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PETA: Concerned activists or opportunists? Silver spring money case revisited.

Discussion in 'Issues Around the World' started by Coriolis, Dec 6, 2002.

  1. Coriolis

    Coriolis Bob's your uncle

    I attended a seminar today by a well known scientist in the field of stroke rehabilitation. During this thoroughly fascinating presentation, which revealed some ground breaking research on cortical reorganization (in a nut shell, how to teach the brain to rewire itself to restore limb function after a stroke), he was asked by a young physical therapist in the audience why it has taken so long for this research to bear fruit -- after all, cortical reorganization theory is not something new. He briefly recounted the story of a colleague of his, Dr Edward Taub, a pioneer in this area of research, whose research program and career had been all but decimated by a fledgling group of animal rights activists in the early 1980's. A group, who have since gained national recognition largely owing to their sensational infiltration of Dr Taub's NIH research lab, called PETA.

    However, the lecturer did not provide too many details about this seemingly ominous case--known as the Silver Springs Monkey Case--and promptly resumed his talk, presumably to avoid derailment of his presentation. I was, however, intrigued by this (it might surprise you that I have little tolerance for "activists", both on the right <i>and</i> left, and the mere mention of PETA tends to raise my hackles) so I did a bit of digging around the web tonight to see what I coud find out about this case.

    My first stop was the <A HREF="http://www.peta-online.org/about/hist.html">PETA web site</a>. I guess I wasn't too surprised to see this case listed as one of their crowning achievements.

    <i>"PETA uncovered the abuse of animals in experiments in 1981, launching the precedent-setting Silver Spring monkeys case. This resulted in the first arrest and conviction of an animal experimenter in the United States on charges of cruelty to animals, the first confiscation of abused laboratory animals, and the first U.S. Supreme Court victory for animals in laboratories."</i>

    I didn't have to dig too much further to find out what happened (see sources <A HREF="http://www.nature.com/nrd/journal/v1/n2/slideshow/nrd727_bx1.html#B13">here</A> and <A HREF="http://www.animalrights.net/articles/2000/000035.html">here</A>):

    <i>"In May 1981, Dr Edward Taub of the Institute of Behavioural Research at Silver Spring, Maryland, allowed a political science major at George Washington University, named Alex Pacheco, to work in his laboratory. Taub was studying the somatosensory apparatus, trying to determine whether primates could re-learn the use of deafferented limbs. Pacheco volunteered to work in Taub's laboratory, claiming to be interested in medical research. In fact, Pacheco was one of the founders of a tiny protest group called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which had been organizing protests outside the National Institutes of Health (NIH) only weeks before. Pacheco's colleagues in PETA decided to send him to infiltrate Taub's laboratory and expose what they considered to be cruel and unnecessary experiments."</i>

    According to the scientist giving the lecture today, some of the monkeys whose arms had been deafferented (meaning the cutting of the nerves which control movements), had apparently interpreted the unfeeling limb as a foreign object and begun chewing on their own flesh. However, before Dr Taub could suspend the trials to treat the afflicted animals and devise a new approach to avoid this unpleasant side effect, PETA had him arrested and had his lab animals confiscated.

    <i>"Pacheco waited until Taub was away from his lab for an extended period to call in authorities to raid the lab.

    Taub's supporters argued that Pacheco intentionally neglected the animals to make Taub look bad during his absence, while photographs that PETA took of the monkeys in restraining apparatuses are probably the most widely circulated animal rights photographs ever taken."</i>

    One <A HREF="http://www.geocities.com/willc7/monkey_hand.html">photograph</A> which has received a lot of attention shows a dried monkey's hand that Dr Taub was apparently using as an ashtray. I have no idea of its authenticity. If true, I guess we can say this would be bad judgement on the Dr's part.

    But here's where we get down to brass tacks on the issue. It is clear now that Dr Taub's research has contributed significantly to the understanding of cortical reorganization, which is paramount in rehabilitation of patients following stroke.

    <i>"Last week [article from 2000], however, it was announced that Taub's research at Silver Springs combined with subsequent research on primates has led to the development of a new treatemtn for people affected by stroke-induced paralysis, which afflicts an estimated 4 million people. The whole point of Taub's original research was to discover if monkeys suffering from nerve damage could re-learn how to use their limbs. Taub's research demonstrated that, in fact, they could be re-trained to use their limbs and the result of that research is now finding its way into treatment of human beings -- albeit delayed for years thanks to PETA's actions.</i>

    As Taub himself put it in a 1990 letter,

    <i>The actions of the antivivisectionists have resulted in withholding the potential benefits of this treatment to a large number of humans whose quality of life has been greatly compromised by their stroke... If PETA and the animal rights movement had its way, these new techniques wouldn't just be delayed; they'd never see the light of day at all."</i>

    Was this research delayed for many years due to the opportunistic interference of a group of activists who wanted to hit the big time?

    <i>"PETA used the case of the 'Silver Spring Monkeys' as a springboard to national attention, eventually building itself into being the leading animal-rights organization in the United States. Indeed, it has been described as "...probably the most aggressive aboveground animal-rights organisation in the world". Alex Pacheco has been Director or Chairman of PETA for most of its existence."</i>

    An occupational therapist summarized things quite nicely <A HREF="http://www.animalrights.net/23996">here</A>. Good enough for me, anyway.

    What do you think?

    Should data gathered from animal studies, that may (or may not) have been "cruel" and "unethical", but that have revolutionalized medical practice, be kept from reaching the healthcare consumer--you and I?
  2. RRedline

    RRedline Veteran MMember

    Of course we should use data collected from animal tests! I think the question which we need to address is, "Is it okay to allow scientists to do anything they want to animals in the name of research?"

    Judging by the the links you've provided, I would say that Taub's research seemed appropriate. I have to question his character for using a monkey's hand as an ashtray, though. Then again, many people wear animal parts as clothing. Who's worse, really?

    As long as scientists treat animals with respect, and their research is being done to help improve the quality of life for humans or other animals, then I don't see the big deal. Deliberately abusing animals is completely unacceptable, though. I would hope that everything possible to alleviate any pain that the animals may be experiencing is being done as well.

    I have no respect for PETA or their methods. As far as I'm concerned, they are a terrorist network. I hope their organization is currently being infiltrated by FBI agents. We'll see how they like a taste of their own medicine.
  3. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Passed Away Aug. 19, 2006

    You mean things like shoes?
  4. Misu

    Misu Hey, I saw that.

    Although I do agree that any data collected should be used, I do think scientists should not be allowed to do whatever they want.

    During WW2, nazi doctors and scientists performed insane experiments on human beings (but most likely to them, they weren't really 'human' since they were usually jewish people) - many of which yielded data that has contributed to the field of medicine. Was it right? Of course not - the means don't always justify the method - but it happened, and since we can't go back and change time, we must use what data has been collected and then make rules that try to ensure that such abuses never happen again.
  5. Jedi Writer

    Jedi Writer Guest

    Coriolis, an absolutely wonderfully written and informative post! Terrific!

    To me your posts touches on three key topics:

    1. How humans value animals compared to them.

    2. Methods and motives of researchers.

    3. The validity, integrity and conduct of PETA.

    Regarding number one the overwhelming number of humans on this planet place little or no value on animals as compared to humans. They will act accordingly in "man vs. animals" situations of any kind. I do not share their view.

    Regarding number two, although the majority of researchers are honest, their profession is full of examples of obsessed people who will lie, cheat, and say anything to get funding and recognition. Again, they are the minority but they are not rare. They will even steal or claim credit for others' work--such as Dr. Gallo did for the HIV virus. They will also often abuse animals with tests when they could accomplish the same thing with a more humane and less invasive method. Instead they too often simply operate on that old principle that the end justifies the means.

    Regarding number three, PETA is first and foremost a special interest group dominated at the leadership level by extremists. They too will say and do anything to achieve their goals.
  6. Coriolis

    Coriolis Bob's your uncle

    As Robert hints at, I wonder if we poked our heads into the closet of any PETA member, would we find perhaps a few leather belts and shoes? Most likely. Having a monkey hand as an ashtray is a bit extreme, however, the photo does not say where the hand came from! Could have come from a gift shop at Harare Airport in Zimbabwe for all we know.

    Both excellent points, and I think most research centers (NIH funded intitutions, anyway) have adopted very strict regulations on the use of animals in research. For example, the PHS 398 form (which is the form used to submit research proposals to the NIH) now has mandatory section on use of animals in research (if applicable) with guidelines that are every bit as stringent as those for research on humans, and the institution submitting the grant application must have an assurance code (something like an accounting system) for animal (vertebrate) research. This of course would not prevent something as unanticipated as what happened in Taub's lab (monkeys starting to eat their own flesh), but at least ensures those mistakes are never repeated.
  7. Coriolis

    Coriolis Bob's your uncle

    This pretty much gets at the heart of the discussion, I think. I had the same analogy in my mind as I scribbled the last question in my post.

    It all comes down, in modern speak, to risks verses benefits (the Nazi's cared little for risks). If an investigator can convince an ethics review board that the benefits of the research far outway the risks imposed to the research subjects, the line will be drawn differently compared to a study where the benefits may not be so great. Consider the <A HREF="http://www.ornl.gov/hgmis/publicat/hgn/v10n1/16walter.html">potential the scientific community saw in gene therapy</A>, and <A HREF="http://www.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/02/07/ethics.matters/ethics.matters.html">what eventually ended up happening</A>. Significant steps have been taken to ensure mistakes like this won't happen again but it's already too late for those who were harmed by the research -- and this isn't some case of covert experimentation in the basement of some obscure lab, this was NIH funded research at major research centers!

    But I digress... I think the point you make Misu is very valuable, and as I responded to the others about animal research guidelines, I believe systems are in place and are constantly evolving to prevent future catastrophies, but it's easy even in modern times to weigh the benefits pretty heavy without a full sense of the risks, or so it seems.
  8. jfcjrus

    jfcjrus Veteran Member

    I disagree.
    In this day and age, I don't think experimenting on any aminal to further the cause is acceptable.

    Picture some stray dog being given some sort of cancer to see if we've corrected the horrible side effects of our potential new treatment. Nope, he died; I guess we have some work to do. Next.
    Nope, I don't believe we have a right to do this to what we consider 'lesser' species on this planet. These lab animals endure pain and live an abysmal life, so we might benefit someday?

    Modern science needs to find another way to get their answers. This practice should have been left behind in the Dark Ages.

    This opinion is from a hunter that actively seeks to put Bambi's dad on the dinner table every fall. And has lost a couple of family members to the horrible disease of Diabetes.
    (I see the need, I just can't agree with the means).
  9. Sir Joseph

    Sir Joseph Registered User

    What do you think we should do instead of animal testing? How will we find out if a cancer drug or AIDS vaccine or any of the many other needs out there work if we don't test it?
    I'm sorry to say, but if some animals, including cute cuddly dogs or monkeys have to die in order to save human lives then I'm all for it. I might not be for animal testing for shampoo or makeup but I think we can all see the difference between cosmetics and medicine.
  10. Jedi Writer

    Jedi Writer Guest

    Let face it, no matter how sincere we all are or whatever our motives there is only one foundational issue at the root of this subject. Are animals and their lives equal in value to humans? If not then to what degree are they?

    I do not say that from a judgmental, moral, or ethical point of view. Rather it is just a factual observation and analysis.
  11. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    My take on a couple of issues:

    Regarding the mores of groups like PETA and such:

    I have no practical experience with most of them, but one of my neighbors in California is a rather extremist example of a rabid environmentalist. She's against all manner of things, such as cutting down trees, saving whales, the ozone layer, etc., etc., etc...

    Anyway, she flies really environmentally-unfriendly airplanes to her group hug sessions outside the US. And drives a 1997 Suburban to the 7-11. Leaves her TV on at all hours, and blasts James Taylor tunes from her stereo. Seems she exhibits some substantial double-standards.

    As far as animals go...sorry. I'm not for extinguishing a species or anything like that. But unless I miss my guess, animals are not striving to unravel the mysteries of time, physics, and God. Animals do not display any admirable traits that allow them to step outside the cycle of instinct. To be sure, they have their place on this planet, and I would not diminish that. But in order to perpetuate the eventual destiny of Mankind, some of those animals will have to be sacrificed for the cause.

    They do not have our potential. They are not sentient. And they would do the same to us if the tables were turned, don't doubt that for a moment.

  12. Jedi Writer

    Jedi Writer Guest

    Boy, I really don't understand why you say animals are not "sentient"--especially most mammals.

    I'll skip the dictionary game.:)
  13. ShinyTop

    ShinyTop I know what is right or wrong!

    Every animal on the planet makes use of other animals. I think we should be responsible and I think we should demonstrate that we know the difference between medicine and cosmetics. But we should definitely be able to test on animals when there is no other way to test. I will not put a monkey in some lab ahead of myself or my children.

    We are part of this planet and have as much right to use is resources as any other animal.
  14. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    OK, OK, my bad. :p

  15. joseftu

    joseftu ORIGINAL Pomp-Dumpster

    I thought I'd introduce the story my students read last week...James Tiptree Jr.'s "The Psychologist Who Wouldn't Do Awful Things to Rats."
    (And, disingenuously, I'll say that I don't know whether the author of this website had permission from the author or publisher to post this story...so let me highly recommend that if you read it and like it you run right over to amazon--or elsewhere--to buy this collection of Tiptree's fiction http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/031286938X/ref=pm_dp_ln_b_2/102-1912462-7768956?v=glance&s=books&vi=contents )
  16. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    Great thread.

    I guess I am a whimp who cares too much about animals.

    When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Geographical Zoologist. I wanted to travel the world and study animals. To prepare myself, I used to go to the library and know things like the incubation period of an egg, the hatching times of turtles, and thousands of other information.

    I tend to think that it's easier for us, humans, to separate ourselves from the animals. Recent studies found that Homo sapiens and Mice share 90% of the DNA structure. Yet, another study comes out and says that this animal doesn't feel pain?

    I am still a hobbyist at heart (ever since I threw in my first fly in to a spider web) and silly me thinks that animals, while not as intelligent as humans, feel, think, care, and love as much as us.

    Would I sacrifice a Chimp to save my life? Or my daughter's or wife's? Yes, I probably would. A hypocrite in every angle, I guess.
  17. Jedi Writer

    Jedi Writer Guest

    You are not a hypocrite you are a realist and someone who can make the hard decision at crunch time.

    Let me illustrate by going to another arena and using an analogy.

    It is with great conviction that I believe that torture should never be legal or formally sanctioned. Never.

    Now let us assume I have a Mr. Smith in custody. He is a terrorist. I know for a fact that he has placed somewhere in the U.S. a nuclear device that is set to go off in 24 hours. It will kill hundreds of thousands of people--maybe more. Smith will under no circumstances cooperate with us and there is no doubt that he knows where and when the device will go off.

    Would I torture him to get him to tell me? You are damn right, and without hesitation or mercy.

    Does that make me a hypocrite? I don't think so. I would gladly be willing to face the legal penalties afterwards.
  18. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    Same here.

  19. Coriolis

    Coriolis Bob's your uncle

    Well, yes it does, but perhaps a justified hypocrite? ;)

    <small>Gently steering us back on topic</small>

    Here's an <A HREF="http://www.findarticles.com/cf_dls/m1590/n12_v54/20474332/p1/article.jhtml?term=">interesting read about this issue.</A>

    I fully support many, but not all, forms of animal research.

    Research for cosmetics, like squirting hair spray into a bunnies eyes, I think is horrid -- Why? because there is no way this will ever contribute to the betterment of human welfare. Without a truly purposeful benefit to human or animal welfare, I don't think research should be performed on any living creature.

    The study of disease processes, trauma, and the effects of treatments on brain or organ tissue, is something I can support (though not something I would, or could, do myslef -- speaking of hypocrites!) because there are many, many tough questions out there to answer and we can't answer them all by experimenting on humans. The two big differences between human research and animal research is experimental control, and that animals can be sacrificed. Sacrificing the animal is primarily for the purpose of studying the physiologic effects of some treatment or procedure on the brain, organs or other tissue that is not viable to observe in a living, albeit, sedated animal.

    However, there are areas of animal research that have not paid off, and probably will not pay off. One that comes to mind is Arthritis research. Animal models have been used in studying arthritis for decades, yet still we're no closer to discovering the cause of arthritis. If anything, we've divided a field of research into several camps that's only produced bitter, and stalling, competition that's done very little, overall, to advance the field. The problem with animal research, of course, is that how an animal responds to disease or treatment is not necessarily how a human will respond to disease or treatment. Arthritis research is one area where animal research seems to be, in my opinion (and I'll admit to having a biased opinion here), unfruitful.

    I think I know where you're coming from, but I disagree that animal research should equated to Dark Ages practices. Humans with disease often endure pain and live an abysmal life also. So when it comes to this argument I can't say it holds much water, for me anyway. But your statement <i>"so we might benefit someday?"</i> is right on the money. We really have no idea if animal research is going to pay off, as I've discussed above. But if Jonas Salk didn't have decades worth of data from animal experimention we would not have seen an end to polio for many years, if ever.

    And finding alternative ways to answer questions should be a priority in medical research. According to the website I posted above, animal research is about 50% of what it was 10 years ago. Further, it states that perhaps by 2020 animal testing will be old science.
  20. RRedline

    RRedline Veteran MMember

    Jedi, that was an very good analogy. The bomb represents the diseases and conditions that harm us, and the terrorist is the animal which contains the information we need to save thousnds of humans.

    Under most conditions, I would not support the use of torture. However, in this case, if a fifteenth century minister were present, I would tell him that the terrorist is a devil worshipper. I'd even give the minister an anal pear, some thumb screws and a rack if I had them available to me.

    Of course, the terrorist has free will and can avoid torture by giving us the information we want. The animals do not have that option.

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