Here's an interesting piece from The Daily, the University of Washington-Seattle's paper.
The long and the short of it is that an Animal Rights group — Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), which specializes in opposing the use of all animals in research — has alleged that University of Washington scientists have a long history of poorly justified research, are conducting cruel experiments, and are wasting money.
The way this article is written is telling indeed, for it begins with accusations made against a few scientists by SAEN's Mr. Michael Budkie who claims that they are conducting "the same projects over and over again," which, he contends is useless, wasteful and cruel (and I would add — if true would be frankly irrational).
By beginning this way, the article sets the reader up to believe there is some fire to the smoke Mr. Budkie has created.
And because the author of the article makes only passing reference to SAEN being an animal rights group, and leaves the reader ignorant of what that means (the core AR belief is that the life of an animal and that of a human are of equal value), those reading the article are ill-prepared to evaluate the motivations that drive Mr. Budkie, or how his extreme views might color his appraisal of the research he is criticizing.
In fact, Mr. Budkie confuses — either through ignorance or malice — the distinction between experimental methods and experimental design. And this is a fatal flaw that invalidates Mr. Budkie's entire "it's wasteful" case.
Now, the author does include that distinction, but he buries it in the final paragraph, where the casual reader is unlikely to grant it proper weight after having plowed through Mr. Budkie's ideologically-molded balderdash.
Let's walk through the article in question:
Nonprofit investigators have alleged that internal documents from the UW's Washington National Primate Research Center (WNPRC) shed light on a history of poorly justified research, cruel experiments and wasted federal money.
The very first word the author uses is "nonprofit." This sets the stage for viewing SAEN as the good guys, folks who operate for altruistic reasons, rather than for mean bucks, power or prestige (by implication, the scientists who are the object of Mr. Budkie's interest). The author has already conditioned you to think the way he wants you to.
"Even if you're not concerned about the pain and suffering these animals undergo, you have to wonder why we're spending taxpayer money on the same research projects over and over again," said Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN).
In this paragraph, we see that the nonprofit group is Stop Animal Exploitation Now — but we still don't know that they are an Animal Rights group.
Budkie founded SAEN in 1996 to "force an end to the abuse of animals in laboratories," and has since requested thousands of pages of documents from labs across the country in order to uncover what he sees as cruel and unethical activity at the facilities. SAEN publishes reports on animal experimentation every year, and 2005's release focused on primate research labs, including the WNPRC.
Here we see Mr. Budkie conditioning the reader further . . . SAEN wants to "force an end to the abuse of animals in laboratories."
The damage is done: the casual reader doesn't know that Animal Rights people consider any use of animals in the laboratory is "abusive."
The reporter is evidently singularly uncurious, and doesn't ask Mr. Budkie the obvious question: is there any use of animals in laboratories that Mr. Budkie finds to be not abusive?
The entire tone of the story would have changed had the reporter asked that question and included the answer in his article.
While previous animal rights campaigns have focused on alleged cruelty at research facilities, SAEN's press release was aimed at showing a pattern of redundant and unnecessary research at the WNPRC and other labs that use primates as experimental subjects.
Here we learn, for the first time, that SAEN is an animal rights group.
But most readers don't have a clue what that means. They don't realize that to Animal Rights people, the life of an animal and that of a human are of equal moral value, that for a person to treat an animal differently (in a moral sense) from a human simply because the animal is not a human is "speciesism." And to an animal rights activist, "speciesism" is a form of discrimination that is every bit as much a moral transgression as is racism.
We also see the term "unnecessary" research. Again, we wonder at the lack of curiosity of the article's author: what animal experiments would Mr. Budkie approve of as "necessary," if any?
What would the readership think, how would their sympathy for Mr. Budkie's allegations change, if they were aware that, in Mr. Budkie's world, no animal experiments are justifiable — that if it is immoral or unethical to treat a human in some way, it is no less immoral or unethical to treat an animal in that way?
So here we have an extreme ideology being stealthily peddled to a largely naive public who, as a body, don't understand how Animal Rights and Animal Welfare differ from one another, by an unskeptical author.
Albert Fuchs, Chris Kaneko and Michael Shadlen, a trio of research professors in the University's psychology and physiology department, are among the most prominently featured scientists in Budkie's collection of documents. All study how the brain controls eye motion at the WNPRC, presiding over some of the center's longest-running research projects. Fuchs filed his first grant application for primate eye-tracking studies in 1971, Kaneko in 1986 and Shadlen in 1997.
"There are six muscles that control the movement of the eye, making it one of the simplest motor systems to study," Fuchs explained. "At the time I started looking at the control of eye movements, there was no data on how the brain deals with movement. Then, as I began to understand what motor neurons do, I began to work my way back to higher structures in the brain."
The three scientists perform similar experiments, but Kaneko said such a research model is necessary to investigate a system as complex as the brain. The basic procedure for primate eye-tracking experiments has remained largely unchanged since the 1970s: a monkey is strapped into a restraint chair, taught to visually track the movements of a light across a screen and given drops of water or fruit juice as a reward for successfully following the moving lights.
Mr. Budkie points to the fact that the same model has been in use for 30 years or so and claims redundancy, waste, cruelty ("you have to wonder why we're spending taxpayer money on the same research projects over and over again").
Mr. Budkie is falsly claiming that because there is a standardized way of creating the model, and there are standardized techniques for capturing and analyzing data, one can't learn anything meaningful from the studies!
This is as preposterous a suggestion as it would be to suggest that every frame house is identical, because all are constructed using standardized construction materials according to known mechanical principles using the same fundamental techniques!
Electrodes implanted in the primate's skull track the direction of its eyes and the electrical activity in its brain.
In SAEN's press release, Budkie points to the high degree of similarity between the three scientists' projects as well as the length of their grants to make a case that their research is duplicative and produces little new information.
"They might change a few variables or other minute things, but for the most part they're doing the same procedure again and again," Budkie said. "The usefulness of the data is extremely tenuous, and when you take into account the limited utility versus the very high level of expense, you have to wonder if there are other alternatives."
Here, Mr. Budkie immodestly places himself in the position of an authority on brain research ("Might change a few variables . . .The usefulness of the data is (sic) extremely tenuous . . . you have to wonder if there are other alternatives.").
Here, we see the arrogance of the ignorant: because Mr. Budkie's ideologically-contorted mind can't see the usefulness of the studies, how the pieces of data collected by these scientists fit into the larger scientific discussion of motor control and neural function, the studies aren't worth doing!
Pray, what qualifications does he, Mr. Budkie, possess that should command our respect for his opinions about this science?
Conventional wisdom not withstanding, all opinions are not of equal value, all opinions are not equally deserving of respect, and for Mr. Budkie's opinion on the merits of a scientific project to be considered seriously, he needs to do more than pronounce.
And again I ask: which laboratory studies would Mr. Budkie approve of?
Among documents collected by Budkie are applications submitted by primate researchers to the UW's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).
Whenever a professor begins or renews a research project at the WNPRC, he or she must submit a written summary of the procedure to the IACUC. The committee must review and approve all procedures performed at the lab to ensure animals are not treated cruelly or are otherwise misused.
There is little visible difference between procedures written by Fuchs, Kaneko and Shadlen. One of the main documents cited by Budkie as proof of redundant research at the WNPRC is the transcript of an e-mail conversation between Fuchs and an member of the IACUC that was found among the animal use proposal records. The committee member was concerned over the similarities between Fuchs's proposal and that of another professor at the primate center whose name was withheld.
In the letter, the committee member writes, "I'm a little nervous that your protocol is basically identical to [name redacted]'s protocol ... is it possible that the same person prepared both protocols and made some editing/inclusion errors?"
Fuchs replied that he had included elements of the other professor's experiments in his proposal because there was a chance he would want to use them in his own research.
"With regard to the similarity of Dr. [name redacted] and my proposals, we use essentially identical procedures in our experiments. Indeed, Dr. [name redacted] learned many of them from me when he was my postdoc," Fuchs wrote in a letter to the IACUC's committee member.
Dr. Fuchs is exactly right. If you have a model that works, you use it.
In fact, certain models become "gold standards" within the research community. Getting a good model is so important that scientists will travel to a colleague's lab to learn how to create the model, trouble shoot it and to learn how the model responds under known conditions.
Moreover, granting agencies will turn down a grant proposal if the reviewers of it believe the model to be unsuitable, or if the applicant hasn't demonstrated that he himself can use the model successfully in his own lab!
And when writing protocols for grant proposals or IACUC proposals (I was on my school's IACUC for 2 years) you copy, cut and paste protocols that you know work (a good protocol is just like a good recipe — why would you discard it if it does the job just the way you want it to, and why would you rewrite it when you've already perfected your wording?).
The last thing you want in an experiment is a flaky or unpredictable model. The best thing you can have is a stable model, one that has been investigated under many different conditions, one whose quirks are well-known. The integrity and predictability of the model are so important that scientists regularly include control animals in their studies to make sure the model is working as it should.
But I diverge . . .
To Budkie, the letter bespeaks a professional culture where the risks of innovative research are avoided in favor of known grant-winning topics.
Here, Mr. Budkie reveals he doesn't understand the difference between techniques used to generate and analyze data, and the concept of experimental design.
"Neurological research is, in my opinion, the most redundant research out there," Budkie said. "Scientists have to deal with the publish or perish mentality and they have to bring in research dollars for their schools, so what better way to do that than with a protocol that's already been approved?"
Again, Mr. Budkie is confusing the protocol to create a model with the purpose for which that model is used.
Fuchs said it is by no means atypical for scientists to copy each others' protocols, and that experimental protocols used do not necessarily have any bearing on the content and relevance of the data produced by the experiments.
"Identical procedures are fine, but not identical experiments," Fuchs said. "The only duplication we do is of procedures that have been accepted by the scientific community. Some methods, like taking blood samples, are common to us all, and we wouldn't want to reinvent the wheel for every project. Duplication of protocols is a good thing because it means we're using the most tried-and-true methods."
And here, languishing at the end of the article, is the definitive response to Mr. Budkie's criticism that the same experiment is being done over and over, the response that renders his objections null and void: identical procedures are not the same as identical experiments.
But by this time, the reader has had to plow through Mr. Budkie's unsupported assertions and his confused understanding of science and the scientific process, and because of the prominence accorded Mr. Budkie's pronouncements and accusations, and because of how the article is organized, the article's author bestowed a certain credibility on Mr. Budkie and his opinions that neither deserve. The situation is made worse by the author downplaying the fact that SAEN is an Animal Rights organization (and all that implies), and that Mr. Budkie would find no use of animals in laboratory experiments to be justifiable.
The article's author created a "he said/she said" controversy, in which Mr. Budkie's opinions, ignorant as they are, have acquired the same weight as the opinions of Dr. Fuchs and his colleagues, as well-founded in logic and fact as they are.
Such are the times we live in.