Scientific societies express concern about Max Planck Society’s actions

Last week we posted an open letter from scientists expressing concerns and urging the community to speak out about actions taken by the Max Planck Society (MPS) against Prof. Nikos K. Logothetis, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics (MPI-BC, Tübingen). The letter continues to receive comments of concern and support for Prof. Logothetis from members of the international scientific community. Below we post another letter, one sent today 8/1/18 to MPS President Dr. Martin Stratmann from the STAR (Supporting Truth about Animal Research) coalition that includes US scientific societies (American Psychological Association, American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, Amercian Society of Primatologists, College on Problems of Drug Dependence, Research Society on Alcoholism, Intl Study Group Investigating Drugs as Reinforcers, Comparative Cognition Society) and was co-signed by Italian Society for Neuroscience and the Mediterranean Neuroscience Society.

Update 8/3/18: We are pleased to report that two major international neuroscience societies have now joined in letters of concern to MPS. FENS and SFN have issued a joint letter in strong support of Dr Logothetis. 

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August 2, 2018

Dear Prof. Stratmann,

As scientists and scientific organizations, we are writing to express grave concerns about the alarming decisions and actions taken by the Max Planck Society (MPS) against neuroscientist Nikos Logothetis at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics (MPI-Biocyb), one of the 84 Max Planck Institutes that comprise MPS. Professor Logothetis’ work with nonhuman primates has produced new understanding of the neurophysiology of cognitive processes. Indeed, Professor Logothetis’ discoveries have led to his international regard as an expert neuroscientist whose findings have greatly advanced understanding of how the brain functions, with significant relevance for understanding and treating a wide range of diseases.

As a result of events following an anti-animal research campaign begun in 2014, Professor Logothetis and his team have suffered enormous setbacks in their research and ability to continue their work. The consequences of MPS decisions to bar the Logothetis unit from continuing to conduct research with nonhuman animals extend beyond Logothetis and his team, because it sets a precedent that could jeopardize other research with similar potential to benefit society through advances in knowledge relevant to human health.

MPS’ actions come after a series of events spanning the past three years. In brief:

►In 2014, an anti-animal research group infiltrated Professor Logothetis’ lab. The infiltration was followed by release of edited videotape and animal welfare complaints to local authorities.

►Professor Logothetis published a statement in 2014 rebutting many of the claims made by activists about his research and expressing concerns about the actions of the infiltrator. In that statement, Prof. Logothetis explained: “…even absolute compliance with the letter and the spirit of such regulations cannot possibly guarantee risk-free procedures, a fact that is explicitly discussed and acknowledged in any experimental protocol anywhere in the world, and certainly those approved by the licensing authorities (i.e., Regierungspräsidium) in Germany. It is precisely these acknowledged risks that make it necessary that invasive experimentation be carried out in animals rather than in humans.” (emphases added).

►In 2015, as reported in Science: “Investigations by the Max Planck Society and animal protection authorities in the state of Baden-Württemberg found no serious violations of animal care rules.”

►On February 20 of this year, despite the fact that previous investigations by MPS and local authorities found no serious violations, another court indicted Professor Logothetis for allegedly violating animal-protection laws. No trial date has been set. On May 30, Nature reported that MPS further undermined Logothetis and his research team: As reported by Nature: “After the indictment, the MPS leadership removed Logothetis’s overall responsibility for animal research at MPI-Biocyb, and banned him from conducting experiments with animals and from supervising others doing animal work.”

Currently there are a number of questions about MPS’s response that remain unanswered and raise deep concern. Institutional decisions based not on scientific merit but made in response to campaigns and unsubstantiated allegations by groups fundamentally opposed to nonhuman animal research, without explanation or supporting evidence, can lead to long-lasting damage to science, the pipeline of future scientists, and the interests of the public that benefit from scientific research. Thus, we urge MPS leadership to publicly address the following questions, lest it lend credence to the perception that unsubstantiated claims about research animal welfare violations are effective in ending ethically sound and scientifically valid research with nonhuman animals.

  1. Given that neither MPS nor state authorities found serious violations in 2015, what new assessment led MPS to decide it was necessary to revoke the ability of Prof. Logothetis to carry on with his research?
  2. Does MPS believe Prof. Logothetis violated laws regulating research with nonhuman animals? If not, what is the basis for the decision?
  3. If MPS stands by its public statement acknowledging the risks of animal research, then why, after all these years, did MPS decide it was necessary to revoke Prof. Logothetis’ ability to continue his research?

Further, we urge MPS and others to consider the consequences of decisions, statements, and actions that convey the impression that research is without risks. That there are risks inherent to research procedures, such as brain surgery, is acknowledged publicly by the MPS in a statement on their website. Furthermore, as is the case for all nonhuman animal research, ethical and regulatory review of the research at MPI-Biocyb involved an assessment of the risks that impact animal welfare balanced by consideration of the potential benefits of the research to society. The actions of MPS are dangerous precisely because they suggest that research can and should be conducted devoid of any risk whatsoever. Failing to support science and scientists also raises a risk that affects society: the possibility of ending discoveries that can advance scientific understanding that underlies medical progress.

Signed:

Supporting Truth about Animal Research (STAR) Coalition

American College of Neuropsychopharmacology

American Psychological Association

American Society of Primatologists

College on Problems of Drug Dependence

Comparative Cognition Society

International Study Group Investigating Drugs as Reinforcers

Research Society on Alcoholism

Co-signed:

Italian Society for Neuroscience

Mediterranean Neuroscience Society

Supporting Truth about Animal Research (STAR) is an alliance of eight scientific organizations that are invested in supporting and promulgating ethically sound and scientifically valid research with nonhuman animals. Its mission is to provide a unified voice on issues that bear on research with nonhuman animals and meet the dual goals of ensuring genuine laboratory animal well-being while sustaining scientific progress.

2 thoughts on “Scientific societies express concern about Max Planck Society’s actions

  1. Nikos Logothetis has made tremendous impacts to neuroscience fields with his non-human primate research program. As I am a MR scientist, his investigations of BOLD fMRI in NHP are incredibly important. When I visited his institute about a decade ago, I found that his NHP housing facility is well-designed and better than most NHP facilities in USA. Nobody in the animal research community believe there are any misconducts in animal handling.

    Personally, Nikos is very generous and supports NHP imaging research programs around the world including mine. I owe Nikos greatly. It is a shame that Nikos cannot perform animal research in MPI. I wish he can resume his animal research soon in MPI and lead fMRI research again. I fully support Nikos and urge that the MPS supports Nikos’s research.

  2. I fully support the contents of this letter, and I urge the MPS to put an end to the outrage that Prof. Logothetis is suffering, which also puts European Neuroscience at risk.

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