Adventures in Ethics and Science

You’ve probably heard that UCLA scientist Edythe London, whose house was earlier vandalized to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars by animal rights activists, has once again been targeted. This time an incendiary device was left on her front door.

Abel and Mark weighed in on this appalling use of tactics to terrorize a scientist doing work on approved protocols — protocols that had to meet the stringent standards imposed by federal regulations. But while the NIH and the odd newspaper columnist stands up to make the case for animal use in medical research and against the violent intimidation of medical researchers, there seems not to be much in the way of public outcry.

Do people really feel like firebombing is a legitimate means of persuasion?

My guess is that they don’t. However, some of the details of the situation as described in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times may explain why the public is conflicted. Beyond animal use, the area of London’s research and the source of her funding seem to be raising discomfort, creating a tangled knot of controversy that’s begging to be untangled.

The article opens:

Here’s a recipe for academic controversy:

First, find dozens of hard-core teenage smokers as young as 14 and study their brains with high-tech scans. Second, feed vervet monkeys liquid nicotine and then kill at least six of them to examine their brains. Third, accept $6 million from tobacco giant Philip Morris to pay for it all. Fourth, cloak the project in unusual secrecy.

At UCLA, a team of researchers is following this formula to produce what it hopes will be a groundbreaking study of addiction. So far, the scientists have proved that the issues of animal testing and tobacco-funded research are among the most contentious on university campuses.

UCLA professor Edythe London, the lead scientist on the three-year study, said it could discover new ways to help people quit smoking and lead to innovative treatments for other addictions.

“We are doing this because we really want to save lives,” she said. “I am really proud of what we are doing. We have a track record for contributing to science, and we would like to bring that to bear on the problem of nicotine addiction.”

First knot: animal use.

London’s research involves animals, including rats and vervet monkeys. A number of these animals will be administered nicotine, and a number will be killed so that there brains can be examined to determine the effects of the nicotine.

Is this use of animals in research appropriate? The protocols were scrutinized by UCLA’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee before they were approved. To be approved, they needed to demonstrate that the appropriate measures would be taken to minimize animal discomfort and distress, that the researchers had looked into ways to reduce the number of animals used or to replace animal use, that the proposed studies would not duplicate prior studies (which would amount to using animals without the hope of producing additional knowledge), and so forth.

The fact that the IACUC approved London’s protocols indicates that this committee was satisfied that the animal use in her research was appropriate and would be done humanely.

ALF, the group that claimed credit for the earlier flooding of London’s house would disagree — but we shouldn’t forget, ALF’s stated aim is to end all animal experimentation. Satisfying stringent federal requirements for the humane use of animals in research would not satisfy ALF at all.

It’s quite likely that most members of the public are not opposed to all animal research (or use, for that matter — even in California, Americans eat a lot of meat). It’s probably just as likely that a lot of members of the public are not sure that every scientific research projects involving animal use is worthwhile. That this one involves vervet monkeys as well as rats might make the public less likely to jump to London’s defense. So, too, might the question her research addresses.

Second knot: nicotine addiction.

London describes her research as aiming at an understanding of why adolescents smoke and at a determination of what smoking-cessation techniques are effective with young smokers. From the article:

In the first phase, researchers will test smoking-cessation techniques on 200 smokers between 14 and 20, an age when the brain is still developing. London said one focus is to understand why young people smoke, including whether depression or attention-deficit disorder contributes to the habit.

For the second phase, researchers will recruit 40 hard-core smokers, most of them from the first study group, as well as a control group of 40 nonsmokers, London said.

They will undergo functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans of their brains while they take psychological and personality tests.

The third phase will focus on animals. Researchers will administer liquid nicotine to adolescent and adult vervet monkeys, London said. The monkeys will undergo different behavioral tests and have PET (positron emission tomography) scans of their brains.

Eventually, six to 12 monkeys will be killed and their brains studied, Peccei said.

London, who has been at UCLA since 2001, hopes that the research will lead to a new understanding of how addiction works.

“It’s very important to do animal studies,” she said. “The animal studies are very focused on the effects of nicotine during development and the ability of the brain to do its work.”

Note that the research project as a whole involves animal and human subjects. These are subjects who are taking on some risk in order that the research produce some knowledge.

And I wonder if the public thinks the particular knowledge in question isn’t that important.

After all, we all know that smoking is bad for you, that cigarettes are addictive, and that smoking is a choice. (Is smoking a choice after you’re addicted? My hunch is that the public thinks so.) Why do we need scientific research to establish what everyone knows? And why commit resources to learning how best to treat a problem that seems 100% avoidable, if only those teenagers would never take the first puff?

If the research dealt with a genetic disease, rather than nicotine addiction, would the public be more willing to decry the attacks aimed at scaring Edythe London out of research with animals? Is the public less conflicted about the use of animals in the study than about research aimed at addressing as a medical condition what they view as a moral failing?

Third knot: funding from the tobacco industry.

Complicating the public’s uneasy relationship with the subject of London’s research is the source of her research funding:

Philip Morris, which is paying for 23 research projects at seven UC campuses, supports the UCLA study as part of the company’s effort “to reduce youth tobacco use and increase scientific understanding in the field,” said William Phelps, a Philip Morris spokesman.

He said the company has no intention of using the results or teenagers’ brain scans to develop more addictive cigarettes. “We would never do that,” he said.

Phelps declined to comment on the use of animals in the study.

Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who backed efforts by an activist to obtain a copy of the grant proposal, said UC has no business accepting money from tobacco companies.

“It is absolutely outrageous to see this kind of funding and this type of research within the UC system,” said Yee, a psychologist. “The fact that a piece of research is funded by the tobacco industry, and their singular issue is how to sell cigarettes, taints the results of whatever the findings might be.”

At UCLA, as at other University of California campuses, faculty members are free to accept money from any source. The only restriction is that studies involving animal and human subjects be approved by university review committees to ensure that they meet standards for the treatment of their subjects, university officials said.

For more than a year, anti-tobacco scientists and activists have pushed UC to prohibit faculty from accepting money from tobacco companies for research on tobacco. The Board of Regents, citing academic freedom, agreed instead to establish a committee that will review tobacco company research proposals.

UCLA officials say that the idea for the study of teenagers and monkeys originated with Philip Morris.

Phelps said Philip Morris began searching the country in 2006 for scientists who might be interested in conducting research on helping adolescents quit smoking. The search led the company to London, a noted UCLA professor of psychiatry and pharmacology who had studied addiction at the National Institutes of Health.

Philip Morris invited London to submit a grant proposal, which she did, said Carol Stogsdill, senior executive director of UCLA’s media relations office. The company awarded London $6 million to establish the Adolescent Smoking Cessation Center at the school and conduct the study on teenage and animal brains.

It’s not ridiculous to think that Philip Morris might have an agenda in funding London’s research — although whether the agenda is helping to get kids off cigarettes or to get more kids hooked on cigarettes depends on who you ask.

If, as California State Senator Leland Yee argues, the agenda of the corporation putting up the funding taints the research, what does this mean for pharmaceutical research, or automobile safety research, or any other line of research that is supported with corporate dollars?

Would the research be less biased if Philip Morris did it in-house than if they funded the research in academic labs?

Is the state of California going to provide the funds so that researchers can study nicotine addiction without taking money from Philip Morris?

While it’s quite possible that results could be biased by an unconscious loyalty to one’s funders, the tobacco industry’s track record would probably put one on notice for pressure to come to a certain conclusion. Whether Philip Morris has a stable of evil cigarette engineers ready to take brain scans and use them to make cigarettes more effective … well, I wouldn’t want to speculate.

Fourth knot: secrecy.

We have a researcher using rats, monkeys, and teenagers to study a condition that the public views through a lens of morality with funds provided by an industry that has lied before in order to keep selling their product.

That this researcher is working at a public university means that the public (at least in theory) expects to be able to get the details of what exactly is going on.

UCLA has attempted to keep quiet about London’s study out of fear of attacks on its researchers.

Animal rights activists were suspected in June of placing a bomb under the car of a UCLA ophthalmologist who had conducted tests on monkeys. In 2005, another UCLA researcher who conducted animal studies was targeted by a bomb at a residence. Neither device went off.

In September, UCLA responded to a Public Records Act request from anti-smoking activist Kimberlee Homer Vagadori by releasing a heavily redacted copy of London’s grant proposal. There were so many deletions from the document that tobacco foes charged that the university was trying to hide work for Philip Morris.

In response to a subsequent Public Records Act request from The Times, UCLA provided more details but released virtually no information on the animal studies, citing the danger to its staff if specifics were made public.

Officials said it was the first time UCLA had withheld research information on the grounds of public safety. Peccei, who oversees research at the campus, acknowledged that UCLA could face a legal challenge but said that protecting researchers comes first.

“It’s not like we are trying to protect this Philip Morris center because we have some secret to hide,” Peccei said. “We will probably wind up in court, but we don’t want firebombs in the backyards of people who work on animals.”

The contentious issue is the reason for the secrecy. UCLA insists that the aim is to protect researchers who use animals from attacks of the sort directed at London (among others). When openness facilitates the placement of firebombs by groups who reject any sort of research with animals, it seems prudent to keep certain details secret.

Note that this is not the same as keeping all the details of the research secret from everyone. The IACUC had to approve the protocols, and the protocols had to be explicit in their details. Also, IACUCs include a representative of the community (in this case, a member unaffiliated with UCLA) and a non-scientist. This means that the public is represented in the IACUC’s decisions.

However, there are some who seem sure the secrecy has less to do with the safety of the investigators from harassment and physical violence and more to do with protecting the evil machinations of Philip Morris:

“It’s stunning in this day and age that a university would do secret research for the tobacco industry on the brains of children,” said Matt Meyers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, D.C. “It raises fundamental questions about the integrity, honesty and openness of research anywhere at the University of California.”

The big question, of course, is how scientists could do this research openly without becoming targets of ALF and groups of its ilk. Are the members of the public who are clamoring for full disclosure here willing to take the necessary steps to protect the researchers from harm?

If they think the corporate funder is a problem, are they willing to help locate “cleaner” sources of funding for the research?

Or would this research be a non-starter for the public anyway? And if that’s the case, what does that tell us about what the public thinks science is good for, or who the public thinks deserves to benefit from scientific research?

Edythe London is short on public support because the public is ambivalent — and this ambivalence goes much further than the question of animal use in research.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark P
    February 14, 2008

    I have a lot of thoughts on this sort of thing, but I’ll forgo most of them and ask a question. If most people believe that something is ethically wrong, is it wrong? Aren’t ethics determined essentially in the same way that correct use of language is determined; in other words, by common acceptance? The acceptability of the human use of animals for anything is basically a value judgement. Since most of us do not believe that there is a set of universal values (set by a god or something like it), then values are, as I said, just a matter of common acceptance.

    If most people believe that it’s wrong to do this particular research, regardless of any potential benefits, is it?

  2. #2 ravi
    February 14, 2008

    You’ve probably heard that UCLA scientist Edythe London, whose house was earlier vandalized to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars by animal rights activists, has once again been targeted. This time an incendiary device was left on her front door.

    Abel and Mark weighed in on this appalling use of tactics to terrorize a scientist doing work on approved protocols — protocols that had to meet the stringent standards imposed by federal regulations. But while the NIH and the odd newspaper columnist stands up to make the case for animal use in medical research and against the violent intimidation of medical researchers, there seems not to be much in the way of public outcry.

    There need be no outcry because this sort of treatment of animals continues at a massive scale — that’s the status quo. The trouble with your falling back to “stringent” requirements or what “most members of the public” believe is that both of these have been true for a wide range of activities in the past that we now consider inhumane — law and regulation always trail (or form a subset) of what is morally/ethically right. And the fact that the overseeing organisations are dominated by insiders (even if they are professional “ethicists”) doesn’t help.

    So, the question is, do you accept the premise that what we humans do to animals (especially higher-order ones, as Singer argues) is ethically inconsistent? If you do, then what tactics are justifiable? How have we dealt with such large scale horrifying activities in our past? As a pacifist, I am opposed to violence against living things including humans, so anything that has a chance of harming someone is, in general, a line of action I would avoid. But if you are not committed to pacifism, and if you indulge in material destruction that does not harm individuals, what is the argument against your action?

  3. #3 Ktesibios
    February 14, 2008

    The argument, Ravi, is twofold and relatively simple:

    1. Setting a firebomb at a person’s house is a very clear implicit threat that you will do them bodily harm if they don’t comply with your wishes. To intimidate by means of the threat of violence is wrong; ethically it’s no different than brandishing a gun at someone who just merged in front of you on the freeway.

    2. In a civilized society, it’s not only pacifists who are obligated to refrain from threatening violence against others for the purpose of forcing them to do your will. That obligation falls on us all, and no amount of “activist” cant will alter that.

  4. #4 Lab Lemming
    February 15, 2008

    Alternatively, the media has enough fatal university shooting sprees to cover that they just don’t have time for lesser academic crimes that don’t result in a body count.

  5. #5 PhysioProf
    February 15, 2008

    “It’s not ridiculous to think that Philip Morris might have an agenda in funding London’s research — although whether the agenda is helping to get kids off cigarettes or to get more kids hooked on cigarettes depends on who you ask.”

    Philip Morris’s agenda in funding this type of resarch is neither of those things.

  6. #6 Janet D. Stemwedel
    February 15, 2008

    PhysioProf, do you have a good sense of what the actual Philip Morris agenda in funding this sort of project might be? (My bets would be: generating positive PR, reaping some kind of tax benefit from donating money to university research. But I’m not a corporation honcho, so these are guesses.)

  7. #7 Owen
    February 15, 2008

    I think it’s obvious that the fact that Edythe London’s work was funded by a tobacco company is a problem for a lot of people who would otherwise be happy to support her. After all many of us are pretty cynical about the motives and practices of the pharmaceutical industry, but at least its products are useful to medicine most of the time, so we continue to support the use of animals in research for new drugs.

    The tobacco industry on the other hand markets a product that we all know to be addictive and very bad for the health, and has a long record of suppressing results, in particular those of animal experiments, that don’t support its agenda.

    I’m not sure that many people are opposed to research on addiction, after all it’s clear that the current ways of treating it leave much to be desired, and the war on drugs hasn’t exactly been won. It’s the tobacco industry funding that’s the real problem for those who would otherwise support Prof. London..

  8. #8 Constance Reader
    February 15, 2008

    I always ask my sister this question, when the subject of animal testing arises:

    Experimental drugs are given to animals before humans because of their unknown toxicities. If a drug produces serious symptoms of dangerous/deadly toxicities in the animal studies (I cite one drug report I read in which the rats’ livers were studded with toxic lesions), it is not tested in humans. Period. Would you prefer that these experimental drugs be given to humans first?

    Unfortunately, her answer is always yes. She honestly would prefer that humans die so animals can live. I imagine that at least some of the firebombers would give the same answer.

    For Ms. London’s study, the question is the same: would you rather that humans be killed so that their brains may be dissected and studied in order to gain knowledge necessary to reveal the path of addiction in order to treat it? If there were another way, the scientists would use it, for a variety of reasons. But there isn’t.

  9. #9 ravi
    February 15, 2008

    1. Setting a firebomb at a person’s house is a very clear implicit threat that you will do them bodily harm if they don’t comply with your wishes. To intimidate by means of the threat of violence is wrong; ethically it’s no different than brandishing a gun at someone who just merged in front of you on the freeway.

    2. In a civilized society, it’s not only pacifists who are obligated to refrain from threatening violence against others for the purpose of forcing them to do your will. That obligation falls on us all, and no amount of “activist” cant will alter that.

    2 depends on 1, and 1 holds only if your claimed implication (that the act is a veiled threat of bodily harm) is true. Now the ALF has had some recent events where they have been found guilty of causing harm to individuals, but their [support group] FAQ explicitly mentions: “TO take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human.”.

    Your analogy fails because the brutal torture and murder of millions of animals each year is not the equivalent of someone cutting in front of you. Rather, if one must analogise, it is the equivalent of someone beating your spouse with a baseball bat. At which time, I presume you will be brandishing a gun, if you are a patient person, that is.

    You can make an argument that in loosely organised groups which take on illegal protest actions that are destructive, the risk of harm to humans is high, even if unintended. That is not entirely incorrect, in my view.

  10. #10 Chad
    February 15, 2008

    Brutal torture? Ravi, have you ever taken part in any animal experimentation? Obviously you have not, because if you had you would see that it is far from torture. I’m not saying that there aren’t some bad seeds out there that don’t take all the precautions they should to prevent unnecessary suffering, but to say that all researchers are like that is ludicrous.

    Oh well, I don’t know what the point is even pointing this out to you; you’re just going to call me a murderer anyway.

  11. #11 kevin
    February 16, 2008

    Chad: I think your opponents would certainly argue that “unnecessary suffering” is a vague term — they view the nicotine treatments for these monkeys as “unnecessary suffering”, and you obviously do not. In fact, I think Ravi would call it “brutal torture” (though I can’t say if I do or don’t agree with that — I know next to nothing about what the nicotine feeding involves).

    But I think the “murder” half, which you don’t really address, is pretty clear. It can be argued that murder of animals is okay if done for the right reasons — you’re view, I assume, or that murder of animals is always wrong — Ravi’s view, I assume.

    It would be nice if they said “killed” or something, instead of “murder”, because that word is associated with “always wrong”. It would also be nice if you addressed Ravi’s point, which I think was valid, that the trivial “merging on the freeway” analogy is not helpful when your opponent openly argues that the act committed is not trivial, but instead is “murder”. I say unhelpful because it doesn’t actually represent the views of your opponents, it just tries to paint a strawman of them as irrational, illogical, maniacs.

    Janet: I liked your post — it was thoughtful and well written for the most part. And you ask a lot of good questions. But you don’t seem to discuss your idea of the answers — I assume because you think the answers are obvious and that everyone agrees on them. But I don’t think everyone does. Here’s an example:

    “If the research dealt with a genetic disease, rather than nicotine addiction, would the public be more willing to decry the attacks aimed at scaring Edythe London out of research with animals?”

    Hmm. Should I think “YES”? In that case, are you trying to argue that the public is hypocritical, and should be more willing to decry attacks against nicotine addiction research, just like for genetic diseases? But you yourself point out that there is an element of morality here too that might account for why “YES” for genetic disease and “NO” for nicotine research is a reasonable, non-hypocritical stance. So bringing up genetic disease research doesn’t seem to get me anywhere unless I already have the answer to your other question about morality and choices.

    Or, I could say “NO”. And I am guessing that the people who carried out these attacks would say “NO” to both genetic disease research and nicotine research. I don’t see how this answer makes your case any better, unless you will argue that both “NO” to genetic research and “NO” to nicotine research are both wrong answers. But now your job is harder, because you have to win two arguments instead of one.

    Anyway, nice post. I’d like to hear more, and so far I think the thread is pretty low key — lots of animal rights activists obviously, but they seem to be behaving themselves and writing clearly this time.

    -Kevin

  12. #12 Janet D. Stemwedel
    February 16, 2008

    Kevin, I actually posed the questions in the post as real questions, not assuming the answers are obvious at all.

    What “public sentiment” is in this and other cases is complicated by the fact that the public includes lots of people with lots of different interests and values — people who do science as well as people who view science as a source of end products like medicines and consumer electronics, people who think animals have rights and people who think animals are the tastiest thing ever, people with different views of private companies, of public expenditures, and of addiction.

    I honestly don’t know how the public’s reaction would be different if the circumstances of London’s research and funding were different. I’m not even sure most of the public sees scientists as people who’d like to be able to go home from the lab without fear of incendiary devices.

    The challenge here is figuring out how to live successfully in a society where people have different views, different interests, different values. It’s inevitable — and good, I think — that people engage each other about their differences, and try to make the case for the values they hold. But, as I’ve said before, I think it’s bad to try to terrorize people out of their opposing views.

    My hunch is that most people would rather be engaged by way of a dialogue than by way of harassment or vandalism. So, I guess I’m surprised that more people whose only dog in this race is wanting to live in a society where intimidation isn’t where we start the “conversation” haven’t expressed any kind of disapproval of ALF’s actions. And, I’m trying to figure out whether this silence is due to other issues around London’s research, or whether the public actually thinks harassment is as good as persuasion.

  13. #13 ravi
    February 18, 2008

    Chad writes:

    Brutal torture? Ravi, have you ever taken part in any animal experimentation? Obviously you have not, because if you had you would see that it is far from torture. I’m not saying that there aren’t some bad seeds out there that don’t take all the precautions they should to prevent unnecessary suffering, but to say that all researchers are like that is ludicrous.

    Oh well, I don’t know what the point is even pointing this out to you; you’re just going to call me a murderer anyway.

    Experimenting on animals is the same as torturing them since they do not get to define what part of their suffering is “unnecessary”. And no, I will not call you a murderer. You (assuming you are someone who carries out animal experiments) are not the target of my criticism since I am concerned with structural, systemic reasons for human ethical failings.

    Janet Stemwedel writes:

    The challenge here is figuring out how to live successfully in a society where people have different views, different interests, different values. It’s inevitable — and good, I think — that people engage each other about their differences, and try to make the case for the values they hold. But, as I’ve said before, I think it’s bad to try to terrorize people out of their opposing views.

    My hunch is that most people would rather be engaged by way of a dialogue than by way of harassment or vandalism. So, I guess I’m surprised that more people whose only dog in this race is wanting to live in a society where intimidation isn’t where we start the “conversation” haven’t expressed any kind of disapproval of ALF’s actions. And, I’m trying to figure out whether this silence is due to other issues around London’s research, or whether the public actually thinks harassment is as good as persuasion.

    I think you do not hear much on this from the public because the public does agree with you (or rather, the public holds a broader opinion than you do) — it is, I believe, so common a view that it does not require expression: the idea that even if one is in favour of treating animals ethically (which in itself is a matter worthy of reflection only when it comes to cuddly creatures one can identify with in some manner), one should express that in some polite manner. You on the other hand, I am guessing, are trying to examine the ethical justification of these actions.

    You use the words “terrorise” and “intimidate” in a one-sided way. We don’t do that when we talk of ANC terrorism as a response to Apartheid in S.Africa. Those not born in the USA do not do that when they talk about PLO terrorism in response to Israel. While it may be argued that human suffering is to be given greater ranking, any respectable ethical system needs to assign some ranking to the suffering of animals. And that suffering is the equivalent of a holocaust every year (here I am talking not just of experimentation but also the way in which animal farming is carried out). The issue is not one of polite table conversation, is it? Everyone does not come to the table with the same power or capacity for detachment.

    Note once again that the ALF and similar groups explicitly state that the actions are carefully planned to avoid harm to living things. If you accept that, this is a debate of tactic. If you are suggesting that this is a counterproductive tactic, I could agree with that. I am not suggesting that vigilantism is justifiable on the basis of individual ethical reasoning. Rather, I am pointing out that we cannot forget that in these matters the status quo affords an inertial advantage to one side of the argument.

  14. #14 Leigh Jackson
    February 18, 2008

    That is magnanimous of you ravi: only calling Chad a torturer and not a murderer (assuming he is someone who carries out animal experiments).

  15. #15 ravi
    February 18, 2008

    Leigh Jackson writes:

    That is magnanimous of you ravi: only calling Chad a torturer and not a murderer

    I am not doing that either. The trouble is that you are trying to personalise an argument. I am arguing against an activity that is condoned by society, not against a person’s actions. Since analogies are popular on this thread ;-), I will offer one: I am against the death penalty. I believe it is state sponsored murder. That does not make the guy who administers the lethal injection a murderer.

    Coming back to the issue of tactics: some who agree with me might choose to tactically present the argument in a personalised format (one can say, at the cost of being accused of euphemism) to each individual involved in the practise. I am not of that persuasion since I neither believe this is tactically feasible, nor do my ideological commitments permit such actions.

  16. #16 LeighJackson
    February 19, 2008

    If experimenting on animals is torture, then a person who experiments on animals must be a torturer. If the death penalty is state sponsored murder, then the person who administers the injection is a state sponsored murderer.

    Or else to say that animal experiments are torture, or that the death penalty is murder, is to say nothing at all.

  17. #17 Mark P
    February 19, 2008

    Well, two things are clear in this debate: we do not have the same starting points, and name calling seldom wins any argument.

  18. #18 ravi
    February 20, 2008

    Leigh Jackson writes:

    If experimenting on animals is torture, then a person who experiments on animals must be a torturer. If the death penalty is state sponsored murder, then the person who administers the injection is a state sponsored murderer.

    Or else to say that animal experiments are torture, or that the death penalty is murder, is to say nothing at all.

    Not necessary at all, either in narrow (legal) or broad (ethical) contexts. In complex societies (such as ours) it is infeasible to expect every agent to carry out the ethical calculations of his actions. Nonetheless, the system/society does hold the responsibility of examining the foundations of its ethics and maintaining consistency. It is true that there is some requirement of personal exercise of ethical judgement (or moral reasoning) on the part of each member, but this is a criteria that is not very applicable in so pervasively accepted a set of issues as the general treatment (or eating) of animals.

    To analogise, yet again: the experimenter is not the equivalent of the perpetrators of Abu Ghraib (who not only participated in a system that was ethically wrong, but also carried out actions that were clearly against [what should be] their received norms), but to someone who administers a lethal injection in a system that sanctions that procedure as acceptable, or a judge who follows sentencing guidelines.

  19. #19 Woody Tanaka
    February 21, 2008

    “My hunch is that most people would rather be engaged by way of a dialogue than by way of harassment or vandalism. So, I guess I’m surprised that more people whose only dog in this race is wanting to live in a society where intimidation isn’t where we start the ‘conversation’ haven’t expressed any kind of disapproval of ALF’s actions. And, I’m trying to figure out whether this silence is due to other issues around London’s research, or whether the public actually thinks harassment is as good as persuasion.”

    I think the vast majority of people don’t care either way because they’re disengaged, on anything but a superficial level, of the questions of the day.
    Of those who do care, I think that there are more people out there (I’m talking lay people, non-scientists) than you might realize who simply do not buy into the idea that science’s and scientists’ obligations to these animals is to do their experiments “humanely,” given the malleability of that word.
    There’s a lot of hypocrisy, for sure, because they don’t apply these ideas to their own diets, but I think that they believe that there needs to be a balancing between the desire to do the experimentation and the interests of the animals. And that they believe that the current system does not take that into consideration.
    Now, a lot of this, I think, goes back to testing cosmetics on rabbits. I think the closer you get to that – torturing animals for, essentially, frivolous ends (i.e., no one needs to wear new cosmetics), the more likely people are to reject that type of thing. But if it is curing cancer or saving lives, then they’d be less likely to object.
    And I think many people say that addiction research is more like cosmetic testing than curing cancer. So if no one is hurt, they may say, “well, what did she expect, torturing animals like that…” (N.B.: this is not my opinion. While I am somewhat sympathetic to the objectors in this case, I do not find the use of incendiary devices to be appropriate.)
    The only thing I can think of which might get a majority of people who think this system is screwed up to come on board is to institute some binding, outside authority, through which the ethical objections of the public can stop the hand of the experimenter in those cases where the public does not believe the research justifies the harm to the animals.

  20. #20 Mike
    February 22, 2008

    So when does causing suffering to animals stop being “torture”? When you’re planning on eating them? when you’re restraining them for being inconvenient to you otherwise?
    When you’re not doing something directly to them, but to their habitat? Don’t pretend that you don’t cause suffering to animals, because merely staying alive in the developed world is causing suffering in some form or another.

  21. #21 outeast
    February 22, 2008

    Janet, it occurs to me that the cited reason for not making the details of the research public suggests a prior assumption of public disapproval: the people who are taking that decision must have concluded that if the public were to know the details of the research, they would be more opposed to it than if they were merely aware that it is shrouded in secrecy.

    If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d conclude that the experiments are so horrific that they must be kept secret; as it is, I’d say it sounds like a very, very bad judgement call. (And as someone with some experience of working with PM, I’ll add that I would not be surprised if the tobacco company’s lawyers were involved in this decision somehow…)

  22. #22 Paul
    February 22, 2008

    “The only thing I can think of which might get a majority of people who think this system is screwed up to come on board is to institute some binding, outside authority, through which the ethical objections of the public can stop the hand of the experimenter in those cases where the public does not believe the research justifies the harm to the animals.”

    Woody, the review boards which decide on whether to authorize a project already include representatives from outside.

    The problem with “outside authorities” is that if they approve most or many project applications, as is likely the case if they’re a balanced committee and assess them objectively, than the anti-vivs will say they’re working for the man and disregard them. If on the other hand, anti-vivs are over represented on the authorities and as a consequence allow no (or very few) projects through they’ll rapidly lose the confidence of researchers and probably not last long.

    As for openness I think more could be done but it’s worth remembering that the project Edythe London is working on is ongoing. Science is competitive and few scientists would be happy to see details of their projects (in any field) made public before they are ready to publish them. In addition where animal research is concerned researchers have legitimate concerns that making their names and research public will help nutters like Jerry Vlasak to target them. I remain to be convinced that this project was “cloaked in unusual secrecy”, given that they were advertising for volunteers.

    From what I’ve read about the research it sounds worthwhile, and Edythe London has an excellent track record. My one concern is her decision to accept tobacco industry funding, I’m not convinced that was an ethical decision even if the research it was funding is good and the possibility of PM interfering in her work nil (as it seems). But then there does seem to be a dearth of funding available for research into addiction, so perhaps she and other researchers have little choice but to sup with the devil.

  23. #23 Rick Bogle
    February 22, 2008

    Janet seeks to untie (or dismiss) her first knot, animal use, with the claim: “The protocols were scrutinized by UCLA’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee before they were approved… blah, blah, blah.” But the only peer-reviewed blinded study of the IACUC system found it to be as reliable as the flip of a coin. IACUC approval clearly means very very little. (See: Reliability of Protocol Reviews for Animal Research. Scott Plous and Harold Herzog. Science 27 July 2001.)

    Janet’s fourth knot is secrecy. She writes: “[How could scientists] do this research openly without becoming targets of ALF and groups of its ilk.” This is a commonly heard lament. But it fails to take into account a number of facts. First and foremost, vivisectors went “underground” long prior to any of the sort of actions taken against London. They did this not because of fear of physical reprisal, but because of the verbal and written criticism that forthright descriptions of their work engendered. (See: The Sacrifice: How Scientific Experiments Transform Animals and People (New Directions in the Human-Animal Bond) (Paperback) by Linda Birke and Arnold Arluke. Purdue University Press. 2006.) The more recent direct attacks are due largely to the secrecy. Claiming that the secrecy is a result of the attacks completely overlooks the history of the conflict.

    Second, it isn’t just current studies that are kept secret. Upon being pressed for videotapes of one study, the University of Wisconsin National Primate Research Center in Madison destroyed 628 videotapes of studies stretching back over 15 years. They didn’t want anyone to see them. The destruction of this large collection of irreplaceable data has not been commented on by any scientific body. If activists had stolen these tapes, we would be hearing that the cure for cancer had been lost.

    Janet’s discussion of the ethics of this matter fails to explore what might be done to the animals. It is as if that simply doesn’t matter. But that is the real knot, the ones listed by Janet are mere wisps of smoke that she mistakes for the issue itself.

    Although the precise details of the plans for the vervets are secret, London’s published work on nicotine addiction and her use of monkeys isn’t. In 2006, she published the results of a study using two rhesus monkeys. During the final 3 weeks of the study, the larger of the two monkeys was being administered the nicotine equivalent of more than 13 packs a day to almost 17 packs of cigarettes a day. The smaller monkey was being administered the equivalent of between about 11 packs a day and 14 packs a day. They were water deprived and had only nicotine-laced KoolAid to drink. (See: Edythe D. London et al. Human tobacco smokers in early abstinence have higher levels of beta2* nicotinic acetylcholine receptors than nonsmokers. J Neurosci. 2006.)

    As long as society puts up with the secrecy, the direct attacks are likely to continue. If the vivisection community was forthcoming, if substantive public discussion could take place, it’s likely that the attacks would subside. But they don’t trust public opinion. Public education is their nemesis.

  24. #24 Clinton
    February 22, 2008

    Welcome back Troller Rick. For those of you not in the know, Rickie is a pathetic excuse for an Animal Rights activist and consistent apologist for the ALF terrorists. I say “pathetic excuse” because despite consistent mainstream media attention, his local protest rallies seem to always feature 4-8 people. For some reason, he fails to conclude from this that the vast, vast public majority opinion is not on his side.

    First and foremost, vivisectors went “underground” long prior to any of the sort of actions taken against London. They did this not because of fear of physical reprisal, but because of the verbal and written criticism that forthright descriptions of their work engendered…. The more recent direct attacks are due largely to the secrecy. Claiming that the secrecy is a result of the attacks completely overlooks the history of the conflict.

    One willful misdirection and a pack of lies. Animal researchers started retreating from the public view during an era of lab break-in threats, prior to the home targeting. True. It is, however, erroneous to assert that “secrecy” arose because of legitimate and civil “criticism” of animal research. That is a baldfaced lie.

    The more recent attacks, meaning the upregulation to persecuting scientists personally has nothing to do with “secrecy”. As Troller Rick is living proof, any yahoo with a website and a bus ticket can get himself on the local media basically at will for announcing a rally. To which 5 people will come. The issue is not “secrecy” but the fact that these nutjobs are failing to convince anyone of the validity of their position. Since what they are really after is attention rather than any of their supposed (and contradictory) goals, they have to upgrade the outrageousness to keep the attention on themselves.

    The end result of all of the terrorism is to reduce the general public access to research methodology. Which is a bad thing. On this we agree. So if your goal is really to bring animal research conduct into the public discourse, the most effective thing you could do is first to turn all your little ALF buddies into the FBI and second to start campaigning against the animal righties. Restore a threat-free civil discourse and you would get the openness which is your alleged goal. Choosing not to do so will tell us all about your true motivations.

    the University of Wisconsin National Primate Research Center in Madison destroyed 628 videotapes of studies stretching back over 15 years. They didn’t want anyone to see them.

    Were it true that tapes were destroyed to prevent viewing, it is vastly most likely that what they didn’t want was for animal rights terrorists and apologists like yourself from viewing them. Because you (collectively and personally) have a record of distortion, falsification and outright lying. So once again, your actions are responsible for the “secrecy” which you supposedly oppose.

    if substantive public discussion could take place, it’s likely that the attacks would subside. But they don’t trust public opinion. Public education is their nemesis.

    Substantive public discussion does in fact take place. All the time. As I mentioned, any idiot with a website can get himself on the local News in a trice. Universities across the US have held forums in which animal research is discussed (usually disrupted by the nutjobs in the back row with the chants). And despite several decades of this now, combined with several decades of escalating terrorism you have failed to convince the public that you are correct!

    Public opinion is your nemesis because it is on the side of animal research. You don’t like the fact that the majority public opinion does not agree with you and so you have to resort to terroristic intimidation to attempt to advance your goals. And yet since all your actions have the result of preventing greater openness of the science one has to question very seriously what your real agenda might be. “Openness” and “substantive public discussion” are clearly not your goals. What are they?

  25. #25 Rick Bogle
    February 22, 2008

    “Clinton”s anonymous rant is a good example of what passes as discourse in this area of public debate. S/he should read a little more, fume a little less.

  26. #26 ravi
    February 22, 2008

    Rick, yes Clinton’s comments are a strange form of debate indeed. Such as the idea that records can be destroyed if it possible that they can be considered capable of being misused by others. We have heard this argument before: from apologists for the Bush administration’s similar activities of destroying evidence.

  27. #27 Clinton
    February 22, 2008

    And were you going to address any substantive points there Rick? Thought not. Because your ilk never does.

    Let’s make this nice and simple.

    Your “message” such as it is, has been out in front of the voting public for literally decades. Since the mid 80s at the very least. Main stream media is delighted, simply delighted, to communicate the animal rightists positions. High profile celebrities advance your cause.

    And yet…you’ve not been satisfied with whatever has been accomplished with civil discourse regarding the use of animals in research. It is beyond idiotic to argue at this point that the voting public is simply “unaware”.

    Why is it so hard for you to admit that it is because you are simply waaaaay out of step with the mainstream and expouse an extremist position that most people simply do not agree with?

    Having a minority view is one thing. Assuming that everyone else would adopt your belief system if they only could see the one true light the way you see it, despite decades of opportunity for them to do so, starts to verge on the slightly imbalanced.

    Using firebombing to force people to your way of thinking? Well…

  28. #28 Clinton
    February 23, 2008

    oh, and Ravi, your point holds only if you have pre-judged the situation and are incapable of imagining alternatives.

    For the reasonable minded in the audience, there are perfectly innocent reasons to “destroy tapes”. Starting with the general point that since we have no idea what “tapes” are under discussion we do not know how old they were, whether the purpose was archival data or not and a host of other reasons that might explain habitual erasure, a purge of mouldering archives, etc. We do not know if destruction was accidental or not. All we have is an accusation from an individual with proven track record of misrepresentation and light-n-fancy with the truth in pursuit of a theological agenda.

    Even if we assume there was an act taken to “prevent viewing” as I suggested as a general approach to preventing any misuse, this does not mean that there was anything untoward on the tapes. Suppose these tapes happen to contain identifiable features of some technician- it would be a good idea to destroy these so that some relatively low level employee didn’t end up with a firebomb on the porch. As I indicated above, personally, I find the fact that this sort of retreat from the public view is a bad thing. Yet we have a clear culprit for such a state of affairs and it is neither scientists nor well-meaning civil people who would like to discuss animal use in research. It is the fault of the terrorists, like Rick, and people who want to call scientists “torturers” and “murderers” like ravi.

    Finally, to be absolutely clear, if there was actual wrongdoing, or formal credible accusation of same, and the evidence was destroyed specifically to prevent this from being examined by the relevant authorities (USDA) then ravi is spot on. full stop. there is not excusing destruction of evidence under such circumstances and we have laws to tell us this.

  29. #29 Clinton
    February 23, 2008

    Oh, this just gets better and better. Doing a little research into the “allegation” it is a story that underlines exactly my point.

    The extremists note that some study has featured video recording of monkeys. So they FOIA the tapes.

    For no reason. Just because they want to see ‘em. There is no specific and credible evidence of wrongdoing in the lab at hand, just extremist animal righties who want the tapes.

    For what reason you might ask. Three I can think of. Fishing expedition, pure and simple. Understandable because since they think that every lab animal is being “tortured” 24/7 well any tape would be evidence, wouldn’t it? Two, legal shenanigans trying to establish that any yahoo has the “right” to any primary research data they like. Turns out this is a matter of some interesting legal stuff but probably the law is not on their side. think ‘test case’. Three, the most likely scenario is the intent to use the tapes in their continued campaign of distortion and outright lying about animal research conduct.

    The lab stands on the legal principle that the tapes are primary research data and therefore not FOIA-able.

    The lab then claims that (some of?) the tapes were damaged in storage and in any case stand on their interpretation of the “primary data” existing law and decide to destroy all the tapes because the governing statutes permit such destruction after a sufficient interval has elapsed since collection.

    Suspicious? Sure. Under the circumstances, however, the lab followed the existing law and were very clearly motivated to do this letter-of-the-law stuff because of the clearly established misuses to which the requesting parties were likely to put the tapes. If one has done no wrong, one is under no obligation to help someone attack oneself.

    The whole scenario is exactly my point. The animal righties, by their specific actions, motivate a lack of openness. Ensuring that there can be no future examination of a record. Not to mention compromising the conduct of science and potentially requiring even more animals to be used- suppose there were some behavioral phenotype that was only thought about many years later and the prior raw data, if retained, could have served as a critical comparison group? Congratulations nutjobs, you’ve just required the use of a second group of animals.

    But, of course, since your goal is not minimizing the use of animals in research, you are okay with more animals if you think it helps your real goals. kinda like the PETA dog-dumpers who sacrificed the dogs “for the greater good”. kinda like the Minnesota ALFies who released a bunch of rats and pigeons to die in a field…”for the greater good”.

  30. #30 Leigh Jaackson
    February 25, 2008

    “Not necessary at all, either in narrow (legal) or broad (ethical) contexts. ” ravi.

    Whatever the law defines as torture will define who is a torturer – legally speaking. A torturer – legally speaking – is someone who commits actions defined by the law as torture.

    Whatever an ethical system defines as torture will define who is a torturer – ethically speaking. A torturer – ethically speaking – is someone who acts in a way which is defined as being torture by an ethical system.

    You have an ethical system, as do I. You live under a set of laws, as do I. Your personal ethical system and the legal system under which you live may be different from mine, but in both cases, a person who acts in a way defined by our ethical and legal systems to be torture, is a torturer.

    Otherwise words have no meanings.

  31. #31 Woody Tanaka
    February 27, 2008

    Paul,

    “Woody, the review boards which decide on whether to authorize a project already include representatives from outside.”

    Correct. But until such time as an outside authority’s approval is required in order to perform the experimentation, I fear that this problem will continue. I’m not arguing that this is a good (or even workable) solution, just that if there isn’t a full, open and public prior hearing to both inform the public of the experiment and to get the public’s permission to do the experiment, the segment of the population that is uncomfortable with animal experimentation will always remain.

  32. #32 Clinton
    February 27, 2008

    Woody, even if there was some community hearing, if the decision was to let the animal research go forward, the “segment of the population that is uncomfortable with animal experimentation” would remain. It might vary upward or downward in size, but it would remain.

    And the nutjobs would persist in their terrorism. Because they will not be convinced until they get their way!

    All this “we just want it to be open and transparent” stuff is just a red herring and a lie.

    Given the fact that “outside approval” is already required in the form of peer review of the project by scientists explicitly without financial ties to the local institute, the AAALAC organization, veterinarians who are by federal law permitted and indeed required to act independently of the local institute in overseeing animal welfare (Oh yes, this part never comes up, does it?), the USDA in the case of the so-called “charismatic” species… exactly who do you see as the “outside authority”?

  33. #33 ravi
    February 27, 2008

    Leigh Jackson writes:

    “Not necessary at all, either in narrow (legal) or broad (ethical) contexts. ” ravi.

    Whatever the law defines as torture will define who is a torturer – legally speaking. A torturer – legally speaking – is someone who commits actions defined by the law as torture.

    Whatever an ethical system defines as torture will define who is a torturer – ethically speaking. A torturer – ethically speaking – is someone who acts in a way which is defined as being torture by an ethical system.

    You have an ethical system, as do I. You live under a set of laws, as do I. Your personal ethical system and the legal system under which you live may be different from mine, but in both cases, a person who acts in a way defined by our ethical and legal systems to be torture, is a torturer.

    Otherwise words have no meanings.

    Consider the penultimate paragraph of your response above, but in inverse. The question is not whether whether a person acts in a way that is considered torture by the system, but the opposite: the person acts in a way that is permitted by the legal/ethical system but is nonetheless torture due to the internal inconsistency of said legal/ethical system.

    It is because words have meanings that one needs to differentiate between them and their usage.

  34. #34 Leigh Jackson
    February 29, 2008

    In what sense do words have meanings other than by their correct usage, i.e. in accordance with their commonly used definitions?

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