Jean Barnes Just Makes It Up as She Goes Along

Jean Barnes posted an e-mail to AR-NEWS the other day urging animal rights activist to contact the Commerce Club in Atlanta, Georgia, to protest an upcoming appearance by Deborah Insel. Insel is a former high school teacher who is going to discuss her work at trying to increase the number of low-income high school kids who go on to college.

For Barnes and others, Insel is fair game because she is married to Emory University professor Tom Insel, who is the former director of the Yerkes Primate Center. According to Barnes’ e-mail,

It is doubtful she will reveal her husband Tom has tortured and killed animals for years at Emory.

Deborah, has known for years about her husbands experiments and has failed to take a public position about the cruelty involved. Rather, Deborah Insel has (publically) remained silent and allowed the cruelty to continue. Deborah Insel has financially benefitted from Tom’s salary at Emory/Yerkes as he tortures and mistreats non-human primates and other animals at Emory/Yerkes. She has participated in cruelty by omission.

Cruelty by omission? Isn’t that what Barnes specializes in when she conveniently leaves out relevant facts and resorts to outright lies to make her case?

Barnes claims, for example that,

Tom Insel, one of the many vivisectors who has performed experiments on animals, especially primates at Yerkes, has made a career of useless and cruel experiments on animals. As Insel has admitted, Yerkes spent years on AIDS research knowing the experiments were useless and our tax money squandered. Not surprisingly, Insel failed to comment on the pain and suffering of animals he needlessly tortured in his experiments.

When Elizabeth Griffin, a Yerkes researcher died, Insel was seen on 20/20 making callous remarks. Yerkes’ employees stated Insel blamed Griffin for her own death. Emory quickly reassigned Tom to other duties.

Lets look at these claims one at a time.

Has Insel “made a career of useless and cruel experiments”? Actually, Insel’s research in both humans and non-human animals has produced an important body of work in the area he specializes in, neuroscience (Barnes implies that Insel has done AIDS research with monkeys which is simply not true). Insel was the first to show that serotonin uptake drugs were useful in treating some mental disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In animal research, he has specialized in studies of pair bonding in rodents. In 1991, Insel won the Curt Richter Prize from the International Society for Psychoneuro-endocrinology for rodent research demonstrating the importance that the oxytocin and vasopressin pathways in the brain serve in forming social attachments.

More recently, Insel and Larry Young of Emory University became the first researchers to alter the behavior of an animal through the alteration of a single gene. They created a genetically modified mouse that contained a gene from the prairie vole that suppresses vasopressin production. The mice were far more interested in female mice than are normal mice and made them more monogamous.

Did Insel say, as Barnes claims, that “Yerkes spent years on AIDS research knowing the experiments were useless and our tax money squandered.” Of course not — that claim exists only in Barnes’ imagination. In fact what Insel told The Scientist and others is that it had become apparent that chimpanzees were not a useful AIDS model, largely because it takes them so long to develop the disease. This is hardly news as most research echo Insel’s view that monkeys are a much better animal model, and much innovative AIDS research involving monkeys has been and is currently being conducted at Yerkes.

Did Emory University “quickly reassign Tom to other duties” after his appearance on ABC’s 20/20? That is a claim repeated over and over on web sites, but the reality is much different.

Insel did indeed step down as director of Yerkes on October 16, 1999. But not to be reassigned to some backwater out of the public eye because Emory was embarrassed. Instead, Insel resigned from Yerkes to take over as head of Emory’s Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. The CBN was started with a whopping $40 million grant from the National Institute of Health — one of the largest such grants ever awarded. As Insel noted in an interview, the Emory neuroscience center is probably the biggest program of its kind in the United States. If anything, Insel’s move to CBN was a promotion and returned him to concentrate on his primary interest, neuroscience.

Maybe where Barnes is from being appointed to head up the largest center in the United States dedicated to your specialty qualifies as being “quickly reassigned . . . to other duties,” but the rest of us should be so lucky.


AIDS vaccine researchers turn from chimps to monkeys. Paul Smaglik, The Scientist, 13[16]:7, Aug. 16, 1999.

(GA) animal abuser’s wife at Commerce Club. Jean Barnes, E-mail, March 25, 2002.

Yerkes chief steps down for new post. M.A.J. McKenna, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, October 16, 1999.

Why do Voles Fall in Love? Emory Magazine, Spring 1999.

Atlanta’s Medical Mile: AIDS, Neuroscience Center Ready To Open. M.A.J. McKenna, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, October 3, 1999.

Insel leaves Yerkes post to head neuroscience center. Emory Report, October 25, 1999.

New techniques show the power of a single gene. The Dana Brain Daybook, September/October 1999.

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