Tuesday, June 17, 2008

HSUS Targets Tiny Non-research Universities in Pushover Campaign

At least, that's the idea.

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the Humane Society of the United States has shifted the focus of its ongoing campaign to eliminate the use of animals in the nation's research institutions by encouraging smaller, teaching-based universities to sign pledges "not to subject any research animals to 'severe' unrelieved pain or distress."

So far, about a dozen have done so.

The Chronicle story by Jeffery Brainard includes the following quote:
"I said to myself, How could I not sign this and have a conscience?" says John
M. Carfora, director of sponsored research at Amherst. He said he hoped his
signature might influence researchers elsewhere to reflect anew on the necessity
of unrelieved pain in their laboratory animals.

With fewer than 1,700 students, the Amherst College research endeavor is probably not going to suffer much for Carfora's pledge. And that's precisely the point:

"...that is just what the advocacy group is counting on: a wave of no-fuss pledge signings that will put pressure on larger universities, which do conduct animal research, to follow suit."

"It's a place to start," says Kathleen M. Conlee, director of program management for animal-research issues at the group. "We will, over time, go up the ladder to those institutions in a different category."

Fair warning. Of course, HSUS and other groups have tried to reach that higher category before and been deterred. Turns out the major research institutions don't like being slandered or firebombed and rather quickly circle the wagons against these tactics.

This new approach, however, building a small-time 'coalition of the willing' with sweet talk and reasonable-sounding pledges, should fool no one. HSUS is still on its game: Extortion.
"The [HSUS pledge] attempts to strike a collegial approach—for example, the society offers to discuss with signatory institutions any instances of noncompliance it learns about and not to publicize them. That's a different approach from the picketing and vandalism that more-extreme activist groups have carried on at the University of California at Los Angeles and other campuses in a bid to end all animal testing (The Chronicle, April 18)."

In other words, "You sign our pledge and we'll look the other way when you break it. No smear campaigns, we promise. No harassment. No unfortunate accidents. But refuse to sign the pledge, and, well, who knows what might happen?"


Anonymous said...

What is the point of that tactic? Here in Georgia, (and I am sure all other states) you have to officially apply for approval from an animal use commitee before any research is conducted on vertebrates. The idea being, of course, to make sure that the animals are being treated ethically and humanely. That would seem to render the HSUS approach redundant.

Matt Mullenix said...

It is the same at my institution: all animal research is peer-reviewed and strict animal husbandry standards (local, state and federal) are observed.

But this isn't about humane or ethical treatment of research animals. This is about an end to animals in captivity for any reason. To their credit, HSUS and others say as much (can't accuse them of being unclear about their objectives--except when they are).

What this effort seems to be geared for is later use as a PR tool, a lever or a bludgeon to wield against major research universities in the press. They'll be able say, in highly-targeted local campaigns, "Dozens of other universities have now condemned the cruel and barbaric practice of animal testing, and we call upon [insert large state or private higher ed. institution here] to do the same."

They won't bother to mention that none of these other "universities" (most of them in fact small colleges) conduct animal research at all.

They will use the quotes and comments received during the process out of context and to suggest all sorts of things their originators never intended.

They will use any institution's refusal to comply with malice against them.

The point of this tactic is the same as the point of all their tactics: intimidation and misdirection.

Anonymous said...

Matt - you get it absolutely right. This has nothing to do with the treatment of animals, it has to do with HSUS getting power.

The researchers are keeping the pain at a minimum because its the right thing to do and because its good science, not because HSUS says they should.

These small universities should be ashamed of themselves for falling for such a ploy. Why would you sign a petition without due diligent research on the subject and try to figure out what the real agenda is.

I wonder if Amherst can retract their pledge. The article itself says that they are ushing Amherst as a pawn to go after bigger universities.

Mike Spies said...

Matt, you are quite correct in your assessment. I have noticed that those most likely to be recruited to a "cause" are young people (mostly college students) and academics of a certain bent. There are quite a few academics who would never sign such a pledge, if they truly knew why they were being asked to do so. Is peer pressure the reason? Or is it taking the easy way out? I dunno, but I am pretty sure that there are no free lunches.

There have been a number of incidents at UC Santa Cruz with terrorist type vandalisim by AR people. My son-in-law is an officer on the SC police force, and they are actively engaged in hunting down the people responsible. And they seem to be taking AR activists as a threat to civil order.

Anonymous said...

"How could I not sign this and have a conscience," sez the Director of Sponsored Research?
I don't know, maybe because you're in charge of scientific research, the one area that should above all others be completely removed from this pettiness and only concerned with reality, and signing something like this is proof of, at the least, a failing conscience? I don't know, maybe that's how.

Matt Mullenix said...

HSUS only has the power we give it. In most cases, people know that instinctively and act accordingly.

But universities are vulnerable to the sort of posture HSUS is taking here. They are big, hierarchical and bureaucratic, and a little bit in awe of demonstrated (even if faked) superiority. Act as if you speak from authority in the university setting and it’s likely that everyone but your immediate boss will behave toward you with some deference---And even she might do so if her boss is present and apparently as enthralled as the rest of them. We are conditioned for that.

There are some seriously good political animals at the helm of HSUS. As a creature of a highly political environment myself, I’m always impressed to see it in action. This large a bluff is not easy to sustain as well as they manage it. The only thing they have to fear now is the truth, which, in places that revere theory and subjectivity is too easily brushed aside.

My guess is that they will continue to get small signatures on their pledge of allegiance. But just as Wayne Pacelle gets little truck at the truck stop, he will get little also in the big leagues of major research universities, where the work of the nation gets done---where agriculture is taught as a business; where pesticides are invented; where life is being deconstructed at the atomic level and where diseases are cured in the brains of rats.

The largest universities in the country certainly have moral dilemmas to face, but this isn’t going to get to be one of them.