Category Archives: Animal Rights

Seven Questions….with Yours Truly

Last week, my SciBling Jason Goldman interviewed me for his blog. The questions were not so much about blogging, journalism, Open Access and PLoS (except a little bit at the end) but more about science – how I got into it, what are my grad school experiences, what I think about doing research on animals, and such stuff. Jason posted the interview here, on his blog, on Friday, and he also let me repost it here on my blog as well, under the fold:

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UCLA Pro-Test a success

I hope you got educated before the UCLA Pro-Test yesterday. It went great – see the coverage by DrugMonkey, Nick Anthis, DrugMonkey again and Scicurious.
Show Your Support for Medical Progress by signing the Petition for responsible animal research.
Then go and crash this poll, despite it being flawed.
And to continue our education on the matter, Janet has posted the 6th post and the 7th post in her series.

Support the UCLA Pro-Test tomorrow and get educated about the use of animals in research

The UCLA Pro-Test is tomorrow. If you live there – go. If not, prepare yourself for inevitable discussions – online and offline – by getting informed. And my fellow science bloggers have certainly provided plenty of food for thought on the issue of use of animals in research.
First, you have to read Janet Stemwedel’s ongoing series (5 parts so far, but more are coming) about the potential for dialogue between the two (or more) sides:
Impediments to dialogue about animal research (part 1).:

Now, maybe it’s the case that everyone who cares at all has staked out a position on the use of animals in scientific research and has no intentions of budging from it. But in the event that there still exists a handful of people who are thinking the issues through, or are interested in understanding the perspectives of those who hold different views about research with animals — in the event that there are still people who would like to have a dialogue — we need to understand what the impediments to this dialogue are and find ways to work around them.

Impediments to dialogue about animal research (part 2).:

Research with animals seems to be a topic of discussion especially well-suited to shouting matches and disengagement. Understanding the reasons this is so might clear a path to make dialogue possible. Yesterday, we discussed problems that arise when people in a discussion start with the assumption that the other guy is arguing in bad faith. If we can get past this presumptive mistrust of the other parties in the discussion, another significant impediment rears its head pretty quickly: Substantial disagreement about the facts.

Impediments to dialogue about animal research (part 3).:

As with yesterday’s dialogue blocker (the question of whether animal research is necessary for scientific and medical advancement), today’s impediment is another substantial disagreement about the facts. A productive dialogue requires some kind of common ground between its participants, including some shared premises about the current state of affairs. One feature of the current state of affairs is the set of laws and regulations that cover animal use — but these laws and regulations are a regular source of disagreement: Current animal welfare regulations are not restrictive enough/are too restrictive.

Impediments to dialogue about animal research (part 4).:

As we continue our look at ways that attempted dialogues about the use of animals in research run off the rails, let’s take up one more kind of substantial disagreement about the facts. Today’s featured impediment: Disagreement about whether animals used in research experience discomfort, distress, pain, or torture.

Impediments to dialogue about animal research (part 5).:

Today we discuss an impediment to dialogue about animals in research that seems to have a special power to get people talking past each other rather than actually engaging with each other: Imprecision about the positions being staked out. Specifically, here, the issue is whether the people trying to have a dialogue are being precise in laying out the relevant philosophical positions about animals — the position they hold, the position they’re arguing against, the other positions that might be viable options.

Also check Janet’s older posts on the topic.
Mark C. Chu-Carroll:
Can simulations replace animal testing? Alas, no.:

I don’t want to get into a long discussion of the ethics of it here; that’s a discussion which has been had hundreds of times in plenty of other places, and there’s really no sense repeating it yet again. But there is one thing I can contribute to this discussion. One of the constant refrains of animal-rights protesters arguing against animal testing is: “Animal testing isn’t necessary. We can use computer simulations instead.”
As a computer scientist who’s spent some time studying simulation, I feel qualified to comment on that aspect of this argument.
The simplest answer to that is the old programmers mantra: “Garbage in, Garbage out”.
To be a tad more precise, like any other computer program, a simulation can only do what you tell it to. If you don’t already know how something works, you can’t simulate it. If you think you know how something works but you made a tiny, miniscule error, then the simulation can diverge dramatically from reality.

Tilting at Animal Rights Activist Windmills:

As we are in the midst of a traditional week-o-ARA-wackaloonery and two days away from the first US Pro-Test rally (at UCLA) this is all highly topical. Why not take some time to do a little bit of reading and thinking about these issues? After all, it is only the continued health and well being of yourself, your family, your friends and neighbors that is at stake.

Virtual IACUC: Reduction vs. Refinement:

One of the thornier problems in thinking about the justification of using animals is when two or more laudable goals call for opposing solutions. For today’s edition of virtual IACUC we will consider what to do when Refinement calls for the use of more animals, in obvious conflict with Reduction.

FBI Places Alleged ARA Terrorist on Most Wanted List:

The important thing is the setting of priority. These acts, like the March 2009 bombing of neuroscientist J. David Jentsch’s car, are fundamental crimes against our rule of law as well as being a specific attack on scientific progress and the development of life-saving medical advances. With this announcement, and all of the publicity and news surrounding the UCLA Pro-Test rally in support of animal research scheduled for tomorrow…well, at the very least the wind has been taken out of the ARA sails during one of their big PR weeks.

Also check older posts on the topic on the DrugMonkey blog.
Why are we marching?:

At a banner making session today (Monday) I decided to ask a few people why they were planning on attending Wednesday’s rally. Here are a handful of responses I got:

Scientists dare to defend research:

As students and scientists at UCLA stand up to support lifesaving medical research, researchers at other institutions are offering their support for the cause. From Wake Forest University to the University of Arizona, from UC Davis to the University of South Dakota, researchers from across the United States have been united in their support for UCLA Pro-Test.

Nick Anthis:
New UCLA Pro-Test Chapter Announces April 22nd Rally:

Unfortunately, researchers at UCLA have become a major target of animal rights extremists over the last few years. This has included various incidents of destruction of property aimed at specific scientists, and this has coincided with a general rise in animal rights extremist activity in the US.

Also check Nick’s older posts on the topic.
You can also see what I have written in the past on this topic.
Here is the official NIH Statement Deploring Terrorism Against Researchers:

It is important that everyone know that all animals used in federally-funded research, are protected by laws, regulations, and policies to ensure they are used in the smallest numbers possible and with the greatest commitment to their comfort and welfare. The search for cures for devastating diseases depends on cumulative evidence gained from quality research. The appropriate use of animals in medical research has enabled the development of successful therapies and preventive measures for a wide- range of human diseases such as polio, Parkinson’s disease, and hepatitis A and B.

Check out the UCLA Pro-Test page and show yoru support (and get informed) by joining the UCLA Pro-test Facebook group and the more general Pro-Test – Supporting Animal Research group.

Department of Justice poised to ban all non-dog Service Animals

This is your weekend reading – lots of it, some fascinating, some enraging, but perhaps if enough people are aware and scream loudly enough, something can be done:
Assistance Monkeys, Ducks, Parrots, Pigs and Ducks … Should the law protect them?
More Follow Up on NYT Story About Assistance Creatures
More Assistance Creature Follow Up – The History of Service Monkeys, Plus Monkey Waiters
Newsflash! DOJ ADA Changes Leaked — All Animals Set to Be Banned Except Dogs
DoJ’s Rationale Behind Banning Non-Canine Service Animals
DOJ’s Proposal and Rationale for Allowing Psychiatric Service Animals (dogs only)
Service Animals on the Radio, a Horse Fetching a Beer, Plus Blog Maintenance Downtime

Politics of Animal Protection

Politics of Animal Protection
Originally written on September 1, 2006, re-posted today to raise more dust 😉

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What a Difference a Century Makes

From a reasonable concern for Animal Welfare by Lewis Carroll to the mean and stupid Animal Rightists of today.

Conservatives, Animals and Cruelty

What Archy says…

Belgrade Zoo needs to move!

Long time ago, I mentioned here something about the Belgrade Zoo. The power of Google brought a Belgrader, Sonja, to my blog, who alerted me to the dire conditions in which the Zoo is right now and the existence of her website (made by her and her students) called Zoo SOS whose goal is to force the City government of Belgrade to move the Zoo from its present location to a better place outside town (not having to deal with the Animal Rights terrorists there, they must have placed a link to PETA by mistake – they do not know the distinction between Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. Update: The PETA link has been removed.).
Belgrade Zoo is located on Kalemegdan, the most ancient (from Roman through Turkish times) part of Belgrade. The zoo is small, and most of it is on stone and concrete. You can see some pictures of it here (just keep clicking on “Next” until you see them all).
Belgraders love their zoo. It is one of the favourite spots to spend a weekend. But it is also depressing to see animals crowded in small cages. It is especially painful for those of us who have seen modern zoos, like the one here in Asheboro, where animals are free to roam over many acres of land specifically designed to mimic their natural habitats.
The Belgrade Zoo is better called a ‘menagerie’ than a Zoo. It is an old-style city zoo, where the main goal is entertainment, while conservation and education play small or no role. It is not affiliated with any international zoo associations, so the nasty conditions in which animals live are cannot be addressed in any way by the rest of the world.
From its very inception, 80 years ago, there was a talk about moving it outside of the stony fortress and onto a bigger, nicer piece of land. Of course, that would make it less accessible to the citizens and tourists, thus probably reducing the revenue. So there has always been a tension between the people who did and people who did not want to see the Zoo moved.
After decades of neglect, Belgrade Zoo got a new Director in the mid-eighties: Vuk Bojovic. The relationship between the citizens of Belgrade and Vuk is quite schizophrenic – some love him, some hate him, but most have a strange love-hate relationship with him.
He is, in person, actually quite a pleasant fellow. But working for him is horror.
He loves animals and has a nice ‘touch’ with them. On the other hand he does not know anything about animals and is not prepared to listen to the experts.
He loves the attention he gets, but that also brings attention to the Zoo, so nobody is really sure how much of his posing is self-love and how much is a Zoo-promoting stunt.
He built a legend around himself as the only person who could pack medication into the tooth of the elephant Boy (who died a couple of years later, just to be replaced by an unwanted, man-killing female ditched by a Dutch zoo). Unlike his predecessors, elephants Tasa and Mita who were sweethearts (I remember feeding them peanuts by hand when I was a kid), Boy had a nasty temper, so the regular elephant feeders gladly let Vuk take the job and the spotlight – just one less dangerous elephant duty to do every day.
Vuk also brought in the first, one and only chimpanzee that the Zoo ever had – Sammy. Sammy was a smart guy so he made it a routine to escape from his cage and go galivanting around Belgrade. On one hand, that demonstrated that the Zoo is incapable of housing a chimp. On the other hand, he became a media darling – showing up on TV every time he escaped. Again, Vuk built a legend around himself as the only person who could approach, catch and recapture Sammy. So, TV crews often had great fun filming 40-something bearded Vuk climbing a tall poplar trying to lure Sammy down.
All those stunts brought interest of Belgraders back to the zoo after many decades. People started coming in. Money started flowing in. And the money was used to make the Zoo pretty – for people. Nothing was done to make the life of animals much better.
Now, that marketing strategy – painting the buildings, opening a new restaurant, offering pony rides for kids, etc. – may have been OK if it lasted the first year or so until enough money is collected to actually start using it for the benefits of animals. But, after 20 years, it does not sound so smart any more.
Then, the 90s came and the wars and sanctions ruined the economy of the country – not to mention the psyche of the people living there, painted as pariahs by the world, painted as villains in the movies, and not given any help to actually get rid of Milosevic (not to mention to retain Kosovo, and get rid of the Al Qaida HQ located there – aiding the KLA terrorists)…
There was no money to feed people, so who had the money to feed the animals? And as the war spread throughout the country, many small zoos had to be evacuated and all the animals brought to the Belgrade Zoo. Already lacking space and resources, the Zoo had to accept dozens of wolves, bears, wild boars, deer, etc. They all had to end up in tiny little cages because there was just no space for them. Yet, although hungry themselves, Belgraders donated meat to the Zoo to feed the animals.
In the 1999, when Belgrade was bombed, electricity would run out and all the meat would get spoiled in the freezers – good only for vultures and hyenas. Water was fouled. There was not enough water to keep the pools for hippos, polar bears, sea lions and penguins full. Eggs of rare birds rotted in the incubators. Daily bombing turned even the calmest animals into psychos – one tiger started chewing his own front toes!
During all that time, Vuk started doing some shady business, including smuggling of exotic animals (he almost smuggled in another elephant!). And now – he is the most vocal opponent of the move to the periphery of the city.
The initial idea was to relocate the Zoo to the Veliko Ratno Ostrvo, a large sandy island in the middle of the Danube at the spot where river Sava flows into it – that is: smack in the middle of Belgrade, but away from any regular streets (they would have built a bridge for the Zoo – right now the only way to get there is by boat).
Right now, the new proposed location is in Surcin, between Sava and the airport. It is not as big as Asheboro Zoo – not even close – but it is much bigger land than what the Zoo has now and it is not all stone and concrete! It would definitely be an improvement and, being built from scratch, it would be built in the most modern way possible, keeping the welfare of animals first and foremost as the goal of the entire operation.
As the Zoo is not part of any international association, and Serbia is now not a signator of any international agreements on regulation of animal keep and trade, and as the Zoo Director himself is the most vocal opponent of the move, the only people who can do something about it are the members of Belgrade city government and the mayor. And those people need LOTS of pressure to move on any matter, not just the Zoo. Most of that pressure has to come from locals, but we can help, by signing this petition, by writing about it and spreading the word. So, do it.

Is it really counter-propaganda?

As a follow-up on the whole PETA brouhaha, my astute commenter oneproudaardvark notices that the SOTU-farce ad campaign by PETA is strangely coinciding with the beginning of the trial against PETA for butchering dogs in the back of the truck here in North Carolina. Cosmic synchronicity? Don’t think so….

I always like it…

.. when someone rips PETA a new one
Added later: Jill and Chris have more (and watch all those disccussions in the comment threads on all three posts!).
Added even later: Archy has a great analysis of this.

So, just inject the humans right away and see what happens?

Just How Useful Are Animal Studies To Human Health?:

Animal studies are of limited usefulness to human health because they are of poor quality and their results often conflict with human trials, argue researchers in a study online in the British Medical Journal.
Before clinical trials are carried out, the safety and effectiveness of new drugs are usually tested in animal models. Some believe, however, that the results from animal trials are not applicable to humans because of biological differences between the species.
So researchers compared treatment effects in animal models with human clinical trials.
They used systematic reviews (impartial summaries of evidence from many different studies) of human and animal trials to analyse the effects of six drugs for conditions such as head injury, stroke and osteoporosis.
Agreement between human and animal studies varied. For example, corticosteroids did not show any benefit for treating head injury in clinical trials but did show a benefit in animal models. Results also differed for the drug tirilazad to treat stroke – data from animal studies suggested a benefit but the clinical trials showed no benefit and possible harm.
Some results did agree. For instance, bisphosphonates increased bone mineral density in both clinical trials and animal studies, while corticosteroids reduced neonatal respiratory distress syndrome in animal studies and in clinical trials, although the data were sparse.
Animal studies are generally of poor quality and lack agreement with clinical trials, which limits their usefulness to human health, say the authors. This discordance may be due to bias, random error, or the failure of animal models to adequately represent clinical disease.
Systematic reviews could help translate research findings from animals to humans. They could also promote closer collaboration between the research communities and encourage an interative approach to improving the relevance of animal models to clinical trial design, they conclude.

First of all, it’s not just efficacy of drugs that is tested in animals but also – and more importantly – safety. If a drug kills all the mice, it will never be tested in humans in the first place.
How about animal studies in the research in basic biology: evolution, ecology, behavior, physiology, cell biology, developmental biology, genetics….? So what if those studies are never even done in humans. We are, after all, just one species out of millions, and a lousy lab animal to boot. Yet, those kinds of animal studies teach us basic biology that subsequently give us ideas for further studies of medical treatments.

On the Orca that attacked its trainer

Dave explains the incident and gives some excellent background information way beyond what the media reported.

That is what I’d like them to do with my body one day…

Composting May Be Alternative In Wake Of Horse Slaughter Bill:

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, making its way from the U.S. House to the Senate, could leave thousands of horses with no final resting ground. Composting may be an environmentally friendly option that fits in the ‘circle of life’ frame of mind and may be less emotional, two area researchers said.

No More Animal Rights!

As Nick says:

Interestingly, as opponents of science (…..) continue to take on increasingly scientific-sounding arguments (….) this study demonstrates that these are only quasi-scientific, manufactured to support a particular viewpoint and not intended to actually communicate new information.

I am kinda tired of animal rightists trolls in my comments, so feel free to dissect this site on your own blogs….
On the other hand, I’d like someone with some expertise in reading legalese to explain what SB1032 really means.

Politics of Animal Protection

There has been a lot of commentary online about the Inside Higher Ed article about an UCLA primate researcher who quit his research due to being terrorised by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), and the follow up article about the steps UCLA and other Universities are taking to ensure the safety of their faculty and staff:

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Some Thoughts On Use Of Animals In Research And Teaching

Some Thoughts On Use Of Animals In Research And Teaching In light of the recent cases of researchers quitting animal research under the duress of threats and attacks by Animal Rights groups, e.g., Dr. Ringach at UCLA, this may be a good time to repost this old rant from May 23, 2005 (originally here, then reposted here on January 16, 2006):

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Mananimals in the news again

Not just in the USA. Visceral queeziness coupled with religious sentiment coupled with scientific ignorance appears in other parts of the world as well, as in the UK

The Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, a professional group based in Edinburgh, has published a report on the ethical implications of the practice in the journal Human Reproduction and Genetic Ethics. The report is online at

The article lists some examples of research:

Later research has spawned human-animal creations, the report said. These usually die at the embryonic stage, but often survive if the mixtures involve only a few cells or genes transferred from one species to another.
The council cited the following examples:
* In 2003, scientists at Cambridge University, U.K. conducted experiments involving fusing the nucleus of a human cell into frog eggs. The stated aim was to produce rejuvenated master cells that could be grown into replacement tissues for treating disease. It was not clear whether fertilization took place, but some kind of development was initiated, the report said.
* In 2005, U.K. scientists transplanted a human chromosome into mouse embryos. The newly born mice carried copies of the chromosome and were able to pass it on to their own young.
* The company Advanced Cell Technologies was reported, in 1999, to have created the first human embryo clone by inserting a human cell nucleus into a cow s egg stripped of chromosomes. The result was an embryo that developed and divided for 12 days before being destroyed.
* Panayiotis Zavos, the operator of a U.S. fertility laboratory, reported in 2003 that he had created around 200 cow-human hybrid embryos that lived for about two weeks and grew to several hundred cells in size, beyond the stage at which cells showed the first signs of developing into tissues and organs.
* In 2003, Hui Zhen Sheng of Shanghai Second Medical University, China, announced that rabbit-human embryos had been created by fusing human cells with rabbit eggs stripped of their chromosomes. The embryos developed to the approximately 100-cell stage that forms after about four days of development.

All of this sounds like useful basic science to me.

Such procedures mix human and animal biological elements to such an extent that it questions the very concept of being entirely human, the report said. This raises grave and complex ethical difficulties.

So? Learn to deal with it. It won’t apply for a passport any time soon.

Some ethicists worry that the experiments might force society to make confounding decisions on whether, say, a human-chimp mix would have human rights. Other concerns are that such a creature could suffer from being outcast as a monster, from having a chimp as its biological father or mother, or from unusual health problems.

That was a quick leap from clumps of cells with mixed genes or cells to walking, talking human-chimp chimeras which, as far as I can tell, no scientists are considering of ever making, except mad scientists in cartoons.

Some inter-species mixtures are powerful research tools, the report said.
This became clear about a decade ago in a series of dramatic experiments in which small sections of brains from developing quails were taken and transplanted into the developing brains of chickens. The resulting chickens exhibited vocal trills and head bobs unique to quails, proving that the transplanted parts of the brain contained the neural circuitry for quail calls. It also offered astonishing proof that complex behaviours could be transferred across species.

Those were realy cool experiments by Evan Balaban, but have nothing to do with mananimals. Those are not genetic chimaeras. Those are surgically transplanted tissues, like you and I getting a pig heart if needed.

While there is revulsion in some quarters that such creations appear to blur the distinction between animals and humans, it could be argued that they are less human than, and therefore pose fewer ethical problems for research than fully human embryos, the committee wrote.

What? What anthropocentric essentialism! And of course, the image accompanying the article is supposed to make you all squeamish:
Why didn’t they put this picture instead?

Diane Rehm just read my e-mail on air

Are you listening to the show?

Diane Beers to appear on NPR’s Diane Rehm show about Animal Rights on Monday

Yesterday, I heard the announcement on NPR for Diane Rehm’s Monday show and recoiled in horror as it appeared she used the terms “animal welfare” and “animal rights” interchangeably.

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