Even citizen reporters lose perspective

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That singular, unified, and socialist entity,  “the media,”  is commonly criticized for losing perspective on important public issues. I am beginning to wonder whether a similar criticism can be leveled at citizen reporters out in the blogosphere in their dealings with last weeks WSJ article which reported significant animal welfare violations in UW labs.

While The Sconz rightfully praised a post over at Sifting and Winnowing for posing a number of necessary and important questions relating to what events potentially led to the surprise investigation, I worry that the post overlooked the kind of serious violations which made the article important in the first place.

The most abhorrent of such violations was this:

One major finding is that in five studies, UW-Madison researchers did not show that they tried to find an alternative to painful experiments on animals.

That is simply intolerable. There were also dogs seriously suffering from experiments which were receiving no attention from veterinarians. Maybe Eric Sandgren, UW’s head of animal research oversight, was right that these violations followed merely from mistakes in filling out paperwork, but it does seem as though he may have an ulterior motive to say so, and I am skeptical we can simply take him at his word.

In any event, this aspect of the story shouldn’t be largely ignored. It wasn’t by that “liberal media,” it shouldn’t be by us citizen reporters either.

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24 Responses to “Even citizen reporters lose perspective”

  1. SaW Says:

    We should have been clearer by saying not only “embarrassed and chagrined” but also “shocked, horrified, appalled, and scandalized” by the revelations.

    That said, we took the facts of the WSJ article at face value and let them speak for themselves. The point we were trying to raise, which no one else had, concerned the “when”, not the “what”.

    A whole ‘nother topic for discussion is why Eric Sandgren, “the university’s head of animal research oversight” had to be told by outside inspectors what was going on in the university’s animal research labs.

    Yet another topic is whether “expired medications” qualifies as a scandal. I knowingly took some expired medication just yesterday on the assumption that there is considerable margin of safety built into the expiration dates.

  2. SaW Says:

    Above, I wrote “whether ‘expired medications’ qualifies as a scandal.” I should have said, “whether ‘expired medications’ rise to anywhere near the same level of scandal as the other allegations.” The last thing I want anyone to conclude is that I meant to downplay those other allegations.

  3. SaW Says:

    Interesting discussion in the previous thread on whether the violations were really as bad as made out in the WSJ article: https://thesconz.wordpress.com/2010/01/03/questions-arise-about-animal-welfare-investigation/

    I wasn’t there, but Holly (who apparently is in a position to know) raises some interesting points.

  4. Holly Says:

    I’m glad to see that we agree on the “media” being a “singular, unified, and socialist entity.” The WSJ carefully worded the violations to sound as severe as possible without being completely false. We should all know that if it were really that bad, they would’ve been going to town with it. Because, you know, that’s what makes a “good story”.

    “One major finding is that in five studies, UW-Madison researchers did not show that they tried to find an alternative to painful experiments on animals.”

    What this ACTUALLY means:

    To use animals in research, the scientist (or principal investigator, “P.I.”) has to submit a protocol. The protocol’s template is in question format. The information requested in these questions range from an emergency phone number to a detailed description of which and how many animals are needed to a full description of whether or not the animals must be euthanized after the study and how that euthanasia will be administered. These protocols can get to be hundreds of pages long.

    One of the most important questions requests the P.I. to prove that there are no alternatives (computer simulation, statistical design, synthetics) to using live animals in the research, and that it is simply necessary. Another is to show that, if more than slight or momentary pain is absolutely necessary, WHY it is absolutely necessary (a VERY SMALL minority of protocols can get away with this).

    A committee of veterinarians and scientists review each of these individual protocols, and will either approve them, defer them by asking PI’s to clarify their responses, or reject them if they don’t show sufficient reasoning as to why the experiment will be useful or whether the results will be significant. The protocols in question, the ones that “did not show they tried to find an alternative to painful experiments” (painful thrown in there to tug at people’s heartstrings), passed through this committee. A committee that meets all the time, constantly reviewing protocols, a committee of those that deal with the research and medicine all the time and know what is going on.

    The inspectors, to put it kindly, didn’t fully understand these protocol’s responses to the question about proving that no other alternatives were an option. So they cited it as not showing sufficient proof that the P.I.’s really, REALLY (in words that the inspector, as an outsider, could understand) double-checked to make sure a computer program wouldn’t help in simulating bone growth.

    This violation had nothing to do with the dogs, and the animals found under these protocols were being properly taken care of.

    What the general public needs to grasp is that PI’s do not wish to unnecessarily hurt their animals. What sane person would? In this day and age, every protocol is carefully written and reviewed, and the animals are administered anesthetics and feel little to no pain when undergoing surgical procedures, just as a human would during surgery. The committee and animal care staff enforces it for those who need enforcement, but most people don’t get off on watching animals suffer and would do so even without being forced to.

    So, the specific shocking, appalling violation you are referring to did not even result in animals in pain, it was simply the wording of protocols that had no consequences other than this violation. It is not that “interesting” when you know what the violation was actually for, which may be why the WSJ simply left it at that.

    I really do appreciate bloggers asking questions and bringing up both sides of the story and doubts about whose word you possibly can or can’t take. Of course it’s logical that Sandgren would have ulterior motives, and, after nasty albeit equally as distorted articles written about him in the Badger Herald, I understand that UW might be wary of anything he has to say. However, since so few people and students are behind the scenes and know what is going on with animal research, his words are likely to be the only ones that are siding with UW’s animal research. I have no vested interests in UW’s animal research (I’m an actuarial science major graduating in May), but I do get enraged at the media that will only give enough information to make a “good” story, and I simply wish to advocate the truth, as it seems you guys do as well.

    As for S&W’s question: “Who made the initial allegations prompting the inspection, who tipped off the WSJ, and what was their true motivation?” – no comment. Either way, I’d rather correct the article and defend UW’s reputation by clarifying the violations than pointing fingers and asserting that it wasn’t UW’s fault.

  5. Holly Says:

    As for the “when” – as I commented on S&W’s post:

    I am positive the timing is purely coincidental. No worries. However, that may not stop it from being brought up in discussions of restructuring the grad school. But it would be an absolute outrage if the violations alone actually lead to wholesale restructuring of the grad school, as I’m sure (I hope?) UW officials understand the lack of severity of the violations.

    • Holly Says:

      One more comment – I apologize for focusing more on the content of the WSJ article and clarifying it than whether the allegations have anything to do with the restructuring of the grad school. That I know less about.

  6. SaW Says:

    I, for one, greatly appreciate Holly’s perspective on this story and appreciate the time and effort she took to share it with us. I’m also very heartened by her (apparently informed) view that the timing is coincidental.

  7. Irish Frog Says:

    I came in here to clarify the WSJ story from the perspective of someone who does have vested interests in animal research. I was pleasantly surprised to find Holly’s thorough description of protocols, and will add little more.

    I would point out that until very recently (late last summer) there was a single person in charge of ensuring these protocols were followed by the Safety Dept. This was a result of timing, a hiring freeze and health issues by staff. Consequently, several animal care and/or issues (almost all of which were administrative issues involving paperwork and not animals) fell through the cracks. Following one serious safety violation which was caught, and subsequent discussions with researchers, the Safety dept was given the go-ahead to hire new staff to deal with the glut of bureaucratic work that had piled up. This includes education of researchers on what can and cannot be done on this campus.

    Anyone who thinks the University and the researchers here do not take safety and animal care seriously is sadly misinformed. People who work with these animals are often their greatest defenders, as they have to do the dirty work on them.

  8. Jack Says:

    I just wanted to point out that Alec’s comment about the media being a “singular, socialist entity” was sarcastic.

    Other than that, I have nothing to contribute to this conversation.

  9. Rick Says:

    Just to clarify:

    Holly wrote:

    “The protocols in question, the ones that “did not show they tried to find an alternative to painful experiments” (painful thrown in there to tug at people’s heartstrings), passed through this committee. A committee that meets all the time, constantly reviewing protocols, a committee of those that deal with the research and medicine all the time and know what is going on.

    The inspectors, to put it kindly, didn’t fully understand these protocol’s responses to the question about proving that no other alternatives were an option.”

    But the term “painful procedures” came from the very dry and business-like inspector’s report:

    “Protocols #A01195, #A00810, #00664, #G00510, #V1296 contain painful procedures. There is nothing to indicate that the principal investigators had considered alternatives to potentially painful procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to the animals in the written narratives of these protocols.”

    Claiming the inspector didn’t “understand” the responses that were there is likely untrue. The inspector who sighted the report was Veterinary Medical Officer Dawn Barksdale, the regional USDA/APHIS inspector who probably reads protocols every day from institutions all over the her region. She has been doing this job for a number of years. Evaluating protocols for compliance with the Animal Wefare Act is a large part of her job.

    The ACUC system has been found to have significant problems by both the USDA Inspector General’s Office and by the only critical evaluation of the system. Plous and Herzog. Science 2001.

    The very interesting question of whether PIs “want” to hurt animals is impossible to answer. People who watch bull fights say they do so because they admire the courage and artistry of the matador. Dog fighters talk about the courage of the dogs as do the cock fighting supporters. Very few people own up to enjoyment over animal suffering. One thing is clear though, animal research is staffed through a process of self-selection. Many people who are confronted with the reality even once or twice choose to pursue some other field. Those who are attracted to such a career and who remain are a minority with characteristics outside the norm.

  10. Holly Says:

    Perhaps it was unnecessary for me to lash at the Journal for using the word “painful”. To me it seems to be an ambiguous word with different levels of severity, but seeing now as the actual report used the word, I can see why the Journal would have.

    I didn’t mean that the inspectors didn’t understand the technical language of the protocols. I meant that the committee has worked with those particular protocols and P.I.’s for a long time, and even if the language of the most recent protocol (protocols have to be renewed every three years) doesn’t perfectly explain every nook and cranny of all other possible alternatives, the committee has dealt with and talked about them before, whereas the inspectors were seeing the most recent version for the first time. The committee understood the necessity of the procedures, and the inspectors needed more clarification. I’m not saying that the protocols shouldn’t explain all possibilities – that’s something I’m sure will be more carefully sought after – I was just trying to make the point that there are most likely good reasons for the approval of these protocols even if it isn’t all documented, and that the WJS article made it seem as though the PI’s just went with the first idea that came to his or her head.

    As for the article you cite, I can’t help but notice it’s from 2001. I know nine years may not seem like a very long time, but enormous advances and improvements have been made since then, not only with IACUC but in many fields. I’d like to see a more recent evaluation. Notice that there were only a handful of protocols the USDA believed to be insufficient; you’d think if that evaluation were still true, they would’ve found many more.

    As for the nature of a PI being that of wanting to see animals suffer – what a dangerous mindset. I personally know many of the vets and PI’s and can say that no one would say they have “characteristics outside the norm”, other than the fact that they are dedicated to and love what they do for the rewarding feeling that comes with making advancements and scientific discoveries. They are just like anyone else, with families and a sense of humor and pets of their own. They are people who get just as upset as we do when there are mishaps in animal research. Now, there is no way to prove that to anyone, but I can only hope that someday instead of sending razor blades and hate letters to the PI’s, people will do a little more research of their own and maybe meet a few scientists before making outrageous assumptions.

  11. Rick Says:

    Without knowing the details of protocols #A01195, #A00810, #00664, #G00510, #V1296, it is impossible to say whether these are initial approvals for one year projects or renewals for, say, the 17th year of a 20 year project. Those in the first group would fall outside the group characterized by the comment: “the committee has worked with those particular protocols and P.I.’s for a long time.”

    Protocols falling in the second group, those fairly characterized by the comment above regarding the committee’s familiarity with the project, would, in fact, include a narrative explaining the PI’s search for non- or less-painful alternatives in the currently approved version, if the protocol ever included such an explanation.

    Reviewing a protocol’s history from renewal to renewal, one sees typically that most of it remains unchanged with modifications added on or replacing past descriptions of procedures when it is renewed. Rarely (never in my experience) is an approved protocol completely rewritten. It is unlikely that an entire section as fundamental to the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act would be deleted if had ever been there.

    Regarding the citation date of Plous and Herzog, I too would like to see something more current, however, that paper “Reliability of Protocol Reviews for Animal Research,” remains the only peer-reviewed evaluation of the ACUC system. If, in fact, the industry regulated by the Animal Welfare Act and the PHS regs had a genuine interest in the reliability of the ACUC system to assure that only the best research was being approved and that the highest level of humane use was being assured, one might think that someone within the industry would have repeated the study or conducted another evaluation to find out given the decidedly failed system exposed in Plous. But that hasn’t happened.

    More recently, the office of the Inspector General at the USDA issued an audit of the oversight system which found, again, widespread systematic problems. [Audit Report APHIS Animal Care Program Inspection and Enforcement Activities . Office of Inspector General, Western Region, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Report No. 33002-3-SF; September 2005.]

    In an industry heavily populated by scientists — those who claim to be fact-driven, who make rational decisions based on evidence — one is forced to wonder about their failure to test their own claims about the effect and reliability of the oversight system, particularly in light of the evidence suggesting it isn’t working very well and maybe never has.

    Holly sounds like someone who believes she is well-informed, and she is at least partially informed. But she also sounds like someone who has listened attentively to the claims made by those who profit from the broken system, who argue and assert from a postion of vested self-interest.

    Regarding those “characteristics outside the norm,” I don’t see how their can be much doubt. The “normal” reaction to seeing animals hurt is distaste or revulsion. There is a minority of us who are not repulsed by such things, and even some who enjoy such things. It isn’t farfetched to believe that people who make a living harming animals enjoy their work.

    Though there are animal care care staff who feel that they are improving the animals’ miserable lives, and who are doing so, they also serve as enablers.

    The fundamental issue of whether or not any of these experiments are ethical needs much public discussion, yet the university has refused to engage in such discussion in any sustained or substantive way. The denial that the inspection (or those that preceeded it) revealed significant problems, the lack of serious testing of the system, the refusal to engage in discussion, the destruction of years of documents and records to keep them from the public, all of this combines to suggest quite strongly that something is deeply amiss.

  12. Holly Says:

    Being familiar with the manner in which protocols are numbered, none of the listed protocols are initial approvals for year-one projects.

    “Protocols falling in the second group…would, in fact, include a narrative explaining the PI’s search for non- or less-painful alternatives in the currently approved version, if the protocol ever included such an explanation.”

    In my experience, there has never been a protocol that has simply not answered one of the protocol’s questions. If there were no answer, the protocol, of course, would be deferred by the committee until properly answered. As for an explanation of the search for non- or less-painful alternatives is a part of the protocol, there is never a case in which there would be no explanation. All of the protocols did have a response, and the response wasn’t deemed to be complete enough by the inspectors, which led to the violation. My point is that the PI’s didn’t simply refuse to try to find any alternatives to non- or less-painful alternatives, but that the inspectors wanted to see the PI’s try harder and explain further, which is reasonable, but the committee that interacts with these protocols and PI’s every day felt comfortable with what was already given, which is why they approved it in the first place. I wasn’t asserting there was no technical violation, I was explaining why the violation wasn’t as severe as interpreted from the WJS.

    I agree with the fact that an internal evaluation after Plous and Herzog’s would have been useful and logical. The fact that it didn’t happen, however, does not suggest that the industry has no interest in the reliability of the ACUC system. Keeping in mind that I’m focusing on UW, improvements are being made to the committee setup and review and approval system all the time and its officials seem to be open to any ideas for change. They don’t have a problem with inspectors coming in so that any problems that are found can be fixed. Whenever problems do arise, IACUC does not ignore them, it is quick to correct them.

    To the comment that I “…sound like someone who has listened attentively to the claims made by those who profit from the broken system, who argue and assert from a postion of vested self-interest.”:

    I’m not suggesting that the review and approval process should remain the way it is at all. However, I do not think that it is “broken”. It is a work in process, yes, but it seems as though Rick believes that the members of the committee are corrupt and are violating regulations for their own benefit. Who would “profit from the broken system” other than PI’s who might get to take an easier route in their research? As far as I know, the committee is not “heavily populated” by scientists and consists mainly of veterinarians, non-scientist officials, and individuals not otherwise affiliated with the university. From what I’ve seen, many of these individuals are eager to come up with a more efficient and less problematic review process, and there is plenty of healthy debate on how to do so.

    PI’s, in an overwhelming majority of cases, are not harming the animals they are working with. Research does not equal surgical/biomedical procedures. It seems as though when one thinks of animal research, he conjures up disturbing images such as animals writhing in pain as a reaction to never-before tested medicines. This is simply not the way research is done. There is a wide array of uses for these research animals. Many PI’s of protocols are strictly using the animals for housing/husbandry purposes. Others might be using the animals for a vet class in teaching proper restraint. Yet more test an animal’s memory or behavior. I feel a vast majority of people could stomach these kinds of tests or experiments. Again, research does not equal surgical/biomedical procedures.

    When surgical procedures ARE required, the animal, of course, is anesthetized prior to the procedure. The degree to which a PI has a “characteristic outside the norm” of being able to go through with this procedure is the same as that of a veterinarian neutering a dog or a doctor who is able to perform surgery on a human.

    What I assume Rick is referring to as requiring an abnormal characteristic is being able to try new procedures or medicines on the animals and watch adverse results occur. Keeping in mind that the animal is not feeling pain during surgery and efforts are taken to eliminate pain at all points in the research, usually, new procedures/medicines are not expected to affect the animal significantly, because in order to produce meaningful scientific results, baby steps have to be taken and every little piece of the animal’s behavior after any procedures has to be carefully observed and recorded.

    If there does happen to be a problem, and it appears the animal is suffering, the animal is euthanized; the PI administers the euthanasia, ending the suffering as quickly as possible. The hardest thing outside of performing surgery that a PI might have to stomach is the fact that he or she was the cause of that temporary suffering. Many more people could stomach that feeling than could stomach deliberately harming the animal and watching it suffer.

    Again, though, most PI’s don’t cause animals prolonged pain and suffering. Those that do, such as in the case of the sick dogs and gerbil, I agree, have the abnormal quality of apathy towards animal pain. The USDA found that that kind of suffering, however, happened in four animals out of the 100,000 housed at the university. That is such a small minority of all PI’s that to say you have to have abnormal characteristics to be a PI is a false generalization.

    Rick previously mentioned that only a small minority of people are able to be scientists, saying it was because they were faced with the reality of what animal research is (“harming animals”). I disagree. So few people can be scientists not because of any harm they are subjecting animals to, but because they don’t have the mindset of extreme dedication to completely follow the scientific method, recording every seemingly insignificant detail, and keep their results free of confirmation bias without feeling as though they’ve “wasted” years of their lives if no results are produced.

    As for the ethics of experiments, that is a whole different issue that cannot be discussed or resolved in a comments field on a blog. Rick says that “the university has refused to engage in such discussion in any sustained or substantive way”. What do you mean by “the university”? Are you referring to specific PI’s, or ACUC, or veterinarians? Have there been any serious invitations to engage in a public discussion by credible groups? I know plenty of people who would be happy to engage in a credible discussion, so I highly doubt that “the university”, whoever that might be, is flat-out trying to avoid the subject.

    As for “destruction of years of documents and records to keep them from the public” – where did that come from? What documents? Minutes? Protocols? If it’s protocols being referred to, the only reason paper copies are ever destroyed is to make more room in the protocol office, and even then they are kept for at least three years after they’ve expired. After those three years are up, the paper copies are destroyed, but it is a requirement to keep them electronically for at least four years after the destruction of the paper copy. That is federal law. However, at UW, they take it a step further and microfiche records that are over seven years old, all of which are happily handed to activist groups that asks for them. I’ve never heard the accusation that records are trying to be hidden from the public.

    There was no denial that the inspections revealed significant problems – there definitely were problems, as I agreed – but they are being fixed, and inspections like these only serve to improve the program, which the overwhelming majority of those involved would like to see happen. The fact that there were so few problems (when taking into account the entire animal research program, not solely IACUC), none of which warranted a fine, show, however, that UW has a strong program.

    I was not asking for a debate, nor was I ever claiming that the university’s research program was perfect or denying that there were any violations. I feel as though this discussion has diverged into a criticism of IACUC, which is always going to result in ambiguity and disagreement. My main points were (1) to clarify violations that were misunderstood by the general public, (2) to assert the fact that Wisconsin’s research program is one of the best in the country (the problem of IACUC’s approval process is a nationwide issue), and (3) to emphasize the proportion of regulations that ARE being complied with and the things that are being done correctly by the university, all for the main purpose of making sure the other side of the story was heard.

  13. Sconz commentors shed light on UW animal welfare violations « The Sconz Says:

    […] it out, there is a very informative (and increasingly technical) comment thread active under this recent Sconz post relating to the magnitude and meaning of recent animal welfare violations found in UW labs. I […]

  14. Rick Says:

    Holly makes some important points.

    I don’t suspect that the section asking for evidence of a search for alternatives to painful procedures was left out altogether, but I do suspect that the language that was used in that section likely did not change from renewal to renewal. If it was insufficent during this inspection, it has always been insufficient, in all liklihood.

    Holly writes: “I wasn’t asserting there was no technical violation, I was explaining why the violation wasn’t as severe as interpreted from the WJS.”

    Without knowing what was being done to the animals and why, the severity of the violations are hard to weigh on an ethical scale. But the narrative required by the Act (the AWA) goes to the heart of the Act. The report did not say that the narratives were inadequate or unclear, the report said: “There is nothing to indicate that the principal investigators had considered alternatives to potentially painful procedures …”. This is unambiguous and suggests something other than a lack of sufficient detail.

    Holly writes: “it seems as though Rick believes that the members of the committee are corrupt and are violating regulations for their own benefit. Who would “profit from the broken system” other than PI’s who might get to take an easier route in their research?”

    I think there is evidence from many self-policing situations that self-policing doesn’t work well. PIs definately benefit from a broken oversight system. Anything that interfers with their work is probably seen as a barrier or impediment.

    Holly writes: “As far as I know, the committee is not “heavily populated” by scientists and consists mainly of veterinarians, non-scientist officials, and individuals not otherwise affiliated with the university.”

    Here’s the roster of voting members from the October 12 Grad School ACUC: Brinkmann, Brown, Capuano, Fine, Lyons, Sandgren, Schultz-Darken, Smith, Terasawa.

    Brown is a vet, as is Capuano, but Capuano also is named as a co-author on papers detailing terminal studies; Sandgren, Schultz-Darken, and Terasawa all conduct animal experimentation. I don’t know the others, but out of the nine voting members present, at least four of them are animal researchers, and in this case, two of them, Schultz-Darken and Terasawa have themselves run into problems with oversight that they might have considered too stringent. (In Terasawa’s case she wrote letters to that effect to the ACUC.)

    Holly writes: “Rick says that “the university has refused to engage in such discussion in any sustained or substantive way”. What do you mean by “the university”?”

    President Riley and Chancellor Wiley have said that the university would not discuss the matter of the ethics of using animals. Chancellor Martin has said that it is the All Campus ACUC’s role. Benevenga, the chair, said it wasn’t — this was reported in the WSJ. In fact, this Friday, Jan. 8, at 1 p.m. in 350 Bascom Hall, the All-Campus Animal Care and Use Committee will officially take up the question: “Is experimenting on monkeys ethical?” Apparently, Martin ordered them to do so after they decided not to in private (in violation of WI Open Meetings regulations.) In all liklihood, they will decide in open session that they cannot answer the question.

    Holly: “Are you referring to specific PI’s, or ACUC, or veterinarians?”

    Most recently, a request to publicly discuss the matter of primate experimentation from an occasional instructor in the school of business, Rick Marolt, (not me) was refused by a dozen vets and scientists. I can provide a list if anyone is interested.

    Holly: “Have there been any serious invitations to engage in a public discussion by credible groups?”

    “Credible”? This is usually code for “people who don’t disagree with us.” I have to chuckle. Refusals to discuss this matter in public are the norm across the country, not just here.

    For the record though, Eric Sandgren is a notable exception. He has addressed the controversy in publicly advertised venues three times. He is the exception that proves the rule.

    Holly: “As for “destruction of years of documents and records to keep them from the public” – where did that come from?”

    This is one of the problems facing critics of the university’s use of animials. People come and go in a college town and so, things are forgotten; people think they know what’s going on, but the problems frequently stretch back for decades, though in the case I was thinking of when I mentioned the records destruction, it wasn’t so very long ago.

    Here’s the story:

    About eight years ago, I read an article in Scientific American by Ned Kalin detailing his work on fear in a subgroup of rhesus monkeys he and his colleagues Richard Davidson and Steve Shelton had discovered to be more anxiety-prone than other monkeys. (They are all researchers here.) The article explained that they frightened young monkeys of this type, lesioned their brains, and then frightened them again and recorded any changes they saw in the monkeys’ fearfulness.

    Kalin explained many details of their methods. He also explained that the monkeys were video recorded during the fear testing, pre and post surgery. So I made a public records request for a copy of the video.

    My initial requests were ignored, buit I was persistent, and started having a friend request them as well. Finally, we received a denial from the university saying that the videos were not public records.

    We had an attorney start asking; but those requests were denied as well. Bill Lueders, news editor for the Isthmus is involved in the local effort to promote transparency in government thorough open meetings and public records. He started asking for the videos.

    Finally, he got an answer. 63 days after our last request, the university’s attorney said, they destroyed the videos. They claimed that there had been a steam pipe leak and that the videos had been damaged. Asking around, media specialists say that significant damage was unlikely.

    We asked for a record of the destroyed records. It turns out that an entire room full of documents including 628 videotapes detailing over 15 years of research were destroyed. Shredded in fact. A truck drove up and tipped a dumpster filled with records into a giant shredder attached to the truck and ground everything into a pulp. The act was witnessed and a document attesting to the witnessing was sighen by a university official.

    You can read about this in the Isthmus.

    In my opinion, I think they knew they would eventually lose a legal battle over the tapes we were asking for, so they destroyed them.

    This is particulary egregious given the fact that the university library maintains a branch at the primate center which hosts an archive dedicated to preserving the history of primate research, except the embarrassing parts, apparently.

    Those are the documents I alluded to.

    Finally, it appears that NIH has placed the UW on an “enhanced reporting schedule” as a result of their two-day inspection and has found significant problems with the ACUC system here. Two years from now, no one will remember any of this, and another Holly will be writing and explaining how everything is well managed and that the public just doesn’t understand what is actually going on at the university.

  15. SaW Says:

    Update: See http://siftingandwinnowing.org/2010/01/07/the-administration-responds-to-animal-lab-citations/ for the administration response to the citation issue.

  16. Holly Says:

    Twice now, Rick has questioned the likelihood that I’ve made rational judgments based on my own experience (I “…sound like someone who has listened attentively to the claims made by those who profit from the broken system” and that students “come and go in a college town and so, things are forgotten; people think they know what’s going on”). I don’t claim to be omniscient about all the happenings at the university, and yes, I am a student who hasn’t been and won’t be here for decades. However, I actually have seen a lot of the documents and behind-the-scenes happenings of both the past and present, and have had discussions with officials ranging from those who have a vested interest in animal research to animal rights activists. I drew my decisions from the information I have gathered. I have made my arguments based on experience, not the “claims made by those who profit from the broken system.” If someone can show me proof of a conspiracy or mass corruption in animal research, I would certainly re-evaluate my stance.

    However, as this discussion carries on, I see that Rick has been focusing on a particular branch of research when drawing conclusions about the university, namely primate research being conducted under UW’s graduate school.

    To clarify a point concerning UW in general:

    Rick: “Finally, it appears that NIH has placed the UW on an “enhanced reporting schedule” as a result of their two-day inspection and has found significant problems with the ACUC system here.”

    The “enhanced reporting schedule” is a result of the inspection, but it simply means that OLAW is going to make sure UW corrects 12 violations. It does not mean that they found the University to have a poor system. In fact, according to Channel 3000, “The follow-up OLAW letter to UW-Madison said that during its two-week stay on campus it found all animals it examined to be in ‘good condition.’” As Associate Dean of Research Policy William Mellon puts it, “We are a very complex, very large research organization. We opened up our records for 10 days, for a pretty exhaustive examination of our program… No one wants to make mistakes, but obviously, a few mistakes have been made.” If any surprise visit were to be made at other universities around the country, I can assure that there would be just as many violations, if not far more, depending on the University, simply as a result of inevitable human error.

    I’m going to assume that the rest of my view on the majority of animal research was understood in my previous posts, and from here on out I’ll focus on the specific cases that Rick has made.

    There are 6 individual schools that animal research is conducted under/ACUC committees: Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), Graduate School, Letters and Science, Medicine and Public Health, Veteran’s Hospital, and Veterinary Medicine. There is then the all-encompassing All Campus ACUC.

    The ACUC system (the system used to review and approve protocols) is applicable to all schools and is its own issue, which, again, I agree could use some changes and testing, but disagree is dominated by corruption. I have had experience with the questions and issues that committees raise before approving protocols and can see that protocols are scrutinized and never intentionally passed if research is unethical or insignificant. Even if the committee’s desire of making sure a protocol followed regulations was simply an act, I am still not clear on how anyone other than PI’s would benefit from its “corruption” and why every vet/nonscientist of all 6 committees (by law a committee would never consist of all scientists) would choose participate in that corruption with no desire to improve the system. However, I’m going to move on from IACUC.

    Most research in general involves rodents. Much of CALS research involves livestock. Primate research is a small fraction of all that is done at the university. However, of all the schools I listed, the one that does cover the highest proportion of the existing primate research is the Grad School. As Rick seems to be most interested in primate research, it explains why he gave a roster of the Grad School’s committee.

    So, Rick’s tale has to do with primate research.

    Rick brings up the fact that Kalin’s tapes of experiments on fear in primates were withheld from the public by the university. I have heard of Kalin’s research and of the shredded-tape fiasco, but I wasn’t there to witness it firsthand. However, I do know that in this day and age, any tapes of animal research are rarely released to the public, not because they reveal horrible treatment of animals, but because, as UW legal counsel John Dowling is quoted as saying the same Isthmus article cited by Rick, the tapes are “primary data from the ongoing investigations of university researchers…the public interest in nondisclosure outweighs the interest in disclosure” because of the tapes’ value as primary data. He also said “It is extremely important to that research that the data remain under the control of the researchers, or otherwise it would be susceptible to misappropriation and/or misinterpretation.” In other words, the reason the tapes weren’t released was perfectly legal and had to do with public policy.

    As for later being told that the tapes had been damaged, the point is a bit moot seeing as it wasn’t as though the Isthmus had a right to the tapes in the first place. However, I highly doubt that anyone felt the need to fake the destruction of the tapes out of fear of their release, and that there indeed was steam/water damage. The fact that Dowling mentioned the damage is what sparked the quest for finding out what really happened to the tapes even though, again, the tapes were never going to be publicly released in the first place. Whether or not the tapes were completely destroyed by the water is unknown, but again, the point is that primary data are not applicable to the public record law. In the end, the tapes were shredded – they were shredded because that is how all hard copies of data that reach their expiration, whether damaged or not, are disposed of.

    Whether or not the university was embarrassed by the tapes, Kalin, keep in mind, is only one PI that works with primates. There are far more cases of information-sharing with the public when it comes to primate research. Kemnitz and Capuano, two of the most well-known names in primate research who are constantly faced with hostility due to their research, are very open with their studies. They have been known to be extremely helpful to activists and provide full documents with nothing blacked out. At the bare minimum, when it comes to any protocol, activists virtually always get any public records they request. I doubt the majority of PI’s working with primates have anything to hide.

    As for a public discussion of the ethics, I’d like to see how this plays out. If, however, the All-Campus committee decided not to discuss the issue, I can assure you it’s not because no one has a case for it; there are plenty of logical arguments. Marlot, who is well-known for his moral opposition to primate research, makes claims that even I, as a nonscientist, can easily counter or explain.

    After understanding that scientists do have logical arguments, there is the issue who the scientists would debate with. This brings me to my point of asking whether a “credible” group has asked for a discussion. I don’t recall “credible” ever being code for “people who don’t disagree with us.” But I never claimed to be a semantics expert. By credible, I mean a group that has a rational reason for believing that primate research is unethical – a group that won’t simply scream slurs about torturing animals, a group has their facts straight and can match the scientists’ logic. A number of animal activist groups do not meet these criteria. First, no scientist is going to want to “debate” with the same tunnel-vision nut that threatens his family and vandalizes his home. Secondly, for some activists, the point is not to “win” the debate; the mere fact that a debate happens and they gain publicity is enough for them.

    Those that actually have facts to work with and can make a rational argument, like Rick, fit my definition of “credible”. In this case, the fact that individual prominent scientists might turn down a discussion doesn’t necessarily mean they have nothing worthwhile to contribute or they’re hiding something. There could be several reasons. It is something that I haven’t fully looked into and would like to learn more about. I would very much like Rick to provide the list of vets/scientists that declined a discussion; I’m curious as to whether public discussion of the topic is as rare as Rick suggests and, if it is, exactly why the issue isn’t being discussed.

    I hope that Rick, and anyone else who might be reading, realizes that I have only formed opinions and arguments on matters that I am comfortable with and have enough factual information about. That being said, I am not going to leave and continue “writing and explaining how everything is well managed and that the public just doesn’t understand what is actually going on at the university” if I don’t have a full grasp of current affairs.

    It is important to welcome differing viewpoints and avoid stark unwavering opinions. I sense that rather than looking at all aspects of an issue from every angle, there are people who use a handful of occurrences to back up an all-encompassing generalization. In this case, what started as a criticism of UW’s research program as a whole, after more prying, is shown to be a specific set of criticisms and exceptional instances. To me, it seems like those who are opposed to UW’s research program as a whole have formed their opinions based on deficiencies in IACUC and on a couple of occurrences such as the ones that Rick mentioned.

    One needs to step back and be careful to think about intermediate steps in logic when using isolated events in drawing such a large conclusion. A PI’s unwillingness to debate does not mean the university is afraid to discuss it. Failure to give the public tapes/primary data from a single study does not mean the university is hiding an enormous primate research secret. A handful of protocols that the USDA finds incomplete does not mean that ACUC conspires to abuse animals. The human mind has always has problems separating a single mistake or person from the institution as a whole, which seems to be the error that is being made here. Therefore, I would understand if Rick narrowed down his criticism to that of simply Kalin’s primate research, or solely to IACUC.

    My stance is that the current animal research program at UW is above average and is functioning well for an institution of its size. This was agreed upon by the USDA and OWLA, both of which conducted, by surprise, thorough and tedious investigations. If there had been any significant corruption or abuse of animals or failure to produce public records, the inspectors would’ve uncovered it and the university would be up to its neck in fines, bad publicity, and cessation of funds. The fact that the only violations the university incurred were absolutely nowhere near the scale of what activists claim is happening, and that the number of violations is infinitesimally smaller than what it could have been, ought to be sufficient in proving the present-day credibility of UW’s program as a whole. Unless, of course, the USDA and OWLA inspectors are also corrupt conspirators.

  17. Rick Says:

    Holly: “The follow-up OLAW letter to UW-Madison said that during its two-week stay on campus it found all animals it examined to be in ‘good condition.’”

    Just to clarify, 2 people (I think) from OLAW were here for two days, December 1 and 2. APHIS was here for two weeks.

    Holly: “In the end, the tapes were shredded – they were shredded because that is how all hard copies of data that reach their expiration..”

    They’d been holding on to some of them for 15 years.

    I’m looking through my zillions of emails for the list of people who refused to participate. I’ll find it.

    Holly: “Marlot [that sounds like a wine. It’s actually Marolt], who is well-known for his moral opposition to primate research, makes claims that even I, as a nonscientist, can easily counter or explain. ”

    This takes us far afield, but I’d be interested in hearing Holly’s “easy” counters.

    Another clarification and then I’ll go back to looking for the list of refuseniks.

    Holly: “PI’s, in an overwhelming majority of cases, are not harming the animals they are working with.”

    In the cases at hand, those cited by APHIS for the absence of evidence regarding less- or non-painful alternatives, they were harming the animals. Further, Holly’s claim is likely incorrect, but it is difficult to demonstrate with certainty. But it can be tested.

    By using the NIH RePORTER tool at http://projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm we can begin to get some idea of what is actually going on. As has been noted, the majority of research using (warm-bloded) animals is with mice and rats. So, as just a starting point, lets look only at currently active studies at UW-Madison using rats, and as a sampling tool, let’s look at only the first page of results when searching only with the term rattus:

    LOCUS COERULEUS-NOREPINEPHRINE SYSTEM REGULATION OF PREPULSE INHIBITION This abstract explains that by using “phencyclidine-like drugs” the researchers have been able to distrupt rat’s normal propensity to overcome their startle response when cued about a potentially startling event. (harming)

    CORTICOSTRIATAL-HYPOTHALAMIC CIRCUITRY AND FOOD REWARD This abstract explains that “We aim to expand these investigations to study how cortical systems (i.e. the amygdala, gustatory cortex and prefrontal cortex) interact with ventral striatum and hypothalamus in the regulation of ingestive behavior. We will employ behavioral, pharmacological, neuroanatomical and molecular methodologies …” In their published papers they explain that they are injecting drugs into rats’ brains. (harming)

    PREFRONTAL CORTEX-HYPOTHALMUS INTERACTIONS AND FEEDING by the PI above. More fiddling with rats’ brains. (harming)

    AGE, GENDER, SEROTONIN AND RESPIRATORY CONTROL This research involves, apparently, the use of only dead rats. (do we count killing rats as harming them?)

    LOW-DOSE METHYLPHENIDATE AND THE PREFRONTAL CORTEX “These studies will use a combination of microdialysis measures of catecholamine release, electrophysiological measurement of PFC neuronal activity, pharmacological manipulations and tests PFC-dependent cognition.” They’re sticking electrodes in rats’ brains. (harming)

    CHARACTERIZATION AND TREATMENT OF THE [experimentally] SCARRED VOCAL FOLD (harming)

    STATISTICAL METHODS AND SOFTWARE FOR QTL MAPPING this is a project not using animals per se. (no harm)

    BRAIN PLASTICITY AND LOCAL SLEEP HOMEOSTASIS: A MOLECULAR PERSPECTIVE In a published paper the PI explains: “Here we used surface-enhanced laser desorption-ionization (SELDI), followed by time-of-flight mass spectrometry, to obtain a large-scale profiling of the proteins in the rat cerebral cortex whose expression is affected by sleep, spontaneous waking, short (6 hours) and long (7 days) sleep deprivation.” (harming)

    VOCALIZATION DEFICITS IN PARKINSON RATS: DOES L-DOPA HARM OR HELP THERAPY? “Rats will be tested in a control condition, immediately after neurotoxin exposure (PD model), and after vocal exercise (therapy) with and without levodopa.” (harming)

    AGING, EXERCISE AND MECHANISMS OF ALTERED TONGUE FUNCTION (hard to say)

    LARYNGEAL BLOOD FLOW MEASUREMENT VIA MICRO PARTICLE IMAGE VELOCIMETRY “In order to perform this future work, however, exploratory/developmental research first must be performed to develop innovative methods for studying blood flow in the larynx of living animals.” (hard to say, but I’d go with harming)

    ADAPTIVE INFORMATION MONITORING AND EXTRACTION Non-animal

    SYNTHESIS AND BIOLOGICAL ACTIVITY OF A NEW ALL-TRANS-RETINOL METABOLITES a diet deficiency study (unclear, but let’s count it as not harming)

    ANALYSES OF PROGRESSION TO COLON CANCER IN A SPECTRUM OF PATHWAYS (harming)

    THE PIRC RAT, A NEWLY GENERATED MODEL FOR FAMILIAL HUMAN COLON CANCER (harming)

    FMOS: ROLES IN METABOLISM AND TOXICITY this is primarily a dietary study that will use tissues from rats fed FMOs. (hard to say, but lets go with not harming)

    INTRACELLULAR CALCIUM IN HAIR CELLS This seems to be a study of excised inner ear hair cells from rats they are killing. (Depends how you count killing)

    CHARACTERIZATION OF THE SIGMA-1 RECEPTOR (Greek to me. Lets go with not harming)

    DEFINING THE IMPORTANCE OF CD8+ T CELL BREADTH IN SIV/HIV PROTECTIVE IMMUNITY (not a rat study)

    FACTORS CONTROLLING SUSCEPTIBILITY TO MAMMARY CANCER (harming)

    let’s tally up: 20 projects; 17 rat studies 11 involve fairly clear harm the and 2 with killing them and in 2 others, I can’t tell. In any case, this unscientific test suggests that the animals are being harmed in many cases and that the notion that PI’s, in an overwhelming majority of cases, are not harming the animals they are working with, may not be supported by the facts.

  18. Holly Says:

    Rick has provided us with a very interesting and useful resource in learning more about the studies being conducted at the University. I encourage anyone who is interested to check it out.

    Again, however, this discrepancy is solely about semantics. What I meant by “harm” is causing animals more than brief or momentary physical pain or suffering. Something like the “depressed and vomiting” dog scenario or surgery with no anesthesia. Of course surgical/biomedical research does involve drug injection or altering the animal in an unnatural way, perhaps debilitating or euthanizing the animal, but it’s always done in a way that is the least painful (which I’ll use rather than harmful) to the animal. For example, “fiddling with rats’ brains” is done while the animal is under anesthesia, so no pain is felt, and results are observed when the animal wakes. “Factors controlling susceptibility to mammary cancer”, as another example, would indeed cause suffering for the animals that do get cancer, but once that would be determined, they are euthanized. The PI certainly wouldn’t let a mouse slowly die of cancer. There are very few protocols in which causing the animal physical and prolonged pain and suffering is necessary in producing significant results. As I previously mentioned, if adverse results do occur that cause unexpected distress to the animals, euthanasia is administered. Euthanasia ends pain and suffering. So, to rephrase my original statement: “PI’s, in a majority of cases, are not causing prolonged physical pain and suffering to the animal.”

    Again, I have made my main points and see this discussion diverging into more ambiguous and subjective issues, mostly the ethics of euthanizing animals in the name of research. I don’t really have time to get into that aspect of animal research nor wish to do so in this manner, but I’ll definitely be contacting the Sconz with more information about the meeting on the ethics of primate research this Friday and on why more public discussions about the ethics of animal research aren’t being held.

    • Alec S Says:

      Any observations on the position the committee eventually reached on the morality of non-human primate research Holly?

  19. I'm not giving my name to a machine Says:

    Who gives a shit about rats/mice? I recently disposed of a smashed mouse and a mouse stuck in a trap. Little bitches keep shitting everywhere.

  20. Rick Says:

    Just following up on the list of researchers and faculty asked to participate in the discussion with Rick Marolt that was to be moderated by Robert Streifer.

    The student who organized the event and who contacted the researchers has not responded to my queries in any deatil. Though I have a list of about 20 people who were apparently asked, I can’t get any info from the student on who absolutely was asked, who declined, and who didn’t respond. Until I do, I won’t list their names. Sorry.

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