Congratulations to Lindsey!

27 12 2018

Lindsey submitted her first ever first-authored paper last week! This is always an achievement, but in this case it was also a major relief: the MS was starting to drive us both insane, as we tried again and again to retrofit a sensible, research-based rationale onto a rather intuitive undergraduate project. This rationale morphed from a (baroque) method to assess individual recognition (an idea ditched a while ago), to, more reasonably, a novel test of Social Learning Strategy theory.  Highlights of this challenging and circuitous journey included Lindsey presenting to the GTA Animal Cognition Reading Group in November, and her teaching herself stats amazingly competently; but lowlights included realising that at least two aspects of the experiment were (potential referees please stop reading now) totally stupid. Lindsey showed outstanding resilience and perseverance throughout this process, even when she had a “heart full of hate” (quote of the week that week). So, double congratulations to her: I hope she’s spending the Christmas break doing nothing but nice things.

Screenshot 2018-12-27 18.20.25

Guest post from Andrea

27 12 2018

I paid Andrea‘s gas so she could drive to a book launch last month (as part of my still-hazy policy that I should fund a bit of career development, like Sam’s attendance at the zoo conference last year, if I want my students to do well after fledging). My fee? One blog post! As an interesting side-note, at the meeting Andrea met someone from PETA who’d FOIAed us a while ago (and built a bridge too, so well done her). Over to Andrea now:

I recently started networking with vegan academics to get another perspective on what it’s like to be a scientist in the field of animal welfare. One is Kathrin Herrmann, who’s in charge of the Refinement Program at the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing. While finishing her dissertation on evaluating refinement practices in Germany, Kathrin also worked on a peer-reviewed book that discusses the complete replacement of non-human animals in research. The book, “Animal Experimentation: Working Towards a Paradigm Change”, was contributed to by 51 international scientists, and 8 presented their chapters at the North American book launch (with vegan food and drinks by the way!) at Johns Hopkins on Nov. 30th.

The first speaker was Dr. Jim Keen, who concluded that “animal models are a waste of money” after reviewing the major issues of reproducibility (low) and translatability (also low) among biomedical research. Kathrin herself was next, giving an overview of her dissertation’s findings. Her most striking result was that 30% of research surgeries in Germany did not propose postoperative pain management, implying high levels of suffering that could have easily been avoided. The talk after focused on the use of live animals for trauma training by military physicians (i.e. shooting aesthetized dogs, cats, pigs, and goats). The speaker, Shalin Gala, reviewed why the use of stimulation dummies is just as effective or even better (e.g. high success rates and even better anatomy representation). Gears then switched with a talk by PhD philosophy student Adam See (City University of New York) who questioned the ethical use of non-invasive, behavioural research on captive animals (i.e., is it ethical to breed and maintain animals in captivity for behavioural research?). He argued that it was unethical, since an animal’s interests (e.g. choice of social/sexual relations, mobility, food, etc) outweigh the researcher’s intellectual curiosity (note, I think he was criticizing fundamental behavioural research, not applied research like welfare science…). Laura Alvarez (a science advisor for Cruelty Free International) then reviewed non-animal alternatives for animal testing and the reasons why they are not being used (despite validated), including lack of awareness and regulations. Next was Lisa Kramer, an economics professor from UofT, who discussed the issues of poor predictability of animal models (e.g. 100+ vaccines are effective against HIV-like diseases in non-human models, but none are effective in humans).

Dr. John Gluck (Harry Harlow’s former graduate student, who has spoken elsewhere about his journey to animal advocacy) gave the closing remarks, sharing the thought experiment by William Clifford (1877): a shipowner initially thinks his ship is in need of repair, but needing money, he concludes it is seaworthy. He sells tickets and the ship then sinks. Is the shipowner responsible for those deaths? Clifford argues that “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Echoing the evidence presented earlier on low translatability and reproducibility of animal research, John closed the event by saying, “Clifford’s assertion should continue to inform and haunt us, for those who build alternatives and for those who doubt them.”

The day ended with networking with animal advocacy lobbyists, science advisors from different organizations listed above, and scientists working in the field of Replacement! The 9-10 hour drive was certainly worth it as I finally see a clear career path for me. I’ll leave this post with a quote from the book, “[…] wherever one stands on the animal-use ethical spectrum, hopefully all can agree that the conduct of frightening, painful, and lethal experiments on sentient beings – whether mice, dogs, or monkeys – is unacceptable when the research translates in no significant way to human benefits, despite decades of effort” – Pippin, Cavanaugh and Pistollato, Chapter 20.

Andrea with John Gluck (L), and with the book cover (R) that features a laboratory pig-tailed macaque, “Boo” (now retired at a sanctuary):


Scottish doctors can now prescribe nature

27 12 2018

Screenshot 2018-12-26 21.05.51


Well, this was a story in October apparently, but I only just stumbled across it. Maybe policy-makers read Misha’s paper?! (And now I feel bad for not leaving the house for days…).

Portrait of the Year

26 12 2018

Never mind all the grim stuff; check out my Sylvie (taken by talented brother-in-law Alex) this August):



I said no

26 12 2018


The true meaning of Christmas …

26 12 2018

… is eating Brussel sprouts…

… watching Alien movies, reading novels, and this year, catching up on my poor abandoned blog…