Sunday, March 18, 2007

Abuse for Knowledge

I am reading a scholarly, scientific article, “Mapping From Motor Cortex to Biceps and Triceps Altered by Elbow Angle,” by Graziano et. al. It’s for a paper I am writing that will count for 70% of my Sensory and Motor Perception grade. I am researching what has been found to be anatomically different in the brain between reaching and withdrawal behavior, particularly concerning these areas’ visual and tactile receptive fields.

Unfortunately, this particular article has disrupted my research, today. I was happily (or at least diligently) plodding along, deciphering what was meant by “We hypothesized that the effect of cortical stimulation would vary depending on joint angle in a manner consistent with pulling the joint toward a goal angle” (395)—which means that they thought by zapping some neurons in the brain, a monkey would either flex or extend its elbow depending upon how the elbow was initially angled—when I started stumbling over the experimental procedures. And by stumbling, I mean became increasingly horrified.

  • “The monkey sat in a Lexan primate chair with the head restrained by the head bolt…. An acrylic skull cap was fixed to the skull with bone screws…. A steel guide cannulus (18-gauge syringe needle) was lowered through the hole in the skull.” (396)
  • “During the experimental session, the monkey was given an injection of ketamine (10 mg/kg im). Within 10 min of injection the animal was fully sedated, that is, no longer emitting spontaneous behavior and no longer reactive to touch…. On five testing days, the monkey was allowed to awaken from the initial ketamine dosage during the following 4- to 5-h experimental session, such that the effects of stimulation could be tested in the awake condition.” (396)
  • “One monkey was killed with an overdose of sodium pentobarbitol and perfused through the heart with 4% paraformaldehyde…. The second monkey is still in use in experiments.” (398)

This article was published in 2004. That was only three short years ago, not back in the dark ages, when animal torture was perfectly acceptable for scientific advancement. I have never read about this sort of treatment of animals for scientific research before. It truly makes me want to write about this, and not reaching or withdrawal or receptive fields, at all. How can I care what part of the brain scientists think I use to pick up my glass of water when they are drilling into the skulls of monkeys and forcing them to sit, sedated, for hours a day with metal helmets on just to find that information out? Monkeys are living creatures. No one would dream of drilling a metal skullcap onto a human baby. Behaviorally, there isn’t much difference between a monkey and a baby; in fact, a monkey is probably more advanced. You might even argue that it is more cognitively advanced, as well. So where lies the justification?

1 comment:

Julie said...

Oh no! That's terrible! Now I understand the animal rights groups a bit more. That really is horrifying to read about. I hope you're still able to write your paper.