Monday, January 25, 2010

Silly Secrecy

A fairly frequent observation made by anti-cruelty activists is that universities are secretive about the experiments they perform on animals.

There are two boilerplate responses from the vivisectors: 1. We have to keep the details secret because people who care about animals are generally terrorists, and 2. There is nothing secretive about our work; we publish the details in scientific journals.

Admittedly, these positions seem contradictory, but then, they also claim to care about the animals they keep caged, poison, maim, and kill. The mental gymnastics needed to keep such diametric realities somewhat balanced accounts for the wild look you can sometimes see in these people’s eyes.

I am intrigued by their claim that the details of what they do to the animals aren’t really a secret because they publish reports of their work in journals accessible to anyone who will take the time to seek them out – implying, it sometimes seems, that the crazed loonies pointing to this alleged secrecy won’t even take the time to do a little research on their own.

And after all, the university vivisectors sometimes claim, they work for an educational institution – disseminating knowledge is what they are all about. Funny.

Speaking from the perspective of one of the loonies who actually takes the time to read these reports and who also reviews the in-house descriptions of the experiments contained in the required protocol submissions to the oversight committees, I can say unequivocally that the methods described in the published papers are mere shadows of what is explained in the protocols. A comparison of those documents would be an interesting topic for analysis. But here, I want to point out a humorous fact about the vivisectors’ claim of transparency by way of published papers.

Obviously, if one wanted to learn the details of what, say, the scientists who were breaking the law killing sheep by rapidly decompressing them, were doing to the sheep, one might want to read the papers those scientists had published.

And, if the university where those experiments were occurring was proud of that work, or at least forthcoming, even if not necessarily truly interested in educating the pubic, one might imagine that they would readily provide the titles of the papers those scientists had published. After all, the universities say that those published papers are a clear demonstration that they aren’t hiding what they are doing.

Here are some examples of their pride and transparency (click on the image to see a larger view):

This one is particulary interesting:

As far as I can tell, this censoring was done to the document that was sent to the Dane County District Attorney by the university during the DA's investigation of the sheep decompression killings.

These redactions are just silly. Silly and stupid in fact. In the censored passage above, the university apparently believes that blacking out this reference will keep it secret. Why would they want to keep it a secret? The vivisectors involved in this research, the authors of this secret paper in fact, are well-known, and we sent the DA copies of these authors' papers.

The secret paper above is probably: Predicting risk of decompression sickness in humans from outcomes in sheep. Ball R, Lehner CE, Parker EC. J Appl Physiol. 1999.

Why would the university black this out if they A) are proud of the work they do, or B) they are transparent and forthcoming about the experiments on animals they perform? The answer to A and B seems likely to be C) they worry about the embarrassment they would have to endure if the vivisectors' neighbors learned the truth, and C) they want to keep the things they do a secret.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

UW Ethics: Blowing in the Wind

Section 951.025, Wis. Stats. reads in its entirety:

Decompression prohibited. No person may kill an animal by means of decompression.

I recently wrote about the lock-step positions taken by University of Wisconsin-Madison spokespersons regarding their appeals to the authority of government as a substitute for their personal responsibility or even the university’s responsibility for the decision to hurt monkeys.

Research Animal Resource Center Director Eric Sandgren argued at the January 8, 2010All-Campus Animal Care and Use Committee meeting that animal research ethics is dictated by government regulations. That is, he should have added, until government’s dictates interfere with the university’s desire to engaged in research that is harmful to animals.

This contradictory position is a clear unambiguous illustration of the hidden motivations behind the rhetoric produced by the university and its spokespersons. (The University of Wisconsin-Madison is unlikely to be unique in this regard, and can be considered an exemplar for university-based animal experimentation programs.)

On the one hand, regulations are good and appropriate if they serve the university’s interests. (The opinions of the local citizens should be dismissed.) On the other hand, when regulations threaten the flow of money into the university or the open-ended ability to hurt animals in any way whatsoever, then the regulations should be changed (and local opinion should still be dismissed, of course); apparently, the ethical guidelines in the regulations vary in value and meaning depending on whether or not the university likes them.

It is likely that the university will seek to win an exception to Wisconsin’s state law banning the killing of animals by means of decompression. These two-faced self-serving tax-sucking soft-handed ass-wipes will probably go to the Legislature and demand that they be allowed to simply ignore the state’s Crimes Against Animals statutes altogether. Can you say dick-heads?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Eric Sandgren: “We do not make excuses.”

I had to laugh for a moment at Eric Sandgren’s guest column in the Saturday Wisconsin State Journal, “Eric Sandgren: Inspection of animal labs will make us better.” (January 16, 2010.)

Two statements were particularly comical: “We do not make excuses …,” and “we take responsibility…”.

His column seemed to have two goals: 1. Give an excuse for a few of the many problems noted by the USDA and OLAW, and 2. Scold local media for quoting the inspection reports.

He claimed that “early news coverage misrepresented” the problems, apparently trying to make readers believe that the federal inspectors’ written reports did so as well since the language from the reports was a key element in local media coverage.

Let’s look at his excuses for the violations and compare them with the USDA report and the regulations the inspectors cited them for violating. You can read the USDA report here.

1. His excuse for the inspections:
In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) performed a routine inspection of the UW-Madison animal program. USDA is required by law to inspect all research institutions at least once per year. OLAW visits several institutions each year.
The USDA inspection was officially a “Routine Inspection.” This is noted on the inspection report itself. But the inspection was far from routine. Typical “Routine Inspections” routinely find few violations. The reasons for finding few violations are many, but a large one is that inspectors commonly arrive alone and stay for a few hours or a few days at most. In this case, a team of inspectors was at the university for two weeks.

“Routine Inspection” reports routinely amount to a page or two in length. A September 2009 UW-Madison “Routine Inspection” of “All Campus Sites” is just over a page in length, and an April 2009 “Routine Inspection” of “All Campus Sites” is a single page. The December 9, 2009 inspection that Sandgren says was a “routine inspection” is ten pages long. That’s not routine.

Sandgren says that OLAW visits “several institutions each year.” But he should have said, OLAW visits only a few institutions each year, and usually, only if they suspect serious problems. USDA and OLAW showed up at the same time. That’s not routine.

2. His excuse for the reasons for the inspections:
That is the point of inspections: to provide us with an independent evaluation of our program. The findings prove extremely helpful in our own efforts to continually improve.
Actually, the point of the inspections is to monitor compliance with federal regulations and to cite violations. Independent evaluations are provided by the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC), a private, nonprofit organization that accredited organizations, like most of the animal-using colleges at the university, claim is the “Gold Standard for animal care and use in science.”

The fact that the inspectors found so much wrong that this accredited institution itself could not see doesn’t say much for the institution’s effort to improve.

Insiders allege that the joint inspection was stimulated by multiple complaints to OLAW and USDA from animal care staff. There is no way to confirm this, but if it’s true, that’s not routine either.

3. His excuse for the dirty surgical suite:
USDA found inadequately cleaned areas in one of 10 surgical areas examined. The rest looked great. The outlier is now clean, and everyone using it knows they better keep it that way.
Nowhere in the report does it say that other surgical suites “looked great.”

What is implied when he says: “The outlier is now clean, and everyone using it knows they better keep it that way”? Do researchers at the university have to be ordered to maintain a sterile surgical environment? What does it imply about their concern for the animals they are operating on or even their basic understanding of germ theory? What does it say about the competence of RARC and the animal care and use committee whose job it was to insure compliance with the federal regulations who allowed the surgical suite to become and remain dirty?

The inspectors reported that they inspected the surgical suite after it had been cleaned and found rusty equipment (which makes it very difficult if not impossible to adequately clean), hair clippings on a table, drips/splatter residue on a wall, an excessive accumulation of dirt on the air vents, and dark colored material on the front drawers of an anesthesia machine. And yet, the university claims that its research and science and animal care is cutting-edge. Blather.

4. His excuse for not requiring researchers to explain how they ascertained that there are no less- or non-painful alternatives:
Our current animal use application reminds applicants to “make sure the proposed procedures cause the least possible stress to animals,” and requires them to confirm that they have done so. We will now also require a narrative description in the application of how this requirement was met.
The inspectors wrote: “There is nothing to indicate that the principal investigators had considered alternatives to potentially painful procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain and/or distress to the animals in the written narrative.”

Sandgren says, “We will now also require a narrative description in the application of how this requirement was met.”

But USDA Policy# 12 requires:
a written narrative description of the methods and sources used to consider alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to the animals;
The university stopped referring researchers to this policy sometime after 2008. He should have said they the university will go back to requiring a narrative.

His excuse for the dogs not receiving veterinary care:
The animals in this study were being monitored by veterinarians, who were treating their patients as they recovered from surgery. The error was in failing to inform our laboratory animal veterinarians about the animals’ condition so that they too could participate in patient management. That communication problem is now fixed.
Because this study (#V01296) was taking place at the vet school (that’s what the V stands for), it was veterinarians who were directly responsible for causing the dogs’ health problems in the first place. In all likelihood, the dogs were being experimented on by Milan Milovancev, DVM, and/or Jonathan McAnulty DVM, and/or Ellison Bentley, DVM, and/or Richard Dubielzig, DVM, and or Annette Gendron-Fitzpatrick, DVM. Saying that the dogs were being monitored by veterinarians is like saying that the humans experimented on by the Nazis were being monitored by doctors. In neither case would it be anything but odious to call the victims “patients.”

There was a communication problem. The inspectors noted that three dogs and other animals had severe health problems and that there was no record that the attending veterinarian had been notified. They went on to say that:
It is the responsibility of the research facility and research staff to have a mechanism of direct and frequent communication to ensure that problems of animal health and/or behavior are conveyed in a timely manner to the attending veterinarian for evaluation and assessment to ensure the health and well-being of the animals.
Sandgren says: “We do not make excuses for any of the problems. We take responsibility for them all.”

Sandgren’s column is a short laundry list of excuses for many problems. He says they are sorry and will try to do better. He also says they take responsibility for the problems. Exactly how do they do that? Will people lose their jobs? Will salaries be cut? What does “take responsibility” mean?

Apparently nothing.

A postscript: Sandgren tries to take media to task for misrepresentative reporting, but most of the reports said that USDA had twenty violations. This was subsequently mentioned by university animal research defenders as "only twenty" violations. Sandgren didn't correct that error in his column. Look at the report. There were twenty different kinds of violations.

In fact, conservatively, there are close to a hundred individual violations; count them up yourself. Looked at this way, media reporting did Sandgren and his crew a favor.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

“Is experimenting on monkeys ethical?”

Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the Great State University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.

On January 8, 2010, the University of Wisconsin-Madison All Campus Animal Care and Use Committee deliberated on and responded to a question posed to the committee by Rick Marolt on August 7, 2009. It took the committee seven months to get to this point because it had made its decision earlier behind closed doors, possibly violating the state’s public meetings laws and was ordered (“prodded”) by the chancellor to meet and deliberate in an open meeting. Local media outlets reported on the meeting. See for instance “Campus Connection: Panel says ethics considered before monkey research.” Todd Finkelmeyer January 9, 2010. The Capital Times.

When I say that the committee deliberated on Marolt’s question, I am being generous. There actually wasn’t much deliberation if we take deliberation to mean a discussion and consideration by a group of persons. Of the dozen or so committee members sitting at the table only three and a half participated. Robert Streiffer read a prepared statement, Eric Sandgren gave a prepared presentation, and only Nancy Schultz-Darken contributed comments that could be fairly characterized as an attempt at discussion. Another member (whose name I don’t know) suggested that Schultz-Darken’s concerns for faculty who were afraid to speak publicly on the matter of primate experimentation were insubstantial and likely wrong. Schultz-Darken’s suggestion that the committee recommend to the chancellor some way – a forum of some sort – to give potentially critical or concerned faculty an opportunity to voice their opinions without fear of reprisal was left undiscussed.

I am responding to Robert Streiffer’s prepared remarks. At the end of this entry is a copy of his prepared statement. Dr. Streiffer provided me with this copy of his remarks when I asked him to correct any errors that had been inadvertently miswritten in the transcript I was working from originally. [A shout out to PR for the time spent making that transcript. Thank you, too, to Dr. Streiffer.]

Robert Streiffer’s remarks are of particular importance given his wide involvement in university research policy. See his Curriculum Vitae.

Streiffer’s stated opinions and remarks provide authority to the university’s claim that its use of animals receives careful scrutiny and ethical consideration. I predict that at some point in the not too distant future some university official will say something to the effect that the chair of one of the university’s animal care and use committees (ACUCs) is a bioethicist and will, either overtly or implicitly, leave their audience with the impression that the ethics of the research are duly considered. Streiffer is the chair of the School of Letters & Science ACUC, which among other things approves experiments at the Harlow Primate Psychology Laboratory.

I comment on some of Streiffer’s specific points and claims below. I begin here with the distilled version: Streiffer’s fundamental claim is an appeal to authority. And because the authorities he appeals to are not experts in the matter at hand, his claim is fallacious.

On matters of ethics or of moral behavior, there are persons who have significant knowledge of the history of ethics and moral behavior, but no one has a legitimate claim to authoratative knowlege of right and wrong. (Those who make such a claim frequently appeal to a supernatural source of knowledge.) This means then, that a fair review of evidence could and often does lead to different opinions regarding ethics; the only situations wherein opinions should be differently weighed are when one person or group has reviewed the evidence and the other has not; or else, when one has a broader knowledge of the evidence. If someone or group makes a claim in the absence of meaningful evidence their opinion must be proportionally discounted based on their degree of knowledge or ignorance, willful or otherwise.

If the question before the committee had been: Is the UW-Madison’s use of primates legal? or, “Is the care and use of monkeys at UW-Madison in general compliance with the federal regulations governing the care and use of animals used in research?” then, Streiffer's claim would have been a valid argument from authority because the authorities he appeals to in his argument are experts in those areas. In fact, these are precisely the questions that the animal care and use committees are charged to answer and do answer by referring and appealing to the accepted authorities in this specific area: the Animal Welfare Act, the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, the "U.S. Government Principles for the Utilization and Care of Vertebrate Animals Used in Testing, Research and Training," and the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

But on the question before the committee – Is experimenting on monkeys ethical? – these documents and regulations have no authority. The ethics of animal use generally and primate experimentation specifically, are outside these authorities’ area of expertise.

Streiffer’s position appears to me to be a simple and handy abrogation of personal responsibility, a position shared by UW-Madison Chancellor Martin: “To the extent continued debate on this subject is merited, it should be pursued at the national level.” Letter to Rick Marolt. November 2, 2009.

During a radio debate a few years ago, I asked Paul Kaufman, a vivisector at the university who experiments on monkeys’ eyes, why it was ok to do things to them that would be immoral if they were done to a human. He said that the question was “above his pay grade.” This is essentially the same argument Martin used and that Streiffer uses in his motion (passed unanimously):
I move that the committee endorse the position that existing standards of veterinary care and applicable animal welfare laws, regulations, and policies provide a suitable and appropriate basis for determining when the use of nonhuman primates in research, teaching, or outreach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is ethical.
It is ethical, they all argue, because a higher authority says it is.

In most areas of human endeavor, this low level of ethical reasoning, this divestiture of personal responsibility, is of little serious consequence. “Sorry Ma’am, that’s our policy.” “Don’t blame me, I’m just doin’ my job.” “I don’t make the rules.” “Just following orders.”

Fortunately, some, albeit a minority of us, have over time, acted independently of laws and regulations. Some of us have hidden Jews in basements or attics. Some of us have helped slaves escape to freedom; in both cases violating the highest legal authorities in the land. Historically, states and municipalities have banned federally sanctioned activity and legalized federally banned behavior. Those elected to high office or those hired to administer state and federal regulations have no claim on ethical authority.

Streiffer’s appeal to the "U.S. Government Principles for the Utilization and Care of Vertebrate Animals Used in Testing" is problematic. The "Principles," also appealed to by Eric Sandgren in his presentation to the committee, were adopted in 1985, two-and-a-half decades ago now. Yet Streiffer says also that the use of non-human primates should be revisited periodically and periodically reassessed in light of the latest scientific knowledge and ethical reflection. Streiffer’s appeal to the "Principles" is contrary to and fatally diminishes the weight of this claim.

Additonally, the field of comparative ethology and the serious study of animals' minds was just getting started in 1985. The "Principals" were promulgated at a time when animal consciousness was still being widely and vigorously challenged. The bulk of the body of evidence produced by this blossoming of scientific inquiry was not even in existence. [For some background on this see: "Are Clever Animals Actually Thinking?" New York Times, 1983.]

Streiffer began his comments by comparing the university’s belief in primate experimentation with the Vatican’s belief in God.
UW knowingly engages in non-human primate research; we have Animal Care and Use Committees reviewing and approving protocols on a regular basis. It seems a bit like someone asking the Vatican to address the question on whether God exists.
He may have used this comparison as a catchy and facetious introduction, but I think he was right; the committee may as well have genuflected and voted immediately. The ethical correctness and the scientific efficacy of animal experimentation are tenets of faith among vivisectors. Faith is a phenomenon that isn’t easily shaken by facts. Nor is it an affect that entertains challenging ideas. This might account for the committee’s lack of discussion and Eric Sandgren’s recitation of federal regulations.

I believe this is a fair summation of Streiffer’s presentation:

1. The use of non-human primates is controversial and raises significant ethical issues.
2. The use of non-human primates should be revisited periodically and periodically reassessed in light of the latest scientific knowledge and ethical reflection.
3. ACUCs can and do make ethical decisions.
4. Society has taken a stand in support of primate research.
5. An infrastructure exists to oversee non-human primate research.
6. The university should defer the question of primate research to federal officials.
7. Primate research at the university is ethical.

1. I would be a little surprised if anyone involved with animal experimentation at the university didn’t agree that its use of monkeys is controversial. Whether or not it raises significant ethical issues though may vary from person to person. It appears to me, from Streiffer’s comments and the decided lack of conversation about this by the committee, that no one on the committee, neither Streiffer nor the other members feel this way.

In Strieffer’s case, he may believe that he believes this, but his believed belief seems unsubstantiated by his subsequent claims and opinion as voiced in his motion to the committee.

2. Because of these supposed significant ethical issues, he claims, the matter of primate experimentation should be periodically revisited and revaluated in light of the latest scientific information. But over the past five years, the majority of the Graduate School ACUC meetings (where all the primate center experiments are reviewed) and the All Campus ACUC meetings (where all the potentially most painful experiments are reviewed, or were) have been attended by members of the public. They report that scientific discoveries are never topics of discussion. I have reviewed the minutes of very many of these meetings; never is there mention of any scientific reports on animal cognition, emotion, or news that reflects on problems with the oversight system, or scientific reports questioning the efficacy of using animals as models of human biology.

If this body of scientific evidence and news isn’t mentioned, then re-evaluations cannot take place. Streiffer’s claim has little weight given the fact that the All Campus ACUC meeting could have been a venue for initiating just the sort of reconsideration and evidence weighing that he says should occur; but he did not attempt to begin what has apparently never been done, and yet which he claims should be done periodically. This seriously undermines his assertion and suggests that he may not actually believe what he apparently thinks he believes.

3. The question of whether or not ACUCs can and/or do make ethical decisions is an interesting one. Streiffer argues that they can and do; I think they could, but generally don’t.

Streiffer points to Regan’s and Francione’s assertions, based on their interpretations of the Animal Welfare Act that ACUCs are unable to make ethical decisions. Streiffer argues that because ACUCs disallow or modify some elements of proposed research that this is evidence of the committees’ ethical decision-making:
If a committee does not approve a protocol because it thinks it fails to provide acceptable housing or acceptable enrichment, then they are dealing with ethical issues, even if they don’t frame them using that terminology.
I am hard-pressed to understand how Streiffer could not see the fallacy in such an assertion. The answer must lie in the definition of ethics, which might be one of the things Marolt was referring to when he said that the committee didn’t understand his question (see the article linked to above.)

There is a very low level truth to a claim that one is acting ethically or “dealing with ethical matters” if one follows the letter of a regulation. But Streiffer’s assertion is fallacious because it substitutes this lowest level of putative ethical behavior with the explicit ethical review asked for by Marolt. In fact, it isn’t just animal research critics who note the inability of ACUCs to make such decisions:
12:3 Should the IACUC perform an ethical review of protocols?

... Funding agencies and corporate administrators may weight financial costs against potential benefit in distributing funds, but there is only limited weighing of benefit against harm to animals in any setting

For the most part, the IACUC does not and cannot conduct this explicit ethical review. The IACUC is charged with reviewing the rationale (preferably statistical) for the animal numbers chosen, for instance, but not whether a particular line of research warrants that number. Similarly, the IACUC evaluates a technical claim that nonhuman primates alone are likely to provide the sort of data sought, not whether a particular project ethically merits the use of primates. Because the IACUC does not have the tools (or the regulatory mandate) to conduct a thorough assessment of the scientific merit (i.e. the potential benefits) of a proposed project, it cannot make a thorough cost-benefit analysis. The IACUC Handbook. Silverman, Suckow, Murthy (Eds), 2000.
ACUCs could make ethical decisions; the UW-Madison All-Campus could have decided to look for the first time at the scientific evidence of primate cognition, emotion, and societal behavior that has accumulated over the decades and deliberated over its meaning and implication, but they didn’t.

4. Streiffer says:
Non-human primate research, after all, takes place across the country. It is a practice that in some minimal sense society has already taken a stand on, through the laws that allow it; the practices that encourage it; and the funding that supports it.
I’m sure it was just a typo, but he left out the word vanishingly. He should have said, "in some vanishingly minimal sense society has already taken a stand." Following Streiffer’s logic, we are forced to argue that American society took a supportive stance on every action ever conducted by government, and that’s farfetched indeed.

5. Steiffer claims that there is an infrastructure in place that oversees primate research.

No there isn’t.

There is an infrastructure in place that oversees, actually facilitates, animal experimentation. This is a much different thing than the oversight of primate research claimed by Streiffer.

6. Streiffer, echoing Chancellor Martin, says that others, not from Madison or even Wisconsin, should answer serious ethical questions about what is done on the University of Wiscosnin-Madison campus.

Chancellor Martin: “To the extent continued debate on this subject is merited, it should be pursued at the national level.”

Streiffer: The UW might want to “defer the larger question to those responsible for maintaining and improving the national oversight infrastructure.”

It’s Martin’s job to increase the power of the university, to make it richer, to shield it from public and societal criticism. So her comment makes perfect sense. She’s simply uninterested in ethics (or at least those ethical questions that don’t impinge on her directly.) But Streiffer’s comment is a different matter entirely; arguably, he represents the university’s ethical compass; others may look to him as a respected bioethicist to provide leadership on sticky ethical matters. In this case, he has allowed the ship to run aground.

7. Primate research at the university is ethical.

He is right – at the lowest level of ethical reasoning. It is ethical, in his terms, because the government says it is legal. But Marolt was asking for something other than a simple check on legality. Marolt’s question would require the members of the committee to do some reading and engage in discussion about the things they read.

Streiffer is an ethicist with impressive credentials. I am at a loss to account for his failure to genuinely address the question put to the committee, his failure to note publicly the clear conflicts of interest held by the committee members, his deferring of institutional and personal responsibility, and his apparent willingness to defend and sanction the un-winnowed and un-sifted official position of his employer.

In a previous post, I suggested that Robert Streiffer might suffer from ethical blindness. He challenged my characterization; as a PhD-holding philosopher who specializes in ethics, such a possibility might strike deeply and painfully. But what are the alternative possibilities?

There is a very long history of very well-educated and otherwise progressive thinkers who have been flat wrong on major ethical questions of their day. The animal question is the penultimate challenge to the special creation of man. The belief that humans are the pinnacle of creation and deserving of the de facto obeisance of all other species has evolved out of the original claim that only royalty were so deserving, then property-holding men were included, then in turn, white men, white women, people of color, and finally, all humans (or so much rhetoric claims.) Throughout this progression, smart and compassionate people have resisted, they have suffered from an era-bound ethical blindness that made it impossible for them to take notice of our morally relevant common characteristics. And, as a review of the evidence in existence today shows – a review Streiffer and the ACUC flatly refused to engage in – many other animals, and particularly the other primates – appear to share these characteristics with us.

See for instance:
“How Like Us Need They Be?” Bogle, R. Kindred Spirits, Indiana University. September 9, 2006. and

One last observation: Streiffer's position, that is, primate experimentation at the University of Wiscosnsin-Madison is ethical because a higher authority says it is, is, I believe, a dangerous notion. An appeal to authority is used today by scholars of Islam to justify stoning and horrific punishment. Appeals to authority have been used in every war as a justification for torture and murder. In all of these cases, individuals gave up their personal responsibility and decision-making with a reliance on the "better" judgement of the authorities.

What we have learned over the past century regarding the mental lives of animals makes it clear that what is occurring today, and is escalating, literally dwarfs the suffering during historic events that we commonly refer to as the darkest periods of human history. This cannot change until people look at the issues squarely, unflinchingly, and make decisions based on the idea of basic rights for all who suffer similarly.

Remarks for the All Campus-Animal Care and Use Committee, January 8, 2009
Robert Streiffer

As you know, Mr. Marolt has requested that UW address the question of whether it is ethical to do research on nonhuman primates. When I first heard his request, I was puzzled: UW knowingly engages in nonhuman primate research; we have Animal Care and Use Committees reviewing and approving protocols on a regular basis. It seemed a bit like someone asking the Vatican to address the question of whether God exists. I think we already know where the Vatican stands on that.

But as I thought about it more, I think I came to better understand what Mr. Marolt was asking for. If I understand him correctly, Mr. Marolt is asking that UW officially deliberate about and officially adopt a position on a question of applied ethics, a question that directly concerns campus activities. UW has done something similar before. Preparing for the possibility that Jamie Thomson would be the first person to ever successfully isolate human embryonic stem cells, UW formed a Biotechnology Advisory Committee, consisting of biologists, bioethicists, and law professors, who met for about 9 months to examine the ethics of embryonic stem cell research and produce a public report.

Now, the question of the ethics of nonhuman primate research is controversial. And as has become clear from Mr. Marolt’s attempts to find an audience to even consider his request, it is even controversial whether it is a good idea to take up the issue. Reports from ethics advisory committees sound nice on paper, but it would not be surprising if researchers and administrators were tempted to reject his request out of hand on the grounds it is not really a good-faith request for open and honest deliberation, but rather an attempt to obstruct research by a meddlesome activist. I think this temptation should be resisted, not because I am interested in speculating about Mr. Marolt’s motives, but because I think it’s a fallacy to reject an idea simply because one is dubious about the motives of the person whose idea it was. And I think that Mr. Marolt’s idea does indeed have merit.

The use of nonhuman primates does raise significant ethical questions. We currently allow research that causes harm and premature death to sentient individuals capable of living long lives, capable of happiness and suffering, capable of agency and emotion. We justify that research not by appealing to the good of those particular individuals nor by appealing to their consent. We justify it by appealing to the advancement of knowledge and the benefits for others. I think that any reasonable view about the ethics of nonhuman primate research must acknowledge that these are significant costs, not to be imposed lightly. Such an important issue should be revisited periodically; it should be periodically reassessed in light of the latest scientific knowledge and ethical reflection.

However, it does not automatically follow that UW should implement such a procedure here and now, much less that this specific committee should do so. Indeed, some might argue that the committee does not have the authority to take a stand on the general issue of the ethics of nonhuman primate research. The idea behind this view is that IACUCs are not authorized to decide whether research may be done, only the manner in which it may be done. IACUCs are not authorized to prohibit research, only to regulate it.

This argument is typically made by those opposed to animal experimentation who use it to criticize the existing oversight system as failing to provide satisfactory assurance that the animals are treated ethically. Tom Regan, the leading animal rights philosopher, asserts that “… IACUCs have no authority to impose ethical limits on what researchers may or may not do and thus no authority to stop even a single experiment on ethical grounds.”(1) Gary Francione, a professor of animal law, says that the AWA only gives IACUCs the authority to regulate “what sort of treatment must be given to animals”, and that it does not give IACUCs the authority to address “what particular experiments are appropriate for animal use.”(2)

Now, this argument purports to rest on a legal interpretation, and I do not focus on animal law, so my remarks here are tentative, but I want to briefly indicate why I don’t find such a narrow view of the regulations plausible with two examples.

IACUCs are required by law to prohibit any research that is not in compliance with what are referred to as the U.S. Government Principles. Principle VII requires that “the living conditions of animals should be appropriate for their species and contribute to their health and comfort.” It would thus be within the IACUC’s jurisdiction to prohibit research with a species if they concluded that appropriate housing conditions on campus could not be secured. (Imagine a researcher trying to bring chimpanzees onto a campus that can only secure funding for cages of the size typically used for macaques.) A decision about the appropriateness of housing conditions, which falls squarely within the jurisdiction of an IACUC, can amount to a prohibition on a certain kind of research. An even clearer, second, example comes from Principle II, which requires that “procedures involving animals should be designed and performed with due consideration of their relevance to human or animal health, the advancement of knowledge, or the good of society.” So if an IACUC finds that procedures involving animals do not produce sufficiently important knowledge, then it is within the IACUC’s legitimate authority to prohibit that research.

And even if this narrow interpretation were the correct reading of the law, it certainly isn’t my experience of how ACUCs operate. If a committee does not approve a protocol because it thinks the protocol fails to provide acceptable housing or enrichment, they are dealing with ethical issues, even if they don’t frame them using that terminology.

So, I do think that nonhuman primate research raises important ethical issues that deserve attention, and I don’t think that this committee is barred from addressing them. Does this mean that the ACACUC needs to implement a process similar to the one I described regarding stem cell research? I don’t think so. Nonhuman primate research, after all, takes place across the country. It is a practice that, in some minimal sense, society itself has taken a stand on, through the laws that allow it, the practices that encourage it, and the funding that supports it. In this respect, the situation with nonhuman primate research is very different from the situation I described earlier with respect to stem cell research. At that time, not a single person had ever engaged in embryonic stem cell research. There were no federal laws. Nothing existed for embryonic stem cell research that was remotely comparable to the infrastructure that exists to oversee nonhuman primate research. Since that time, federal guidelines for embryonic stem cell research have been developed, and there is now a committee on campus that reviews stem cell protocols in a manner not that different from how the ACUCs review animal use protocols.

Now, the mere fact that the research is common, legal, and has an oversight system in place does not necessarily mean that it is ethical. But it seems reasonable that a local animal oversight committee, or UW as a whole, might prefer to focus on its own day-to-day activities and defer the larger questions to those responsible for maintaining and improving the national oversight infrastructure.

I move that the committee endorse the position that existing standards of veterinary care and applicable animal welfare laws, regulations, and policies provide a suitable and appropriate basis for determining when the use of nonhuman primates in research, teaching, or outreach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is ethical.

1 Carl Cohen and Tom Regan, The Animal Rights Debate (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), 300-01.
2 Gary L. Francione, Animals, Property, and the Law (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995), 186.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's Raining Money at UW-Madison

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s animal research program has been in the news quite a bit lately as a result of the US Department of Agriculture determining that multiple significant violations of the Animal Welfare Act (the Act) were occurring, and the National Institutes of Health determining simultaneously that multiple serious violations of the Public Heath Service regulations governing animal care and use were occurring, and that the oversight system used by the university was seriously flawed.

The university has defended its use of animals and has characterized the highly unusual joint visit by multiple inspectors from each agency as nothing out of the ordinary, very helpful, and has claimed that over-all they received favorable evaluations from the two agencies.

Read the reports, read and watch media’s interpretation, and judge for yourself. See: OLAW Report on UW-Madison.

One thing that has yet to be reported in the local papers or television stations is the university’s share of taxpayer dollars awarded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for its animal experimentation program. In 2009, UW-Madison was awarded somewhere between $12 and $16 million in stimulus funds for experiments on animals. The money is still rolling in; 2010 amounts have yet to be reported.

Here is a sampling:

The Wisconsin National Primate Research Center was awarded $921,484 to establish a colony of monkeys resistant to the simian immunodeficiency virus.

Christopher Coe, currently the director of the Harlow Primate Psychology Laboratory and currently a candidate for the director position of the primate center (being vacated by the semi-retirement of current director Joseph Kemnitz) was awarded an extra $141,834 for his experiments into iron deficiency during pregnancy. He explains:
To quantify placental transfer and bioavailability of iron in the neonate, an innovative approach with stable iron isotopes will be employed, contrasting absorption and transfer of 57Fe provided orally to 58Fe infused intravenously into the pregnant female. Iron-sensitive hematological measures will then be monitored in the developing infants from the stressed and undisturbed control pregnancies to prove that the postnatal iron deficiency is temporally associated with the occurrence of abnormal brain and renal functions. Based on previous findings in anemic monkeys, neural dysfunction will be indexed by the protein and metabolite profile of cerebrospinal fluid using Western blot and nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy techniques. To further demonstrate the clinical significance of these deficits, the effects of prenatal stress and anemia on renal functioning observed in other species will be verified. When infants are 8 months of age, measures of glomerular filtration rate and renal sympathetic input will be obtained. A second study will support the veracity of iron mediation hypothesis by showing that oral iron supplementation during pregnancy can lessen the effects of prenatal stress on the developing infants. The two studies are comprised of 126 mother-infant pairs of rhesus monkeys, with the behavior and physiology of each infant evaluated prospectively from birth across the first year of life. This research will contribute to the growing awareness about the formative role of the fetal period in laying the foundation for postnatal health.

Nadine Pattakos Connor was awarded $235,483. She plans to “use a progressive resistance tongue exercise program we have developed in awake rats to investigate the role of exercise in preventing or reversing age-related changes within the tongue and hypoglossal nucleus.”

Paul Kaufman was awarded $360,267 to continue his experiments on the eyes of monkeys undergoing multiple and varied manipulations of their eyes.

He has been awarded an additional $389,400 to continue his studies of near-sightedness in monkeys. He explains:
Although certainly not a blinding condition, and correctable by various optical means, presbyopia's cost in devices and lost productivity is substantial. Although much useful and relevant information has been garnered from studies in living and postmortem human eyes, the invasive techniques required to answer some of the most critical questions cannot be employed in the living human.
Luis C. Populin was awarded $140,521. He explains:
[W]e will seek to establish the relationship between the magnitude and timing of sensory responses, associated motor discharges, and resulting gaze shifts. The proposed experiments, to be carried out in a newly developed head-unrestrained monkey preparation, are a natural continuation of those carried out in the behaving, head-restrained cat during the previous funding period. The change from the cat to the monkey preparation was dictated by the questions that arose from our previous work, which cannot be adequately addressed in the cat.
He says he is justified in doing this because the results “will result in the design of better computer-brain interface devices, prostheses, smart robots, automatic system recognition devices, and ultimately help neurology/otolaryngology in devising electronic and pharmacological solutions for patients affects with sensory and sensorimotor integration diseases.”

Mary Schneider has been awarded $331,832 to continue her career-long demonstration of the harmful effects to monkeys whose mothers consumed moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy.

Ei Terasawa was awarded $41,283 to continue pumping chemicals deep into monkeys’ brains. She was very recently given permission by the Graduate School ACUC to increase the number of these experiments she can perform on each monkey condemned to her lab.

You too can check out the dollars flowing in and who’s being paid to do what with your money by using the National Institutes of Health’s Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool (RePORT).

"Animal rights folks were right about UW"

Plain Talk: Animal rights folks were right about UW
Dave Zweifel | Capital Times editor emeritus | January 11, 2010

For years now, the UW-Madison has tried to portray a cadre of local folks who complain about its animal experiments as wackos.

Well it turns out that the local Alliance for Animals and other people who have been doing the complaining have been right about a lot of things.

Toward the end of 2009, inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture pulled a surprise visit to UW’s research labs and discovered at least 20 oversight violations. The list included depressed and vomiting dogs, expired medications, a dirty operating room, and slippery and unclean floors where pigs would routinely fall down.

The feds told the UW to fix the problems immediately or risk losing more than $200 million in animal research funding that the Department of Agriculture sends the school.

An embarrassed Eric Sandgren, the UW’s head of animal research oversight who has frequently debated the animal rights advocates, said the university is working to fix the violations and make sure they don’t happen again.

One of Alliance for Animals’ main gripes is that the UW uses animals for experiments when it isn’t necessary.

And indeed, one of the USDA’s surprise inspection findings was that in at least five studies, the UW researchers did not show that they attempted to find an alternative to painful experiments on animals.

“Even if you believe animal research is worthwhile, I think most people believe it should be done in the most humane way possible,” the alliance’s co-director, Rick Bogle, commented.

Bogle is absolutely right. There have been too many incidents, dating back to research conducted on monkeys at the UW’s celebrated primate center, that raise questions about the animal experiments on campus.

The federal inspection has opened some eyes. The UW needs to open its eyes too.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

UW's Big Rug

Sweep, sweep, sweep....

January 4, 2010
To: Deans and Directors
From: Provost Paul M. DeLuca Jr. and Graduate School Dean Martin Cadwallader
Re: USDA report on UW-Madison research animal programsRecently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducted a routine, unannounced inspection of UW-Madison research programs that involve animals used in research.

The inspection found a small number of instances where the university was not in full compliance with the federal rules and regulations. [Just a "small number" not in "full" compliance... it was nothing... pay no attention...]

The USDA’s response after this inspection indicates that UW-Madison generally is in compliance and the problems identified were not outside the norm for institutions with programs of the size and scope that exist at UW-Madison. [For such a claim to have any merit, DeLuca and Cadwallader would: a) have to show where USDA put this statement in writing (they can't); and b) point to similarly violation-filled inspection reports from other programs of the size and scope of UW-Madison (they can't do this either.) Ergo, blah, blah, blah.]

However, the university takes its responsibilities for the appropriate care and use of all of its research animals with the utmost seriousness and any problem, no matter how small, is of concern. The university is committed to conducting research in a fully compliant manner and the few issues identified in the USDA report are being addressed as appropriate. [The "few issues" include suspended protocols that, apparently, taxpayers continued paying for; approved projects in all schools using animals that sidestepped the required search for non- and less-painful alternatives; deathly ill animals being left without veterinary care; animals uncared for; and dirty surgical areas, to name just a few.]

It is important to note that the USDA report, while identifying areas where the university needs to improve, was for the most part very positive and acknowledged a high level of institutional commitment and transparency. [What report are they referring to? Not the official report that caused Eric Sangren's jaw to "go clunk", apparently.] None of the problems identified by the USDA were of a nature that put any UW-Madison research program or funding at risk. [Well that's a relief. I wonder just how bad things would have to be before any of the funding would be at risk? History suggests that it takes many years of repeat problems and undercover investigating and public exposure before any serious fines or limitations are imposed by NIH or USDA. In animal labs across the country, this is well-understood.]

The institution will take away new lessons from the experience and, coupled with an already extensive internal program of training and compliance, will seek to further improve our program of animal use and care. The university remains committed to the responsible use of animals in research. Animal models remain one of the most important tools in all of biomedical science and continue to lead to important advances that save lives and improve the human condition. [Sing Hallelujah! DeLuca and Cadwallader would have been more accurate and honest if they had said: "Animal models remain one of the most lucrative tools for raising funds to pay our and our friends' rich salaries."]

It is the university’s responsibility and a goal to have no preventable problems with its research activities and we will continue to operate and manage all of our programs accordingly.

Enclosure: Attached is a message from Eric Sandgren to all campus investigators using animals in research. This message will be sent on Tuesday, January 5.

4 January 2010

To Investigators using animals in research:In December, the UW-Madison campus received an unannounced routine inspection by representatives from the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) and the USDA. USDA was performing their required annual examination of the animal program. OLAW was visiting to clarify several parts of our recently submitted five-year renewal of our Assurance, a document that describes how we operate our animal program. Both groups complimented our openness and assistance during the visit. The USDA inspectors also commented that our program was in overall good shape, and comparable to programs at other large research institutions. [What about that jaw clunking?] They did identify several items they felt require our continued attention, and to address those we will be making a few important changes in how our program functions. The issues with direct application to PIs, some of which have been raised before, are noted below.

1. Protocol submissions will require more detailed information regarding a search for alternatives to painful procedures associated with a study.

2. As good practice dictates, we cannot use non-pharmaceutical grade compounds for animal treatments unless explicitly approved by a protocol.

3. Expired drugs or other substances past expiration dates must be discarded.

4. As always, laboratory animal veterinarians must be informed about sick animals, unexpected mortality, and any other adverse outcomes.

We’ll contact you with more detail about implementing these changes in the next couple of weeks, but I wanted to give you this update now since the inspection has been covered in the news. I also welcome any suggestions from you regarding how to improve our animal program. [Close it down, how 'bout?]


Eric Sandgren, VMD, PhD

Director, RARC

OLAW Report on UW-Madison

See Eggert's written report on the website. You can find a link there to a letter to all the university researchers from Eric Sandgren, director of the Research Animal Resource Center (RARC).

See too, the letter from OLAW.

"The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) provides guidance and interpretation of the Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, supports educational programs, and monitors compliance with the Policy by Assured institutions and PHS funding components to ensure the humane care and use of animals in PHS-supported research, testing, and training, thereby contributing to the quality of PHS-supported activities."

See too, coverage of the USDA Inspection.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jan. 8, 1 p.m. 350 Bascom Hall, UW-Madison. Be There.

Wisconsin State Journal:

Rick Marolt: Monkey experimentation meeting timely
Wednesday, January 6, 2010 4:55 am

Dear Editor: On Friday, Jan. 8, at 1 p.m. in 350 Bascom Hall, the All-Campus Animal Care and Use Committee at UW-Madison will take up the question: “Is experimenting on monkeys ethical?” Members of the public may attend but not participate in this meeting unless invited to.

The question is important because researchers themselves have revealed deep similarities between monkeys and people. For example, monkeys have advanced cognitive abilities: They make rational decisions, are capable of symbolic reasoning, can count and add, and can use vocabularies to communicate. Some UW-Madison researchers base their research explicitly on monkeys’ ability to experience fear, anxiety and depression. There is evidence that monkeys have compassion and altruism, empathy, the ability to see the world from another’s point of view, and a sense of fairness and right and wrong. Some primatologists even say that monkeys love.

If monkeys think, feel, and relate to each other much as people do, and they are so similar to people that researchers expect their research findings to apply to people -- not just in physiology but in thought, feelings, and social relationships -- then a serious question must be asked: How is it ethical to do something to a creature that is very much like a human when it is not ethical to do the same thing to a human? Even supporters of experimenting on monkeys must agree that the experiments raise a serious ethical issue.

This question has been important for decades. It is particularly important now because UW-Madison, which has long wanted a $160 million expansion of its primate labs so that it could experiment on twice as many monkeys, has requested at least $17 million dollars in stimulus funding (public money) to renovate and expand its primate labs.

Rick Marolt


Friday, January 1, 2010

UW-Madison Animal Research - More Problems Ahead

Here's the December 2009 USDA/APHIS Inspection Report that got the news media's attention this time around.

Feds Find Problems With UW-Madison's Animal Research
Program Gets More Than $200M In Federal Funding Each Year (WISC-TV)
December 31, 2009

Federal animal welfare inspectors find 20 violations at UW-Madison
Wisconsin State Journal
December 31, 2009

USDA Found More Animal Research Violations At UW
Federal Agencies Conduct Joint Investigation Of UW Program (WISC-TV)
January 1, 2010

I couldn't help but notice the change in the statements being made UW-Madison head vivisector and spokesperson Eric Sandgren. He must have received an order from the public relations office.

Here's what he told WISC-TV reporter Linda Eggert on Wednesday after giving her a copy of the inspection report he had had in his possession for a few days:
"We passed the final exam, but we didn't get a hundred, and that's what we're working for," said Sandgren, who directs the group in charge of overseeing animal research.

Sandgren said the agencies simply felt it was time to do a comprehensive check and that OLAW needed to follow up on questions it had about UW-Madison's five-year renewal of its "public assurance" application for federal funding.

"Obviously, we took it very seriously. Their comments to us were that basically they thought we we're doing very well," Sandgren said.
Here he is being quoted two days later by Wisconsin State Journal reporter Deborah Ziff:
Sandgren said that when he got the 10-page report, "my stomach just went clunk."

"I'm not at all happy with the things listed there," he said. "That's just not acceptable."
Tomorrow, the university will have a different story; I imagine the PR office is working overtime.

All of this jive has to be placed in context. Sandgren and other vivisectors say routinely that the animals they use are respected and well cared for. They say routinely that strict regulations are in place that assure high quality care and careful monitoring of the animals.

The Animal Welfare Act, the main set of regulations routinely pointed to by the vivisectors as proof that the animals they experiment on are well cared for, has at its core, the idea that much effort must be made to insure that animals are used only when no alternative exists, that the least stressful and least painful methods are used, and that careful monitoring and safeguards are in place.

But the current inspection report makes it very clear that the Animal Welfare Act is routinely ignored by Sandgren and his fellow vivisectors at UW-Madison. They use the Act as a shield to deflect public criticism of their personal decision to spend their lives hurting animals. The simple fact that people who chose to spend their lives hurting animals will lie about it without qualm isn't a revelation. Liars thrive in society because we expect people to be generally truthful.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison vivisectors have more troubles ahead. The details of what led to this joint inspection visit haven't yet been exposed. No one has yet spoken about the revolt by the Vet school animal care staff, the details of the three suspended protocols, the details of the Michele Basso scandal; there is much dirt hiding under the UW's red rug that will come out in time and be blazened in more embarrassing headlines.

UW-Madison's animal research program is filled with rot and festering secrets. Stay tuned.

A funny postscript: The USDA Inspection Report linked to above is a copy provided to local media by Eric Sandgren. Notice the redactions. Sandgren et al argue that if animal rights activists (me, for instance) were to learn where animals were being kept on campus, that we would go berzerk, break in and destroy decades of "life-saving" research, undoubtely, just on the brink of a cure for some hideous disease of children. That's why the buildings and room numbers are blacked out. But why in the world would Sandgren et al hide USDA Veterinary Medical Officer Dawn Barksdale's name? Her name has been on these reports many times over the past few years. Here's the same much less redacted report posted on line by the USDA. BTW, the only research data destroyed at the university as a direct result of animal rights activism were the 628 videotapes of fifteen years of primate research destroyed by the university to keep them out of the public's hands after activists asked for a copy of a single one. Go figure.