• November 27, 2014

Animal Research: Groupthink in Both Camps

5712-animal abuse cover

Thomas Peter, Reuters

A primate station in Sukhumi, capital of the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia, was in Soviet times a leading institute for the study of diseases by way of experimenting with primates. But the station has been struggling to keep its scientific work running since Abkhazia broke away in the early 1990s. Its former population of about 6,000 monkeys has been reduced to some 300 primates, and money from the unrecognized Abkhaz government is meager.

Professors like me, with established research credentials at animal-research-intensive universities who are also members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, are rare. But a dual identity as a research faculty member and an animal advocate affords a unique perspective on both camps.

A striking similarity between the two is that animal researchers and defenders of animals both employ groupthink, a mode of thought that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, where members striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.

We faculty members with deep concerns for animal welfare are often viewed by our groupthink scientific colleagues as untrustworthy or even treasonous agents provocateurs, since we are inclined to raise both ethical and scientific objections to invasive and lethal animal experimentation, especially when it involves primates and companion animals—that is, dogs and cats.

Meanwhile, our animal-rights associates suspect us of insufficient ardor for animal welfare, since we acknowledge that not all research involving animals is torture, and many of us do not object when transgenic mice are painlessly euthanized after being well cared for during their short lives.

Groupthink among animal advocates, unless it leads to violence, is harmless enough, but it's self-defeating when the goal is to rally public opposition to vivisection (a term that encompasses both the dissection of living animals for teaching, and performing invasive, intentionally mutilating or maiming surgeries on living animals as a way to do research). A huge reservoir of empathy for our fellow primates and for companion animals goes untapped when PETA demonstrators protest biomedical research on mice or trivia like presidential fly swatting. It may well be that a Gandhi-like respect for all animal life represents the ultimate in human ethical evolution, but until that "consummation devoutly to be wished" is realized, apes and monkeys and dogs and cats are being confined, vivisected, and killed while animal advocates are ignored as a lunatic fringe.

Groupthink at universities that perform experiments on animals has far more dire consequences for the animals involved. Researchers view animals as a means to an end rather than as ends in their own right, as we consider ourselves. That perspective has led some researchers to subject animals to what the public construes as excessive suffering in the quest for scientific advancement.

The Laboratory Animal Welfare Act was passed by Congress in 1966 in response to public outrage over abuse of dogs in research laboratories exposed in a Life magazine photo essay titled "Concentration Camps for Lost and Stolen Pets." A later amendment to that law required the establishment of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees to oversee all use of primates, dogs, and cats in research and teaching. Animal-research universities complied, but the overwhelming majority of committee members are the researchers themselves. Their groupthink routinely countenances such ethically disquieting treatment of animal subjects that it is difficult to avoid the cynical conclusion that the intention of the Animal Welfare Act is routinely circumvented by researchers who strictly adhere to its letter only in order to avoid accomplishing its goal. Even defenders of the committee system acknowledge that the committees do not reject animal protocols that involve inflicting suffering, although that was the role animal protectionists had expected them to assume.

One especially disturbing example of primate vivisection repeatedly approved by many university animal-care-and-use committees is a decades-long series of highly invasive experiments performed on rhesus monkeys to learn more about the neuronal circuitry of visual tracking in the brain. The luckless monkeys undergo multiple surgeries to have coils implanted in both eyes; holes drilled in their skulls to allow researchers to selectively destroy some parts of their brains and put recording electrodes in others; and head-immobilization surgeries in which screws, bolts, and plates are directly attached to their skulls. The monkeys are anesthetized during these surgeries. After a recovery period, they are intentionally dehydrated to produce a water-deprivation "work ethic" so that they will visually track moving objects for the reward of a sip of water.

First impressions are usually correct in questions of cruelty to animals, and most of us cannot bear to even look at pictures of these monkeys, with their electrode-implanted brains and bolted heads, being put through their paces in a desperate attempt to get a life-sustaining sip of water. Such treatment is justified in the corresponding grant application by invoking the possibility that the resulting data may allow us to find the cause and cure for human diseases such as Alzheimer's.

But those of us who have spent decades in research on Alzheimer's disease recognize that such a justification is an ethical bait and switch, since the neural pathway being investigated in these experiments is not even involved in Alzheimer's disease. These experiments in the basic neuroscience of visual tracking are so thoroughly unrelated to the neuropathology of Alzheimer's disease that in more than 28 years of research in the neuroscience of the disease, I have never come across a single reference to them in any scientific literature on neurodegenerative disease. 

When neuroscience researchers concoct connections between their vivisection of primates and far-fetched, entirely theoretical potential future benefit for human welfare, they are tacitly admitting that the general public, which ultimately pays for their research, would recoil in horror from their more grotesque monkey experiments and would overwhelmingly condemn the work if they knew that those experiments were not directly related to human welfare. Such experiments are always carried out far away from public scrutiny, and the researchers performing them will never submit photographs of their research subjects for the cover of Science or Nature.

Since most invasive monkey research is not directly linked to alleviating human suffering, what is the real motivation of scientists doing such things to our cousin primates? The investigators are not sadists, although they may seem to be from the monkey's point of view. Researchers simply see themselves as doing neuroscience, reasoning that if you want to learn about how brains are wired, the easiest and most direct way is to selectively damage a living brain and see what happens.

Science is an intrinsically amoral (not to be confused with immoral) enterprise, and good science, by which we mean valid as opposed to invalid science, can be pursued either ethically or unethically. The infamous Tuskegee and, more recently brought to light, Guatemalan syphilis experiments performed on unwitting and unwilling human subjects were not bad science as long as they produced valid results about the natural history of syphilis infection. But they are very good examples of scientists behaving badly. And so it is when neuroscientists pursue neuroscience without regard to the suffering they inflict while doing so. 

Companion animals—dogs and cats—fare no better than primates when they, too, are forced to rely on the tender mercies of university animal-care-and-use committees. The committee at the University of California at San Diego, for example, continued to approve dog-vivisection labs in the institution's pharmacology course for first-year medical students, killing dozens of dogs every year, long after such lethal demonstrations had been discontinued at 95 percent of American medical schools. 

Hundreds of San Diego physicians, including UCSD medical-school faculty members, signed a petition in 1999 urging an end to the dog labs. After that was ignored, a formal complaint was lodged with the animal-care-and-use committee in 2002, accusing it of ignoring federal guidelines that require a good-faith effort to replace animal labs in education when alternatives become available. It seemed incontestable to the petitioning physicians that dog vivisection and euthanasia in first-year pharmacology could be replaced by alternative educational methods, given that 95 percent of medical schools in the United States killed no animals—let along dogs—in their pharmacology courses.

The response of the animal-care-and-use committee to this complaint was that the vivisection and euthanasia of dogs in the pharmacology course raised "no animal-welfare issues." Such a dismissal seemed like Orwellian newspeak to the doctors arguing against the dog labs, and public protests followed. Eventually, after years of internal faculty dissent, newspaper articles, editorials, e-mail campaigns, and adverse publicity in general, the UCSD Faculty Council and School of Medicine department chairs reviewed the issue and recommended in 2003 that the dog labs not be a part of the core curriculum, finally accomplishing what the animal-care-and-use committee should have done decades before.

These examples of animal abuse happen to come from the University of California and concern monkeys and dogs, but other research universities behave similarly, and cats suffer the same fate. The rubber-stamp approval of anything any researcher with a grant wants to inflict upon these animals is all the more infuriating to animal advocates in light of the fact that the Animal Welfare Act is very narrowly tailored to apply to just these creatures and a very few others, while excluding from its presumed protections the overwhelming majority of animals used in research.

In defending themselves against accusations of animal cruelty, research universities like to emphasize that 97.5 percent of animals used in research are rats or mice, and less than 0.1 percent are the monkeys, dogs, and cats more likely to inspire empathy and sympathy.  Much to the chagrin of more-radical advocates for kindness to animals, defenders of primates and companion animals are asking for an end to vivisection of only that 0.1 percent.

Oddly enough, animal advocates and animal researchers share a paradoxical consensus, arrived at with antithetical ethical reasoning, that primates and companion animals deserve no special ethical status or protections not afforded to other animals. Animal-rights advocates like those at PETA believe that all sentient beings are worthy of respect and deserve protection from the willful infliction of pain or suffering. They fear that rescuing only monkeys, dogs, and cats from the vivisection will dissipate any growing public pressure to abolish vivisection altogether, leaving the vast majority of experimental animals beyond the pale of public compassion. They consequently refuse to designate any particular species as special, but in so doing they risk allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good.

Enthusiastic vivisectors agree with the animal-rights advocates that there is nothing special about primates or companion animals. But in their ethical universe, only humans warrant ethical consideration, and all nonhuman animals should be fair game for vivisection. Ironically, it is at just this point of their agreement—about monkeys and companion animals not being special—where both groups' values differ most from those of the general population.

People have a natural empathy for their fellow primates because we recognize ourselves in them. Most of us also recognize a special bond with dogs and cats, after 10,000 years of selective breeding have produced companion animals hard-wired to love humans. One animal-laboratory technician at UCSD quit his job because a dog he was transporting to her fate on the vivisection table tried to shake hands with him.

It seems to many that treating dogs and cats the same as rodents or as animals killed for food would constitute a deep betrayal of an ancient bond between species. In short, primates warrant special status because they are so much like us, while dogs and cats deserve special protections because they like us so much.

You might think that in a dispute when one party asks the other to meet it 0.1 percent of the way, a mutually agreeable resolution could be readily reached. But no, researchers will not renounce vivisection of monkeys, dogs, or cats.

Research universities' animal-care-and-use committees dominated by animal experimenters routinely approve such vivisections because it is simply human nature to become hardened, if not indifferent, to pain we routinely inflict on others. As George Bernard Shaw put it, "Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity."

Just as we would not assign wolves the task of enforcing safeguards for sheep, independent agencies outside research-intensive universities are necessary to rein in scientists. Recall that the enactment of the Animal Welfare Act was instigated not by scientists but by an outraged public.

Other precedents have been established for societal constraint of animal researchers. The European Union has effectively banned vivisection of great apes, although some European scientists are attempting to get the ban repealed so that they can infect chimpanzees with hepatitis C. A similar Great Ape Protection Act is working its way through Congress. In 2009 the Swiss Supreme Court denied the Polytechnic School of the University of Zurich a license for a monkey-research project about learning processes that involved maximal suffering for the animals on the Swiss scale of severity. The court concluded that the costs of pain and suffering to the animals were not counterbalanced by benefit for humans. 

Even within the research university, some extra-academic constraints have been applied to animal use. In 2009, Oklahoma State University rejected a federally financed project to inject baboons with anthrax bacillus to test vaccines and treatments. "The administration," it stated, "had simply decided that OSU will not have primates euthanized on its campus." And in Dane County, in Wisconsin, a resolution is pending before the city council supporting the creation of a citizens' advisory panel to study whether experimenting with monkeys is humane and ethical. The results will no doubt affect the thousands of monkeys experimented on at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. 

All these efforts reflect a growing awareness that neuroscientists wedded to primate vivisection as a way to conduct research are simply too biased by their own training, research agendas, and career considerations to objectively perform the kind of ethical cost-benefit analysis required before permitting primate vivisection. The trend toward outside supervision of animal vivisection parallels the point made by Georges Clemenceau, a French statesman and physician, who said, "War is too important to be left to the generals." Ethically aware citizens are increasingly concluding that primate vivisection is too important to be left to the researchers who dominate their university animal-care-and-use committees.

Lawrence A. Hansen, M.D., is a professor of neuroscience and pathology at the University of California at San Diego, where he also leads the neuropathology core of the Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

Comments

1. rajivramnath - November 08, 2010 at 09:35 am

Thank you for a well-written and informative article.

2. gerrymander - November 08, 2010 at 10:44 am

Dr. Larsen is correct that researchers who are PETA members are exceedingly rare. As his essay demonstrates, the reason for their rarity is that following PETA's group think requires gross distortion of the realities of research with primates. Dr. Larsen is clearly uninformed about the effect that the animal welfare act has had on primate research. If he thinks that institutional IACUCs rubber stamp faculty protocols with nonhuman primates I challenge him to actually submit a protocol with NHP and see how easily it gains approval.

What is seriously disturbing about this essay is how Dr. Larsen distorts research in the manner which it typical of PETA. A core charge of Dr. Larsen is contained in this section of his essay:

"One especially disturbing example of primate vivisection repeatedly approved by many university animal-care-and-use committees is a decades-long series of highly invasive experiments performed on rhesus monkeys to learn more about the neuronal circuitry of visual tracking in the brain. The luckless monkeys undergo multiple surgeries to have coils implanted in both eyes; holes drilled in their skulls to allow researchers to selectively destroy some parts of their brains and put recording electrodes in others; and head-immobilization surgeries in which screws, bolts, and plates are directly attached to their skulls. The monkeys are anesthetized during these surgeries. After a recovery period, they are intentionally dehydrated to produce a water-deprivation "work ethic" so that they will visually track moving objects for the reward of a sip of water.

First impressions are usually correct in questions of cruelty to animals, and most of us cannot bear to even look at pictures of these monkeys, with their electrode-implanted brains and bolted heads, being put through their paces in a desperate attempt to get a life-sustaining sip of water. Such treatment is justified in the corresponding grant application by invoking the possibility that the resulting data may allow us to find the cause and cure for human diseases such as Alzheimer's.

But those of us who have spent decades in research on Alzheimer's disease recognize that such a justification is an ethical bait and switch, since the neural pathway being investigated in these experiments is not even involved in Alzheimer's disease. These experiments in the basic neuroscience of visual tracking are so thoroughly unrelated to the neuropathology of Alzheimer's disease that in more than 28 years of research in the neuroscience of the disease, I have never come across a single reference to them in any scientific literature on neurodegenerative disease. "

Note that Dr. Larsen doesn't identify a single researcher, publication, or laboratory which is engaged in the research he describes. His charge is a serious one, that the animal welfare act is being routinely violated. Secondary, is that the research he describes is related to Alzheimer's research. Of course since Dr. Larsen does not identify any of the actual research, he is free to make any claim he chooses about the relevance of this research to Alzheimer's. No one can verify his claim either that the researchers claim their research is related to Alzheimer's or that their work has never been cited by Alzheimer's researchers.

Of course, it is not outside of the realm of possibility that visual tracking studies may be related to understanding Alzheimer's, Dr. Larsen's conclusion of their irrelevance not withstanding. As Dr. Larsen has published (Hamilton, JM, et al.,
Neuropsychology. 2008 Nov;22(6):729-37.)visuospatial abnormailities predict the speed of cognitive decline in autopsy-verified dementia. True, Dr. Larsen was a minor author on this study and thus he may not be completely familiar with with findings, however it does not seem automatic that studies of visual tracking are necessarily irrelevant to understanding the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's. Dr. Larsen's smear of this research is a continuation of a line of attack which PETA has perfected. Apparently PETA has now recruited researchers who trade on their academic credentials to give credibility to this sort of attack which cannot be defended against because no research is actually named. This sort of attack is unethical and Dr. Larsen should be chastised for engaging the sort of unethical conduct for which PETA is notorious.

3. clintoncleveland - November 08, 2010 at 11:55 am

All these efforts reflect a growing awareness that neuroscientists wedded to primate vivisection as a way to conduct research are simply too biased by their own training, research agendas, and career considerations to objectively perform the kind of ethical cost-benefit analysis required before permitting primate vivisection.

All of these criticisms, of course, apply as well to those that use the nonprimate and noncompanion species that so concern Dr. Hansen. It is disingenuous in the extreme to pretend this is unique to any particular research species.

It is nothing more or less than a lie to imply that the "ethical cost-benefit analysis" performed before "permitting" research on the species that so concern Dr. Hansen or any other vertebrate research species is done by the researcher who plans the work.

As Dr. Hansen well knows research on animals, particularly that which uses nonhuman primates, dogs or cats, is constrained, overseen and regulated by multiple layers of Federal law, Federal regulation, oversight by independent regulatory accreditation bodies and by the local Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. The behavior of this latter is backstopped by the Attending Veterinarian of each research University...a person who has an independent role overseeing the welfare of research subjects, individually and collectively, that is enshrined in US Federal law, i.e., the Animal Welfare Act.

Due to this system, there are many, many parties who are reviewing justifications for the use of animals in research and approving everything from the general environment of the University to the specific research project and the treatment and outcome for each and every subject used.

Furthermore, in most cases the research will not go forward until it has been funded, generally by the NIH. This process requires yet more individuals who are not "wedded" to the fate of a given research project being convinced that it is a valuable thing, not just to permit, but to devote scarce Federal research funds to support (at best 15-20% of research proposals receive funding). It stands to reason, and is backed up by reality of NIH grant review, that if the species Dr. Hansen wishes to exclude represent only less than one percent of all funded studies then the reviewers cannot only be those who personally work with one of the species under discussion. In short, scientists who work with fruit flies, mice and even humans are finding justification for use of nonhuman primates, dogs, cats and other species quite compelling.

As one who recently spent a term of 4 year service on a review panel, I can assert with confidence from those experiences that tenuous links between basic science and an unrelated human health condition (such as Dr. Hansen asserts, without much evidence) do not make the difference in funding a proposal. Not in the least. So even if it is mentioned, it does not push the research from unfundable to fundable. Not even close.

To conclude, Dr. Hansen has written an egregious misrepresentation of how the "cost benefit analysis" of the vast majority of research using animals is performed and just who is performing that analysis. It is most emphatically not a decision that is made in isolation by an individual research scientists.

4. deepbluesci - November 08, 2010 at 01:27 pm

Jerrymander and clintoncleveland are right, Dr. Hansen's claims don't reflect the reality of non-human primate research.

For a start I've never actually read a paper discussing the type of invasive neuroscience research he mentions that lists developing treatments for alzheimer's as a princilpe aim of the project. Certainly I've read many that yielded results that had broad implications for our understanding of how the brain works in general, and that includes knowledge that may be relevant to Alzheimer's disease, but when they are focused on neurological diseases and damage it tends to be diseases such as Parkinson's disease, where primate research is playing an ongoing important role in the development of deep brain stimulation, and - along side work on other "higher" species such as cats and pigs -in developing of devices such vision chips and brain machine interfaces.

http://speakingofresearch.com/2008/05/30/monkeys-robots-and-the-university-of-pittsburgh-new-hope-for-paralysis-victims/
http://speakingofresearch.com/2008/10/26/returning-control-to-paralyzed-limbs-one-nerve-at-a-time/
http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2010.1747

Though such research is at a very early stage it is already translating into the clinic, even though it may be decades before they are efffective enough to be made widely available.

It's also worthwhile that the Swiss Supreme Court ruling only applied to one canton in Switzerland, and then only to one specific project. Meanwhile the EU Parliament, Commission and Council of Ministers agreed after lengthy debate that research on monkeys is vital to many areas of modern medicine. The new EU directive on animal research could have been very damaging to biomedical research in Europe, the early draft was a mess, but thanks to the hard work of EU scientists and organizations such as Understanding Animal Research and the Association of Medical Research Charities the new directive strikes a good balance between animal welfare and the needs of patients. It is a good example of what scientists can achieve when they engage with politicians.

I'm pretty sure that after consultations with staff and scientists Oklahoma State University quickly reversed its decision on euthanasia of primates, in fact the "ban" seems to have been due to a misunderstanding by members of the administration and was only ever intended to apply to one particular project (where there were some legitimate concerns over who had responsibility for what). Perhaps somebody more familiar with the case can confirm this. Certainly the wider scientific community made the OSU administration very aware of just how bad their decision (and even more so the stated reasons for taking it) was http://speakingofresearch.com/2009/12/16/standing-together-widespread-support-for-osu-and-its-research/

It is just as incorrect to state that the overwhelming majority of medical researchers (and physicians) support animal research because of groupthink, as it is to suggest that groupthink is the reason why the overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that human activity is having a serious impact on climate change. In both cases scientists face accusations that they are only saying thay agree to avoid persecution or for financial gain, whereas in fact they take the positions they do because of the evidence from their own and other's work. In either case more scientists need to learn to engage with the public (in a variety of ways) to counter the propaganda of unrepresentative, and often quite incorrect, minorities.

5. labjack - November 08, 2010 at 03:49 pm

I think the author is trying to suggest that scientists become advocates for the relaxation of protections for verminous and food species. Mice and rats, pigs and fish should no longer be protected to the same level as man's best friend, or closest cousin. Kudo's for having the courage to rail against the groupthink of PETA. Not all animals are created equally.

I don't think we should throw out all protections for these animals. Perhaps it is time to travel to the nearest hardware store and set the standard for care for vermin at the level the general public maintains for them. The standard mousetrap could be the new standard for mouse killing, the glue traps I think are much to cruel.



6. inverse_agonist - November 08, 2010 at 04:20 pm

I'm annoyed with both sides of this debate, too. My "outsider perspective" is that of someone who switched to a vegan diet while finishing a neuroscience Ph.D.

Any honest person will have to grant that a lot of animal research causes suffering to animals. I also don't think it's controversial to say that a lot of animal research is "bad" in the sense of being unoriginal, poorly conceived, impossible to interpret, etc. It doesn't take a big leap to see that the world wouldn't lose anything if this "bad" research didn't get done. If that research is being performed, anyway, it's unnecessary and thus causing unnecessary harm to animals. Everyone agrees this is bad.

So why does "bad" research happen in the first place? The fundamental problem is treating research like a business whose productivity can be measured in publications. The obsession with growth, productivity, and revenue is a disease that's causing vast amounts of suffering, and not just for laboratory animals. It's not acceptable to simply wait until you have a good idea to do an experiment. Some problems are so hard that most people won't have new things to say about them most of the time, but most people need to publish more frequently than that.

The same mindset that causes unnecessary studies to be performed also causes unnecessary housing developments, unnecessary layoffs, unnecessary pollution and destruction of all kinds. It's the same mindset that produces factory farms that animal rights activists also object to.

"We have to end capitalism" is a tough sell, so, instead of making honest arguments, anti-vivisectionists mostly spread a bunch of disinformation about science.

The fact is that science works, and we learn basic biological facts by using methods like primate electrophysiology. This is not the same thing as "working on a cure for Alzheimer's disease," and Hansen is just taking advantage of the fact that nonscientists don't really understand the difference. Knowing how low-level visual representations are affected by top-down attentional processes has no immediate practical usefulness, but it is real information that couldn't have been obtained in any other way. Other research with methods much like what Hansen addresses the way in which motor intentions get turned into arm movements. This has obvious implications for helping paralyzed people control prosthetic limbs, for example.

Is the possibility of improved prosthetics worth the lives of some number of monkeys? That's a hard question that anti-vivisectionists don't want to address. Instead, groups like PETA pretend we don't learn anything by studying animals at all, even while high-level members depend on animal research-derived treatments like insulin.

7. chrisct - November 08, 2010 at 04:43 pm

Why then do scientific journals such as Science and Nature publish articles of monkey experiments that have no hope of ever reaching their objective to cure Alzheimer's disease, rather than Dr. Hansen's research?

And what fools approve funding for grant applications promising to cure human diseases such as Alzheimer's by studying visual neurophysiology?

8. hanks - November 08, 2010 at 05:19 pm

I think it is great that this conversation is happening. This is a set of hard issues about which we need to talk intelligently. Thank you all for participating!

9. rodbell - November 08, 2010 at 07:59 pm

The people who do this work, i.e., the people to whom ordinary people turn for guidance about the subjects of their expertise (which, presumably, is not "how animals should be treated"), should deal with the unpleasant side of their occupation. Can they fulfill their mission(s) without inflicting pain on other species? Is that even a legitimate question? This is their problem. As a concerned consumer community, we should register our concern(s), but that's it. They should know "how far they can go" to give us what we want.

10. a_wang - November 09, 2010 at 02:04 am

Dr. Hansen,

Your case of being part of both a prominent animal welfare organization as well as a top tiered research-intensive university provides a unique opportunity to analyze animal research from opposing standpoints at the same time. As an undergraduate researcher working with transgenic mice, I believe that animal research will assist in the progression of science with notable past achievements such as the discovery of a vaccine to polio. However, I do not turn a blind eye to treating laboratory animals with respect and following laboratory protocols. As you state in the article, the “dual identity as a research faculty member and an animal advocate affords a unique perspective on both camps.” Do you feel that being affiliated with two very different organizations is detrimental or can it benefit the methodology behind conducting research in a laboratory? In the modern science era where a huge breakthrough in medicine can propel a university to the headlines, I wonder if the concern for animal welfare is hindering the advancement of research as scientists face scrutiny from outside associations.

Between the two contrasting groups of animal researchers and activists, do you believe that a balance can be achieved in the future? As you point out in your article, “independent agencies outside research-intensive universities are necessary to rein in scientists.” I agree that public opinion has been a major factor in the reduction of the number of animals used in research as well as the development of alternatives. Federal policies such as the Animal Welfare Act have been enacted on behalf of the “outraged public.” However, is there a limit to which the public can influence what goes on in a laboratory? For example, I see the removal of a federally funded project to test baboons with anthrax at Oklahoma State University as a loss to science as they are a well-respected school in research involving detection, effects, and countermeasures of biological agents. I am sure that you are aware that non-human primate testing is used as a last resort, when no alternatives exist. If facilities are closing down due to outside pressure, is there any breathing room left for researchers? With the continuous growth of the NIH and other federal funding organizations, I look forward to what the future holds for animal research. Thank you for your wonderful article!

11. 11241896 - November 09, 2010 at 03:36 pm

Dr. Hansen is right that animal welfare committees in research universities must be independent if they are to ensure compliance with the spirit as well as the letter of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act. I am a lawyer, not a scientist--and hence an observer of, rather than a participant in, this debate. But I am often frustrated to hear researchers defend ethically dubious experiments by claiming that their findings could help cure Alzheimer's, or cancer, or AIDS. These claims--which are designed to appeal to the emotions, rather than the intellect--are unfair trump cards along the lines of the "national security" defense that stifles inquiry and debate in other areas of law and public policy. The national security defense frequently collapses on close inspection--or proves wildly overblown. So too I suspect is the case with many claims to cure human diseases that capture the public's imagination--as in the example that Dr. Hansen provides regarding visual neural pathways. When scientists exaggerate the importance of their research to human welfare, they not only misrepresent their work; they dilute the ability of others involved in truly cutting-edge science to work unimpeded.

On the other hand, radical groups like PETA do a disservice to animals with their absolutism: all animal experimentation must end now! Rather than taking such a hard line--and putting scientists and industry on the defensive--animal groups should try to find areas for consensus. Their target should be experimentation on primates, dogs, and cats--especially marginal experimentation that does not directly advance human welfare. In any event, animal experimentation in research settings is a tougher case than experimentation involved in producing commercial products like cleaners, soaps, and toothpastes, where the harms to animals clearly outweigh any conceivable benefits. Rather than drawing lines in the sand, both sides of this debate should try to reduce unnecessary animal suffering as much as possible. And critically, so should consumers, who should purchase cruelty-free products, which are cheap and widely available.

12. riweiss - November 09, 2010 at 04:41 pm

I spent much of the 1990s working for nonhuman animals in a variety of settings, including 3 laboratories. In the mind-1990s, I cared for hundreds of monkeys and chimpanzees at a federally-funded facility, and watched many of my charges die from exerimentally-induced human diseases.

It is interesting to me how easily defenders of biomedicla research gloss over the effects of their work on their animal subjects. Writers here hold up the Animal Welfare Act as some sort of talisman against claims that biomedical research is inhumane. While the AWA and its related regulations did improve the lot of many nonhuman research subjects, it does nothing to protection nonhuman animals from the rigors of routine laboratory life and the basic procedures required by research protocols. No matter how kindly it's done, hosing out a monkeys tiny aluminum cage while she's cowering in the corner causes fear and extreme discomfort. Squeezing a monkey in a cage in order to give her an injection, or darting and anesthetizing a chimpanzee causes terror. Preventing individuals from forming their own social groups and keeping friends and family apart to facilitate a medical procedure causes unbearable stress and does untold emotional damage. None of these things is prohibited by the AWA.

AWA regulations require that a full-grown 150 lb male chimpanzee is only required to have 5 x 5 feet of floor space in a cage only 7 feet high? A 20 lb macaque (the monkey species of choice for biomedical research studies) is only required to have 2 x 2 feet of floor space. Chimpanzees are brachiators; macaques are arboreal -- both are built for leaping and climbing. I fail to see how it can be considered "humane" to force nonhuman primates to live in these conditions.

I'm not even referring to the research -- I'm just talking about typical laboratory life. Labs were not built to give nonhuman primates a good life, and in my experience, the Animal Welfare Act and IACUCs have very little impact on how labs are set up and run.

Biomedical research causes pain and suffering to nonhuman animals. We can do better than this. Afterall, we know that there is no better model for human diseases and conditions than the human, yet we know that using humans without consent is unethical and immoral. We've made due without human subjects for these types of research projects; why is it unreasonable to request monkeys and chimpanzees be brought into the fold, and find another way to get the answers we seek?

Laboratory Primate Advocacy Group, Inc.
www.lpag.org

13. staceystormes - November 10, 2010 at 12:10 am

Dr. Hansen,
Thank you so much for this balanced article. It is refreshing to see these arguments from someone with your unique perspective. The denial comments left here by others in your field only illustrate your position that many lack the distance to honestly assess the ethics of animal welfare. When someone refuses to concede that any of the methods of any practitioners of vivisection are overly cruel and unethical, clearly they lack objective. To deny the existence of the primate vivisection in studies of neuronal circuitry you reference is akin to denying the holocaust; there is plenty of photographic evidence of both. I have seen images of mokeys in similar rigging as you describe, and it is indeed horrific.
I applaud you for having the courage to make a persuasive argument that doesn't make you popular with either side of the debate but has important points both need to recognize.
As someone who supports animal rights, I often feel that PETA would accompish much more if they did not alienate so many moderates who would otherwise easily be enlisted in the cause. (For example, many meat-eaters are conservationists, but when Ingrid Newkirk states, "You can't be a meat-eating environmentalist," she pushes away a huge demographic that she should be enlisting.) If we can't have even handed debates that objectively look at both sides, we will never progress.
Thanks, again.

14. ericadahlphd - November 10, 2010 at 09:15 am

Though no longer in academia, I still receive email alerts when a new CHE is available, and I was amused by the title of the alert I received this morning: "Animal Abuse in Academia". All three articles were interesting, though focused on extremes, and I thought it might be worth it to point out that there are indeed some avenues for people who would like to productively move away from animal use. I work at the Institute for In Vitro Sciences, which specializes in non-animal testing and counts a number of large FDA and EPA regulated corporations as well PETA as contributers. Johns Hopkins University has a Center for Alternatives to Animals Testing. The Society of Toxicology (SOT), a trade association for probably the most animal-research intensive of scientific disciplines, has a specialty section dedicated to refining, replacing and reducing animal use in toxicology. SOT also counts among its membership a number of people involved in animal welfare, including representatives from PETA, PCRM and the Humane Society.

Though I fully support the use of animals in research and for food, I'm happy to be in a position to move non-animal testing forward, and I'd encourage everybody to think about productive ways to do this. There are two granting programs available to academics interested in developing non-animal testing methods, one from the Alternatives Research Development Fund, and the other from the International Foundation for Ethical Research.

-Erica Dahl

15. ellenhunt - November 10, 2010 at 05:30 pm

I think that the repeated use of "vivisection" is unethical, indefensible and radically unprofessional.

vivisection - "dissection of a living animal".

The original meaning of vivisection referred to dissection of living animals without anesthesia. In the real world, this is done routinely on food animals, and all fish are handled this way. But the original meaning referred to the practice of doing dissection demonstrations and studies on living animals that were tied down.

In today's world, vivisection in that original sense does not happen in animal care and use.

Since then, the word has been watered down by using it to refer to any procedure carried out on an animal, whether under anesthesia or not. This broadening has been done specifically for the purpose of invoking its shock value.

That is unprofessional. It is propagandizing, not discusssion.

16. marcbeko - November 11, 2010 at 09:10 am

Dr. Hansen: Many thanks for a very interesting an important essay from the "inside" - this might also be of interest to some of you:

http://animals.change.org/blog/view/the_animal_welfare_act_are_animals_really_better_off



17. bundibird - November 14, 2010 at 07:19 pm

labjack, that's not what Hansen was saying at all. He's saying that different sorts of animals ARE currently treated differently, but that they all SHOULD be treated to the same level of care and consideration, regardless of species. Something that is unnacceptable to do to a dog is also unacceptable to do to a mouse or rat.

Thank you, Dr Hansen, for this article. I agree that by hollering about small injustices, animal rights groups train people to tune out their voices when it comes to something big.

18. robsmith70 - November 15, 2010 at 11:08 am

What I really want to know is ... Who is the lunatic?? The so called scientist willing to torture an innocent animal or the person who is willing to all out to save that animal?? Me,personally, I believe it's the scientist willing to probe another living being to solve a problem that could be solved by other means. What happens to this animals each and every day?? Is their pain taken care of ?? Is the scientist willing to probe his/her own self to help solve these issues faced by mankind?? I think not. So why are they willing to torture primates, rodents, dogs, cats, rabbits, and thousands more of the animal kingdom to find a single cure of a single disease. Why can't we find a true alternative to torture?? The scientist willing to put these animals through HELL need to be tied down and treated to the same type of "Research" in order to show them what kind of PAIN these animals go through during their short lives !!!!!!!

19. pscigrad13 - November 19, 2010 at 02:55 pm

Interesting article. I agree with a lot of it, but it also reminds me a bit of the current broken discourse on political polarization. Both sides are painted as extreme and a call is made for moderation and compromise. Progressive efforts at compromise are ignored to further the narrative that both sides are equally at fault. PETA and other activists have/do concentrate on reforms for Primates, Dogs, and Cats because they do pay attention to public sentiment. AWA reform efforts of the 80s and 90s focused primarily on special welfare provisions for dogs and primates, which were ultimately undercuts during the USDA rulemaking prossess. Despite these efforts at moderate and incremental political compromise, activists are still characterized as primarily "protesting" the use of mice (as if there's no distinction between moral positions and political positions). So PETA gets no credit for attempts at compromise and moderation, and at the same time legal protections (or the prospect for them) for rodents get gutted in the AWA (2001 Helms Amendment removes all coverage of mice, rats and birds) and rodent use increases exponentially (estimates based on expansions of university rodent facilities put the rodent number somewhere north of 100 million now). Animal activists have been rolled like Dems in the 2010 midterms because they tried to compromise with an astute and unyielding opposition. They were politically defeated because of their moderation and then commentators attribute their losses to extemism on both sides.

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