Stuart Zola testifies before Congress about animal rights distortions of science

Back in May the U.S. House Committee
on Science held a hearing to examine how to communicate scientific ideas
to the public. As part of that hearing, neuroscientist Stuart Zola,
Ph.D., testified about his experiences after being targeted by animal
rights activists for experiments he conducted on primates designed to
find answers to questions about the way the brain handles memory.

The sort of claims animal rights
activists made about Zola’s work are typical of those made against
all animal research. “Until my work became a focus of the activists,
I felt that my ‘job’ was to clarify how the brain worked and
to carry out high quality research and to do the research in a humane
and ethical way,” Zola told the committee. “But the activists
were telling a different story. A local group of activists attempted to
discredit my research and the research of my colleagues that used animals,
and claimed that we were in animal-related research ‘just for the
money and job security’ and that not only was basic research that
used animals useless, but that we were ‘torturing’ animals,
and in all ways animal research was inhumane.”

Zola said he assumed the public
would have enough of a scientific background to see through the distortions,
but instead was surprised to find them accepting the animal rights claims
about his research.

Consider the common charge that
a certain experiment doesn’t have immediate practical applications,
so therefore it is wasteful. As Zola made abundantly clear, however, this
is confusing the distinction between basic and applied research and arguing
that the former is unnecessary, which is simply not true. As Zola conceded,
his own research into the neurological structures of memory will have
little immediate practical benefit for patients,

Nevertheless, basic research is highly relevant to patient care and
the eventuality of developing effective interventions and treatments
for brain-associated memory problems. Knowledge generated by neuroscience
research has led to important advances in understanding of diseases
and disorders that affect the nervous system and in the development
of treatments that reduce suffering in humans and animals … Continued
progress in understanding how the brain works and further advances in
treating and curing disorders of the nervous system require investigations
of complex functions at all levels in living nervous systems.

Another common claim made by animal
rights activists is that animal experimentation is unnecessary because
cell/tissue cultures along with computer models can be used for the same
effect. While it is true that alternatives to animal testing do exist,
they are not appropriate for all avenues of research.

Consider computer models. Such
models designed to study some cognitive functions do exist, but there
are no computer models of the brain which would answer the questions about the way memory structures function. For that Zola and other neuroscientists
need to rely on animal experiments. Similarly, while

cell culture and tissue culture techniques can be informative for studying
the function of isolated components of a system, and can help identify
the potential toxicity or medical benefits of compounds in the early
stages of investigation … it is usually the case that we need to understand
function in the context of a whole, intact system, made up of interrelated
organs and organ systems, where they can be many different influences
on a particular function.

Studying the effects of a new drug
in a tissue or cell culture is certainly helpful, but at some point researchers
need to know how the drug will affect the entire animal — something which,
again, requires testing the drug in an animal.

The biggest surprise from Zola’s
testimony is how isolated scientists engaged in basic research remain
from the general public. Reading Zola testify how he thought the public
would see through the animal rights distortions, the immediate question
is how widespread this naiveté is among scientists. Don’t they hear
about the polls where most Americans say they believe that humans and
dinosaurs co-existed at some point, or the relatively small numbers who
understand even the rudiments of chemistry or physics?

It is also alarming that Zola reported
he would visit legislators to discuss the role of animals in medical research
and

often got comments from them that, although they had many animal activists
visit them, I was the first scientists who had ever come to discuss
these issues with them … until scientists began to talk to legislators
directly, they were often as misinformed about science and the scientific
process and the benefits of animal research as the general public.

The University of California, San
Diego, where Zola works, created a speaker’s bureau to talk about
the research they do to local schools, businesses, clubs, etc. More universities
need to make a concerted effort to reach out to their communities and
educate the public about what they are doing and why it is important.

Source:

Testimony of Stuart M. Zola, Ph.D., US House Representatives Committee on Science,
May 14, 1998.

Josh Ellerman turns himself in

Back on May 8, I reported that
Josh Ellerman, 19, had disappeared shortly before he was supposed to
be sentenced for a March 1997 attack on a fur breeding cooperative. Ellerman
had reached a plea agreement whereby he would help prosecutors identify
members of the Animal Liberation Front. There were suggestions by prosecutors
that Ellerman fled after being threatened by those he might identify.

Saying he was tired of running,
Ellerman turned himself into authorities at the end of June in Utah where
he is currently being held. A US Marshall has said Ellerman will not face
additional charges for fleeing his sentencing hearing.

Sources:

“Animal liberation Front activist held in Utah without possible bail,”
North American Animal Liberation Front Press Office release, June 30, 1998.

“Tired of Running,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 1, 1998.

White blood cells restore spinal cords in mice

Israeli researcher Michal Schwartz
of the Weitzmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, recently reported
a new finding that might lead to better treatments for human beings with
|spinal cord| injuries.

In his experiments, Schwartz took
rats whose spinal cords had been severed so their hind legs were paralyzed.
She then treated the rats with their own white blood cells. Many of the
animals who received this treatment experienced a restoration of some
movement in their hind legs. The results of the experiment were reported
in the July issue of Natural Medicine.

Schwartz said there is “a
long way to go to see whether it works in humans,” but her finding is
the latest in a series of recent advances in understanding spinal cord
injuries and one of several recent treatment regimens that have shown
promise in laboratory animals.

In fact, Schwartz believes her discovery
might explain why spinal cord cells, unlike other nerve cells, don’t
usually regenerate after being damaged. In other injuries, macrophages
(white blood cells) would race to the site of the damage to help repair
it. In spinal cord injuries, however, this doesn’t happen.

Source:

“White blood cells regenerate severed spines in rats,” Malcolm Ritter,
Associated Press, June 29, 1998.

ALF sets woodchucks free

Animal Liberation Front activists
claimed to have broken in to a Marmotech, Inc. testing laboratory in New
York and released 150 woodchucks. Bud Tennant, who runs the laboratory,
said the number was closer to 30 — most of the animals remained in or
around the facility.

The woodchucks were being used
for research into a possible vaccine for |hepatitis B|. A communiqué from
ALF claimed, “Tennant is merely satisfying his own curiosity about
every minute detail of a specific type of hepatitis found only in woodchucks.”
Tennant told the Ithaca Times that the woodchuck strain of hepatitis
is in the same family as hepatitis B. The experiments on the woodchucks
could lead to “development of improved treatment and prevention [of
hepatitis B] in humans,” Tennant said.

According to |Americans for
Medical Progress| more than 300 million people worldwide
suffer from hepatitis B, with the disease causing one to two million deaths
each year. A drug manufactured by Triangle Pharmaceutical and tested in
Tennant’s lab was able to reduce the level of hepatitis virus in
the woodchuck’s blood by more than 1,000-fold in only seven days.

Sources:

“CU scientist defends use of animals,” Ithaca Journal, July 9, 1998.

“Born Free,” Ithaca Times, July 8, 1998.

“ALF releases woodchucks from Cornell lab,” Americans for Medical
Progress Foundation release, July 6, 1998.

PETA gets religion

To those opposed to animal rights,
the claims made by groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals often seemed to have a religious
overtone about them — now with its new www.jesus-online.com web site, PETA confirms those suspicions.

As the organization put it in a
press release, “PETA has enlisted ‘Jesus’ as its newest
Vegetarian Campaign spokesperson and hopes to make Christians the latest
veggie converts.”

PETA maintains that Jesus was a
vegetarian and that “Jesus’ vegetarianism can be discerned through
extra-Biblical accounts and sound reason.” What sort of sound reasoning?

Well according to PETA, “if
Jesus had not been a vegetarian, there would be accounts of Jesus eating
lamb at Passover.” This is a classic example of an appeal to ignorance
(concluding that a lack of evidence supports some particular position).
Of course when Biblical evidence is uncomfortable to its claims, PETA
resorts to claiming New Testament stories are mere symbolism The tale
of Jesus multiplying fish is relegated to mere “symbolism.”
If Jesus was so opposed to eating of animal flesh, however, it’s hard
to imagine why he or his disciples would choose such an image — obviously
whoever wrote that story at the very least knew his readers wouldn’t be
shocked at the idea of a fish-eating Jesus. PETA conveniently ignores
other contrary evidence, including the story of Jesus casting demons into
swine and then driving the swine into a lake (an early animal experiment?).

PETA members went to the recent
Southern Baptist Convention and tried to convert their members to vegetarianism
and animal rights philosophy. Hell, the Southern Baptist Convention finally apologized
for its pro-slavery views just a few years ago and recently passed a resolution
that women should “submit” to their husbands — sound like perfect
recruits for PETA’s cause.

PSYETA goes a little crazy

Its Spring 1998 newsletter says
that Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is “an independent
… non-profit organization comprised of psychologists working in
cooperation with other professional and animal rights organizations to change the way individuals and society as a whole treat non-human animals.”
After reading the newsletter, though, I’d say they’re a classic
case of the inmates loose in the asylum.

Consider the leadoff article in
the newsletter by Theodora Capaldo and Lorin Lindner, “PSYETA: Radicals
or Realists?” The article starts by describing child abuse and domestic
violence and tries to link those phenomenon with abuse of animals. Certainly
children who take out their anger by abusing animals need help, but PSYETA
goes much further maintaining that “membership in a nonhuman species
is no further justification for the deprivation of natural rights than
race, age, sexual preference, gender or any other categorization.”
Unfortunately, they don’t even attempt to develop or highlight any
specific “natural rights” theory.

Of course PSYETA believes this
puts “psychology in the forefront of moving society up the evolutionary
ladder of consciousness and moral development, PSYETA invites it to consider
another frontier, ‘speciesism.’”

Evolutionary ladder of consciousness
and moral development? Are people with PhDs really allowed to get their
degrees without even rudimentary training in evolutionary
biology? The idea of an “evolutionary ladder of consciousness”
is a religious belief, not a claim grounded in the reality of evolutionary
biology. This is the sort of nonsense I’d expect to read in a magazine
such as New Age or Whole Earth Review.

Capaldo and Lindner don’t
do much better in an extraordinarily lame effort to link violence against
animals with violence toward human beings when they claim “violence
toward animals is correlated with violence toward humans.” Certainly.
But you can pick any two variables you like and correlate them. This is
akin to me saying that protests by animal rights groups are correlated
with violence against human beings or that the amount of ice cream consumed
by Californians is correlated with volcanic activity in Asia. It is a
claim that is trivially true; any variable can be correlated with any
other variable.

Not so trivial is their view of
violence against animals. Lindner and Capaldo claim, “one necessary
step in doing this [understanding and preventing violence] is taking abuse
toward animals as seriously as other forms of violence.” Remember,
now, that Lindner and Capaldo earlier argued that there is no basis for
discriminating between humans and nonhumans when it comes to rights. So
should the slaughter of a cow to make hamburger be treated as seriously
as the rape and murder of a woman? Should a farmer raising chickens be considered on par with a serial killer? These would
seem to logically follow from Lindner and Capaldo’s claims.

Ultimately Lindner and Capaldo
return to their semi-religious musings about the role of psychologists:

We are convinced that the way humans treat nonhuman species causes
unnecessary suffering and violence to millions of sentient beings and
has a profound impact on our moral, ethical, psychological and spiritual
development. Psychologists, who should have a great capacity for empathy
and compassion, need to be in the forefront of efforts to eliminate
pain and suffering wherever it occurs. In this post-Cartesian-era, psychologists
/ scientists can no longer hide behind the erroneous belief that animals
do not feel or that if they do, their feelings do not matter. We cannot
continue to believe that what can be learned or gotten from animals
can be done so at their expense.

Throughout their piece the duo celebrate
their compassion, empathy and emotion, apparently unaware that they are
poor substitutes for sound reasoning and logic, both of which are noticeably
absent from their rambling.