Embattled president of Oklahoma State University, Burns Hargis, has responded to his critics in an OpEd piece found here in the online version of The Oklahoman and in the OSU college paper. It seemingly explains very little beyond the original press office quotations. Something to the effect that he had personally decided that supposedly controversial research (meaning that involving the eventual euthanasia of nonhuman primates) was not in the best interest of OSU. A couple of points relevant to my charges on this issue emerge. First, he states that his decision was not influenced by any wealthy AR activist donors:
It has been suggested that this decision was reached arbitrarily and it was influenced by animal rights activists as well as a donor. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Wait....which part is so distant from the truth? Just the "arbitrarily" part? Or is each individual criticism (arbitrary, ARA, rich donor) being denied?
As you might expect, the bit goes on in a similar vein. He mentions all the consultation he did in arriving at his decision but never actually explains who he talked to and what advice he received. His statements could all be perfectly compatible with "everyone told me NOT to do this but I went ahead anyway". Or not. Who knows? All of that is unverifiable assertion.
However, there are a few tidbits that we can expand upon based on other knowledge.
Contrary to reports, no contract has been written or awarded, nor has OSU received any funding for it.
Probably true, but... As we can tell from RePORTER, the current iteration of the U19AI062629 multi-component project is listed as starting 9/1/09. The Notice of Award must have been issued by the NIH. Every single multi-component project that I am aware of that shares a main project number is awarded in total to the primary host institution. This host institution then makes the sub-contracting / collaborative arrangements with any other institutions. But there is a twist. The host institution is the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation which is a private organization located near to the Oklahoma Health Science Center in OKC, distant from the Stillwater location of OSU.
So how should we take this? The critique that he pulled the plug after funding is, IMO, still valid because what people are trying to emphasize is that this project was following along the approved-and-funded track. Similar to all other successful NIH-funded projects. The only thing standing in the way was the decision of Hargis. So him claiming it wasn't actually funded kind of misses the point. It WOULD have been funded save for his action. That is all anyone is trying to say, I would think.
The financial impact to OSU would have been minor and OSU's role would have been limited,
Fair enough. I'm now realizing that OSU is seemingly limited to a sub-part of a component that has been described as $200,000 per year in direct costs. So probably in the range of half a million, maybe three-quarters with overhead, over the course of 5 years.
However, this bypasses the larger picture here. It has emerged that OSU has a shiny new Biosafety Level 3 capability and it is still unclear how it was funded. The capability for the project under discussion suggest that at some point and at some level, the facilities were intended for nonhuman primate studies. The OSU presumably got all this research infrastructure investment in some degree of competition with other Oklahoma institutions. If national funding was involved (NIH or even Congressional earmark- OK's Senate delegation is particularly powerful) then OSU won these resources against other national competitors. Point being that if the nonhuman primate capability was part of the argument for receiving infrastructure resources, resources which are supporting expansion of non-animal (or non-primate, more likely) bioterrorism research...then the impact on OSU should have been significant. They are basically pulling a bait and switch and waltzing off into the sunset. Also, if OSU was supposed to ramp up nonhuman primate bioterrorism models, and was supposed to be a fairly unique regional or national resource, how can the President possibly predict the impact in terms of future projects that now will never be proposed?
OSU has never been involved in euthanizing non-human primates.
Might be true or might not be true. Perhaps they have never had nonhuman primates on their physical campus before. But if their investigators have ever done anything with nonhuman primate tissues from collaborators at other institutions, and those tissues came from animals that were euthanized then this is a baldfaced lie. If Hargis plans to permit any of his investigators to conduct any work in the future (starting right now) that involves tissues from nonhuman primates that are euthanized, sorry but they are "involved".
I fully appreciate the difficult issues, as well as the many benefits, pertaining to animal research consistent with the highest ethical standards in developing new treatments for animal and human diseases. The benefits of such work for society are enormous and OSU will continue to be involved in animal research.
How can the OSU scientists trust him? The evidence still does not support any other conclusion but that he was running scared of animal-rights activist opposition. In general, if not by specific objection of Ms. Pickens in this case. Those nutters may focus their criticisms on nonhuman primate research but they do not make any categorical distinctions. So why should anyone believe that President Hargis will stand up to the next demand if it wants to put a stop to rat or mouse research? How do we know he will not apply this supposed talent for "weighing scientific merit" to find that other specific research projects are not in the interests of OSU?