OSU President Blocks NIH Funded Science to Appease Philanthropist

Nov 30 2009 Published by under Animals in Research

The web side of The Oklahoman reports that the president of Oklahoma State University has blocked some studies on anthrax from going forward:

Veterinary medicine researchers were told by e-mail last month that OSU President Burns Hargis wouldn't allow the National Institutes of Health-funded project, even though an internal faculty committee had spent more than a year setting out protocol for the care and use of the primates.
Veterinary scientists say the decision was sudden and arbitrary, and now they fear the president may call for ending other projects involving animal research.
OSU administrators declined to comment for this story, but released a statement through OSU spokesman Gary Shutt stating "this research was not in the best interest of the university. The testing of lethal pathogens on primates would be a new area for OSU that is controversial and is outside our current research programs."

ERV, in her inimitable style, called shenanigans.


OSU, you may recall, already caved to the threats of one Madeleine Pickens, wife of gazillionaire T. Boone Pickens. Earlier in the year she objected to the OSU Vet school using dogs for research and training and held a $5M donation to OSU over their heads. Now, the link to her own site is the best I could do [Update: found confirmation, the issue was the euthanasia after procedures] for confirming the fact that OSU actually responded to her extortion (yes, I realize they were under no obligation to accept her money; this is still extortion) but it certainly sets a tone.
This recent move suggests that the OSU did indeed cave to Ms. Pickens' demands. Furthermore it confirms exactly why it is inadvisable to accede to terrorist demands- it just encourages them. Now this pressure (unconfirmed that Ms. Pickens is involved but c'mon. Let's be real people) has been extended to a study on anthrax. A study which apparently has been approved by the local IACUC, by the NIH peer review process and been selected for funding, going by the media account quoted above. And going from the article, the OSU is quite happy to be doing bioterrorism research, one therefore presumes the anthrax is not the problem here.

The statement [from OSU spokesman G. Shutt] also said: "OSU is focused on enhancing and expanding its existing research strengths including our ongoing programs in bioterrorism research. The proposed work would have distracted from those efforts."

So that leaves the baboons. Call me suspicious but when the president talks about "controversial" and about the "best interests" of the University...well, you do the math. And yet ERV tells us:

Oklahoma is kinda 'known' for our baboon facilities. Um, I think its technically an Oklahoma 'resource'. The Oklahoma baboon colonies are associated with OUHSC, OMRF, schools all over OK like Oklahoma State veterinary school and HSC, schools in TX... and have been for years. Doing research on baboons is in no way 'new' for OSU. Hell, weve had people from OSU come talk about their virus research with baboons here in OK.

Yeaaah. Nothing adds up consistently, does it? Except one thing- a fearful response to ARA threats. This, my friends, is the start of the slippery slope. OSU has put the bit in Ms. Pickens' teeth and given her (and whatever ARA extremist groups have their claws into her) free rein to bring down any and all of OSU's ongoing programs she objects to. Unchecked, this is going to end up with the complete dissolution of the baboon research ERV mentioned.
Now, I can't help but point out, as I like to do, the flagrant and almost unbelievably laughable hypocritical irony of this case. One of ERV's commenters, Prometheus, put me on the track. The pride and joy of Ms. Picken's husband is one Mesa Vista Ranch. TBooneHunts.png
T. Boone Pickens, "sportsman" [source]

Click on the splash page and you will get a pdf describing many interesting attributes of the Ranch. Ms. Pickens is featured prominently in a photo with her 'sportsman' husband, in case you were wondering. Anyway, Mesa Vista Ranch is a quail hunting paradise, primarily. Dressed up in the usual "conservation" language, of course, of course. But basically a vanity project so that T. Boone can indulge his passion for shooting birds. It turns out with a little Google-fu that one can also shoot other critters at the Pickens' spread.

...three groups of two hunters will be guided on an incredible day of native bobwhite hunting. Pheasant hunting is also available if requested, and deer and turkey hunting is an option, too, if in season.

TBooneQuail.png
Subject of "conservation" [source]

Hunting. Shooting creatures, letting them die suffering in many cases, for no other reason than the joy of ....um... killing things. I guess. These are rich people and their friends and clients (?-dunno if they only donate hunting junkets or what) are rich people. This is not about food. This is not about the progress of knowledge that will help humans, other animals or indeed our ecosphere. The justification is one hundred percent about people who like to kill animals for "sport".
Ms. Pickens is married to the guy in charge of all this hunting stuff. Why, oh why, would the president of a University take someone like her seriously when she starts in about barbaric treatment or any other thing having to do with the use of animals in research? And yet he did. Apparently twice now. Making this just the beginning, not the end.
I hope the NIH is paying attention at last. They are the ONLY thing that can hope to oppose the power of the wealthy donor. The NIH has to come out swinging. Not just with some tepid news release about how sad they are. It is well past time for the NIH to provide an equally weighty counter to the intimidation of the ARA terrorists. Because that's what this is. A University president fearing "controversial" research has been terrorized by the extremist fringe into deciding that the best path is simply to give in. To lie down and do what they want so that they will leave him alone. They never do, of course, as OSU is going to find out. And the NIH is going to find out that this sort of thing fuels replication of the same across the country. Universities will fall one by one to this sort of terrorism. It won't be dramatic and it won't be public. The details will vary. Here a University will use attrition and new hiring litmus tests. There a University will claim costs. Elsewhere the wealthy ARA donor will raise his head. Next, the nuisance lawsuits.
They will knock off the low hanging fruit first, you bet. The Med School physiology classes using companion species. The nonhuman primate labs. The drug abuse studies (it's just about individual morality you know, screw those druggies). The sexually-transmitted disease work. Antibody production in rabbits. But each success will breed new attacks on types of research that do not draw a great deal of AR attention right now.
So what can the NIH do? Well sure, they cannot insist that a given University conduct a given type of research. And holding up projects which make it into the normal funding zone veers too far into extortion for my taste. But what they can do is to use the power of the funding exception. As we've covered extensively the NIH does quite a bit of picking and choosing research projects outside of the funding line. So what they can do is simply to refuse to give any of those awards to offending Universities which have succumbed to terrorist intimidation. Make it very clear to the University that that is why they are no longer seeing grant pickups.
This the only thing that has a prayer of a chance of opposing the millions of dollars in donations such as that which was dangled by Ms. Pickens in the prior incident.

54 responses so far

  • David says:

    This story shows that some new weapons in the animal rights activist arsenal include extortion poorly disguised as philanthropy and a sense of entitlement so extreme that the country club set decides to use their bank accounts to alter the peer-reviewed, high-impact scientific research of leading medical research institutions. Of course, this occurs in spite of the fact that IACUC committees that include veterinarians, scientists and unbiased community members have reviewed and vetted the research program.
    Not unlike the religious zealots that attempt to block NIH-funded projects on HIV prevention amongst "unseemly" groups like ethnic or sexual minorities or drug abusers, Ms. Pickens has a uniquely self-confident moral vision that makes it acceptable for her to financially coerce others into behaving the way she wants them to behave. The relationship to those that use guns or bullying to achieve the same is also remarkable.
    Any institution that prostitutes its research program to the highest bidder should be ashamed of itself, and the NIH should consider whether to review future funding to such institutions in light of these unfortunate choices. Put differently, if an institution is not willing to support NIH-funded projects carried out in accord with the academic freedom of its researchers, its participation in future funded research projects should be viewed critically. I hope that every study section member who reviews an OSU grant considers their rating of the "Environment" a little more thoroughly in future years. While ones wants to avoid punishing the hard-working scientists at OSU for their institution's behavior, a clear and unambiguous message must be sent.
    We all recognize that the world is full of complex ethical issues. Some pharmacists have strong personal convictions that tell them that voluntary termination of a pregnancy is unethical, but they do not get to decide who gets medications designed to end their own pregnancy. While every person has a right to spend their financial resources as they see fit, it is not acceptable to use those resources to obfuscate or otherwise alter the direction of the ethics of others. It is not acceptable to buy an end to cures for anthrax or other serious conditions researchers working at OSU are trying to end. If Ms. Pickens is ultimately successful in ending this research project (and I truly hope that the OSU regents and administration reconsider this decision), she will have invested in the suffering of the next batch of people that die of anthrax poisoning. What a noble work of philanthropy that will be...

  • Cashmoney says:

    T Boone's wikipedia entry claims he's donated $400M to OSU over the years. NIH RePORTER gives about $3-4M per year in recent FYs for the Stillwater OSU where the Vet Med School is located.
    When the Pickens dangle $5M they outbid an entire year of NIH support for this campus, looks like.
    The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (handling the main OSU maybe?) gets on the order of $20-30M from the NIH.

  • becca says:

    ""There has in fact been anthrax terrorism in the United States. All those people are dead.”
    From the 2001 attack wikipedia:
    "Letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two Democratic U.S. Senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others."
    Anthrax is a classic livestock pathogen. It's not like using an 'animal model' should be contentious- there are already animals who get it. We also already have an anthrax vaccine ok'd for use in humans.
    I am perfectly open to being completely wrong, since this is not at all my field of expertise. But will someone please explain why this research ought to be done? I will not accept answers that include "peer review has spoken" (this is about as meaningful as "the market has spoken").
    "OSU actually responded to her extortion (yes, I realize they were under no obligation to accept her money; this is still extortion)"
    Please define extortion. Please explain a legal basis for your assertion.
    Do quail have the same cognitive emotional responses baboons do? If so, why not use quail for addiction studies. If not, isn't it possible some people would draw a meaningful moral distinction between killing quail and killing baboons?
    Anyway, the excesses on this issue aside, I think you're proposal of tactics is off. It's not a big enough stick; there's a chance OSU would just say "well, we don't gain more than $5 million from 'picked up' grants, let's just let the big donors have what they want". You're always saying that if the NIH wants to change the % of soft money investigators it should compromise the institution's entire NIH portfolio.
    Why not just make it so that Any institution, Anywhere, who accepts ANY private money (because we never know which money might come with strings that are unacceptable to somebody somewhere) cannot accept ANY federal money from ANY agency?
    Seems to me that anything short of that is a waste. And it would cut out all those obnoxious alumni society requests for donations.

  • barkley says:

    Cow are not humans. Neither are mice. A non-human primate is as close you can get to testing on humans.
    This research doesn't just look at anthrax itself but at the pathogenesis, immune responses, cardiovascular effects and many other avenues that can be related to other diseases, not just anthrax infection. Treatments for this disease can be also be translated to these other diseases and vice versa.
    And, yes there is a vaccine for humans, but it has terrible side effects and has even resulted in 44 deaths. This vaccine is forced on every soldier that goes oversees even though it hasn't been proven effective. The article mentions that the project also intends to work on vaccines and I think it is definitely something that needs to be done.

  • Paul Browne says:

    Barkley is right, while it does work there is a lot of concern about the current (rather old) anthrax vaccine, apart from the high level side effects it needs to be administered in several doses over a period of 4 weeks to achieve 95% protection, probably too slow to be of much use when responding to a bioterrorist attack. So there is a considerable interest in developing a vaccine that achieves a protective immune response more quickly and with fewer side effects. Current treatment options are also not great, the antibiotics used now need to be administered very early in the course of the disease.
    The project that was halted is a large multidisciplinary project that includes a variety of in vitro approaches and animal models to learn more about the pathogenic processes of anthrax infection and assess new treatment and prevention options.
    I wouldn't describe Mrs. Pickens behavior as extortion, though it does show how dangerous it is for a University to become dependent on donations from one philanthropist, so that it's President considers it to be beholden to them. Remember that OSU is a public research university, not a private college, while wealthy donors should be free to fund research there that they wish to see done they should not have a veto on what other research is done. Universities should have the courage to defend academic freedom, even if it means alienating a wealthy donor.

  • whimple says:

    Treatments for this disease can be also be translated to these other diseases and vice versa.
    I call bullshit. This is a classic argument used to justify wasting resources studying something of negligible real-world health impact. See also: "bioterrorism threat".

  • Misdirected anger. The whole point of having money is to get to throw your weight around. The donors are well within their rights to make this a condition. It's OSU that's in the wrong, for having gotten too dependent on the Pickens trough that they can't say no.

  • DSKS says:

    I can't get myself worked up over this. It's somebody putting conditions on donations, which isn't new and isn't by any means uncommon. At the end of the day, the uni could have told them to stick it, but chose not to. It's not as if anybody's rights have been infringed here, just let Darwinism take its course. If the research is worthwhile someone else and a less hampered institute will do it, and OSU loses out.
    In terms of the proposed research, Whimple beat me to it. Is anthrax really considered a tangible threat, or are these guys just trying to cash in on the bioterrorism hype? For one thing, as an agent targeted against humans directly anthrax abandoned long ago, not because it was unethical but because it was a pain to manufacture, difficult to deploy effectively, and was a lot less efficacious when it came to killing lots of people than regular explosives. The only reason it was stockpiled during WWII was for possible use against cattle and horses in order to fuck up supply lines, but even achieving that required dropping vast plane loads of the stuff.
    When it comes to using primates for research, I don't think its unfair to require more stringent standards in terms of the importance of the research to human health. But, at best, if anthrax research is to be conducted it would actually be more sensibly directed to livestock animals than people.
    I agree that this might be setting a new tone in the strategy of anti-vivisectionists, but I don't think this is where the first battle needs to take place.

  • Paul Browne says:

    DSKS, in case you missed it the problem here is that the president waited until funds had been granted and IACUC approval received before he decided to ban the project. It's one thing to insist on conditions being met before giving a donation, that is usual, but the idea that giving a large donation should give the donor an undefined veto over future research is the worrying aspect of this saga.
    Obviously researchers are concerned about this individual project but the greater worry is that if this decision is allowed to stand it will set a precident for the future, perhaps next time it will be another non-human primate study, or maybe it will be a epidemiological study into drug addiction or the spread of HIV in at-risk groups, who knows? Remember there was no consultation with those involved with carrying out this study or with the IACUC who approved it. Are OSU scientists just supposed to sit back and allow the reputation of their institution as a centre for medical research get thrashed? Sure they can always leave, but that should be a last resort.
    OSU recently got a lot of NIH money towards their non-human primate facility and a lot of state money (about $20 million AFIK) for their biodefence facility...this investment will be at risk if funders feel they can't trust the administration at OSU to support projects that meet every regulatory requirement that is expected of them. If the OSU administration don't want to fund specific areas of primate or biodefence research they should make this clear to funders and researchers before the application process begins...not after it has been completed and the study is underway. Naturally it would be nice if they consulted faculty before instituting any such policy.
    Bioterrorism isn't an area I've read about much, and it's drawbacks as a weapon are obvious. I can understand why a terrorist group might be interested in anthrax, it's far easier to get hold of than many other biological agents, and the fact that it isn't easily contagious is an advantage if your aim is to terrorize a particular population rather than cause a global plague. While I wouldn't claim that anthrax is up there with malaria, HIV or hepatitis C in terms of urgency I can see that current vaccines and treatments are not up to scratch. So on balance it seems worthwhile for the NIH to be devoting some funds to it.

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  • barkley says:

    You can call BS all you want. Just read the latest papers published on anthrax. Human anthrax infection is being linked to other diseases and has been shown to be treatable with the drugs used for those diseases. It's called pubmed, use it.
    Also, look at the investigators studying anthrax and other agents found on the CDC Bioterrorism Agent list. Look into their specialties. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, protein studies, lipid studies, pharmacology, ..... you name it, they've got a project using an agent considered a "bioterrorism agent."
    Anthrax isn't difficult to produce at all. It grows in just about anything and it goes to spore form quickly where it can survive indefinitely. Luckily, DSKS IS right about the deployment. It's difficult to disperse to large areas, but large areas sometimes are not the targets for terrorism. Just an enclosed space with a crowd of people is enough. I'm not saying I'm expecting these attacks. In fact I don't, but I do think we need better vaccines for our troops, and better treatments if they are ever exposed. That can't be done on cattle and translated to human treatment.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The point is not whether or not the baboon research has passed the "stringent standard" of whimple and DSKS (which of you is reviewer #3?). It is whether some ARA nut should be making this decision, particularly absent any specific understanding of the science (yes I am making an assumption here).
    Perhaps the next ARA wackaloon will decide that some huge mouse breeding genetic fishing expedition doesn't meet her standard..personally I can justify anthrax research a lot easier than I can basic research with unknown and probably minimal impact on any human health condition.
    Pastor Martin Niemöller's famous observation is pretty apt holmes. It is time for scientists to stop acting like Democrats and circle the wagons against the antiscience forces, no matter the stripe.

  • Vast Right Wing Conspiracy says:

    What goes around, comes around. "Animal rights" movement is one of the variants of Leftism, and Leftism is quite strongly advocated here. Even this "hunting" argument is quite funny, because proving Mr. Pickens' "hypocrisy" is based on the premises that "hunting bad" (animals have rights!).

  • DrugMonkey says:

    just let Darwinism take its course
    And FWIW, DSKS, public shaming and illumination of this issue *is* "Darwinism" taking its course. My comments encourage the NIH to apply some consequences. The first comment is suggesting that NIH grant reviewers punish OSU for their lack of institutional commitment to a certain view of the NIH mission. I have to admit that were I to be reviewing a grant from OSU in the future, my view of the Environment would be very different than, say, a year ago.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    proving Mr. Pickens' "hypocrisy" is based on the premises that "hunting bad" (animals have rights!)
    The comments in this vein have nothing to do with whether hunting is or is not bad, rather with how Ms. Pickens feels about the welfare of animals such as mustangs, domestic horses and baboons. This is contrasted with how her husband (and presumably she herself) feels about quail, deer and turkey. I did indulge myself with a few cracks about the hypocrisy of hunters being all about 'conservation' but again, this has nothing to do with whether I am personally for or against hunting. (if you read my stuff you will note that one thing that gets me going is faked up cover reasons for people's motivations and a lack of clarity and honesty about that which boils down to personal preferences)
    Not well developed in my original argument is the comparison of well regulated and humane animal research (which requires strict minimization of suffering and refined procedures conducted by well trained staff) with hunting in which anybody can blast away at quail with an uncertain chance of immediate, unsuffering death. The notion that anyone finds the latter totally fine and the former 'barbaric' is just laughable and betrays complete ignorance of reality and/or utterly fabricated coverstories for highly arbitrary personal whim.

  • Paul Browne says:

    Leftism...now that's an album I haven't listened to in a long time.

  • becca says:

    For the record, I can clearly see many potential benefits to anthrax research.
    I am also incredibly offended by scare-mongering "ZOMG Anthrax WILL KILLZUSALL!" style "justification" of bioterrorism research.
    And, if we're honest, the only reason this research was funded at all was political pressure in Congress to do bioterrorism research based on the faulty premise it's a Major Threat to the American People.
    Which could be seen, arguably, as Giving Into The Terrorists.
    Sorry DM. If we follow any of your chains of fragment logic, we reach very untenable positions.
    For example, by your logic if I *do* find hunting barbaric, *must* I therefore find animal research barbaric? Or if I do not, perhaps I AM completely ignorant of reality and making decisions on highly arbitrary personal whims.
    Also, this is incredibly egregious and I you need to be called out on it:
    "how her husband (and presumably she herself) feels "
    Read that. Read it again. Is your wife some kind of extension of you such that you have presumably the same opinions on everything?
    You may be assuming correctly about her attitudes on hunting, but her husband's actions are the sole reason you are making that assumption, it's AWFULLY poor logic. Misogynistic poor logic to boot.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    For example, by your logic if I *do* find hunting barbaric, *must* I therefore find animal research barbaric?
    No but you have a very steep slope to climb to 'splain why you find humane and regulated animal research 'barbaric' but hunting totally okay. You are not following chains, you are weaving whole cloth.
    Is your wife some kind of extension of you such that you have presumably the same opinions on everything?
    Read the post. She appears prominently in the brochure for the Ranch, as I mentioned. This is an affirmative act in my view. This is also why I use the qualifier "presumably". You do understand what that means, right?

  • Cashmoney says:

    Well, if the faculty are mysteriously quiet I guess we'll see the value of all those endowed chairs funded by T Boone Pickens and friends....
    http://osu.okstate.edu/images/stories/osuaccomplishments/july08.pdf

  • DSKS says:

    "My comments encourage the NIH to apply some consequences. The first comment is suggesting that NIH grant reviewers punish OSU for their lack of institutional commitment to a certain view of the NIH mission."
    To clarify, I completely agree, I wasn't arguing against this behaviour affecting OSU's funding in the future; this action is a valid consideration for study sections reviewing proposals from this institution.
    I was on a different track addressing the separate issue brought up in the comments regarding the research at the center of the controversy and its relative benefits to human health, given the public sensitivity towards testing on primates.
    As for whether a charge of hypocrisy is valid on Mrs. Picken's behalf, that's difficult to say due to the nuanced nature of animal welfare and perceived rights.
    "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others"

  • whimple says:

    DM: No but you have a very steep slope to climb to 'splain why you find humane and regulated animal research 'barbaric' but hunting totally okay. You are not following chains, you are weaving whole cloth.
    To channel the hunter mindset, hunting is ok because the animal has a sporting chance. You don't shoot birds on the ground, nor deer frozen in headlights for this reason, even though you happily blast away at them under other circumstances. There's no element of sport to "regulated animal research".
    Not to mention that you don't field-dress and subsequently eat the animals killed for research of course...

  • PalMD says:

    One's ethics is one's own...but that's bizarre. Do you really think an animal can perceive the difference between having and not having "a fighting chance"?

  • whimple says:

    One's ethics is one's own...but that's bizarre. Do you really think an animal can perceive the difference between having and not having "a fighting chance"?

    No.

  • JohnV says:

    "I call bullshit. This is a classic argument used to justify wasting resources studying something of negligible real-world health impact. See also: "bioterrorism threat"."
    Man what kind of ass would bother studying these bioterrorism agents? They're all unique snowflakes and nothing like the other bacteria on the planet. Obviously the research can't be transferred over to other systems.
    After all, gene regulation in B. anthracis is totally different than gene regulation in the other gazillion bacterial species. Its virulence factors? Nope all unique, studying its hemolysin will in no way transfer over the the hemolysins produced by every other pathogen on the planet. That knowledge is totally wasted. Its not even like its needed, what given the 100% success rate with the current vaccine. I mean, I even hear some people study its sporulation. How foolish, its sporulation absolutely unique, nothing at all like sporulation in every other Bacillus and Clostridium species. Certainly bacterial development is such a fringe topic that no one would ever gain anything. If you check pubmed, you'll even find some depraved souls wasting government money studying evolution in bioterrorism agents. Man how silly, we all know evolution is junk.
    The preceeding comment was sponsored by your 400 year old PIs doing all of their research with emaciated lab strains of E. coli.

  • becca says:

    DM- A regulated and "humane" hunt wouldn't cut it for me. Those words do not automatically make everything ok, and to say those aspects are the only meaningful ethical distinctions between hunting and research is an impossibly ego-centric morality.
    Secondly, if I have my picture taken with my Carebear at a restaurant and he is eating ribs, does that somehow make it funny for me to advocate reform of factory farming? And more importantly, if I owned a ranch, would anyone think it weird if he didn't give money away to a vet school that was practicing on live animals?
    It's illogical to conflate married people as one entity, and it tends to run strongly in the misogynistic direction in practice, just as your example highlights.
    If your reasoning didn't really depend on the misogynistic argument, great (knowing you, I wouldn't have presumed so). But why bring it up at all?

  • Agnatha says:

    This whole issue is very interesting. I think the author of the lead post is guilty of several overgeneralizations.
    1) There are undeniably some truly idiotic animal rights terrorists (such as the nitwits setting fires to vans at UCLA). However, the fact that there are nitwits who adopt a cause does not automatically invalidate the merits of the cause, any more than a cause's overall popularity necessarily proves its merits.
    2) People don't seem to realize that the position of the extreme animal rightists is not the position of many people who oppose, or even question, biomedical research on particular animals, such as primates. That is, refuting the PETA position does not refute the positions of critics of non-human animal research, most especially those who focus on non-human primates.
    3) The position that everything that is non-human equals "just animals" is just as extreme as the position that all non-human animals should be afforded full rights. Therefore, for a woman to be opposed to a research protocol that REQUIRES euthanizing the subjects when the subjects are baboons on one hand, but to be part owner of a quail hunting ranch, is not the smoking gun of hypocrisy that DrugMonkey seems to think it is. Napoleon the Pig actually did have a point.
    For my part, a research protocol requires the use of large brained non-human animals who are born singly and take around 7-8 years to reach maturity should not be entered into lightly, and more to the point, the research institution and the funding agent assume responsibility to maintain the animals. It is my understanding that the subjects are to be euthanized because keeping them alive would be seen as potential risk to the public. For my part, IF the research is really worth doing, then it is worth coming up with a solution that keeps the animals well maintained (meaning in a captive situation with adequate environmental enrichment) in a secure location, and the expense of doing so is part of cost of doing the research. If the research is THAT important, then it is worth the considerable extra cost that should be, IMVSO, standard when working with cognitively complex and long lived animals. And making those concessions is NOT giving into animal rights "terrorists".

  • Cleveland says:

    the fact that there are nitwits who adopt a cause does not automatically invalidate the merits of the cause, any more than a cause's overall popularity necessarily proves its merits.
    Nope but it is one indicator. At present the media susceptibility to the outrageous and salacious falsehood gives a distorted impression. Scientists are shifting that balance back toward the truth which is that at present AR positions are fringe positions. I will turn the counter back to you- The fact that a small minority of progressive types are fighting The Man does not validate their position either- sometimes nutty cult beliefs are just that and consigned to the wastebin of history in the end.
    People don't seem to realize that the position of the extreme animal rightists is not the position of many people who oppose
    Sure we do. But distortions and lies and hypocrisies are disseminated by the so called non-extreme animal rights position as well. What you don't seem to realize is that when you align yourself with the same tactics as the wackaloons, you are going to be criticized just as they are. Also, since all wackaloon ARA types, even the most violent extremist terrorists, dodge and weave in polite company there is a reasonable suspicion. If you don't like being lumped, show you that you are not like them. When faced with truth to oppose the things you think are true but are lies, don't run away only to surface on the next thread. Admit that you were wrong and change your avenue of discourse.
    The position that everything that is non-human equals "just animals" is just as extreme as the position that all non-human animals should be afforded full rights.
    No it is not. The opposing pole to "full rights" is "people can do wtf-ever they want at any time to any animal". Somewhere in the vast middle is the animal welfare position, a very large portion of which holds that non-human does indeed indicate "just animals" as you put it- but this makes no difference in the focus on welfare. To claim that these people are the same as the "wtf-ever" population is just as bad as someone assuming you are a firebomber, is it not? Those of us who are scientists using animals, of course, go through repeated professional clarification of out position vis a vis welfare thus it is easy to distinguish us from the extreme fringe. You know, just in case you were going to try a gotcha. We prove our position, repeatedly, as an externally overseen professional activity.
    a research protocol requires the use of large brained non-human animals who are born singly and take around 7-8 years to reach maturity should not be entered into lightly,
    And they are not. There is endless evidence for this available from the USDA and NIH websites as well as other places. DM has blogged some of this. Speaking of Research does as well. Now I suppose you think it may not reach your personal standard, fine, but be clear about that. And then, if you want to be taken seriously, make a principled and detailed argument about what *would* reach sufficient degree of consideration to satisfy you. The degree to which you are reasonable / ridiculous allows us to determine if you are in good faith or simply sticking with an arbitrary and pre-determined position.
    and more to the point, the research institution and the funding agent assume responsibility to maintain the animals.
    Was there some indication in this case that animals were to be euthanized simply because nobody wanted to maintain them? I missed that.
    It is my understanding that the subjects are to be euthanized because keeping them alive would be seen as potential risk to the public.
    Do we know this? Are we sure that post-mortem studies were not part of the original scientific plan? Because frankly if I was reviewing a proposal to induce fairly significant disease or toxicity I'd want to see some postmortem investigation. To fail to maximize knowledge wherever possible and under the acceptable regulatory practices is in fact an ethical lapse in the use of animals in research. IMO, of course.
    If the research is THAT important, then it is worth the considerable extra cost that should be, IMVSO, standard when working with cognitively complex and long lived animals.
    I don't agree with you nor does the enterprise of research. There is no obligation to only do one type of research on any given type of animal subject, nor should there be. What matters is if the given use at hand meets the standards as overseen by the multi-tiered regulatory system. Since today is World AIDS Day it is worth considering the use of macaque monkeys in the SIV models. Some studies are essentially natural course of disease and run over many years following infection with SIV. Some studies are meant to focus on the way that the viral infection becomes established and necessarily focus on the days to weeks interval after viral inoculation. Both types, and all in-between, are valuable. Valuable because the SIV model of HIV/AIDS is just about the only thing to really mimic the human condition.
    Failing to use the best model because someone like yourself insists for nothing other than subjective and personal reasons that it shouldn't be done, ever, is indeed giving in to the terrorists. Considering the scientific merits on a case-by-case basis is the reasoned middle ground here.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    Dont get too lost on the worthiness of the research, or the argument about venn diagrams between shooting animals and researching on animals. Bla blah blah....
    This is really about a douchy OSU president who intruded on academic freedom with no rationale other than cold hard cash. This is the real problem here: the whittling away of a faculty member's right to legitimately pursue science.

  • Mizar says:

    Skimming through these comments, some are taking the threat of a bioterrorism anthrax threat a tad lightly. That is a mistake (probably from ignorance). I was intimately involved first-hand with cleaning up the 2001 attacks - this is not a joke and bullshit like OSU's weak knees are pathetic. DHS considers anthrax a real threat, many people in federal/state/local government and commerial venures(ports and transit systems) are putting great effort into planning how to minimize consequences when it happens again. Not if, but when. If you want to look into the topic, here's a few very easy suggestions beyond the obvious CDC website and wikipedia stuff:
    See: http://www.globalsecurity.org -- national planning secenarios -- obviously NPS 2 Aerosol Anthrax Attack (this dispersion method was tested with proxy bacillus spores in a US city 30+yrs ago and it definately can be done efficiently with some engineering skills).
    See: EPA/600/R-08/059 May 2008
    See: Biohazard by Ken Alibek (1999) - absolutely chilling!
    See: Amerithrax by Robert Graysmith (2003)
    See: The Killer Strain by M. Thompson (2003)

  • WTH says:

    I've been following this story with interest. I'm not familiar with the details of this particular study, but I suspect from similar work that the baboons are anesthetized for the anthrax infection, samples are collected, and the animal is euthanized, all under surgical anesthesia. As to the suggestion of maintaining the anthrax infected baboons indefinitely, I believe that attempting to wake these animals up would be much less humane than euthanasia under anesthesia.
    For those who are interested in this as a story that relates to academic freedom, my main problem with these shenanigans was the timing. This project WAS already signed off on by the university, with the VP for Research (McKeever) as its legally authorized representative. What is the point of tenure and academic freedom if the administration can take away your ability to perform research without warning or consequence? IMHO, the travesty is that the project had already been in the works for years by the time it was whimsically vetoed. The expensive animal facilities built to house exactly this kind of work stand nearly unused. Not only was the study important to continuing OSU's work in bioterrorism, which its faculty have been developing for some time, but it was very important to the individual researchers involved who have been setting this up for several years. What are they supposed to do for the years it may take to get another grant funded by NIH, and what are their chances of getting related work funded after this incident? I don't see the Prez offering to pick up the slack for these individuals due to his last minute change of heart.
    I do think that this will have a really chilling effect on the OSU faculty who have been heavily investing their careers into finding solutions to treat our next bioterrorism attack. Maybe bioterrorism is overly hyped, but if the people screaming right now for their overdue flu vaccines are ever exposed to high doses of anthrax, the survivors will want to know why we couldn't treat it more effectively. Aside from damaging OSU's ability to address problems related to bioterrorism and infectious diseases in general, this type of last minute unilateral veto power will affect other research performed at OSU. As a vet school, the college is uniquely situated to perform animal research that benefits both animals and humans; the "one medicine" approach. For such a small school, OSU vet med has been very successful in this area, enhancing Oklahoma's national reputation and making a difference at multiple levels of human and animal experience. Unfortunately, OSU's biomedical success may be the worst casualty, as other faculty have been wondering since the last animal rights fiasco whether backroom deals will result in suspension of their animal work next. It looks like the answer is a resounding "yes".

  • Dario Ringach says:

    I fully agree with Dr. Feelgood: this is not so much about the particulars of the research but about a frontal attack on academic freedom from no other than a University President that appears to have acted unilaterally. As if that was not bad enough, it seems the reason behind his decision was nothing else that economic blackmail from animal right activists. Outrageous.

  • I know it upsets you folks, but lots of people don't like the use of animals, especially primates, for "research." And these folks have as much right to advocate for their position as you do to advocate yours. You folks sound just like the crazies in Maine who justify baiting black bears. Moral disconnect.

  • There is no "right" to use animals for research. It is a privilege created by statute and regulation, which can be amended or changed at any time. As such this issue has nothing to do with "academic freedom." Your academic freedom stops where you have to use another creature, rather than just a pencil and pad.

  • WTH says:

    DW: You can add Oklahoma to the list of places that allow black bear hunting and baiting (private land only for baiting, please). The recent move towards bear hunting reflects the attitude of the majority of Oklahomans, who are largely pro-hunting and view animals in a more utilitarian manner than you appear to, from your posts. Scientists perform animal research that is funded by the U.S. government because its population has liked reaping the benefits from that research; the majority has agreed that it is worth the cost. I do realize that the percentage of Americans who support humane animal research are approaching those who oppose it (like abortion and so many other hot button issues). However, I don't recall that Oklahomans or the U.S. as a whole weighed in on this particular case. Yelling the loudest doesn't give one side the right to make capricious changes that the rest of the country may or may not agree with. Therefore, the rights of scientists to continue doing their jobs should be protected by academic freedom from the rantings of extremists and billionaires alike.

  • Paul Browne says:

    Douglas Watts "I know it upsets you folks, but lots of people don't like the use of animals, especially primates, for "research." And these folks have as much right to advocate for their position as you do to advocate yours. You folks sound just like the crazies in Maine who justify baiting black bears. Moral disconnect."
    You are missing the point. Of course AR activists have the right to advocate for their position, and of course Universities have the right to decide what kind of research they will permit. The problem here is that one or two individuals high up in the OSU administration decided to go over the heads of everyone else and change policy without any consultation with those who might be affected by the change or those (the IACUC) whose job it is to see that the University's policies (as well as federal and state regulations) are adhered to.
    This comes only a short while after the University has accepted millions of dollars from Oklahoma state legislature and the NIH to pay for the new facilities that it may now be rendering unusable. This decision makes it difficult for funders to be sure that a project they support at OSU will be allowed to proceed, even if it meets every national, state and university requirement. They'll never know if it might be stopped because a rich donor doesn't like it. The administration at OSU has shown itself to be completely untrustworthy. That is bound to be bad for the future of OSU as a research-lead university, and we have every right to point that out.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Dr. Feelgood and Paul Browne, you are spot on. The most important issue here is the action not the motivation for that action. I especially appreciate what PB is saying because it expands on ERVs comments about the wider infrastructure. Oftentimes the NIH essentially partners with the local University to set up long range infrastructure with the intent that it will support a certain type of research. Putting an end to that after taking the initial infrastructure investment adds a whole additional element of bad.
    There is more information on the situation up at Speaking of Research : http://speakingofresearch.com/2009/12/02/oklahoma-university-president-interferes-with-federally-funded-health-research/

  • James Hanley says:

    I realize they were under no obligation to accept her money; this is still extortion)

    Technically, bribery. (Sorry to be pedantic; I'm in agreement with you substantively. The president of OSU should be terminated immediately.)

  • becca says:

    Yeah, DM, I think I got too easily derailed into the motivations of the President/people that influenced him/people that influenced them. I'm still very irked, on multiple levels, for your commentary on those issues, but I wouldn't want to defend the president's actions on this.
    Mizar- it doesn't really take much death to work as a terrorist technique, and I'm glad somebody is working on how to handle that if it happens. My objection to scare mongering started around the time there was some distinctively shady "WMD" scare mongering. As of 2001, calling anthrax a WMD- as though it would be more effective at killing people than dynamite, or other 'traditional' weapons- was not responsible rhetoric.
    WTH- indeed. Well said. I know if I were one of those researchers, this move would have seemed like a capricious slap in the face. *IF* it was going to be objected to (and to be honest, I can see both ethical and scientific reasons this research is contentious, although on balance I think it's probably good), it should have happened much earlier in the planning process.
    Doc Feelgood- I think you won this thread. Not *quite* how I saw it, but certainly a well-aimed assessment.

  • military wife says:

    So OSU allowed these professors to spend over a year applying for this grant and preparing to do the research once the grant was awarded, and now they're pulling the rug out from under their feet? What are they supposed to do with their lab? What about the grad students and postdocs who were going to be supported by the grant?
    I sure as hell hope Ms. Pickens is prepared to make another $5 million dollar donation to help all the affected scientists ... better make it $10 million, because who knows whether their new proposal will get approved by the NIH?

  • Lab Lemming says:

    "This is contrasted with how her husband (and presumably she herself) feels about quail, deer and turkey."
    My guess is that Mr. Pickens gives Mrs. Pickens $$ to play animal rights savior under the condition that she lays off his hunting. So there is no logical inconsistency there.
    Do soft money researchers involved have a legal recourse here? It seems to me that if they had a signed contract, and the university capriciously blocked their ability to work, then they ought to be able to sue.
    The funding agencies (state AND local) should absolutely come down on this hard. AS others have pointed out above, OK culture is not particularly anti-utilitarian. For example, there is a Rodeo in Fort Scott on 12 December, and another in Beggs on the same day. This would be an obvious starting place for anti-animal rights public outreach and outrage-generation.
    Oklahoma rodeo list is here:
    http://www.wheretorodeo.com/events/listings/index/state_id:101
    Given the modest media market of OK, TV buys might also be practical. In any case, I can't think of a better place to generate broad-based populist pro-science sentiment on this particular issue.

  • Ratdoc says:

    One small but important point. I have to assume the proposal was submitted to the institution prior to being submitted to the NIH. In that process, the OSU Office of Grants and Contracts reviewed and signed off on the grant to be submitted. OGC was an agent of the University and operates under the Vice President for Research, the very individual that issued the grant blocking announcement. Therefore, the Institution approved the grant. It would appear that the IACUC review was probably a "just in time" review in its normal process. I would think that the PI would, if inclined, have legal recourse against the University. This is the ultimate of a "bait and switch" process which is also illegal. However, courts seem to distance themselves from most academic problems. The OSU presidents position is pathetic. The NIH should immediately review OSU's ability to conduct any NIH funded research and act appropriately. In my opinion, the Institution should receive no PHS grants if this decision is allowed to stand. A final question that I have is what is the institution's position or policy on receiving funding for conducting "classified" research? Academic freedom takes another major "hit".

  • DrugMonkey says:

    With respect to legal recourse there is an interesting twist. As I've mentioned, the grant is indeed submitted and accepted / not by the *University* not the PI. So you would think no legal recourse unless the PI's employment was put in jeopardy by not having a grant. I.e., soft money, failure to make tenure, that sort of thing.
    However...
    It is emerging that the baboon component was headed by a component PI at another Institute. The usual requirement is for formal letters to be exchanged between signing officials committing to establish the necessary relationships upon funding. These are included at the application stage, usually. Might be some room there for BU to sue OSU on the behalf of the BU component that was blocked...

  • Paul Browne says:

    Lab lemming "Therefore, the Institution approved the grant. It would appear that the IACUC review was probably a "just in time" review in its normal process."
    According to the Scientist the IACUC had agreed to approve the study but not issued an approval letter. I suspect that the reason it hadn't was that it was awaiting the decision of the Institutional Bio-Safety Committee just in case they requested any changes to the study that the IACUC would need to examine.
    http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/56193/

  • Mu says:

    Are communications between a public/state university president and donors subject to FOIA type requests?

  • Kput says:

    Why is it that when differences of opinion occur between science and members of the public related to the use of animals in research, people on both sides resort to name calling and put downs. Not all science being funded is based on solid pursuit of principles, some protocols were designed as reactions to the anthrax attacks of 911 and Project Bioshield funding. And the anthrax of 911 per the FBI findings implied an American scientist with personal motives did it. Does that make every single protocol related to anthrax worthwhile in terms of money spent? Why would the science community attack its own for making a decision? Where is the open marketplace and freedom of expression of ideas? Does each side feel that if they out shout the other somehow that makes the truth of their position more clear? Do we really need more protocols studying how animals die with anthrax or do we need part of that money dedicated to the infrastructure of public health for prevention and plans for protecting people in the event of attack. I read some of the postings here about how animal rights groups sabotage their funding and while I understand the frustrations and anger at being attacked, I don't see any concerns expressed from the issues that arise from animal based research science - from the numbers of animals removed from the wilds nearly doubled over the past five years, to the chronic parasite infections found in primates in biomedical research evidenced by diarrhea, to the lack of involvement of disciplines such as epidemiology to evaluate and track contaminations related to animal research studies both within caging areas and in corral holding areas. I agree that the science community has been under attack and that is simply not an acceptable solution - neither is the put-down of those who have concerns. In nearly all websites associated with human health,disease is discussed relative to human health as caused by three [3] cofactors: genetics, lifestyle, environment. Putting your immediate feelings and reactions to this particular situation aside, in looking at animals in research, you may state that in the case of primates there is genetic similarity but if you seriously evaluate the other two factors relative to disease progression in the way animals are housed and move into and out of protocols, there are gaps where environment and lifestyle as it influences immune systems and disease process, in the overall body systems causes questions to validity of results. Every gap can represent a degree of separation from the reality of the human experience. The broader the gap, the more areas impacted by the differences, the more difficult the translation of animal findings to human reality. Everyone can argue back and forth on opinion and morality - but is it really about opinion and morality or about the reality of the discrepancies. Does attacking the scientist or the animal rights activist as a person lessen the argument each of them believes in? Disease is a whole body process, not a cellular entity. Watching an animal die by an injection of anthrax or by forced inhalation of anthrax where it is anesthetized and the exposure forced deep into the lung does not approximate the human experience in terms of how a human would be exposed and animals with underlying stress, parasite infections, microbe infections only further separate any genetic correlation to human physiology. I'm not saying that all research is without merit, what I am saying is that not all research being proposed will benefit the public in the best way. My own personal opinion is that if animal research is used and findings are presented as significant, the animal full health records of that project should be disclosed so that health and treatment is confirmed rather than assumed as is now the case. I also don't believe that just because a scientist claims it will be of benefit, it is not always so and some ability to be selective in funding should be the public's right since it is our taxes that fund much of this. The way I personally view this is that if science doesn't respect the animals it is working with, then it doesn't respect me, because the findings arising from it end up impacting my health and my family.

  • Cleveland says:

    The difference, Kput, is that the scientific enterprise answers each of these questions, half-truths and distortions that you've laid out.
    To address the most fundamental misunderstanding of science, animal models do in fact *approximate* the human condition. Period. You can argue about the quality of the approximation if you like but all study (even with human subjects) is no more or less than an approximation of the truth. You also miss the point that well controlled laboratory studies are done precisely to isolate *different* parts of the messy whole that is the human health condition of concern. Multiple studies investigate different contributors and eventually a synthetic understanding is generated. This is, unfortunately, a very large subject if you do not grasp this basic feature of what science is all about.

  • kput says:

    Cleveland: Being college educated, 2 degrees, with a career related to the medical field, I admit I do not have a specific background in your kind of science. But as to it being a "very large subject that I can't grasp its basic features" I take issue with you. Much of your response included general statements of theory and putting forward perfect scenarios of lab studies designed to belittle my position. Theory is great, practice is different. There have been papers published in disciplines outside of animal research where it is stated by these professions that there is a gap between animal research findings and the realities of what they see in the "messy whole" as you put it of the human condition. Immunity to a disease takes an animal time, given proper nutrition, exercise and exposures and proper time in a protocol, could it then be correlated more appropriately to human disease rather than structuring protocols to more often than not look at disease progression to terminal or pre-established end points for the purpose of finding pills and treatments - is the model of isolating specific parts of the disease process the best long term or is a better model one of allowing the body time to respond and build a defense? I've studied hundreds of protocols and few allow that to happen. What is being missed by only looking at singular pieces. Do people who have recovered from cancer share a common antibody in the blood that could be used to help other people with the same cancer? Has anyone ever looked at excising a portion of cancerous tumor and radiating it and putting it back in the body subcutaneously to see if the body could map and defend itself against that cancer rather than radiating the body and weakening the immune response, or rather than chemo? It would be their own tissue so rejection would theoretically not be an issue. Could it help? Has anyone even done this not related to vaccines - it would be simple surgery outpatient. I personally have never seen any of these protocols discussed or done. I'm talking about procedures that first do no harm, that are non invasive. If an animal recovers from a disease wouldn't that make it a better model for human health than one which dies from it? What happened that allowed it to be immune or to survive? Aren't living healthy models better than diseased ones? Perhaps instead of controlling things so much it would be advantageous to consider harnessing the power of the body systems as a whole as they were meant to be - how the body is designed to protect us - maybe the answers lie in its abilities to get better rather than in the thought process that allows diseases to be falsely induced and then controlled. You believe that your view of science is correct - but I believe that path ignores the potential for a deeper understanding. I am making an argument here, not an accusation. I respect your training and intellect, but I have a different opinion than you. This is all I am going to say. I put my ideas forward because I believe they have value and need to argued in the realm of public opinion.

  • JohnV says:

    Not to derail this or anything, but paragraphs would make me so happy 🙁

  • kput says:

    Point taken 🙂 I'm done. You can all relax :o)

  • Cashmoney says:

    Pathetic response from OSU President Hargis. Not really explaining much about his decision making and I don't see any denial of the supposition that Ms Pickens was calling the shots.

  • Cashmoney says:

    Oh wait, he does deny that an animal rights activist donor was calling the shots right at the top.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    Wheeeee!!!!!!!!!! Everyone thinks I am right! Wheee!!!!!!!!

  • If OSU has taken money from NIH to build their baboon facility, it seems that there's an implicit agreement to use the facility for this type of research. Not to do so, seems to be in bad faith. I think the OSU should write NIH a check.

  • Cowdoctor says:

    Not only is Mrs. Pickens leading her husband around by his pen-s [getting him to campaign against unwanted horses slaughter], I see that she is now leading OSU around by theirs using a rope made of dollar bills.

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