Nobel Prize 2014: Fortune favours the prepared mind

David Jentsch:

What animal rights extremists call “curiosity-based science” with no relevance to humans and “torture”, the Nobel committee calls paradigm shifting basic science that has changed our very understanding of the brain itself. Once again, the Nobel Comittee has recognized responsible and humane basic and translational animal research that is fundamentally necessary for the evolution of our comprehension of how the brain supports our mental functions and how its dysfunction contributes to mental illness and neurologial diseases.

Originally posted on Speaking of Research:

Speaking of Research congratulates John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser on being awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine“for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain”.

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By recording the activity of individual nerve cells within the brains of rats that were moving freely through their environment, they have shown how specialised nerve cells work together to execute higher cognitive processes.

In 1971 John O’Keefe identified the first component of the system, by identifying cells in the hippocampus that were only activated when a rat was in a certain position in its environment. These cells were activated when the rat visited the same location, but different nerve cells were activated when the rat visited a new location, these “place cells” were not merely registering visual input, but were building up an inner map of the environment. John O’Keefe is now…

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Unscripted ignorance in the animal rights community

As many of you are aware, opposition to biomedical research involving animals comes in many forms. Increasingly common is opposition to the scientific value of the work. From pseudoscientists, like Dr. Ray Greek, to opposition groups that specifically target academic research universities, like Progress for Science, many extremist elements make the claim that the study of animal genetics, cellular biology, physiology and behavior simply can’t reveal meaningful insights about human genetics, cellular biology, physiology and behavior.

It’s reasonable to puzzle over the kind of reasoning that could lead to their fundamentally flawed conclusions, and every once in a while, they get “off script” and show you that it is scientific illiteracy that is responsible. The following clip features an recorded statement by Cory Mac, a member of the Los Angeles extremist group, Progress for Science. This is the same group that has revealed its fundamentally hypocritical anti-science, anti-vaccination, anti-medicine beliefs on more than one occasion. The video is short, so follow it to the very end, paying close attention around 1:20 in.

If you listened to the nonsense all the way through, you heard this “esteemed” member of Progress for Science say:

Well, of course, primates aren’t the same as humans.

Well, of course, we humans are primates. We belong to a specific family within the Primate order, and we are no doubt primates.

I am sure animal rights defenders will argue that she simply misspoke, rather than being mistaken. This is a pretty basic fact of science to be wrong about, though, and the fact of the matter is that there is a deep uncurrent of serious science illiteracy in the animal rights movement: a fact often concealed by their practiced ability to spout off scripted challenges. It should be clear that their scientific challenges rest on a huge foundation of misunderstanding and ignorance about the facts of science itself, and it’s our job at scientifically literate persons to point this out to the broader public.

It’s time for animal rights fanatics to realize that they are NOT above the law…

As I reported earlier, animal rights extremists in Los Angeles mounted an eleven day stunt to show their mis-guided opposition to the humane and responsible biomedical research involving animals on-going at UCLA and around the world. Their campaign showed their willingness to deprive themselves – but more importantly, people like you and your children – of the much needed medical progress afforded by scientific research.

On one of the first Friday evenings, they showed up outside my home and mounted a “vigil” for the animals they believe are involved in research at UCLA. A tiny group of 6 individuals showed up with glo-sticks and stood in the street reciting poems. The only real indication that this motley group (a strong word for such a paltry few individuals) were even on site was the repetitive flash of the camera – they had brought along a professional photographer to document their vigil. As I said earlier, it was a “stunt” after all.

A Progress for Science vigil outside of my home.

A Progress for Science vigil at my home.

Later in the week, they mounted demonstrations at other colleagues’ homes and undertook phone/email harassment campaigns. These other demos were more consistent with their usual behavior: chanting threats, cursing and screaming for UCLA researchers to “burn in hell”.

This is an example of what one can usually expect when they turn up to threaten a researcher and his/her neighborhood…

For these reasons, it’s particularly ironic that Los Angeles-area activists plan to show up in Westwood this Saturday in engage in a “Day of Action against the AETA”. AETA is an acronym that refers to a federal law called the “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act”. It’s a law that, essentially, makes the penalties worse if terroristic acts are used to target scientists involved in legal animal research or other animal-related activities like raising animals for food, breeding animals to make loving pets or even training dogs to be service helpers for paralyzed persons. Yes, animal rights extremists (emphasis on EXTREMIST) target people in each of these categories, and the AETA is designed to end that harassment.

But extremists now fear that they can no longer get away with hurling threats and harassment, and after a decades long campaign to end the free speech of scientists, dog breeders and the like, they are now claiming that it is they who are being persecuted. It is truly amazing to me how bullies can run for cover and beg for protection the minute there is any chance they’ll get in trouble for pushing other people around. What this Saturday march really proves is that animal rights fantatics believe that their First Amendment rights trump ours. They believe that the law should protect them above all others.

But what kind of speech is it that they are afraid of losing?

The AETA does not infringe Constitutionally-protected activities. What it does is ensure that people that are thinking about crossing the line into criminal actions know the law is ready to stop them. Two Los Angeles activists are feeling the weight of the AETA now because they are being prosecuted by the US government for their criminal attack on a mink farm in the midwest. Their prosecution has nothing to do with speech – it was their CRIMINAL ACTIONS that are being targeted. These are the same two individuals who have marched in front of the homes of UCLA researchers for years, once again showing that the line between First Amendment-protected protest and criminal actions is blurred by many animal rights extremists. It also shows that the speech that they so desperately wish to protect is actually their own hate speech.

So, when activists show up to march this Saturday, I hope people will let them know a few simple facts: the speech and thoughts of animal rights fanatics is NOT more valuable than that of others. They are NOT immune from being responsible for the consequences of their words and actions. They are NOT above the law.

Why Animal Research-based Criticisms of the Ice Bucket Challenge are Misguided

David Jentsch:

If every graduate student stood up to criticize backwards, misguided attempts to malign science, the voices of animal rights extremists would be quickly drown out…

Originally posted on Speaking of Research:

The following is a guest post by Caitlin Aamodt, a neuroscience graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a debilitating motor neuron disease that progressively destroys the neurons required for voluntary movement, speech, and eventually breathing and swallowing, killing patients in just three to five years.  Through the Ice Bucket Challenge the ALS Foundation has raised over $100 million in funding while simultaneously providing a platform for over three million people to voice their support for scientific research.  But the wildly successful social media campaign was not without its critics.  Some were hesitant about the idea of wasting clean water, a luxury that isn’t afforded to many parts of the world and one that is growing more and more precious as the drought in the West worsens.  Others, particularly religious leaders, were unhappy with researchers’ use of embryonic stem cells, citing a conflict with…

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Urge the U. S. Surgeon General to Voice Support for Animal Research

David Jentsch:

Advocating for humane animal research is the medically and scientifically sensible thing to do. Urge our leading medical advocate to do so….

Originally posted on Speaking of Research:

Your scientific activism is only a click away.

A new petition in Change.org urges the U. S. Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak, to voice support for the humane, and regulated use of animals in medical research.  It reads:

There is a growing pressure from animal rights organizations that would deny Americans the health benefits derived from the use of animals in medical research.

Opponents of animal research represent a small minority of the population, but they engage in misleading, visible and vocal campaigns that can impact the ability of scientists to conduct medical research with animals.

The scientific consensus is clear — recent polls by Nature Magazine and the Pew Research Center show that 92% of scientists believe that animal research remains essential to the advancement of biomedical sciences.

We call on the U. S. Surgeon General to publicly recognize the past contributions of the humane…

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Animal rights fanatics offer stunts, not real solutions

Fanatical animal rights groups in the US love attention-getting stunts. PeTA creates video games extolling violence and propagates advertisements that exude adolescent sexuality. White Coat Waste uses Tea party rhetoric to insist federal investment in research is tantamount to borrowing money from China. And the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS] reels endless videos of sad animals on the television to raise money for their lobbying efforts, while tricking people into thinking their donations actually help animals in shelters.

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

These are stunts, nothing more – nothing less.

In Los Angeles, local animal rights zealots are trying hard to carve out their own niche in the “stunt” art form. They light candles during vigils on the beach, hand out post cards decrying UCLA researchers at art events and recite chants in eerie synchrony, while standing in front of our homes. In truth, the occasional bizarre chanting during these stunts is slightly less demented than their usual shrieks, threats and harassment.

Later this month, the ironically named anti-science group – Progress for Science – will mount an 11-day campaign to “honor” the 11 monkeys they believe are involved in scientific research projects at UCLA. They will probably once again come to my home and threaten my neighbors, while trying to make my life miserable.

But if Progress for Science truly has the respect for life than they claim they do, perhaps they should consider a different strategy. Perhaps before mounting their 11 day campaign for 11 hypothetical monkeys, they should find it in their hearts to lead initiatives for real people affected by real disease. For example, they could:

Lead a 930 day campaign for the number of Africans that have died from Ebola so far this year.

Initiate a 4,600 day campaign for the young people in our country who took their own lives last year, often due to mental illness.

Kick off a 1.1 million day campaign for the number of people living with HIV in the US.

Support a 2.2 million day campaign for the people suffering from or disabled by schizophrenia in this country.

Demand an 8.2 million day campaign for the number of people that will die from cancer in one single year, worldwide.

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

It is, of course, true that multi-million day campaigns are impossible, but biomedical researchers in many cases dedicate their entire working lives to addressing the harm in these diseases: our own life-long campaigns. Animal rights fanatics could contribute positively to these efforts, rather than standing in the way of progress, but they won’t do that because they are not actually interested in preserving life. They are interested in stunts.

If you are interested in preserving life, then please support biomedical research, including that which involves animals. This year alone, two Americans received a treatment for Ebola that was developed based upon animal research and that likely saved their lives. This is the promise of science. Stunts, on the other hand, contribute nothing, save no lives and end no suffering.

Celebrating science

I was recently interviewed by the APA Monitor, a publication of the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA website refers to itself as:

 the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA is the world’s largest association of psychologists, with nearly 130,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students as its members.

Our mission is to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.

Studies of the behavior of non-human animals, often in naturalistic and laboratory settings, has been crucial to advances in psychological theory and practice. Indeed, there is virtually no part of psychology that has not be transformed by ideas and data gathered in animals. The APA outlined this point in a leaflet they distributed years ago.

One point I wanted to make very clearly during this interview had to do with the profound need to celebrate science, both as scientists and as members of the American public.

I think scientists should routinely get together and publicly celebrate what science does — not just to respond to protesters, but to show how great science is. This is something psychological and biomedical scientists should do more often: give good messages to the community about what we do.

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We all see rallies on television, and we probably dismiss their importance as pomp and bluster. But if we don’t get together to publicly celebrate science and what it has accomplished, who will? And, more importantly, how will our children know to celebrate it.

I think a call for world-wide rallies to celebrate scientific research, particularly biomedical and behavioral research involving animals, is long overdue. What do you think?