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.


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?

Refuting animal rights bulls##t


This slide says it all.  Anti-science nuts around the planet,  most prominently those against humane and responsible animal research,  have benefited from this phenomenon for too long. They peddle cheap rhetoric and bullshit,  which we counter with facts and rational arguments.  They show doctored photos and spew convenient lies which we battle with inconvenient truths.

The challenge for is us great, but the cost of letting an animal rights agenda derail life saving knowledge is too great. 

HSUS: Huge Settlements from Ur Salary

Once upon a time,  you might have happily given your hard-earned money to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Maybe you did that so that they could pay for their upmarket Bel Air, California offices, throw fancy dress galas open to millionaires or perhaps even to produce endless TV commercials featuring C-list celebrities pining and whining for your money…

Or maybe you gave to them because you believed the line that they used most of the money to rescue and treat real animals in need.  Sucker!

Today, new news makes clear what you are actually donating to… Your donations will underwrite a multi-million dollar payout HSUS is making in order to settle a lawsuit that claims that they wrongfully spoke about the treatment of animals in a circus.


Who thinks that Pacelle and his cronies are paying many millions because they were wrongfully sued for telling the truth? 

Not those that monitor charities for good behavior and not me, either.

So, if paying of HSUS’s costs incurred during a propaganda campaign against legal and responsible animal owners is how you wish to spend your money: fine.  But do it with your eyes wide open.

Personally, I think supporting life saving research might be a better approach.  Consider just about any medical charity instead.  Your money will actually improve lives instead of being frittered away by HSUS.

“Still I Rise”: A message for animal rights extremists

You glare at my house, with anger and madness in your eyes. You scream that I am cruel and chant about blood and murder.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

You claim my research is futile and evil. You shriek that I am evil. You show pictures that have nothing to do with me or my research.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

You say that you will never stop your tactics or back down. You claim that your campaign of terror will continue until I walk away from science.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

You burned my car. You threatened to kill me and those I love. You have prayed for my suffering. You march and scream and torment and hate.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave….
I rise
I rise
I rise

You have made me question my beliefs and ethics. But that process has caused me to realize that what I am doing is right and to find the determination to continue my contributions to science and to humanity with resoluteness.

In essence, your actions have ensured that your hate can never triumph over my determination.

Dr. Maya Angelou had it right. May she rest in peace.

Paralysis breakthrough – electrical stimulation enables four paraplegic men to voluntarily move their legs

Thanks to a hero of science – Professor V. Reggie Edgerton at UCLA – and laboratory rats, the prognosis for people with severe spinal injuries is transforming right before our eyes. This is what science has to offer. This is what animal rights activists are afraid of, but we cannot and will not let them stop this kind of life-transforming research.

Speaking of Research

This weeks issue of the neuroscience journal Brain carries an unusual image; against a background of nerve activity traces a man lies on the ground, and as you scan down the images he lifts his right leg off the ground. For most people this might just be a simple warm-up exercise, but for Kent Stephenson it was little short of a miracle, because he has suffered complete paralysis after suffering a mid-thoracic spinal cord injury. Speaking about his experience Kent noted that “Everything’s impossible until somebody does it”, and this is a breakthrough that is possible due to animal research.

Brain_cover image

Kent was one of four patients participating in a pilot study of epidural electrical stimulation sponsored by the Christopher and Dana Reeve foundation, which is overseen by an international team comprising of Claudia Angeli and Susan J. Harkema of the University of Louisville, Yury Gerasimenko of the St. Petersburg’s…

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Voice Your Support for Animal Transport

Speaking of Research

Quick Summary. FBR have a petition to support Air France who continue to be one of the few airlines willing to transport primates for research. Please support them by signing the petition.

For several years animal rights activists have targeted the airlines which transport animals for medical, veterinary and scientific research. They have had a lot of success, with few companies willing to transport animals. In the words of Nature:

The pressures on primate researchers have taken many forms. In the United States, for example, commercial airlines have effectively ceased all primate shipments by air within the country, making it difficult for researchers to transport animals. Many airlines in Europe have taken similar steps, but Air France continues to provide service.

In March, China Southern Airlines announced it would cease transporting primates. This leaves Air France as one of the few international airlines that continue to transport animals.

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Animal rights activists continue to misunderstand and malign responsible addiction research

The following blog post is a long-form reply to an article by a PeTA representative posted to the website Substance.com. A shorter version of my opinion can be found on their website here.


Biomedical research seeks to expose biological principles and mechanisms that cause disease in order to advance from a time where medications and treatments were discovered by chance to one where we reason our way to solutions for human and animal health through scientific discovery. Since the founding of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 1974 (only 40 years ago), immense progress has been made into understanding, at the level of brain cells and molecules, why some drugs are addictive, why some people are particularly prone to addictive behaviors and how to treat drug use disorders. One of the reasons that so much progress has been made so quickly is that animal models for drug abuse are remarkably accurate and informative.

In the clearest example of all, if you place a laboratory rat into a chamber and allow it to trigger delivery of cocaine, methamphetamine, nicotine, alcohol, heroin, etc., into their bloodstream by voluntarily pressing a button, they will do so. Rats will seek out and voluntarily “self-administer” drugs of abuse, just like people do, precisely because of the remarkable similarity in the reward pathways in the human and rat brain, as well as due to the fact that these drugs act upon brain chemicals in nearly identical ways in rodents and humans. Moreover, if you allow rats to consume the drug daily over a long period of time, a subset of them will progressively become “dependent” upon the drug, just the same way a subset of people that abuse drugs do. Dependence is indicated by the fact that the subject loses control over their drug use and continues to use the drug, despite efforts to abstain. Because of these incredible parallels between humans and animals, we now understand the mechanisms by which drugs of abuse produce reward at a deep level, as well as how these agents encourage drug-seeking and –taking behaviors. For example, we now know how parts of the brain like the nucleus accumbens, amygdala and prefrontal cortex participate in the development of drug-taking behaviors, and we know how crucial brain chemicals like dopamine and glutamate are to these phenomena. This information would not have been possible without responsible and humane research involving a variety of animal models – ranging from invertebrates (fruit flies, roundworms) to rodents (rats and mice) to non-human primates (mostly monkeys).


A rat in a “Skinner box” voluntarily presses a lever to trigger an intravenous injection of a drug of abuse

It is reasonable to ask why, given these advances and the value of animal models, we have not yet cured addictions. The answer is simple. When NIDA was founded 40 years ago, we actually knew very little about the basic biology of the brain and its relationship to drug abuse. Decades of basic research were required before we knew enough about the brain pathways involved in reward to further understand how drugs acted on these pathways and changed them in response to long-term drug intake. Decades of basic research, still on-going, was and remains required to identify all the genes, molecules and cell processes that drugs act on but which were unknown to us as recently as 10 years ago. Basic research continues in an attempt to fully describe how the hundreds of billions of nerve cells in the brain work together to create behavior and how the tens of thousands of genes in our genome affect the function of our bodies. Coupled with amazing advances in the technology needed to study the brain, this knowledge from basic research will yield unprecedented progress towards treating addictions, as well as other disorders of the brain (from Alzheimer’s Disease to schizophrenia) will be possible.

So, what has research into the biology of addictions done for us so far? In a recent blog post, Katherine Roe from PeTA claims that only one new medication has been approved for the treatment of alcoholism/alcohol use disorders based upon animal research in recent years, that it has only “limited” effect and that animal research has “green-lighted” decades of failed medication trials. Not only are each of these statements factually wrong, the truth that is subverted by her points actually demands more animal research, not less.

Firstly, there are actually three medications approved for the treatment of alcohol use disorders (one is old and two are new). One new drug naltrexone (that blocks opioid systems in brain) was approved in 1994; in 2004, the FDA approved another medication (acamprosate). Both specifically target brain chemical systems discovered to be important to alcohol’s effects though animal research. In addition, the development of both medicines required animal research since they act on molecules in brain that might be unknown at all without basic research studies in rodents and non-human primates.

Secondly, referring to the efficacy of these medicines as limited seems to misunderstand the nature of pharmacology. These medications do not effectively treat everyone that is medicated with them – but then, no drug used for any disease does. That’s not the way pharmacology works. That said, for tens of thousands of people with alcohol use disorders around the world, they achieve and maintain abstinence thanks to one or both of these medications: something that wouldn’t be possible for them without the medicines. For those people, animal research on alcohol addiction has literally saved their lives.

Thirdly, the fact of the matter is that the desperate need for medications for drug and alcohol abuse has led both NIDA and the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) to undertake many clinical trials for medications before there was adequate evidence for efficacy in animal models. Many of the failed clinical trials involved these kinds of medicines. Therefore, if one is concerned about the failure of clinical trials (and we certainly should be), we should be calling for more investment in research, including in research involving animal models. Saying that animal research had “green-lighted” every single medication is simply and unequivocally wrong.

It is for all these reasons that the drug abuse research community is incredibly supportive of animal-based research. The pre-eminent professional society in this area – the College on the Problems of Drug Dependence – which includes epidemiologists, neuroscientists, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists and policy experts has published a statement clarifying their position on animal research:

There is an urgent need to know more about psychoactive drugs, particularly those features that lead some individuals to escalate initial use into regular use or dependence.  Research with laboratory animals will play a key role in these and related efforts… The College on Problems of Drug Dependence recognizes the value and importance of drug abuse research involving laboratory animals and supports the humane use of animals in research that has the potential to benefit human health and society. Such research plays a vital role in acquisition of the new knowledge needed to understand and reduce drug abuse and its associated problems.

Because drug and alcohol abuse are diseases with far-ranging health effects, contributing to death from overdose, cancer, stroke and metabolic disease, all of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have a clear interest in seeing research end addictions. Animal activists’ claims that former NIH director Elias Zerhouni has spoken against the value of animal research are misleading given that he has recently made his opinion clear:

I understand that some have interpreted these comments to mean that I think that animals are no longer necessary in medical research. This is certainly not what I meant. In fact, animal models and other surrogates of human disease are necessary — but not sufficient — for the successful development of new treatments. In short, animal models remain essential to the basic research that seeks to understand the complexities of disease mechanism.

Overall, opposition to animal research on addictions seems to require a deep misunderstanding of basic science research, of the state of current scientific understanding of addictions and their treatment and of basic principles of biology, like pharmacology. It also defies the overwhelming consensus of the scientific and drug abuse treatment community that emphasizes the critical need for more research, including animal-based research, in that effort.

Better Mice, Better Research, Better Results

Speaking of Research

This guest post was written by Mark Wanner from The Jackson Laboratory. He has previously written a guest post for us in 2013 responding to an article in the New York Times. This article is adapted from his earlier post on the The Jackson Laboratory blog, Genetics and your health, here. This focuses on a recent Nature commentary by Steve Perrin, which has been misunderstood by many in the animal rights community. Mark also discusses ways of improving the accuracy of the mouse model.

In February 2013, I wrote a post about the use of mice in preclinical research. It was largely in response to a New York Times article about a scientific paper that impugned data obtained from mice used in trauma and sepsis research. The NYT article in turn implied that research using mouse models for human disease was pretty much useless, or misleading at best.

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SYR: Why I Became a Biologist

Behind almost every biomedical researcher is a deeply personal story and a passionate motivation to stop suffering and make the world better, one discovery at a time.

Speaking of Research

The Speaking of Your Research (SYR) series gives scientists a voice to discuss their own research. We welcome posts by animal researchers explaining the science and motives behind what they do. Contact us for more details.

I am a biologist. At heart, I have been a biologist ever since I can remember. Life, in its many forms, fascinates me and, even though my interests aren’t confined to biology (or sciences, for that matter), it was always very clear to me that I would pursue the task of trying to understand life a little bit better.

As a kid, my most vivid memories go back to those Saturday mornings when I use to wake up at 7 a.m. to turn on the TV. First, there were cartoons to watch, but – at around 10 a.m. – the “Wildlife” shows would start: documentaries from the BBC Wildlife or from the National Geographic…

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Understanding addiction: NIDA article highlights contribution of animal research

In Italy, the home of seminal research into the brain mechanisms that give rise to addictive behaviors – including alcoholism – animal research addressing substance use disorders is at great risk. There is much to be lost when this devastating disorder of the brain is under-addressed or ignored because of the political agenda of so-called activists whose goal is actually to impede progress and erode human welfare.

Speaking of Research

Professor David Jentsch is a highly respected UCLA neuroscientist who specialises in the study of addiction, one of the most widespread and serious medical problems in our society today. Sadly, by devoting his career to finding out how to better treat a condition that ruins – and all too often ends – many millions of lives in the USA and around the world every year, David has found himself, his colleagues, and his friends and neighbors under attack from animal rights extremists whose tactics have ranged from harassment, stalking and intimidation, to arson and violence.

Did this extremist campaign persuade David to abandon his research?

No chance!

In 2009 David responded to the extremist campaign against him and his colleagues by helping to found Pro-Test for Science to campaign for science and against animal rights extremism at UCLA, and has been a key contributor to Speaking of Research…

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