made, the midline incision was sutured, and the animal recovered from anesthesia. To ease postsurgical discomfort, buprenorphine and acetaminophen were administered.”

“In primates, during times of need, calling for help is a universal experience. Calling for help recruits social support and promotes survival. However, calling for help also can attract predators, and it is adaptive to inhibit calls for help when a potential threat is perceived. Based on this, we hypothesized that individual differences in calling for help would be related to the activity of brain systems that mediate goal-directed behavior and the detection of threat. By using high-resolution positron emission tomography in rhesus monkeys undergoing social separation, we demonstrate that increased [18F]-fluoro-2-deoxy-d-glucose uptake in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and decreased uptake in the amygdala independently predict individual differences in calling for help.”
Davidson: “I think that for the very reasons you are describing because some similarities in particular brain structures, in specific, the circuits that are important in regulating emotion, there is I think, a lot of reason to believe that the information that we can glean from nonhuman primates will be extremely important to us and much more important than research at the rodent level for certain key questions.

And I think that this work can be done on a limited number of animals. I think that we need to continuously ask ourselves whether the procedures that we are using are absolutely necessary [and whether] the number of animals is necessary. And I think that there is a lot we can do to keep it to a minimum.

But I think given the magnitude of the human suffering that we are attempting to address, I think that it is in fact irresponsible not to engage in research where there is a clear promise of a new direction that may be pursued to minimize suffering and to minimize mortality and morbidity on a massive scale.
I’ve already shown that the magnitude argument is spurious. But what of his “clear promise of a new direction” argument? Clear promise? A clear promise is about as alien to basic research as sunshine is to the bottom of the Mariana trench. Most basic science researchers admit that they don’t know how their work will be used or even whether it ever will be. They argue that basic research is simply the accumulation of knowledge that might someday be put to some good use. Clear promise? Davidson needs to do his homework. The Institute of Medicine at the National Academies of Science convened a Clinical Research Roundtable in 2000 to analyze the success of basic research. They reported in 2003 that there is a “disconnection between the promise of basic science and the delivery of better health.” See too: Rodriguez, WR. Can biomedical research in the United States be saved from collapse? 2004 MebMD, Veritas Medicine.

And finally: Is Davidson a liar?

He says that he doesn’t have any monkeys and that he doesn’t receive federal grants for experiments on them.

These are true statements, but they probably misled the viewers. The Principle Investigator, or PI, on the grants that paid for the experiments on monkeys that Davidson put his name on, was Ned Kalin, MD., chair of the UW department of psychiatry. But Kalin probably does little to the monkeys himself. Their third colleague, Steve Shelton is likely the actual hands-on vivisector. But so what? In a meeting between Davidson and a group of activists he said that he had access to about 30 monkeys, that he had been involved in some of the surgeries, and that he had seen their living conditions.

Why then, did he try to claim that he is very removed from primate experimentation even while his name is on more than a dozen papers documenting highly invasive experiments on monkeys’ brains? I suspect that the answer has something to do with his embarrassment and his opinion of people’s gullibility.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

More on the Academy's Failure

I pointed to the parallel between colonial colleges' and universities' involvement in the slavery of black people and modern colleges' and universities' involvement in the use of animals in a previous essay, "The Academy’s Failure." The academy is much more than just colleges and universities of course. It also includes all those academic institutions that spring from them or that directly direct support them. Two of those are public broadcasting and libraries.

I'm actually a big fan of both, but they are diminished by their embrace of the academy's normalization of cruelty to animals and their self-censorship of the opposing philosophy.

There is a risk in referring to institutions in this way because the term is an abstraction. They are collections of people. It is people within the institutions who are bigots, who defend the party line, who promote harm to animals, or who champion their consumption. Not everyone within one of the institutions that comprise academia are to blame, though all them have a moral obligation to speak out when they learn that their institution is.

On my way home from work, I was listening to NPR news on my local member station, Wisconsin Public Radio. They were reporting on the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, writer, chef, and TV host. They characterized him as kind and compassionate. Across most media his death is being lamented as a great loss with no mention of his influence on the perception of animals. From the animals' perspective, he was a monster. His celebrity was seemingly enough to dissuade NPR from mentioning his loud disregard for animals and criticism of those who care about them. A disregard for animals is rooted in the academy's culture.

Bourdain was a winner of a Peabody Award, a prestigious annual honor for the "most powerful, enlightening, and invigorating stories in television, radio, and online media," for his show "Parts Unknown," a "culinary travelogue." Maybe the Peabody Board of Jurors were invigorated by watching Bourdain chewing out the brain of a live octopus. The Peabody Award organization is located on the University of Georgia campus.

Another Peabody winner is Wisconsin Public Radio's "To the Best of Our Knowledge," which the Peabody Award says is "the consummate audio magazine of ideas and oddities for people with curious minds." One of the producers and interviewers is Anne Strainchamps. On March 28, 2018, Ms. Strangechamps had a live interview with UW-Madison Professor Richard Davidson, sponsored by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters.

Davidson's public shtick is his claim that his friendship with the Dalai Lama and his meditation have taught him how to be happier. He always throws in something about compassion and mindfulness. He is a local celebrity that the Birkenstock-Whole Foods crowd can't get enough of. When playing the guru, he never mentions his long collaboration with Ned Kalin. Kalin and Davidson discovered a way to identify particularly anxious and fearful monkeys with a brain scan. Davidson has been the Director of Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging & Behavior, University of Wisconsin-Madison for a number of years; Kalin is the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry. Their collaboration has resulted in the publication of more than 30 papers since 1992 documenting their highly invasive and on-going experiments on young monkeys with these characteristics.

I wrote a polite letter to Ms. Strainchamps asking her to ask Davidson about the mismatch between his claim that thinking about being compassionate and kind while meditating would make one happier, and his history of frightening and killing young fearful monkeys. I included a bibliography in the letter. I never heard back, and she did not ask him about this contradiction.

Her interview with Davidson was probably driven by the release of his book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body (Avery, 2017.)

It was somewhere around ten years ago that I got in contact with NPR's Ombudsperson. I don't recall her name. I talked to her about Wisconsin Public Radio's biased reporting or absence of reporting about the university's use of animals and federal violations of animal welfare laws. She acknowledged that NPR understood that university-based public radio stations censored their own reporting. She lamented the fact that they didn't know how to fix the problem. It is still a problem. According to NPR, about two-thirds of their 900 member and affiliated stations are licensed to, or are affiliated with, colleges or universities.

Davidson promoted the book again at a talk sponsored by local library a short time later.

When I learned of that talk, I again wrote ahead of time and addressed by concerns to Jocelyne Sansing, Library Director and Jim Ramsey, Head of Adult Services, Middleton Public Library. Middleton is an upscale community just a few minutes from the university. I again provided a bibliography and pointed to a few of his public claims about meditation making you more compassionate. I wrote:
I believe, and hope you do too, that public libraries have some pretty strong obligations to the public. It seems to me that one of these is the avoidance of knowingly misleading them. Unless the audience of the upcoming Scholar'd for Life event know the scope of Dr. Davidson’s work, it is likely that they will come away with a misunderstanding or false impression of the effects that Davidson’s personal experience with meditation have had on him. He is in fact, proof that meditation may not make one a more compassionate person.
And again, I didn't hear back and assume that they kept quiet.

I once held librarians in much regard. But in 2002, I began asking for a copy of videos made during one one of Ned Kalin's experiments. The university refused. I and colleagues asked for them a few more times and then asked a local reporter to ask for them, at which point the university destroyed them.

At the time, the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, a part of the university, was the site of the Lawrence Jacobsen Library, also known as the Primate Center Library. The library was the site of an archive of primate research history. I wrote to the university library, the Wisconsin Library Association, and the National Library Association about this blatant destruction of public records.

January 1, 2007

Wisconsin Library Association 5250 East Terrace Drive, Suite A Madison WI 53718-8345

Dear WLA and the Intellectual Freedom Round Table:

I am writing to complain about an instance of censorship of information that may have, and should have, involved University of Wisconsin librarians.

Attached, is an article from the Isthmus that provides some details of the situation. (Primate tapes get trashed, 08/11/2006.)

Briefly: the university denied public records requests for information held by the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. Sixty-two days after one denial, documents, photographs, and sixty boxes of videotapes were destroyed by the primate center.

This matter should be of concern to the WLA for at least two reasons.

1. Important historical documents and unique visual records have been lost forever through an act of intentional destruction carried out under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin even as members of the public were asking for that information.

2. The Lawrence Jacobsen Library is housed at the primate center. It is a part of the primate center and a part of the University of Wisconsin General Library System. The library violated its mission when it chose not to collect this unique collection of information regarding research occurring at its own institution:
The Wisconsin Primate Research Center Library and Information Service supports the research and outreach missions of the National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison. The library acquires, organizes, develops, provides access to, and delivers information resources in a variety of formats to Center scientists and staff, University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty and students, and persons worldwide with an interest in primatology. Essential to this mission is the effort to comprehensively collect and provide access to print, audiovisual and digital materials related to nonhuman primates in research, conservation, education, and veterinary care.
The mission of the June Northrop Barker Archives, part of the Lawrence Jacobson Library:
The June Northrop Barker Archives serves to enrich and support the cross-disciplinary field of Primatology by acting as a repository for the history and science of this emerging field. To do this, the Barker Archives solicits, collects, organizes, describes, preserves and provides access to the research and historical documents, as well as the records of the international, national and regional organizations related to the field of Primatology.
The destruction of these documents, photographs, and sixty boxes of videotapes is grossly at odds with the library’s mission. Even if the tapes were damaged, the librarians should still have saved, repaired, and archived that information, and made it available to the library’s present and future users.

So much unique information has been irretrievably lost to the public – to say nothing of the loss to history and science – while these librarians either did nothing to prevent this loss or have remained silent after the fact.

The librarians at the Lawrence Jacobsen Library violated a fundamental professional ethic of the field of librarianship:
The American Library Association defines intellectual freedom, a fundamental professional ethic of the field of librarianship, as the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.
These librarians did not advocate for the intellectual rights of those seeking the information. The destruction of this information raised barriers to an exploration of all sides of the question of primates in research and animal rights. The Lawrence Jacobsen Library may not have been able to stop the destruction of this information, but book burning is book burning, and librarians must call attention to it wherever it occurs.

........
I did not hear back.

It seems to me that the academy has not changed very much since the time it was so heavily invested in the slave industry and was promoting and defending the destruction of the Indian nations. The evidence is overwhelming that animals have minds, emotions, see into the future, have inner lives and desires, and that the academy is working around the clock against their interests.

A few years ago, friends and I met with then Wisconsin's Senator Russ Feingold to talk to him about federal funding for experiments on monkeys. He was somewhat sympathetic and was disturbed by the undercover video we showed him of animals being used at Covance. But when we brought up the subject of federal limits on the sort of experiments that should be allowed, he jumped immediately to a defense of academic freedom. He was unable to see or chose not to see the parallels between the results of academic freedom in Nazi Germany and what is happening in American labs today.

Like our idiot-king, the academy is above the law and outside the bounds of morality.