Basic Research With Animals Is Not Immoral — It Is Imperative

In an article for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, writer Tali Woodward writes about the controversy surrounding the University of California San Francisco’s animal research program. In September, UCSF agreed to pay $92,500 to settle a number of outstanding charges brought against it under the Animal Welfare Act.

Woodward provides a fairly balanced account of animal research until the very end when she resorts to calling for a utilitarian analysis to judge the morality of animal research,

Polls show that the American public supports animal research — but only when efforts are made to contain animal suffering. So it seems almost instinctual that experimenting on animals should require weighing the pain and suffering of animals against the potential to understand and ultimately cure disease.

. . .

. . . But the central question posted during this [experiment approval] process is: Is this a valid line of scientific inquiry, one that might yield knowledge?

And that is the only question that should be asked.

Woodward’s question — how likely is this experiment to produce a cure or improved understanding of a disease — is that with very few exceptions any given experiment is incredibly unlikely to produce the sort of information she demands. Science just does not work like this.

Medical research is not a 60 minute-long TV episode in which the protagonist performs a single test and has a miracle cure for the latest ailment after the next commercial break. Rather, medical knowledge tends to advance slowly, with information accreting from a diverse range of experiments and published studies.

Consider, for example, animal research into spinal cord injuries. Not a single one of those experiments, to my knowledge, could be said to have met Woodward’s criteria. For the most part, such research kills animals for relatively marginal increases in knowledge. Examined separately, using Woodward’s test, almost none of these experiments would have been justified.

But, taken together, the research on spinal cord injuries over the last couple decades has made significant advances in understanding why nerve tissues in the spinal cord do not regenerate and how they might be spurred on to do so. Even with this advance in knowledge, however, we are still many years from any sort of cure that can heal such injuries.

In fact, the one set of experiments that Woodward seems impressed by was based simply on furthering scientific knowledge rather than solving a specific problem, although it would later be used to solve a problem to great success.

Here’s Woodward’s version of the story,

In the 1950s Dr. John Clements, then working in Boston, experimented on animals to ascertain how lungs work in newborn humans. He found that most animals have a substance called surfactant in their lungs that helps them breathe. But premature babies, who often struggle with breathing, lack the lung goop.

By the late 1980s Clements had moved to UCSF, where he worked with other researchers to develop a synthetic surfactant. When it was made widely available in 1990, the number of premature babies dying from respiratory problems was cut in half.

The first paragraph is largely untrue. Clements did experiment on animals and was the first to discover lung surfactant, but he did so largely because he was curious about the mechanical functioning of the lungs. In fact, Clements research was so far out of the mainstream of lung research that his paper summarizing his findings was initially rejected by Science.

As an article for The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal notes (emphasis added),

Dr. Avery’s much admired colleague at Johns Hopkins University, pathologist Peter Gruenwald, was one of the rare scientists in this group. So was her co-author on the 1959 paper, Dr. Jere Mead, head of a respiratory physiology laboratory at the Harvard School of Public Health. But the scientist who actually proved that surfactant existed and precisely measured how it performed was Dr. John Clements, a physiologist then working at the United States Army Chemical Center in Edgewood, Maryland.

When Dr. Avery heard that Dr. Clements had identified surfactant, she instinctively knew it was the missing piece of the hyaline membrane disease puzzle. During her Christmas vacation, Dr. Avery drove from Boston to Maryland to meet with Dr. Clements. “The gift I gave her,” Dr. Clements later wrote, “was a demonstration of my homemade…balance [for measuring the effect of the hitherto only suspected surfactant material] and an exposition of everything I knew about lung physiology.”

The following Christmas, Drs. Avery and Mead–an old colleague of Dr. Clements–gifted him in return. Publication of Avery and Mead’s widely heralded article abruptly ended what Dr. Clements has called the “monastic era” of lung surface tension and surfactant research. No longer were he and other scientists working in the shadows, their research of interest only to students of lung mechanics. What had seemed theoretical, esoteric research–perhaps even useless research–now had been shown by Drs. Avery and Mead to have immediate, powerful clinical applications.

Dr. Clements’ research was exactly the sort of research that Woodward implies would be unacceptable — research done on animals with little or no prospect that it would ever have any sort of application in treating human health problems.


Bubbles, Babies and Biology: The Story of Surfactant. Sylvia Wrobel, The FASEB Journal, 2004; 18:1624e.

Animal instincts. Tali Woodward, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, September 28-October 4, 2005.

Peter Daniel Young — I’d Break Into Mink Farm Again

In interview with the Associated Press, animal rights extremist Peter Daniel Young said that although he faces up to two years in jail for breaking into fur farms, “I would do it all again.”

Young, 28, told the Associated Press,

As bad as it could get [in prison], it will never be as bad as it was for those mink. I would do it all over again.

. . .

If saving thousands of [mink] lives makes a terrorist, then I certainly embrace the label. I would have been just as fast to act if those cages had been filled with human beings.

Young is scheduled to be sentenced November 8.


Animal activist faces prison term. Todd Richmond, Associated Press, October 6, 2005.

Brisbane City Council Punts on Animal Research Ordinance Until After November Election

The City of Brisbane, California, considered and then deferred a decision on an ordinance that would modify the city’s existing rules on animal research.

Media accounts of the Brisbane animal research proposal are muddy, but Brisbane apparently does not have any sort of ordinance regarding animal research — a company would simply have to get a building permit and comply with zoning and other ordinances. The city was apparently contacted by a company that is interested in building a campus-like animal research facility within the city’s limits, however, and that company suggested that the city update its general development plan to make that explicit.

After much debate and the resignation of a council member that led to a 2-2 vote on the proposal in July, the Brisbane City Council currently has three options. According to a summary produced by the City Attorney,

Ordinance 501 was considered for adoption at the regular Council meeting on September 19, 2005 and the matter was continued to provide staff an opportunity to draft alternative language pertaining to the use of live animals for research and development. The proposed draft now contains 3 separate options concerning this subject. They are as follows:

Option 1: All animal research is a conditional use:

This is the language contained in the proposal Ordinance. It would require that any research and development involving the use of live animals be classified as a conditional use for which a use permit would be required. The activity would need to comply with the performance standards in Subsections 17.20.050.F and 17.21.050.F.

Option 2: All animal research is a permitted use:

This option would restore the existing regulations from the M-1 district which allow any form of research and development (including use of live animals) as a permitted use. The performance standards in Subsections 17.20.050.F and 17.21.050.F would be deleted.

This option would allow any other type of animal research, such as research involving the use of rats, mice or guinea pigs, to be conducted as a permitted use.

Council member Lee Panza told the Bay City News, “We couldn’t decide whether [animal testing] should be outright banned, completely open or have some type of restriction.”

The council will take up the issue again after the November 8 election when there will be a full council of 5 seated and at least two new members.


Brisbane City Council tables animal-testing issue. Bay City News, October 5, 2005.

In Defense of Animals Asks Judge to Reconsider Feral Pig Slaughter Ruling

In Defense of Animals in August asked a judge to reconsider a July decision that rejected its efforts to stop the National Park Service’s plan to eradicate wild pigs on Santa Cruz island in California.

Pigs were first introduced to the island in the mid-19th century. Ever since, according to the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy, they have been eroding the soil and damaging native plants and animals.

To put an end to the problem once and for all, the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy plan to hire a New Zealand firm, Prohunt, to eradicate the pigs. The firm will only receive its $3.9 million fee once there are no more pigs left on the island. Prohunt began killing pigs on Santa Cruz in April 2005.

In Defense of Animals has so far unsuccessfully attempted to challenge the plan in court. Their objections to the slaughter of the animals provides an interesting look at how animal rights ideology conflicts with environmental protection efforts.

The major claim made by the park service is that the presence of the pigs indirectly threatens the Santa Cruz Island fox. According to the park service, golden eagles are attracted to the island to feed on pigs, and while they’re there they also feed on the foxes to the point where there are believed to be only about 150 foxes left on the island.

Nature Conservancy spokeswoman Julie Benson told the Los Angeles Times that the choice was clear — wild pigs exist in large numbers throughout the world, whereas this particular fox only inhabits this island. Killing the pigs to save the foxes is, to Benson, the obvious choice.

Not so to IDA president Elliott Katz who told the Los Angeles Times that trying to make this sort of decision is attempting to foist human morality on to nature (emphasis added),

Northern California veterinarian Elliot Katz said that allowing the deaths of thousands of pigs for the benefit of a few foxes
doesn’t seem to be a fair balance of nature. Katz, founder and president of In Defense of Animals, a nonprofit animal rights
organization based in the Bay Area city of Mill Valley, supports halting the pig slaughter and says he intends to contact
Feldman about lending his support for the lawsuit.

“Our position is to take a step back and not to be killing animals for man’s belief of what’s right and wrong,” Katz said.
“Allowing an injunction will permit everyone to step back and rethink this thing and also to further evaluate whether it’s
necessary to remove each and every pig from the island.”

Presumably since relying on human standards of morality is not possible, Katz will be channeling supernatural powers to guide human interaction with the environment.


Suit Filed to Halt Pig Eradication on Santa Cruz Island. Gregory W. Griggs, Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2005.

PETA Asks Palisades Park to Stop Squirrel Slaughter

In July, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to the mayor of Palisades Park, California, asking her to put an end to a city program of poisoning squirrels.

In a press release, PETA said,

Today, following a barrage of complaints from outraged Santa Monica residents, PETA fired off a letter to Santa Monica Mayor Pam OÂ’Connor, urging her to order city employees to immediately remove all pesticide currently being used to poison ground squirrels at Palisades Park and to establish strict policies prohibiting the use of poisons in Santa MonicaÂ’s parks. PETA points out that if the city is concerned about the possibility of the spread of disease, it should be targeting fleas and not squirrels or other animals.

Poisons cause immeasurable suffering and prolonged deaths for the animals who ingest them and for “nontarget” animals who consume—even in part—the poisoned bodies. As PETAÂ’s wildlife caseworker, I often receive requests for information on proven humane methods of managing urban wildlife populations. For instance, if city officials are concerned about disease outbreaks, they should be targeting fleas rather than squirrels. To prevent the spread of plague, an online pamphlet produced by the LA County Department of Health called Facts About Plague in Los Angeles County outlines an effective flea-control strategy that employs bait stations to distribute insecticide dust on squirrelsÂ’ fur as they enter the stations. The flea powder, harmless to squirrels, kills the fleas living in squirrelsÂ’ fur, and when the squirrels carry the powder back to their subterranean homes, the powder also kills the fleas living in these burrows.

“Death from the poisons being used by the city is slow and agonizing,” says PETA Wildlife Biologist Stephanie Boyles. “No one knows how many animals have suffered and died, but the mayor has the power to stop this cruel program and the obligation to stop any violations of local, state, or federal laws relating to the poisoning.”

But PETA didn’t quite have all of the facts in the matter.

Palisades Park Mayor Pam O’Connor told the Santa Monica News that all poison bait had actually been removed in June. Moreover, the use of poison bait had been ordered by the Los Angeles County Department of Health, which PETA cites in its letter as favoring alternatives to poisoning!

O’Connor said,

The City of Santa Monica is not performing any ground squirrel suppression measures at this time. We stopped the last week of June, removing all the bait from the stations.

As you know, the City was ordered to suppress the ground squirrel population [by Los Angeles County]. The coastal belt of California is one of the high-risk areas for plague. Keeping the ground squirrel population down is a precaution against humans and pets being infected.

And while PETA’s letter said it had received “a barrage of complaints from outraged Santa Monica residents,” city officials told the Santa Monica News they had only received a complaints from a handful of people.

Judy Rambeau, assistant to the City Manager in charge of community relations, told the Santa Monica News,

I’ve gotten numerous calls and emails from two people. We heard a lot from the same people over and over and over again.

Of course, in PETA World, if two activists each call and e-mail officials 12 times, that translates to dozens of complaints!


Animal rights group calls for end to squirrel killings. Jorge Casuso, Santa Monica News, July 29, 2005.

PETA Calls On Santa Monica Mayor To End Cruel, Deadly Squirrel-Poisoning Program. Press Release, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, July 27, 2005.

Who Sheltered Peter Daniel Young?

A number of media reports in July indicated that federal investigators believe animal rights activists in northern California helped Peter Daniel Young evade authorities during his seven years on the run.

Young was indicted in 1998 on charges stemming from several break-ins at fur farms. He disappeared and lived on the lam for 7 years before being arrested earlier this year.

According to the Associated Press, Young used another activist’s credit card and rented an apartment using a false name. The activist whose credit card Young was using also received mail at Young’s apartment according to the FBI.

In a search warrant application recently unsealed in the U.S. District Court of Northern California, FBI agent Scott Merriam wrote,

I have probable cause to believe that one or more individuals . . . have in some manner assisted Young in remaining concealed from arrest.

The search warrants also reveal Young’s motives in attempting to shoplift several CDs from a Starbucks which ultimately led to his arrest. Young ran an Internet-based mail-order business and apparently was selling his shop-lifted goods to help support himself.


Accused mink raider hid with friends in Santa Cruz, feds say. Todd Richmond, Associated Press, July 29, 2005.