Your tax dollars fund animal cruelty by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and vivisectionWith a $32 billion budget, the National Institute of Health (NIH) is the world’s largest funder of biomedical research on animals. The NIH claims tax-funded animal experiments are about cures and vaccines, and comply with NIH’s mission “to extend healthy life and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.”

However, In Defense of Animals, an animal welfare organization whose mission is to end animal exploitation, cruelty and abuse recently reported on 2011’s Top 10 Most Ridiculous Animal Research projects.

These are real experiments funded by NIH, approved by federally mandated oversight committees and published in peer-reviewed journals. These experiments show how our tax dollars and animals’ lives are frivolously wasted on research that contributes nothing to medical progress and tells us nothing we care to know – or didn’t know already.  One wonders what happens in the experiments that don’t get published.

Top Ten Most Ridiculous Animal Research projects

10: A National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases grant to study what happens when you inject rats with a substance that causes arthritis. The rats got arthritis.

9. Two National Institute of Mental Health grants to study anxiety. Scientists put rats in an open space with nowhere to hide and then did things to traumatize them. The rats became more anxious.

8. Three grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to study family relationships in prairie voles. When you take the father away from the family, the offspring are less well cared for.

7. Three NIH grants to study the effect on the sex lives of hamsters when you put them on a diet. The hamsters were more interested in food than sex.

6. Two National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders grants to see what happens when you cut nerves that connect taste buds to the brain and leave the bitter-taste nerves intact. This involves slitting the throats of rats and puncturing their eardrums to reach the nerves. The rats learned to avoid bitter foods.

5. A K-12 career development grant to the Yerkes National Primate Research Center to see whether empathy makes chimpanzees more likely to catch a yawn from familiar chimpanzees than strangers. It does.

4. Two National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders grants to study alligator voices. The University of Utah implanted pressure sensors in the tracheas of young alligators and ran a cable through their throats, fixing it to their upper jaws with duct tape. They discovered alligators have two ways to change their voice frequency; whereas mammals have three.

3. Two National Institute of Mental Health grants to several laboratories to discover whether marmosets can be sexually aroused by a particular scent, e.g. lemons. They can.

2. Two National Institute on Drug Abuse grants to Albany Medical College to see how drug use affects musical preferences in rats. Rats who preferred Beethoven over Miles Davis were given cocaine with their less preferred music. The rats switched their preference to whichever music went with the cocaine.

1. Seven NIH grants to study stress on animals in vivisection laboratories. Researchers at Tulane National Primate Research Center found daily uncontrollable stress is inextricably part of an animal’s life in a laboratory, regardless of the experiments performed on them.

There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action. Concerning such horrors, Dr. Charles Mayo, founder of the Mayo Clinic has purportedly said, “I abhor vivisection. It should be abolished. I know of no achievement through vivisection, no scientific discovery that could not have been obtained without such barbarism and cruelty. The whole thing is evil.” To which I can only say, “Amen.

Circle of compassion rippling through universities by Ed Boks

The New York Times recently ran an article by James Gorman on the status of animals in universities across the United States.

Historically, academia relegated animals to the province of science. Rats were confined to psychology labs; cows to veterinary barns; monkeys to neuroscience labs; and preserved frogs to the dissecting tables of undergraduates. At the same time, the attention of liberal arts and social sciences was directed solely toward human interests.

No more. This spring Harvard is offering “Humans, Animals and Cyborgs,” while Dartmouth presents “Animals and Women in Western Literature” and New York University offers “Animals, People and Those in Between.”

These courses evidence a growing interest in animal studies. In fact, anything having to do with any connection between humans and animals in art, literature, sociology, anthropology, film, theater, philosophy, and religion is fair game for animal studies.

The Animals and Society Institute, itself only six years old, lists more than 100 animal studies courses in American universities. Institutes, book series and conferences are proliferating as formal academic programs emerge.

Wesleyan University, with the Animals and Society Institute, began a summer fellowship program this year. Michigan State now allows doctoral and master’s students in different fields to concentrate their work in animal studies. At least two institutions offer undergraduate majors, and New York University is allowing undergraduates to minor in animal studies.

Scholars never actually ignored animals. Thinkers and writers of all ages grappled with human/animal issues and the treatment of animals. However, the current burst of interest is unprecedented.

Jane Desmond of the University of Illinois, a cultural anthropologist, says public sensitivities are largely responsible for all the animal attention.

The trend may be traced back to Jane Goodall, who first showed us the social and emotional side of chimpanzees in a way we could not ignore. Most recently the popular YouTube video of a New Caledonian crow bending a wire into a tool to fish food out of a container caused academics to wonder how old a child would have to be to figure that out.

The most direct influence may have come from philosophy. Peter Singer’s 1975 book “Animal Liberation” was a landmark in arguing against killing, eating and experimenting on animals. He questioned how humans could justify causing animals pain.

Lori Gruen, head of philosophy and coordinator of the summer fellowship program in animal studies at Wesleyan, said, “Thirty years ago animals were at the margins of philosophical discussions; now animals are in the center of ethical discussion.”

Another strain of philosophy, exemplified by the French writer Jacques Derrida, has had an equally strong influence. He considered the way we think of animals, and why we distance ourselves from them. In “The Animal that Therefore I Am,” he discusses not only what he thinks of his cat, but what his cat thinks of him.

What animals think is something scholars are taking more seriously. Referring to academic programs that focused on disenfranchised populations like women or African-Americans, Dr. Weil of Wesleyan said, “Unlike (those populations, animals) can’t speak or write in language the academy recognizes.” This communication deficit lent itself to academics raising moral arguments on behalf of the animals.

The great variety of subjects, methods, interests and assumptions in animal studies raises serious questions about how it all hangs together. Law schools have courses in animals and the law; veterinary schools have courses about the human connection to animals; and some courses use animals in therapy as part of animal studies.

None of this diversity diminishes the excitement in what’s going on, although there are some academics within the animal studies rubric who think the scholarly ferment has a long way to go before it can truly consider itself an academic field.

One thing the new interest in animal studies does not lack is energy. If you want to better understand what all the scholarly excitement is about visit your local shelter for your homework assignment and adopt a pet today.