PCRM Declares Victory In Fight against OSU Researcher

Ohio State University researcher Michael Podell is leaving that university after an incessant campaign against him in which activists sent him death threats and harassed his children near their school. So of course, Neal Barnard and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine issued a press release taking credit for driving Podell out of OSU.

According to the release,

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) today declared a victory in its two-year battle to stop federally funded experiments at Ohio State University (OSU) in which cats were dosed with methamphetamine (“speed”), infected with a disease-causing virus, and finally killed.

The press release also includes Barnard’s typical obfuscation of the facts regarding medical research. Barnard claims that, “This experiment was not only cruel, but also needless.” The press release adds,

The doctors group [PCRM] pointed out that Dr. Podell had failed to consider alternatives to animal use, as required by law. Most notably, HIV-positive human patients who have used methamphetamine are already under clinical study, and the brain-damaging effects of drugs and the virus are well known.

Talk about nonsequitur. Yes, doctors already know that the AIDS virus progresses much more rapidly in people who abuse methamphetamine, but the open question is why this is the case. Podell’s research with cats produced new findings suggesting how this happens, including the surprise that brain cells themselves appear to be resistant to FIV infection but that the disease got into such cells through infected lymphocytes in a process that was accelerated in the presence of methamphetamine.


Doctors declare victory as cruel drug abuse experiments on cats are halted. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Press Release, June 13, 2002.

Neal Barnard on Media Distortions

The most laugh-out-loud press animal rights press release yet this year had to be the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s press release chastising the media coverage of a New York couple charged with keeping their infant daughter on a strict and extremely unhealthy vegan diet.

PCRM’s Neal Barnard whines in the PCRM press release that,

In the wake of reports of a misguided New York couple who refused to breastfeed or provide baby formula for their infant daughter, many reporters have mistakenly suggested that the couple was following a “vegan” diet. Headlines have implied such a diet is not healthy. Because a vegan diet is safe, increasingly popular, and nutritionally superior to other diets, the PHysicians Committee for Responsible Medicine wants to prevent further misunderstandings.

Huh? I though PCRM’s entire reason for existence was to spread misunderstandings. It certainly has no qualms about distorting and outright lying about the results of animal research.

Barnard is correct that the diet this child was eating was not vegan, since it included cod liver oil. But if Barnard wants the media to be accurate, maybe he should try leading by example and direct his organization to stop intentionally perpetuating the same old tired myths and lies about medical research.


Physicians say vegan diet healthy, safe, superior. Press Release, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, May 3, 2002.

Vegans starved toddler, cops say. Jesse Graham, New York Post, April 30, 2002.

Neal Barnard's Tired Lies about Animal Research

Neal Barnard wrote one of his boilerplate op-eds filled with nonsense for a pro/con debate in the Orlando Sentinel with Frankie Trull.

There’s the usual nonsense. Barnard keeps claiming for example, that the diet drug combination fen-phen was tested on animals and found to be safe, but later had to be pulled. In fact, fen-phen was an off-label combination of fenfluramine or dexenfluramine and phentermine. The combination was never tested extensively in animals and never approved by the FDA.

And, of course, Barnard conveniently forgets that anyone looking at the animal research on these three drugs would have quickly noticed that the combination was likely to cause problems. Fenfluramine was supposed to be used for only a few weeks at a time, not for the months and years that some patients were on it. Similarly, in approving phentermine, the FDA explicitly noted that there was no safety data available on its usage in excess of 1 year and urged caution.

Yet when the drug was finally pulled, the average length of time patients had been on fen-phen was 9 months. Doctors were routinely ignoring the FDA’s recommendations on fenfluramine and dexenfluramine, and for phentermine as well. The animal and human testing worked fine, physicians simply chose to ignore the limitations on these drugs (and frankly I’m skeptical of claims that fen-phen was dangerous, but that’s a debate for another day).

Barnard also repeats the animal rights nonsense about the U.S. General Accounting Office’s 1990 report, FDA Drug Review: Postapproval Risks, 1976-85 (I’ve placed a copy of the full report on my web site in PDF form here).

According to Barnard,

The U.S. General Accounting Office found that, of all new drugs marketed during a 10 year period, a majority — 52 percent, to be exact — had seriously toxic or even fatal effects that were not predicted by animal tests. And animal tests allow more minor side effects — rashes, nausea, diarrhea, etc. — to slip through routinely.

This is an excellent example of how animal rights activists distort the truth. You’d think from reading Barnard’s article that the GAO report is about animal tests. You would be wrong.

In fact what the GAO report actually focuses on is the amount of time that the FDA spent considering a new drug application. It found, not unsurprisingly, that the odds of a new drug having to be relabelled or recalled was strongly correlated with the amount of time the FDA took to review the new drug application. The longer the FDA spent reviewing the NDA, the less likely the drug was to require relabeling and, conversely, the faster the FDA processed NDAs, the more likely it was that those drugs would later require some label changes.

The reader would also never know from Barnard’s summary that of the 198 drugs that the GAO survey examined, only 6 were withdrawn completely. The rest of the drugs simply had label changes warning specific patient subpopulations to avoid the drug or carefully follow monitoring procedures to prevent adverse events.

The real issue here is one of weighing risks. At one extreme, the FDA could spend two hours reviewing a new drug application and vote to approve or disapprove. This would certainly lead to an unacceptably high level of drugs that caused severe adverse events. On the other extreme, the FDA could require every new drug to undergo a rigorous 25-year testing procedure. Not only would no companies be interested in producing new drugs under that regimen, but many more people would die due to a lack of medications than are put at risk by less extreme measures.

The issue for the FDA and society is how we want to manage that risk and where we draw the line, with the full knowledge that risk cannot be eliminated completely from the calculation.

The FDA report, unfortunately sidesteps this issue in that it never even addresses whether or not the FDA has achieved an adequate balance, but regardless it certainly is not critical of animal research and its conclusions, if anything, would be a call for additional levels of animal testing, not less.


Experiments on animals ineffective, unnecessary. Neal Barnard, The Orlando Sentinel, April 7, 2002.

FDA Drug Review: Postapproval Risks 1976-1985. U.S. General Accounting Office, April 1990, GAO/PEMD-90-15.

Robert Cohen Goes Off the Deep End, Part I

In mid-January the Center for Consumer Freedom issued a press release that was the first group I’m aware of to point out that Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine had been actively working with Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. According to the press release,

The ActivistCash.com profile of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reveals that PCRM’s Neal Barnard recently engineered a letter-writing campaign with Kevin Jonas of the violent animal rights group known as SHAC. Jonas used to be known as Kevin Kjonaas, back when he was a spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a militant group labeled terrorists by the FBI.

SHAC is singularly dedicated to dismantling the Huntingdon Life Sciences company, a UK firm which (like most respectable biologists) recognizes that most breakthroughs in the study of human diseases come from research using animals as test subjects. Huntingdon Life Sciences’ work includes animal research to find new treatments and cures for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer and epilepsy. SHAC activists have chosen to make their feelings known by fire-bombing automobiles, smashing windows, assaulting research employees, and targeting individual investors for round-the-clock harassment and intimidation.

Since PCRM is joined at the hip with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, including through a dummy nonprofit which the CCF also uncovered, this raises a lot of questions about both PETA and PCRM.

Of course to Robert Cohen, who really seems to be losing it these days, the connection between PETA, PCRM, and SHAC is of course that there is a conspiracy afoot by the dairy industry!

Citing CCF’s recent advertising campaign against PETA, Cohen distributed an e-mail wondering,

Where do restaurant and tavern operators [which CCF represents] get the financing for multi-millions of dollars worth of ad revenue? How do restaurant operators carefully coordinate attacks against Neal Barnard on the same day the dairy calcium summit begins, and the same day that CBS ran their biased milk story, sabotaging Neal Barnard by not clearly portraying the NOTMILK message? How were the dairy industry press release and the CCF press release posted within an hour of each other? Coincidence? Ha! Coincidence of this type do not happen.

No, it could not possibly have been that two groups with strong views about PCRM happened to release press releases about PCRM on the same day because PCRM had an upcoming event scheduled. No, it had to be a conspiracy between CBS, CCF, the dairy industry, and probably the tooth fairy as well.

Cohen continues ranting that,

This is carefully plotted warfare. The battle lines have been drawn. To accuse Neal Barnard of being a terrorist is to take advantage of a political and social climate that equates terrorism with the vilest of anti-American acts. Neal Barnard merits a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, not the label of terrorist.

Well, they did give Arafat a Nobel Peace Prize, so maybe one is not out of the question for Barnard. On the other hand, Cohen is simply lying when he says that CCF accused Barnard of being a terrorist. Rather, CCF simply noted that Barnard is actively working with an individual, Kevin Jonas who is an outspoken advocate of violence and, before doing the SHAC gig, was a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front.

I’m sure a lot of people would like to hear Barnard’s explanation as to why he’s working with Jonas — for some reason PCRM does not mention that little tidbit anywhere on its web site as of February 2002.

Of course this is the same Robert Cohen who thinks the diary industry was being conspiratorial for trying to hold an even last year that didn’t involve animal rights protesters. It is Cohen who is left to babble on about soldiers and wars.


Center for Consumer Freedom Says Anti-Milk Activists Linked to Animal Rights Terrorists. Center for Consumer Freedom, Press Release, January 17, 2002.

WAR Declared on NOTMILK Movement. Robert Cohen, E-Mail Communication, January 21, 2002.

The Real Misinformation Campaign is PCRM's

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has been waging an all out attack on the dairy industry which PCRM claims is “conducting a massive misinformation campaign.” But Harvard professor Daniel Cramer complains that PCRM has been misusing his research studies into dairy products.

Over the past three years, PCRM has repeatedly cited Cramer’s research as evidence that consumption o dairy products contributes to cancer. Cramer, however, told CNSNews.Com that this is a misrepresentation of his research. According to Cramer,

We don’t have the scientific proof to say that it [milk] has definitely been linked to cancer. I think that particular group has their own sort of agenda, of not wanting milk production around, and cows to be utilized. Their agenda is that [they] don’t want . . . cows exploited or they want everybody to be vegetarians.

CNSNews reports that Cramer did concede there are some links connecting lactose consumption with cancer in mice, but that that does not prove the sort of definite link between milk and cancer that PCRM claims. Besides which, of course, PCRM’s position is that research with animals is inherently invalid, so they would certainly dismiss even this thread of evidence.

When CNSNews tried to get PCRM’s reaction to Cramer’s comments, it reports they were told by PCRM communications director Simon Chaitowitz that, “We have nothing to say about this.” (PCRM with nothing to say? Who would have thought that day would ever arrive?)

CNSNews also notes that a researcher that PCRM cited back in October as providing evidence against milk also disputes PCRM’s use of her research.

In that case, Dr. June Chan published a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that hypothesized a causal connection between milk and prostate cancer. PCRM issued a press release with Neal Barnard chiming in that “there is every reason for men to avoid cow’s milk altogether.”

But when contacted by CNSNews, Chan had a different take on her research. “We do not recommend that people change their diets or stop drinking milk,” Chan told te news organization.

Kudos to CNSNews.Com for pursuing this story and getting the real story rather than just the smoke and mirrors that PCRM would like people to see.


Harvard Prof Claims Misuse of Data To Push Anti-Milk Agenda. John Rossomando, CNSNews.Com, January 23, 2002.

Story Correction: How I Let A Neal Barnard Lie Slip Through

Chalk this one up to writing for the web. Last week I wrote a story about the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s outrage over the death of laboratory animals in flood-ravaged Texas. Neal Barnard complained that research facilities should spend more of their money on flood evacuation plans, and I retorted that maybe if they didn’t have to spend so much on security keeping animal rights activists from getting into the laboratories, that they would have more money to spend getting lab animals out after floods.

Of course, Barnard’s claims turned out to be just the latest piece in a long line of misinformation from PCRM. In fact researchers at The University of Texas Medical School did have an evacuation plan for the animals, and were devastated when flood waters came on so rapidly that despite repeated efforts they were unable to evacuate the animals.

The Houston Chronicle interviewed the Texas Medical Center’s directory of veterinary medicine Chris Smith who noted that as soon as the rain began pouring down, attempts were made to reach the animals. Unfortunately tropical storm Allison just brought to much rain down too quickly for such a rescue to succeed.

How bad was the flooding. Americans for Medical Progress noted in its e-mail newsletter that people on the scene said it was a true flash flood, with one facility accumulating 9 feet of water in only half an hour.

Contrary to Barnard the center, like other research facilities in the flood prone area, had a flood evacuation program and had successfully evacuated animals on previous occasions when the area was threatened by hurricanes.

In this case researchers (and many others) were caught off guard when Allison temporarily lost strength and its severity downgraded, only to reform very quickly and begin drenching the area with torrential rains.

Although People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and PCRM both tried to use the lab animal deaths as part of their anti-research campaigns, it was left to animal rights activist Rick Bogle to elevate the deaths into absurdity as only he can. Posting on the Primfocus e-mail list, Bogle mocked statements by Smith that scientists working with monkeys who had died (the animals were primarily used for behavioral research) had developed close relationships with the animals and would grieve for the lost primates. Bogle wrote,

It is a hideous notion that those who infect, experiment on, and otherwise torment animals will attempt to sell the public on the absurdity that they have “close relationships” with the animals under their control. And indeed, if such is the case it can be seen as the close relationship the Nazi doctors had with the Jewish subjects of their own experiments. Mengele had little pet Jewish children who he treated quite differently from the rest.


Drownings of 78 monkeys, 35 dogs lamented by UT veterinary official. Eric Berger, Houston Chronicle, June 15, 2001.

PETA, PCRM use tragic lab animal deaths in Houston flood as media opportunity to advance anti-research agenda. Americans for Medical Progress, Newsletter, June 15, 2001.

Re: primfocus: Drownings of 78 monkeys, 35 dogs lamented by UT. Rick Bogle, e-mail to Primfocus list, June 15, 2001.

Correction: It is the policy of this web site to correct all errors of fact. When this story was first published, it inaccurately characterized the nature of the research projects for which the primates killed by the flooding were being used. According to the Houston Chronicle, “The monkeys . . . were used largely to study behavioral sciences.” AnimalRights.Net regrets the error.