Category Archives: Campus Activism

BUAV – Spies, Lies and Inspection Reports

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has campaigned against the use of animals in research since 1898. If they had got their way when they started we would likely not have insulin (dogs), blood transfusions (guinea pigs and dogs), penicillin (mice) or asthma inhalers (guinea pigs), among a very long list.

The BUAV has conducted a number of high profile infiltrations into British animal research facilities in the last few years. At least one of these, Imperial College London, triggered investigations by the Home Office’s Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU). Despite hundreds of allegations of mistreatment, the inspection reports have now been published and clears the institution of nearly all of the BUAV’s allegations, save five minor infringements (Category A or B), none of which involved “significant avoidable or unnecessary pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm” (which would make them Category C or D infringements; more information on these classifications can be found on pages 35-36 of the ASRU annual report).

In a previous post, BUAV – Spies, Lies and Videotapes, we looked at the BUAV’s infiltrations of Cambridge University and MSD and explained that neither showed any “unnecessary suffering” of animals. While an ASRU report is not yet available for the Cambridge infiltration (though the video produced to the BUAV fails to corroborate any of their claims, which have also been comprehensively refuted by the University), the ASRU report for Imperial College London (a third infiltration) shows how baseless the BUAV’s allegations really are.

Sheep at Cambridge

Just one of the “shocking” pictures by the BUAV of research at Cambridge.

Imperial College London Infiltration by the BUAV

In April 2013, The Sunday Times covered a BUAV infiltration at Imperial College London (Ranked 2nd in QS World University Ranking 2014). They claimed “staff breached welfare standards by mistreating laboratory animals”, that “[Their] investigation [had] shown the terrible suffering of animals in a supposedly leading UK university”, and that the “reality is … that standards are often poor with numerous breaches of the law“.

The University instantly ordered its own investigation to run concurrently with a Home Office investigation. The Brown Report did not aim to investigate the BUAV allegations (which was the Home Office’s remit), but to “undertake broad and detailed examination of all aspects of animal experimentation at the College facilities,” aimed at improving best practice at the University. The University accepted all 33 recommendations made by the report. In a recent release, Imperial announced:

The College has taken action to improve its culture of care. It has revised its governance structure, improved its ethical review process, strengthened support for operational management and put in place better systems for training and sharing good practice through stronger communications.

Meanwhile, the BUAV had provided ASRU with a 71 page document and accompanying video footage containing over 180 allegations against Imperial relating to the use of animals under the terms of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986 (ASPA). The allegations included (p12) “very large scale appalling animal suffering; unlawful regulations by the Home Office; inadequate care of animals by establishment staff; [and] inadequate enforcement by the Inspectorate“. The ASRU report was damning in its conclusions:

Over 180 individual allegations, made by the animal rights organisation, of non-compliance were investigated. Of these, all were found to be unsubstantiated apart from five formal non-compliance cases which have been completed – one category A and four Category B.

Category B means that while there may have been “some animal welfare implications“, it “[did] not involve significant, avoidable or unnecessary pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm“, there was “no evidence of intent to subvert the controls of ASPA“. Typically a category B non-compliance results in a written reprimand and individuals involved may require additional training.

Furthermore, over 97% of the allegations were found to be unsubstantiated upon investigation by ASRU. The BUAV will have to console itself with being less than 3% honest. However, the BUAV appear to be encouraging unethical behaviour in its infiltrations. The Report noted:

No concerns about animal welfare were recorded as raised by the investigator with the agency.
Similarly, the investigator from the animal rights organisation did not raise concerns through the recognised whistle blowing policy in place at the Establishment

Essentially, the infiltrator saw what she believed was animal cruelty and then refused to mention it when asked by her agency and neglected to mention it to anyone else. Her inaction could have caused animal suffering. Why did she refuse to mention it? Presumably because the BUAV, who she was working for, did not want her to.

The ASRU report found “animal care staff knowledgeable and vigilant”

A similar issue was noted at Cambridge University in their response to the BUAV’s infiltration of their sheep research facility (into Batten’s disease):

The University has robust mechanisms in place for whistleblowing; however, no animal welfare concerns had been raised by any staff during the times noted in the reports,

And the unethical behaviour appeared to go a step further. Cambridge’s response mentioned a section of the BUAV video where a lone sheep appears agitated:

We are careful to avoid causing stress to the Batten’s disease sheep. As their disease develops, they become confused and can become agitated, particularly when approached by unfamiliar people or surroundings. Thus the animal care team is careful not to isolate any sheep from its flock-mates, allow interaction with strangers, or make sudden or unnecessary changes to their routines. It appears that the BUAV infiltrator not only disrupted their routines in the making of the undercover videos, but also isolated the animals. This will have made the sheep appear more agitated than they are when under routine care.

Given the BUAV’s goals of ending all animal research, perhaps we should not be surprised at their tactics – indeed their levels of donations are heavily influenced by how much press coverage they get; itself determined by the shock-factor of the story.

ASRU Strike Again

A second ASRU report also came out, investigating a BUAV infiltration at a pharmaceutical company. The allegations by the BUAV were based on “material and video material covertly gathered by an investigator working as a junior animal technician”.

The Report of the ASRU Investigation into compliance found that:

No non-compliance with authorised programmes of work was detected apart from two minor issues with no welfare implications.

The two minor issues (both Category A infringements; least concern) were both described as “technical non-compliance” and were essentially paperwork issues.

When considering the allegations levelled at the pharmaceutical by the BUAV, the report is even clearer:

Our detailed investigations and review of available records and other evidence, does not support the allegations in the investigation report.
Our findings confirm that the site is well managed with staff at all levels committed to the provision of appropriate standards of welfare and care, within the constraints of the scientific requirements of the research.

The BUAV

Of the £1.3 million that BUAV spent in 2013 (and almost £2 million in 2012), around £200,000 was spent on “Investigations”. Any curious journalist should be asking the BUAV whether they were paying these infiltrators, how much these payments were, and what they expected (video wise) from their employees.

Infiltration BudgetTo remind people of what we have said before. These are not casual whistle blowers, but people who are working at animal research facilities with the express intention of creating horrifying videotapes. There are few endeavours in the world that you could not create a shocking videotape about by filming staff and premises for hundreds of hours and cleverly editing it down to a 5 minute video.

One has to wonder how many BUAV infiltrators are in labs around the UK. Moreover, one wonders, how many BUAV infiltration videos were never publicised due to the lack of shocking footage (even after clever editing)? Be it a school, a hospital, a factory or a restaurant, there are few businesses for which you could not create a cleverly edited 5 minute shock video having secretly filmed for hundreds of hours. So we challenge the BUAV:

To the BUAV we ask you for the openness and transparency you accuse the research community of lacking. Show us the rest of the footage. Show us the hours and hours of footage that never made it onto your final mix tapes.

Will we find hours of shocking footage? Or will we find hours and hours of individuals working hard, caring for animals, and conducting research in a manner which provided high standards of animal welfare. It’s for you to prove.

Speaking of 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.

Insidious tactics of animal rights groups in Portugal

Since 2000 there has been a rise in the opposition to animal research across much of Europe. The tactics of animal rights groups in Europe have been very similar to those in the US, including rallies, hate campaigns, vandalism and targeted-violence. These activists have targeted both companies (such as Novartis, in Spain, Switzerland and Italy) and universities (Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, UK) and they have even targeted individuals (such as Andreas Kreiter, in Germany, who was targeted with newspaper ads). There are exceptions to this increased opposition, for example the UK, where scientists are better organized to counter animal rights claims, support for animal research remains high, and in Italy, where support for animal research has increased recently as the scientific community there has started to speak out.

Though quite predominant in the northern Europe, this movement has been mostly absent from southern countries, with the notable exception of Italy, and almost non-existent in Portugal. However, in recent years, there has been increasing interest on this matter amongst the general public, as well as the appearance of new AR movements that are against all forms of animal experimentation. Moreover, more and more groups and individuals are bringing up the discussions about animal rights.

Groups such as Liga dos Direitos dos Animais (Animal Rights League), Associação Animal (Animal Association), União Zoófila (Zoophile Union), among others, were founded by the late 80’s, early 90’s, but are increasingly active. It must be said, however, that most of these groups are non-profit public utility associations, mostly involved with the protection of domestic and wild animals, bringing together volunteers working at municipal kennels, catteries or programs for the conservation of endangered species. They try to promote awareness to issues pertaining animal rights and they also help to raise money for important Conservation Programs (such as the Grupo Lobo that focuses on the conservation of the endangered Iberian Wolf, or the Lynx Program, organized by the LPN). They do some important work in a country where bullfighting and pet abandonment are unfortunately still relevant issues. For some of these groups, however, this is not the case and, though their tactics remain relatively peaceful, their goals are closer to those of other international AR groups, such as PETA.

One of these, Associação Animal, is arguably the most active AR group in Portugal. Just like their international counterparts, it stands for the “ethical treatment of animals” and opposes animal experimentation, including for scientific research. Also similarly to what happens for other groups, their website is filled with the most basic arguments against animal research, and the most glaring lies.

In the section explaining their view on Animal Experimentation (no English version for the website), they start their article with a photo of a monkey and the sensationalist title “Animal Experimentation: Violence in the name of Science”; this, despite the fact that there is no animal experimentation on monkeys in Portugal. The article goes on explaining to the readers that “in the UK alone, almost 3 million animals are killed annually in laboratories. In Portugal, the use of animals in experimentation is currently an unregulated field”, which couldn’t be further from the truth. There is definitely room for improvement when it comes to surveillance and there is a need for better record-keeping. Nevertheless, the very same laws applied in the rest of the EU pertaining animal experimentation, are also being applied in Portugal.

animal research statistics portugal

Most animal research, in Portugal, is done on rodents and fish. Animal experimentation follows EU guidelines and all projects involving animal research have to be evaluated by an Ethical Committee, before being approved. (Full statistics can be found here)

Another interesting “fact” that we can learn from their website is that “at least 65% of the [animal experimentation] procedures are done without anaesthesia” and that “in the remaining 35% of experiments regularly done, it’s certain that these imply the infliction of pain and suffering”. It is unclear where these statistics come from, nonetheless their use is misleading. Anaesthesia should only be used when its administration doesn’t cause more pain or distress to the animal than the procedure one needs to perform, without anaesthesia. So, in fact, this number may only show us that the majority of the procedures performed don’t require anaesthesia – they tell us nothing regarding their necessity. As for those “remaining 35%”, if they correspond to experiments done under anaesthesia, and if they are done properly, then their whole point is to alleviate any “pain and suffering” for the animal.

The next topic, “Animal Experimentation in Portugal”, seems, at last, to bring us some actual facts: “In Portugal, there is also animal experimentation, specifically in the National Lab for Veterinary Research, in the zootechnical stations of the Ministry for Agriculture, in the Faculties of Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Sciences, Pharmacy and Psychology, in some scientific research facilities and in some private labs”. But, alas, they end the topic showing a tremendous taste for misinformation, mentioning experimentation in cats and primates, which are not used for experimentation in Portugal at all (see graph above). All their other arguments are so commonly used and so basic that they are barely worthy of attention. But for information sake I’ll just leave a synopsis of their two big arguments against animal research: 1) animal testing leads to “dead-ends” that block scientific progress, and 2) while researchers are still resorting to animals as “cheap and easy to get and to use research resources”, there’s no true stimulus to find non-animal alternatives for research. I will not take my time rebuking these, for they have been extensively addressed by SR before (1 2, 3, 4, and our FAQ).

Associação Animal has been rapidly gaining momentum and their arguments are designed to convince people who have no other sources of information than the one they provide. As for demonstrations, they have been relying on the general anti-bullfighting movement, by organizing anti-bullfighting demonstrations, but then introducing “anti-vivisection” signs in the middle of the crowds.

Interestingly, both a review from 2012 and the 2010 Eurobarometer conclude that the majority of the Portuguese population is favourable to animal experimentation for Biomedical Research purposes, most of them regardless of the animal species used.

Interestingly, both a review from 2012 and the 2010 Eurobarometer conclude that the majority of the Portuguese population is favourable to animal experimentation for Biomedical Research purposes, most of them regardless of the animal species used.

Their increasing notoriety seems to coincide with the legal creation, in 2011, of PAN (Party for Animals and Nature), a Portuguese party that managed to gather 1.72% of all votes in the last European Elections (though voter turnout was only 33.67%), thanks to the most basic and sensationalist arguments.

Banners from PAN that can be found on their Facebook page. They all read “You are responsible for the torture, dismemberment and the slow and painful death of thousands of dogs, rats and monkeys every year. And you don’t even know it.”

Banners from PAN that can be found on their Facebook page. They all read “You are responsible for the torture, dismemberment and the slow and painful death of thousands of dogs, rats and monkeys every year. And you don’t even know it.”

Among other things, PAN has started a petition to “substitute animal experimentation for alternatives that – to paraphrase Animal Welfare Specialist Nuno Henrique Franco – makes me wonder how much of what it implies is the result of deliberate intellectual dishonesty.

All the ideals of PAN and Associação Animal are making their way into the media, their demonstrations having more and more supporters and their media attention increasing. Also, the impact of such groups in Portugal is becoming very clear, though their tactics seem very peaceful. Recently, the Bioterium of Azambuja (a central breeding centre for animal research purposes) was dropped by the Portuguese Government after pressure from the Plataforma de Objecção ao Biotério.

On the other side, on the scientists’ side – who should be the first to speak up – there seems to be only silence, either for lack of concern, for lack of organization, or for fear, I can’t say. What I know is that, if nothing is done, we very well may find us in a country where these kind of arguments, fallacious and false, might just be the only ones who actually reach people. And if people and politicians make their judgement (and vote accordingly) based solely on that information, we can’t condemn them in the end – only ourselves.

Inês S. Albuquerque, PhD student
Lisboa

Extremism is Not the Only Threat to Medical Research

Research into heart disease was dealt a blow when Maastricht University decided to suspend a scientific study involving dogs in August after growing pressure by animal rights groups in the Netherlands.

The University gave a statement saying that their Animal Experiment Committee had approved the cardiological study involving Labradors, but that “societal concerns with respect to the use of laboratory animals” had forced them to suspend the study “to take additional time to consider the case further”. The University then went on to assure readers of their commitments to the 3Rs, and say that “in some cases the use of laboratory animals remains necessary to achieve medical breakthroughs that will benefit both people and animals”.

The decision was questionable at best. On 28th August a statement by the University announced they were “stick[ing] by [their] researchers” and not “shap[ing] [their] course solely based on demands of activists with a pronounced view on the matter”. Four days later they announced that the “experiment has been suspended, and is unlikely to resume in the foreseeable future” and that they had given the eight dogs at the facility up for adoption.

So why had they given in? The animal rights group Anti Dierproeven Coalitie (ADC), the Dutch sister organisation to the UK’s Anti Vivisection Coalition (AVC), collected 120,000 signatures (online) and carried out a series of demonstrations outside Maastricht University.

protest animal rights labradors

Protest outside Maastricht University by the ADC

ADC and AVC have been growing in the UK, Netherlands and Belgium (as CAV). They are one of the few animal rights groups in those countries still drawing a crowd for semi-regular rallies and are increasingly making their presence known in the media (mainly local newspapers). Nonetheless, they have a chequered background. Five ADC activists (including co-founder Robert Molenaar) are currently on trial for breaking into a beagle breeding facility and stealing six dogs. In the UK, AVC has similar characters. Its former head was twice-convicted extremist, Luke Steele, and many of its current members have come in from the leftovers of the recently ended (and historically very violent) SHAC campaign.

The research in question had received funded from the medical research charity, the British Heart Foundation (BHF), who have been ahead of the curve in explaining the animal research they fund. The BHF put up a fantastic statement of support for the research, saying:

Recently, a BHF-funded study at Maastricht University involving dogs was suspended after a campaign by an animal rights group. This has been reported in the UK by a national newspaper.

Explaining why the BHF funded this project, our Medical Director Professor Peter Weissberg said: “This study could help to improve a pacemaker treatment for people suffering from severe heart failure – a debilitating condition that ruins the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the UK.

“The treatment, known as cardiac resynchronisation therapy, can help control the symptoms of heart failure which commonly include overwhelming breathlessness and chronic fatigue. But this treatment does not entirely relieve the symptoms, the risk of death remains high and in some patients it does not work at all.

“If this treatment were to be made more effective, it could dramatically improve the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people living with heart failure.

“The researchers are working to improve this pacemaker treatment but these studies must be carried out in animals before they can be assessed in clinical trials in heart failure patients. The electrical wiring and size of a dog’s heart is very similar to a human heart, allowing the researchers to see how pacemakers might behave in patients. There is currently no alternative that could be used to carry out this potentially life-changing research.

“Our research has led to life-saving medical advances for heart patients over the past half century. But there’s so much work to be done and, for the foreseeable future, that will involve using animals in research.”

To anyone who doubts the importance of heart research, I recommend they watch the following video produced by the BHF and a heart disease victim

In the last decade there has been a large, and long overdue, crackdown on animal rights extremism. This is positive, but is not enough. Unless scientists take advantage of this new found safety by speaking up in support of their research, it will still be at risk in the fight for public opinion.

The Maastricht University dog study provides a worrying case study for anyone not willing to put up a fight to defend their research, because in the end, we all lose out.

Speaking of Research

Show that you care about the future of research that is crucial to medical progress by signing this petition to urge the U. S. Surgeon General to Voice Support for Animal Research, and then making a donation to the British Heart Foundation.

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.

Urge the U. S. Surgeon General to Voice Support for Animal Research

Your scientific activism is only a click away.

A new petition in Change.org urges the U. S. Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak, to voice support for the humane, and regulated use of animals in medical research.  It reads:

There is a growing pressure from animal rights organizations that would deny Americans the health benefits derived from the use of animals in medical research.

Opponents of animal research represent a small minority of the population, but they engage in misleading, visible and vocal campaigns that can impact the ability of scientists to conduct medical research with animals.

The scientific consensus is clear — recent polls by Nature Magazine and the Pew Research Center show that 92% of scientists believe that animal research remains essential to the advancement of biomedical sciences.

We call on the U. S. Surgeon General to publicly recognize the past contributions of the humane use of animals in research that has improved the well-being of human and non-human animals, and to stress the essential role they continue to play in advancing medical science and knowledge.

By acting on this petition the U. S. Surgeon General would be publicly reaffirming the scientific consensus and join the many medical and scientific organizations that have already adopted resolutions in support of the responsible and regulated use of animals in research.  These include the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Neurology, the American Heart Association, the American Veterinary Medical  Association, the Society for Neuroscience and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, among others.

Please consider signing the petition and share it with your colleagues and friends!

Thank you!

The marchers begin to walk towards the center of the UCLA

Ask the U. S. Surgeon General to Voice Support for Animal Research!

Birth of Pro-Test Israel

The following guest post is written by Shaul Peretz, a former Israeli investigative journalist and founder of Pro-Test Israel.

Three years ago I learned about Mazor Farm, a small farm located in Moshav Mazor, in central Israel, and the country’s only farm breeding monkeys for biomedical research. All the information about the farm on the Internet came from animal rights activists, who described horror stories.

They said the monkeys are kidnapped from Mauritius and taken to Israel, where greedy dealers sell them to the highest bidder for experimentation, including cosmetic toxicity tests.

For ten years of my life, I was an investigative reporter for the major Israeli newspapers Yedioth Ahronoth and Ma’ariv so I was curious about these claims. Frankly, I found it hard to believe what was written. I began to research animal experimentation is Israel and discovered that the claims being made by activists were a mix of lies and half-truths.

In truth, monkeys are not kidnapped. Rather, the government of Mauritius is begging research laboratories to take as many monkeys from the island as they can. Monkeys on Mauritius are considered to be a pest by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the local government so they control the population by euthanizing them. So the truth is that the fate of the monkeys in Mauritius is death by local authorities or being used for biomedical research for life-saving experiments.

macaque monkey animal testing israel

The monkeys at Mazor Farm are kept in large outdoor corrals

Investigating further, I discovered that macaque monkeys are not used for cosmetic testing, as claimed by opponents, but only for biomedical research to save lives and prevent suffering. Furthermore, contrary to activists’ claims, cosmetic testing on animals is prohibited in Israel, as it is in almost every other country.

I discovered that research using monkeys at Mazor Farm resulted in:

For many years, scientists in Israel have been threatened by animal rights activists. We determined that the person behind the threats against Prof. Moshe Abeles, Director, Institute for Brain Research at Bar-Ilan University, was Anat Refua, who might be called an Israeli equivalent of U.S. activist Camille Marino.

I tried to join the Facebook pages of animal rights activist including “Together we close the Mazor Farm” to bring the real information to the attention of its readers, but it was a lost cause. I was soon censored and blocked from writing. Animal rights activists support “freedom of speech” only if it is theirs. So I created two pages “Uncensored truth about animal research and monkeys” and “animal research is saving lives” that are designed to tell the truth about what animal research is and what it has given us.

macaque monkey animal research israel

The large outdoor areas allow the animals to socialise and play

As a result of our successful activities, animal rights activists began to harass and try to frighten me. They published an image of my then-young daughter, and I had to file a complaint with the police to protect my family.

They set up a page with a similar name to our page (“uncensored truth about research”) and called it “The official page.” As a result, some people who are looking for our page accidentally go to their page and read more lies about animal research.

Top contributors to our page who are physicians, researchers, and medical students have received threats in their personal email accounts.

We are going through a period of a great struggle against opponents of animal research. The Israeli media has given a lot of publicity to the growing trend toward veganism, a practice that many activists share.

The previous Environment Minister of Israel, Gilad Ardan – whose office signs the permits needed to export monkeys from of Israel – has added restrictions as a result of pressure from activists. The new regulation will prohibit the export of monkeys for biomedical research starting in January, 2015, although there is no restriction on importing monkeys to Israel for research here. Mazor Farm is expected to close since Israeli research institutions need only around 30 monkeys per year.

Our investigation revealed what is behind this decision. A month before a hearing was held into the future of Mazor Farm, Environment Minister, Gilad Arden received a private donation from the chairman of Let the Animals Live (comparable to PETA), which was actively trying to close the farm. A State Control judge is now investigating this.

monkey animal experiment playingTwo years ago, Israel’s largest airline, El Al, succumbed to activist pressure and stopped transporting any animals for research and lifesaving biomedical research. As a result, research institutions in Israel must charter private flights at a cost of tens of thousands of euros (Israel has no land transportation option).

However as a result of the activists’ tactics, public feeling in Israel is turning against them. In academia, people are starting to wake up and try to counter the lies.

Many wrote to the new environment minister, Amir Peretz, asking him to change the regulation and allow the export of monkeys for biomedical research so that Mazor Farm can continue. Hundreds of Israeli researchers and doctors have signed a petition to this effect.

As result of our activity and the spread of factual information – the activists lost their “exclusive ownership” of the publicly available information. More and more people in Israel understand the importance of animal research and confront activists’ claims on Facebook and elsewhere.

In the UK, US and Italy, scientists and members of the public have stood up against animal rights misinformation. Through the Pro-Test movements, activists have been challenged on their lies and harassment – this is what Israel needs. This is why I am founding Pro-Test Israel, to bring people together to defend the research behind life-saving medical research. I hope many will join me. If you wish to find out more, click here (website in Hebrew).

I am optimistic that the activist tactics will not last long:

You can lie all the people some of the time,
You can lie to some of the people all the time,
But you cannot lie to all the people all the time.

Shaul Peretz

Animal rights fanatics offer stunts, not real solutions

This post is simulposted with the Unlikely Activist blog, run by this post’s author, David Jentsch.

Fanatical animal rights groups in the US love attention-getting stunts. PeTA creates video games extolling violence and propagates advertisements that exude adolescent sexuality. White Coat Waste uses Tea party rhetoric to insist federal investment in research is tantamount to borrowing money from China. And the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS] reels endless videos of sad animals on the television to raise money for their lobbying efforts, while tricking people into thinking their donations actually help animals in shelters.

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

These are stunts, nothing more – nothing less.

In Los Angeles, local animal rights zealots are trying hard to carve out their own niche in the “stunt” art form. They light candles during vigils on the beach, hand out post cards decrying UCLA researchers at art events and recite chants in eerie synchrony, while standing in front of our homes. In truth, the occasional bizarre chanting during these stunts is slightly less demented than their usual shrieks, threats and harassment.

Later this month, the ironically named anti-science group – Progress for Science – will mount an 11-day campaign to “honor” the 11 monkeys they believe are involved in scientific research projects at UCLA. They will probably once again come to my home and threaten my neighbors, while trying to make my life miserable.

But if Progress for Science truly has the respect for life than they claim they do, perhaps they should consider a different strategy. Perhaps before mounting their 11 day campaign for 11 hypothetical monkeys, they should find it in their hearts to lead initiatives for real people affected by real disease. For example, they could:

Lead a 930 day campaign for the number of Africans that have died from Ebola so far this year.

Initiate a 4,600 day campaign for the young people in our country who took their own lives last year, often due to mental illness.

Kick off a 1.1 million day campaign for the number of people living with HIV in the US.

Support a 2.2 million day campaign for the people suffering from or disabled by schizophrenia in this country.

Demand an 8.2 million day campaign for the number of people that will die from cancer in one single year, worldwide.

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

It is, of course, true that multi-million day campaigns are impossible, but biomedical researchers in many cases dedicate their entire working lives to addressing the harm in these diseases: our own life-long campaigns. Animal rights fanatics could contribute positively to these efforts, rather than standing in the way of progress, but they won’t do that because they are not actually interested in preserving life. They are interested in stunts.

If you are interested in preserving life, then please support biomedical research, including that which involves animals. This year alone, two Americans received a treatment for Ebola that was developed based upon animal research and that likely saved their lives. This is the promise of science. Stunts, on the other hand, contribute nothing, save no lives and end no suffering.

David J. Jentsch

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.