Neuroscientist Nikos Logothetis (PubMed) has informed his colleagues that he is stopping his long running nonhuman primate research program. An article in ScienceInsider by Gretchen Vogel details the issues:
Nikos Logothetis, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, says he will conclude his current experiments on macaques “as quickly as possible” and then shift his research to rodent neural networks. In a letter last week to fellow primate researchers, Logothetis cites a lack of support from colleagues and the wider scientific community as key factors in his decision.
This is not the "start" as was alleged by a Twitter person today. This is a long running trend that has been going on for decades. Productive laboratories that use nonhuman primates have been closing one by one. The decision by Harvard to shutter the New England National Primate Research Center was shocking in the way it violated the trend for picking off research labs one by one, but it was otherwise simply part of a larger trend.
And why are Universities and Research Institutes like Max Planck divesting themselves of monkey labs as quickly as possible? The Vogel article suggests an answer.
Logothetis’s research on the neural mechanisms of perception and object recognition has used rhesus macaques with electrode probes implanted in their brains. The work was the subject of a broadcast on German national television in September that showed footage filmed by an undercover animal rights activist working at the institute. The video purported to show animals being mistreated.
Logothetis has said the footage is inaccurate, presenting a rare emergency situation following surgery as typical and showing stress behaviors deliberately prompted by the undercover caregiver. ... The broadcast triggered protests, however, and it prompted several investigations of animal care practices at the institute. Investigations by the Max Planck Society and animal protection authorities in the state of Baden-Württemberg found no serious violations of animal care rules.
Emphasis added. This is a typical scenario. In essence, animal rights terrorist fanatics are able to get Universities and Research Institutions to turn their backs on productive researchers simply because they don't want to deal with the headaches any longer. Or because they fear bad press. The accusations are almost always falsified. Baseless. But it doesn't matter. The Universities are running in absolute terror of the fanatics.
Of course it goes beyond that, which is why Logothetis called out his fellow scientists.
The [Max Planck] society is “one of the best scientific organizations worldwide,” Logothetis wrote, but it has failed to take concrete steps against the activists. “I am no longer willing or able to accept the never-ending stream of abuse from animal activists toward myself and my co-workers while seeing them encouraged to increase their aggressive activities by the tolerance and very slow reactions of scientific organizations. There is a clear lack of consequences for illegal actions such as infiltration, violation of privacy, theft of documents, and even intentionally caused distress to animals in order to film supposed animal torture or abnormal behavior,” the letter states.
Logothetis’s letter also faults his scientific colleagues in Tübingen for distancing themselves from the controversy. The neighboring Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology posted a disclaimer on its website emphasizing that there are no monkeys at the institute, he notes, and colleagues at the nearby Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research refused to issue a declaration of support.
Pastor Niemöller once observed:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
There are certainly parallels. Biological scientists express a range of attitudes about many things and the use of animals in research is one of them. From fears of coming under assault themselves if they speak up, to discomfort with making an informed decision about the allegations against Professor Logothetis to frank antipathy to research in monkeys, we span the same range as many lay people.
We are easily able to delude ourselves that if we just let the most-detested targets of the terrorists get thrown under the bus, we can live our own lives in relative safety for another few years. Maybe run out the clock on our career before things get too bad.
Money is tight, after all, and gee, well lets not do anything to rile up the nice little old ladies who are poised to donate a few million to the University, eh? Let's not do anything to draw the attention of animal right's Congress Critters. That might make things awkward for the NIH.
Normally this is the point of my post where I exhort you to fight. To stand up and oppose this assault on scientific research. Where I point out to you that after the monkeys (and cats and dogs) comes the goats and the rabbits from which you get your antibodies. Where I tell you that all this pressure is doing is to move certain kinds of research to non-Western countries in which the animal research protections are, at best, at the lever of the US in 1950.
This is the point where I am supposed to be telling you to call your Congress Critter.
But I can't.
Logothetis is not the first and he will not be the last.
We have had ample opportunity for biological scientists to see and be motivated to do something about this situation.
They have not done so.
So I would be wasting my breath.