Tag Archives: SAEN

Fair partners in dialogue: Starting assumptions matter and they should be spelled out

The importance and need for civil, open dialogue about the complex set of issues involved in use of animals is among the points of agreement between members of the scientific community, the public, animal rights activists, and others.  Speaking of Research, along with others, has consistently advocated for such dialogue and has engaged in it via a number of venues, including our blog, public events, conference presentations, and articles.

Such dialogue often takes place without clear specification of the starting positions held by the people engaged in the conversation. The problem with this approach was recently highlighted by Dario Ringach in his posts about a series of public forums on ethics and animal research (here, here, here).

The basic position of those engaged in animal research is obvious in part by the nature of their work. Furthermore, the very structure of the current regulations and practices reflect– both implicitly and explicitly– a set of positions on the ethical and moral considerations relevant to the use of animals in research.

For example, in the U.S., the laws and regulations that govern animal research mandate that proposals for use of vertebrate animals (including rats, mice, birds) provide, among other things:  1) a justification of the potential benefits of the work; 2) an identification of potential harms and means to reduce them; 3) evidence that alternatives to using animals are unavailable; 4) use of the least complex  species; and 5) much detail about the animals’ care and treatment, including the qualifications and training of the personnel involved.  Consideration of these issues occurs not only at the stage of IACUC evaluation, but throughout the scientists’ selection of questions and studies to pursue, peer review and selection of projects for funding (more here). Furthermore, the entirety of the project must proceed in compliance with a thorough set of regulations designed on the basis of the 3 Rs – reduce, replace, and refine (for more about regulation see here, more about 3 Rs, here).

In other words, while there is always room for continued improvement, the structure is designed to require that the major ethical and moral considerations relevant to animal research be addressed by those involved in performing and overseeing the work. This structure also incorporates explicit consideration of changes that arise from new knowledge.  That includes evolving knowledge about different species’ capacities and needs, as well as the development of alternatives to animal-based studies for particular uses.  It also includes  advances in our scientific understanding that demonstrate greater need for basic research that requires use of animals to address key questions.

One of the important purposes of dialogue is to communicate diverse viewpoints and values on animal research. One key to understanding those viewpoints and values is consideration of the basic starting assumptions, or positions, from which they arise.

What are the positions of those who oppose laboratory animal research?  In some cases, these are clearly stated.  In the case of absolutists, the position is that no matter what potential benefit the work may result in, no use of animals is morally justified. This extends across all animals – from fruit-fly to primate. Furthermore, all uses of animals, regardless of whether there are alternatives and regardless of the need, are treated identically. In other words, the use of a mouse in research aimed at new discoveries to treat childhood disease is considered morally equivalent to the use of a cow to produce hamburger, the use of an elephant in a circus, or a mink for a fur coat.

In this framework, the focus often excludes consideration of the harms that would accrue as a consequence of enacting the animal rights agenda. For example, the harm to both humans and other animals of foregoing research or intervening on behalf of animals.  As a result, while the absolutist position is often represented as one that involves only benefits and no harms, this is a false representation. While some animal rights groups are clear about their absolutist position, others—to our knowledge—are not.

On the other hand are those who avoid identifying directly with an absolutist position, but instead focus on the need for development of alternatives to use of animals.  This is a goal that may be widely desired and shared. It does not, however, address the question of what should be done in absence of alternatives and in light of current needs that can only be addressed by animal studies. In turn then, this position is silent with respect to moral and ethical consideration of a broad swath of research and fails to offer a framework to guide current actions.

We believe that the goal of promoting better dialogue would be assisted by making these positions clear and we provide a starting place below.  We welcome additions by individuals and groups, as well as clarification or correction if any are unintentionally misrepresented.

_______________________

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Offers clear statement of absolutist position. “PETA has always been known for uncompromising, unwavering views on animal rights. PETA was founded in 1980 and is dedicated to establishing and defending the rights of all animals. PETA operates under the simple principle that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment.”

In Defense of Animals:  Offers clear statement of absolutist position.  “We work to expose and end animal experimentation”

New England Anti-Vivisection Society:  Offers clear statement of absolutist position. “Is NEAVS against all animal experiments? Yes. For ethical, economic and scientific reasons, NEAVS is unequivocally opposed to all experiments on animals and works to replace them with humane and scientifically superior alternatives that are more relevant and predictive for humans.”

Alliance for Animals (Madison, WI):  Offers clear statement of absolutist position.  “It is Alliance for Animals’ guiding principle that all animals, human and nonhuman, should never be treated as the property of another.” AFA is a non-profit 501(c)3 animal rights organization whose fundamental belief is that all animals, human and nonhuman, should not be treated as the property of another.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now:  Offers clear statement of absolutist position.“Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation.”  And: “To promote through education the prevention of suffering and cruelty to any of God’s creatures, human or otherwise, including, but not limited to their diet, their health, and their living conditions. To promote through education the elimination of the use of animals in biomedical research and testing, their use as food, or their use for any and all commercial purposes; and to protect the environment in which we all live, so that no living beings suffer from its destruction or pollution.”

Humane Society of the United States:  Does not, to our knowledge, offer a clear position on whether it is morally acceptable to use animals in research when there is no alternative. What they do say“As do most scientists, The HSUS advocates an end to the use of animals in research and testing that is harmful to the animals. Accordingly, we strive to decrease and eventually eliminate harm to animals used for these purposes.”

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:  Does not, to our knowledge, offer a clear position on whether it is morally acceptable to use animals in research when there is no alternative.  What they do say“We promote alternatives to animal research and animal testing.”

_______________________

For those engaged in dialogue about the ethical and moral considerations related to the use of non-human animals in research , even this brief list makes clear that it is important to ask participants to begin by putting their basic starting assumption forward.  Why?  For one reason, because those assumptions are key to identifying whether there are potential areas of agreement or none at all.

For example, discussing refinement of laboratory animal care with an absolutist—someone fundamentally opposed to animals in laboratories—misses the point. No amount of refinement would make the work acceptable to them. In this case, the more critical questions for discussion would include consideration of the relative harms and benefits of failing to perform research for which there are currently no alternatives to animal-based studies.  Consideration of species’ capacities and criteria for differential status– if any– would also be a useful starting point.

What about dialogue with those individuals and groups who do not provide a clear position?  Does it matter?  Some would argue that it does not because the dialogue is only concerned with animal welfare and with reducing harm to nonhuman animals, or with pushing forward to develop non-animal alternatives for some types of research. In fact, framed in this way, most scientists are not only in the same camp, but are also the people who work actively to produce evidence-based improvements in welfare and development of successful alternatives.

The problem, however, is that real-time, critical decision-making about human use of other animals in research is not simple.  It does require serious, fact-based consideration of the full range of harms and benefits, including consideration of the welfare of both human and nonhuman animals.  It also requires clarity about alternatives, where they exist and where they do not.  And it requires some understanding of the time-scales in which knowledge unfolds – often decades – and a basic appreciation for the scientific process.

It is easy to argue that developing non-animal alternatives should be prioritized. But this argument does little to address the question of what to do now, what we do in absence of these alternatives, and what choices we should make as a society. Those questions are at the center of dialogue and the core issues with which the scientific community and others wrestle.  To address them productively, and in a way that considers the public interest in both the harms and benefits of research, requires articulation of starting assumptions and foundational views.

Allyson J. Bennett

Compliance at Work

One of the core principles at SR is that animal research should be conducted with the utmost care, responsibility and respect towards the animals.  All personnel involved in animal research should strictly follow the pertinent guidelines, regulations and laws.  Unfortunately, as in all human endeavors, there are isolated individuals who sometimes fail to adhere to established principles. The compliance system exists to detect such instances and take corrective action.

Recently, the USDA confirmed that an individual researcher at the University of Rochester was in violation of the Animal Welfare Act. The University was the first to discover the problem, reporting it to the USDA (the institution in charge of ensuring that the Animal Welfare Act is implemented), who confirmed the findings of non-compliance. The USDA were quick to identify the violations and publish the results, publicly, on their website.  This is an example of the compliance system at work.

As expected, animal rights groups, such as SAEN (warning: AR website), have used this opportunity to attack animal research, promising to “Expos[e] the truth to wipe out animal experimentation”. However, there are two important facts to consider:

  1. This was an isolated incident; and
  2. the system in place to deal with such incidents, responded appropriately.

We say the system responded appropriately in citing the University because the facts that are apparent about this case strongly indicate that this was an unacceptable deviation from established norms for the care and use of non-human primates in biomedical research laboratories.

With very few exceptions (for example, the need to restrict food in advance of anesthesia), monkeys must be fed every single day, with no exceptions or mistakes being permissible. What is worse, deprivation of food for multiple, consecutive days certainly produces profound distress in an animal that should have been identified by the combination of researchers, veterinary care providers and animal husbandry staff who were supposed to be carefully monitoring these animals every day. These animals were failed by the people who were responsible for their health and well-being. We hope that the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee that supervises these research activities have taken comprehensive measures to ensure that an event like this never happens again.

Speaking of Research must condemn the actions the researcher in question.  Such behavior undermines the hard work that the rest of the animal research community does to ensure the highest standards of animal welfare. Furthermore, we commend the USDA and the University of Rochester for the actions they have taken to ensure that such violations do not occur ever again.

The success of our training, accreditation and compliance systems is not only measured by their ability to detect and correct isolated violations, but also in preventing them from occurring in the first place.   Here, we believe it is imperative to recognize the tens of thousands of persons that conduct their research with the utmost care, responsibility and respect towards the animals.

Defending Against the Inaccurate (and sometimes downright false)

Each year, as the rainy season returns to Oregon, so too does another all-too-predictable event: new claims of abuse leveled against my employer the Oregon National Primate Research Center. Nearly every fall, a small animal rights organization called Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) fuels their yearly “National Primate Liberation Week” with alarming press releases accusing my institution and others of abuse.

This of course would be understandable and acceptable if the facts were indeed true. However, in my decade of working at one the country’s eight national primate centers, I’ve learned that most SAEN claims are based on misunderstandings or misstatements. Their goal: to cause anger and hatred of scientists attempting to end suffering for both humans and animals.

SAEN’s most memorable headlines over the past few years include:

In 2010: “Group Names OHSU 6th Worst U.S. Primate Lab; Government Records Document Federally Sanctioned Animal Cruelty”

In 2003: “Research Labs Under Reported Primate Use, Broke Law, Says National Watchdog Group”

and perhaps the most alarming:

In 2004: “’Epidemic’ Sweeping Oregon Primate Center, Hundreds of Infant Monkeys Dead, Charges Watchdog Group”

Any person with a pulse will certainly react to such news with anger and disgust. The problem however, is that none of these claims are true.

Just last week, SAEN accused Oregon’s primate center of depriving monkeys of food and water, allowing animals to live in uncleaned cages and forcing animals to live in housing that was too small. Here’s the release: Group Names OHSU 6th Worst U.S. Primate Lab; Government Records Document Federally Sanctioned Animal Cruelty. (SAEN release Oct 19)

SAEN said that federal documents prove their case. So do they? We’ve posted them online and as you can see for yourself…the allegations and the truth hold little resemblance:

SAEN Claim: Animals were deprived of food

What the records show: In one study animals would not receive fruit or vegetables for a short period because they were receiving these vitamins in another form. In another health diet study, animals were given a smaller portion of food. In a third case, animals underwent temporary change in feeding schedules so animals could be trained.  Food was provided after daily training. Clearly SAEN’s claims of starving animals are inaccurate.

SAEN Claim: Animals were forced to live in dirty cages

What the records show: Cage washing was delayed for one day because it would have interfered with the research study. In another case, the cage washing was delayed briefly to limit stress for the animals.

SAEN Claim: Animals were forced to live in housing that was too small.

What the records show: Monkeys were temporarily placed in a slightly smaller group housing to better encourage socialization.

While reasonable people can debate what is truth and what is a lie, few can deny that at best, SAEN’s allegations are a gross exaggeration of the facts.

As for our previous experiences in responding to SAEN’s inaccurate claims:

In 2003, SAEN claimed that the Oregon primate center was lying about the number of animals in its care. Read the claims for yourself.

Again, not true.

SAEN leveled this claim by juxtaposing two reports to two separate federal agencies. One report contained in the NIH Annual Report lists all animals at the Oregon primate center. The other report, the USDA Annual Report of Research Facility lists all animals involved in research. Because a large number of our animals live outdoors in one-acre breeding habitats (meaning they are not used in research), these two reports clearly measure two entirely different things.

Of course SAEN’s allegation of fraud is very serious, but in this case it was based on either a complete misunderstanding, or a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts

In 2004 SAEN leveled its most incredible charge. That year, SAEN reported that an epidemic had killed almost 400 monkeys at the Oregon primate center.

How did this happen?

The simple answer: It didn’t.

SAEN based this claim on an annual census report provided to the National Institutes of Health annually.

Here’s the report belowIn making it’s claim, SAEN pointed to column 5 of the report – a reduction of 394 infants that year. So where did these animals go? See the additions just two columns to the left. 304 of these animals became adults. The rest were temporary transfers to other locations in and outside of the center and as for SAEN’s epidemic, it never occurred.

So when SAEN is made aware of their errors are they quick to set the record straight? Based on the fact that all of this information remains posted on their Web site – clearly not.

Of Course Oregon’s primate center is not alone in combating SAEN’s frequently inaccurate claims.

Speaking of Research has written about this issue on many previous occasions.

So why are these many untrue allegations such a serious issue for health research institutions such as ours? Because, many times these unverified claims are reported as fact meaning that those who wish to mislead the public are often quite successful. We should all be disturbed when the media reports only one side of the issue and places the burden of proof solely on health researchers.  The validity of claims made by organizations such as SAEN deserves the same sort of skepticism and study as our responses.

So, who will pay the ultimate price for all of this inaccuracy? Everyone.  Every single person on the earth has benefited from animal studies. Thanks to animal-based research, we have vaccines, medications and new surgical approaches. But despite these successes, SAEN and others want us to reject this important method for treating disease by repeatedly bombarding the public with inaccurate claims of abuse.

Hopefully Speaking of Research and can continue to shed light on the matter and convince Americans to wait for both sides of the story before making judgment. In the meantime, we’ll start preparing for SAEN’s next press release.

Jim Newman

USDA gives Primate Products, Inc. the all clear

Last week Allyson Bennet wrote about how animal rights groups often misrepresent the facts in order to further their agenda of ending the use of animals in medical research, citing the example of a campaign against Primate Products, Inc.

The USDA inspection report has now been published and confirms that no non-compliant items were identified during the inspection at Primate Products Inc. on September 20 2010. This was the inspection carried out in response to the allegations made by PeTA and other animal rights groups.

In addition Ed Silverman of the Pharmalot blog quotes USDA Spokesman Dave Sacks as saying:

It was a clean inspection report…there was nothing found that was against animal welfare regulations…Group housing of primates is allowed in the animal welfare regulations…with the mindset that’s more closely adapted to how they live in the wild. These animals do various fighting among themselves for hierarchy…so that will carry through to how they are housed…But if in those housing situations, if there is a monkey that gets injured, we require the facility to provide adequate care.”

We are glad to see that the USDA understands rhesus macaque behavior, unlike the animal rights activists who have made unfounded allegations against PPI.

Speaking Up: Confronting Misrepresentation

Animal activist groups often depend upon sensationalized and misrepresentative stories about laboratory animals to achieve media coverage.  The response to these stories illustrates great public interest in how and why animal research is conducted. Unfortunately, these stories frequently perpetuate distorted views about the goals and conduct of the vast majority of animal research. As such, they are a disservice to the public, undermining well-informed, serious consideration and discussion about an issue that is important to all of us.

Activists take great advantage of the expectation that scientists are now understandably reluctant to offer themselves as public targets for harassment on highly politicized issues. As a result, media portrayals often fail to reflect the reality of the vast majority of animal research:  that is conducted humanely by compassionate individuals engaged in ethical studies designed to advance scientific and medical progress and working under many forms of local, state, and federal regulation.  Like the broader public, members of the scientific and animal research community believe that animal research is essential to scientific and medical advances, but also that ethical studies must be conducted humanely. They actively engage in work to develop continued improvements in animal welfare, identify alternatives where possible, and monitor the conduct of research.  Thus, the vast majority of this community ensures that studies with animals are conducted with excellent care that minimizes any potential for suffering. They also stand against those rare cases of improper conduct.

One recent example of highly misleading coverage of animal research is found in a story about “leaked photos” <warning: AR extremist site> of monkeys in a Florida facility, Primate Products, Inc. The facility is one that is highly regarded for its commitment to laboratory animal welfare and conservation.  Animal activists used these photographs to solicit attention <warning: PeTA site> for wild and poorly educated speculation about animal treatment. At the same time, the story was used to fuel a hostile campaign <warning: AR extremist site> that includes home demonstrations against the company’s personnel.

The photographs show monkeys that are sedated in order to safely and humanely receive veterinary treatment for serious injuries that are in the process of healing.  In news reports the company president explained that the monkeys had been socially-housed, had engaged in fighting with each other, and had been injured.  According to NBC Miami:

Company President Don Bradford said his vet staff was trying to care for the monkeys and that they were injured by other monkeys, not by experimentation or transportation.

The pictures are those our veterinary staff took to document the medical treatment to animals that were injured by other animals,” Bradford said in a statement. “They are completely healed, healthy, beautiful animals.”

In other words, the animals engaged in aggressive behavior that has been widely documented for this species, and that also occurs when they live naturally in the wild (1,2). Such fights usually occur when individuals within the group assert their rank dominance, or during overthrows where previously subordinate members of a troop challenge the dominance of others. Furthermore, the laboratory monkeys had been able to do this because they were housed socially, rather than individually.

Although not always possible in all settings and with all animals, social housing is clearly preferable from an animal welfare perspective. While housing primates socially is a preferred condition, it is also one that carries risk. In both the laboratory and the wild, primate social groups—even those that demonstrate long-term stability—can experience conflict that results in animals causing each other serious injury, or even death.  Sometimes the aggression is predictable, but often it is not.  What this means is that those charged with the actual care of laboratory primates must not only carefully manage and monitor the animals, but also know that both social and individual housing produce risks and benefits that must be balanced to produce the best outcomes for the animals and for the research.

Those canines are not just for show!

What this also means is that on some occasions animals may be injured and that this can occur despite excellent, humane care and without any wrongdoing on the part of those responsible for the animals. Information like this is seldom presented in a balanced way by animal activists.  What happens instead is that inflammatory and misrepresentative stories are pumped to the public in a way that is carefully designed to give them the impression that all animals in research are treated badly by people with little concern for animal welfare. Missing from these stories is consideration of all of the behavioral expertise, compassion, consideration and balance of risk and benefit by the teams of scientists, veterinarians, and staff who care for the animals.

Examples of misleading coverage of animal research presented publicly without essential background, context, or explanation from sources within the animal research community abound. More often than not, these stories are shaped primarily by animal activists who are unconstrained by desire to provide accurate information or a balanced view.  Also notable in these stories is that not only do they rarely receive full consideration of all of the facts, but they also are rarely matched by widespread coverage when the results are in from the federal agency investigations that activists typically call <warning: AR extremist site> for in their press releases.

In the case of the Florida facility, the federal agency charged with oversight, the United States Department of Agriculture, has performed an investigation in response to the photographs made public by activists.  The results of the USDA focused inspection regarding the allegations were “No non-compliant items identified during this inspection.”  In addition, the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare wrote a letter of agreement saying it “finds the institution to operating in accordance with the provisions of the PHS Policy on Humane Care and use of Laboratory Animals”.  When the reports are made publicly available SR will post them here.

Although company officials have not yet commented publicly, the USDA report makes it clear that many of the allegations and speculation about the Florida company that were offered to the media and via extremist websites by various activist groups are untrue.

Speaking of Research does not expect that the activist groups that have promoted this story will provide coverage of the USDA report that shows their claims have no basis. Nor do we expect that they will discuss the real conclusion, which is that socially-housed monkeys engaged in behavior that is not uncommon for primates and hurt each other. In truth, many activists are not interested in the USDA’s conclusions, or in whether laboratory animals are socially or individually housed.  Their objective is to end laboratory animal research.  What they are interested in from stories like this one is their value for generating headlines, media coverage, and public support from those unlikely to otherwise support the agenda to end animal research.

A growing number of activists are very open about their goals and openly advocate for use of any tactics <warning: AR extremist site>   – including fear, intimidation, and violence—to achieve an end to all use of animals.  Others are less clear, particularly when seeking mainstream media coverage. One of the latter is an activist involved in this story, Michael Budkie, leader of Stop Animal Exploitation Now. Budkie is also known for previous misrepresentation of animal research and its rebuttal by federal agencies.

Budkie’s group is funded primarily by the Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Foundation <warning: AR extremist site>. According to its website, the Hoffman foundation is a “Biblically based organization” that believes “our call to mission is to restore God’s original creation intent of a plant based diet (Genesis 1:29-30).”  In contrast to Budkie’s press releases, the mission of the Hoffman Foundation <warning: AR extremist site> is quite clear:

To promote through education the elimination of the use of animals in biomedical research and testing, their use as food, or their use for any and all commercial purposes…”

Budkie does not appear to have any expertise or first-hand knowledge <warning: AR extremist site> of either nonhuman primates or experimental research, which may have contributed to his misunderstanding of the Florida photographs. In his view <warning: AR extremist site>:

What these photographs depict is very crude, Frankenstein-type procedures masked as research. This looks nothing like science, and most Americans would agree this is wrong,”

“These photos clearly depict highly invasive and barbaric experiments which would cause extreme pain and suffering to the animals involved in them, as well as eventually taking their lives. The apparent crudeness of the procedures argues against any level of scientific applicability as well as compliance with federal regulations.”

Budkie also points to the animals’ red hindquarters as evidence of maltreatment. He says <warning: AR extremist site>: “some of the animals may have been kept in restraints too long, leaving their hindquarters red and irritated, as evidenced by the photos.”  In fact, this pattern of coloration is typical of the species, something anyone with real knowledge of rhesus macaques would have recognized immediately.

To be clear, the photographs do reveal serious wounds.  Without question, any of us with compassion feels sorrow that an animal experienced such injury. What is also clear to those who work closely with nonhuman primates is that the photographs illustrate the result of fighting between macaques, and do not reflect outcomes of any scientific procedures or experiments.  And the USDA report provides further confirmation of this fact.

Episodes such as this serve as a warning that the claims of animal rights groups should be treated with extreme caution, and highlight just how important it is for scientists to respond swiftly and vigorously to such inaccurate and malicious allegations.

Addendum October 15 2010 : The USDA inspection report has now been published and confirms that no non-compliant items were identified during the inspection at Primate Products Inc. on September 20 2010.  This was the inspection carried out in response to the allegations made by PeTA and other animal rights groups.

In addition Ed Silverman of the Pharmalot blog quotes USDA Spokesman Dave Sacks as saying:

It was a clean inspection report…there was nothing found that was against animal welfare regulations…Group housing of primates is allowed in the animal welfare regulations…with the mindset that’s more closely adapted to how they live in the wild. These animals do various fighting among themselves for hierarchy…so that will carry through to how they are housed…But if in those housing situations, if there is a monkey that gets injured, we require the facility to provide adequate care.”

So it’s clear that the USDA understands rhesus macaque behavior, unlike the animal rights activists who have made unfounded allegations against PPI.

Allyson J. Bennett, Ph.D.

1)      S.L. Washburn  & D.A. Hamburg. Aggressive behavior in Old World monkeys and apes, pp 276-296. In Primate Patterns, Edited by Phyllis Dolhinow, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc. (1972)  ISBN: 0-03-085485-7.

2)      Macaque Societies: A Model for the Study of Social Organization Edited by Bernard Thierry, Mewa Singh, and Werner Kaumanns, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2004) ISBN-13: 978-0521818476

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.

Pro-Test for Science: Pushing forward… and pushing back

It was warm and sunny Saturday evening when approximately 120 people gathered in support of the use of animals in biomedical research at the corner of LeConte and Westwood on the UCLA campus.

Pro-Test for Science organized the event in response to a demonstration organized by Michael Budkie (Stop Animal Exploitation Now!) that was taking place simultaneously across the street.

Like the April rally, our group was composed of members of the entire biomedical research family (faculty, physicians, students and animal care staff).

Researchers stand up to defend science

Researchers stand up to defend science

Theirs, as far as we could tell, was composed from representatives of animal rights organizations to a few individuals covering their faces with bandannas and sunglasses.  Their group totaled about about 50 people.

Despite various attempts from animal right activists to provoke us by crossing the street and occluding our signs, or by conducting video interviews that would be more appropriately described as interrogations, our group remained calm and explained our reasons for being there in support of research.

One encouraging sign that some progress is being made was that some activists crossed the street to debate our mutual positions in a civil way (as civil as we have ever seen), not just screaming at us, but stopping to listen as well.  Others, unfortunately, decided to stay on the other side and continue their usual screaming of obscenities and threats through bull horns, claiming that science has never produced relief for human suffering, that scientists are only after the money (along with many conspiracy theories), and that we deserve to be the targets of violent attacks.  Many openly argued that any well-respected social movement is entitled to their underground terrorist wing. We know for a fact that a number of animal right activists left at this point in disgust.

Their group lit candles to honor the lives of the animals used by UCLA.  Our group lit candles too.  They were to honor both the lives of the animals as well as to those of the thousands of patients dying today across the world from multiple diseases we are working to find cures for.

Overall this was a very successful event.  Our message was heard loud and clear.  Pro-Test for Science will always be there to stand for the responsible use of animals in research.  We will be there to present our side of the story; to counteract the mis-information and mis-representation of our work by some animal right activists.  We will be there to talk to whoever wants to engage in a civil discussion, and to condemn those that support violence.

If there was one clear take home message is this: every day more and more scientists are deciding that it is time to voice their opinions and to stand up for research.  Pro-Test for Science is now here to stay, to spread across US campuses, and reach out across the ocean to join the global movement of scientists, policy makers and the public that will defend science, reason, and the responsible use of animals in biomedical research.

Regards

Pro-Test for Science

Federal Agencies rebut Michael Budkie’s misrepresentation of scientific research

On June 1st, Michael Budkie, Executive Director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now! (Warning: AR Website) (SAEN), issued a press release that was picked up by some media outlets, including United Press International (UPI) and USA Today.

The press release read in part:

The next industry meltdown may be in the nation’s research laboratories, an independent research watchdog said today after it field a wide-ranging complaint against 26 laboratories, including those at Harvard, MIT, John Hopkins and the University of California, for fraud.

The formal complaint (Warning: AR Website) alleged that over 20 faculty members at these top academic institutions in the US, such as MIT, Harvard, John Hopkins and the University of California, are defrauding the government  by unnecessarily duplicating experiments in animals.  The complaint came accompanied with a table and an “index” developed by Mr. Budkie to support his conclusions.

On July 28th, Speaking of Research sent an open letter to Mr. Budkie, addressing his concerns and explaining the flaws in his analysis.  In an nutshell, Mr. Budkie’s argument is that because researchers use similar tools and animal species, they must be doing the same work.   He could as well argue that a computer technician and an auto mechanic do the same work because they both use screwdrivers.   His characterization reflects, at best, a gross misunderstanding of scientific research.

Mr. Budkie

Mr. Budkie

Mr Budkie has not replied to our open letter.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, his failure to respond might be due to the fact that his complaint was already investigated and rebutted by both USDA and NIH — an inconvenient document missing from his web site, which still contains the original complaint letter.  His recent newsletter (Warning: AR Website), also contains the same accusations, even though the reply from NIH and USDA must surely be in his hands.  Put simply, Michael Budkie has chosen to ignore the information that clears the investigators of his claims, leaving readers of his website without the vital facts of the matter.

The letter from NIH, obtained by SR through a FOIA request,  essentially parallels the same response we offered in our rebuttal.

Speaking of Research firmly believe that the Freedom of Information Act is an essential part of maintaining transparency and openness between the government and citizens,  however, in our opinion, over the years Michael Budkie has done little more than abuse of the regulatory system, requesting documents through FOIA from NIH and USDA, and filing trivial complaints.  Since 2007 he has filed a USDA complaints at a rate of seven per year (Warning: AR Website), all of which must be investigated at the expense of the taxpayer dollars.  When the resulting investigations fail to substantiate his claims, he argues USDA is failing to do its job.

Mr. Budkie represents himself as a “an independent research watchdog” group, but he is neither independent (he is a well known animal rights campaigner), and his “research” is limited to grotesque misrepresentations of important scientific work.

Mr. Budkie misleads the public and the media into thinking that his organization is concerned about failures of the animal research compliance system and that he supports alternatives to animal research.  Yet, his web-site provides negligible information on this topic, making it difficult to accept SAEN as an organization that has a stated goal of supporting alternatives to animal research.

This one-man “organization”, SAEN, is supported by the Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Foundation, which has the stated goal to “restore God’s original creation intent of a plant based diet” and to to promote “the elimination of the use of animals in biomedical research and testing, their use as food, or their use for any and all commercial purposes“.

Hopefully, this information will serve to clarify the only goal of Mr. Budkie’s “organization”: the abolition of the use of animals for medical research.

Regards

Speaking of Research

Open Letter to Michael Budkie

Michael Budkie

Michael Budkie

On June 1, 2009, animal rights activist, Michael Budkie, submitted a letter of complaint (AR Website) to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), with the charge that scientists are performing duplicative research.  Mr. Budkie’s complaint was based upon his own analysis of the publicly available information about research funded by the National Eye Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health. Budkie’s complaint, related information, and press releases are posted on the website of Stop Animal Exploitation Now (AR Website)(S.A.E.N.).  We feel that it is essential to point out that his analysis, through omitting critical details, presents a remarkable illustration not only of bias, but also a fundamental misunderstanding of the scientific process. Here, we identify his omissions and mis-representations and request a response to our challenges.

An Open Letter to Michael Budkie, Animal Health Technician, Stop Animal Exploitation Now

re:  Research industry next to meltdown, charges watchdog; urges federal probe after study shows fraud in 26 laboratories, including Harvard, University of California

Dear Mr. Budkie,

You have recently requested that the federal government investigate what you represented as wasteful spending on health-related research. You believe you have identified an enormous problem with duplication of research, based on your perusal of some of the grant applications that the National Institutes of Health have funded over the past five years.

In an effort to understand your position, we have read your recent complaint to the USDA and looked closely at what you offer as supportive documentation.  Here are some of our reflections.

Your spreadsheet shows that scientists engaged in research often use some of the same tools and methods to conduct their work.  You are correct. The conclusion that their efforts duplicate one another, using more animals than is minimally required to advance science, is not.

Information on the approaches used to conduct a research project is found in the “Methods Section” of a grant application or manuscript. Unfortunately, you appear to have missed the pages of text that came before the Methods; in these sections, you find the nature of the problem being addressed by each research proposal. It goes without saying that – with respect to human health – there are lots of problems needing to be addressed, so part of what is discussed in a grant first is which ones are important and why. These sections also delineate what is already known and what isn’t.  All of these points are addressed in grant applications and journal articles. They are found under sections such as Introduction, Specific Aims, Background and Preliminary Data. Together, all of those parts give the context and rationale for why each particular research project is needed and why the specific methods chosen are the best possible means of addressing the identified problem.  According to your letter and spreadsheet it would seem that you have limited yourself to the methods used in the research, which does little to explain its context.

What you claim is that your “analysis” demonstrates that a large number of scientists are doing the same study (in some cases, over and over again for years). Essentially, you figure that if scientists are using the same kind of animals, the same kind of methods and the same kind of equipment, they must all be doing the same experiment.  In turn, you suggest that the government is paying for the same experiment many times. You conclude that this is needless duplication—a waste of animals, time, and money. However, once again, you misunderstand, or misrepresent, that each of these projects is addressing very different problems, each with independent implications for our understanding of human biology. Indeed, to ignore the question and focus on the similarities of methods is kind of like saying that two farmers, both of whom are planting seeds in soil and using the same kind of tractor, are growing the same crop to feed the same family.

If ten scientists all use microscopes in their research and look at cells from the same kind of animal, are they all doing the same research?  Maybe. Or perhaps one is looking at cells from breast tissue to determine whether they are cancerous, while another is looking at cells from brain tissue to determine whether they have abnormalities associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Or maybe they are both looking at cells from breast tissue to determine whether it is cancerous. One is comparing the cells of an animal exposed to environmental toxins to cells from an animal that has not been exposed. That scientist’s goal is to learn how to make environments safer and reduce the risk of breast cancer.  Meanwhile, the other scientist is evaluating the cells of an animal who received an experimental drug to treat breast cancer. This scientist’s goal is to determine whether a new drug, one that might be effective in treating breast cancer, is effective and safe.

Are these two scientists—both working with the same kind of animal, using some of the same tools and techniques, same type of cells, and studying the same disease—doing duplicative research?  Is it the “same” experiment?  Should we choose to do one and not the other because it would be wasteful to have two studies that might help prevent and treat breast cancer?

You must appreciate that while the scientific method requires replication of findings to assess their reliability, scientists cannot succeed in making breakthroughs that improve human and animal health if they simply duplicate what others have done.  Furthermore, in exercising its responsibility for federal funds, the NIH will not provide support for grants that are not advancing research boundaries. What the concerned reader should know is that each of the grants listed by Budkie is among less than 10% of all applications that underwent rigorous review by a panel of scientists who made a recommendation to professional program officers at the NIH who are responsible for distributing tax-payer money effectively and equitably across scientific projects.

The scientific projects funded by the grants listed in your spreadsheet relate to one another as must all good science, but they certainly do not duplicate one another.  For example, different grants support research on different parts of the visual system and different brain regions—all of which are important to vision.  The diverse grants support research on basic visual processes, interactions of vision with other senses, mechanisms of visual attention, decision making, how movements of the eyes are controlled and how these processes affect vision.  Many grants support basic research on fundamental processes, while others fund work focusing on clinical disorders such as amblyopia and strabismus.

If you add a couple of columns to your table – ones that focus on the problem that the research addresses, you would not only provide a more honest portrayal of the science you criticize, but you would also provide the basis for reasonable discussion.  As it stands, your poorly-formulated complaints, self-referential, hyperbolic media releases and selective presentation of information all start to suggest that it is your industry trying to avoid meltdown, that is being rather too creative with the information you have at your disposal.

Yours Sincerely,

Speaking of Research