Open letter: Private workshop on the “necessity” of monkey research does not represent broad public interests or the scientific community

This weekend there will be science marches around the globe. Scientists and science proponents will gather to provide a visible sign of support for work that benefits the public, the environment, and the world in innumerable ways. The march has been highly publicized  – rightfully so, because it serves as a reminder that scientific research and scientists can be threatened in a variety of ways that can have consequences with breadth and depth that should be of concern for society as a whole.

This week there will also be another event that has potential for consequences for science and public health. But it is neither a public event, nor one that has been publicized.

The private event is a workshop titled, “The necessity of the use of non-human primate models in research.” The workshop is supported by Johns Hopkins University and is organized by Prof. Jeff Kahn in the Berman Institute for Bioethics, with participants that include philosophers, bioethicists, a leader of the Humane Society of the US, veterinarians, and scientists– all by invitation only (see roster in workshop agenda below). Its stated goals and approach are: “To help address the issues of the use of NHPs in research, we are convening this working group to examine the science, ethics, and policy aspects of the use of NHPs in biomedical and behavioral research and testing, with the goal of identifying consensus findings, conclusions, and recommendations. The focus of the working group will be to evaluate the current and potential future uses of NHP models, drawing on the approach used in the 2011 IOM Report “Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity” (IOM, 2011).

The group lists as their objective: “The product(s) of the working group process will be a report or series of reports based on the working group’s expert analysis, which will include principles and criteria for assessing the necessity of the use of NHPs in research.” (emphasis added)

Detail is here: Animal Working Group Meeting 1 Briefing Book

In other words, the working group, privately convened, is intent on replicating the 2011 IOM process applied to chimpanzees in order to produce their own principles and criteria for assessing nonhuman primate research broadly. This process should cause grave concern for scientists and for the public who rely on research conducted with nonhuman primates.

The scientific community has publicly weighed in on the necessity of primate research. Most recently, the National Institutes of Health convened a working group to consider nonhuman primate research and concluded “that the oversight framework for the use of non-human primates in research is robust and has provided sufficient protections to date.” Similarly, a letter from over 400 scientists, including Nobel Laureates, rejected a claim from notable public figures that neuroscience research with non-human primates is no longer useful. The hundreds of scientists argued that, “primate research was still critical for developing treatments for dementia and other debilitating illnesses.” (

Consideration of the ethical justification for research and of the care for animals in research occurs at many levels and in public space. Public health, including the interests of patients and of society as a whole, is integral to those decisions. The scientific community provides expert knowledge about what types of studies are needed for progress in the basic understanding of biology, brain, behavior, and disease and also about how to move forward with new prevention, intervention, and treatment to address health challenges. Funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, are charged by the public to make decisions about science and do so through a process that involves multiple layers of expert review. Federal agencies also oversee research and standards of care for humans and animals involved in studies and provide opportunities for the public to comment on standards and to benefit from decisions.

The private workshop has the appearance of being secretive while also directly opposing the processes in place for responsible public decision-making. As such, it appears to be yet another attempt to influence decisions about science without adequately representing either public interests or the breadth and depth of expertise in the scientific community. Without adequate scientific representation the workshop conclusions cannot be taken as adequately representative of the current state of scientific knowledge. Without adequate representation of the public agencies that safeguard societal interests in scientific and medical progress the workshop conclusions cannot be taken as representative of fact-informed, balanced consideration of research.

Finally, without consideration informed by understanding the fundamental characteristics of the scientific process, the workshop conclusions will only reflect an agenda biased to reach a particular conclusion. As it is framed, it appears that the question of “necessity” is one that cannot account well for the role of basic research, of uncertainty, and of the difference between decisions based in a particular set of values and decisions about the best scientific course of action to answer questions and advance understanding of human and animal health.

For all of these reasons, the reports emanating from this private workshop must be critically examined with healthy skepticism, rather than taken as an authoritative account. We remain concerned that the products of a workshop will serve to advance an agenda that is harmful to public interests in scientific research.

[Note:  If you would like to sign on to this letter please add your name to the comments].


Christian Abee, DVM, DACLAM, Professor and Director, Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research, Univ. of TX MD Anderson Cancer Center

Jeremy D. Bailoo, PhD, University of Bern

Allyson J. Bennett, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Member and former chair, American Psychological Association Committee on Animal Research Ethics)

Michael J. Beran, PhD, Psychology Department and Language Research Center, Georgia State University

James Champion, Morehouse School of Medicine

Julia A. Chester, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University

Linda C. Cork, D.V.M, Ph.D, Emeritus Professor of Comparative Medicine, School of Medicine, Stanford University  (Senior member of the National Academy of Medicine;  Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists)

Robert Desimone, Ph.D., Director, McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, Doris and Don Berkey Professor of Neuroscience

Doris Doudet, PhD, University of British Columbia

Marina Emborg, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Physics; Director, Preclinical Parkinson’s Research Program, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Lynn Fairbanks, PhD, Emeritus professor, Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, Semel Institute, UCLA

Charles P. France, Ph.D., Professor, University of Texas Health Science Center-San Antonio

Patrice A. Frost, D.V.M, President of, and signing on behalf of, the Association of Primate Veterinarians

Michael  E. Goldberg, MD,  David Mahoney Professor of  Brain and Behavior in the Departments of Neuroscience, Neurology, Psychiatry, and Ophthalmology
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons,  and Senior Attending Neurologist, New York Presbyterian Hospital. (Past chair, Society for Neuroscience Committee on Animal Research)

Katalin M. Gothard, MD, PhD, Professor of Physiology, The University of Arizona

Kathleen A. Grant, PhD, Professor, Oregon National Primate Research Center

Sherril Green, DVM, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Comparative Medicine, Stanford Medicine

Nancy L. Haigwood, PhD, Director and Professor, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Oregon Health & Science University

Keren Haroush, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University

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

J.David Jentsch, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Binghamton University

R. Paul Johnson, MD, Director, Yerkes National Primate Research Center

Joseph W. Kemnitz, Ph.D., Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Robert E. Lanford, PhD, Director, Southwest National Primate Research Center, Texas Biomedical Research Institute

Kirk Leech, Executive Director, European Animal Research Association

Jon Levine, PhD, Director, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center; Professor of Neuroscience, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Alexander Maier, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University

Juan Carlos Marvizon, PhD, Adjunct Professor, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Earl K. Miller, Ph.D., Picower Professor of Neuroscience, The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

John H. Morrison, PhD, Director, California National Primate Research Center, Professor, Department of Neurology, School of Medicine, University of California Davis

Michael Mustari, PhD, Director, Washington National Primate Research Center and Research Professor, Department of Biological Structure, University of Washington

J. Anthony Movshon, University Professor and Silver Professor, Center for Neural Science, New York University

William T. Newsome, Harman Family Provostial Professor, Stanford University, Vincent V.C. Woo Director, Stanford Neurosciences Institute
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Melinda Novak, PhD, Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Kimberley A. Phillips, PhD, Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of Neuroscience, Trinity University; Affiliate Scientist, Southwest National Primate Research Center, Texas Biomedical Research Institute

Peter J. Pierre, PhD, Behavioral Services Unit Head, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dario Ringach, PhD, Professor of Neurobiology and Psychology, University of California Los Angeles

Marcello Rosa, PhD, Professor of Physiology, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

James Rowlett, PhD, University of Mississippi Medical Center (Chair, American Psychological Association Committee on Animal Research Ethics)

Mar Sanchez, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine; Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University (Chair, Society for Neuroscience Committee on Animal Research)

Jeffrey D. Schall, Ph.D., Bronson Ingram Professor of Neuroscience, Department of Psychology, Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, Director, Center for Integrative & Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University

Igor I. Slukvin, MD, PhD, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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

Robert Wurtz, PhD, Scientist Emeritus, National Institutes of Health


63 thoughts on “Open letter: Private workshop on the “necessity” of monkey research does not represent broad public interests or the scientific community

  1. Craig R. Rush, PhD
    University Research Professor
    Professor, Departments of Behavioral Science; Psychiatry; Psychology
    Vice Chair for Research, Department of Psychiatry
    University of Kentucky

  2. Joel S Perlmutter, MD
    Professor of Neurology, Radiology, Neuroscience, Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy. Head, Movement Disorders, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis,

  3. John F. Bradfield, DVM, PhD, DACLAM, President of, and on behalf of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine

  4. On the other hand, Speaking of Research cheered for last year’s NIH symposium that was supposed to be about the ethics of primate research but which didn’t include any experts on primate cognition or primates’ natural behavior, and which didn’t have any presentations from ethicists. So you can’t really claim the moral high ground here on calling for a truly open and informed debate on this topic. This workshop looks like a response necessitated by the inadequate efforts by the NIH.

    1. While the focus of NIH working group may not have included a full discussion on the basic concept of whether primates or any animals should be used in research regardless of the cost-benefit, the organizers solicited open input from the scientific community on who should be invited to attend to listen and or speak. That certainly does not seem to be the case here.

  5. Patricia H. Janak
    Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Department of Neuroscience
    Johns Hopkins University

  6. William C Satterfield,DVM, Professor of Comparative Medicine(ret.) MEKCCMR/DVS/MDACC

  7. Almost every major medical advance during the last century has been made possible through research in animals. Because of their close anatomical, physiological and behavioral similarity to humans, nonhuman primates provide an indispensable translational bridge between basic laboratory studies and human clinical applications. Society is currently facing enormous medical challenges in infectious diseases and brain disorders that include AIDS, cancer, substance abuse, neuropsychiatric illnesses, and neurodegenerative diseases for which nonhuman primates provide the best models and the best hope for improved treatment.
    Roger D. Spealman, PhD, Professor, Harvard Medical School

  8. Bradford D. Fischer, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor
    Cooper Medical School of Rowan University

  9. Jennifer Wilk, DVM, DACLAM
    Director of Comparative Medicine, Legacy Research Institute

  10. Carolyn M. Crockett, Ph.D., Retired, Washington National Primate Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

  11. Carefully and humanely conducted research involving human and nonhuman primates as research subjects is beneficial to all primates, and is critical to responsible health care and conservation. Joseph M. Erwin, PhD, Independent Consultant and Research Professor, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

  12. Mary B. Zelinski, Ph.D., Division of Reproductive & Developmental Science, Oregon National Primate Research Center

  13. I agree with Dr. Taffe and the many others signing here. Please include me
    Barbara C Hansen, PhD,
    Professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics

  14. Mark M Klinger, BS, DVM, DACLAM
    Clinical Professor of Neural Science
    New York University

  15. Chris Boehm, MEd, DVM, MS, DACLAM
    Texas Tech Health Science Center, El Paso, TX

  16. Rudolf P. Bohm DVM DACLAM
    Associate Director and Chief Veterinary Medical Officer
    Tulane National Primate Research Center

  17. Professor of Neuroscience
    Chair of the Neuroscience Graduate Group
    Co-Director of the Computational Neuroscience Initiative
    University of Pennsylvania

  18. Kari L. Hoffman
    Associate Professor of Psychology and Biology, York University, Toronto, ON

  19. Sherrie Jean, DVM, DACLAM, Associate Veterinarian, Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

  20. Non-human primate research, as with other animal research, provides critical insights needed to develop effective strategies to treat human diseases and disorders.

    Gary L. Dunbar, Ph.D.
    Director, Program in Neuroscience
    Central Michigan University

  21. Jeremiah Y. Cohen, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor
    Department of Neuroscience
    Brain Science Institute
    Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute
    The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

  22. It is absurd to discuss the “necessity” of research and the knowledge it gains us. Let’s put in the ethical balance the consequences of abandoning primate research. How ethical is to stand by human suffering knowing full well that research can give us the knowledge to intervene in meaningful ways?

  23. Choice of dinner venue by the organizers ( suggests they have no qualms about the use of animals for food. I can imagine them discussing how to ban research with primates over some “Carpaccio di Manzo”. Perhaps they should have started with a private workshop on the ethics of Hamburger instead? So much for their ethical choices.

  24. I support the use of nonhuman primates in research. Their use is necessary for exploring a broad range of research topics.

  25. Eric J. Vallender, PhD, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Tulane National Primate Research Center

  26. “A good starting point would be the formation of a working group of
    diverse stakeholders who agree that ending primate
    research is a worthwhile goal.”

    This is directly from the Animal Working Group Meeting 1 Briefing Book link above.

    Click to access animal-working-group-meeting-1-briefing-book.pdf

    This ideal is as about biased as you can get. How about a select few stakeholders that have the same opinion as you do.

    Travis N. Wilson, B.S., LAT
    Research Specialist
    Master’s Student-Biomedical Science

    1. Travis, we agree with your stance that the panel should be as balanced as possible. It’s important to note, however, so that anyone reading these comments is aware – the quote you pulled is from a paper included in the Briefing Book, it is not a quote from the organizers in the Briefing Book about the workshop itself.

  27. Nonhuman primate research is fundamental to our understanding of immunology, physiology and medicine, and it will provide our next generation of small and large molecule drugs, and vaccines.
    Joe H. Simmons, MS, DVM, PhD, DACLAM
    Professor of Comparative Medicine

  28. I agree with the content of this letter. The question of necessity has been settled.

    Mark Baxter
    Professor of Neuroscience, Mount Sinai School of Medicine

  29. Reblogged this on unlikelyactivist and commented:

    A secret workshop on the “necessity” of research involving non-human primates will unfold over the next few days. This workshop involves very capable scientists, but the agenda fails to adequately address the range of scientific, ethical and social factors that plan into decision-making on this topic. It is a poorly conceived attempt to address a topic of fundamental public concern without adequate transparency or input.

  30. The use of nonhuman primates is justified each and every day in protocol approvals, grant reviews, manuscript acceptances and, yes, media storms over the latest miracle prosthetic limb controlled by neuronal activity. Such a covert, limited-participant workshop can only have been convened to try to do an end run around the actual evidence. Consider me a co-signer.
    Michael A Taffe, PhD

  31. Nonhuman primate research is essential with contributions of biomedical research and benefits to society.
    Cascades Biomedical Consultants
    David K. Johnson, DVM, DACLAM

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