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The Truth Behind Why
We Vivisect Animals
By Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., Director, SAEN
Why does animal testing continue when it is such a volatile issue?
You would think that the facilities which currently perform animal testing would rather not see their names in the news connected with protests, animal abuse, horrific pictures, and allegations of scientific fraud. Considering the down side to animal experimentation, why do universities, private foundations, and other entities continue to perform animal experiments?
The answer is very simple: experimentation is a very profitable business for universities. Government/private funding of animal experiments provides the resources to pay for personnel, facilities, equipment, etc. This paradigm also explains the reason for duplication within research projects.
The true object of many animal research projects is not to gain new knowledge. The real reason for these experiments is to bring money to both the facility where the experiment is performed, and the person performing the experimentation. If funding, not knowledge is the goal, why be original? Why invent a new experiment? It is much easier to simply do parametric tinkering, make slight changes in an existing project (which is already being funded), and submit it as something new.
This line of thinking explains the proliferation in specific areas of research. Suppose that we have a truly new kind of experiment. There is a researcher that develops a new area of interest, a new field of experimentation. The grant to perform the experiment is funded. Every animal experiment is performed by a principal investigator along with several assistants. The assistants are often graduate students. When the graduate students receive their degrees and move on, what will they do?
Well, they have been participating in an area of research that they know has been funded by the federal government. They are familiar with the animals, methods and equipment. They know that people get paid to do experiments like this one. So, the newly employed prospective researcher makes slight alterations in the project, enough to make it sound different, and submits a grant proposal to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant reviewers at NIH are likely performers of animal experiments themselves. They want the field to expand, be considered prestigious, etc. They remember when they were trying to get their first grants, so they approve this new experiment, which may significantly resemble their own.
This process must be multiplied several times, because there is rarely only one research assistant. One research project at the University of Washington, Seattle listed a total of 20 researchers participating in the project.
Additionally, there may be other researchers in a general field of experimentation that are looking for a project to submit. They could have experience with either the type of animal used, some of the techniques in the experimentation, or just want to try something new, etc. Again, they know that this new kind of experimentation is being funded. More grant applications are submitted. What started as one research project has now ballooned into several dozen, and the multiplication keeps going from there. In a few years, there can be literally hundreds of projects that do basically the same thing.
What does this kind of system lead to? There are currently 151 separate research projects funded by the NIH that examine neural information processing in macaque monkeys, over 100 of these are related to visual processes. The National Institutes of Health currently funds more than 60 separate grants that examine drug addiction in primates.
The duplication is not limited to experiments conducted on primates. The NIH currently funds 251 separate projects studying cocaine in rats. Ninety-one NIH-funded experiments study cocaine in mice.
Any newly discovered condition, disease, deficiency, or syndrome becomes a financial boon to researchers and universities alike. Human pathological conditions become financial windfalls for research facilities. Diseases equals dollars for researchers.
What is the real goal of these projects money, nothing more. If bringing money into a university, and the pockets of a researcher or two is the real goal, then once the grant is established, the next most important thing becomes continuation of the grant. Now that the researcher and laboratory have a source of money, they want to keep it coming. This explains the long-term nature of many NIH grants.
This is why we see grants like Neurophysiology of the Oculomotor System, number EY00745, which is funded at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, with Albert Fuchs as the principal investigator. This grant is currently funded for $238,970, and has been funded for 30 years. This project has funneled millions of dollars to the UW from NIH. During the same fiscal year, Fuchs also had two sub grants of the Washington Regional Primate Research Center grant directed at funding research in the same field. While it is difficult to know exactly what each sub grant is worth, we can examine the overall financial impact of the primate center grant on the UW.
Animal Experimentation at the University of Washington, Seattle, is Big Business. During fiscal year 1999, experiments at the Washington Regional Primate Research Center grant brought $71,953,208 into UW coffers from both public and private sources (this amount deals only with the primate center, the UW receives many other NIH grants for other projects.). The primate center grant itself is only for $10,696,146. However, a significant amount of funding from NIH, and other sources is brought in through the primate center.
$2,665,080 comes to the UW from non-federal sources, including the State of Washington, the University of Wisconsin (home of another primate center), the McKnight Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and other sources. Including the primate center grant, $18,231,016 comes to the UW as "core support" for the primate center and related projects. $47,475,795 comes from non-core Department of Health and Human Services sources, and $3,581,317 comes from non-federal sources in non-core support.
This situation is not limited to the University of Washington. Harvard University is the host for the New England Regional Primate Research Center (NERPRC). Every year the NERPRC brings $18,874,921 to Harvard from NIH. The University of Wisconsin receives $10,421,973 in associated grants, while the primate center grant itself is approximately $6,000,000. So the University of Wisconsin likely receives over $16,000,000 from NIH for primate experimentation alone. The numbers for both Harvard and the University of Wisconsin do not include any funding derived from experimentation on other species. Both of these facilities use thousands of animals of other species bringing in much more in federal funding.
In short, a bureaucratic edifice has been built around the performance of animal experiments. Researchers obtain salaries and job security through the performance of animal testing. The larger a grant is, the larger the researcher's prestige. Careers are built on animal experiments.
Universities develop entire income streams from experimentation. Departments are created; buildings spring up. Whole facilities exist for no purpose other than animal experiments.
The origin of the bunker mentality of many pro-vivisectionists now becomes clear. When a researcher experiences opposition from activists, this researcher is not defending intellectual freedom, but his/her own prosperity. The universities that so many of us target defend not biology, but economics. Buildings, departments, prestige, and office equipment are more relevant than cures for diseases.
Science is not the issue. We are talking about the almighty dollar. Or more accurately for Albert Fuchs we are probably talking about more than $300,000. But Fuchs is not unique, there are more than 114 other researchers doing essentially the same things to monkeys. They are doing them for exactly the same reason.
And you and I are paying them to do it.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Write to your federal legislators urging them to request a General Accounting Office audit of NIH to examine duplication of research projects. Suggest focus on areas of addiction experiments, vision experiments, and neural information processing, as a beginning.
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