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UW Animal Research Propaganda

We use the Merriam-Webster definitions of propaganda in this essay: (2) the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person; (3) ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause.

UW animal research propaganda comes in a variety of forms. Sometimes it is an outright frontal attack on those who speak for animals.

Shortly after we announced our efforts to establish the National Primate Research Exhibition Hall, WPRC's public relations director, Jordana Lenon, sent the mayor, all the Madison City council members, the Dane County Executive, and all the members of the Dane County Board of Supervisors a long email villianizing one of the organizers. [Ms. Lenon's homepage]

But such propaganda is easy to spot. By far, the most effective propaganda is the sort that unsuspecting consumers fail to recognize as hype and are spoon-fed as hard news in newspapers and on television and radio news.

Use of media news to disseminate propaganda has become ubiquitous. For an overview of this modern phenomenon, we recommend you visit the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch. Check out the articles on VNRs (video news releases) here: PR Watch , Second Quarter 2005, Volume 12, No. 2 .

Different from VNRs is the use or duping of local reporters and media outlets to promote the UW animal research community's claim that animal experimentation is leading to improvements in human health care. Usually, this is done with a statement of “fact” without informing the reader of the actual problems associated with the research, the long history of failure, or explaining the actual costs to the animals being used.

For instance, a story appeared in the December 15, 2005, Wisconsin State Journal titled "Progress Against Parkinson's" (first Edition) and "Progress In Fight Against Parkinson's" (second Edition.) The story begins:

In a study that could lead to a therapy for people with Parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders, UW-Madison researchers have used stem cells to deliver a disease-fighting protein to the brains of rats.

The protein, called GDNF, has already shown promise in small trials of Parkinson's patients.

But in those trials, the protein had to be continuously pumped directly into the patients' brains through a catheter, making it unfeasible for many people. The "blood-brain barrier" generally prevents drugs given in the body from reaching the brain.

…When the cells were injected into the brains of rats with Parkinson's, they restored damaged tissue, researchers found.

But rats don't get Parkinson's disease. Rats can develop some Parkinson's disease-like symptoms when the chemical 6-OHDA (the potent neurotoxin 6-hydroxydopamine) is injected into their brain. Whether the rat studies will lead to improvements in Parkinson's disease treatments is speculative, but if this study had been performed at a university other than the UW, it is unlikely to have been covered by the local media at all.

The UW also propagandizes the most vulnerable members of the community. In a newsletter published by UW-Health, (Parkinson's Perspective: A newsletter from the UW Health Movement Disorders Program (July 2005. Vol. 2, No. 3) the lead article “From the Editor's Pen…” begins by vilifying those who speak for the monkeys:

… it is a matter of historical fact that research in monkeys has been critical to the advances since 1980 and is still critical for any future advances.

Unfortunately, there is a minority that wants to take away the hopes of Parkinson's disease patients, their family members, and all those who care about the patient. The reader may know these people as “animal rights activists”. But those who seek to ban all animal research—particularly those who act illicitly to do so—are actually anti-patients' rights. Clearly, animals used in research need to be protected and strong laws are in place to protect animals from unreasonable use.

But our group is made up of health-care providers, healthcare researchers, teachers, nurses, ex Peace Corps volunteers, medical research volunteers, lawyers, artists, and people from other various walks of life. Claims that we are “anti-patient” or anti-human are examples of the falacious claims made by the univerity spin doctors to deflect real public discussion. (A review of falacious reasoning might be worthwhile since so many examples are contained in the passage above.)

The claim that there are strong laws protecting the animals is an example willfull ignorance or else just a simple and straightforward lie. See: Oversight.

The same newsletter goes on to claim that the MPTP monkey model of Parkinson's disease is responsible for all the progress that has been made since 1980. But, like rats, monkeys don't get this human disease. And, like the 6-OHDA rat model of Parkinson's, monkeys treated with the neurotoxin MPTP exhibit only some Parkinson's disease-like symptoms.

(The 6-OHDA rat model of Parkinson's had been used since at least 1975. Mendez JS, Finn BW. Use of 6-hydroxydopamine to create lesions in catecholamine neurons in rats. J Neurosurg. 1975 Feb;42(2):166-73.)

The newsletter pointedly avoids mention of the limitations of the MPTP “model.” Even less honest is the claim that researchers would not think of using monkeys if they weren't forced to do so:

Scientists subsequently injected rodents and other laboratory animals with MPTP in an attempt to produce an animal model, but they all failed. Researchers were about to give up when scientists, as a last resort, injected MPTP into monkeys and only these animals developed Parkinsonianism. We now know that other animals can be made parkinsonian…

The Parkinson's disease-like effects of MPTP were discovered first in illicit drug users in San Francisco. This was reported in the journal Science in February 1983. [Langston JW, Ballard P, Tetrud JW, Irwin I. Chronic Parkinsonism in humans due to a product of meperidine-analog synthesis. Science. 1983 Feb 25;219(4587):979-80.]

Monkeys were injected with the chemical almost immediately. This was reported in Science only three months later. [Kolata G. Monkey model of Parkinson's disease. Science. 1983 May 13;220(4598):705.]

Here is what the National Parkinson's Foundation has to say:
(Web retrieved on 12-21-2005 from Lang AE. Parkinson's Disease: Selected Basic and Clinical Research Developments over the Past Decade.)

To date, no treatment has been proven to slow the progression of the illness.

So much for "all the progress that has been made since 1980" as a result of the MPTP monkey model. And on it goes.

See also: Animal Models of Degenerative Neurological Diseases

Madison's Hidden Monkeys is a joint project of the
Alliance for Animals and the
Primate Freedom Project