Category Archives: Outreach News

The Problem With Jane Goodall’s “Expert” Opinion

On September 7, 2017, Dr. Jane Goodall wrote a scathing letter to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Commissioner of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) denouncing what she called the “cruel and unnecessary nicotine addiction experiments on monkeys” occurring there. The letter, which relies on the repeated use of opinion versus fact-based arguments by Goodall, is not just problematic, it’s downright dangerous.

This is not Goodall’s first time lending her name to various efforts by animal rights activists opposed to federally-supported biomedical and behavioral research, despite her lack of expertise or relevant credentials. Goodall has often partnered with animal rights groups to attack life-saving science. In March 2016, she supported a campaign by the Animal Justice Project to stop preclinical trials of a new malaria vaccine. In September 2016, Goodall joined Cruelty Free International (CFI) to co-author a letter attacking the use of animals in neuroscience research (to which a counter-letter, signed by 400 prominent experts in the field, was published). In February 2017, Goodall worked with For Life on Earth to call out Prof. Roger Lemon, a notable Professor of Neurophysiology, to criticize his comparative work with both humans and non-human primates.

Squirrel monkey. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

As detailed here, her most recent letter to the FDA, in partnership with The White Coat Waste (WCW) Project, a conservative-leaning animal rights organization devoted to the elimination of animal research, relies on the repeated use of opinion rather than empirical observations or rigorous study to arrive at sweeping – and dangerous – conclusions.  

The problems

We’ll tackle this letter in particular, though past letters signed by Goodall and other notable figures like David Attenborough, are similarly flawed and should be similarly scrutinized.

  • No relevant credentials or expertise: This one bears repeating. Although this should be obvious, to many it is not. Though she possesses a PhD and is described as an expert on chimpanzees, Goodall’s “expertise” ends there. She does not possess an advanced degree pertinent to the field of addiction research, and moreover she has never conducted research in a biomedical research facility. Thus, her first-hand knowledge of the methodology and oversight in these types of studies is questionable at best. Would you consult a cardiologist for questions about your car’s transmission?  Or, conversely, consult an auto mechanic about your open heart surgery? In fact, Dr. Goodall appears to recognize this. For example, in her video targeting Prof. Roger Lemon, midway through the video Goodall notes: “I don’t have the scientific medical knowledge to take issue with Professor Lemon” before going on to demand he debate pseudoscientist, Dr. Ray Greek. The problem here is that the weight given to Goodall’s opinion is directly related to impressions of her expertise and credentials. This issue of ethics of expertise is an important one. Goodall herself may not be directly claiming to be a neuroscientist, or an addiction researcher, but one of the reasons that her opinion may be thought valuable in these campaigns is because she is a scientist. As as scientist, it is worth considering whether Goodall should be upfront about her lack of expertise in the topic at hand. In fact, Goodall’s conclusion that the research is “unnecessary” and that “the results of smoking are well-known in humans” are opinions, rather than statements based in evidence and expert analysis.

    “I don’t have the scientific
    medical knowledge…”
    – Jane Goodall

  • “I have been told that…”: This should immediately set off alarm bells to anyone reading Goodall’s letter. Forget what comes after that – who has told her what she describes? As we have noted in the past, it’s crucial to know the starting assumptions of those engaging in a conversation, and the assumptions must be spelled out. In this case, it is no secret that Goodall has worked with The White Coat Waste (WCW) Project, a conservative-leaning animal rights organization devoted to the elimination of animal research (this starting position itself is dangerous, as described below). The WCW’s site itself states, “On the heels of WCW’s new lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)…Dr. Jane Goodall has joined WCW’s campaign to expose and end this wasteful project.” Put simply: Goodall appears to rely only on information provided to her by animal rights groups to make the case in her letter.
  • Factual inaccuracies: Probably because she appears to rely on the distorted information from WCW, Goodall’s letter is full of multiple inaccurate statements. One example is when she writes, “Not only is it extremely cruel to restrain the monkeys.”  In reality, empirical evidence—that is data – show that restraint devices used in such studies do not cause severe stress to the animals, because they are slowly trained to be familiar with and calmly enter and remain in the restraint devices. Despite her scientific background—which should result in knowing that evidence and citations matter—Goodall cites no evidence for her claim that restraint is “extremely cruel.”
  • Sweeping assumptions: At least two glaring assumptions stand out in Goodall’s brief letter.
    1) Goodall writes, “To continue performing nicotine experiments on monkeys when the results of smoking are well-known in humans – whose smoking habits can still be studied directly – is shameful.” There are several problems with this statement. The first is that Goodall assumes that the monkey studies examining the neurobiology and physiology of nicotine addiction is the same thing as studying smoking habits in humans. Someone with expertise in this field should know these are false equivalencies. The only other plausible explanation is that she is choosing to ignore the fact that these two are not the same thing. The FDA describes on its webpage that nicotine research will inform about the toxicity of tobacco products as they continue to change by manufacturers, about how changes in tobacco product characteristics (e.g., aerosolized chemicals, often including nicotine, found in e-cigarettes) impact addiction, and about the changes in cell function/physiology after tobacco exposure. These types of findings are not readily available from studying humans’ smoking habits. 2) Near the end of her letter, Goodall writes, “I’m sure that most Americans would be horrified to learn that their tax dollars are paying for this abuse.” Again, Goodall makes major assumptions without citing any sources of data. We can just as confidently say that we’re sure most Americans would be glad to know their tax dollars are being used in highly-regulated research studies that address the health of current and future generations.

The dangers

  • Calls for de-funding life-saving research: The most recent nicotine delivery methods, e-cigarettes, have not yet been well studied for their health effects, yet they represent a major public health concern. We do not yet know all the ways in which nicotine in e-cigarettes affects the brain. Studies such as those conducted by the FDA in animals, including monkeys, will teach us how these new delivery methods affect the brain and body, which will in turn lead to recommendations for regulation of these products and potential treatments for addiction. Despite these life-saving benefits, Goodall and WCW call for an end to this line of research in their letter. This explicit threat should ring alarm bells for any citizen concerned about public health. But this is not the first time animal research opponents have called for an end to beneficial research. Just a week ago, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Dr. David Shulkin, had to make a plea to the United States Senate to not end life-saving canine research after a campaign by – you guessed it – WCW called for an end to this line of work. Think about that. The VA Secretary had to lobby the U.S. Senate to save a life-saving research program for veterans.

  • Threats to the advancement of scientific knowledge: As if threats to life-saving research weren’t enough, animal rights campaigns that rely on “experts” like Goodall are also threatening to end – or have already ended – scientific programs geared toward broadening and enhancing society’s basic knowledge of the way the world works, from the toxic effects of vapors in e-cigarettes to the safety of new vaccines to the communication between neurons to mechanisms of stress resilience to…the list goes on. This type of basic knowledge is crucial before life-saving treatments can be developed. This implicit threat should ring alarm bells for any citizen, period.

Science Magazine discusses the transparency surrounding animal research

Last month, Science published an article entitled “A trans-Atlantic transparency gap on animal experiments” (online version: To woo public, Europe opens up on animal experiments, but U.S. less transparent”). The article, by Meredith Wadman, noted some of the ways in which US and UK organizations are trying to educate the public about animal experiments including the Lab Animal Tour (UK) and Come See Our World (US) initiatives. However, it also noted differences between the countries – particularly in the university sector.

Using the Speaking of Research list of public animal research statements, we can see the trans-Atlantic differences among universities. Of the 65 US universities on the list (a fraction of those that conduct animal research across the whole country), only 8 (12%) get two or more ticks (out of four), and only 3 (5%) get three ticks or more. This compares badly to the UK where, of the 48 universities on the list (representing most universities conducting animal research in the country), 33 (69%) get two or more ticks and 23 (48%) get three or more ticks.

The article also brought to light the declines in support for animal research in both countries – though the UK may currently be reversing that trend – something some people attribute to launch and spread of the Concordat on Openness on Animals in Research – where organizations pledge to be more proactive about explaining their animal research. An example of this can be seen in October 2016 when the top ten UK research universities press released the number of animals they used in research that year. It should be noted that most large British universities now post their animal research numbers on their website.

Credits: J. You/Science; (Data) Ipsos MORI, Gallup

The decline in support for animal research in the US is reflected in other polling also. The Pew Research Center’s polling suggests that support for “animals in scientific research” has fallen from 52% (43% against) in 2009 to 47% support (50% against) in 2014. Many people have questioned whether it is time for a US Concordat to be launched – and certainly Speaking of Research would support any such efforts to make animal research more transparent.

The Science article briefly looked at different approaches to animal research advocacy, from the limited information provided by institutions like Harvard, Stanford and John Hopkins, compared to the wealth of information provided by organisations like the University of Wisconsin Madison.

While this article only touches the surface of the problem of transparency, and cannot fully be expected to appreciate the huge variation in practice within countries as well as between them, it is still a worthwhile read for anyone interested in how we communicate animal research.

Speaking of Research

American Psychological Association reaffirms support for animal research

The American Psychological Association (APA) represents its membership of 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students working across the many subfields of psychology. The APA works to advance the creation, communication, and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives. On August 2nd, 2017, the organization reaffirmed its support for the careful use of animals in medical research. Speaking of Research welcome this clear statement of principles. We reproduce that statement below. 


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APA Reaffirms Support for Research with Nonhuman Animals

The American Psychological Association has reaffirmed its long-standing support for ethically sound and scientifically valid research with nonhuman animals and the scientists who conduct it, noting that the application of such research has “significantly improved the health and well-being of both human and nonhuman animals.”

“Historically, laboratory animal research has played a crucial role in the development of theory and research in virtually all sub-disciplines of psychology,” said APA President Antonio E. Puente, PhD, who is a neuropsychologist. “Knowledge gained through research with laboratory animals continues to provide answers to questions important to advancing the science of behavior and to improving the welfare of both humans and other animals.”

Understanding of such processes as learning, attention and cognition and disorders such as addictions, autism and depression has benefited from findings of nonhuman animal studies. Knowledge gained through research with nonhuman animals has also been critical to conservation efforts for various species, in various habitats across the world.

APA’s governing Council of Representatives passed a resolution on the subject Wednesday, reaffirming a resolution that was last adopted in 1990, and is reflected throughout the 125-year history of the organization. The resolution notes nonhuman animal research is foundational to scientific discoveries as is evidenced by the fact that most scientists support such research, and that such research is regulated by federal, state and local jurisdictions, as well as assessed for scientific merit by funding agencies and peer review. Additionally, the resolution asserts the responsibility of scientists themselves to ensure the humane care and treatment of laboratory animals.

The resolution recognizes that the public might not fully appreciate “the nature of nonhuman animal research and its benefits to society, due to overabundance of misinformation and simultaneous dearth of accurate information” in the public domain.

“Nonhuman animal research has proven invaluable for exploring the complexity of diverse behaviors across genetic, molecular, cellular/neuronal, circuit, network, cognitive and behavior levels,” the resolution states. “The assembly and application of findings from nonhuman animal research has contributed to numerous clinical applications that have significantly improved the health and well-being of both human and nonhuman animals.”

Studies that used animals have played a role in the prevention or treatment of conditions as diverse as tuberculosis, diabetes, polio, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy and high blood pressure — to name just a few benefits of this research. Although such research continues to provide important scientific data and insights, understanding and support of such research has declined in recent years among the American public. Moreover, some activist groups have spread misinformation about this research, have harassed psychologists and other scientists and have destroyed laboratories. APA’s reaffirmation of its position on nonhuman animal research is one step toward strengthening the public’s knowledge and support of this research and the scientists who conduct it, according to Puente.

“APA deplores the harassment of scientists, students and laboratory assistants who have been involved in animal research,” Puente said. “We join with other scholarly organizations in continuing to support ethically sound and scientifically valid research with nonhuman animals.”

APA’s Committee on Animal Research and Ethics, which was founded in 1925, developed and regularly updates its “Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in the Care and Use of Nonhuman Animals in Research.” These guidelines assist researchers in fulfilling their obligation for the humane care and treatment of nonhuman animals in research that is in the public’s interest.

NIH Director reaffirms importance of animal experiments

Francis Collins, Director of the NIH, was interviewed by the Washington Examiner earlier this week. One question asked what he thought about animal research, to which Collins provided a thoughtful and considered answer.

Washington Examiner: PETA came out this year supporting budget cuts to the NIH, saying that cutting testing on animals would achieve significant savings. What can you tell us about where animal testing stands?

Collins: I think NIH is very focused on making sure that animal studies are done in the most ethical way possible, but also very convinced there are things we can learn from animal studies that will help people with terrible diseases that we otherwise can’t quite learn. We are certainly moving a lot of the kind of research that we used to do in animals into other systems, particularly with human cells that can be grown in a laboratory in a fashion that causes no pain to anybody and doesn’t result in such a great need for animals. But animals are still crucial to our understanding of how biology works. Anybody who has looked at the kind of oversight that applies to that I think will be impressed by how much attention goes toward any protocol that we fund that is going to involve animals for research. It has to have veterinarians and members of the public looking constantly at the conditions under which the animals are cared for and how we do everything possible to avoid the creation of unnecessary pain.

No doubt Collins is tired of PETA’s nonsense – in 2015 they wrote letters to all his neighbors in an effort to pressure him to stop the work of an individual researcher. We applaud Collins for defending animal research to the Washington Examiner and hope he continues to protect vital research in the future.

Doors Open: Explaining animal research at the University of Ottawa

Every June, the city of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada holds a “Doors Open” event, as part of a larger province-wide initiative to open facilities such as museums, hospitals, and historical sites to the community in ways which aren’t part of their everyday operations. The Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Ottawa opened its labs to the public, offering tours and displays describing the work they do, including their animal research. The University’s Animal Care and Veterinary Service (ACVS) and Animal Ethics & Compliance (AEC) office also participated, with family-friendly informational displays and activities.

The director of the University’s Brain and Mind Research Institute, Dr. David Park, hosted the event this year, as the Faculty of Medicine felt it would be a great way to highlight the leading edge research done at the University. Dr. Diane Lagace, a researcher in the department, demonstrated the preclinical work she is involved with in her lab, using rats and mice in stroke research. Dr Lagace also studies how adult-generated stem cells play a part in how we can recover from strokes.

Displays featured information about animal use at the university, and research-related activities for children. Photo credit: Hilalion (San) Ahn

The animal care displays were run by the ACVS and AEC. Their displays included enriched caging for rats, enrichment devices and treats for the research animals, as well as a demo for children on how to use microchips to identify some species. Volunteers provided the public with informational pamphlets and explanations on the university’s animal care and use program, as well as the regulatory framework that protects animals used in research.

Dr. Holly Orlando, University Veterinarian and Director of ACVS, wanted her department to take part because she felt that it is important to be transparent about the work that we do with animals in science. By doing so, her department could help to clarify misconceptions that the public may have about work with animals, as well as helping to develop engagement with the community. Marie Bédard, the AEC Director, agrees and has been developing materials for the public and explaining the regulatory frameworks for animal use in science.

I also took part, as the Registered Veterinary Technician who manages the zebrafish operations at the University. I brought live zebrafish larvae at various points of development for visitors to observe under microscopes. I also brought examples of what we feed the fish, and how we house them.

Zebrafish larvae on display. Photo credit: Hilalion (San) Ahn.

The facility tours were very popular, with guests able to observe the work of the Animal Behaviour Core facility, which utilizes procedures such as a water maze, climbing, treadmill and other exercise tests to study both how brain deficits occur and can be repaired after a stroke, as well as when and what forms of exercise are helpful for stroke recovery. Guests also observed a Parkinson’s Disease model in fruit flies, which helps researchers to better understand the genetics and other causes behind Parkinson’s disease.

Over 250 people registered for the event and went on tours of the facility. Feedback was very positive, and the public had very thoughtful questions about the operations of both the labs and the animal facility. People were overheard stating that they “never would have imagined that this is happening here in Ottawa”, and more than one youngster exclaimed that they wanted to work with us.

The Director of Animal Ethics and Compliance, discusses enriched rat caging. Photo credit: Hilalion (San) Ahn

This one day event was a great step forward in openness with regards to animal research at the University. A great team did a fantastic job organizing and running the day, which seemed to go off without a hitch. I am looking forward to attending again next year, with an even bigger display!

Christine Archer

Asthma and Animal Research: A Public Health Perspective

As a public health researcher with a focus on behavior change and complex interventions, I am more interested in studying how to get children to adhere to their asthma medication regimen rather than the mechanisms of inflammatory asthma. I am currently studying the risk factors associated with asthma attacks in children, which include among others, sub-optimal medication use, poverty, and access to healthcare. The aim of this research is to understand what risk factors for severe exacerbations – such as asthma attacks that send children to the emergency room – exist, thereby enabling healthcare and public health professionals to mitigate the risks of these ‘at-risk’ children.

My interests have nearly always been in applied in nature, however I understand that basic research underpins everything thing that we do in public health. Animal research is foundational to what we do as public health professionals. Without animal research, we would not be able to mitigate the risk factors these children have as we would not have the asthma medications we do today.

It seems that the sphere of public health shies away from discussing and supporting animal research; I’ve had colleagues tell me to be careful of talking too openly about my experiences in animal research outreach, for fear of alienating others – and potentially hindering my career. However, I strongly believe that public health professionals should be more open to discussing and supporting animal research. It is imperative to the continuation of both public health research and its application.

To illustrate this point, let’s use asthma as an example. The most effective medications for managing asthma are aptly named preventer and reliever medications. Preventer medications contain glucocorticosteriods and they work to prevent symptoms by reducing swelling, sensitivity, and inflammation in the airways. On the other hand, Reliever medications, or bronchodilators, work to open the airways and rapidly relieve symptoms.

Animal research has played an important role in the discovery of both glucocorticosteriods and bronchodilators. Glucocorticosteriods were developed using mouse models and the derived biomedical pathways. Bronchodilators were developed the 1960s, as a result of Otto Loewi’s research on adrenaline and other neurotransmitters.  Loewi used two beating frog hearts, aligned near each other, to demonstrated that slowing the pulse of the one heart and then circulating that perfusate through the other heart that it caused the other unaltered heart to also slow. He found that the same was true when he repeated the experiment, this time increasing the heart rate. This discovery proved that nerve cell communication is chemical rather than electrical, which led to the discovery of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and provided the foundation for future neurotransmitter research.

Glucocorticosteroids were developed using mouse models.

In relation to asthma, bronchodilators (beta2 agonists in particular) mimic the sympathetic nervous system discovered through Loewi’s famous experiment and allow health professionals to synthetically relieve the symptoms of asthma. Other studies using mice models have also elucidated the biomolecular mechanisms of airway hyperresponsiveness in asthma. Without Loewi’s initial experiment relying animal animal research, we would not be able to treat asthma as well as we do today. Without animal research, asthma management would likely rely on alternative medications that offer little in the way in relief; without effective treatment applied asthma research would focus only on prevention.

One of the reasons I was drawn towards public health and applied research was the focus on environmental, cultural, and large system-level factors that influence health, but this can come at the expense of ignoring the wealth of basic research that allows us to study these upper-level factors. When we forget the foundational work that lets us pursue our passions, everyone suffers. Public health professionals, at the very least, need to acknowledge–if not actively advocate for—the value animal research has in improving the health of the broader public and  should actively advocate for.

In writing this post, I had to research on how asthma medications came into being. Skimming through the biomedical literature was daunting (and confusing at times), but there are great resources already created to help clarify points for the those less familiar with biomedical research, such as myself – Understanding Animal Research, Animal Research.Info, and this website, Speaking of Research are great resources. I encourage public health professionals to educate themselves in how animal research allows them to do the work they do today. Then share that knowledge, – be that over Twitter, a blog, an email to colleagues, the options are endless. Support well-evidenced and humane animal research, because our work depends on it.

Audrey Buelo, M.P.H.