Tag Archives: vivisection

Harlow Dead, Bioethicists Outraged

harlow plaque jpeg (2)

The philosophy and bioethics community was rocked and in turmoil Friday when they learned that groundbreaking experimental psychologist Professor Harry Harlow had died over 30 years ago. Harlow’s iconic studies of mother and infant monkeys have endured for decades as the centerpiece of philosophical debate and animal rights campaigns.  With news of his death, philosophers worried that they would now need to turn their attention to new questions, learn about current research, and address persistent, urgent needs in public consideration of scientific research and medical progress. Scientists and advocates for a more serious contemporary public dialogue were relieved and immediately offered their assistance to help others get up to speed on current research.

To close the chapter, psychologists at the University of Wisconsin provided the following 40 year retrospective on Harlow’s work and its long-term impact (see below).

Internet reaction to the scientists’ offering was swift, fierce, and predictable.

“We will never allow Harlow to die,” said one leading philosopher, “The fact is that Harlow did studies that are controversial and we intend to continue making that fact known until science grinds to a halt and scientists admit that we should be in charge of all the laboratories and decisions about experiments. It is clear to us that we need far more talk and far less action. Research is complicated and unpredictable–all that messiness just needs to get cleaned up before research should be undertaken.”

Animal rights activists agreed, saying:

“For many decades Harlow and his monkeys have been our go-to graphics for protest signs, internet sites, and articles. It would simply be outrageously expensive and really hard to replace those now. Furthermore, Harlow’s name recognition and iconic monkey pictures are invaluable, irreplaceable, and stand by themselves. It would be a crime to confuse the picture with propaganda and gobbledygook from extremist eggheads who delusionally believe that science and animal research has changed anything.”

Others decried what they viewed as inappropriate humorous responses to the belated shock at Harlow’s passing.

“It is clear to us that scientists are truly diabolical bastards who think torturing animals is funny. Scientists shouldn’t be allowed to joke. What’s next? Telling people who suffer from disease that they should just exercise and quit eating cheeseburgers?” said a representative from a group fighting for legislation to outlaw food choice and ban healthcare for non-vegans and those with genetic predispositions for various diseases.

A journalist reporting on the controversial discovery of Harlow’s death was overheard grumbling, “But what will new generations of reporters write about? Anyway, the new research is pretty much the same as the old research, minus all the complicated biology, chemistry, and genetic stuff, so it may as well be Harlow himself doing it.”

A fringe group of philosophers derisively called the “Ivory Tower Outcasts” for their work aimed at cross-disciplinary partnerships in public engagement with contemporary ethical issues made a terse statement via a pseudonymous social media site.

“We told you so. Harlow is dead. Move on. New facts, problems require thought+action (ps- trolley software needs upgrade, man at switch quit)”

Harlow himself remained silent. For the most part, his papers, groundbreaking discoveries, and long-lasting impact on understanding people and animals remained undisturbed by the new controversy.

Statement from Psychologists:

Harlow’s career spanned 40+ years and produced breakthroughs in understanding learning, memory, cognition and behavior in monkeys1 (see Figure 1). In a time period where other animals were generally thought of as dumb machines, Harlow’s work demonstrated the opposite — that monkeys, like humans, have complex cognitive abilities and emotional attachments. Harlow and his colleagues developed now classic ways to measure cognition2,3. For example, the Wisconsin General Test Apparatus (WGTA; see Figure 1), in which monkeys uncover food beneath different types of colored toys and objects, allowed scientists to understand how monkeys learn new things, remember, and discriminate between different colors, shapes, quantities, and patterns.

The discoveries of Harlow and his colleagues in the 1930s and forward provided the foundation not only for changes in how people view other animals, but also for understanding how the brain works, how it develops, and –ultimately–how to better care for people and other animals.

Figure 1

Figure 1

In the last decade of his long career, Harlow, his wife Margaret– a developmental psychologist, and their colleagues, again rocked the scientific world with a discovery that fundamentally changed our biological understanding.3 Contrary to prevailing views in the 1950s and before, the Harlows’ studies of infant monkeys definitively demonstrated that mother-infant bonds and physical contact—not just provision of food—are fundamentally important to normal behavioral and biological development. Those studies provided an enduring empirical foundation for decades of subsequent work that shed new light on the interplay between childhood experiences, genes, and biology in shaping vulnerability, resilience, and recovery in lifespan health.

For a brief time at the very end of his career, Harlow performed a small number of studies that have served as the touchstone for philosophers, animal rights groups, and others interested in whether and how animal research should be done. The most controversial of the studies are known by their colloquial name “pit of despair” and were aimed at creating an animal model of depression. In this work, fewer than 20 monkeys were placed in extreme isolation for short periods (average of 6 weeks) following initial infant rearing in a nursery.

At the time, the late 1960s, the presence of brain chemicals had recently been identified as potentially critical players in behavior and mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia. New understanding and treatment of the diseases was desperately needed to address the suffering of millions of people. Available treatments were crude. They included permanent institutionalization– often in abject conditions, lobotomy (removing part of the brain), malaria, insulin, or electric shock therapies. As some scientists worked to uncover the role of brain chemicals in behavior and mood, others worked to produce drugs that could alter those chemical networks to relieve their negative effects. In both cases, animal models based on similar brain chemistry and biology were needed in order to test whether new treatments were safe and effective. It was within this context that Harlow and his colleagues in psychiatry studied, in small numbers, monkeys who exhibited depressive-like behaviors.

By the 1970s and over the next decades, scientists produced medications that effectively treat diseases like schizophrenia and depression for many people. The therapies are not perfect and do not work for everyone, which is why research continues to identify additional and new treatments. Regardless, there is no question that the suffering of millions of people has been reduced, and continues to be alleviated, as a result of new medications and new understanding of the biological basis of disease.

Infant rhesus monkeys playing in nursery.  Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. @2014 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents

Infant rhesus monkeys playing in nursery. Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. @2014 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents

Looking back while moving forward

Nearly 50 years later, it is difficult to imagine the time before MRI and neuroimaging and before the many effective treatments for depression, schizophrenia and other diseases. It is perhaps even more difficult to imagine a time in which people believed that genes and biology were destiny, that other animals were automatons, or that mothers were only important because they provided food to their children. Casting an eye back to the treatment of monkeys, children, and vulnerable human populations in medical and scientific research 50 years ago, or even 30 years ago, is difficult as well. Standards for ethical consideration, protections for human and animal participants in research, and the perspectives of scientists, philosophers, and the public have all continued to change as knowledge grows. Yet, what has not changed is an enduring tension between the public’s desire for progress in understanding the world and in reducing disease and the very fact that the science required to make that progress involves difficult choices.

There are no guarantees that a specific scientific research project will succeed in producing the discoveries it seeks. Nor is there a way to know in advance how far-ranging the effect of those discoveries may be, or how they may serve as the necessary foundation for work far distant. In the case of Harlow’s work, the discoveries cast a bright light on a path that continues to advance new understanding of how the brain, genes, and experiences affect people’s health and well-being.

Mother and infant swing final

Mother and juvenile rhesus macaque at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. @2014 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents








In the 30 years since Harlow’s death, new technologies and new discoveries—including brain imaging (MRI, PET), knowledge about epigenetics (how genes are turned on and off), and pharmacotherapies—have been made, refined, and put into use in contemporary science. As a result, scientists today can answer questions that Harlow could not. They continue to do so not because the world has remained unchanged, or because they lack ethics and compassion, but because they see the urgent need posed by suffering and the possibility of addressing global health problems via scientific research.

Harlow’s legacy is a complicated one, but one worth considering beyond a simple single image because it is a legacy of knowledge that illustrates exactly how science continues to move forward from understanding built in the past. An accurate view of how science works, what it has achieved, what can and cannot be done, are all at the heart of a serious consideration of the consequences of choices about what scientific research should be done and how. Harlow and his studies may well be a touchstone to start and continue that dialogue. But it should then be one that also includes the full range of the work, its context and complexity, rather than just the easy cartoon evoked to draw the crowd and then loom with no new words.

Allyson J. Bennett, PhD

The author is a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The views and ideas expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent those of her employer.

Suomi SJ & Leroy, HA (1982) In Memoriam: Harry F. Harlow (1905-1982). American Journal of Primatology 2:319-342. (Note: contains a complete bibliography of Harlow’s published work.)

2Harlow HF & Bromer J (1938). A test-apparatus for monkeys. Psychological Record 2:434-436.

3Harlow HF (1949). The formation of learning sets. Psychological Review 56:51-65

4Harlow HF (1958). The nature of love. American Psychologist 13:673-685.

Animal rights activism and medicine 100 years ago

There is a rather interesting book, Animal Experimentation and Medical Progress by William Williams Keen, published in 1914, which describes some of the incidents in the animal research debate during the early 1900s.  What is  striking about this book is that it illustrates very clearly how little (if at all) the arguments and tactics of animal rights proponents have changed over the last 100 years.

Consider the kind of letters that scientists received because of their work with animals:


Sometimes, animal rights activists also felt it was also important in making their point to include other members of the scientist’s family in their missives.

letterThe language is nearly identical to the anonymous emails or web-postings attacking scientists today.

A century ago those opposed to the use of animals in medical research were already using deceptive, calumnious imagery, suggesting animals underwent surgical procedures without anesthetic,  which evoked the following, unanimous response from the English Royal Commission:


And a hundred years ago, the scientific  community was already expressing  disbelief and regret at the lack of understanding of the work, and the activists’ willful ignorance of those that denied its benefits —

faseb_v2Scientists were not alone in their outrage.  One hundred years ago medical professionals from all over the world were prompted to issue a  statement at the International Medical Congress supporting animal research:


Of course, Charles Darwin himself, had these famous words to offer some 30 years earlier:

Fortunately, some things have in fact changed over the last 100 years.

Back then we did not have antibiotics, nor vaccinations for terrible childhood diseases.  We do today.  Vaccines that save more than 3 millions people per year, and prevent millions of others from suffering from disease and permanent disabilities.

Back then X-rays machines were just being created, the machines were bulky and access was extremely difficult.  Today X-rays, doppler ultrasound, positron emission tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, are all widely available providing some of the most useful diagnostic tools.

1901 Bayer Heroin ad

Back then Heroin was used in children’s syrup to treat cough and bloodletting was still used to treat fever and inflammation. Today, effective pain relievers and anti-inflammatories are widely available in the pharmacy at the corner.

Back then premature babies almost invariably died.  Today, the development of lung surfactants is saving the lives of babies across the world every day.

And the list of the benefits of animal research goes on and on…

Perhaps it can all be summarized by the fact that that back then life expectancy in the US was 52 years.  Today, we are living an average of 80 years.  In other words, in merely 3 generations, we increased our life expectancy by 60%.  This is time we all now enjoy with our loved ones, children and grandchildren.  Thanks to science.  Thanks to scientists. Thanks to responsible, animal research.

That is why one cannot help but keep repeating Darwin’s famous words “…he who retards the progress of physiology is committing a crime against mankind.”

Loving Animals…While Throwing Humans Under the Bus

Recently, the Sunday New York Times ran cover story on efforts to combat the obesity epidemic and the role of animal research in this battle. It’s not surprising that those opposed to animal studies reacted.

What is surprising is what they said. The organization which conducted the studies  – the OHSU Oregon National Primate Research Center- has received countless emails. Many were automated messages from change.org. However, instead of cutting and pasting the same identical message,some individuals did share their own thoughts via email, Facebook and message boards.

(Too) many contained comments such as these:

“You’re WASTING tax money torturing animals to find a “treatment” for FAT PEOPLE ?!”

“If you want to study the morbidly obese why not walk down to your local fast food place and great a few people. I am sure they won’t run away too fast. You could net 3 or 4 pretty easy. ”

“Don’t they know there is enough fat slobs in the world to do studdies on!”

“Ask the blimps walking around in your downtown.”

“We know the reasons that fat people are fat. Experiment on fat people.”

“This is disgusting. There are enough train wrecks waddling around out there that this experimentation is totally unnecessary.”

“If people choose to continue to be morbidly obese, not contribute to society and sit around killing themselves with food and do not get help through an ENDOCRINOLGIST – and become a constant burden to taxpayers in these trying economic times -let them”.

“This is totally repulsive how Americans can test and kill these poor monkeys just so that the FAT PIG AMERICANS can keep shoveling more and more into their fat heads. Instead of killing the monkeys why don’t you fat pigs just stop eating. Oh ya I forgot you Americans want everything. I hope all you fat people today, after reading this story choke on whatever maybe in your mouth and drop dead.”

“Hey, stupid people, stop cramming crap in your mouth,” get your fat ass off the couch and go walk around the block. You don’t need a pill, you need to stop being lazy, you are fat because of it’s your own damn fault. Look at what your laziness causes, millions wasted on pointless research, your fat ass is killing these monkeys so they can find a pill so your fat ass can stay skinny while your gorge yourself from your trough in front of your thought dictator.”

“A friend of mine told me that what a BUFFET means-Big Ugly Fat Folks Eating Together.” (posted by a person who said they were a scientist)

What’s striking about all these responses is that so many people are quick to state their compassion to animals while at the same time showing no compassion whatsoever to other humans (also animals).

Of course, most Americans realize that obesity is not just a personal choice and the causes of the epidemic and more complex than > food = obesity. Both animal studies and human studies demonstrate that there is a significant genetic component to the disease meaning that while some folks have no problem maintaining a healthy weight, many others become overweight even though they maintain a healthy diet.

We also know that the solutions to obesity are not easy. Ever wonder why so many people go on diets only to gain the weight back? The dieters didn’t fail…your brain actually responds to weight loss and literally fights to put those pounds back on. Studies in animals revealed this amazing discovery. In addition, new research has demonstrated that the current epidemic will likely impact several generations in the future.

Furthermore  – there is an economic component to the obesity epidemic. While many of us have access to healthy foods, the reality is that those with limited funds do not. Lower income families often do not have a car. They shop at the corner market where only processed foods are available. When they eat out, few low-fat, healthy choices are available.

So what can be done?

Studies in both humans and animals must continue to provide us with answers and new solutions to help those who want to lose weight keep it off.

In addition, people need to start realizing that seemingly simple problems are often very complex. Until that time…those who oppose animal studies will continue to have a large audience.


Speaking of Research

Speaking up for CNPRC

The following article appeared in The Aggie, a stujdent run newspaper at UC Davis. It is good to see students willing to diligently explain the reasons behind the use of animals in medical research [Tom]

Two weeks ago, during National Primate Liberation Week, activists on the quad protested against the use of non-human primates at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) on the UC Davis campus. This shows ignorance of the medical research process. While the CNPRC tries to minimize research on primates, the anatomy of the human body means that sometimes non-human primates are the only option.

Humans are a species of primate, so with some diseases, such as malaria and AIDS, studying primates is necessary. Unlike lab rats or guinea pigs, monkeys used by the CNPRC have a physiology, drug metabolism and fetal development similar to humans.

The CNPRC studies many human diseases that co-evolved with primates. The parasite that causes malaria is a protozoan specially adapted to life in the human body. Testing strains of malaria in primates like rhesus monkeys is an effective alternative to running unethical experimental research on humans.

The CNPRC also conducts research on SAIDS (Simian AIDS), the closest disease to human AIDS. Researchers use infected macaque monkeys to study the prevention of HIV (and Simian IV) infection and the body’s immune response to the disease. This research gets results: the center recently found that a drug called tenofovir could be used in a gel to reduce HIV transmission in humans.

Protesters have some legitimate arguments against the CNPRC. In 2004, a USDA report showed that several monkeys were kept in enclosures where the temperature reached 115 degrees Fahrenheit. But the CNPRC paid a penalty and temperature hasn’t been a problem since then. Last year, a researcher at the center caught a respiratory infection from a group of infected primates. No other humans caught the disease, and the researcher recovered. The CNPRC is open about the incident, and the researchers know the risks.

Research on primates is not perfect – many infected animals die. But the CNPRC works hard to keep the process humane; the USDA regularly inspects the facility, and all primate research must be approved by two committees on campus plus the federal funding agencies. The university also has a policy of never conducting classified research, and CNPRC studies are regularly published in scientific journals.

Opponents of primate research call for more transparency in research facilities, but militant protesters keep scientists from working more openly. Scientists from the CNPRC are reluctant to speak to the press after some researchers receive death-threats and mail containing razor blades.

When one looks into a monkey’s face, one naturally feels compassion. Sadly, the genes that make other primates our closest relatives also make them good test subjects. The research is worth it. Despite the protests and threats, primate researchers know that monkeys are the best option if we want to save human lives.

– Madeline McCurry-Schmidt, Max Rosenblum, Mark Ling, Jeff Perry, Nick Markwith

[This was reposted with permission from The Aggie newspaper]

Mice Help Develop Molecular Imaging of Tumors

Can you follow the structural growth and metabolic activity of a developing tumor?   Such an advance would allow one to track how patients are responding to their therapies right away instead of having to wait weeks.  The video shows new research in the field of molecular imaging and yet another example of how the development of novel medical devices relies on the use of animals in research.

You can learn more here:

1: Mather SJ. Design of radiolabelled ligands for the imaging and treatment of cancer. Mol Biosyst. 2007 Jan;3(1):30-5. Epub 2006 Nov 14. Review. PubMed PMID:

2: Phelps ME. PET: the merging of biology and imaging into molecular imaging. J Nucl Med. 2000 Apr;41(4):661-81. Review. PubMed PMID: 10768568.



Leicester – The New British Battleground?

Back across the pond, in Leicester (pronounced “les-ter”), animal rights activists are warming up for a battle against a new £15 million (around $24 million) biomedical facility which the University of Leicester is building. Looking through the local rags, an interesting article came up in “this is Leicestershire” from a reporter who took a look round the current facilities.

So let’s set some context to the story:

The university has never let the media in before. They’re allowing it, they say, to set the public record straight.

Access was accepted with no preconditions and no promise to push the university’s side of the story.

So, here we are, on the threshold, fumbling into surgical scrubs, pulling on polythene overshoes that will stop us contaminating the facility with the outside world.

A security card is swiped, a pin code punched and a pair of heavy orange doors slowly part.


The facility manager says: “Treat this like a royal visit. If you see a door you want us to open, we’ll open it for you.”

Conditions – like similar labs across the country – are second to none:

Cages are clean, relatively roomy and well-stocked with plenty of things to gnaw at, burrow through or make nests in.

Clipboards full of completed job sheets show they’ve been inspected daily and had their cages changed at least weekly.

A big stainless steel cage-washer runs almost constantly in a room down the corridor.

Animals can be monitored every five minutes if the experiment they are undergoing puts them at risk of suffering or stress, says the facility manager.

Home Office inspectors come in every six to eight weeks. They can also make unannounced spot checks.

Every experiment, even on a humble mouse, has to clear a university ethics committee.

These ethics committees are comparable to the IACUC committees that exist in labs across the United States.  In this Leicester Lab (which is looking to improve its facilities with a new £15 million lab) the 3Rs are at the forefront of researchers:

The more you see, the more you realise everything in here is controlled and moderated.

Nothing, not even the wood shavings these rodents use as a bed and toilet, contains a rogue variable.

The shavings are sourced from Finland. They are ground down from white wood aspen trees because red woods contain chemicals that can be harmful to mice.

The chippings are sterilised and irradiated so no bugs or bacteria can influence the results of experiments.

That makes for better science, says Prof Barer.

Fortunately, the author also makes mention of the benefits which animal research brings to society.

The benefits of animal research are there for us all to see, say animal test supporters.

Foods which help to prevent cancer have been identified in this Leicester lab, as have new ways to get oxygen into bodies after lung failure. That’s the kind of science that is helping desperately premature babies to survive and could yet save thousands in a flu pandemic.

Prof Barer works in the field of TB research.

“Tuberculosis kills two million people every year,” he says.

“If I see an opportunity to reduce the suffering caused by that disease through the careful, considered use of animal research, then I will.

“I don’t like it, but I think it is justified. As a diabetic, I’m someone whose life expectancy is directly related to discoveries made in animals.

What is more interesting is the absolute steadfast blindness shown from animal rights activists in the area:

Protestor Chris Williams believes animal experimentation is wrong morally and ethically, and is driven by bad science.

He also believes they are experimenting on dogs and primates in the University of Leicester.


“I’m 110 per cent certain they’ve got dogs in that building and 90 per cent sure they’ve got primates”, he says.

Unless the university is lying to the Home Office and funding the research covertly, he is mistaken.

Chris is a spokesman for the Stop the Leicester Animal Lab protest.

He doesn’t have a job. He’s been campaigning, pretty much full-time, for the best part of two years.

Fortunately the reporter actually gathers his facts, rather than creates them.

Chris accuses the university of being economical with the truth.

The same could be said of the Stop the Leicester Animal Website.

None of the horrific photographs it contains – dogs and rats in desperate states – come from the facility at Leicester.

“It wouldn’t be a very effective website if we didn’t have photos,” says Chris.

But the suffering shown on their website doesn’t come from Leicester. Perhaps people should be told that.

The article is a nice piece which looks at some of the conceptions and misconceptions surrounding animal research. Perhaps animal rights activists need to spend more time being reporters themselves and finding out what actually happens in labs themselves rather than trusting every YouTube video they find.



The Vivisector’s Tale – An LA Magazine Story

LA Magazine July 2010

A rather ominous 6 page article can in found in LA Magazine (click left for .pdf). Despite an AR slanted headline (vivisecton is only one part of animal research, but is used by AR groups because of its sinister tone), this article was a breath of fresh air. The byline reads:

Planting firebombs and issuing death threats, activists are waging war to stop scientists at UCLA from experimenting on animals. One researcher has chosen to push back. By Steven Mikulan.

The article begins with the destruction of David Jentsch‘s car back in March, 2009; covers some of the atrocities committed by animal rights activists; then moves on to the founding and growth of Pro-Test for Science. Scientists around the country can learn from Jentsch’s interview techniques as he makes sure the science has its place in the article:

“Compared to 15 years ago,” he says, “the number of things we can see inside your brain without opening your skull are remarkable. But at present time there are no nonanimal alternatives to explore how the living brain works.”

The original Pro-Test movement in the UK and its spokesman / SR founder, Tom Holder, both get mentions throughout the article:

Tom Holder, a spokesman for Britain’s Oxford University-based Pro-Test, addressed reporters: “Today is going to be remembered as the day when scientists stood up and said, “No more!” … No more to the fear and harassment of researchers who do lifesaving research at UCLA and beyond.”

Little sympathy is given to animal rights extremists – and they seem to damn themselves with every comment, as Pamelyn Ferdin, wife of ALF spokesman Jerry Vlasak, shows:

“Wasn’t Jentsch’s car burned or something? … I don’t know how to put this – I only wish he were in it.”

And so the hypocrisy of the animal rights movement is revealed – on the one hand they condemn the death of every animal, and on the other they condone the death of human animals.

This article comes rather late from the activities of Pro-Test for Science, but was nonetheless welcome.