A Pathetic Defense of Dr. Lawrence Hansen

At Speaking of Research we recently commented on the self-contradictory positions of Dr. Lawrence Hansen.

We think it is problematic for Dr. Hansen to be a PeTA member who publicly and vociferously  protests the use of animals in medical research and, simultaneously, to engage in, provide funding for and support animal research himself.  We questioned how is that Dr. Hansen could logically consider his work as scientifically valid and ethically permissible, while simultaneously arguing that those of his colleagues are neither.

Dr. Ray Greek

Dr. Ray Greek.

One would have hoped for Dr. Hansen to reply to our criticism directly. Instead, for the time being, we have to accept a rather pitiful defense from one of his colleagues, Dr. Ray Greek.  Their relationship?  It turns out that Dr. Hansen, apart from being a faculty member at UCSD, is a Director at Americans for Medical Advancement (AFMA), an organization that Dr. Greek founded and over which he presides.  AFMA’s tax form #990 indicates that Dr. Hansen spends an average of 2 hours per week working for the organization.

Dr. Greek’s main excuse for Dr. Hansen’s involvement in animal research is that he merely provides pathological services for tissue delivered to him and he has no control of what happens after that.  Do we take then that Dr. Hansen was forced by his institution to be involved in work that he considers to be ethically wrong? Has Dr. Hansen ever complained to UCSD that he does not want to participate in animal research based on his ethical beliefs?  Was there not someone else in the entire Pathology Core or Pathology Department that could have performed those analyses instead of him? If he played a minor role in the studies, why would Dr. Hansen and his co-authors specifically note that he “conceived [of] and designed the experiments”? And why in the world would Dr. Hansen apply for a federal grant that he knew, beforehand, would involve support of animal research?

Even if we consider the remote possibility that Dr. Hansen was somehow forced to perform such analyses despite his ethical and scientific opposition, why would he agree  to have his name included in the list of authors?  Authorship requirements indicate he would have made substantial contributions to the conception, design, data collection, analysis and interpretation of the data. Moreover, as an author, Dr. Hansen would have had to approve the final version of the papers, which clearly send the message that the use of animals in research is scientifically valid and ethically permissible.  But how can he possibly approve of the same work he decries?

Dr. Greek goes on to make the bizarre claim that Dr. Hansen might have accepted authorship in order to increase his number of publications.  In an academic environment, Dr. Greek argues, publications are necessary to the advance one’s career. Dr. Hansen is already a senior, tenured Professor in Neurosciences, so the crucial advancement steps (like promotion to tenure) are already long behind him. But more importantly, if Dr. Hansen participates in and supports animal research merely to achieve personal professional accolades and promotions, then he has achieved a level of self-promotion and inconsistency far beyond that of the animal researchers he so often criticizes.

Finally, Dr. Greek applies his “critical thinking” to offer one last mindless argument.  He holds that Dr. Hansen’s situation in relation to his animal work is analogous to mine in relation to everything else happening at UCLA (my home institution), such as the use of “alternative medicine” at our hospital.  In other words, simply because of my institutional affiliation with UCLA, I might be criticized for supporting “alternative medicine.”

Clearly, Dr. Greek cannot  tell the difference between an institutional affiliation and authorship in a scientific paper.  They are not the same.

First, I would never put my name on an article describing work that I felt was unethical or unscientific.  Never.  I would advise my students and colleagues never to do such a thing. In contrast, as far as anyone can gather from the facts, Dr. Hansen has put his name on articles that involve work that he publicly argues is immoral and scientifically fraudulent, and is member of organizations that hold the same view.

Second, Dr. Greek is unaware that I have written to university officials on various occasions to express my disapproval of the inclusion of “alternative medicine” at our hospital. Moreover, he is oblivious to the fact that the main responsibility for what happens at the hospital rests squarely on the shoulders of the physicians that treat our patients and  share his profession, and not with the literature professor, the astrophysicist, the mathematician, or the life scientist.

So much for Dr. Greek’s amazing, critical thinking abilities.

With friends like this, we wonder if Dr. Hansen will finally consider defending himself?

4 responses to “A Pathetic Defense of Dr. Lawrence Hansen

  1. And of course one of the points of tenure is to protect a person’s intellectual freedom to make what might be locally unpopular choices. So Professor Hansen could easily refuse to ever work with animal tissues again. Seemingly the only risk he would run is the further extension of his CV with middle-author contributions – which are of dubious tangible value other than pride and bragging rights for such a senior scientist.

  2. I should point out that I had the pleasure of taking a course from Professor Hansen and he was one if the top 2-3 instructors I’ve ever experienced from a pedagogical perspective. I tried to adopt several of his techniques in my own teaching.

    It deeply saddened me to see him go off the deep end a few years ago.

  3. The papers in question stem from a collaboration between Dr. Hansen and Professor Eliezer Masliah, with whom he has collaborated for almost 25 years (based upon the published record). The work in question is far from pedestrian; in fact, it is very high impact research specifying the molecular basis of cellular loss in Alzheimer’s Disease. It is an example of outstanding translational work, spanning from human post mortem analyses to mouse molecular genetics.

    In almost every way, Dr. Greek’s pathetic defense is an insult to the very good work described in these papers and to the good scientists who conducted it.

    Dr. Hansen should come fowards, defend his own apparent hypocrisy and refute the trivial and insulting claims made by Greek.

  4. If you are commenting on my first observation, I meant only that it is unclear that Professor Hansen would need to participate in these projects to preserve his own career, as the defense seems to be suggesting. I.e. his participation is of dubious value *to him*.

    I did not intend to imply the work itself was without value from a scientific perspective.