Profile - John Gluck
Alternatives to Animal Testing, Experimentation and Dissection - An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM AAVS American Anti-Vivisection Society
June 2019

A former student of Harry Harlow, Dr. John Gluck shares his unique perspective on the use of primates in research and how he came to see the monkeys in his lab in a very different way. Dr. Gluck is emeritus professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico and is a research professor at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University.

Horse Marigold
Dr. John Gluck with rescued horse Marigold

John Gluck, Ph.D., is a trained psychologist and primotologist. After spending years working with macaques in a research laboratory, he was moved to see animals in a different light, and his work now focuses solely on research ethics. Dr. Gluck is a highly respected advocate for primates, particularly chimpanzees, and has been an outspoken proponent for chimp retirement. He is the co-author of The Human Use of Animals: Case Studies in Ethical Choice, and is currently working on a book tentatively titled Released: the Rediscovery of Ambivalence in the Use of Animals in Research.

Recently, AAVS met with Dr. Gluck to discuss his unique perspective on animal research and our relationship with primates. We hope our readers find his candor and insight poignant and thought-provoking.

AAVS: What drew you to the psychology field?

DR. GLUCK: I had family members who were subject to various neuropsychiatric disorders. My grandmother suffered terribly from depression; my father had Parkinson’s Disease, which also evolved into dementia; and I had an aunt who was ‘housed’ in one of those classic psychiatric facilities that kept people for decades and decades. As a high school student, trying to pick up books on psychology and psychotherapy, nothing really gave me a great deal of insight. So when I left for university, I thought I’d either become a veterinarian or a psychologist. The desire to do something beneficial for people like my family made me pursue psychology.

AAVS: That field naturally involved animals?

DR. GLUCK: When I was an undergraduate in the 1960s, animal use was very dominant. You know, everybody got a chance to run rats through mazes, and the thought was that that’s the way you got at complex human problems, by studying so-called ‘simpler organisms.’

AAVS: Did you work with Harry Harlow as a grad student?

DR. GLUCK: Yes. When I left undergraduate school, I was admitted to the University of Wisconsin and I had a number of mentors who were responsible for me. Harry Harlow was one.

AAVS: He become notorious for terrible maternal deprivation experiments, but you went down this very different path. What kind of influence did he have on you?

DR. GLUCK: [He was a] strong personality. The difference was that he was not a dominating person: he wasn’t demanding academically; he wasn’t a bully in the sense of, “This is what you’ll do, and get to it, and get me the data!” That wasn’t him at all. As a student you got the feeling that he trusted you. He didn’t demand any of his students to follow his particular research direction.

AAVS: What sort of person was Harlow?

DR. GLUCK: He was a humorous person, [and]generous in a lot of ways. When people graduated, he provided equipment and monkeys for starting new laboratories. I know I have a different view of that now, but at the time, I really got the feeling he was concerned about his students’ welfare. I would also say he was an exceptionally lonely person. He had been married twice. When his second wife died, he immediately got re-involved with his first wife, which I think illustrated what a lonely person he was. He wasn’t somebody who was going to live by himself.

AAVS: Do you think that part of his personality drew him to maternal deprivation experiments?

DR. GLUCK: The question I’ve had for a long time is how he missed the animal welfare implications of his work. Harlow was basically the person who carried a long needle and popped the theoretical bubbles of other researchers. But when he became the focus of people’s criticism, he was lost.

AAVS: He felt his work was justified?

DR. GLUCK: He had a personal investment in producing models of psychiatric disorders in monkeys because he knew well the “black dog” of depression. When he received the National Medal of Science, he went into a very serious depression where he was hospitalized, and I can distinctly remember him saying, “Well, this is an award you get only once your career is over, when you are basically washed up.” I think he got into some of the more gruesome animal studies as a way to prove that he wasn’t washed up, that he was going to push the boundaries even further. And I think in so doing, he lost contact with what are important ethical limits.

AAVS: How so?

DR. GLUCK: He was one of the first psychologists to be starkly against describing animals as little motorized vehicles. Cognitively speaking he saw them capable of complex problem solving and hypothesizing. So, here he is saying these things about the capabilities and emotional lives of monkeys, and he doesn’t get that these have ethical implications. He missed it. And not only did he miss it, but a lot of people missed it—I include myself in that.

AAVS: Having him as a mentor, what led you to change your views?

DR. GLUCK: There’s so many factors. I remember a local newspaper did a long spread on the work that was going on in the primate lab I created, and that brought a lot of criticism from the public. I can’t say I was 100 percent surprised.

AAVS: What about university students?

DR. GLUCK: When I was running a particular experiment, say one that involved the use of electric shock, occasionally I had students who would say, “It’s not like I can’t do it; I won’t do it.” I remember one graduate student who acknowledged the death of a monkey in his dissertation. I opened the manuscript to the acknowledgements page wanting to see what nice things he’d said about me. And instead of reading that, I read this remorse about a monkey dying.

AAVS: The students obviously connected with the animals they worked with.

DR. GLUCK: Let me give you one other story that may be illustrative as well. There was a young woman who was a graduate student, and she was interested in mother-infant interaction. I said, “Well, I have a group of stumptail macaques living on the roof of the psychology building. Why don’t you spend the summer watching these monkeys and how they interact? Then you may have some ideas about experiments you could do to test attachment in the fall.” So she did that, and come September, I said, “OK, do you have any research ideas?” And she said, “Actually, I’m going to take a leave of absence from the university. I need to have a baby.”

AAVS: Really?

DR. GLUCK: Yes, she said that during that summer there were two infants born in the group. And she was so struck by the intensity of the relationships between the mothers, fathers, and infants that she felt a connection with these animals. Instead of thinking in terms of, “Well, what kind of experiment could I do to disrupt this?” it just related to her as a person. I thought that was really quite incredible.

AAVS: It certainly is!

DR. GLUCK: I also observed that I was avoiding the lab. I was finding all sorts of reasons not to be there. It was just too unpleasant. But I figured I had to spend more time there to see what was actually taking place. And when I did that, I saw how absolutely limited those animals’ lives were, the ones who were individually caged.

AAVS: What did you do then? You had all these years of research and this direction you were going in…

DR. GLUCK: I made some terrible mistakes. I realized I wanted to at least separate myself from the work…I feel like I sold monkeys down the river. I started reading more of the animal welfare literature at that time—Peter Singer, Tom Regan. And I started to teach courses in research ethics. Eventually I did a fellowship in bioethics at Georgetown [where I met influential animal welfare advocates]. That was when I committed myself to improving the situation in animal research.

AAVS: Do you think researchers’ attitudes today towards animals, particularly primates, has changed from when you were a grad student?

Macaque mother and baby

DR. GLUCK: I think they recognize that you’re under more scrutiny when you do this work, so therefore, you have to be more careful. But I have to say that I think their ethics are not all that different. I think they’re more responsive to regulation.

AAVS: Researchers seem to be a tight-knit group.

DR. GLUCK: That goes for animal researchers in general. I’ve seen that time and time again, where somebody does something horrific—let’s say doing research without IACUC approval—and the reaction by and large is that people surround the person and protect them. I see that way too much.

AAVS: Let me ask you a little more about animal use itself. We hear a lot about ‘career lab animals.’ Can you tell us what that means?

Chimpanzee

DR. GLUCK: It’s a term that reflects an economic situation. From a financial perspective, monkeys aren’t rats. They’re too expensive to euthanize after an experiment. And so they become career animals, career research subjects.

AAVS: But if a macaque is used in a drug testing experiment, how can he later be used in biomedical research? Wouldn’t that have an effect?

DR. GLUCK: It’s interesting. From a historical perspective, if you asked Harlow why it was that he built a breeding colony, he would’ve told you, “In a breeding colony, I know precisely how they were raised.” And that’s how the individual caging got started. But these animals have all sorts of experiences. How do you know how or if these previous experiences are influencing your results now? Most people assume that if you’re doing neuroscience or looking at how the endocrine system works, or something big like that, previous histories are not going to have a substantial influence. Now, that’s the belief, but it’s convenience, really. If you’re doing a pharmacokenetics study, and you’re just studying where these drugs go into different organs, they would say there’s nothing wrong with doing that with another drug. But we really don’t know whether the previous experiences are influencing or not.

AAVS: Macaques are often used for research. Is that also a convenience?

DR. GLUCK: Macaques are, as some people put it, the second most successful primate on the face of the earth—humans being number one. Some people refer to them as ‘weed species.’ If you put ‘em some place, they prosper. Whether it be in Himalayan mountains or semi-arid, quasi-desert environments or mango swamps, they manage to make it work. At one time, there was a great deal of importing from India and southern Asia. Then people learned, like Harlow, how to breed them. So there’s all this knowledge about how to breed them in captivity.

AAVS: Since primates are such adaptive and social animals, how important is enrichment? Can it affect a research study?

DR. GLUCK: It’s crucial; there’s no question about it. But there’s something else about enriched environments—and this is not an argument against them. They serve to deflect criticism.

AAVS: How so?

DR. GLUCK: I recently visited a laboratory. It was one of the best structural primate laboratories I’d ever seen. The monkeys lived in large enclosures with good perching and vertical exercise equipment. But, it took me days to see any problems. Then I realized it was too quiet. The monkeys weren’t vocalizing. Why weren’t they vocalizing? Well I came to suspect that they were hard of hearing from experimental noise exposure. And there were high levels of liquid deprivation, so they weren’t moving around a lot in order to keep their respiration down. I was there for a week before I really got a chance to pick up these subtleties.

This isn’t a reason not to provide enrichment, of course. But it’s eye candy to deflect you from seeing what’s going on inside the door, or at least it serves that purpose. It doesn’t convert them to natural animals.

AAVS: You’ve been so outspoken against the use of chimpanzees in invasive research. Do you ever see an end for them, or for all primates?

DR. GLUCK: I think chimps are on the way out. I think the momentum is heading in that direction. I remember interacting with [New Mexico] Senator Jeff Bingaman’s science advisor. It was like he was saying, “Oh, you should be telling NIH.” The guy was so completely convinced that the only people who should be making any decisions about chimps were scientists, like nobody else was a stakeholder. And yet somehow—maybe with pressure from animal protection groups in New Mexico—Bingaman changed his mind and got together with [New Mexico Senator Tom] Udall and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa to write a letter to NIH to get the Institute of Medicine to study the issue. And the Chair of the Institute of Medicine Committee was insistent that ethical issues be discussed. When that shift took place, my optimism increased, and I’m not an optimistic person by nature.

AAVS: How do you think the study’s results will impact chimp research?

DR. GLUCK: The study can’t say there’s a broad consensus that chimps are needed for biomedical research because that’s not what the testimony was. There were people who said, yeah, they needed them. But it was much narrower than that. The study might well come out and say that the use of chimpanzees must be limited to a couple of areas like hepatitis C and non-invasive behavioral studies, but should be off limits for other uses. I would also expect that the report will provide an in-depth ethical justification for any uses they support as well as the ethical basis for protection. This will have the effect of focusing the debate. I believe that chimpanzee research will end in my lifetime, and I am already past middle age.


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