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

10 responses to “Open Letter to Michael Budkie

  1. You seem to be mistaken animal welfare for animal rights. I am a scientist working with animals, have lots a rescued animals at home. And I support animal welfare. But not animal rights. Do you know, from humans, how a habit forms? what parts of the brain are involved? what parts of the brain and what chemicals control pain? do you know how to break a real addiction, for good? As per the biotech advances and alternatives you are speaking about….where do you think most of these advances come from? based on data from animal research. You may or may not like it but a computer program gives only as good as the data put in…and the data used to progam computers to mimic life come from data and knowledge gained from animals, cells, chemicals, how they specialize, interact, talk with one another. This knowledge is not coming from out of thin air. To say that animal models are worthless or that animals and humans are too diferent to be useful is purely stupid: we are all made from the same basic building blocks, cells, proteins, lipids, aa, DNA….even the tape worm or flea or fly I am sure you have no problems killing. It may have specialized to fit specific aims, it is still basically the same. Nobody would argue that one model can answer all questions. A human carrying a disease is not representative of that disease either. but some subjects, human and animal model, can be highly representative of one aspect and used to understand that one aspect. Another subject may better represent another aspect of a disease and will be used to gain the knowledge needed for computer model and biotech to be programmed and design useful therapies. You are using words like humane and cruelty, yet you do not seem to even understand their meaning… You want to learn about cruelty…why don’t you go look at images on SPCA website to see what real cruelty is ….and not from scientists but from run of the mill, mom (like you), dad and grand parents (like your parents!), or students (one of mine used to be a PETA member until she went to school and discovered the truth about research and PETA type claims). Putting her head in the sand does not save the ostrich…but you can do like the ostrich and be saved because others with courage and brains are willing to do the right thing for you, your parents and your children. So you may not know about the true meaning of cruelty but you for sure know about self righteousness with inpunity.

  2. I’m confused by the stance of this site. It’s fairly well known that the National Institutes of Health awards millions of taxpayer dollars to decades-long and/or duplicative animal studies. From maternal deprivation tests in primates to nicotine and drug addiction studies for substances long documented as habit-forming in humans (with fetal repercussions established as well) – animal experiments are repeated again and again. Academic research itself concedes that a highly competitive grant culture creates pressure for experimenters to churn out protocols, regardless of existing data. And what’s the deal with “Animal Rights Activists?” People who advocate for animals are moms (like me), dads, kids, grandparents (like my parents), students, teachers, fire fighters, lawyers, accountants and former animal experimenters. Animal rights activists are everyone and everywhere – not the extremist martians that you warn about in bracketed text. After decades of animal experimentation – we know that animal models are misleading due to genetic, metabolic, anatomic, physiological and psychological discrepancies between species. We know that erroneous animal data (and the false confidence it generates) can speed new drugs through clinical trials to market, and be linked to unforeseen adverse drug reactions in the general population. And we know that too many published animal studies tied to “breakthrough discoveries” have subjective findings that cannot even be replicated. In other words: Vested interests such as Big Pharma and grant-seeking academia can set out to “prove” any hypothesis in a controlled setting where non-human animals are artificially induced with human disease and injury. I understand that experimenters extract some valid knowledge from animal models, mainly because those “models” are alive – with physiological processes. But the model is flawed…and can even harm humans. So then, animal experimentation becomes a question of ethics. In this arena, all the advanced degrees, titles, and arrogance in the world can’t top the simple fact: Animal experimentation, by its very nature, is inherently cruel. Closing self-inflicted wounds (self mutilation and aggression always accelerate amid laboratory sounds, images and handling that terrify animals) doesn’t make animal experimentation “humane.” Meeting bare-minimum USDA standards to sustain lab animals till killed doesn’t make experimentation “humane.” A few kinds words from a tech before he or she poisons an animal by tube, inhalation or injection doesn’t make the experiment “humane.” I noticed that your site rarely talks about the animals themselves, or the individuals they are. There is a defensive tone with scare-mongering about animal rights people. Hopefully, most people are intelligent enough to view substantiated evidence and recognize the truth. In the meantime, all of us – “civilians” and scientists alike – ought to support increased funding to speed development of animal-free research methods. Biotechnology has rapidly expanded in recent years, with breakthroughs in human-based methods relevant to human conditions. We can do better, for animals and medical progress.

    • Brenda,

      We stand for the responsible use of animals to advance medical knowledge and human health. We acknowledge that all living beings are worth of moral consideration. However, we do not think animals have a right to life and liberty, as animal rights activists do. (Do you?) We explain the role that past research has played in improving the well-being of humans and non-humans alike (I assume your kids and pets are vaccinated). We respect the right of others to disagree on the ethical issues, but reject their mischaracterization of the science and what we do (as you have done above by regurgitating the same old, animal rights arguments.)

  3. Animal Testing is cruel

    If it wasn’t for watch dog groups going under cover with their videos filming out right aniimal cruelty going on on the labs, you maybe able to pull off your bull shit well written explanation of “science research”. Sadly I know lots of research people who worked in those labs and became wistlblowers because of the out right FRAUD & CRUELTY of these sick sadistic sciencetist who line their pockets with half the grant money and cutting corners on the care of the animals they cut open. Often times they will not feed or give them water as a means to control them. If nothing is wrong with animal research them OPEN the lab doors and let the public in to see what they are doing to these animals. Your sorry letter to the activist is just damage control and it shows everyone your worried the truth will come out one day, so you attack the activist! Shame on you! My friends who worked in research labs offer came home with horror stories about what they did/saw to an animal. Even they knew it was fraud ( in their medical point of view) and CRUEL.

    • That’s just the sort of nonsense that Speaking of Research was set up to counter. If the evidence is so strong why does Budkie and his faux “watchdog group”* have to make up the bulk of his allegations.

      Plenty of laboratories do let the public in to view them, but in many cases this is simple not practical due to the strick hygine regulations that apply to the labs (particularly SPF facilities). After all you wouldn’t just let people tour operating rooms in hospitals without being very careful that their presence will not be a rick to the patient, the same applies to many labs. In addition of course scientists have reasonable concern that activists may misrepresent what they see in the labs, Budkie is not the only AR activist who is adept at this.

      I’m not saying that nothing ever goes wrong in animal labs, just as in hospitals there are cases where individuals or institutions fail to meet the standards expected from them, that is why the various regulatory bodies record such failures and the actions taken to correct them, but the kind of misrepresentation that Budkie engages in is far, far more dishonest than anything the labs he targets have ever done.

      And as for your claim of scientists improperly pocketing grant money, I suspect any scientist reading it will be quietly laughing at your naive ignorance.

      * “watchdog groups” are a favourite tactic of many anti-science groups.

      http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2010/10/the_worst_idea_this_side_of_yo.php

      http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/10/november_1-6_to_be_vaccine_awareness_wee.php

  4. Thru the Looking Glass

    J. Mulica and Animal Support, come volunteer to be test subjects in my lab please.

  5. Animal Support

    Here Here! Thank You J. Mujica. I am so sick of hearing these monies stealing animal killers make excuses. Lets stop the money and see if they still want to do the research…if they are so dedicated to their cause. I think NOT!!

  6. You are responding him in the same way you are critizing him, with retoric. You are only showing that you know all the “protocols” (that we should assume are fulfilled) in every research. You never explained why you are “creating” an environment for a previously healthy animal to “simulate” a human disease (that you know as I know) it has been killing humans for many many years… and still the results are very unsatisfactory. You did not explain how many thousands of ways you can apply suffering to primates (our next of kin) and for how long, when you are ignoring the cause of the disease creating all the scenario to, yes, duplicate a human disease in a lab animal. You may impress some with your scientific vocabulary, but you still do not get the results you are promising using animals. And , in the same way you gave an example, I’ll give you other: you are mixing apples and oranges doing research with other species. You are in a dead end, but as long as you get the money, it will continue. And check your records, because there has been an increase in the animals used, even though you claim the opposite.

  7. Denis Alexander

    Do you really think he is going to respond?