"The females were gently tied to a brace so they appeared to want to mate, and the best, most gentle males were used to inseminate them."
After a summary of an Australian television program, Four Corners, was posted to a vivisection-friendly primate list, one
From: Arnold Chamove
I was a post grad student in Harlow's lab when these experiments took place. The people who worked and studied there, the govt who was despirate to fund his research, the academic community who gave him honour after honour, and the media had a quite different view of Harlow and his research, one universally positive, awesome. At the time, his research was viewed as a new tool, an opportunity to find an experimental model for many of the ills of development which were endemic in the society of the day. You will all be aware, I am certain, that at that time, well over 50% of children taken into care died within 2 years (what was called developmental dwarfism); there were no effective drugs or treatment for depression; attachment by children to their mothers was believed to be via feeding alone, and feeding was believed to be an essential factor without with no attachment would be formed; separation effects were unstudied; it was believed that learning was in discrete steps with no cumulative factors (like learning to learn), and errors were believed not to contribute to learning; it was thought that if you reward someone for performing an act they already were doing, they would do it more (not less--the overjustification effect); fetal alcohol syndrome was first described in his lab in 1963, before that maternal consumption of alcohol was considered unimportant for the fetus; it was thought that high aggression passed down the generations in humans was largely genetic; it was unknown what the effects would be from rearing youngsters with individuals other than her mother; schedule vs. demand feeding was unstudied; the role of contact in attachment was unknown (with many/most mothers sleeping out of contact from their children in the first years of life); it was unknown that human rearing of animals was problematic; a test for and a cure for PKU (phenylketonuria) in humans was unknown; effects of protein malnutrition were unknown and unstudied although rife in Africa; etc. Other work there tested various drugs for cancers (in monkeys of course); tested new drugs for depression; observed effects of liking lead paint and lead poisoning, so prevalent in Glasgow; determined the function of various areas of the brain; showed that copper bracelets worked to reduce arthritis in monkeys; showed that vasectomy reduced male libido in monkeys; schedule vs. demand feeding had no behavioural sequellae; the learning difficulties of mentally handicapped monkeys were due to their over emotional reaction to errors, and if you increased the relative proportion of success, they learned like normal monkeys; that monkeys reared in restricted environments preferred to associate with unknown monkeys with the same rearing; that putting female monkeys into positions of dominance and males into positions of subordinance led to hyper-emotional monkeys; et cetera.
At the time, no one was calling this shy, self-effacing man "a vain
Some now claim "What is certain is that Harlow was architect of some of the most controversial experiments ever performed in an animal laboratory." His most controversial experiments were those done by Steve Suomi (now a leading light in the National Institutes of Health in the USA), involving the "pit" experiments. Unlike what was claimed, in his "Pit of Despair", baby monkeys were NOT left in total darkness for up to two years. They were not in darkness at all in fact; no animals at Harlow's lab ever were. It was known that in depression, activity is increased and that is why the 4 animals were put into the pits, so they could not be active and to induce depression so that drugs and other therapies for depression could be tested. A total of 8 monkeys were so tested, to my recollection.
I would say that other experiments in other labs at the time were
The description of his "Iron Maiden" as where infant monkeys were drawn to a placid surrogate mother that began suddenly to tear at their flesh, is simply untrue. To study a problem that was prevalent at the time (but fortunately totally absent from modern
Some can describe Harlow's "Rape Rack", as where disturbed female monkeys were forced to breed against their will, much like what is done today with bulls and stallions to obtain semen. The rape rack was a term coined by Harlow where females were inseminated. Here is why it was used. At the time, monkeys were valuable and Harlow wanted to breed the females, but artificial insemination had never been done with monkeys and the correct diluents were unknown and different from those perfected in cattle. And the females would not breed naturally. When monkeys were imported from India, they had been kept for some time after capture in villages where they contracted dysentery--salmonella, schigella, and e-coli from villagers. When they bred in labs in Wisconsin, their babies contracted the bacteria and almost all of them died. The only way to save the babies was to hand-rear them. It was a surprise to all, when those babies were 2 years of age, that they would not breed. So what was to be done with 50 or so males and females that would not breed. The females were gently tied to a brace so they appeared to want to mate, and the best, most gentle males were used to inseminate them.
Why are the views of Harlow and his legacy "irreconcilable"? I think because some look to see how he was viewed at the time, and others view his work from today's view. And those who view from today's view, do not see how his work has contributed to the knowledge-base we have today; instead that knowledge-base is viewed as something that we possess, and Harlow's work is viewed as being carried out after that knowledge is gained rather than before--therefore it is superfluous. It is cruel to hand rear baby monkeys because they become abnormal socially; but Harlow did it before that was known and did it to save their lives. This turned out to be an extreme experiment, but did not start to be either an experiment or extreme. And it was exactly how human infants were being reared at the time.
"Was the animals' suffering worth the knowledge we gained about raising children today?" This is the ethical controversy some still debate and some burn labs about today. We save over 1000 babies a year from PKU in the USA, a life of mental retardation; was it worth it to experiment on 8 animals? If they could have found a cure for depression; would it have been worth it? Knowing that the best predictor for adult violence is the receipt of violence when a child; is it worth it? Knowing that contact is important in adoption centres in saving the lives of over half those babies; is it worth it? Knowing that it is not food that attaches a baby to its mother; is it worth it? That is an ethical question and one that those who believe that taking a single life, even the life of a fly (e.g., the Janes in India) [sic] would answer "No"; those who see their child with phenylketonuria lead a normal life might not be so quick to say "No".
With hind sight and blind to the horrors that were common place in the 1950s, some condemn the life's word of Harry Harlow. At the time, there was universal praise, the governments almost pushing money his way to come up with solutions that only experiments could provide. Where was the criticism at the time? Why was there no criticism at the time? Hummmm.
Arnold Chamove DSc.
Some facts to consider in regard to only three of Chamove's points: