Self-mutilation reported by triumphant opponent of experiments
MADISON, Wisconsin––“I don’t recall ever having patted myself on the back as vigorously. My shoulder hurts from doing so,” former Alliance for Animals executive director Rick Bogle posted to Facebook on October 8, 2015, after receiving confirmation from the National Institutes of Health that maternal deprivation experiments with baby monkeys will not proceed at the University of Wisconsin.
The confirmation came in the form of “NIH Grant #P50MH100031. 2015 Project Update,” in which lead researcher Ned Kalin wrote, “[W]e modified the experimental design in the grant such that we will no longer perform nursery/peer rearing. Therefore, the peer rearing of animals described in the original vertebrate animals section will no longer take place.”
“The study design has changed”
Assessed Bogle, “His abandonment of the maternal deprivation and peer rearing is the direct result of me learning about his plans, my early efforts to publicize them, and the subsequent piling on by a myriad of concerned people. It’s awesome when so much work bears fruit. I will always remember this case as one of my few victories in this arena.”
The University of Wisconsin had announced on March 12, 2015 that: “…the study design has been changed.” After nearly three years of pressure from Bogle and other critics of maternal deprivation experiments, the university said that “Researchers will now examine the wide range of individual differences in the development of anxiety in monkeys raised by their mothers,” but would “not examine the effects of early adversity.”
“Revival of Harry Harlow”
Wrote Bogle on April 20, 2015, after more than a month of assessing what the March 12 announcement meant, “Without much ado the University of Wisconsin at Madison has cancelled its planned revival of Harry Harlow’s infamous experimental use of maternal deprivation.”
But, Bogle hedged, “They say they have. I’m skeptical of anything they say about their use of animals.
“It was May 11, 2012 that I first wrote about the university’s plans, Bogle recalled. “Kalin used the euphemism ‘early adversity’ in lieu of maternal deprivation, but no one was ever confused by his double talk.
“Kalin had based his request to NIH for millions of taxpayer dollars on his argument that he was going to come up with information that would lead to a cure or vaccination against the rare lifelong consequences that afflict a small percentage of people who experience early adverse experiences like child abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and other forms of poor parenting,” Bogle summarized, “and he needed to maternally deprive 20 newborn rhesus infants to do so,” according to his grant application to the NIH.
“Dollars to vegan doughnuts,” Bogle speculated, “one or more of the university’s high donors caught wind of the maternal deprivation project and exerted the only sort of pressure the university understands.”
The confirmation that the maternal deprivation experiments were not proceeding were a bright spot for Bogle in an otherwise difficult few weeks, following the loss to wildfire of an Oregon cabin to which he and his wife had hoped to retire. Bogle was succeeded as Alliance for Animals executive director by Hannah West in August 2014; the organization is now the Alliance for Animals & the Environment.
“It’s a big loss and sad,” Bogle posted of the fire days later. “Every nail in the house was driven in by Lynn and me. But, as bad as it is, on the scale of bad, it pales in comparison with many other bad things. No one is to blame for the fire; it is a fire-climax ecosystem; fire is a fact of life in the forests of the high desert.
“In perspective,” Bogle said, “compared to the pigs living their lives in steel crates, birds in cages, monkeys strapped into chairs, chickens crammed together in filth, mothers of all sorts having their babies taken from them, animals with their legs in traps, being force-fed, skinned alive, tortured to death in public rituals and spectacles, a house going up in flames doesn’t seem quite so bad. But we’ll miss it.
The experiments as Kalin had originally planned them, summarized an Animal Legal Defense Fund paper, would have begun with infant monkeys being “immediately removed from their mothers after birth and kept in total isolation,” where they would be “given ‘surrogate’ materials known to provoke heightened anxieties. For 42 days, the confused monkeys would be subjected to relentless fear and panic-inducing tests while totally isolated.” The tests would have included “being intentionally terrified by human researchers, being left alone with a live king snake, and being left alone in a strange room with a strange monkey.”
Responded Eric Sandgren, director of the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Research Animal Resource Center, “They did get one half of one sentence right.”
According to the original Kalin plan, Sandgren said, the infant monkeys would not be kept in total isolation, but instead would be “reared in a human-style baby incubator by people who [would] feed and otherwise care for these infants,” until at three to six weeks of age, when they would be “permanently paired with another young rhesus.”
“Approximately once a month for up to 18 months,” Sandgren said, “their reaction to a novel situation [would have been] observed. What are these novel situations? An unfamiliar human stands in front of their cage. An unfamiliar monkey is housed in an adjoining cage, or the two are housed together in a play cage. And one time, the monkey can see a snake, enclosed within a solid glass aquarium that sits outside the monkeys’ cage. That does not constitute relentless fear.”
According to Sandgren, “UW-Madison colony records of peer-reared monkeys spontaneously rejected by their mothers indicate that typically they respond to novel situations by increased thumb sucking, not by increased self-injury, compared to monkeys raised by their mothers. From 2002 to present, only one peer-reared monkey injured herself within the first 18 months of life. She now no longer exhibits this behavior, and currently is raising an offspring of her own.”
Who was Harry Harlow?
Maternal deprivation experiments both came into vogue and fell into disrepute at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where researcher Harry Harlow from 1930 to 1970 plunged generations of baby macaques and sometimes babies of other non-human primate species into stainless steel “pits of despair,” as he called them; subjected the babies to deliberately cruel robotic “mothers”; and allowed mother monkeys who had been driven insane by his experiments to abuse and kill their babies.
When Harlow semi-retired to a part-time post at the University of Arizona, other University of Wisconsin faculty––including fellow maternal deprivation researchers Stephen J. Suomi and Gene Sackett––immediately dismantled his lab.
Suomi, now chief of the Laboratory of Comparative Ethology at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland, admitted to Deborah Blum, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Monkey Wars (1992) and Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection (2002) that the experiments gave him nightmares.
Sackett has attributed the subsequent rise of the animal rights movement in part to public revulsion at Harlow’s experiments, which by the early 1970s were already widely known and debated on university campuses.
Seven years before the first action claimed by the “Animal Liberation Front,” a failed bombing at the University of Wisconsin Primate Research Center was at first believed to have been directed at stopping the maternal deprivation research, but was later found to have been a failed attempt by four anti-Vietnam War protesters to bomb the Army Mathematics Research Center across the street. The four succeeded on second try, killing post-doctorate math student Robert Fassnacht, who also opposed the war, and severely injuring three other students who had no involvement with the war.
Harlow died in 1981, at age 76, a reputed drunk whose chief contribution to mainstream laboratory primatology was inventing the “rape rack,” a device for artificially inseminating primates.
Self-mutilating macaque used in experiments during the 1980s. (Primarily Primates photo)
But in a stunning and perplexing demonstration of tone-deafness to public opinion, the University of Wisconsin primate lab was renamed in Harlow’s honor, and has conducted many other controversial experiments, some of which might never have become controversial had they not been linked to Harlow’s name.