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June 10, 2012

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Top 10 Most Ridiculous Research on Animals for 2011

Written by In Defense Of Animals (IDA)

vivisection research NIH ridiculousWith a budget of $32 billion, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the world's largest funder of biomedical research. It is also the world's largest funder of experiments on nonhuman animals.

NIH wants you to believe that the animal experiments it funds with your tax dollars are about cures and vaccines, and comply with the NIH's mission "to extend healthy life and reduce the burdens of illness and disability."

And that is why In Defense of Animals has researched and compiled our Top 10 List of the Most Ridiculous Research on Animals for 2011 – to show you what real animal research looks like.

Culled from articles published in 2011, these are real experiments were funded by the NIH, approved by federally mandated oversight committees, and published in several of the literally thousands of peer-reviewed journals. These experiments – the cream of the crop – show that your tax dollars and animals’ lives are frivolously wasted on research that adds nothing to medical progress and tells us nothing we care to know - or didn't know already. One can only wonder what happens in the experiments that don't get published...

This Top Ten List - comprising only the tip of the iceberg - relaunches IDA's Real Ridiculous Research campaign. Every year, NIH spends billions of tax dollars to underwrite experiments on animals. IDA's RRR campaign will, on an ongoing basis, expose to the public, Congress, NIH Advisory Councils and the media how the NIH is (mis)using scarce taxpayer dollars on wasteful and stupid animal experiments.


In an elaborate study of the obvious, University of New England researchers injected rats’ knees with a substance that causes arthritis and then discovered that those rats would run less on their exercise wheels due to chronic pain. As a sad side note, the arthritis seemed to have a larger debilitating effect on those rats that had run more often.

Why did researchers ruin the best part of these animals' miserable lives to discover something we already know? They did it in an attempt to create yet another "animal model" of chronic pain in humans, even though they should know that animals of different species – and even different strains of the same species – can react differently to the same diseases and drugs.

This study was funded by an "R15" grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. R15 grants are meant for institutions that have not been major recipients of NIH support. One of the aims of an R15 grant is to "expose students to research." Consequently, like F31 and T32 grants, R15 grants can breed the next generation of animal experimenters.


Experimenters at Florida State University put rats in an open space with nowhere to hide – a stressful situation for a rodent – and identified which ones ran around more than the others. Then, they psychologically traumatized some of them by putting them in a cage with a bigger, more aggressive rat to be manhandled, either once or on several consecutive days. Some male rats who were attacked and defeated by more aggressive males became socially withdrawn and appeared to experience less pleasure than other rats.

So what did these experimenters find out about these defeatist rats? These were the rats who were more active in an open space and were more anxious about being beaten up by another rat, even when that had only happened on one prior occasion. In other words, some rats are just naturally more anxious.

This study was funded by two grants from the National Institute of Mental Health. One of these grants was an R21 grant. The scope for an R21 grant are "novel studies that break new ground," "High risk high reward studies that may lead to a breakthrough" or "result in novel techniques, agents, methodologies, models or applications that will impact biomedical, behavioral, or clinical research." If this is NIH's idea of "breakthrough" or "high risk high reward" science, one can only imagine what its "normal" science looks like.


Rather than addressing the real issue, Emory University experimenters created "single-mother" prairie vole families by removing the father from some prairie vole families. While they found that the single mothers spent just as much time caring for their children as the mothers with mates, they did find that the children of single mothers spent less time caring for their children than those raised by two parents.

Isn't it a little offensive to suggest that studying prairie voles is "a fast, easy, and ethologically relevant way of studying human-relevant family dynamics" without giving any evidence that these same results have been found in humans?

This study was supported by four separate NIH grants. Believe it or not, one of them was the Yerkes "Primate Research Center Grant," now in its 52nd year of taxpayer funding.

This study on prairie voles was also funded by a T32 institutional training grant from the National Institute of Mental Health that focuses largely on training nine predoctoral fellows in basic science, including various "animal models," does not provide clinical training, and includes participating faculty from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

Two other grants from the National Institute of Mental Health also supported this study.


Scientists at Lehigh University and the University of Minnesota found that putting hamsters on a diet had no significant impact on their abilities to perform or enjoy sexual intercourse, although they appeared less motivated to initiate it. Female hamsters who had been fed 75 percent of what they would normally eat for 8-11 days tended to spend more time with food and less time with male hamsters when given a choice between them. They also hoarded more food – big surprise.

This study was supported by three NIH grants; two from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and one from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

One of the NIDA grants was an F31 grant, meant to provide research training to predoctoral students "leading toward the research degree (e.g., Ph.D.)." In this case, the predoctoral student received her taxpayer-assisted Ph.D. in 2011 from the University of Minnesota and is currently a post-doctoral research associate there. In March 2012, she gave presentations to a Minnesota high school district Career Day and the University of Minnesota's Biological Sciences Club.

In another example of an F31 grant breeding the next generation of animal experimenters, a recipient of an F31 obtained her taxpayer-assisted Ph.D. from Oregon Health & Science University in 2011. One of the papers supported by this grant, published in 2011, involved exposing pregnant mice to methamphetamine to see its effects on their offspring’s cognition in adolescence. This F31 awardee is now an Assistant Professor of Psychology at a different university, where she plans to expand these neonatal methamphetamine exposure experiments in pregnant mice to other drugs of abuse in this "rodent model." She can also teach and mentor another generation of animal experimenters in her position as an Assistant Professor of Psychology.

Of the 1,232 F31 predoctoral grants funded by NIH in Fiscal Year 2011, 47 percent (574) involved experiments on rats, mice or nonhuman primates.


Inspired by the incredible variety in bitter substances, Ohio State University experimenters decided to see what would happen if they cut a couple of the nerves that connect taste buds to the brain. The experimenters slit the throats of ten rats so that one nerve could be cut and punctured the eardrums of ten other rats so that the other nerve could be severed. The experimenters performed both procedures on the ten unluckiest rats. The ten "luckiest" rats just had their throats slit and their eardrums punctured, with the experimenters leaving their "bitter taste" nerves intact. How merciful.

What did these experimenters learn? The nerve that was more sensitive to bitter stimuli was also more important in learning to avoid bitter stimuli – go figure.

This study was supported by two grants from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders, one of which is currently in its 22nd year of funding.


When a famous primatologist and a prodigious upstart at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center get a paper published on contagious yawning in chimpanzees, well, you just can't help but yawn too. That is, before the outrage might kick in. Taxpayers paid for a substantial "Career Development" grant to support this – and all we got was a lousy experiment suggesting that empathy makes chimpanzees more likely to catch a yawn from familiar chimpanzees than strangers.

Wondering if these researchers caught contagious yawns from the chimpanzees too? Given that they go to work at a place where our fellow primates are imprisoned and tortured on a daily basis, probably not. It's even less likely given that Frans DeWaal is co-author; despite his repeatedly finding that chimpanzee behavior and society is so close to humans, he has refused to speak out against the invasive and lethal experiments his own institution has conducted on chimpanzees. Perhaps Dr. DeWaal could take a cue from the chimpanzees and develop some empathy.

This experiment was funded by both a "K12" career development grant awarded to Emory University Yerkes Primate Research Center Grant, which is currently in its 52nd year of taxpayer funding.


Scientists at the University of Utah implanted pressure sensors in the tracheas of young alligators and ran a cable through their throats, fixing it to their upper jaws "with several layers of duct tape," in order to describe their vocal behavior. The scientists found that alligators have only two ways of changing the frequency of their voices, whereas mammals have three.

One of the two NIH grants that supported this study was awarded for the development of an airway simulator that could be used by doctors to describe and diagnose various diseases that affect breathing. Our suggestion? Start studying human anatomy and leave the alligators alone.

This study was supported by two grants from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.


Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, Merck Research Laboratories and Northeastern University, Boston, demonstrated that male marmoset monkeys can be conditioned to associate an arbitrary odor – in this case, lemon – with sexual experience. After conditioning, the odor of lemon caused male marmosets to become sexually aroused, even in the absence of a female marmoset.

In order to rationalize their experiment, the researchers stated that sexual conditioning had been conducted in a wide range of animals, including fish, birds, rodents, stallions, and humans – but it had never been done before in nonhuman primates. A true breakthrough.

This study was funded by two grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Primate Research Center Grant, which is now in its 51st year of taxpayer funding.


Inquiring minds at Albany Medical College played music to a group of unsophisticated rats, who preferred Beethoven's "Fur Elise" over Miles Davis's "Four" and preferred silence over any music at all. When they sweetened the deal by adding cocaine to their least preferred options, however, they found that rats would reverse their preferences, even choosing jazz over classical.

In another study published in 2011, the same experimenters supported by the same NIH grants again used Miles Davis" "Four," but this time exposed rats to methamphetamine to determine the drug's effects on rats' learned conditioning.

These studies were supported by two grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. One of the grants was a T32 institutional training grant regarding the pharmacology and neuroscience of drug abuse. At least six pre- and post-doctoral fellows, who could become members of the next generation of animal experimenters, have been trained and supported with this grant.


Here's a question that really deserves a published study: how many taxpayer-funded NIH grants does it take to "find" what has been known for many decades? Seven.

Researchers at Tulane National Primate Research Center recently acknowledged that daily uncontrollable stress is a basic part of an animal's life in a laboratory, regardless even of which experiments are performed on them. In their words: "It is widely accepted that procedures that are performed as part of routine husbandry have the potential to affect both physiological and behavioral parameters that are associated with stress."

Unsurprisingly, rhesus monkeys showed "abnormal behaviors," stereotypies like rocking or pacing back and forth, while watching another monkey be physically restrained and injected with anesthetic, and they exhibited these abnormal behaviors less when they were sharing a cage with another monkey.

What is surprising is that "there is widespread hesitance to pair-house adult male rhesus macaques," despite the evidence that it is better for primates on the whole than social isolation. What is perhaps more surprising – and disturbing – is that in this day and age, experimenters continue to waste precious tax dollars on studies "finding" what has been known for many decades: that monkeys are highly social and intelligent animals who are greatly harmed by social isolation and seeing their friends suffering.

This study was supported multiple NIH grants. Believe it or not, it was funded by two National Primate Research Center Grants: the one awarded to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, now in its 51st year of taxpayer funding, and Tulane University's, which is also now in its 51st year of taxpayer funding.

This study was also supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, as well as four additional grants from the National Center for Research Resources.

NIH is (mis)using scarce taxpayer dollars on wasteful and stupid animal experiments.

But how do these experiments get funded? Through a fundamentally broken NIH funding system that has:

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