Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Scientists, read this statement.

A new era has dawned for those who fund the abusers and raise funds for them to murder animals with. You too are on the hit list: you have been warned. If you support or raise funds for any company connected with Huntingdon Life Sciences we will track you down, come for you and destroy your property with fire.

- Animal Liberation Front statement on behalf of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty

Let it sink in. Now insert your research institution in the place of Huntingdon Life Sciences, and you know what might be in store for anyone doing, or associated with, animal research.

Mark over at denialism blog describes a chilling attack recently made against UCLA biomedical research scientist Edythe London. The ALF has claimed responsibility for flooding her house, causing between $20,000-30,000 damage, in retaliation for her research on nicotine addiction. Her crime: London uses primates as a model. I want to express my deep sorrow and sympathy for Dr. London, although it may not mean much, she has my support.

This incident, beyond being very frightening to me as a future scientist, deeply saddens me. Biomedical scientists do not live a wicked life, as the ALF seems to believe. They are involved in research due to a passion for knowledge and a reduction of human suffering, and I cannot sit idly by while one is victimized. It also belies a fundamental misunderstanding by some members of society as to the important role of animals in the research that results in real benefit to our lives–as well as efforts made to reduce the pain of any animals involved. Every medical experiment at a university which involves vertebrates is subject to a rigorous review by an animal research panel which, in addition to containing doctors and scientists, includes lay members such as lawyers, clergy, etc. These panels oversee the methods of the experiments as well as verify that the minimum number of animals are used and that the type of animals are appropriate, and vital, to the experiment. They are able to pose questions as to whether in vitro methodology could be substituted, and it is up to the researcher to justify that it cannot. Following approval, standards of animal care are always closely monitored and records are audited. There are *many* parties, such as technicians and vets at animal housing facilities, who provide additional oversight and care for the animals.

That said, it is the prerogative of the animals rights groups to make their opinions known. The questions surrounding the use of animals in medical research should incur continued debate, and it is that debate that infuses important and diverse perspectives into the reality of animal experimentation–and ensures that the debate will morph will the evidence available to us. However it is inexcusable for certain animal rights groups to preclude debate and resort to violence and intimidation to make their points. Instead of arguing the merits of the case, they have chosen to act like an impetuous child, all the while posturing that they have the moral high ground. Made particularly ironic as they enjoy the life-extending benefits to protest longer by the very thing they protest. It is a twisted fanaticism that wholly detracts from the otherwise honorable cause of giving animals as much protection as possible.

That goal I just mentioned above, well, scientists share it too. We get no joy out of involving animals in biomedical research, however we realize the utility and importance of the results to the generation of life-saving medicines and therapies. We realize that animal models, while useful and sometimes illuminating, are not perfect.So, I can completely understand the desire to reduce the suffering of animals, because I share it. I also share a desire for safe and effective pharmaceuticals, non-toxic products in my home, advanced surgeries that can improve and prolong my life, and therapies that can treat or eliminate global diseases. I do advance the cause of reducing animal use in research with the eventual hope of one day (far away) eliminating it, but until that day comes, the responsible and humane treatment of experimental animals AND animal researchers is the best thing we can do.

Comments

  1. #1 Matt Penfold
    November 4, 2007

    I am sorry to have say this but animal rights extremism is something that the UK seems to have exported.

    The only way to treat deal with it is to treat those who use violence and intimidation as terrorists and enlist public support for scientific research by making it clear to the public how many people are alive today thanks to the use of animals in research.

  2. #2 jeffk
    November 4, 2007

    I thought the headline to this post was a lot better than the ones other bloggers chose. I hate to see the entire topic of animal rights dismissed because of a few morons.

    I also always wonder what causes the obsession with science. I suspect they have some strange fear of it much like a lot of conservatives do. If they really cared about animals, you’d think they could figure out that for every animal used for research, there must be 100,000 pretty miserable cows out in the sun and a million chickens in tiny cages. It just goes to show that these people are acting on emotions and not rationality.

  3. #3 kevin
    November 4, 2007

    I think the headline here is better as well, and agree with jeffk’s opening sentiments.

    But…

    If they really cared about animals…

    I don’t think that necessarily helps the dialog, and

    for every animal used for research, there must be 100,000 pretty miserable cows out in the sun and a million chickens in tiny cages.

    It seems to me that animal rights groups would counter with several arguments: they *do* target commercial farming, I think (though, perhaps not as much as scientists? or perhaps it just doesn’t get visibility?); second, the cows on farms are not necessarily all that “miserable out in the sun” (if they are getting sun, I think that would be a plus over the worse kind of treatment around); and third, the animals on farms aren’t being addicted to meth, which allegedly are among the things that are (or have) been going on at UCLA. And so…

    these people are acting on emotions and not rationality

    Yes, of course they are. Just like nearly everyone else it seems. Or perhaps more accurately, they are acting perhaps quite rationally to meet their objectives using violent tactics that plays on other people’s emotions and fear.

  4. #4 jeffk
    November 4, 2007

    Perhaps the phrase “if they really cared about animals” wasn’t the best but my point was that they’re not using their efforts in a way that will minimize animal suffering, which I think calls into question their sincerity. They do target commercial farming, but the ratio of their efforts on each doesn’t seem to be anywhere near the relative severity of the issues.

    Cows on farms, of course, are not necessarily ill-treated; just commonly and in numbers that dwarf misery on the part of lab animals – and for the reason of a tasty burger instead of potentially life-saving science research.

  5. #5 Ian Findlay
    November 4, 2007

    as stated above – this has been going on the UK for over thirty years.
    Appeals to reason will not work with those who have none.
    According to their propaganda, we are all vivisectionists.

  6. #6 Nathaniel
    November 4, 2007

    My theory is that certain groups influence these radicals into action. For instance in this case the research was on the effects of nicotine. There are plenty of wealthy groups who would not want this sort of information to get out… even if there are benefits found the current political climate will likely focus on the negative aspects. So, these groups bring the study to the attention of militant animal rights groups. Go tell them “They’re forcing innocent monkeys to smoke cigarettes to give them cancer!” Whether it’s true or not, someone is going to react.

    That being said, I have no proof. But it’s the only logical explanation I can come up with for the disproportionate amount of animal research being targeted as opposed to farming. Granted… I’m trying to apply logic to groups that obviously act purely out of emotion instead of reason… so that theory may be flawed.

    Awesome article. I totally agree that animal right activism is important. It is vital that we have groups that keep science morally responsible for their actions. However, these groups need to realize that we are doing our best to keep the animals out of harm. Their real goals are to save lives, not torture animals.

  7. #7 jvarisco
    November 5, 2007

    These people need to eat more meat.

  8. #8 prabu
    November 5, 2007

    hi,

    what i really do not understand about the violent actions is that how these people can hear the cries of the animals and take such severe action. But at the same time there are so many human beings in the world who are crying out even louder, are even in more pain and these people are not hearing them.

    They would generally counter by saying that animals cannot do something for themselves… I would like to point out that even our brothers and sisters across countries are being helpless.. this looks like a case of selective reaction with emphasis on comfort.. attack those who are vulnerable rather than taking up some other serious issue that might benefit someone . It is easy to intimidate but very very very difficult to support someone over the long run.

  9. #9 Susie
    November 5, 2007

    I really hate the seemingly common opinion among both scientists AND animal rights activists that this issue needs to be science VS animal rights.

    (Where are my manners? Hi Shelly, I’m Susie. Pleased to meet you! I’ve been reading your blog ever since I saw your nerdy cake post- and I really like it. Today’s post caught me off guard though… and I felt like I should say something.)

    Arguments that come from both “sides” of this issue frequently frustrate me. Statements such as “All science that makes use of animal observation is evil.”, or “These animal rights activists need to shut up and enjoy the good life that animal testing makes possible and worry about more important issues” both rely on moral and ethical decisions that I would classify as “pretty much for sure gray area”.

    “Pretty much for sure gray area” is no place to base an argument, and definitely no place to base an moral judgment that extends to more people than the person making the judgment. On the other hand, the issue seems too important to ignore just because so many of the arguments are wishy washy. What ABOUT the welfare of the lab animals out there? Do they really lead tragic lives filled with fear, pain, and injustice, or are they happily dumb and devoid of thought or feeling? Maybe until recent history, we really have had no way to tell exactly for sure what it is like to be a fruit fly, a snake, a whale, an eagle, a dog, or a chimpanzee. We could have guessed, but our guesses would likely have been subject to religious ideas, anthropomorphic tendencies, or other preconceived notions. It seems like a lot of the debate over animal rights is still focused on these unscientific “guesses” about what thought processes non-human animals may have, and how they might experience things.

    Now, I’m no neuroscientist, but it seems to me that a reasoned, scientific investigation of how non human animals perceive things and how they might “think” might yield the only possible foundation for a discussion of animal rights that would not be based on preconceived notions or emotional guesses. I don’t know if it is within our ability (yet) to find this out, or even if we already kind of know what animal thought patterns must consist of, but that is what I would have loved to read in a neuroscience blog regarding the animal rights issue. Maybe next time?

    Thanks,
    Susie

  10. #10 Shelley Batts
    November 5, 2007

    Hi Susie, thanks for dropping by. As i mentioned in my blog, it is most certainly NOT science vs. animal rights. In fact, I emphasized a few times that I, as well as most scientists, are intimately concerned with the rights of animals, and in many respects we have common goals as activists. These goals are compromised when violent means are taken against a potential ally- as my title suggests.

    I also completely believe that a discussion as to the right of animals can exist beyond the scope of their exact cognitive ‘thought patterns.’ It has been known for hundreds of years (generally) that many vertebrate animals’ nervous systems are extremely similar to our own, and that the same neurotransmitters and general brain areas involved in the perception of pain are similar to our own. More recently, evidence that even fish share many of these properties which casts a new light on the humane treatment of them. However, very little (if anything) is known about the inner lives, or what might be termed ‘consciousness’, of animals–other than perhaps the few animal communication studies that have been funded and allowed to persist. While it is important to integrate the known evidence from these studies into discussions, more often than not there are certain types of animals (ie rats and mice) where studies of their inner lives (so to speak) may never occur.

    The most important part of the discussion to me is pain perception, rather than a measure of an (possibly) intractable brain state in model animals. We already know that chimps, etc are extremely intelligent animals and share a a lot of homology with humans–this is their downfall as well as saving grace as they may make better models, but also demand more care, interaction, stimulation, etc. They way we know these things? Animal testing and studies, ironically.

    Point is: we may never know whether a rat feels an injection or surgery as we do (they heal a hell of a lot faster, thats for sure), but we definitively can point to a) animal response to pain and successful ways to alleviate it and b) the enormous benefit people have received to their lives through the fruits of animal testing.

  11. #11 trollanon
    November 5, 2007

    Susie, you have unfairly characterized the scientist position in defense of the use of animals in research. Agreed, you frequently read the shorthand version in blog comments: this is a result exhaustion and frustration on the part of the research scientist in dealing with the same old tired points. However we are not suggesting that those who are concerned with the use of animals need to “shut up” as if a concern with animal welfare was idiotic. Quite the contrary. The frustration stems from a false assumption that animal researchers do not consider the ethical and moral implications. They do. Weekly if not daily in many cases. Deeply and from an informed perspective. This is not the case with the “all animal research is bad” ARA type and frequently not the case in “we need to explore the grey area” types like yourself and the good Dr. Free-Ride.

    The ARA side of the debate refuses categorically to credit any reason, motivation or evidence presented on the side in favor of animal research. The animal research side, in contrast, considers every one of the opposing substantive points quite seriously, has a demonstrated history of changing practices in acceptance of the “opposing” positions on many issues, has well-explicated and scientifically defended reasons for not adopting changes on other issues, is willing to scientifically explore the relevant assertions of the “opposing” camp and, yes, is willing ultimately to consider the fact that the most fundamental critique might be correct.

    “Now, I’m no neuroscientist, but it seems to me that a reasoned, scientific investigation of how non human animals perceive things and how they might “think” might yield the only possible foundation for a discussion of animal rights that would not be based on preconceived notions or emotional guesses.”

    Of course such investigations already exist on formal and informal basis. The notion that these studies are going to eliminate “preconceived notions of emotional guesses” is unfortunately naive. The population of researchers working with nonhuman primates would be a good example as it is roughly Balkanized into a comparative-cognition vs biomedical distinction. The former are burdened with all sorts of emotional and preconceived notions that can be difficult to distinguish from theology. Their “experiments” and interpretation of the results thereof are affected by this. The behavioral aspects of the more biomedical side of the fence requires just as much time working with the animals and is, if anything, more familiar with the comparative cognition literature than vice versa. These two camps do not generally agree on the evidence for cognitive constructs (suffering, awareness) you would find relevant to this debate, I can assure you.

  12. #12 Susie
    November 5, 2007

    Thank you for your responses, Shelley and Trollanon. Boy is it interesting to read what you have to say. I’m fairly passionate about animal rights and veganism, but I’m also a science student and have a deep respect for science and scientists. Normally when I discuss this issue though, I am talking to my vegan friends, who tend to not like my “grey area” stance much at all. It is great to be reassured though that practicing scientists really do consider these things. (I guess I suspected they did, but its hard to tell for sure because I am just a science student, and the crazy “scientists have no souls” propaganda is a tad bit more prevalent in parts of vegan community than one would expect…. so really- your assertion that real scientists do in fact care about this issue is a huge relief for me!)

    So thanks, I feel a lot better about my own moral grey areas than I did this morning, and that wasn’t even my plan!

  13. #13 SGT Ted
    November 7, 2007

    The tapdancing around the fact that ALF is a terrorist group points to the problem.

    Claiming to speak or act “for” animals doesn’t give anyone carte blanche to attack anyone or their property or livelyhood as an outlaw. Claiming some sort of moral authority of “loving animals” to terrorize innocent people and destroy property is what abortion clinic bombers and those who shoot abortionists use to justify their violence.

    Vegans are extremists and they often don’t stop at their lifestyle being about personal choice. They are moralists just as fervent as any religious fundamentalist and it shows in what they excuse in support of their opinions about diet and living.

    Equivocating about it and saying they have a point is vile.

  14. #14 Lab Lemming
    November 10, 2007

    What does extremism have to do with anytihng? I know lots of very extreme people, both in the secular and religious sense, and none of them are terrorists.

    Also, many violent criminals are conformists. The problem isn’t extreme viewpoints. The problem is intolerance.

    In this respect, clinic bombers have more in common with gay bashers than with vegans.

  15. #15 SGT Ted
    November 14, 2007

    If you don’t understand the extremism in opposing animal based research by burning buildings to the ground and threatening scientists with death.

    Denying that vegan extremists are as conformist as your boogieman Christian fundy is laughable. That is the ultimate goal of the terrorism; to enforce conformity to their point of view.

    It isn’t Christian Fundies that are do this to animal researchers. What you finds are animal rights extremists every bit as dedicated e as any nutbar with a cause.

  16. #16 Jon H
    November 15, 2007

    If they really cared about animals…

    Kevin: “I don’t think that necessarily helps the dialog, and”

    They clearly don’t care about real animals. Otherwise, why would the fools so often end up releasing animals into the wild where they can’t possibly survive, leading to a short, miserable existence of starvation and perhaps a nice vehicular impact, which might not kill them quickly and cleanly.

    The extremist animal rights activists are stroking their own egos, and that’s all they’re doing. They certainly aren’t trying to save real animals, they’re trying to save fanciful idealized homunculi of real animals that exist only in their fantasies. From the way they describe rhesus monkeys, you’d think the monkeys were Smurfs.

    They’d do far more good working for gradual incremental reductions in animal use through improved efficiency, improved standards of care, better analgesia for animals subject to surgery, fundraising for lab monkey retirement centers (lack of funding is no doubt a big reason to decide to euthanize), and funding of conservation efforts for the many endangered wild species (as opposed to macaques, which are often a pest species and are quite numerous.)

    Anyway, they’re mostly hypocrites and fur chauvinists – they don’t complain about the zebrafish, leeches and flatworms used in research, do they?

  17. #17 Jon H
    November 15, 2007

    “Maybe until recent history, we really have had no way to tell exactly for sure what it is like to be a fruit fly, a snake, a whale, an eagle, a dog, or a chimpanzee. ”

    As far as insects go, I’ve read that if you grab a dragonfly, and move its tail end to be in reach of its mouth, it’ll start devouring itself without taking any notice that it’s being eaten.

    For what it’s worth, I work (as a programmer) in a lab doing neuroscience research on macaques, and I know of one existing improvement in a surgical procedure which I think heals better for the monkeys compared to the ones I’ve seen from other labs, and we’re working on making a change to our apparatus so we can switch from an eyeposition-tracking system that requires surgery on the monkeys, to one which uses a harmless but expensive infrared camera (which has mostly been pointed at me to date) and does not require surgery.

    Other labs may differ, but in this one, at least, there is sympathy for the animals and an effort to improve things for the monkeys where we can, even though there’s a certain amount of unavoidable unpleasantness.

  18. #18 Gidiglo Godwin
    August 23, 2011

    My name is Godwin from Ghana-West Africa.I have been enthused by your profile and studies all these while and that desire has urged me to apply for MSc.Nueroscince programme in Sheffield University in U.K.Am proud to say that i have been given an offer for 2012.I need a scholarship to pursue this dream since it is an inherent feeling in me to become a Neuroscientist.Hope to hear from you soon as you do your best to help me get scholarship.Thank you

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