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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Vivisectors Unite!

A friend sent me a new example of the seeming endless stream self-serving pro-vivisection propaganda. (More Institutional Support for Animal Research Is Needed. Opinion. Mar Sanchez. Inside Higher Ed. October 19, 2017.) At first, it seemed pretty typical: Christine Lattin, a morally bereft bird vivisector at Yale University who was called out by Peta, was being defended by Mar Sanchez, a morally bereft monkey vivisector at the Yerkes primate death camp. It was somewhat, if darkly, humorous that monkey vivisector Sanchez, was urging more institutional support for vivisectors. I mean, come on. The institutions already provide them with lavish salaries, require almost no work from them, shield the details of their cruelties and violations from the public, make ridiculous claims about the potential value of their work, spend huge sums to build them laboratories, and provide them with golden retirement parachutes. More support? Yeah, right.

But all that is just the regular bill-of-fare. A vivisector was called out and another vivisector said vivisection is great. What caught my eye was mention of the University of Wisconsin, Madison by Sanchez. She starts out: “The University of Wisconsin Madison is a leading example of institutional openness on animal research and preparedness to respond to animal-rights extremists.”

Now, I don’t expect a Yerkes monkey vivisector to know too awful much about UW-Madison’s openness about it animal research, but it does seem like she would do a little checking before making a claim like that. Or, of course, maybe she’s right and UW-Madison is indeed a leading example of what passes as institutional openness about the atrocities occurring in its labs.

Coincidentally, the very same day that the editorial from Sanchez was published, Oct. 19, 2017, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the Animal Legal Defense Fund had prevailed in a lawsuit they had filed almost exactly three years earlier regarding records that the university had refused to give them in response to a public records request. (Animal rights group wins court fight for UW monkey research records. Bruce Vielmetti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Oct. 19, 2017.)

The records in question were related to monkey vivisectors Ned Kalin and Richard Davidson, who were planning on maternally depriving infant rhesus monkeys. They claimed it was a well-known and proven method of causing anxiety in infant monkeys, citing the cruelties of his infamous predecessor at the university, Harry Harlow.

After I discovered and publicized their plans, a couple of years of campaigning led to them abandoning that small part of the project with the wild explanation that he had discovered that maternal deprivation really doesn’t cause anxiety in infant monkeys. Paradoxically, Sanchez has cited and used Harlow’s methods in her own nightmarish experiments on infant monkeys to disrupt their “emotional regulatory brain circuits,” precisely what Kalin wanted to do. An aside, when I looked at the piece in Inside Higher Ed, it had one comment. It was from Rick Born, a monkey vivisector from Harvard. He thought it was a great piece.

And, in fact, the University of Wisconsin, Madison has a long, extensive, and well documented history of obfuscation and stonewalling. The exemplar case, involving Ned Kalin’s experiments on the brain chemistry of fear in his monkey victims, was the university’s decision to destroy 628 videotapes and myriad other records documenting decades of research at the Wisconsin primate center to keep the Kalin tape from being seen by the public. Sanchez’s claim: “The University of Wisconsin Madison is a leading example of institutional openness on animal research and preparedness to respond to animal-rights extremists,” was just more of the same confused, inaccurate gibberish fed to a gullible public to advance the fortunes of some of the most unethical and morally bereft people on the planet.

But as quirky and oddly coincidental as all that cruelty and false claims are, they were not what grabbed my attention. In the article, Sanchez pointed to the “the Common Ground on Animal Research Initiative within the university and the surrounding community,” an “initiative” being led by the university’s prior PR front man, Eric Sandgren. That surreal reality warp is what caught my attention.

Eric Sandgren’s “Common Ground on Animal Research Initiative”

(If you are landing on this page, Vivisectors Unite! will provide some context.)

For at least the two previous decades, University of Wisconsin, Madison’s previous chief spokesperson for all things vivisection Eric Sangren’s university webpage has been “under construction.” He had been the director of the university’s Research Animal Resources Center and a part-time vivisector up until 2015. There was a news blurb somewhere that I can’t now locate that quoted him saying something to the effect that he was looking forward to getting back to his research and doing more teaching. He has finally gotten to his webpage and is using it to promote something he is calling the Common Ground on Animal Research initiative.

His description of his “initiative” gives me the creeps. Much of what he says is out of sync with history and much of it is frank propaganda. It suggests some muddled thinking. Maybe after decades of having to twist his words to deflect the public’s concerns it has become hard to think or write in a clear and straightforward manner.

He could have been much more straightforward, but maybe he recognized he couldn’t or oughtn’t. If he had been straightforward he would have said that he found personal satisfaction in defending vivisectors and trying to convince the public that the university’s animal welfare violations, state law violations, cover-ups, stonewalling, lies, and misleading propaganda are not important. He could have said that he misses being a spin doctor and seeing his name in the news.

Secondary to his probable self-interested motives, his initiative’s goal is plainly the public’s acceptance of hurting and killing animals in the name of medical science. The appeal to medical science though is slight-of-hand, perhaps unrecognized even by those using it; it dresses up his, the university’s, and the near-universal moral position on the treatment of animals generally. Sandgren was at one time, prior to its forced dissolution, the chair of a sort of super animal use oversight committee called the All Campus Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. One of the committees under its authority was the College of Agriculture Animal Care and Use Committee. The status quo of animals being food was never questioned in the minutes of the All Campus committee. If an animal’s life is less important than the taste of the sausage she is turned into, an appeal to a cure for cancer seems an unnecessarily highfalutin justification for killing them.

Simply, to Sandgren and the university, animals’ lives are less important than the taste of their flesh. That bedrock status quo makes any defense of hurting them in a lab wholly unnecessary. Why bother with some pie in the sky possibility that in some distant day in the future some terrible thing done to animals will be of benefit to a small number of humans?

Sangdren writes:
As part of the first common ground initiative, I have established a new program of research in the social sciences. Members of the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC) are world-recognized experts in studying how people make decisions about complex scientific issues that have strong ethical, political, and social components. Simply trying to “present the facts” does not constitute effective communication.... I will apply what LSC is learning about science communication to the issue of animals in research. ...
Over the years, I’ve noticed that many life science related articles centered on the use of animals that one reads in the popular press are written by people who have come out of university science writing programs. It is my impression that they are largely pro-animal use propaganda. UW-Madison’s Life Sciences Communications program is part of the College of Agriculture. The description of the program and the expected career paths of its graduates reinforces my impression about the nature and intent of these programs:
Undergraduate courses in the Department of Life Sciences Communication focus not only on writing, editing, and producing messages, but also on planning, designing, and evaluating effective communication programs....

About one-third of LSC students pursue double majors, combining their interest in communication with another discipline, such as animal sciences, forest and wildlife ecology, or entomology. These students have been particularly attractive to prospective employers.

Our graduates get jobs as reporters, editors, advertising and marketing professionals, technical writers, broadcast producers, and public information staff at universities, and in many other science- and agriculture-related industries.

Students can complete an undergraduate major in LSC under two concentrations:

Communication Strategy
Focuses on the skills and theory necessary to effectively communicate with audiences in the life sciences context, while satisfying the long-term strategic goals of an organization. This concentration includes courses in advertising, social marketing, and risk communication.

Communication Skills and Technologies
Focuses on the skills required to translate organized information into informative and persuasive messages for a variety of media, such as news writing, documentary photography, publications editing, web design, and video production.
So, apparently, the goal is to produce writers who can write persuasive messages for their employers. That is, by definition, propaganda. So, Sandgren wants to hook up with the Collage of Agriculture’s propaganda writing program to develop “communication models” that “help an audience make good decisions about if, when, and how animal research can be acceptable, and to understand the consequences of those decisions.” Creepy.

But Sandgren has already embraced one of the standard models of hoodwinking the public about the use of animals at his and the other zillion animal labs around the world. Vivisectors have embraced the ruse that the animals in the labs are treated well and that the people who hurt and kill them also care about them. There’s some double-talk for you. Sandgren writes:
The second common ground initiative seeks to measure and improve research animal wellbeing through scientific identification of ways to improve animal care, and development and application of tools to quantify wellbeing. This line of research builds on my training and experience as a veterinarian, and takes advantage of the outstanding animal research capabilities at UW-Madison.
A little more than a decade ago, Sandgren attended a meeting of the Alliance for Animals’ antivivisection committee. One of the first things he told us was that he had just adopted two cats and was very surprised by the differences in their personalities. How could a veterinarian not have known that all animals are individuals? Well, largely and until somewhat recently, schools of veterinary medicine were primarily focused on producing veterinarians to assist farmers. The veterinarians and veterinary students I have known have been in general agreement that the programs are desensitizing and do not promote a caring ethic.

Also, it seems from his CV that Sandgren has never been a practicing veterinarian. He learned a little bit about the biology of a few species, but he seems never to have been responsible for caring for them.

He graduated after four years of study from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1986. To get a sense of the culture of vet schools during the time Sandgren was a student, he once volunteered his opinion on the Thomas Gennarelli case, at the the University of Pennsylvania which made national headlines in 1984. He said that he didn’t think at the time that there was much going on in the lab to be concerned about.

So, when Sandgren says that one of his goals is to improve animal care, develop and apply tools to quantify wellbeing, and build on his training and experience as a veterinarian, it rings hollow. Particularly in light of him defending every horror at UW-Madison that came to light during his decades of tenure as the chair of the All Campus animal use oversight committee and director of the Research Animal Resource Center. No, this flimflam is the standard bill-of-fare from the vivisectors. Nothing new, just more of the same muddying the waters so the public can’t see what lurks below. Maybe the new part is that he says matter-of-factly that he wants to get the School of Ag’s propagandists more involved. Creepy.

Sandgren writes:
Mission statement for the wellbeing initiative: “When using animals in research, teaching, or outreach, we must acknowledge our responsibility to maximize animal wellbeing, as measured at the level of the individual animal, each animal care and use protocol, and the entire animal program. We have established three objectives that address this responsibility. First, we will support scientific studies to identify best practices in the provision of species-specific medical, environmental, and social wellbeing. Second, we will develop metrics to quantify animal pain, distress, or long-term impairment caused by experimental procedures or animal husbandry. Third, we will demonstrate how to apply these metrics to achieve significant and continuous improvements in animal wellbeing, as consistent with both sound science and rigorous ethical review of every proposed animal use.”
This is a crock. The first step in maximizing animal wellbeing is to stop hurting them. A couple other easy steps: Stop breeding them. Stop buying them. Stop putting them in cages. Stop paying people to hurt them. Stop defending those who hurt them. Just stop.

Rigorous ethical review my ass. Like the lip service given to wellbeing, this is rhetoric intended to hoodwink the public. The last thing the industry wants is rigorous ethical review. Currently, there isn’t any ethical review, rigorous or otherwise. I suspect the vivisectors understand that rigorous ethical review would be a death knell for the industry.

And “sound science,” what the heck does that mean in the context of an animal lab? I suspect that an average reader would assume, if they took a moment to ponder the notion, that at the very least, it would mean not doing the same thing over and over again if what you are doing isn’t working. But, in fact, most of what is happening in the vivisection labs is not sound science. It is dressed up to look like science, but more than not, it is redundant dead-end cruelty that continues only because it is what the vivisectors have always done and other vivisectors in positions of authority keep sending money their way to keep it up. Sheesh.

And here’s the creepiest thing of all:
I have developed a course entitled “Addressing Controversy: The Science, Ethics, and Communication of Animal Research”, to be offered to undergraduate students in the spring of 2017. This course builds on my appreciation for the complexity of communicating scientific issues like research with animals, in which ethical, political, and social considerations may have as much or more impact on people’s opinions as do facts. This course has two overarching goals. The first is to provide a background in the rationale and history of animal use in science, ethical principles relevant to this subject, and key requirements that have been identified for effectively communicating about complex science of this type. Second, the course will give students experience in critiquing and then creating presentations that incorporate both the benefits and costs of animal research. The overall objective is to guide students to develop honest and well-justified views of animal research, and learn how to communicate those views to others. This course is a part of my larger research program that seeks to develop and share validated models of communication about animal research that avoid the “sound bite” approaches typically used in the debate. I plan to develop course alternatives that can be offered to either advanced or beginning undergraduates, as well as students in K-12.
Vivisectors targeting children, using tax-payer money to do so. That sounds unethical to me.

Over and above this unethical use of public funds to promote his personal agenda, I think it is particularly problematic because of the unbalanced power relationship between an instructor and their students. I don’t think it is possible for a dishonest person to guide anyone in an honest evaluation of the very thing that the instructor has lied about.

Sandgren says that he has involved UW ethicist Robert Streiffer in the development of his Initiative. That doesn’t speak too well for the university’s philosophy department. Quite simply, anathema to academic philosophers perhaps, some ethical/moral issues are not complex. Eating animals is not a complicated moral conundrum. Slavery isn’t either. Or raping children. Or nuclear war. There is not meaningful nuance in everything. Some things are plainly wrong. Vivisection is plainly wrong.


Sandgren points to four examples of his public communications and outreach on his website:

“Using Animals in Research: A Debate”, debate at UW-Madison with activist Rick Bogle, 3-23-2006.

“Are Animal Models Predictive for Humans?”, debate at UW-Madison with activist Dr. Ray Greek, 7-26-2007. [Transcript]

“Animal Research Ethics Discussion”, debate at UW-Madison with bioethicist Jeffry Kahn about UW-Professor Ned Kalin’s controversial research with monkeys, 10-9-2014.

“Animal Research Regulations and Oversight”, lecture and panel discussion for UW-Madison FARE, 12-11-2014.

A couple he missed:

Primate Research at UW - For The Record 2008 - YouTube Monkey experiment controversy |

The Ethics of Animal Research
A Forum addressing the topic of animal, and more specifically primate research at the University of Wisconsin. undated
Rick Bogle, Alliance for Animals
Prof. John Webster, Biomedical Engineering
Eric Sandgren, Dir. UW Research Animal Resource Center
Moderator: Michael Schuler Parish Minister
First Unitarian Society of Madison, Wisconsin