I've been keeping an eye on the situation in which the OSU President quashed the funding of an imminent NIH research award because it was "controversial" and "not in the best interest of OSU". The project featured the use of baboon subjects in anthrax research for which the University had invested in biocontainment infrastructure.
Academic scientists are annoyed for all kinds of reasons ranging from academic freedom to the issue of investing in new projects only to pull the plug arbitrarily.
They are also annoyed by the sneaking suspicion, denied by the offical OSU pronouncements, that OSU was influenced heavily by a wealthy donor who has Animal Rights motivations. I have this suspicion as well and I was happy to convey these suspicions when I first heard of the situation. It is objectionable when a wealthy ideologue donor can arbitrarily interfere with the type of research that goes on at a University and we are right to call OSU out for this.
But here is what we* should not do.
There's a strongly worded Editorial in the FASEB Journal which addresses the OSU case. Gerald Weissman, M.D., Editor in Chief opines on the science:
The "pros" of the issue are on record. The research proposed was a multi-institutional study of anthrax pathophysiology and its prevention by vaccines in a primate model. The investigators are a team of well-regarded scientists, including Boston University's Shinichiro Kurosawa and K. Mark Coggeshall of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. The baboon model they proposed has already resulted in a major new treatment option (protein C) for Escherichia coli infection (5 , 6 ). Indeed, Kurosawa's earlier studies of anthrax in primates had documented changes in vascular permeability, disseminated intravascular coagulation, and systemic inflammation, which closely mimicked those found in human patients. Studies in lower species were not as informative.
The conflict has been ongoing since scientists in the 1830s first started poking into the live bodies of four-legged creatures. When Francois Magendie (1783-1855) opened the first lab of experimental physiology in Paris, his work immediately aroused both scientific and lay opposition...
Shaw played with these issues in "The Doctor's Dilemma." In the play, a capable clinical investigator, Sir Colenso Ridgeon, has discovered a kind of BCG vaccine that will work, even on active tuberculosis. However, his supply is limited, and the doctor's dilemma is whether to give the last remaining doses to an aging, dull-but-honest fellow practitioner, a Dr. Blenkinsop, or to a thoroughly unscrupulous, if talented, young artist, Louis Dubedat.
Mrs. Dubedat's lack of understanding was Shaw's as well. By definition, anti-vivisectionists, or those who oppose euthanization, are choosing to keep future generations off of a raft on which they are already safe. The "raft" is that safety zone of public health, of vaccines, of antisepsis, antibiotics, insulin, cortisone, and all the rest--a zone in which life expectancy has doubled from age 40 in 1840 to approximately 80 by 1980. The raft has been constructed by generations of biomedical researchers, lately many of them members of FASEB. Many of us owe our place on that raft to the humane use of animals, including primates, in biological research.
It is really quite excellent so I recommend you go read the whole thing.
I was troubled, however, because Weissmann in his outrage chose a tack that I think unnecessary and distracting when discussing the problem of the wealthy donor.
You don't cross the wife of a donor whose name is on the football stadium (7) . The president of OSU had it right, the research was certainly not in the best interest of the university. A few months before OSU canceled the anthrax project, Madeleine Pickens, a passionate animal rights activist and the fourth wife of investment mogul T. Boone Pickens, [emphasis added-DM]
Ugh. Right off the bat with the wife-as-appendage stuff. She's not the donor, she's the wife of the donor. And not only that, she's the fourth wife you know...must be some younger bimbo who ol' T Boone benevolently lets spend his money right?
It gets worse:
Mr. Pickens had given $165 million to the athletic department of his alma mater, and it surprised no one that the comely Mrs. Pickens, a former model, flight attendant, and horse breeder, would host the pre-game activities and halftime show
Opposition to animal experimentation has by no means been limited to the ranks of wealthy socialites or aging Brigitte Bardots[emphasis added-DM]
Right? All this detail about Mrs. Pickens' person and history which is trying to tilt the field. To persuade you with the dominent society memes that she is a lightweight, a bimbo, a shallow thinker. Therefore, what she wants is idiotic.
Look, I get the power of framing. Really I do. But do we really need to go there when it comes to fighting back against the forces of anti-science? Is it really necessary to bring up anti-vaccine woonaut Jenny McCarthy's original claim to fame?
Can't we just stick to how stupid and hypocritical the ideas are? Focus on the issues of using arbitrary personal belief system rather than extant facts to dictate to the US or the world? Isn't that enough?
*Yeah, me too. I have little doubt my first instinct is to play the bimbo card. Anything to help make the case, right? Well, I shouldn't.