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Portrait of An Animal Researcher
By David Gerow Irving, author of The Protein Myth: Significantly Reducing the Risk of cancer, Heart Disease, Stroke and Diabetes while Saving the Animals and the Planet
When people think of an animal researcher the image of a well trained, highly skilled scientist surrounded by test tubes and flasks and wearing an immaculately clean, white coat often comes to mind. Looking up from a microscope he, or she, strokes a plump, white rat and converses about the latest medical discoveries being made with the help of animals. This is America’s favorite image of an animal researcher. But just how accurate is it?
The fact that most people are unaware that medical research represents only the tip of the iceberg of this diverse industry called animal research that stretches from coast to coast and border to border, indicates just how skillfully the benign image of the humanitarian scientist has been disseminated. But animal research requires the production and use of 22 million animals a year in the United States and 100 million world wide, conservatively speaking, most of which are killed after being experimented upon. Most of this research has nothing to do with finding a cure for cancer, stroke, heart disease, or other debilitating, life-threatening conditions. In fact, most animal research is done to satisfy various commercial requirements or to test concepts in the manufacture of industrial and personal use products like cosmetics and fluoride toothpastes.
The more the public gets a closer look behind the closed doors of animal research facilities, the more the senselessness of their work becomes apparent. We know that birth defect experiments on animals cannot be applied to humans, so why are they done? We know that better pre-natal care and helping women to quit smoking can reduce infant mortality by over 35%, so why does ineffective nicotine testing on animals continue? We know that chemical and agricultural product testing on animals is irrelevant to any health applications for humans and could be done using non-animal methods, which is the preferred procedure for testing these products in Canada and Europe, so why are we pursuing it? We know that computer technology already exists capable of putting an end to animal testing for drugs, so what is the necessity of testing for drugs? We know that heart attacks can be prevented through diet and exercise, so why are we butchering animals in tests for heart disease? Certainly there is no need for secretive military testing on animals except to satisfy military paranoia.
The wheels on the huge gravy train funded by the tax dollars of the citizenry that the animal research industry has been riding for decades are beginning to creak. The medical establishment itself hides behind its own image without the courage to acknowledge the corruption in the fake applications for fake medical animal research projects to the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies. These agencies squander billions of tax dollars in funding this fakery that has only pseudo-applications for human beings with few benefits, as described below. Linus Pauling zeroed in on the corruption when he wrote “Everyone should know that most cancer research is largely a fraud, and that the major cancer research organizations are derelict in their duties to the people who support them.”
Animal medical research is done mostly in conjunction with university research laboratories or medical facilities. There we find the researchers who are the standard-bearers for the animal research industry, the ones wearing those neat, white coats. But let there be no mistake. Even this group narrows to an even smaller minority when it dares to proclaim they are “legitimate” researchers. That is because the overwhelming majority of medical animal research is not legitimate. It is curiosity research in a ‘publish or perish’ kind of atmosphere where the researchers must design something unusual to capture NIH or other government agency funding. These agencies approve research projects on the bizarre premise that the more bizarre an experiment is the more scientific it must be.
Whoever doubts the above allegation needs only to take into account experiments in which chimpanzees have been locked in old refrigerators filled with cocaine smoke (New York University), cats have had their brains severed from their spinal cords after which anesthesia was discontinued while they were locked in frames and experimented upon for hours (Rockefeller University), cats have been forced to vomit 97 times in the space of three and one-half minutes (Rockefeller University), and primates have been subjected to a continuous three hour-long studio-generated sound that was10 decibels louder than a shotgun blast (New York University). The designer of that experiment, Lynn Kiorpes, has been drilling holes in baby monkeys heads for fourteen years while collecting $1.5 million dollars from the NIH for studying artificially created abnormalities. The babies are either killed and dissected instantly or are subjected to years of continuing experimentation. She works in secrecy behind the hallowed doors of New York University, one of the most notorious protectors of institutional animal abuse in the nation, which itself has been charged with more than 400 violations of the Animal Welfare Act and has been fined $450,000, the largest fine ever leveled by the USDA.
The thirst by government agencies to fund unnecessary, cruel experiments on animals seems unquenchable, and our esteemed university medical facilities continue to lap up public tax dollars with little sign that they are embarrassed by their display of greed as they walk hand in hand with animal abusers up to the cashier’s window. At the Oregon Health and Science University, researcher Eliot Spindel has been paid $7.6 million tax dollars by the NIH since 1992 (and will continue receiving funding until 2012) to literally rip baby monkeys from their mothers’ breasts to study nicotine effects on infant monkeys. Sometimes the babies are taken through cesarean section, while other times the mothers are allowed to keep them for several weeks before they are torn away, driving the mothers nearly insane. Losing their babies causes tremendous suffering to these primates who are operated on five times during their forced pregnancies to implant nicotine pumps in their backs.
In 2005 the Justice Department awarded a University of Wisconsin professor, John Webster, $500,000 to electrocute pigs with Taser guns to try to determine if stun guns are safe, a cruel project that could be done using follow-up medical studies of Taser victims instead—as many previous studies have.
In 2003 at Columbia University, a whistleblower exposed experiments in which mother baboons and their babies in-utero were operated on repeatedly to measure the flow of nicotine through the umbilical chord; baboons had one eye removed in senseless experiments to induce strokes before being abandoned in cages without care or painkillers; and monkeys had metal pipes implanted in their craniums driving them into a frenzy in irrelevant menstrual stress studies. The suffering these animals endured ended only when they died from the effects of the experiments or when they were killed by their researchers.
The foregoing list barely scratches the surface of the unbelievably sickening, bizarre, sadistic research which medical animal researchers in their clean white coats engage and which is routinely rubber stamped by the NIH and other government funding agencies, thus robbing the public blind.
Because of public “unease” more and more animal research scientists have begun to ask if their research is worth the few results, negative publicity, and community contempt. By now animal rights organizations and whistle-blowers have brought cruel animal research projects to light so often that university and medical research facilities are forced to defend their animal policies to the public. Columbia University, for example, has set up a Standards of Care website where it asserts that it “recognizes its scientific and ethical duty to treat animals involved in research humanely, and requires that all faculty, staff and students involved in animal research maintain the highest standards of care.” However, the undercover photographic evidence and other reports about the conditions in Columbia’s animal laboratories indicate that Columbia’s efforts to reassure a suspicious public are as much public relations as anything else, as proved by the barbaric stroke, tobacco, and menstrual experiments on baboons described above.
The same can be said of the University of Minnesota which advertises that their Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee works to assure that research and other activities involving animals are “justified by their benefits and minimize any pain or suffering.” The university must have forgotten about one of their researchers, Marilyn Carroll, who for twenty-two years (at a cost of nine million dollars to taxpayers) has been using food deprivation to forcibly addict monkeys and rats to drugs including cocaine, PCP, nicotine, heroin, amphetamines and alcohol. Protests by animal rights groups including the ALF and SOAR (Student Organization for Animal Rights) have been raised against Carroll’s lab over the years where primates are subjected to withdrawal so that they suffer seizures, nose bleeding, respiratory problems, skin infections, self-mutilation, incessant rocking, hallucinations, screaming, and depression. Some just give up and curl into a ball in a corner of their cage where they cower in terror. That the practice of torturing innocent animals in an effort to attend to the addictions human beings have created themselves might be considered unethical and unjust, not to mention Mengelian, seems not to have penetrated the consciousness of erudite, highly educated, researchers like Carroll.
The above examples, unfortunately, are par for the course. The University of California San Francisco is the fourth largest recipient of federal research grants, receiving over $420 million from the NIH annually. On a university webpage the text above a photograph of a cute white mouse nestled cozily in the pocket of an empty, purple surgical glove advertises that “the University has established policies on the use of animal subjects to promote their humane care.” The text continues below the photograph in a statement all too similar to those made by Columbia and the University of Minnesota announcing that the university oversees all “research and instruction that involves vertebrate animals, in order to ensure that the highest ethical and animal welfare standards are met.”
In reality, the University of California San Francisco has one of the worst animal care records of all university medical research facilities in the country. It has been in nearly continuous violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which in 2004 filed formal charges against UCSF for 75 Animal Welfare Act violations between 2001 and 2003. These included performing surgery on an ewe and her fetus without providing post-surgical pain relief; leaving monkeys and lambs unmonitored after surgery (which resulted in a lamb frothing at the mouth and gasping for breath); forcing marmoset monkeys to breed continually and give birth while still nursing infants (one marmoset mother gave birth seven times to fourteen babies in just over three years. Six of the babies died and the mother lost 70 percent of her bodyweight over that period); depriving monkeys of water resulting in severe weight loss, performing a craniotomy on a monkey without providing post-operative pain relief, and subjecting at least one monkey to multiple injections of a brain-destroying chemical through the carotid artery. Some of the most egregious violations were done by three of UCSF’s top researchers, all of whom conduct brain experiments on primates and have received major NIH grants.
The foregoing are examples of what the University of California calls the “highest ethical and animal welfare standards.” In July of 2007 the PCRM (Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine) filed a lawsuit against UCSF for its mistreatment of dogs, monkeys and other animals used in experiments.
In spite of the cruelty and hypocrisy associated with university and medical center animal research laboratories, it is still undeniable that a small minority of animal researchers actually do engage in animal research which they believe is for humanitarian purposes. They have made a deliberate, conscious choice that it is moral to put human health concerns above those of animals. It is doubtful, however, that even the most caring researcher would deny that experiments sometimes cause suffering and pain to the animals involved. Dr. Robert Kass, Department Chair, Department of Pharmacology at the Columbia Medical Center, wrote that “we test as humanely and effectively as possible,” indicating that there are times when it is not possible to test humanely or effectively. Even so, this group of researchers do sometimes make discoveries that are applicable to humankind such as reported by Dr. Eric A. Rose, Associate Dean for Translational Research and Chair of the Department of Surgery at Columbia University who wrote: “The concept of cardiac catheterization was born here—animal research allowed the idea to become an applicable technique.” Dr. Rose’s defense of cardiac catheterization indicates he is concerned about the morality of animal testing. What Dr. Rose apparently fails to take cognizance of is that this technique might never have been necessary without the meat-based diets responsible for the arterial problems requiring catheterization. It could hardly be more patently unethical to slaughter animals in cruel ways and eat them, acquire a disease in the process of digesting and metabolizing them, and then slaughter and torture more animals to try to find a cure for the disease caused by eating them.
Should the medical establishment be unwilling to take the above argument into consideration, it can only be taken as a refusal to probe in any depth just what is moral and ethical and what is not.
Nevertheless, the sincerity of some medical scientists in attempting to solve medical enigmas is hard to deny. They use animals in their research out of a sense of compassion towards human beings. To them, animals are inferior and deserve compassion only insofar as it does not interfere with their research. Donald M. Silver, author of over 40 books on science for children and teachers who did cancer studies on mice at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in the 1970s, said that when doubts about his work arose, he only had to think about the terminally ill patients in the children’s ward. As recently as two months ago, Doctor John Young, director of comparative medicine at Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in an interview on PBS, proudly pointed to a laboratory prisoner pig as an ideal subject for animal research because its cardiovascular system is similar to that of human beings. However, as proved by Dr. Dean Ornish, a regimen of diet and exercise can cure heart disease. He is the author of Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, Eat More, Weigh Less and has been featured on all major medical journals and news media including NOVA on PBS. Perhaps Dr. Young doesn’t agree with Dr. Ornish’s methodology. Certainly, he must be aware of it. So why should a pig forfeit it’s life for a human being with heart problems, especially those who developed heart disease by eating pigs or cows in the first place?
Dr. Young did not discuss that researchers at Purdue University have found that a pig’s IQ is comparable to that of a chimpanzee.
He also pointed to terminally ill children as a moral imperative for conducting animal research. Those who agree with him like to pose questions like, “what if it was your own child suffering from cancer?” Certainly most people would hardly deny terminally ill children the best possible chance for survival with the best possible care, or, for that matter, any suffering human being even if it has been derived by experimenting upon animals. This is the direction that the world has taken up to the present. However, those who object to animal research did not invent the medical technology that is used in medicine today, and if they had, the means would be entirely different. Because treatment is the way it is does not justify continuing on the same tired path which Dr. Young advocates which, in the view of many, is so narrowly defined by its reliance on animal research that it prevents the kind of research that could really lead to cures for cancer, heart disease, stroke, and other devastating and deadly conditions.
For example, Dr. Ornish discovered how to cure heart disease without animal research. Dr. Young, with his animal research, has not. Yet Young believes he has the right to continue his cardiac experiments on innocent, highly intelligent creatures in spite of the fact that a cure is available. Let the reader be the judge. What is moral here and what is not?
If animal researchers like Dr. Young, Dr. Kass, and Dr. Rose really are interested in finding cures they might begin by having the courage to denounce the fake research of their colleagues like Eliot Spindel and Lynn Kiorpes for the fraud it is, as Linus Pauling has done, in order to free up hundreds of millions of dollars for serious, alternative investigations that might lead to real progress in the fight against the major diseases. The path that Dr. Young follows in is the same that animal researchers have been following for decades, and the result is always the same. They have just discovered that such and such when applied to rats, or some other species, cures such and such. Meanwhile, the real cure is always just around the corner unless someone like Dr. Ornish comes along and finds it.
The abandonment of animal testing in favor of alternative methodologies has already yielded significant results when it is tried, and several non-animal tests are being used to replace animal testing. This includes embryonic stem cell tests using non-human cells; human skin testing on leftovers from surgical procedures; cell and tissue culture (in vitro) studies used to screen for anti-cancer, anti-AIDS, and other types of drugs as well as for producing and testing pharmaceutical products like vaccines, antibiotics, and therapeutic proteins; comparative studies of human populations leading to the discovery of the root causes of human diseases including demonstrating the mechanism of AIDS transmission and how it could be prevented; and sophisticated scanning technologies (MRI, PET, and CT). Pharmagene Laboratories, based in Royston, England, studies how drugs affect human genes and the proteins they make. They use tools from molecular biology, biochemistry, and analytical pharmacology in combination with human tissues and sophisticated computer technologies in developing drugs so that the supposed need to test on animals is eliminated.
Scientists are certainly capable of discovering and inventing many other alternatives to animal research. While some medical researchers agree that an exhaustive search for alternatives to animal research is the future direction for medical research, the profession in general shows little enthusiasm and drags its feet.
It seems clear that when human beings venture forth in uncharted waters based on an intuitive sense of the possibilities ahead, only profound discovery and adventure lie in wait. That is the history of humankind and it is so fundamental to human existence that humanity can surely rely upon it. When it comes to medical research, what else is there – eternal dependency on a weaker animal species that cannot defend itself against humankind’s cruelty and abuse? Surely we are capable of much, much more. Isn’t it time we left our primitive views behind and began reaching for a higher destiny?
Our future must include widening our circle of compassion to include all species which cohabit the planet. In the process, we will be creating a vital, new template to apply to societal relations between nations that can end warfare between them. We will have been led there by our compassion for animals. And the partnership between human beings and animals that has been wrested away by the infamous practice of animal research will have been restored.
This article was originally published on Cyrano’s Journal, Thomas Paine’s Corner' website.
David Irving is a Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude graduate of Columbia University, class of 1980, School of General Studies. He subsequently obtained his Masters in Music Composition at Columbia and founded the new music organization Phoenix in New York City.
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