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Scratch that $11.2 million underground animal research facility the University of Iowa’s interim vice president for research, Jordan Cohen is probably saying to his Board of Regents right about now.
A 35,000-square-foot underground vivarium where researchers could move mice, sheep, pigs, rabbits and primates without ever coming above ground made a lot of sense in 2004–when activists breached Iowa labs, opening cages and ruining research.
But it doesn’t make a lot of sense when the enemy is, gulp one of one’s own.
The Yale community might be breathing a little easier now that a suspect is in custody in connection with the murder of graduate student Annie Le who was killed inside a high security lab in September, but the animal research community isn’t.
What good are electronic surveillance, code cards and high tech security when the foe is in your own household in the form of a laboratory technician like suspect Raymond Clark III some are asking?
Did he euthanize one too many decorticated cats? See too many primates pinned in stereotaxic devices? Spend too long under the ether hood?
Or was Clark "off" before he became a lab technician–even becoming a technician because he was off? (Does the job description read, "most love animals but not get too attached to them"?)
Whatever Clark’s reasons if found guilty, animal researchers now have two new fears: depraved technicians–and the public peeling back the Plexiglas curtain on the secretive, pork-ridden world of animal research.
There’s a reason for the security that keeps Beagle burn videos from surfacing like egg farm videos. Animal research is too lucrative for the university/government/pharma complex to risk macaques on YouTube and the public judging the asinine and repetitive experiments many researchers know they live on.
Do you think Northwestern University–or the National Institutes of Health (NIH)–want to acknowledge that every year from l978 through l985 Associate Professor Dr. Charles Larson fused monkeys’ necks to their skulls and deprived them food five days per week to make them cry out in a specific manner according to Concerned Citizens for Ethical Research? At a tax payer cost of $472,370? To "gain insights into some of the neurological disorders affecting vocalization?" Even as his colleagues scoffed?
And how about FOI documents obtained after veterinarian Dr. Catherine Dell’Orto reported strokes were being induced in baboons by removing their eyes in Columbia University laboratories, also with our tax dollars, in 2002?
After surgery, baboon B777, "lacked physical alertness, was unable to sit upright, or to eat. On September 21, the records indicate that the animal was awake and motionless but unable to eat, and could only drink water if squeezed into its mouth. It had vomited in the morning. The animal died while in its cage on September 21, 2001 at 1:30 p.m," wrote Columbia’s investigative committee.
Thanks to the Stimulus Bill, NIH has a 2009 budget of $39.9 billion–think a year of the war in Iraq–and much of it goes to animal research.
University of Washington, for example, scored a cool $1 billion this year according to the Seattle Times for research, topping all public universities, despite its little incident with assistant professor of immunology Chen Dong in 2003.
Dong withheld food from mice, removed tips of their tails without anesthesia, failed to let babies wean and failed to euthanize suffering mice per the established mouse-pain scale said the university, barring him from animal research. Dong was also charged with falsifying his scientific articles and the Journal of Clinical Investigation asked for a retraction, reported the Times.
Nor does the University of Iowa seem to be hurting financially with its plans for a $122.5 million Iowa Institute for Biomedical Discovery which will connect to the underground vivarium mentioned earlier with its state of the art animal housing facilities, cage washing facilities and aseptic surgery space.
No, for animal researchers the bigger fear from Le’s murder than technicians like Clark is the public seeing the heaps of unsupervised government pork behind their Plexiglas curtain. No wonder the research community wraps a "saves lives" cloak around its work whether falsified journal articles or Larson’s "speech" studies.
It keeps the public from saying YOU’RE FUNDING WHAT? For how many years? With what results? about its tax dollars.
MARTHA ROSENBERG can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org