Tag Archives: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

The Double Life of Dr. Lawrence A. Hansen

Dr. Lawrence A. Hansen has a double life he is proud to publicize in his writings and interviews.

On one hand, he is a neuroscientist at one of the finest institutions in the country — the University of California at San Diego.  On the other hand, he is a member and a mouthpiece for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

PeTA, of course, is an animal rights organization that holds the view that all living beings have the same basic right to life and freedom. A corollary of this position is that  animals cannot be used by humans in any way, including their use in scientific research designed to advance human health and medical knowledge.

Dr. Lawrence Hansen regularly attends the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, where he joins his PeTA colleagues in order to protest the organization’s stated goal of broadening support for animal research.”

He has  written numerous opinion pieces (for example, here, here and here) asserting with confidence that animal research will not lead to any advancements in human health, that the experiments are unnecessary because they can be conducted in human volunteers, and that the treatment of the animals in our nation’s laboratories amount to torture.

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Dr. Lawrence Hansen (left) demonstrating at the Society for Neuroscience meeting. He is accompanied by PeTA’s Justin Goodman (right).

Dr. Hansen is wrong on all counts.

Animal research has contributed widely to human healthMultiple layers ensure the welfare of animals during experimentation. Methods do not exist today that would allow scientists to study the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying disease in human volunteers non-invasively. This is what is really required to understand the evolution of a disease in a living organism and how we can interfere with its development. Indeed, a recent poll by the journal Nature revealed that nearly 92% of scientists agree with the statement “animal research is essential to the advancement of biomedical science.”  The  fact is that there are no current alternatives — otherwise, they would be used.  This is the reason the scientific consensus on the topic is nothing short of overwhelming.

Being wrong is just one problem with Dr. Hansen.  The other is the level of hypocrisy required for a scholar like him to criticize animal research while simultaneously being involved in the work.  Specifically, Dr. Hansen is a co-author in animal studies that use transgenic mice to model Alzheimer’s disease in humans: here, here, here and here.

Justification for all these studies relies on the notion that one can model the disease in mice in ways that might be relevant to human patients — an idea that Dr. Hansen rejects vociferously.  Was authorship on these studies forced upon him?

Perhaps Dr. Hansen will argue that he played a minor role in these studies, merely providing resources and reagents for the studies?  This seems unlikely, as at least in one instance Dr. Hansen’s role is listed as having “conceived and designed the experiments.”

All these articles list the Neuropathology Core grant (NIH P50 AG005131), of which Dr. Hansen is the responsible Principal Investigator, as partly funding them.  In other words, Dr. Hansen’s own federal grant has funded the animal research he presumably opposes.  (Incidentally, as far as we can tell, the Aims of the grant do not include any animal research.)

Perhaps Dr. Hansen approves only of work with mice but not in other species? If so, it seems he fails to understand the concept of “animal rights.”  The notion that all living beings have a right to live free from all human intervention would render his own work ethically wrong as well.  Or does PeTA make an exception for his mice work?  Maybe membership has its privileges?

Perhaps Dr. Hansen thinks that for some magic reason his work with mice is guaranteed to translate to humans, while findings in other species will not?  One wonders if there something magical about the biology of mice?  If mice can be used to model human disease, why couldn’t other animals? However, it doesn’t seem that Dr. Hansen holds mice work in high regard.  Last year, in an interview, he stated:

“the amoral scientific problem with using rodents as models for neurodegenerative diseases is that rodents do not naturally develop Alzheimer disease or Parkinson`s disease. The only way to get what looks even a little like AD or PD pathology in rats and mice is to make them transgenic — that is, to insert human disease causing genes into the rodents. This does create a Frankenstein-like mutant model with some expression of AD or PD pathology which can be manipulated to make it go away. But reversing artificially induced AD or PD changes in animals that never naturally develop them is a far cry from curing the human diseases. The “cures” that work in the rodents have never worked when applied to humans. 

[…] The species differences that have evolved over millions of years make animal models largely useless, except for the purposes of enhancing scientific careers and attracting lots of grant money.”

If this represents his scientific opinion, why in the world would he participate and fund the very same “unnecessary” experiments that create “Frankenstein-like” animals? Perhaps Dr. Hansen thinks his transgenic animals are under good care and condition, while the other ones down the hall that belong a colleague are being tortured instead?

Perhaps Dr. Hansen believes his studies are restricted to some basic biological process of Alzheimer’s that has no consequence for the human condition?  But then, how would he justify the use of animals?  And why would he write that his work “supports the possibility that modulators of the autophagy pathway might provide potential therapeutic effects.”  Therapeutic effect for mice but not humans?   Again this seems unlikely, as stated that mice do not develop AD or PD pathology naturally, and thus are not in need of any therapeutics.

The fact is that the justification behind his work can be found in the Introduction and Discussion sections within the very same articles he co-wrote.  Dr. Hansen and his co-authors explain, for example, that:

It is important to note that neurogenesis persists in the aged brain; however, its rate declines with increasing age, as revealed by previous studies in rodents (Kuhn et al., 1996Kempermann et al., 1998), nonhuman primates (Gould et al., 1999), and humans (Cameron and McKay, 1999). Despite this natural decline with age, previous studies have shown that the adult brain remains responsive to therapeutic interventions that enhance neurogenesis (Jin et al., 2003Wise, 2003). Understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in AD-related alterations in neurogenesis might help guide the development of new therapies in this direction. 

This is one of several passages illustrating the synergy between human, mouse and in vitro techniques in biomedical research, and highlights the similarities between development of the human disease and its recapitulation in animals models of AD.  These are the very same scientific facts he denies and renounces in his interviews, OpEds, and PeTA demonstrations.

It would be worth for Dr. Hansen to dedicate some effort in justifying his own work with animals, studying a little bit more about the contributions of animal research to human health, and dedicating less of his time demonizing his colleagues for the wrong reasons.

Speaking of Research

Update: There is more discussion going on at DrugMonkey’s blog as well.

As predicted: UW cleared, PeTA caught lying again

We can’t exactly say we’re surprised.

Today, the Capitol Times and the Wisconsin State Journal both reported on the results of a USDA investigation following claims by PeTA that the University of Wisconsin broke animal welfare laws. The investigators’  conclusion: No wrongdoing, no violations.

An excerpt from the Wisconsin State Journal who spoke with David Sacks, a spokesman for the USDA.

The [USDA] inspected UW-Madison labs on three days in late September and early October and found no violations, Sacks said. It officially closes the investigation, he said. 

We really hope that the news media will cover this inspection result as thoroughly as PeTA’s claims were covered when the first surfaced a few weeks ago. It would be interested to know how PeTA representatives react to the news. However, PeTA is well aware that bad news travels much faster and further than good news, so in their minds: mission accomplished.

You may wonder, why were we able to predict the outcome?

Because making trumped up claims is standard operating procedure within the PeTA press office.

Want proof?
See these related news stories:

USDA clears University of Michigan Medical School’s use of animals in training

Feds clear Oregon Health & Science University  after monkey mistreatment claims

USDA report clears ZooAmerica in bison deaths

As we mentioned in a previous post PeTA’s allegations put reputations and people at risk, but this is part of the day-to-day work at PeTA.

We certainly don’t expect today’s investigation results will make PeTA rethink their tactics. However, we hope that it will help educate the public about the how much they can trust our country’s most outspoken animal rights group.

Speaking of Research

Defending science and countering falsehood at the University of Wisconsin Madison

PeTA celebrated a victory the past week when they obtained photographs of cats that are part of medical research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The work involves a small number of cats in studies that provide better understanding of hearing and that are relevant to improving treatment for human deafness.

An explanation of the purpose of the research, the care of the animals, and the reason that cats make unique contributions to this work are all clearly addressed in a university statement:

The research develops a better understanding of how the brain combines information from the two ears, including sound localization. Cats are used because of their extraordinary talents at localizing sounds. Feral cats likely do most of their hunting at night because that is when their rodent prey is most active. Because vision at night is limited, hearing is the primary sensory cue for the cat to localize its prey. The cat auditory system is very similar to that of humans, making it relevant to clinical studies of humans with bilateral cochlear implants.

An op-ed written by UW-Madison Department of Neuroscience professors Donata Oertel and Peter Lipton on behalf of 65 UW faculty members provides a voice of reason among a sea of emotive, rather than factual, accusations.

Widely recognized and respected in the biomedical research community, this research benefits hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from hearing loss. It is being mischaracterized by animal rights militants for their own purposes.

By spreading misinformation and outright falsehoods, PETA bypasses our system of justice and promotes harassment and attacks on the people and institutions that engage in important biomedical research.

Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison also seem less than impressed by PeTA’s allegations, and were not afraid to say so when interviewed by the Badger Herald and Daily Cardinal during a PeTA protest yesterday. Speaking to the Daily Cardinal about research she is involved in, biochemistry major Kelsey Corrigan rejected PeTA’s claims concerning the treatment of animals:

“We are not vicious toward them or treat them poorly, instead we use them in an effort to gain knowledge about cancer treatments.”

While PeTA used these photographs effectively to attract media and public attention, as is often the case, the images did not tell the whole story about the research.  Nor did PeTA.

That is not surprising. The point of PeTA’s three year quest to obtain these photographs—or really, any photographs at all that might be novel and useful in their campaigns—is absolutely straightforward.  Their goal is to provide the public with a negative view of animal research. The more sensational the photographs, the better they are; better for attracting media coverage, better for persuading others that laboratory animal research is inhumane without actually providing the facts, context, and accurate information.

What is surprising is the relative ease with which this tactic continues to work for groups like PeTA. Part of the reason that it works is that activist groups know they are unlikely to be countered immediately by effective presentation of the facts and explanation that the public or media would need to put the photographs into appropriate context. We have written previously about exactly this type of campaign and the continuing need for a much more public, immediate, and specific response that can provide reasonable people with answers to the questions that are raised by photographs provided without any context at all.

We were glad to see that the University of Wisconsin did in fact address each of PeTA’s claims with specific information in a point-by-point response that shows just how far PeTA went to misrepresent the facts about research at the University.  We hope that those who are interested in knowing more about the cats and the research will go beyond the PeTA pictures and give thoughtful consideration to the university’s detailed explanation of what those pictures show and why the research is performed.

The research community can do little to change the minds of those committed to ending animal research and that is not the goal of providing a public response to misrepresentation.  What the research community and their institutions can do, however, is to acknowledge the importance of contributing the factual information that is so urgently needed for the informed dialogue that a serious topic deserves.

It is an unfortunate reality that groups like PeTA will use sensational tactics and stunts as part of their agenda. In a time of continuing increases in transparency of animal research in the U.S., along with rapidly evolving communication tools, it is also an unfortunate reality that the old-school approach of institutions offering no comment, or offering blanket statements in response to public and media queries, will simply not work.  We need responses– like those of the UW-Madison faculty, administrators, and students– that support the science, address misrepresentation, provide facts, and promote civil dialogue.

Allyson J. Bennett

Addendum October 11, 2012 : The USDA inspection report has now been published and confirms that no non-compliant items were identified during the focused inspection at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in late September and early October.  In his story “Feds Clear UW of Wrongdoing Following PeTA Complaint”, Capital Times reporter Todd Finkelmeyer posts the USDA inspection report  and this summary:  “’This officially closes this matter for us,’ USDA spokesman David Sacks said in an email to the Cap Times. Sacks added that this was a ‘focused inspection — not a full facility inspection,’ and was designed to look specifically at the allegations leveled by PETA.”

More Moral Confusion at PeTA

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) are, once again, intent on proving their deep moral confusion to the public.   This time, they felt necessary to comment on the killing of Osama bin Laden with an invitation to bite his head off:

If you’re a little hungry after being up all night watching the news and chanting “USA! USA!” we’ve got the perfect snack for you: PETA’s “Bin Laden Bites” chocolates.

Many vegan readers of PeTA’s blog were not amused by this invitation.

One commented:

[…] How can we promote ethical treatment of animals if we promote violence against human beings as well. Your slipping up PETA. I expect a higher level of ethics and sincerity in your efforts.

Another exclaimed:

This is disgusting! An absolute disgrace to humanity. I cannot actually believe my eyes. What on EARTH does this have to do with the protection of animals? You people have gone off the plot and those who came up with the idea and the ones who signed this off are sick in the head. You are as bad as the sickos who beheaded and burned Americans in Iraq.

A third one pondered:

Shame on you PETA! Since when did you became an organization that promotes and celebrates cruelty, hatred and violence? You should apologize for this stupid ad!

It is a very good question. When has PeTA become an organization that promotes and celebrates cruelty, hatred and violence?

One question is whether or not you support the goals of the organization; another one is if you support its methods and tactics.   Consider the following comments by the leadership of PeTA that have been previously documented:

* In the December/January 2000 issue of ‘Genre’, PETA’s Dan Mathews was asked to name men of the 20th century he admired. Mathews told the magazine he admired serial killer Andrew Cunanan, “because he got Versace to stop doing fur.”

* In 1999, an animal rights terrorist group calling itself the Justice Department sent letters booby-trapped with razor blades to medical researchers and fur farms in the United States and Canada. When asked about the letters, Newkirk said, “I hope it frightens them [the researchers] out of their careers. If experimenters feel afraid now, that’s nothing compared with the fear, harm and death they have inflicted on their victims.”

* In a new author’s note in her book about the Animal Liberation Front, ‘Free the Animals’, Newkirk writes, “Determined to cause economic injury to the exploiters, ALF members burn down their emptied buildings and smash their vehicles to smithereens. Perhaps, after reading this book, you will find that you cannot blame them.”

* In 1994, PETA donated $42,500 to the Rodney Coronado Support Committee. Coronado is an animal rights terrorist who in 1995 pleaded guilty to firebombing a medical research facility at Michigan State University.

* In fact, Newkirk herself has expressed a wish to carry out arson. At a 1997 animal rights convention she said, “I wish we all would get up and go into the labs and take the animals out or burn them down.” In 1999 she expanded on that sentiment, telling the ‘Chronicle of Higher Education’, “I find it small wonder that the laboratories aren’t all burning to the ground. If I had more guts, I’d light a match.”

On one hand PeTA is satisfied that Osama bin Laden has been killed by the U.S. and invites everyone to celebrate by biting his head off.  On the other, the comments by the leaders of the organization suggests PeTA, in fact, supports the use of methods and tactics that are not awfully different from those of other terrorist organizations.

Let us be clear, Osama bin Laden believed strongly on the correctness of his moral position and that violence was indeed justified to achieve justice against the West.  The same, of course, can be said of the Animal Liberation Brigade, the so-called Justice Department, other animal rights terrorist groups.

What about PeTA?

Perhaps it is time for PeTA to think a bit more deeply about its moral principles, issue a formal institutional position on the use of violence, and explain why an organization that is purportedly based on “compassion for all living beings” so often appears in the news as endorsing the same methods that made bin Laden despised across much of the civilized world.

Where do PETA’s donation dollars go?

It’s common for charities to ask donors to exercise their giving spirit during the holidays. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sure does. They join several other nonprofits in asking supporters to give heavily and often as we transition from one year to another.

And…it works:

PETA’s 2010 donations totaled $33 million ($35 million if you add on merchandise sales and other revenue). So where did your money go last year? According to PETA’s 2010 annual report:

  • A vegans make better lovers” campaign where PETA campaigners publicly made out on a bed on the streets of Nashville, TN.
  • Disruption of the Westminster dog show (Because animal lovers deserve to be targeted?)
  • A campaign comparing pregnant women to fattened sows to protest farmed meat
  • Dressing as a giant vanilla condom promote animal birth control in Beirut (Because Beirut has few other controversies to deal with currently)
  • PETA also says it has given over $843 thousand in grants to researchers looking at animal alternatives. Sounds good right? But one should do the math here. The amount is 2 percent of the money PETA spent last year. In comparison, they spent 17 percent of their money (your money) on fundraising to raise more money. In addition, research is expensive (sad but true)… An $800,000 split among several researchers as PETA has done…will not go far at all.

PETA’s questionable anti-farmed meat stunt

Other notable PETA investments in the past:

So how can you better spend your donation dollars? Why not support your local humane society so that they can directly care for animals or the ASPCA? Or of course you can keep paying for expensive and often sexist or offensive stunts …your decision

Regards

Jim