Author Archives: allysonjbennett

Harlow Dead, Bioethicists Outraged

harlow plaque jpeg (2)

The philosophy and bioethics community was rocked and in turmoil Friday when they learned that groundbreaking experimental psychologist Professor Harry Harlow had died over 30 years ago. Harlow’s iconic studies of mother and infant monkeys have endured for decades as the centerpiece of philosophical debate and animal rights campaigns.  With news of his death, philosophers worried that they would now need to turn their attention to new questions, learn about current research, and address persistent, urgent needs in public consideration of scientific research and medical progress. Scientists and advocates for a more serious contemporary public dialogue were relieved and immediately offered their assistance to help others get up to speed on current research.

To close the chapter, psychologists at the University of Wisconsin provided the following 40 year retrospective on Harlow’s work and its long-term impact (see below).

Internet reaction to the scientists’ offering was swift, fierce, and predictable.

“We will never allow Harlow to die,” said one leading philosopher, “The fact is that Harlow did studies that are controversial and we intend to continue making that fact known until science grinds to a halt and scientists admit that we should be in charge of all the laboratories and decisions about experiments. It is clear to us that we need far more talk and far less action. Research is complicated and unpredictable–all that messiness just needs to get cleaned up before research should be undertaken.”

Animal rights activists agreed, saying:

“For many decades Harlow and his monkeys have been our go-to graphics for protest signs, internet sites, and articles. It would simply be outrageously expensive and really hard to replace those now. Furthermore, Harlow’s name recognition and iconic monkey pictures are invaluable, irreplaceable, and stand by themselves. It would be a crime to confuse the picture with propaganda and gobbledygook from extremist eggheads who delusionally believe that science and animal research has changed anything.”

Others decried what they viewed as inappropriate humorous responses to the belated shock at Harlow’s passing.

“It is clear to us that scientists are truly diabolical bastards who think torturing animals is funny. Scientists shouldn’t be allowed to joke. What’s next? Telling people who suffer from disease that they should just exercise and quit eating cheeseburgers?” said a representative from a group fighting for legislation to outlaw food choice and ban healthcare for non-vegans and those with genetic predispositions for various diseases.

A journalist reporting on the controversial discovery of Harlow’s death was overheard grumbling, “But what will new generations of reporters write about? Anyway, the new research is pretty much the same as the old research, minus all the complicated biology, chemistry, and genetic stuff, so it may as well be Harlow himself doing it.”

A fringe group of philosophers derisively called the “Ivory Tower Outcasts” for their work aimed at cross-disciplinary partnerships in public engagement with contemporary ethical issues made a terse statement via a pseudonymous social media site.

“We told you so. Harlow is dead. Move on. New facts, problems require thought+action (ps- trolley software needs upgrade, man at switch quit)”

Harlow himself remained silent. For the most part, his papers, groundbreaking discoveries, and long-lasting impact on understanding people and animals remained undisturbed by the new controversy.

Statement from Psychologists:

Harlow’s career spanned 40+ years and produced breakthroughs in understanding learning, memory, cognition and behavior in monkeys1 (see Figure 1). In a time period where other animals were generally thought of as dumb machines, Harlow’s work demonstrated the opposite — that monkeys, like humans, have complex cognitive abilities and emotional attachments. Harlow and his colleagues developed now classic ways to measure cognition2,3. For example, the Wisconsin General Test Apparatus (WGTA; see Figure 1), in which monkeys uncover food beneath different types of colored toys and objects, allowed scientists to understand how monkeys learn new things, remember, and discriminate between different colors, shapes, quantities, and patterns.

The discoveries of Harlow and his colleagues in the 1930s and forward provided the foundation not only for changes in how people view other animals, but also for understanding how the brain works, how it develops, and –ultimately–how to better care for people and other animals.

Figure 1

Figure 1

In the last decade of his long career, Harlow, his wife Margaret– a developmental psychologist, and their colleagues, again rocked the scientific world with a discovery that fundamentally changed our biological understanding.3 Contrary to prevailing views in the 1950s and before, the Harlows’ studies of infant monkeys definitively demonstrated that mother-infant bonds and physical contact—not just provision of food—are fundamentally important to normal behavioral and biological development. Those studies provided an enduring empirical foundation for decades of subsequent work that shed new light on the interplay between childhood experiences, genes, and biology in shaping vulnerability, resilience, and recovery in lifespan health.

For a brief time at the very end of his career, Harlow performed a small number of studies that have served as the touchstone for philosophers, animal rights groups, and others interested in whether and how animal research should be done. The most controversial of the studies are known by their colloquial name “pit of despair” and were aimed at creating an animal model of depression. In this work, fewer than 20 monkeys were placed in extreme isolation for short periods (average of 6 weeks) following initial infant rearing in a nursery.

At the time, the late 1960s, the presence of brain chemicals had recently been identified as potentially critical players in behavior and mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia. New understanding and treatment of the diseases was desperately needed to address the suffering of millions of people. Available treatments were crude. They included permanent institutionalization– often in abject conditions, lobotomy (removing part of the brain), malaria, insulin, or electric shock therapies. As some scientists worked to uncover the role of brain chemicals in behavior and mood, others worked to produce drugs that could alter those chemical networks to relieve their negative effects. In both cases, animal models based on similar brain chemistry and biology were needed in order to test whether new treatments were safe and effective. It was within this context that Harlow and his colleagues in psychiatry studied, in small numbers, monkeys who exhibited depressive-like behaviors.

By the 1970s and over the next decades, scientists produced medications that effectively treat diseases like schizophrenia and depression for many people. The therapies are not perfect and do not work for everyone, which is why research continues to identify additional and new treatments. Regardless, there is no question that the suffering of millions of people has been reduced, and continues to be alleviated, as a result of new medications and new understanding of the biological basis of disease.

Infant rhesus monkeys playing in nursery.  Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. @2014 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents

Infant rhesus monkeys playing in nursery. Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. @2014 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents

Looking back while moving forward

Nearly 50 years later, it is difficult to imagine the time before MRI and neuroimaging and before the many effective treatments for depression, schizophrenia and other diseases. It is perhaps even more difficult to imagine a time in which people believed that genes and biology were destiny, that other animals were automatons, or that mothers were only important because they provided food to their children. Casting an eye back to the treatment of monkeys, children, and vulnerable human populations in medical and scientific research 50 years ago, or even 30 years ago, is difficult as well. Standards for ethical consideration, protections for human and animal participants in research, and the perspectives of scientists, philosophers, and the public have all continued to change as knowledge grows. Yet, what has not changed is an enduring tension between the public’s desire for progress in understanding the world and in reducing disease and the very fact that the science required to make that progress involves difficult choices.

There are no guarantees that a specific scientific research project will succeed in producing the discoveries it seeks. Nor is there a way to know in advance how far-ranging the effect of those discoveries may be, or how they may serve as the necessary foundation for work far distant. In the case of Harlow’s work, the discoveries cast a bright light on a path that continues to advance new understanding of how the brain, genes, and experiences affect people’s health and well-being.

Mother and infant swing final

Mother and juvenile rhesus macaque at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. @2014 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents








In the 30 years since Harlow’s death, new technologies and new discoveries—including brain imaging (MRI, PET), knowledge about epigenetics (how genes are turned on and off), and pharmacotherapies—have been made, refined, and put into use in contemporary science. As a result, scientists today can answer questions that Harlow could not. They continue to do so not because the world has remained unchanged, or because they lack ethics and compassion, but because they see the urgent need posed by suffering and the possibility of addressing global health problems via scientific research.

Harlow’s legacy is a complicated one, but one worth considering beyond a simple single image because it is a legacy of knowledge that illustrates exactly how science continues to move forward from understanding built in the past. An accurate view of how science works, what it has achieved, what can and cannot be done, are all at the heart of a serious consideration of the consequences of choices about what scientific research should be done and how. Harlow and his studies may well be a touchstone to start and continue that dialogue. But it should then be one that also includes the full range of the work, its context and complexity, rather than just the easy cartoon evoked to draw the crowd and then loom with no new words.

Allyson J. Bennett, PhD

The author is a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The views and ideas expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent those of her employer.

Suomi SJ & Leroy, HA (1982) In Memoriam: Harry F. Harlow (1905-1982). American Journal of Primatology 2:319-342. (Note: contains a complete bibliography of Harlow’s published work.)

2Harlow HF & Bromer J (1938). A test-apparatus for monkeys. Psychological Record 2:434-436.

3Harlow HF (1949). The formation of learning sets. Psychological Review 56:51-65

4Harlow HF (1958). The nature of love. American Psychologist 13:673-685.

Why is alcohol research with nonhuman animals essential?

The following guest post is from Jeff Weiner, a Professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at Wake Forest School of Medicine.  Dr. Weiner is the Director of an NIH-funded translational research grant that employs rodent, monkey and human models to study the neurobiological substrates that contribute to alcohol addiction vulnerability.  He is also a founding Co-Chair of a new Animal Research and Ethics committee established by the Research Society on Alcoholism.

Jeff Weiner

Jeff Weiner

I am a neuroscientist who directs a translational research program which uses humans, monkeys, and rodents to study  the neurobiological mechanisms associated with increased vulnerability to alcoholism. As an addiction researcher, I am frequently asked why we need to study this topic or why we need to use animal models in our work. I’ve often heard people say that “alcoholism is not really a disease” or that “alcoholics just lack the will to quit drinking”. Others have asked “what can we possibly learn about alcoholism by studying monkeys or rats”?   Well, there are some very good answers to these questions.

First of all, alcoholism is most definitely a disease. While it may be more difficult to diagnose than other illnesses like cancer or diabetes, there is overwhelming evidence, from human and animal studies, that excessive alcohol exposure profoundly changes the brain (and many other organ systems). We now know that alcohol-induced changes in brain activity can last for a very long time, even after the drinking behavior stops, that these neuronal alterations actually make it harder for an addict to quit, and much more likely to relapse when they finally do stop drinking. This research may help to explain why alcohol use disorders affect 5-8% of the US population at a cost to the economy in excess of 180 billion dollars and that alcohol accounts for 4% of the global burden of disease1.

Alcohol consumption USA alcoholism (2)Unlike Huntingon’s disease, alcoholism is not caused by a single gene defect. However, basic research has shown that a complex interaction between our genes and environmental factors, like chronic stress and exposure to traumatic events, can dramatically increase susceptibility to alcohol use disorders. These findings may help to explain why members of our military and their families are disproportionately affected by alcoholism.

Animal research has contributed greatly to the advancement of treatments for alcoholism. Animal models of alcohol use disorders have played an essential role in the discovery of two FDA-approved medications for the treatment of alcohol addiction (naltrexone and acamprosate). In addition, many new pharmacotherapies that have shown promise in animal models are currently being tested in human clinical trials. These new medications may prove even more effective at treating alcohol addiction.

In fact, one recent example illustrates just how powerful animal models of alcohol addiction can be. In 2008, researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA used a sophisticated rodent model of alcohol dependence (that they had spent years validating) to show that an FDA-approved anticonvulsant drug called gabapentin might be particularly effective at reducing the escalation in alcohol drinking that occurs after rats have become physically dependent on this drug2. Other researchers at Scripps quickly followed up on these exciting findings and recently completed a carefully controlled, clinical trial testing gabapentin in treatment-seeking alcoholics.   The results of this study, recently published in JAMA Psychiatry, revealed that gabapentin significantly reduced alcohol intake and dependence-associated symptoms like craving, depression, and sleep disturbances3. While much more work needs to be done to confirm these promising initial findings, these studies clearly demonstrate how effective animal models can be in our quest to discover better treatments for this devastating disorder.

It is worth noting that the vast majority of animal research on alcoholism is with rats and mice. Rodents can effectively model many elements of addiction including symptoms of tolerance, dependence, withdrawal, and relapse. Non-human primate models of alcoholism have also proven invaluable in helping to translate discoveries from rodent models to humans.

It is also worth mentioning that all animal research is regulated at multiple levels and by multiple entities. At the federal level the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is charged with enforcing the regulations under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). This Act also requires that animal research be overseen and monitored by local animal care and use committees at the institutional level. Furthermore, research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) must also meet standards for animal care and use as set forth by the Public Health Services (PHS) Policy.

So, while some may still question whether or not alcoholism is really a disease, it seems difficult to argue against the idea that more research is needed to address the huge medical and socio-economic costs associated with alcohol use and abuse. It also seems clear that animal models are a valuable tool that are accelerating the drug discovery process and helping to bring urgently needed treatments to the clinic.

For more information:


  1.             Rehm J, Mathers C, Popova S, Thavorncharoensap M, Teerawattananon Y, Patra J. Global burden of disease and injury and economic cost attributable to alcohol use and alcohol-use disorders. Lancet. Jun 27 2009;373(9682):2223-2233.
  2.             Roberto M, Gilpin NW, O’Dell LE, et al. Cellular and behavioral interactions of gabapentin with alcohol dependence. J Neurosci. May 28 2008;28(22):5762-5771.
  3.             Mason BJ, Quello S, Goodell V, Shadan F, Kyle M, Begovic A. Gabapentin treatment for alcohol dependence: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA internal medicine. Jan 2014;174(1):70-77.

Pictures in need of accurate words: University of Florida animal photos

Pictures of a cat spay clinic misrepresented as a laboratory horror shop circulated the internet recently to support appeals to “end animal testing.” Speaking of Research wrote about it here “Fact into fiction: Why context matters with animal images,” noting the importance of understanding the facts and context for photographs.

This picture was used to misrepresent animal research

This picture was used to misrepresent animal research

In the cat spay clinic case, the photos were from a newspaper article. We have written previously about images of laboratory animals that have made their way to the internet via leaks, undercover operations, and open records release. In all cases, several points remain true. Images are powerful. Providing accurate information about the images is important. It is also true that there are important differences between the sources and ways that images are obtained. Those obtained via infiltrations and undercover operations may be from manipulated situations, or  small fractions of hours of recording, in both cases providing a deliberately misrepresentative view. Photos obtained from institutions via open records release can also be used to misrepresent laboratory animals’ care and treatment and can be the centerpiece in “shock” campaigns. Their value is obvious from even a quick survey of high profile attacks on research, as we’ve written about previously (here, here, here). As in the case of the spay clinic images, conflating veterinary and clinical care with scientific research is also common and further serves to confuse the issues.

Can the laboratory animal research community do a better job of providing context for images of animals?  Yes.

Knowing what the images show and why matters, particularly to people who would like to engage in serious and thoughtful consideration to inform their point of view and judgments. In absence of context and facts, the audience is left without key knowledge and an opportunity to educate is missed. Yet all too often the opportunity is missed and the images remain in public view without comment or context from those who could provide a better understanding of what the photographs show.

In reviewing laboratory animal photographs that appear on animal rights sites, it is obvious that there are generally two types: those from activities directly related to the scientific project and those related to veterinary care or housing and husbandry. In terms of providing context and information, the two differ with respect to their source and which personnel may best explain the content of the photographs.

What does the image depictSome images may be of actual scientific research activities. These may be of animals engaging in an activity directly related to the science question under study. For example, the images may illustrate how animals perform a cognitive or memory task, how they navigate a maze, or how a particular measurement is obtained. The Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics website provides an example of this, with description and photographs of rhesus monkeys and cognitive neuroscience research. Another type of image directly related to the scientific project may be of a surgery or procedure. An example of this is found in pictures of a surgery involved in cat sound localization research (photos here, video here). In each case, it is not particularly challenging to provide additional information and context because the activities are typically also explained in the protocols, grants, and scientific papers about the study.

Images of clinical veterinary care, husbandry, and housing appear frequently in activist campaigns and public view. For example, pictures of routine physical examinations, health tests, unexpected injuries unrelated to scientific procedures, or photos of animals in their normal housing, have all appeared via various sources. Many times– perhaps more often than not– the activity depicted in the images would not be obvious to a lay audience because it remains unexplained.

A common image – tuberculosis skin test

One of the best examples of misunderstood images is found in pictures of an anesthetized macaque monkey with a needle injecting something in its eyelid. The picture circulates the internet with various captions opposing “animal testing.”   What does this picture show?

tb imageIt is a skin test, commonly used in human and nonhuman primates, for early detection of tuberculosis. A small amount of tuberculin (non-harmful) is injected just under the skin. In almost all cases, the primate does not have tuberculosis and the skin remains normal. If the primate—human or not—does have a reaction to the test, indicated by redness and some swelling, it provides evidence of possible tuberculosis infection. That person, or monkey, then receives additional testing and preventive measures for treatment and to avoid infecting and harming others.

Tuberculosis testing is routinely performed as a health procedure in humans who work in hospitals, schools, with children and with others who may be vulnerable. In settings where nonhuman primates are housed, tuberculosis testing is often routinely performed with all human personnel and with the other animals. Why? Because tuberculosis is a rare disease, but one that can be a threat to the animals’ health and thus, precautions are necessary to ensure their health. The difference between human and monkey tb testing is that for humans, the injection is given without pain relief or anesthesia, via a needle inserted into the forearm.

Aside from the momentary discomfort of the injection, the test is painless and without irritating after-effects. In monkeys, the injection is typically given while the animal is anesthetized and is placed just under the skin of the upper eyelid. Why the difference? It is a simple reason—the key to the test is looking for redness or slight swelling. In monkeys, the forearm is fur-covered and it would be very difficult to detect a reaction in an unobtrusive way.

University of Florida monkey pictures

Not surprisingly, the monkey tb test photo is one that seems to appear in an ongoing campaign against the University of Florida. In response to several years of attacks on their animal research programs, public universities in Florida are pursuing new action to shield personal information about their personnel from public disclosure.   We’ve written previously about an ongoing campaign of violent threats, harassment, and protest by local activists (here, here, here).

In parallel to other campaigns, photographs are a centerpiece of the current attacks on animal research. As reported by Beatrice Dupuy in the Independent Alligator:

“Disturbing pictures of primates being examined by researchers are featured on the organization’s website along with posters with quotes like “stop the holocaust inside UF, free the monkeys.” After a three year lawsuit, the organization, formerly named Negotiation is Over, obtained UF’s public veterinary records last April. The researchers named in public records were the first ones to be targeted by animal rights activists, said Janine Sikes, a UF spokeswoman.”

What are these “disturbing pictures of primates being examined by researchers”?

The photographs <warning: link to AR site> are of macaque monkeys that appear to be receiving routine veterinary care or are simply in fairly standard housing. While the activists claim these photos are evidence of maltreatment at the hands of researchers, they likely are mostly of routine veterinary procedures. For example, two appear to be of an anesthetized macaque monkey receiving a tattoo, another two of an anesthetized monkey receiving a tuberculosis test, while others show the reddened skin that rhesus macaques exhibit normally in the wild and captivity. One photo depicts what looks like a stillborn infant macaque. Without context or confirmation, it isn’t surprising that the photographs can be interpreted in many ways.

UF’s spokesperson says: “The university wants to be very open and honest about its research,” … “It wants to stop these personal attacks against our researchers.”

One place to begin is to provide straightforward and accurate context for the images of laboratory animals that have been released. While those with experience in laboratory care of nonhuman primates can view the images and be reasonably certain that they are mostly of clinical veterinary care, it is only the UF veterinary, animal care program, and scientific personnel that can provide accurate information. Other universities have done exactly that when faced with the same situation. In “An Open Letter to the Laboratory Animal Veterinary Community and Research Institution Administration”   we wrote:

“While scientists can address questions about the scientific side of animal research, we need the laboratory animal care and veterinary staff to provide their expertise in service of addressing public questions about clinical care and husbandry.  If they do not, it will be no surprise if the public view of animal research is disproportionately colored by the relatively rare adverse events and the misrepresentations of animal rights activists. Many believe that it is possible—and perhaps acceptable—to ignore this part of reality in order to focus on more immediate demands for time, energy, and resources. Consider, however, that a fundamental part of the AWA, accreditation, regulation, and professional obligation is actually to ensure communication with the public that supports animal research.  Thus, it is our entire community who share a primary obligation to engage in the dialogue that surrounds us.”

We have consistently condemned the extremists who have targeted UF scientists and others with outrageous harassment. Tactics designed to elicit fear and terror do not have a place in democratic society and do nothing to promote fair and civil dialogue about complex issues.

At the same time, we believe and have written often, that the scientific and laboratory animal community, including scientists, veterinarians, and institutional officials should consider that better education and explanation are key to building public dialogue and understanding of research. Furthermore, as highlighted in this case and others, releasing photographs, records, and other materials without providing context serves no one well. Providing straightforward explanation of the veterinary practices, housing, husbandry, and care of laboratory animals not only gives context to photographs, but also should not be that hard to do.

Allyson J. Bennett

More information and resources:

Raising the bar: What makes an effective public response in the face of animal rights campaigns:

Time for a change in strategies?

A detailed response to a PETA video accusing a primate lab of mistreatment:

Speaking of Research media briefing (pdf):  Background Briefing on Animal Research in the US

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

I Pro-Test for Science

Please leave your messages of support including your full name in the comment section at the bottom of the page (no sign up necessary). We must show our fellow scientists that they have our support. Names in the comment section will be added to the signatures at the bottom of the post.

When researchers are harassed and intimidated for carrying out their work, we must consider the whole scientific community to be under threat. We may not always be available to stand shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues, but we can still offer our strength and support from afar.

At UCLA, the scientists and their community are standing up to end the home demonstrations that have targeted their colleagues for many years.  As Professor David Jentsch writes

For more than a decade, the streets in front of the homes of UCLA researchers have been the scene of regular, brutal, vitriolic and hate-filled campaigns by animal rights hooligans. …  We have decided to act, with our voices, our messages of scientific progress and – most importantly – with the unity of our community.

Speaking of the successful first counter-demonstration at a home protest Professor Dario Ringach writes:

… it should not come as a surprise to anyone that after a decade of harassment, intimidation and threats,  we have decided to mount counter-demonstrations when these animal right terrorists show up at our homes.

These activists now have the shameless audacity to play the victim of this encounter. Incapable of understanding the message, they are now recruiting more misguided individuals to join them in their fanatical crusade and come back to harass us at our homes on February 15th.

We will be there to meet them once more and convey one simple message,

We are not going to take it anymore!

Colleagues and friends – please take a moment to leave a message of support for the brave UCLA scientists who have been subjected to fire bombs, home harassment, threats to their children, and relentless fear-campaigns for over a decade by animal rights activists, yet continue their work to advance science.  It may be difficult to imagine what this is like, and easy to imagine is an issue that is someone else’s– one that will never be yours– but it is not. It is an attack on public interest in scientific progress, in medical progress, civil dialogue, and democratic ideals. Our community is often silent in the face of attacks. We can change that and we really must.

I am Pro-Test

For those who think that this is about animal welfare, about specific types of research, about whether or not invasive research in nonhuman animals is justified, or about some other distinction among the wide range of issues concerning captive animals, it really is not.

We ask you to please read David Jentsch and Dario Ringach’s posts (here, here, here), watch this video, and get better look at what is happening.

These are our colleagues and scientists who bravely defend their work, who engage in public dialogue, who lend their voices to serious, fact-based consideration of ethical issues. Consider whether you really believe that the actions taken by the animal rights groups represent a best path forward.  If you do not, please take a minute to comment in support of the UCLA scientists and share with others who can be there to stand with them. Even if you cannot be in LA to stand with them, you can offer a comment in support and let the public know that home harassment is the wrong path.

Please leave a comment including your full name to be added to the list below.

We should all be Pro-Test. Now it’s time to say so.

Speaking of Research

Counter-demonstration. When: February 15, 10:15am sharp!
Where: Franz Hall Lobby @ UCLA (near Hilgard and Westholme)


Allyson J Bennett
Tom Holder
Chris Magee
Pamela Bass
David Jentsch
Dario Ringach
Jacquie Calnan
Paul Browne
David Bienus
Andy Fell
Jim Newman
Prof Doris Doudet
Gene Rukavina
Prof Bill Yates
Christa Helms
Jeff Weiner
Justin McNulty
Alice Ra’anan
Jordana Lenon
Jae Redfern
Melissa Luck
Claudia Soi
Kevin Elliott
Brian L Ermeling
Teresa Woodger
Joanna Bryson
John Capitanio
Dennis J Foster
Juan Carlos Marvizon
António Carlos Pinto Oliveira
Dawn Abney
Michael Brunt
Wayne Patterson
Greg Frank
Jim Sackett
Davide Giana
Paulo Binda
Emiliano Broggi
Marco Onorato
Cardani Carlo
Pasquele Franzese
Diana Gordon
Janet R Schofding
Rick Lane
Lorinda Wright
Jamie Lewis
Judy Barnett
Martha Maxwell
Stacy LeBlanc
Deborah Donohue
Paula Clifford
Cindy Buckmaster
Diana Li
Ashley Weaver
Jayne Mackta
Giordana Bruno Michela
Agata Cesaretti
Enrico Migliorini
Kim Froeschl
Daniele Mangiardi
Liz Guice
Myrian Morato
Patricia Zerbini
Michael Savidge
Jefferson Childs
Kimberley Phillips
Anne Deschamps
Dario Parazzoli
Robert M. Parker
Agnes Collino
Alberto Ferrari
Igor Comunale
Kristina Nielsen
Marco Delli Zotti
Megan Wyeth
Carolina Garcia de Alba
Andrea Devigili
Erin Severs
Patricia Foley
Mary Zelinski
Alison Weiss
Savanna Chesworth
Christy Carter
Joel Ortiz
William Levick
Lauren Renner
David Andrade Carbajal
Federico Simonetti
Daniele Melani
Dwayne Godwin
Howard Winet
Jeremy Bailoo
Stephan Roeskam
Mary-Ann Griffiths
Carolyn Pelham
Francesca Digiesi
Nicola Bordin
Dianna Laurent
Joe Erwin
Jennifer Picard
Vicki Campbell
Erin Vogelsong
Bob Schrock
Silvia Armuzzi
Elizabeth Harley
Wendy Jarrett
Barbara Rechman
Daria Giovannoni
Patricia Atkins
Scott Hall
Vickie Risbrough
Liam Messin
Brian McMillen
John Meredith
Aleksandra Gondek
Tehya Johnson
Nancy Marks
Leonardo Murgiano
David Markshak
William Horn
John J Eppig
Mila Marvizon
David Robinson
Steven Lloyd
Shari Birnbaum
Matthew Jorgensen
Karen Maegley
Barry Bradford
Corinna Ross
Stephen Harvey
Deborah Otteson
Bette Cessna
Steven Wise
Michael Conn
Gregory Cote
James MacMillan
Suzanne Lavalla
Lisa Peterson
Jennifer Perkins
Richard Nyhof
Beth Laurent
Gabriele Lubach
Michele A. Basso
Cindy Chrisler
Jian Wu
Mahmoud Loghman-Adham
Claire Edwards
Daniel T. Cannon
Emil Venz
Hyeyoung Kim
Jon E. Levine
Ken Linder
Kathy Linder
Matt Thornton
Margaret Maloney
Regina Correa-Murphy
Kristine Wadosky
Victor Lavis
David Fulford
Josiane Broussard
Fabio De Maio
Rachel J. Smith, PhD
Trinka Adamson
Cobie Brinkman
Emily Slocum
Michael J. Garrison
Tom Greene
Jenny Kalishman
Marcia Putnam

Guest Post: Characterising high fructose corn syrup self-administration in laboratory rats

It’s January, and across the country millions of people have promised themselves that they will eat less, loose weight and become healthier. But why do some people eat more than others? No matter what they try there seems to be no way to stop their overeating. Public education is a powerful tool to combat some of these issues but what happens when it turns into an addiction? It is challenging to provide accurate information when food addiction is a little studied field. In an effort to answer these questions scientists can use laboratory rodents to explore neurobiological mechanisms involved in relapse to drug-seeking behavior, comorbid mood and substance dependence disorders, as well as perseverative reward seeking. These complex answers cannot be solely obtained though human patients because the physiological and psychological mechanisms that influence food addiction are not fully understood.

AnneMare Levy is a PhD student and Francesco Leri is an Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Applied Cognitive Science in the Department of Psychology at the University of Guelph. In the article below these scientists explain how and why the development of a new animal model to understand the addictive properties of some foods is necessary and how its use can begin to answer some of these questions. They believe that through studying rats their findings could lead to novel pharmacological interventions for obese individuals that could help them selectively reduce intake of unhealthy foods.

The views expressed below are that of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of her employer or institution.

Overconsumption of foods high in sugars and saturated fats is an important contributing factor to the modern epidemic of overweight and obesity1, which are leading causes of metabolic disorders and cardiovascular diseases2. It is therefore important to understand why patterns of excessive food intake develop and persist despite the negative health consequences. Considerable evidence supports the hypothesis that, for some people, addiction to food may motivate these behaviours3-4. In fact, behavioural and neurobiological similarities between obesity and drug dependence support the “food addiction” hypothesis5-8 and studies in both humans and laboratory animals have identified a variety of biological and behavioural indicators of “food addiction”9-12.

The food addiction hypothesis suggests that similar to drugs of abuse, particular foods should reinforce behaviours that lead to their consumption. Therefore, to assess the addictive potential of such foods, we adapted procedures commonly used for studying the reinforcing properties of drugs of abuse (i.e. operant intravenous drug self-administration) to the investigation of operant self-administration of sweet solutions delivered directly into the mouth of rats. To this end, an intraoral cannula was surgically implanted13 into the cheek of rats and the animals were subsequently trained to press a lever to voluntarily receive a test solution directly into their mouth; hence the term intraoral self-administration. The sweet solution selected for testing was high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) because, although controversial14, there is evidence that HFCS may be linked to the modern epidemic of obesity15.


The disadvantage of requiring minor surgery to employ this procedure is offset by several advantages that make intraoral self-administration in rats optimal for studying the reinforcing properties of sweet solutions. First, an operant response (i.e., pressing a lever) is required to obtain an infusion and therefore it is possible to modify the schedule regulating the relationship between response requirement and delivery of intraoral infusions. Hence, by employing a progressive ratio (PR) schedule16, whereby more lever presses are required to get more sweet solution, it is possible to assess how much an animal “wants”17 the next infusion and by employing a continuous schedule of reinforcement, whereby each lever response is reinforced, it is possible to measure total intake, escalation of intake, and the development of bingeing behaviour.  Second, intraoral self-administration allows testing of any concentration and any volume of any water-soluble food additive. The importance of controlling and manipulating concentration/volume ratios is mandatory in experiments where intake can be modulated both by the caloric value of a solution (i.e., nutrient-specific satiety) and by how much of that solution can be consumed within a given period of time (i.e., fullness)18. Third, intraoral self-administration shortens the delay between the operant response and the delivery of the primary reinforcer, a factor that plays an important role in the acquisition and maintenance of operant behaviour19-21. Finally, this procedure allows for the delivery of passive intraoral infusions of controlled quantities of the test solution.  This makes it possible to measure orofacial responses of “liking” (objective hedonic reaction such as tongue protrusions)22 as well as administer priming infusions23 of the test solution prior to tests of reinstatement of sweet-seeking behaviour.

The objective of this study was to characterize HFCS self-administration behaviour in laboratory rats. It was important to establish a reliable animal model of self-administration because it will allow future studies to identify and manipulate the neurobiological substrates that are responsible for the escalation and maintenance of excessive food intake. Moreover, using this animal model, the rats will be able to self-administer solutions for extended periods of time (i.e. months) to establish how sweeteners, such as HFCS, may contribute to the development of metabolic disorders.  For all experiments, rats were surgically implanted with an intraoral cannula while under an anaesthetic. Post-operative care included administering analgesic, daily flushing of the cannula with an anti-bacterial solution as well as closely monitoring weight gain and food intake. Following recovery, rats received one 3-hour self administration session per day, whereby, rats were placed into a standard operant chamber and trained to lever press to receive intraoral infusions of different concentrations of HFCS (8%, 25%, and 50%) on either continuous or PR schedules of reinforcement, as previously described.

It was found that the behavioural profile of rats responding for HFCS is similar to the pattern of intake observed when rats self-administer drugs of abuse24-25. Using intraoral self-administration, it was established that on a continuous schedule of reinforcement, rats acquire and maintain intraoral self-administration of a wide range of HFCS concentrations (8%, 25% or 50%), and that rats adjust their self-administration behaviour according to the different concentrations (i.e., rats self-administer twice as much a 25% solution than a 50% solution)13.  Furthermore, higher concentrations of HFCS engender higher responding on the PR schedule of reinforcement, suggesting that increasing the HFCS content likewise increases the reinforcing value of the solution. The relationship between operant responding and HFCS concentration on continuous and progressive ratio schedules is similar to the dose-response relationships observed when rats self-administer drugs of abuse24.

It was further noted that total intake of 25% HFCS escalated over three weeks of testing, possibly reflecting the development of “bingeing” behaviour9,13. In fact, after a week of self-administration, rats displayed a clear period of elevated intake during the initial 90 minutes of each self-administration session and this “loading” increased in magnitude over the weeks of training. This effect is reminiscent of escalation of drug intake and increased loading that are observed when rats have prolonged and/or repeated access to drugs of abuse26.

The results of these experiments also indicated that HFCS is reinforcing because of its caloric content. Even though 0.1% saccharin (a non-caloric sweetener)27 and 25% HFCS produce similar hedonic reactions (i.e. the perceived palatability of the two solutions is similar in tests of taste reactivity17), 0.1% saccharin could not maintain self-administration at the same level that 25% HFCS. Moreover, when substituted for HFCS, a wide range of saccharin concentrations (0.01%, 1.0%, and 10%) significantly reduced self-administration behaviour, indicating that HFCS reinforcement is largely determined by its caloric content rather than its palatability.

Taken together, these experiments indicate that intraoral infusion of HFCS reinforces lever-pressing in rats, and this behaviour was maintained primarily by the caloric content and not the palatability of the solution made available for self-administration.  In these rats, stable self-administration was maintained for up to three weeks, it was concentration-dependent, and rats developed a tendency to “binge” on HFCS at the start of sessions. Using intraoral self-administration, future studies should investigate the possibility that HFCS engenders other “addictive-like” behaviors, and whether escalation of HFCS self-administration can be causally linked to the development of metabolic changes (i.e., weight gain, insulin resistance) associated with obesity and type-2 diabetes.

AnneMarie Levy & Francesco Leri

University of Guelph

University of Guelph

Department of Psychology, NACS


1. Barry D, Clarke M, Petry NM (2009) Obesity and Its Relationship to Addictions: Is Overeating a Form of Addictive Behavior? Am J Addict 18: 439-451.

2. World Health Organization (2013) Obesity and overweight Fact sheet N°311. Available: Accessed 20 June 2013.

3. Davis C, Carter JC (2009) Compulsive overeating as an addiction disorder: a review of theory and evidence. Appetite 53: 1-8.

4. Ifland JR, Preuss HG, Marcus MT, Rourke KM, Taylor WC, Burau K, Jacobs WS, Kadish W, Manso G (2009) Refined food addiction: a classic substance use disorder. Med Hypotheses 72: 518-526.

5. Avena NM, Bocarsly ME, Hoebel BG, Gold MS (2011) Overlaps in the nosology of substance abuse and overeating: the translational implications of “food addiction”. Curr Drug Abuse Rev 4: 133-139.

6. Volkow N, Wise RA (2005) How can drug addiction help us understand obesity? Nat Neurosci 8: 555-560.

7. Fortuna J (2012) The Obesity Epidemic and Food Addiction: Clinical Similarities to Drug Dependence. J Psychoactive Drugs 44: 56.

8. Levy AM, Salamon A, Tucci M, Limebeer CL, Parker LA, Leri F (2012) Co-sensitivity to the incentive properties of palatable food and cocaine in rats; implications for co-morbid addictions. Addict Biol:  doi: 10.1111/j.1369-1600.2011.00433.

9. Avena NM, Rada P, Hoebel BG (2008) Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioural and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 32, 20-39.

10. Gearhardt AN, Davis C, Kuschner R, Brownell KD (2011) The addiction potential of hyperpalatable foods. Curr Drug Abuse Rev 4: 140-145.

12. Johnson PM, Kenny PJ (2010) Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats. Nat Neurosci 13:  635-644.

13. Levy AM, Limebeer CL, Ferdinand J, Shillingford U, Parker LA, et al. (2014) A novel procedure for evaluating the reinforcing properties of tastants in laboratory rats: operant intraoral self-administration. JoVE: in press.

14. White JS (2008) Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain’t. Am J Clin Nutr. 88: 1716S-1721S.

15. Bray GA, Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM (2004) Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity, Am J Clin Nutr 79: 537-543.

16. Richardson NR, Roberts DC (1996) Progressive ratio schedules in drug self-administration studies in rats: a method to evaluate reinforcing efficacy. J Neurosci Methods 66: 1-11.

17. Berridge, K. C., & Robinson, T. E., Parsing reward. Trends in Neuroscience 26 (11), 507-501(2003).

18. Houpt, K. A. Gastrointestinal factors in hunger and satiety. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews 6 (2), 145-164 (1982).

19. Panksepp, J. & Trowill, J. A. Intraoral self injection: I. Effects of delay of reinforcement on resistance to extinction and implications for self-stimulation. Psychonomic Sciences 9 (7), 405-406 (1967)

20. Mazur, J. E. Effects of rate of reinforcement and rate of change on choice behaviour in transition. Journal of Experimental Psychology 50 (2), 111-128 (1997).

21. Samaha, A. N., & Robinson, T. E. Why does the rapid delivery of drugs to the brain promote addiction? Trends in Pharmacological Sciences 26 (2), 82-87 (2005).

22. Berridge, K. C., & Kringelbach, M. L. Affective neuroscience of pleasure: reward in humans and animals. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 199 (3), 457-480 (2008)

23. Shaham, Y., Shalev, U., Lu, L., De Wit, H., & Stewart, J. The reinstatement model of drug relapse: history, methodology and major findings. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 168 (1-2), 3-20 (2003).

24. Deroche-Gamonet V, Belin B, Piazza PV (2004) Evidence for addiction-like behaviour in the rat. Science 305: 1014-1017.

25. Carroll ME, Lac ST (1997) Acquisition of IV amphetamine and cocaine self-administration in rats as a function of dose.  Psychopharmacology 129: 206-214.

26. Ahmed SH, Koob GF (1998) Transition from moderate to excessive drug intake: change in hedonic set point. Science 282: 298-300.

27. Miller SA, Frattali VP (1989) Saccharin. Diabetes Care 12: 74-80.

Conversation Starter? PETA’s Bus Ads on University of Wisconsin Hearing Research

As predicted, PETA’s ongoing campaign against scientific research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison continues, escalating this week with a striking advertisement on 100 Metro buses. The ad calls for an end to UW research aimed at better understanding how the brain processes sound. A central question is how sound arriving at both ears is combined to allow us to determine the direction of its source with respect to our body. Sound localization ability allows us, for example, to quickly react to an approaching car that we might not have seen. In turn, this kind of basic understanding has provided the knowledge necessary to help people with hearing disorders and to guide the way for cochlear implants. It is the work of a highly respected scientist, Professor Tom Yin, whose discoveries and research have been funded by the National Institutes of Health for decades. His research is publicly funded because the scientific leadership of our country determined that the work is important to serve the public’s interest in advancing scientific understanding and public health. Furthermore, and contrary to PETA’s claims, the  cats are healthy and treated humanely, in accord with federal regulation, as demonstrated by the public reporting of thorough oversight by multiple federal agencies.

Metro bus displaying PETA ad. Image: Wisconsin State Journal.

Metro bus displaying PETA ad. Image: Wisconsin State Journal.

The ads that PETA is running on the buses don’t mention that.  What they do instead is show a picture of a cat, a participant in the research and the phrase “I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments.”

The picture is one PETA obtained from an open records request. Video of the research, many pictures, and interviews of the scientists whose research is targeted can be found here. The PeTA ads also don’t mention that both the US Department of Agriculture and the NIH’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare investigated PeTA’s complaints and cleared Prof. Yin and UW of any wrongdoing.

We have written previously (here, here, here) in detail about PETA’s sustained efforts to use the federal regulatory system to end the UW’s sound localization research. We’ve also written about their other approaches to generate public and media attention – ranging from celebrity protests at the UW Board of Regents meeting to Bill Maher robocalls to an MMA fighting game where players are encouraged in violence (and sending emails to NIH opposing UW’s research).

Through all of this, PETA has made their position quite clear. Their goal is to end animal research regardless of the consequences for human and animal health, regardless of public interests.

While PETA’s campaigns are marketed as concern about animal welfare, even a superficial analysis quickly shows that it is not their central mission. After all, this is the same group with an abysmal record of killing the cats and dogs in their care.  Furthermore, it seems unlikely that PETA’s investment in various campaigns is proportional to the number of animals involved in different uses. Only a tiny fraction of animals are used in research, in contrast to the vast majority in food, clothing, entertainment, service, and companionship. Yet animal research remains a major investment for PETA campaigns.

What PETA is aiming for when it targets animal research, particularly when it invests so much effort and so many resources to shut down a program involving only a dozen animals is political and obvious. They have selected a target that they believe will capture public emotion and sentiment in a way that serves a broader political goal that otherwise would be difficult to raise public attention and support.

In all of these campaigns, PETA is banking on a couple of expectations. First, that the public will not take the time to learn more about the research. Second, that the scientific, medical, advocacy, and patient groups will decline to engage or counter PETA’s outrageous claims. If, and when, those expectations are no longer met, PETA will lose its power to detract from a serious, civil and public consideration of science, medicine, and animal research.

For that reason, we believe that it is a critical responsibility of our community to continue to provide clear, factual, and responsive engagement to the public—regardless of how silly or wrong PETA’s tactics appear.

In the case of the Madison Metro bus ad campaign, we encourage the public and journalists who are interested in learning about the science– why it is conducted, the discoveries of the scientific team, the clinical applications, and the treatment of the animals—to take the time to learn more. The scientist and the University of Wisconsin have written extensively about the work. They have placed videos, photographs, interviews, papers, and point-by-point responses to PETA’s allegations in public view (more here). In fact, the scientist targeted by PETA for several years has provided a lab tour and interview to a local journalist.

Representatives of the university administration and animal research program have also consistently engaged with the media in a way that goes far beyond boilerplate responses and the university has hosted public discussions that have included contributions from both scientists and animal rights activists. At the time when PETA first made their allegations 65 of Prof. Yin’s colleagues even backed an Op-Ed piece written for the local newspaper. In other words – and no surprise –there is more to the story than a bus shrink-wrapped with a PETA billboard.  UW-Madison has made that clear time and again, with consistent and sustained effort to provide the public with clear, factual information and to engage when questions are asked.  More than that though, they also have a strong track record and commitment to science education and outreach in a great many venues.

While it is tempting to dismiss PETA’s tactics, it is worth public consideration that there is a sure long-term harm of acting on PETA’s commands without understanding the consequences to public interests, public health and the science that serves all of us. The scientific, academic, advocacy, patient, and other communities, on the other hand, know the value of the work that Prof. Yin and his colleagues are doing and can view this latest campaign as yet another time to speak up for the research.

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Animal welfare inspectors clear UW-Madison cat research of PETA allegations, important hearing research continues

A second federal agency charged with oversight of animal research has completed a thorough investigation of an animal rights group’s complaints about sound localization research with cats at the University of Wisconsin. Summary of the result:  “there was no direct noncompliance with the PHS Policy or serious deviation from the provisions of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.”

We have written previously (here, here, here) about reviews conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This time the report is from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW).  Once again, the complaint by PETA is based on hundreds of pages of records that the animal rights group received from the UW via open records requests.  In response to these complaints both federal agencies have sent teams that include veterinarians to look at the animals, records, and research at UW-Madison.

new graphic - AR cycle 10.07.13 ajbIn addition to the USDA and OLAW reviews, during this period the NIH institute funding the sound localization project, the National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders (NIDCD), also took action. NIDCD suspended one part of the research— but not the entire project— from April-September 2013 when the final report was issued. Whether the suspension was the result of PETA’s allegations is not clear. What is clear is that the NIH and scientific community have long supported and valued this specific research and– more broadly–  the contribution of animal models to success in this field and advances in scientific understanding and human health. The PI of this work, Professor Tom Yin, has been funded by NIH for many years. As is the case of all NIH-funded research, a competitive expert scientific panel provides rigorous critical analysis of the proposed science. Only a small fraction of proposals are identified as valuable, worthwhile, and likely to succeed. In this case, the PI’s research was deemed justifiable and worthy following scientific review, NIH review, and IACUC review. Furthermore, the scientific contributions Yin’s work is evident in many ways. For example, it is widely cited in the field (e.g., over 5000 citations of his scientific papers). Yin discusses the targeted research in these videos:

In brief, Professor Yin’s laboratory conducts fundamental basic research that has resulted in better understanding of complex brain function and how hearing works. By using a combination of electrophysiological recordings, anatomical studies and behavioral studies, the lab is studying the mechanisms used by the brain to put together inputs from the two ears to improve hearing. The scientific discoveries have public benefit because they provide foundational understanding with broad applicability. Knowing how the brain integrates sound received by both ears and how that allows for localization of sounds is an important part of work towards improving the quality of life and functioning of millions of people with hearing impairment.

Many types of research in this area require recording and studying a real functioning brain, there are no non-animal alternatives. Cats are among the best animal models for this work for a number of reasons. Among them: most of the information we have about the auditory system comes from studies in cats, they are nocturnal hunters with excellent sound localization abilities, and what we know about the cat’s nervous system shows that it is very similar to that of humans. The importance of cats and other animal models to research in this field is widely acknowledged, including by this year’s Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, and particularly the work of Graeme Clarke, which laid the foundations for the development of multichannel cochlear implants through studies in cats and rats.

As we have discussed previously, consideration of the use of animals in research includes not only weighing its potential benefits, but also evaluation of the animals’ welfare. The welfare of all of research animals is a priority and one that is ensured through the careful efforts of research, veterinary, and animal care personnel. Furthermore, oversight of animals’ care and treatment occurs at individual, institutional, and federal levels. A small number of cats (less than a dozen) participate in UW-Madison’s sound localization research. The cats are healthy and well-adjusted to their work, play, and living environments as was documented in the OLAW report. In that report, external reviewers who had thoroughly reviewed the lab and records, examined the animals, and interviewed the animal care and veterinary personnel, research staff, and scientists were satisfied with the animals’ condition and treatment.  Potential for pain or suffering is minimized through careful efforts: Surgery is performed under deep anesthesia, just like surgery for humans. Infections are a risk, but they affect the animals only a fraction of the time they are in study. Furthermore, infections are caught early through extensive and careful monitoring, treated immediately and resolved quickly in all but a very small number of cases. In no cases are they allowed to be untreated or to cause suffering or unrelieved pain.

OLAW’s summary conclusion, released September 30, confirmed that the research and animal treatment were appropriate: “there was no direct noncompliance with the PHS Policy or serious deviation from the provisions of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.” Furthermore, the report concluded that PETA’s specific allegations were unsupported. The report also acknowledged UW’s efforts to continue refinement in the animals’ care and treatment:  “OLAW found that while the specific allegations did not accurately reflect the entire clinical and research condition of the cats, changes were made to enhance the care of the animals and potentially improve research outcomes.” Furthermore, the report includes many extremely positive descriptions of the animals’ condition and care.

UW responded:

“The OLAW investigation is the third review of the lab and its animal subjects by the federal government, all instigated by PETA within the past year. To date, none of the many allegations of mistreatment made by the organization to the U.S. Department of Agriculture or OLAW have been substantiated. ‘Contrary to the misleading claims made by PETA, the conclusions cited in the OLAW report reflect our view that the animals in the study are in excellent health, are well treated and cared for, and used to further important research in an appropriate and humane manner,’ says Dan Uhlrich, UW-Madison associate vice chancellor for research policy.  ‘Significant university and federal resources have been repeatedly redirected to respond to these unfounded allegations. This is a questionable use of scarce and valuable public resources, which we feel damages the best interests of the public, science, affected researchers, and the dedicated animal care and veterinary staffs responsible for the health and wellbeing of our animals.”

The OLAW summary report, including 36 appendix exhibits, can be found on their website. The UW has also shared detailed information about the research, the reviews, and the animal program with the broad public via its website, release of hundreds of records, and videos in which the scientist and others speak about the value of the work and how it is conducted.  In other words, as we’ve noted before, there are many venues for the public to learn more about the work, its conduct, and the detailed process of regulatory oversight.

What was PETA’s response?

Hint:  It did not include acknowledgement that OLAW, USDA, and the University of Wisconsin gave serious consideration to PETA’s complaint, performed a thorough investigation, and provided a detailed, specific public response on each of the allegations that the animal rights group raised. Nor did PETA’s response include an acknowledgement that perhaps they were wrong.  And nothing in their public responses indicated – front and center – that PETA’s mission and objective is to end all animal research. PETA’s position is fundamentally absolutist. Regardless of animals’ welfare and regardless of the consequences for the public that benefits from responsible, ethical and humanely-conducted animal studies, PETA is opposed to all use of nonhuman animals. Thus, there are presumably no conditions under which PETA would find laboratory animal research acceptable. (We welcome correction from PETA if this is a misrepresentation of their position.)

It is not surprising then that, as reported in the Wisconsin State Journal, PETA’s spokesman did not accept the OLAW conclusion, but rather vowed:  “This campaign is going to continue until that lab is empty and there are no cats in it,’” Goodman said without specifying the group’s next steps.”

PETA’s next steps in its quest to close the laboratory will probably include some of the characteristic stunts for which they are famous. At the UW this has included small protests on campus, the PETA mobile billboard truck driving around Madison, and an actor and PETA staffer gaining media coverage for disruption and arrest at a UW System Board of Regents meeting. Review of their campaign strategy thus far provides a few other clues for what to expect at the UW and elsewhere. For example, last week PETA set up at the campus job fair to recruit for an “undercover investigator.”  PETA’s Jeremy Beckham netted a local television interview with the tactic. Not a new tactic for animal rights groups, as seen in this campaign directed at Oregon Health Sciences University several years ago.

As we’ve written before however, focusing on these stunts and underestimating the broader gains that PETA has made and that negatively affect science and public interests can be a mistake.  In the case of this campaign and all of the associated events, two things in particular are worth notice by the broader community.  First, the way in which PETA used the openness of records and the public responsiveness of the regulatory process to feed their campaign; and second, the use of emotive tactics that encourage harassment of scientists and others in research institutions. The graphic above captures the general strategy used by many activist groups, highlights the costs, and raises a number of questions. In particular, one question that merits serious discussion is how to better assess the full range of actual costs and critical evaluation of realized benefits to animal welfare, science, and public interests.

Despite the conclusion of multiple federal reviews that failed to support their allegations, PETA is continuing to smear the research and to promote petition and email campaigns to the NIH, UW-Madison, and others. As one of the exhibits in the OLAW report shows, the NIDCD received 562 phone calls and approximately 190,000 emails about cat research. While that represents a tiny fraction of the American public and likely includes many form messages, its inclusion in the OLAW report suggests it may have been relevant to the NIH’s response.  No doubt that number increased after PETA linked a form email to its mixed martial arts assault on scientists videogame in order to encourage players to complain to NIH about the UW research.  Of course the game also encourages players to entertain the idea of harming scientists. As we’ve seen before, these highly emotional tactics can have the general effect of eliciting threatening and disturbing messages from those who follow PETA. For example, this recent tweet:

Beth Carter 10.5.13 tweet

The PETA campaign and response following the USDA and OLAW reports makes their objective clear once again:  to end research and close labs. Nothing new there. The question to ask now however, is how research institutions, scientists, federal agencies, and the public should respond to campaigns like this. In particular, this set of events provides additional strong evidence that there is little broad value in engagement with groups that have a singular agenda and little interest in serious dialogue, accuracy, or acknowledgement of the complex issues and choices in animal research conducted for public benefit.  For scientists and research institutions interested in dialogue and better understanding of animal research, using that time and energy to communicate directly with the public about their research, why they are doing it and what it involves makes more sense.

More here: