Tag Archives: News

University Leadership and Animal Research: A Dean’s perspective

I am a former NIH program manager and have been a research dean for almost 20 years.  I first had to deal with the effects of animal activism on research in 1984, when I was at NIH, and have worked on the issue ever since through my role at NIH, my scientific societies and my university.  I also use monkeys in my own research, am listed on animal activist websites and have received death threats.  I’d like to comment on the behavior of the Oklahoma State University administration that has turned down an approved anthrax study.

I find it both astounding and scandalous that an institution of higher education would surrender a research project in the face merely of anticipated animal activism, as the administration at OSU has intimated.  That this was a thoroughly reviewed biodefense study that could potentially contribute to national security, among the strongest possible research justifications, makes this action even more troubling.

This is a failure on several levels.  The OSU administration has failed to live up to its broad national duty to support biodefense research, even after receiving funds to build one of the scarce large animal BSL3 facilities in which such work can be safely carried out.  It has failed in its obligation to both its local and the broader scientific community by encouraging the violent tactics of animal extremists and not clearly articulating a defensible rationale for this unprecedented action.  And it has failed its duty to its faculty by not consulting with them before undertaking a potentially far-reaching move that can’t help but threaten their morale and weaken the overall research environment.

Universities should and can resist animal activists.  If nothing else, permitting emotionally driven activists to interfere with highly vetted and appropriate research challenges the very foundations of the university as a place of discovery, free inquiry and enlightened teaching.  One of the first goals of university leadership should be to uphold those principles.  But this strategic failure is only part of the picture.  The decision is ultimately self-defeating, both for OSU and the larger biomedical research community.  Giving in to terrorists, which is what animal extremists are when they abandon reasoned argument and resort to threats and violence, only reinforces their belief that violence can be effective against animal research.

Remarkably, OSU has capitulated to (of all things) imagined threats. The activists, of course, want universities to censor their own behavior, and to the extent that extremists feel that the use of violence will lead other institutions to behave like OSU, they will only be emboldened.  University leadership should be standing up to activists to enable their faculty to do the research that benefits us all, not trying to figure out how to avoid that role after the least provocation.

The University of California, Los Angeles eventually learned this lesson.  After several unfortunate instances it finally stood up for its faculty and to the activists, who were using public threats and physical violence to get their way.  UCLA took legal action against the extremists, it provided security for faculty who came under attack, and perhaps most importantly the chancellor delivered a strong statement in support of biomedical research.

Many institutions already knew these things had to be done and others have learned the lessons of UCLA and are moving proactively to protect their faculty and research programs.

I know university research administrators are often not loved by the faculty.  But there are many institutions where the deans use their resources to fully support appropriately reviewed and approved animal research, no matter what the species. This, frankly, is what you should expect from all of us.  We should work to supply an environment that fosters research and that supports you if the going ever gets tough.  Abandoning our faculty and mission in the face of animal extremist tactics should never be an option.  To do so because of something that just might be over the horizon shouldn’t even enter into the conversation.

David P. Friedman, Ph.D.

The views expressed on this blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Wake Forest University Health Sciences.

OSU President Yet to Explain Decision to Cancel Primate Project

The rapidly growing controversy over Oklahoma State University’s President Burns Hargis decision to cancel a research project has attracted national attention for a number of reasons.  The November 30th Daily Oklahoman report on Hargis’ decision has ignited discussion and calls for both reversal of the decision and accountability in addressing the many questions that have been raised about decision-making at OSU. Science bloggers—including ERV, Drug Monkey, and Scicurious at Neurotopia– and commentary by their readers highlight the range and type of concern. Speaking of Research provided analysis that places the single research project into the broader context of OSU’s efforts to grow its research program over the past several years. Science magazine’s Greg Miller reported on the story in Science Insider. On December 2nd, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States, representing 22 scientific societies and more than 90,000 members, released a statement:

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) finds the reports of the cancellation of an anthrax study involving nonhuman primates at Oklahoma State University (OSU) to be troubling. ‘We are concerned that this undercuts the role of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), and blocks the use of appropriate animal models in crucial biodefense research,’ said FASEB President, Mark O. Lively, Ph.D.

Animal activists groups have also joined in.  Hargis has been praised for his action by Madeleine Pickens, wife of wealthy donor T. Boone Pickens, on her website. Re-posting a story from DVM Magazine, Pickens places her commendation in the article’s title, adding to it “Kudos for a Great Decision!” and underscores the statement within:

a ‘generous benefactor’ to OSU and her ties to the Humane Society of the United States may have played a role in the termination of the project.

Speaking of Research encourages interest and public dialogue about the role of responsible use of animals in research.  We also call for attention to the major issues raised by this situation, which are:  Who should be empowered to interfere with funded research, and by what process should this occur?

Disagreement about the use of animals in research, about specific procedures, allocation of resources, and national funding priorities are all issues that merit national, public dialogue with an engaged citizenry.  These issues should not, however, be settled by the actions of a single individual who seeks to overturn the decisions and interfere with the processes of the many that are involved in distribution of federal and state monies, scientific review, and institutional oversight of research.

On Friday, an opinion piece by Hargis, formerly a businessman, appeared in the local newspaper and appeared to have the goal of reassuring Oklahomans and others that his decision was in the best interest of his university. The piece is titled “OSU’s best interests at center of decision.”  Others have provided analysis of potential problems with his statement and have called for him to address questions that still remain unanswered. Speaking of Research agrees that there are many questions that Hargis has dodged in his statement and we will return to more detailed analysis of those in a subsequent post if they remain unresolved.

Of immediate concern however, is the fact that Hargis appears to feel confident that he is not only competent to make decisions about scientific research, but is also correct to do so based upon consideration of narrow interests.  We disagree.  Hargis is interfering with research that is part of a much larger family of work that addresses essential questions with relevance to human health. The research at the center of this controversy is a line of work undertaken because it reflects research priorities identified not only by the scientific community, but by state and federal agencies.

The line of research that Hargis is interfering with is aimed at evaluation and development better vaccines to protect our troops and our citizens against bioterrorist agents.  Although Hargis is attempting to focus attention on a single project, the implications of his decision-making about this project are much broader.  Allowed to stand, the consequences of this decision will go well beyond the local community and have the potential to influence the course of bioterrorism research.

It is possible that Hargis does not understand the process by which decisions are made about dedicating resources and funds for research by federal and state agencies. It is also possible that he does not understand the process that moves science and health research forward.  Scientific progress and advancements in medicine most often depends upon interconnection between research projects, collaboration between scientists at different institutions, and sharing of resources and facilities.  The project at OSU appears to exemplify this, with collaboration and sharing of resources and facilities between scientists at OSU and other institutions.  Rather than recognize this strength, Hargis has leveraged it to explain his action, saying:  “The financial impact to OSU would have been minor and OSU’s role would have been limited…”

Burns Hargis

It is hard to believe that Oklahoma’s citizens and elected officials would support Hargis’ decision to act according to such narrow interests.  Although Hargis is charged only with leading OSU, it would seem that he should also be held responsible for serious consideration of how his actions affect the broader public, including the state and federal interests that underlie funding for OSU’s facilities.

Clarification and explanation of many aspects of the OSU situation remain to be provided by OSU’s administration.  We hope that this clarification is forthcoming and that Hargis will make himself available for an open public discussion of the situation rather than issuing statements or op-ed pieces with scant information.  Thus far, to our knowledge, Hargis has failed to hold an open press conference, nor have state officials or regents addressed the issue publicly.

Of the many questions that remain to be addressed, one is whether Hargis has used his office to subvert public processes in an attempt to support the agenda of animal activists. In his op-ed, Hargis appears to deny animal activist influence in his decision:

It has been suggested that this decision was reached arbitrarily and it was influenced by animal rights activists as well as a donor. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The appearance of the congratulatory post on activist Madeleine Picken’s website, along with a previous controversy involving OSU and Pickens, conveys, however, the impression that Hargis’ attention is to wealthy donors rather than to national priorities for public health research.  Applauding Hargis’ action is, in many ways, applauding a course of action that is in opposition to democratic process.

If Hargis wants to make his office the arena for both dialogue and debate about animal research, Speaking of Research will applaud his desire to engage in an essential discussion.  What should be understood by Hargis and others is that interfering in a line of research already endorsed at federal, state, and local levels is an action that is deeply troubling and will receive widespread attention until it is reversed. Hargis is presumably accountable to the state legislature and citizens of Oklahoma.  If he is unwilling to provide clarification about this situation in a manner that addresses the many questions raised, we ask that others step in to do so.  Contact information for state officials is below.

Allyson J. Bennett, Ph.D.

Speaking of Research

The views expressed on this blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Wake Forest University Health Sciences.

Oklahoma’s two Senators are:
Tom Coburn, M.D. http://coburn.senate.gov/public/
James M. Inhofe http://inhofe.senate.gov/public/
and their Congressional Representatives are:
Dan Boren  http://boren.house.gov/
Tom Cole  http://www.cole.house.gov/
Mary Fallin  http://fallin.house.gov/index.html
Frank Lucas  http://www.house.gov/lucas/
John Sullivan http://sullivan.house.gov/
The appropriate people to contact in the Oklahoma State legislature are
probably the members of the Higher Education and Public health
committees in the House of Representatives
http://www.okhouse.gov/Committees/Comm_CommitteeMembers.aspx?CommitteeID=70&SubcommitteeID=0
http://www.okhouse.gov/Committees/Comm_CommitteeMembers.aspx?CommitteeID=74&SubcommitteeID=0
and the Public Safety and homeland Security committee in the state
Senate, who can be found starting from.
http://www.lsb.state.ok.us/

UCLA Pro-Test – Post-rally Video Coverage

420_pro-test-ucla-banner-with-data

After the hugely successful UCLA Pro-Test rally (full report) it is time to turn towards the media coverage of the event:

Video:

Fox News covered the event with a news story and video (embedded below – or linked). They compared the motives of the Pro-Testers and the animal rights activists and included a number of short interviews with those marching with UCLA Pro-Test. In the article alongside the video one Pro-Test organizer explained how animal research had affected her:

“I owe science a debt of gratitude for saving my parents’ lives,” she said, explaining that one had survived leukemia and the other cancer because they were treated with chemotherapy developed through research on animals.

more about “Fox News covers Pro-Test Rally“, posted with vodpod

NBC showed a video review (embedded below or link) with footage of the rally and interviews with David Jentsch and John D. Young.

“Moments later an even bigger group of people emerged, calling themselves Pro-Test – this group claimed animal research saves lives”.

The UCLA Newsroom provided some great footage of the rally (see YouTube version below) as well as a fantastic supporting article, which contained a fantasic explanation for the importance of animal research by Dr. Gerald Levey, Dean of the Geffen School of Medicine.

“Animal research has played a crucial role in virtually every medical advance of the last century,” including the discovery and development of antibiotics, analgesics, anti-depressants, organ transplants, heart surgery and more, Levey said. “Many diseases that ravaged the world are now preventable, treatable or have been eradicated all together. Think about it: Immunizations against smallpox, polio, diphtheria, mumps, rubella, influenza and hepatitis have saved millions of lives, and survival rates of breast cancer and leukemia are at an all-time high, thanks to animal research.”

The video contained footage of speeches by Tom Holder, Dr. Gerald Levey and Professor David Jentsch.

KABC-TV (ABC-7) covered the event (UCLA Pro-Test can be seen at 1:15 on), showing Pro-Testers chanting, Tom Holder’s (SR founder) press conference speech, and an interview with UCLA Pro-Test founder, David Jentsch.

Also weighing in were news heavyweights CNN. They sent their cameras to the rally and produced two videos of the event (click “video”). One is a general overview of the days events, while the second shows the energy of the marchers as Speaking of Research founder, Tom Holder, leads the marchers in chants.

CBS2 shows a video of both the animal rights activists and the Pro-Test rally, with interviews on both sides.

Possibly due to fear of reprisal, many Pro-Testers interviewed by news crews declined to give their full name – however most of the interviews were conducted at the start, before the full rally started and hopefully those same people will now be more confident.

Keep an eye out for our next piece when we give a report of the print media news coverage.

Cheers

Tom

What do you want to see on this website?

Want more statistics? Perhaps video clips of animals in labs, we’re looking to expand and we’re looking for you to tell us how!

With the rush of traffic that the announcement of the UCLA Pro-Test group has brought to this website we think its time for us to put more information up.

Are there pages which you think need updating? Are there particular news blog items you like? (perhaps you would like more news items asking you which new items you most enjoy!) Do you want more threads on animal rights activism, or more on the recent benefits of animal research? It’s up to you?

Please leave a comment reply to this thread with your suggestions.

Cheers

Tom

Your turn to write for SR

I’ve been on holiday for 2 weeks, and thus we can see the updates have been … sparse, to say the least. However we do need more help updating the news part of the website (where this is). If you’re interested in writing any of the following, be it once, monthly, or more, then contact us:

- Animal rights news, what do you think of it! (example)

- A debunk of a recent piece of animal rights misinformation (example)

- A recent breakthrough in science made possible by animal research (example)

Pieces need not be longer than 200-300 words. Science pieces should have a couple of references. If you want to write, but are not sure what about, then email us and we can make a suggestion.

It’s your turn to get involved, so please contact us on: contact@speakingofresearch.org and tell us how you would like to help

Regards

Tom