Whose Business Is It If You Want To Induce a Bee To Sting Your Penis?

Photo source: WikiMedia Commons

You might think that the answer to this question is obvious. Clearly, it’s your business, and yours alone, right? I mean, sure, maybe it would be considerate to discuss the potential ramifications of this activity with your partner. And you might want to consider the welfare of the bee. But other than that, whose business could it possibly be?

Well, as academic empiricists know, what others can do freely, they often require permission to do. Journalists, for instance, can ask potentially traumatizing questions to children without having to ask whether the risk to these children of interviewing them is justified by the expected knowledge to be gained; academics, by contrast, have to get permission from their institution’s IRB first (and often that permission never comes).

So, too, with potentially traumatizing yourself — at least if you’re an academic who’s trying to induce a bee to sting your penis in order to produce generalizable knowledge, rather than for some, um, other purpose.

Yesterday, science writer Ed Yong reported a fascinating self-experiment conducted by Michael Smith, a Cornell graduate student in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior who studies the behavior and evolution of honeybees. As Ed explains, when, while doing his other research, a honeybee flew up Smith’s shorts and stung his testicles, Smith was surprised to find that it didn’t hurt as much as he expected. He began to wonder which body parts would really smart if they were stung by a bee and was again surprised to learn that there was a gap in the literature on this point. So he decided to conduct an experiment on himself. (In addition to writing about the science of bee stings to the human penis, Ed is also your go-to guy for bat fellatio and cunnilingus, the spiky penises of beetles and spiders, and coral orgies.)

As Ed notes, Smith explains in his recently published paper reporting the results of his experiment, Honey bee sting pain index by body location, that

Cornell University’s Human Research Protection Program does not have a policy regarding researcher self-experimentation, so this research was not subject to review from their offices. The methods do not conflict with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, revised in 1983. The author was the only person stung, was aware of all associated risks therein, gave his consent, and is aware that these results will be made public.

As Ed says, Smith’s paper is “deadpan gold.” But on this point, it’s also wrong. Continue reading

New regulatory pathways and incentives for sustainable antibiotics: Recent European & US Initiatives

Please find attached a ppt presentation on “New regulatory pathways and incentives for sustainable antibiotics: Recent European & US Initiatives” given on March 7, 2014 at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.  The presentation was followed by a discussion moderated by US patent attorney Melissa Hunter-Ensor, Partner at Saul Ewing, Boston.

I started out by emphasizing increasing problems of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on a global level, providing new statistics and facts. This was followed by a discussion of main reasons for these alarming developments, such as inappropriate use in agriculture and medicine, insufficient precautions, lack of education, climate change, travel behavior, insufficient collaboration and funding of R&D, scientific complexities, and the problem that incentives provided by the traditional innovation system model often fail in the case of antibiotics.

Next the presentation focused on a variety of solution models that could be discussed to fight AMR. These include both conservational and preventive approaches comprising use limitations, increased public awareness, and better hygiene, but also reactive push & pull strategies, such as increased investments, new collaborative models for R&D in antibiotics, prizes, “sui generis” IP-related incentives, regulatory responses and new pathways for approval.

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Peter Singer on Animals and Ethics

Video of the lecture is now available online.

By Chloe Reichel

Last Friday, Princeton ethicist Peter Singer joined Petrie-Flom for a lecture on “Ethics and Animals: Where are we now?” Singer began his talk with a historical look back at various religious and philosophical views of the relationship between humans and animals. He traced the lineage of thought from the view of dominion, which entails the idea that man has been granted free reign over animals by God (first found in Genesis, and also espoused by Aristotle); to the notions developed by Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant, who believed that abuse of animals was not itself morally problematic except to the extent that it may inculcate bad habits in those who practice it; to the early English Utilitarians, who recognized the capacity of animals to suffer; to Charles Darwin, whose groundbreaking theory of evolution muddied previous distinctions between human and non-human animals.

Singer went on to discuss modern views of proper animal treatment. He articulated the prevailing view that humans have some obligations to treat animals well and without cruelty, but that human interests exceed those of animals. Singer then laid out his main principle regarding the treatment of animals—that of equal consideration of interests. In other words, the interests of non-human animals should be considered equally with human interests. To favor human interests over animal interests is a speciesist stance, similar in nature to other –isms, like racism and sexism, and equally morally indefensible, in Singer’s view. Singer carefully noted that while equal consideration of interests would mandate better treatment of many animals, such as those raised as livestock, his principle does not imply that humans and animals should receive the same treatment.

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Are Dogs People?

In a fascinating opinion piece in the New York Times this past weekend, neuroeconomist Gregory Berns writes: “For the past two years, my colleagues and I have been training dogs to go in an M.R.I. scanner — completely awake and unrestrained.  Our goal has been to determine how dogs’ brains work and, even more important, what they think of us humans.  Now, after training and scanning a dozen dogs, my one inescapable conclusion is this: dogs are people, too.”

As Berns explains, his research found a striking similarity between dogs and humans in the structure and function of a part of the brain known as “the caudate nucleus.”  It was previously known that in humans, the caudate plays a key role in positive emotions, including the anticipation of things we enjoy, such as food, love, and money.    What Berns and his colleagues discovered is that in dogs, the caudate is activated when they are exposed to hand signals indicating food, the smells of familiar humans, or the return of their owners.   While Berns emphasizes that these findings do not “prove that dogs love us,” he concludes that “using the M.R.I. to push away the limitations of behaviorism” suggests that dogs have “emotions just like us.”

There is much thought-provoking material to write about in this opinion piece (including the fact that they “treated the dogs as persons,” with consent forms, the right to withdrawal, etc.), but what I want to focus on in this post is the premise that neuroscience can resolve contested questions about the existence of mental states—in animals, or even in humans.

The allure of this use of neuroscience is that it seems to work around a classic philosophical problem known as “the problem of other minds,” which refers to the puzzle of how one knows whether someone or something, other than oneself, has a mind.  Continue reading

“How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Test Tube Meat (and Started Thinking It May Be Immoral NOT to Eat It)” Or “Hooray For Chickie Nobs!!??!!”

If you were watching television this week you may have seen this clip of a taste test for hamburger meat grown in a “test tube” in London discussed here. The meat was grown from stem cells from existing cows used to grow 20,000 strands of tissue. Costing more than $330,000 to make, with funding by google Co-Founder Sergey Brin, the day where this will be available at your grocery store or served at your fast food franchise is far away. But it may come sooner if we conclude that there may be a moral duty to develop and eat this kind of meat rather than animal-grown meat and press our governments to start funding this work. What is the morality of test tube meat consumption?

Sometimes narrative can be a way into ethics so consider this bit from one of my favorite novelists (and Canadian public intellectuals) Margaret Atwood from her novel Oryx and Crake. She imagines a dystopian future that includes the the consumption of “Chickie Knobs” in one scene:

“This is the latest,” said Crake.

What they were looking at was a large bulblike object that seemed to be covered with stippled whitish-yellow skin. Out of it came twenty thick fleshy tubes, and at the end of each tube another bulb was growing.

“What the hell is it?” said Jimmy.

“Those are chickens,” said Crake. “Chicken parts. Just the breasts, on this one. They’ve got ones that specialize in drumsticks too, twelve to a growth unit.

“But there aren’t any heads…”

“That’s the head in the middle,” said the woman. “There’s a mouth opening at the top, they dump nutrients in there. No eyes or beak or anything, they don’t need those.”

To be clear the test tube meat unveiled earlier this week is not a Chickie Nob, it is grown from stem cells rather than being a cow with extra parts and brains missing (Atwood is silent on some characteristics of the Chickie Nob that may matter ethically such as whether it feels pain or is sentient), but I think many will react to the test tube meat the same way: disgust. Some in bioethics, like Leon Kass, think there can be a “Wisdom of Repugnance.” In my own work I have been a persistent skeptic on this theme. For me repugnance and disgust are good and should be cultivated as reactions for that which we deem immoral, but should be broken down and overcome for those things which we conclude are morally worth pursuing. Thus repugnance is a tool whose proper deployment depends on prior moral conclusions. In the case of test tube meat, whatever repugnance we feel is one we should get over and media, government, etc, should help us do so.

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Chimpanzee Research and Animal Rights

Last month, two federal agencies took steps that together may come close to ending research on chimpanzees in the United States.

First, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to list all chimpanzees, including those in captivity, as endangered.   (Currently, only wild chimpanzees are listed as endangered, while captive chimpanzees are listed as threatened).  This would require that almost all research on chimps be done with a permit, and the agency has suggested that these permits may only be granted for research that enhances the propagation or survival of the chimpanzee species.

Second, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) decided that more than 300 of the approximately 360 research chimpanzees that it owns will be retired and moved into sanctuaries.  This decision was based on an Institute of Medicine report finding that most current research on chimpanzees is unnecessary, and that chimps should be used only when public health is on the line, no other animals are appropriate, and ethical experiments on humans are not possible.  On the basis of these findings, the NIH is planning to keep a colony of about 50 chimps available for research that is not possible in any other way.

Comparing these two agency actions raises an interesting question:  In evaluating whether research on chimpanzees is ethical, does it matter whether the beneficiary of the research is the chimpanzee or the human species, and if so, on what grounds?   Continue reading

Art Caplan on GlaxoSmithKline research conduct in China

An article in today’s New York Times explores allegations of improper research practices at GlaxoSmithKline’s research and development center in Shanghai, China. The article quotes Art Caplan in reference to evidence that researchers proceeded with drug trials in humans before animal studies were complete:

“If that’s true, it’s a mortal sin in research requirements,” said Arthur L. Caplan, the head of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center. He served as the chairman of an advisory committee on bioethics at Glaxo from 2005 to 2008. “No one could approve human trials without having that information available, scientifically or ethically. That’s kind of a Rock-of-Gibraltar-sized ethics violation.”

Read the full article here.

Cyborg Bugs and Glow-in-the-Dark Cats

That’s what CNN called yesterday’s report with science writer Emily Anthes about her new book, Frankenstein’s Cat, which examines “genetically modified this, or cloned that,” as she put it, or “creatures that combine electronic bits and biological ones.” Wrestling with the ethics of such cases, Anthes explains, “reveals that we’re deeply conflicted about the role that animals play in our lives.” Yet she laments that this tension supplies no satisfying answers to underlying questions like “Is this unnatural?” and would “that make it wrong?”

Our confusion lies, I’ve suggested, in the failure of animal welfare discourse to capture the sense many of us share that animal “nature” has value apart from its happiness or well-being. If its welfare were all that mattered, then we shouldn’t be troubled by animals designed to experience less frustration living in the conditions for which they’re destined. Consider three examples of designer animals that are currently being developed: cows with stunted sentience, less apprehensive of going off to slaughter; chickens that lack nesting instincts, more satisfied to a life confined to laying eggs in a battery cage; and pigs without legs, better suited for a sedentary existence as ham and bacon in potentia.

The dominance of the animal welfare view obscures a reason to resist such creations: to preserve animal integrity. Cows should be able to fear danger, pigs to play in the mud, and chickens to peck about in the sand, according to this view, less because those capacities make the animals happy than because they are integral to an intrinsically valuable way of being. To deprive a cow of its responsiveness, or a pig of its limbs, or a chicken of its proclivity for pecking would, on this account, violate its essential “cowness” or “pigness” or “chickenness,” even if those animals were perfectly content in their designated roles.

For thoughts on why animal nature may indeed be worth preserving, and implications for conventional breeding (e.g., dogs for companionship, or horses for racing), and what all of this  means for designer children and embryonic stem cell research, check out the article.

The High Cost of Health Care: Why Some Pay $240 for a $9 Bottle of Pills

By Jonathan J. Darrow

An earlier post discussed the equivocal efficacy of Propecia (finasteride) as a baldness remedy, ending with the provocative assertion that, efficacy aside, “there is little reason for anyone ever to buy or consume Propecia (finasteride), or any doctor ever to prescribe it, since a much cheaper and identical chemical sold under the trade name Proscar (finasteride), is available.” This post continues the discussion, addressing one small component of the rising cost of healthcare—the cost of finasteride.  It explores why consumers pay as much as $240 for a bottle of Propecia (finasteride) when a $9 bottle of an equivalent, FDA-approved supply of the identical chemical is readily and legally available at nearby stores.

In the exorbitantly priced landscape of prescription drugs, there is at least one low-cost oasis: Wal*Mart.  Though some find reason to criticize the discount store, few would disapprove of the dozens of prescription medications Wal*Mart offers for an unbeatable $4 for a 30-day supply.  Cost-sensitive consumers can purchase everything from blood thinners to antidepressants to antibiotics at this price, while a 90-day supply is only $10 (and this price includes shipping to your doorstep).  A handful of drugs that cannot be sold at $4 per month sell for a still-modest $9.  For the 300 or so drugs on Wal*Mart’s list, this means there is no longer a need for $10 co-pays or snowy treks to the pharmacy in 15 degree weather.  That’s right: the Wal*Mart total price is less than most insurance company co-pays.  Finally, a major industry player seems to have put effective downward pressure on prescription drug prices.  Continue reading

Humane Transport of Research Animals

by Suzanne M. Rivera, Ph.D.

For some time, animal rights activists in the US and abroad have been trying to pressure commercial airlines out of their long-standing practice of transporting research animals.  Last week, a coalition of more than 150 leading research organizations and institutions sent a letter to the CEOs of the targeted airlines, urging them to continue transporting animals needed for research purposes.  A copy of the coalition joint letter is available here.

The letter initiative was organized by the National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR), and had the strong support of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR), the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AAALAS), and Research!America, to name a few.

The basic thrust of the letter can be summarized by this passage: “Your company’s commitment to transporting laboratory animals is crucial to finding treatments and cures for diseases afflicting millions of people worldwide. We ask that you continue transporting research animals, allowing lifesaving research around the world to progress.” Continue reading

Accentuate the Negative

by Suzanne M. Rivera, Ph.D.

While attending the annual Advancing Ethical Research Conference of Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R) last month in San Diego, I had the opportunity to hear a talk by Dr. John Ioannidis, in which he debunked commonly accepted scientific “truths.”  Calling upon his own work, which is focused on looking critically at published studies to examine the strength of their claims (see his heavily downloaded 2005 paper “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”), Ioannidis raised important questions for those of us who think about research ethics, and who oversee and manage the research conducted at universities and scientific institutes across the country.

Ioannidis persuasively argued that our system for publishing only studies with statistically significant positive findings has resulted in a bizarre kind of reality where virtually no studies are ever reported that found “negative” results.  Negative results are suppressed because nobody is interested in publishing them.  Editors and reviewers have a major role in this problem; they choose not to publish studies that are not “sexy.”  This artificially inflates the proportion of observed “positive” results and influences the likelihood a scientist will even write up a journal article because she knows what it takes to get published.

But isn’t there an ethical obligation to publish so-called negative results?  In human research, people give their time and undergo risks for the conduct of a study.  Their sacrifices are not meaningful if the results are never shared.  Furthermore, negative results tell us something important.  And if they are not published, some other research team somewhere else may unknowingly repeat a study, putting a new batch of subjects at risk, to investigate a question for which the answer is already known.  Finally, to the extent a study is conducted using taxpayer dollars, the data derived should be considered community property, and there are opportunity costs associated with unnecessarily repetitive work.  Continue reading

Guest Post on Animal Research: Animal Research Is an Ethical and Vital Tool to Fight Disease

[Ed. Note: A few weeks ago, we had a post comparing the protections offered to humans and animals used in research, and it prompted quite a stir.  We thought the issues merited more discussion from both sides, and therefore solicited blog posts from two divergent perspectives: Theodora Capaldo, President of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society and Tom Holder, founder of Speaking of Research.  Mr. Holder's post is below and Dr. Capaldo's post can be found here.  As always, we welcome discussion via the comment thread, but request that your comments be respectful and focused on the topic rather than the speaker.]

By Tom Holder

The Benefits

In the US alone there are over 95 million prescriptions every year for asthma medications, primarily inhalers. So what can over 25 million American asthma sufferers thank for making their lives manageable? The guinea pigs and frogs which allowed scientists to gain the underlying understanding about how chemical nerve transmitters helped to control the muscles in the airways, as well as create reliever inhalers with a long duration of action.

This is just one example of a long list of medical achievements made possible by animal research which include insulin (dogs and rabbits), polio vaccine (monkeys), anaesthetics (rabbits), blood transfusion (monkeys, dogs), antibiotics to cure tuberculosis (guinea pigs), asthma treatment (frogs and guinea pigs), meningitis vaccine (mice), deep brain stimulation (monkeys), penicillin (mice).

Herceptin, originally developed in mice, has had a significant impact on the survival rates for breast cancers. As a mouse antibody (now humanised) it would not have come about without the use of animal research. Mice, far and away the most common mammal used in scientific research, have also been used in conjunction with stem cell research to create a treatment for macular degeneration (one of the leading causes of blindness). This research, pioneered in mice, has now been used successfully to treat humans.

In a country where we eat 9 billion chickens and 150 million cattle, pigs and sheep every year, 25 million (approx.) animals (96% is estimated to be mice, rats, birds and fish) seems a small price to pay for medical progress.

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Guest Post on Animal Research: Inadequate laws don’t – but research alternatives will – protect animals in labs

[Ed. Note: A few weeks ago, we had a post comparing the protections offered to humans and animals used in research, and it prompted quite a stir.  We thought the issues merited more discussion from both sides, and therefore solicited blog posts from two divergent perspectives: Theodora Capaldo, President of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society and Tom Holder, founder of Speaking of Research.  Dr. Capaldo's post is below and Mr. Holder's post can be found here.  As always, we welcome discussion via the comment thread, but request that your comments be respectful and focused on the topic rather than the speaker.]

By Theodora Capaldo

When the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) launched Project R&R: Release & Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories in 2006, 1,300 chimpanzees languished in U.S. laboratories. The campaign was a focused effort to end invasive and harmful research on the first non-human species in the U.S. Today, more and more chimpanzees are being transferred to sanctuary as momentum for the ethical and scientific cases against using them in biomedical research continues to grow. Though the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act was one of many bills to not pass in the 112th Congress, policy is taking shape that reflects an end to holding and using chimpanzees in US labs. This month an NIH-convened council is expected to release its report on current and future chimpanzee use in NIH-supported research. The report will address how the NIH will realize its commitment to follow the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences’ recommendations from an expert paneled and lengthy assessment of the need for chimpanzees. The IOM report could not find any area of current biomedical research where the use of chimpanzees is critical and concluded that any possible future use must meet strict criteria. As to future need, the IOM noted that it could not conclude whether there would or would not be such future need.

Given the weight of scientific evidence, legislative and government support, and public opinion, chimpanzees who have been subjected to years of trauma, confinement, and research will one day soon have the chance to live the remainder of their lives in sanctuaries. They will be “released” and provided the “restitution” that only a sanctuary of high standards is capable of providing. The plight of chimpanzees in US labs highlights the suffering of all animals in laboratories. The scientific arguments highlight that even a species as closely related to humans as chimpanzees is a poor, limited, and even dangerous model by which to study human health and the inferiority of all animal research compared to modern methods. Chimpanzees are a keystone species by which myriad issues regarding the use of animals in research can be measured. Survivors in sanctuary bear witness to the degree of harm and suffering caused to them and are another indictment of the lack of effective laws and enforcement of those laws for animals in labs.

In short, there are no effective laws protecting animals in laboratories. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the only U.S. federal law governing animals’ “welfare,” provides minimal protections for less than 10% of animals used in laboratories. It excludes rats, mice, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and farmed animals in research.

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