The ethics and value of responsible animal research

This post, signed by over 90 scientists, is in response to an article published 09/04/16 in the New York Times titled: “Second thoughts of an animal researcher.” 

The ethics and value of responsible animal research

Last week we learned that in the first decade since its introduction the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine has cut the rate of cervical cancer by half. Experts estimate that the vaccine could eradicate cancer caused by the virus within the next 40 years. This is indeed good news, as today cervical cancer kills about 250,000 women every year.

Such breakthroughs are the result of decades of research that typically begin with the study of basic mechanisms of cancer in-vitro, the development of disease models and therapies in animals, and their translation to humans. In the particular case of the HPV vaccine rabbits, mice, cattle and human volunteers were used in the research dating back to the 1930s, when Richard Shope first isolated viral particles from wart-like tumors in the Eastern cottontail rabbit.

Medical history is replete with such stories and their contribution to human health is undeniable. A couple of generations ago a visit to a physician might have resulted in a recommendation to induce vomiting, diarrhea or, more commonly, bleeding. Diphtheria, mumps, measles and polio were common and untreatable. Treatment for mental health disorders included malarial shock therapy, lobotomy, lifelong institutionalization, and worse. Life expectancy in the U.S. was less than 50 years; it is now close to 80 years.

Animal research was instrumental in most of these past achievements, and the overwhelming majority of scientists agree that the use of animals in research is critical to make progress in many areas of biomedical and behavioral research. However, some members of the public and a few scientists express doubt about the moral justification for the work.

Such is the case with Professor John Gluck, a former primate researcher who conducted lab research decades ago, in the 1960s-1980s, during a time with different standards and regulations compared to contemporary practice. Gluck writes about his own ethical unease which eventually led him to abandon his work with animals and to argue that the existing system for reviewing and conducting animal research should be revised. Gluck appears to think that if others have not arrived at his same conclusion it must be because of their failure to engage in moral reasoning.

Studies in rhesus macaques first indicated that Tenofovir could block HIV infection. Photo: Understanding Animal Research

Studies in rhesus macaques first indicated that Tenofovir could block HIV infection. Photo: Understanding Animal Research

The fact is that most scientists and the public have wrestled with moral questions about the use of animals in research for over 100 years. The results of this ongoing, thoughtful reflection are personal and professional codes of ethics, laws and regulations in the US and other countries, and widespread societal changes in our views and treatment of other animals. Society as a whole considers as morally permissible the regulated and justified use of animals to advance medical knowledge, to improve the well-being of human and nonhuman animals alike, and to understand the health of the environment.

Had animal research leading to the HPV vaccine been banned, cervical cancer today would continue to kill women at a constant rate. Many of us believe that there is a moral imperative to use scientific knowledge and research skills to improve the lives of these women by means of well-regulated, responsible animal research. Opponents may argue that such research should be banned because all nonhuman animals deserve equal moral concern to what we offer human beings.

Image of mice courtesy of Understanding Animal Research

Image of mice courtesy of Understanding Animal Research

As a society we must grapple with and debate these questions and arrive at a democratic decision to such moral disputes. It is unfortunate that meaningful debate is impeded when critics attack the work by falsely claiming that animal research has no value for human health. They incorrectly assert that scientists can do as they please in their laboratories or, worse, that scientists, veterinarians and technicians do not truly care about the well-being of their animal subjects. And they mislead the public by claiming that alternatives exist (such as computer simulations, cell culture, human testing) that can fully substitute the goals of animal research. Indeed, Professor Gluck attempted to reinforce such falsehoods about animal research and animal researchers in his op-ed piece.

The truth is that the care and treatment of animal subjects is protected not only by carefully specified standards, but also by a well-developed federal oversight system that is transparent to the public. Alternatives are used when they exist and when it is possible. Scientists themselves have worked effectively to produce many of the alternative methods and to continue to refine practices to improve animal welfare. The weighing of scientific objectives with consideration of animal welfare is required by law before the approval of any experimental protocol.

Gluck argues that the US government should convene a national commission to consider the ethical treatment of nonhuman animals in medical research. However, he must recognize that animals in research studies are just a small fraction of all animals used by humans for a wide range of purposes that include food, entertainment, labor, clothing, and companionship.

The comparison is particularly true with respect to the number of chickens, turkeys, cows, pigs, and fish that are eaten. But even restricting the discussion to nonhuman primates (the topic of Gluck’s essay) it is also the case that nonhuman primates are a small, but important, fraction- generally less than 1%- of captive animals involved in research. Furthermore, in the US, there are just over 1,000 facilities that house nonhuman primates and that are licensed or registered with the USDA. Of those, fewer than 20% are research-registered facilities. The gross majority are licensed zoos, or various entertainment venues for the public.

Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

Dr. Gluck and others have called on NIH to review its ethical practices when, in fact, following their logic, they should be asking the FDA for a moral justification for the production and consumption of filet mignon. Eating a steak has never saved a life; vaccines and therapies developed with the use of animals in research do so every single day. When such inversion of priorities is made evident, one must conclude that it is not those seeking to advance knowledge and human health via carefully regulated work who are at fault in their moral reasoning.

Moral decisions about the use of animals in research require consideration of the fact that science does not provide a recipe that will lead us directly to a cure for an illness. Instead, it provides a recipe to understand incrementally the physical and biological processes in nature, which we can then apply to make this a better world by reducing suffering for humans and for other animals.

Scientists, students, veterinarians, and staff who engage in biomedical and behavioral research with animals do it not because they have failed to consider the moral issues. They do it precisely because they have thought about them carefully and arrived at the conclusion that failing to do the research would prevent us from developing new cures, such as the HPV vaccine that now stands to eradicate cervical cancer, or being prepared to face new threats, such as confronting the Zika virus.

As the National Institutes of Health convenes this week to examine the science and ethics of research with nonhuman primates, one must remember the important contributions the work has made to the study of child health and development, diabetes and obesity, mental health, transplant tolerance, vaccines, HIV/AIDS, deep brain stimulation (DBS) and the development of brain-machine interfaces, among many other areas. Evidence for the contributions of animal research to such advances is widely available, including most recently, in a white paper. It is this evidence that provides the foundation for why animal research — occurring within an ethical and regulatory framework that requires consideration of both scientific objectives and animal welfare — is endorsed by a wide range of scientific and medical organizations.

Dario L. Ringach, PhD, Departments of Neurobiology & Psychology, University of California Los Angeles

Allyson J. Bennett, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Megan R. Gunnar, PhD, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota

Mark A. Krause, PhD, Department of Psychology, Southern Oregon University

Mary Dozier, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Delaware

Aaron Batista, PhD, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh

Bijan Pesaran, PhD, Center for Neural Science, New York University

Brittany R. Howell, PhD, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota

Greg Horwitz, PhD, Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Washington

John P. Capitanio, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of California-Davis

Jose Carmena, PhD, Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley

Robert A. Shapiro PhD, Department of Neuroscience, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Koen Van Rompay, DVM, PhD, California National Primate Research Center

David Jentsch, PhD, Department of Psychology, Binghamton University

George F. Michel, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina-Greensboro

Chana Akins, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Kentucky

Ian Nauhaus, PhD, Center for Perceptual Systems, University of Texas at Austin

Kimberley A. Phillips, PhD, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Program, Trinity University

Drake Morgan, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Florida

Michael Shadlen, MD/PhD, The Kavli Institute for Neuroscience, Columbia University

Ed Callaway, PhD,  The Salk Institute for Biological Sciences

Eliza Bliss-Moreau, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of California-Davis

Mehrdad Jazayeri, PhD, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, MIT

Wayne E. Pratt, PhD, Department of Psychology, Wake Forest University

Ken Miller, PhD, Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, Columbia University

Kristina Nielsen, PhD, The Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute, Johns Hopkins University

Mary E. Cain, PhD, Department of Psychological Sciences, Kansas State University

Mar Sanchez, PhD, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Emory University

Anthony Movshon, PhD, Center for Neural Science, New York University

Michael E. Goldberg, MD, Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry, Columbia University

Michele Basso, PhD, Brain Research Institute, University of California Los Angeles

Andreas Tolias, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine

Margaret Livingstone, PhD, Harvard Medical School

Doris Tsao, PhD, Department of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology

Dora Angelaki, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine

Jeff Weiner, PhD, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Wake Forest School of Medicine

Elizabeth Simpson, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Miami

Robert Wurtz. PhD, Scientist Emeritus, NIH

Christian R. Abee, DVM, DACLAM, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Jon Levine, PhD, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

John H. Morrison, PhD, California National Primate Research Center, University of California Davis

Paul Johnson, MD,  Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University

Nancy L Haigwood, PhD, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Oregon Health & Science University

Michael Mustari, PhD, Washington National Primate Research Center, University of Washington

Andrew A. Lackner, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVP, Tulane National Primate Research Center, Tulane University Health Sciences Center

Alessandra Angelucci, PhD, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Utah

Brenda McCowan, PhD, Population Health & Reproduction School of Veterinary Medicine, UC-Davis

Alan Brady DVM, ACLAM, Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Lisa Savage, PhD, Department of Psychology, Binghamton University

Steven J. Schapiro, PhD, Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Nicolle Matthews-Carr, PhD, BCBA-D

Stephen I Helms Tillery, PhD, School of Biological & Health Systems Engineering, Arizona State University

Regina Gazes, PhD, Department of Psychology, Bucknell University

Nim Tottenham, PhD, Department of Psychology, Columbia University

Michael J. Beran, PhD, Department of Psychology, Georgia State University

Doug Wallace, PhD, Psychology Department, Northern Illinois University

Gary Greenberg PhD, Professor Emeritus, Psychology, Wichita State University

Richard Born, MD, Harvard Medical School

Lee E. Miller, PhD, Departments of Physiology & Biomedical Engineering, Northwestern University

Paul M Plotsky, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Emory University

John J. Sakon, PhD, Center for Neural Science, New York University

Rick A. Finch, PhD, Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Charles R. Menzel, PhD, Language Research Center, Georgia State University

Farran Briggs, PhD, Department of Physiology and Neurobiology, Dartmouth University

Alan M. Daniel, PhD, Department of Social Science, Glenville State College

Corrina Ross, PhD, Department of Biology, Texas A&M University

Cynthia Anne Crawford, PhD, Department of Psychology, California State University

William D. Hopkins, PhD, Neuroscience Institute, Georgia State University

Klaus A. Miczek, PhD, Department of Psychology, Sackler School of Biomedical Sciences, Tufts University

Jeffrey Schall, PhD, Psychological Sciences, Vanderbilt University

David A. Washburn, PhD, Department of Psychology, Georgia State University

Gene P. Sackett, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology and National Primate Research Center, University of Washington

Jerrold S. Meyer, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts

Lynn Fairbanks, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA

Moshe Syzf, PhD, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University

Mark Seagraves, PhD, Department of Neurobiology, Northwestern University

Thomas Albright, PhD, Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Peter J. Pierre, PhD, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, UW-Madison

Jack Bergman, PhD, Department of Behavioral Biology, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School

Michael A. Taffe, PhD, The Scripps Research Institute

Kim Wallen, PhD, Department of Psychology and Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University

John A. Vanchiere, MD, PhD, Department of Pediatrics, LSU Health Sciences Center – Shreveport

Anita A Disney, PhD, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University

Limin Chen, MD, PhD, Department of Radiology & Radiological Sciences, Vanderbilt University

Stanton B. Gray, DVM, PhD, DACLAM, Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

David Abbott, PhD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Ramnarayan Ramachandran, PhD, Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Dorothy M. Fragaszy, PhD, Behavioral and Brain Sciences Program, Psychology Department, University of Georgia

Joe H. Simmons, DVM, PhD, DACLAM, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Kathleen A. Grant, PhD, Department of Behavioral Neuroscience, Oregon Health Sciences University

Gary Dunbar, PhD, Department of Psychology, Central Michigan University

Paul Glimcher, PhD, Professor of Neural Science, Psychology and Economics, New York University

Larry Williams, PhD, Department of Veterinary Sciences, UT MD Anderson Cancer Center

Julie M. Worlein, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Washington

Nathan Fox, PhD, Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology, University of Maryland

Mary Dallman, PhD, Emerita, Department of
Physiology, University of California, San Francisco

W. Thomas Boyce, MD, Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco

Philip H. Knight Chair, PhD, PSI Center for Translational Neuroscience,  University of Oregon

The signatories here are expressing their personal views which do not necessarily reflect those of their institutions.

31 responses to “The ethics and value of responsible animal research

  1. Pingback: Looking Back, Looking Forward – Welcoming in 2017 | Speaking of Research

  2. This article talks a lot about “facts” yet shows sugar coated pictures of lab animals in what is considered luxurious uncommon accommodations. Fact: according to federal regulations that this article claims assures “animal welfare”, a cage for a macaque (pictured above) is required to be a few feet by a few feet, and the animal is required to have “mental stimulation” which at minimum means one toy. Usually a dog chew toy. Fact: most research institutions including the NIH mentioned follows these bare minimum standards and in no way would you find most nhp’s housed in a set up like the one you see pictured.
    Fact: mice are not considered “animals” according to the USDA AWA and therefore not regulated and therefore the set up of the happy mice with nice enrichment to hide, chew on, build a nest (all things very essential for natural mouse behavior) is very rarely seen in research settings. It certainly is not required by law.
    If you are going to defend animal research, use pictures of animal settings usually seen in labs, not sugar coated rare settings.

  3. Dennis Eckmeier

    I endorse this article,
    Dr. Dennis Eckmeier,
    Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme,
    Champalimaud Foundation, Lisbon.

  4. David P Friedman

    I add my support for this letter
    David P Friedman, PhD
    department of physiology and pharmacology
    Wake Forest Medical School

  5. I support this letter and the responsible and regulated use of NHP in research.

  6. Peter Rudebeck

    Peter Rudebeck, DPhil.
    Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry
    Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York

  7. I wish to add my signature to this letter.
    Paula Croxson, DPhil
    Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry
    Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York

  8. Jonathon D. Crystal

    Jonathon D. Crystal, PhD, Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Indiana University

  9. Jeremy D. Bailoo, PhD
    Division of Animal Welfare
    University of Bern, Switzerland

  10. Alexander Maier

    Alexander Maier, PhD, Psychological Sciences, Vanderbilt University

  11. Martha W. Bagnall

    Martha W. Bagnall, Ph.D.
    Dept. of Neuroscience
    Washington University

  12. Brian A. McCool, Ph.D.
    Dept. Physiology & Pharmacology
    Wake Forest School of Medicine

  13. Jibran Y. Khokhar

    I agree with the above.
    Jibran Y. Khokhar
    Dartmouth College

  14. Stephen Mahler

    I agree with the above, and add my endorsement.
    Stephen Mahler
    Department of Neurobiology & Behavior
    University of California, Irvine

  15. Stephen N. Floor, Ph.D.
    Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
    University of California, Berkeley

  16. I wish to add my signature to this letter.

    Adele M H Seelke, PhD
    Department of Psychology
    University of California, Davis

  17. Michael C. Mahaney

    Michael C. Mahaney, PhD
    South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute
    School of Medicine
    University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

  18. David E Moorman

    David Moorman, PhD
    Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
    University of Massachusetts Amherst

  19. Robert Latzman

    Robert Latzman, Ph.D.
    Department of Psychology
    Georgia State University

  20. Katie Hinde, PhD
    Center for Evolution and Medicine
    Arizona State University

  21. Julienne Rutherford

    I am proud to add my name.

    Julienne Rutherford, PhD
    Department of Women, Children, and Family Health Science
    University of Illinois at Chicago

  22. 1. I’m not sure what this means:
    “Gluck argues that the US government should convene a national commission to consider the ethical treatment of nonhuman animals in medical research. However, he must recognize that animals in research studies are just a small fraction of all animals used by humans for a wide range of purposes that include food, entertainment, labor, clothing, and companionship…”

    What is the “However…” about here? Is the implication that the commission Gluck imagines would be required to consider the well-being of creatures used in those other ways also? Is it that such a commission should consider the needs of those other animals first? I don’t see how these ideas contrast. So what if he does recognize the situation of non-human animals outside of laboratories? I should hope he does. What does that entail about our need to reconsider the use of animals in medical research? That it must wait? That it must be joined by others? That it is confused? How?

    2. This is a false dichotomy:
    “Dr. Gluck and others have called on NIH to review its ethical practices when, in fact, following their logic, they should be asking the FDA for a moral justification for the production and consumption of filet mignon. Eating a steak has never saved a life; vaccines and therapies developed with the use of animals in research do so every single day. When such inversion of priorities is made evident, one must conclude that it is not those seeking to advance knowledge and human health via carefully regulated work who are at fault in their moral reasoning.”

    People who shoplift candy from convenience stores are at fault in their moral reasoning, and so are people who violently rob banks. The latter’s reasoning does not improve the former’s. We’re right to criticize and question both.

    That said, there is no doubt that the injustices of veal crates and battery cages are immeasurably worse in kind, magnitude, and scale than nearly any committed in scientific research. But even when we agree about which problems are worst, it doesn’t follow that we have confused priorities when we diverge in efforts. For example, a neighborhood watch might expend more energy on candy shoplifting than bank robbing for many good reasons. It might have more resources to handle shoplifting than armed robbery. The community might experience the former more often, or more acutely, or it might be that they trust other good people to handle bank robberies while they tackle something else. The scientific community does that all the time: even if we all agree heart disease is the most pressing issue, scientists might choose to study deafness because they understand it better, live more closely with its victims, have more resources for it, or appreciate that others are better suited for heart research than themselves.

    3. It’s a false dichotomy in more ways than one. We don’t have to choose between doing nothing and doing the best thing. People should try to prevent shoplifting, even when they can’t or won’t try to help with bank robberies. The best is to prevent both injustices. The WORST is to prevent NEITHER. Even if Gluck and others would do better to focus their efforts on – for example – factory farming, the WORST thing they can do is NOTHING. If the situation of laboratory animal subjects can be improved, then it should be. If anyone can do so, they should be celebrated for their efforts, even if their efforts do no represent the absolute optimal path to a better world. It is no doubt better than no efforts at all.

    4. It might be that the situation – wherein nearly all non-human animals are widely regarded as ours to treat however we wish for any reason – is complex, and requires a many-pronged approach. It’s not clear how to help assuage the suffering of animals in ANY industry, because those industries are so powerful, and cultural attitudes toward them are so entrenched.

    The community of people wanting to help non-human animals are still looking for rhetorical, political, and psychological footholds wherever they can – just to BEGIN the serious work of dismantling juggernaut systems of horrifying oppression. It could be that Gluck – or others like him – already agree about which animals are suffering worst, and which industries produce the greatest injustice. Yet as it happens, they recognize an irrational public sympathy for lab chimps over egg-laying hens. Given the enormity of the task, and the uncertainty of any possible effort, they might reasonably start with chimps, in the hope that improvements for ANY non-humans is meaningful progress for all the rest. If so, efforts to improve life for lab animals, and to generally reduce their real or perceived necessity, is by proxy an effort to do the same for animals used by any measure.

    Might this cost human lives and suffering? I’m not sure. But if it does, then Gluck is in a position no morally worse from the animal researchers themselves: lives must sometimes be expended (or ruined) for the sake of many more.

    • There is no moral difference between killing a cow for a steak and killing a cow to find a cure for cancer? You view these both as morally equivalent acts?

      • Only if you could get food from another source and without killing the cow and if you could also cure cancer without killing the cow. In both cases killing the cow is not necessary. Right? So yeah, apparently we are curing cancer without animal research.

        • I think what Joseph is saying is that stopping the animal research that led to the the development of HPV (thereby killing humans) is a better way forward (or at least easier) than convincing Americans not to eat 45 million turkeys in one day (or doing nothing at all).

          • Thanks darioringach for your charitable reading. I’m not sure which is easier – or even which is a better starting point long-term. But I don’t think it’s crazy, or that it shows “an inverted sense of priorities” if someone does feel that way.

          • I think I understand your position, but if you truly consider attacking research that is potentially life-saving is a reasonable “way forward” despite the fact you think eating animals for pleasure is a much more problematic, then I think you are are morally confused… unless, of course, you deny the fact that the research saves lives.

      • Hey darioringach,

        I think there is a serious moral difference. Above I claim that the former is obviously worse.

        I think you’re asking about (2), where I call out a false dichotomy. I specifically mean this: “When such inversion of priorities is made evident, one must conclude that it is not those seeking to advance knowledge and human health via carefully regulated work who are at fault in their moral reasoning.”

        The rest of the quote is included above just for context. The false dichotomy is: either you have faulty moral reasoning, or else you are trying to help people. I guess it might also be: either you are villain or the hero. That’s not an exhaustive list of possibilities. Animal researchers might exhibit faulty moral reasoning, even if factory farm managers exhibit faultier reasoning. They might also do the wrong thing, even while trying to help.

    • Joseph,
      Thank you for your detailed response. You provided quite a bit of food for thought, even though I struggled with understanding some of these issues as you have raised them. Below I provide an itemized response which reflects my thoughts on these points:

      1) I think the issue here is why Gluck has pre-specified non-human primates in medical research as being “special” for the purview of national commission. Humans use animal in many ways (as the authors of the piece point out) and as you agree with in point 2, in perhaps far worse conditions than those found in nonhuman animal research. As the New York Times piece is written, it is not clear that Gluck fully appreciates or presents the context of nonhuman animal use by humans – and this is disingenuous. The point here is that ethical deliberation of nonhuman animal use by humans should not be specific to primates in medical research but rather to all human use of nonhuman animals.

      2) False or not, this is a dichotomy that pervades the manner in which we as a society think. More importantly, I think it is important to recognize that for the example given, using animals for food vs. using animals to investigate cures for diseases, we as a society have the capacity to effect change more easily in the former (stop/reduce meat consumption) that the latter; and it is we as a society that defines what is ethically responsible. In your two examples of faulty moral reasoning, stealing candy vs stealing money, you are absolutely correct that we should question both and indeed, if a national commission is to be formed to evaluate the ethics of all nonhuman animal use by humans, it should not be limited to primates. Why, because such a commission will operate at a way large scale that any animal rights group/animal research advocate can.

      3) I find your reasoning in this point confusing and perhaps telling? Your starting point is that animal research is bad and that scientists are doing nothing to improve the lives of captive animals. I personally find your comment offensive. I am actively involved in animal welfare research where the goal is to improve the lives of rodents (the most prevalently used animal species) in standard laboratory settings. I fundamentally disagree with applauding or celebrating individuals without context. Science, and the use of the scientific method, with quantifiable metrics, should dictate whether and how we can improve the lives of captive animals. If however, the goal is to end nonhuman animal research/use, then the question of improvement is moot. As written, you seemed to have mixed these two issues completely.

      4) Here again, your language is telling, “just to BEGIN the serious work of dismantling juggernaut systems of horrifying oppression.” This again sets the precedent that nonhuman animal use by humans is bad and that the system is “rigged” again those that try to effect change. Change is hard, and improvement is hard. And as true as you may think “the community of people wanting to help non-human animals are still looking for rhetorical, political, and psychological footholds wherever they can” may be, it also highlights one simple fact – we as a society decide whether and how we can use nonhuman animals. I would however prefer my decisions to be made by scientific metrics, rather than emotional pleas. It may take longer, but at least I can say that I have improved the life of the animal for the sake of the animal – rather than as a vague concept of what I think is good for the animal but may be totally meaningless.

      • Hey Jeremy,

        1. I agree that Gluck does not *explicitly* appreciate or present the context of nonhuman animal use by humans in his article. I also appreciate that the scientific community might be sensitive to widespread hypocrisy about our treatment of animals – for example, that it’s acceptable to torment them for food, but not for potentially life-saving research. But the implication in the signed letter above is that this somehow invalidates or casts doubt on his explicit concerns. I think that’s false.

        2. I don’t understand politics well enough to know how such a commission would be formed, or what its prospects would be. I agree that public, high-level thought about our general treatment of animals is important. I only meant to say that people could convene over the treatment of primates in labs without *needing* to convene over the treatment of animals everywhere for all purposes without being morally confused, suffering displaced priorities, or being hypocrites.

        3. I don’t mean that animal research is intrinsically bad or that it’s incapable of improving life for anyone. What I mean is that if Gluck – or others – try to help primates, that’s laudable, *even if* it would be better for them to help cows and chickens. I’m not saying helping primates is best, I’m saying that efforts may be warranted even when it’s not the best imaginable course of action. Saying that someone would do better by X over Y, doesn’t mean they are fools for doing Y, or that they should *not* do Y, or that doing Y is bad. It only means that doing X is better.

        I do take it as a trivial assumption that if the same research could be done and produce equal or better results with less suffering, then that is preferable. I grant this leaves open questions – is it better to test 5 subjects very extensively than to test 50 subjects less? If primates are not allowed, will it mean many more of some other animal are substituted?

        But it’s not obviously crazy or misguided to think that the project must begin somewhere. And I don’t think anyone can know what the ultimate outcomes will be.

        4. Trivial, unnecessary nonhuman animal use by humans – especially when it comes at the expense of their suffering, and ultimately their lives – *is* bad. But science cannot furnish morality. We can’t ask scientists whether I am right – normative ethics is not the project of science (unless philosophers and ethicists are also scientists). We can seek agreement, by appeal to reason and intuition, but the scientific method will not be helpful.

        Would you disagree that the system is “rigged” again those that try to effect change? I can think of almost nothing more culturally engrained than people’s attitude about food, and human supremacy above most creatures. That alone strikes me as rigged enough. That ignores historical politics, the influence of economies of scale, some of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world, the attitudes of popular religion, and obstacles I’ve yet to consider.

        I’m arguing that we should start from a position of sympathy and charity with efforts like Gluck’s. That change is so hard, and the situation (for non-human animals generally) is so grim, that nearly any legitimate public strategies are a step in the right direction in the big picture.

        That said, if they sometimes result in fewer experiments or increased difficulty in the short-term, it could mean that scientific progress for humans and animals is temporarily routed or slowed. That’s bad, but the conditions of non-human animal use generally is so bad that we should be charitable to people who weigh the scale both ways.

        5. Regarding your research, or animal research generally, Im glad you consider animals on their own terms. Obviously the well-being of rats should be improved qua *rats* and not humans. What gives a rat a happier, healthier life may be counter-intuitive from a human perspective. I hope you enjoy success.

  23. Reblogged this on unlikelyactivist and commented:

    The NY Times recently published an OpEd from a former researcher who states his belief that research with non-human primates is unethical. This researcher, whose contributions to the study of primate behavior and neuroscience were never very significant, now turns – in the twilight of his slowly fading career – to cast aspersions on the work of others.

    His position, better published in a newspaper than in a scientific journal, is a set of distortions & extreme views that must not be allowed on linger on pages of our media or go unanswered. Why? Because this is how lies become truth.

    It is essential the the scientific counterpoint gets wide dissemination. Points of view like Gluck’s are not jokes. They are very serious threats to public understanding of science, and we scientists must set the record straight.