Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Invasive Species

A friend asked me to write an essay explaining my general aversion to the control of the plants and animals typically thought of as invasive species.

Here's a July 31, 2012 article from Smithsonian.com that captures the classic issue: When It’s Okay to Kill 80,000 Wild Goats.

Scientific American blogger Jason G. Goldman got it mostly right, I think, when he said, "So one of the questions we might ask is whether we can reasonably infer the short-range consequences of a species management decision, but I think we also have to be generally aware that the long-range consequences are a great big unknown. Ecosystems exist across space, but also across time. Can we do better than deciding a priori that management decisions should be made from a particular perspective?"

We humans are extraordinarily myopic. We quickly forget what came before and don't see very far ahead. Taking domestic plants and animals out of the picture for the moment, it seems likely to me that nearly every plant and animal species is invasive. If we were not, we would not have large ranges. For instance, there had to be an original group of ponderosa pine trees. (Pinus ponderosa). Today, they are widespread in the western part of the country:

I think it reasonable to assume that these trees spread into areas that were already inhabited by other plants and animals dependent on those plants. At least some, maybe many of the plants and animals that had been there prior to the arrival of these trees were push out or eliminated altogether.

If we could have seen this transition in time-lapse, I suspect many of us would have been appalled and would have urged that taken steps be taken to eradicate these invaders.

Presumably, modern elephants' ancestors moved out of Africa into Asia in the mid-Pliocene, three or four million years ago. They must have competed with and displaced or reduced the resources available to at least some other species. They were invasive.

Generally though, when people speak of invasive species, they are referring to species that are present in a new area because of human activity, are flourishing, and are displacing other species or causing some other change deemed harmful. The Washington Post published an article in 2015 titled: "The dirty dozen: 12 of the most destructive invasive animals in the United States." It's a good example of the commonly heard excoriations.

Not mentioned in the article are species like humans and earthworms -- both invasive species and the cause of dramatic ethological changes. But change is the one constant feature of all ecosystems. People fret because things don't stay the same, but they never do. In all cases, populations are self-limiting; unchecked, they will run out of space and or food, and the population will crash. Over time, new species will colonize new territory, ecosystems will change, sometimes dramatically.

All of that aside, to me, when it comes to animals, it all comes down to the Golden Rule. We ought not intentionally harm others; we know how being harmed hurts. Claims about which species should be where and which shouldn't miss the perspective of each individual animal. Potential future generations have no feelings at all and cannot be harmed because they do not exist, but seemingly, it is these potential animals that are appealed to in many of the claims that all the members of an "invasive" species should be exterminated.

Species don't have feelings; species is merely an idea.

Additionally, it appears to me that our opinions on non-native species are inconsistent. The range of non-native wheat grasses in the U.S. now extend over millions of acres in the western states. They have displaced native species and in conjunction with cattle grazing have dramatically changed the ecosystem. And yet, range managers continue to recommend the use of these grasses.

Cows are not native to the U.S. Data suggests that there are roughly 2 million cows grazed on public lands each year. Cows don't seem to show up too often on invasive species lists. The term seems to be more commonly reserved for species we can't figure out how to exploit or that compete with species we already exploit, or for species that are likely to overwhelm resident species pushed to the edge of extinction by us. Species in the last group are sometimes transformed into something bigger than life -- they seem to take on near occult properties to people and organizations dedicated to the preservation of endangered species -- organizations that hold barbecues to raise funds to help control the invasive species that threaten to finish the job we have almost completed.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

This Post-Truth Era.

If you read the news, you’ve probably been seeing this term more often.

Wikipedia’s article, “Post-truth politics,” [web-retrieved 5-13-18] is informative. It notes that the term may first have been used in 1992, but the phenomena of authorities lying to the public, and the public believing their lies, is nothing new. What is somewhat new in the mainstream, is how widespread this has become as a result of anyone or any agency or business being able dress up quasi-news or invented facts as if they are from a legitimate news source.

While the phenomena is finally getting some much-needed attention which might lead to a few more people doing a little more digging to verify a claim, it is probably not going to be meaningfully curtailed without some sort of regulations, which run the risk of bumping into the 1st Amendment. It’s a tough problem.

But the issue of fake news and false claims from those claiming to be authorities is obviously not new. One of the less examined examples is the vivisection industry claiming that their work is worthwhile and important.

Below is an excerpt from a chapter in my book, “We All Operate in the Same Way.” The Use of Animals at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Chapter 18. The Abuse of Authority

In the previous chapter about the National Primate Research Exhibition Hall, my effort to create a national showcase for promoting discussion about the harmful use of animals in science, I called attention to the University of Wisconsin, Madison's fabrication of Jeremy Beckham's illegal activities. The university's use of fear is not unique when it comes to defending experiments on animals. The industry at large has a rich history of hyperbole and fear mongering at nearly every level. The industry's broadest assertions along those lines are the claims that:

-- Every medical advancement is the result of using animals, and that without the use of animals that all medical progress would stop; and,

-- Animal rights activists are violent dangerous people, and that researchers are at grave risk from attacks by them.

That is actually four separate claims, but they seem to go together as pairs.

The first claim in the first pair, that animal research is responsible for just about every medical advancement, is a frequently repeated myth. I have collected a number of these statements. Notice their similarity:

"During the 20th century, virtually every major advance in medical knowledge and treatment involved research using animal models." Wisconsin National Primate Research Center.(1)

"... virtually every major advance in medicine has resulted directly or indirectly, from research performed on animals. The contributions of animal research to public health cannot be overestimated."(2)

"Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century..." Marshall BioResources (was Marshall Farms), "Marshall BioResources provides purpose bred research animals and related services for biomedical research. Within our federally regulated and inspected facilities in Upstate New York we maintain breeding colonies of beagles, mongrel/hound dogs, ferrets, and Gottingen Minipigs. Marshall Beagles are also raised in China." (3)

"Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century." Society for Neuroscience. (4)

"Virtually every major medical advance of the 20th century involved the use of animals..." March of Dimes. (5)

"Without animal research, virtually every medical breakthrough of the past century would not have been possible." Kids 4 Research. (6)

"... virtually every major medical advance of the last century is due, in part, to research with animals." Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). (7)

"Former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop says 'Virtually every major medical advance for both humans and animals has been achieved through biomedical research by using animal[s]...'" Texas Society for Biomedical Research. (8)

"... virtually every major medical advance of the last century was the result of research involving animals." National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health. (9)

It is easy to understand why this falsehood is repeated so often and uncritically. Organizations like the NIH, state universities, and scientific associations have the public's trust and that naturally leads to their use of an appeal to authority, a somewhat common fallacy or device used in persuasive writing. When it comes to such organizations' assertions concerning activities that are so tightly entwined with their financing, that trust has proven to be unwarranted. "Trust us," they say, "because we are experts." The repetition of knowingly erroneous claims by such institutions is ethically inexcusable because doing so victimizes all those who put their trust in them. Even worse is their use of the public's trust to manipulate our opinions in ways intended to benefit themselves. In the notes associated with the above list, you will notice that a few of the organizations are not currently using the statement. None of those that have stopped have explained the change.

In Chapter 10, "The Tangible Benefits of Animal Research," I referenced the 2008 paper, "Medical progress depends on animal models - doesn't it?" published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine which reported on the author's investigation concerning this widely, oft repeated claim.(10) The author, Robert A. J. Matthews, traced the source of the claim to a 1994 U.S. Public Health Service one page, unreferenced statement published in the journal, The Physiologist. It was titled "The Importance of Animals in Biomedical and Behavioral Research." It was also published in the Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter the same year. The statement is prefaced with the title: "A Statement from the Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services."(11)

Also mentioned earlier, the Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC) operates under the auspices of the U.S. Deptartment of Agriculture. It is mandated by the Animal Welfare Act and is charged with providing "information for improved animal care and use in research, testing, and teaching." According to the AWIC website, it "is staffed by a two full-time and two part-time information specialists, and one information technology specialist," which must make it one of the smallest agencies in the U.S. government.

Matthews pointed out that while there are isolated anecdotal instances of knowledge gleaned from experiments on animals leading to advancements in clinical medicine, the 1994 U.S. Public Health Service statement is unequivocal: "Virtually every medical achievement of the last century has depended directly or indirectly on research with animals." [My emphasis.]

Matthews recognized the ethical implications in the wide endorsement and repetition of the claim by individuals and institutions claiming to be authorities and deserving of the public's trust:
Demanding validation of the statement that ‘virtually all’ medical achievements of the last century have involved animal models may seem pedantic, but there is a point of principle here. The eminence of many of those who have repeated this claim, and in particular their scientific eminence, places an obligation upon them to be able to substantiate it. The failure - and, in all likelihood, inability - to do so exposes some of our most respected academic institutions to a charge of abuse of authority. [The "virtually every/virtually all" variation is due to slight differences in the wording of the statement in the Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter and The Physiologist.]
Matthews pointed to the very great difficulty others have encountered in trying to test or validate the claim. He referenced a frequently appealed to 1976 survey of the scientific literature concerning medical discoveries written by Julius Comroe and Robert Dripps, "Scientific Basis for the Support of Biomedical Science,"(13) that purported to have demonstrated that a high percentage of the articles judged to be essential for later clinical advances were reports on experiments using animals. Attempts to verify the Comroe and Dripps results have been unsuccessful. One careful effort from 2010 concluded that their methods and results are "not repeatable, reliable or valid."(14)

You might suspect that such a blanket dismissal of a report that some have suggested was and may still be a significant factor in the very large increases in government funding for basic research using animals may have come from a critic of animal experimentation, but it comes from the Health Economics Research Group (HERG) at Brunel University which describes itself as being "involved in a long-term programme analysing the benefits from health research, with an emphasis on the payback from health services research." The lead author was Jonathan Grant, formerly Head of Policy at the Wellcome Trust, and at RAND Europe at the time the report was published. The Wellcome Trust is decidedly not an animal advocacy organization.

In recent years, others have analyzed the efficacy of research using animals and have generally agreed that clear evidence of benefit is sparse at best.(15) In spite of the embarrassing lack of evidence that animal-based research has led to much advancement, essentially every institution and individual making money by being involved in animal experimentation continues to recite the U.S. Public Health Service's wild unsubstantiated un-testable assertion. Given that legitimate science rests firmly on the notion that only testable claims have respectability, it strains credibility that taxpayer-funded experiments using animals are based on the financially self-interested un-testable and oft-repeated assertion that "Virtually every medical achievement of the last century has depended directly or indirectly on research with animals." Matthews observes that the claim exposes those making it to being charged with an abuse of authority, but to me it appears to convict them.


1. Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. "During the 20th century, virtually every major advance in medical knowledge and treatment involved research using animal models." Web retrieved in 2010. http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/research/pibr/p39-41.html.

The statement was later rewritten. On 12-3-2014, it read: "Most major medical advances in this century have resulted in part from research on animals."

2. Adrian R. Morrison. An Odyssey with Animals. Oxford University Press. 2009. Adrian Morrison is Professor Emeritus of Behavioral Neuroscience at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. He has also served as Director of the Program for Animal Research Issues at the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration and the National Institute of Mental Health. Morrison has been an outspoken defender of the use of animals.

3. "Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century..." Web retrieved on 12-3-2014 http://www.marshallbio.com/BenefitsOfAnimalResearch.html.

4. "Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century." Society for Neuroscience. Web retrieved 2010. http://www.sfn.org/SiteObjects/published/0000BDF20016F63800FD712C30FA42DD/03DD3776C9F5095493F35285BA861663/file/Responding_to_FOIA_Requests.pdf.

5. "Virtually every major medical advance of the 20th century involved the use of animals..." March of Dimes. In 2010, the statement was at http://www.marchofdimes.com/professionals/691_14438.asp, but in 2014, that or a similar statement is no longer on the MOD website.

6. "Without animal research, virtually every medical breakthrough of the past century would not have been possible." Kids 4 Research. Web retrieved in 2010. http://www.kids4research.org/teens/qna.asp.

As of 12-3-2014, their statement reads: "Without animal research, millions of people would die each year from a variety of illnesses. Thanks to research working with animals, diseases such as polio have been virtually wiped out. Other illnesses, such as diabetes and arthritis, are controlled through animal research." http://kids4research.org/Helping. Kids 4 Research appears to be a child-targeting tool of the industry group, American Association for Laboratory Animal Science.

7. In 2010, the statement read: "Virtually every major medical advance of the 20th century involved the use of animals...". http://www.faseb.org/Policy-and-Government-Affairs/Science-Policy-Issues/Animals-in-Research-and-Education/Teaching-Advocacy-Material.aspx. on 12-4-2014, it read: "virtually every major medical advance of the last century is due, in part, to research with animals."

8. In 2010, their statement read: "Former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop says 'Virtually every major medical advance for both humans and animals has been achieved through biomedical research by using animal...'"[sic] Texas Society for Biomedical Research http://www.tsbr.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=123. On 12-4-2014, it read: "Animal research has been responsible, at least in part, for every major medical and veterinary advance made over the past one hundred years." Web retrieved from http://tsbr.org/?page_id=38.

9. This was the 2010 statement from the decommissioned/absorbed into other NIH agencies, the Center for Research Resources [mostly animals] http://www.ncrr.nih.gov/publications/about_ncrr/brochure.pdf "virtually every major medical advance of the last century was the result of research involving animals." The NIH no longer seems to have the statement on its website, and as of 12-4-2014, says that: "Results from animal studies are crucial for closing knowledge gaps about health and disease in both humans and animals." grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/air/AnimalResearchFS06.pdf

A couple more: "Nearly every major development in modern medicine, from polio vaccine to organ transplantation, has been made possible by research and training using animals, most bred specifically for use in the laboratory." University of Michigan. http://animal.research.umich.edu/about-us/.

"Virtually all medical advances of the last century would have been impossible without animal research." Yale University. http://news.yale.edu/2010/07/13/statement-yale-university-humane-use-animals-research-and-education.

10. Robert AJ Matthews. "Medical progress depends on animal models - doesn't it?" J R Soc Med. Feb 2008. Web retrieved 12-3-2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2254450/.

11. "The Importance of Animals in Biomedical and Behavioral Research [:] A Statement from the Public Health Service." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter, Summer 1994, Vol. 5, no. 2. Web retrieved 12-3-2014. http://www.nal.usda.gov/awic/newsletters/v5n2/5n2phs.htm.

12. Animal Welfare Information Center. Web retrieved 12-5-2014. http://awic.nal.usda.gov/.

13. Comroe JH Jr, Dripps RD. "Scientific basis for the support of biomedical science." Science. 1976. Apr 9;192(4235):105-11.

14. Grant, Jonathan, Liz Green, and Barbara Mason. "From bedside to bench: Comroe and Dripps revisited." The Health Economics Research Group. 2010.

15. These investigations are of two general types, they analyze the outcomes of basic research generally or the use of animals specifically. They are often exhaustive reviews of the all the publications on a particular medical or health research topic. These are but a few examples:

"The methodological quality of animal research in critical care: the public face of science." Bara M, Joffe AR. Ann Intensive Care. 2014 Jul 29:
BACKGROUND: Animal research (AR) findings often do not translate to humans; one potential reason is the poor methodological quality of AR. We aimed to determine this quality of AR reported in critical care journals.

METHODS: All AR published from January to June 2012 in three high-impact critical care journals were reviewed. A case report form and instruction manual with clear definitions were created, based on published recommendations, including the ARRIVE guidelines. Data were analyzed with descriptive statistics.

CONCLUSIONS: The reported methodological quality of AR was poor. Unless the quality of AR significantly improves, the practice may be in serious jeopardy of losing public support.
"Can animal models of disease reliably inform human studies?" van der Worp HB, Howells DW, Sena ES, Porritt MJ, Rewell S, O'Collins V, Macleod MR. PLoS Med. 2010:
The value of animal experiments for predicting the effectiveness of treatment strategies in clinical trials has remained controversial, mainly because of a recurrent failure of interventions apparently promising in animal models to translate to the clinic.
"Comparison of treatment effects between animal experiments and clinical trials: systematic review." Perel P, Roberts I, Sena E, Wheble P, Briscoe C, Sandercock P, Macleod M, Mignini LE, Jayaram P, Khan KS. BMJ. 2007 Jan. Review.
What is already known on this topic: The relevance of animal models to human health is questioned because of differences between the species.

What this study adds: Many studies in animal models are of poor methodological quality. Lack of concordance between animal experiments and clinical trials may be due to bias, random error, or the failure of animal models to adequately represent human disease.
"Misleading Mouse Studies Waste Medical Resources: A retrospective analysis of more than 100 failed drugs show that many should never have made it to clinical trials". Erika Check Hayden and Nature magazine. Scientific American. 3-27-2014. Web retrieved 12-5-2014. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/misleading-mouse-studies-waste-medical-resources/
Perrin, chief scientific officer of the ALS Therapy Development Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used mice with symptoms similar to ALS to test more than 100 compounds that had previously been identified as candidate drugs. Most — including eight that had shown promise in previous mouse work but ultimately failed in humans trials — failed to slow the progressive, fatal degenerative disease, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease or motor neuron disease.

Thursday, May 3, 2018


If I were more focused, I would look at Facebook much less often which would probably be a good thing. But I'm not.

There is so much about FB that irks me, but one thing in particular is the showcasing of a mistaken notion that a writer thinks is a gem of their wisdom, insight, revelation... and then seeing that it has been shared a gazillion times. It is hard for me to pass these by when they are what I believe to be false notions about what is moral and ethical and about the nature of science. When these things get mixed together in one of these FB meme-ish thingys, I am (stupidly, no doubt) compelled to comment. Such was the case with this one:

I might have had the good sense to pass it by, but someone had already commented: "Eugenics 'was once considered science'. That doesn't mean it really was science....". To which, I replied, "Eugenics is science. If wheat can be Improved through selective breeding, so too can humans, cows, or most other organisms. Science is amoral, like a hammer."

And then, someone replied to me: "Rick, this wasn't eugenics in whatever way you're referring to. This was claiming that certain morphological characteristics of humans meant that they were superior to other humans with different morphological characteristics. It is a race thing. It is a heritage thing. It is a word heavily associated with the Holocaust."

I agreed that racism is vile, but then pointed to an example of modern eugenics in Iceland.

The FB page's owner replied: "I don't think I can articulate how horrified I am that you would argue that eliminating people with Down syndrome is objectively a positive thing, and is somehow different than racial eugenics. I have friends on here with loved ones who have Down syndrome. You've basically just told them and everyone with Down syndrome that getting rid of them improves our species. How is that "uncoupled from bigotry." I'm disgusted."

I asked: "... if I understand you correctly, you seem to be saying that no genetic illness, no matter the consequences to the person born with it, should be eliminated from our genome through any form of selective breeding. Is that what you are saying?"

They replied: "I'm saying that telling people who are disabled or not neurotypical that eliminating them from our population is a good thing, and that our species would be better off if they didn't exist, is ableist and reprehensible."

A new voice jumped in: "Eugenics cannot be decoupled from bigotry, and non-disabled people are not qualified to decide which disabled lives are worth living. What you're describing here is genocide." And then followed up with: "Disabled people have culture, we have shared language, struggles, and history. We aren't disabled by the way our bodies or brains work, we're disabled by the decisions of people with power. There's no reason why a Deaf parent or a Little Person shouldn't be allowed to have children who are like them, who move through the world like them, who share common experiences and values. The onus shouldn't be on disabled people to assimilate or disappear, the onus should be on the broader culture to protect the human rights of every person, including the right to exist in disabled bodies."

Clearly, we had wandered away from the question of whether or not eugenics is science. The quote at the top of this page is from Google; it suggests that there may be a general consensus that it is.

But this leaves the question of whether we ought to intervene in the expression of genes that cause disabilities or illness. Admittedly, it's a slippery ethical slope, but that doesn't mean that sliding to the bottom is inevitable. I think there are matter-of-fact clear examples of cases where intervening is unequivocally the most ethical course of action. Consider the case of deformed dogs.

While I am opposed to our breeding of all domestic animals, I think it much worse to breed animals with deformities or inherited illnesses. Like humans with deformities or disabilities, those here now deserve our concern, respect, and care. But we ought not allow cows with gigantic utters, dogs who have trouble breathing, or featherless chickens to breed.

So what about humans? Consider Tay-Sachs disease.
In the most common form, the infantile form, infants have no enzyme activity, or an extremely low level (less than 0.1%). They typically appear healthy in the newborn period, but develop symptoms within 3 to 6 months of age. The first symptom may be an exaggerated startle response to noise. Infants with this form begin to lose milestones such as rolling and sitting (regression) and develop muscle weakness, which gradually leads to paralysis. They also lose mental functions and become increasingly unresponsive to their surroundings. By 12 months of age, they begin to deteriorate more rapidly, developing blindness, seizures that are hard to treat, and difficulty swallowing. Infants with this form of Tay-Sachs disease typically do not survive past 4 years of age. The most common cause of death is complications from lung inflammation (bronchopneumonia).

Presumably, those who argue that eugenics is "ableist and reprehensible," would say that if an early pregnancy test could show that a fetus has this mutation, that it would be immoral to counsel the mother to consider an abortion or to consider counseling carriers of the genes involved to forego having children. I disagree, and I'll wager that most parents who learn that their child has Tay-Sachs wish that they could have avoided bringing their child into the world; but maybe I'm just an ethically blind cad.

The list of potential diseases and debilitating conditions that might be eliminated from the human gene pool through genetic testing is significant. I don't understand the claim that we should accept all of these conditions as just part of the rich variety of human types. [For the record, I support universal mandatory sterilization; we are a blight on the planet.]
Genetic Disorders Achondroplasia
Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency
Antiphospholipid Syndrome
Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease
Breast cancer
Colon cancer
Cri du chat
Crohn's Disease
Cystic fibrosis
Dercum Disease
Down Syndrome
Duane Syndrome
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
Factor V Leiden Thrombophilia
Familial Hypercholesterolemia
Familial Mediterranean Fever
Fragile X Syndrome
Gaucher Disease
Huntington's disease
Klinefelter syndrome
Marfan syndrome
Myotonic Dystrophy
Noonan Syndrome
Osteogenesis Imperfecta
Parkinson's disease
Poland Anomaly
Prostate Cancer
Retinitis Pigmentosa
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID)
Sickle cell disease
Skin Cancer
Spinal Muscular Atrophy
Turner Syndrome
Velocardiofacial Syndrome
WAGR Syndrome
Wilson Disease