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.” (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/13/brain-experiments-on-primates-are-crucial-say-eminent-scientists)
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