Deborah Blum takes Rick Bogle to Task
On March 5, 2006, Blum co-moderated a public debate between Dr. Eric Sandgren and me at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
On June 6, 2006, she was a guest on "Perpetual Notion," a science program on WORT, a local radio station in Madison. http://www.wort-fm.org/
The program was another debate, of sorts. Audio recordings of the earlier debate were played on air, and Blum was asked to respond. Though the hosts were even-handed, they were ill-prepared to follow up on some of Blum's comments. I was not invited to be on the program and other of the station's program hosts were stopped from interviewing me.
You can listen to the program here.
I have a few comments in response to Blum's assertions and claims.
"There was actually legislation in New Zealand that tried to do that [establish civil rights] for chimpanzees, and it stalled because it's such a huge step…."
But this is misleading. In fact, New Zealand did pass legislation that established an international legal precedent for acknowledging that individual apes' interests can outweigh any claimed potential benefit to others that might result from experimenting on them. Legal scholars acknowledge the landmark world import of this addition to New Zealand's legal framework.
Blum uses the notion of chimpanzees' civil rights to create concern about the civil rights for "animals." This is a mixture of the fallacious argument types known as Ignoratio Elenchi, or a Red Herring, and the slippery slope.
"The pure moral stance… you find this sort of spectrum of positions really frustrating. There is a difference between people who advocate for animal welfare – let's take good care of the animals while they're in activity – and people who advocate for animal rights – animals in captivity held for our purposes such as research, that's morally wrong we have to get rid of it.
And you heard Rick Bogle say in that statement, that he [wouldn't] mess around with stuff like extra fruit for monkeys, he just wanted the monkeys out of the lab.
And I always think to myself – and this is not maybe the moral high ground, but I'm fairly pragmatic – that's a great position except that right now those monkeys are still in the lab. And I would wish in the way, that I would wish that we weren't standing on the opposites sides of the Grand Canyon always in this debate, which we seem to do and which accomplishes nothing…."
Blum is saying, first, that animal rightists and animal welfarists are on opposite sides of a wide chasm. Her analogy leaves the vivisectors completely out of the picture. She makes the claim that this discrepancy between rightists and welfarists is the reason that the monkeys' situation remains so dire.
But this is just more fallacious nonsense. She is saying that because animal rights activists advocate for freedom, university and administrative decision makers ignore the pleas of the welfarists. In other words, she is saying that the labs won't make the monkeys more comfortable, because some people say that doing so isn't enough.
Blum ignores the plain facts. Viktor Reinhardt was a veterinarian at the Wisconsin Primate Center for a number of years and is an authority on the well-being of monkeys in laboratories. He quit his position at the primate center to advocate for just the sort of improvements that Blum claims are needed (see below.) After studying Reinhardt's recommendations, Amy Kerwin, an assistant scientist and laboratory manager, began recommending changes in the way that the monkeys were being cared for.
She made the mistake of mentioning Reinhardt's research in her written proposals. Reinhardt is held in especially low esteem by the primate center senior staff, Kerwin was branded an animal rightist for suggesting very limited improvements and was eventually forced to resign after much ostracism.
Further, and perhaps worse and more telling, Blum's concerns amount to little more than posturing. She does nothing to improve the lot of the monkeys; her efforts are focused on criticizing the efforts of those who actually do argue for change.
"I would wish that we could at least find some common ground on animal welfare because until we reach whatever magic point it is that those monkeys are out of labs, then yeah, we should care about whether they're getting decent beds, and have enough room to move around, and have social companionship, and get something besides those yucky dry monkey biscuit things to eat, right?"
This is more fallacy but at least she acknowledges that the monkeys are miserable. What is her solution? Criticize those who speak out.
"They're stuck in there and we can stand out on the sidewalk and speak for them and take the high moral ground but that doesn't actually help them in the minute that they're in the laboratory. So I'm not entirely sympathetic to, you know, raising the flag to free monkeys and doing nothing to help them while they're still in a laboratory."
And what is Blum doing? Criticizing those who speak out.
Blum on Harlow:
"[Harlow] did experiments that are sort of universally hated by animal activists, taking baby monkeys away from their mothers, putting them with dummy mothers, making those dummy mothers into evil mothers, rejecting mothers, sort of simulating child abuse.
And you can look at those experiments and say, 'How could anyone torture a little animal like that?' Or and you can look at those experiments and you can say, 'Up until that point the scientific principle of the day was that mothers were not particularly influential in the development of their children.'
So it really didn't matter if they whipped their kids around.
And so as it turns out Harlow's work caused the rewriting of the clinical treatment of abused children to a large extent."
Blum begins by rewriting history. I explained some of this in my review of Goon Park that you can find on Amazon.com. Simply, the claim made by every one of Harlow's apologists, that until his experiments, no one understood the importance of nurturing children is so far fetched that it seems intentional. Harlow did not make this discovery. Rene Spitz and John Bowlby's work looking at the effects of institutionalization was well-known and very influential prior to Harlow's entry into the field. Benjamin Spock's 1946, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, is so well known (sales second only to the Bible) that one can only marvel at Blum's claims.
"And what I like about him, not that he's like a lovable, huggable, wonderful guy every minute, right? Is that he brings you to the point that I think you need to get to with animal research and that we really don't like, and that is, what are you willing to pay for that knowledge?
If the only way you can find it is though these baby monkeys, … and you can make arguments about this, but let's just say it is, are you willing to sacrifice those monkeys so that you can deal the right way with abused children?"
This is the fallacy of the false choice: either torture baby monkeys or fail to provide the best care for abused children. Quick, don't think, just choose. Such utter nonsense.
Blum's claim that Harlow's work led to "rewriting of the clinical treatment of abused children" seems testable. This is the propagandist's tool. Few people would take the time to actually check this out.
Harlow et al did show that monkeys who had been emotionally devastated by prolonged isolation could recover – to a degree – more rapidly if they were paired with a younger more normal monkey. His paper on this topic came in 1976, very late in his career. Suomi SJ, Delizio R, Harlow HF. Social rehabilitation of separation-induced depressive disorders in monkeys. Other than this single paper, Harlow did not address treatments for psychologically devastated monkeys, let alone abused children..
But maybe other scientists working on child abuse cited Harlow's work as the primary reason to "[rewrite] the clinical treatment of abused children." It is very hard to prove a negative, but the rather uniform absence of references in the child abuse literature to Harlow suggests that no one has paid much attention to his work.
In fact, one of his graduate students, John Gluck, noted that after his death other scientists quickly stopped citing his work. (see: Gluck JP. 1997. Harry F. Harlow and animal research: reflection on the ethical paradox. Ethics Behav. 7(2):149-61.)
It seems that Blum grossly overstated the importance of Harlow's tortures. You can view a Harlow bibliography here.
"Until we find some perfect mirror model of a human system – that doesn't exist … then we're going to sort of bumble our way through this stuff, but yes, I know that animal research saves lives."
Maybe Blum is just a victim of her own rhetoric, but her final claim is at odds with the current view of medical science. And she seems so certain. But consider this:
"America's high-tech health-care system costs $2 trillion a year. Yet even doctors concede that the effectiveness of most of the treatments they offer cannot be demonstrated. That leaves patients at the mercy of often wildly variable clinical judgments concerning heart disease, prostate and breast cancer, diabetes...."
And this: "[P]hysicians say the portion of medicine that has been proven effective is still outrageously low -- in the range of 20% to 25%. 'We don't have the evidence [that treatments work], and we are not investing very much in getting the evidence,' says Dr. Stephen C. Schoenbaum, executive vice-president of the Commonwealth Fund and former president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Inc."
From BusinessWeek Online. May 29, 2006.
If medical doctors don't know whether their treatments are effective, just why is Blum so certain that animal research saves lives? Which research could she be refering to? The only place you hear such fervent certainty is from the animal lab public relations people. Guess that's why they love her.