Are we being hoaxed by “scientific” studies? … and more

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Are we being hoaxed by “scientific” studies?

By Jessica Sandler

April Fool’s Day is months away, but the joke was on several high-profile academic journals recently, when a trio of scholars submitted 20 fake research papers on absurd and outrageous topics — seven of which were accepted for publication. It’s not the first time someone has pulled off such a hoax: In the late 1990s, physics professor Alan Sokal published a fake paper, which claimed that physical reality was merely a human theory.

The ramifications of the latest hoax (dubbed “Sokal Squared” by some) are still being debated, but there is an even larger fraud being perpetrated against the academic community. Under pressure to “publish or perish,” experimenters are dreaming up ever stranger and crueler ways to torment animals in tests—most of which have no application or relevance to human health. Their dubious results are being published in peer-reviewed journals. And they are funded by our tax dollars.

This is a massive scam that’s wasting billions of tax dollars — and costing animals their lives. It needs to end now.

Johns Hopkins University receives more federal research dollars than any other university, but look at some of what it does. Experimenters there forced monkeys to “gamble” against a computer in exchange for drops of liquid. They then cut open the monkeys’ skulls and “suppressed” an area of their brains by pumping freezing methanol into a metal plate secured over the membrane covering their brains. The monkeys — who most likely were held in restraint chairs — were then made to “play” the computer game again. The experimenters attempted to justify this twisted experiment with a vague, sweeping statement that it somehow “could lead to better treatments” for humans with destructive risky behaviors.

In another curiosity-driven test, experimenters put octopuses in beakers of water laced with the drug MDMA — better known as Ecstasy — to see how it affected their behavior. Those who had been exposed to MDMA spent more time in a chamber with an unfamiliar octopus than those who hadn’t been drugged. Based on that finding, the experimenters drew the absurd conclusion that these animals—who diverged from human evolution over 500 million years ago — might be used to study the effects of psychiatric drugs on humans.

Another experimenter at Johns Hopkins University restrains barn owls and blasts them with loud noises through earphones in a misguided attempt to study attention deficits in humans. While the birds are bombarded, the experimenter monitors the terrified animals’ responses through electrodes implanted in their brains. The conclusion? More studies are needed.

In yet another bizarre and cruel experiment at this university, mice were used in an attempt to explain how electroconvulsive therapy relieves severe depression in humans. First, the experimenters intentionally terrified the mice by restraining them in tubes so tightly that they couldn’t turn around or move their limbs, confining them to unfamiliar cages with water-soaked bedding, and immersing them in water for hours at a time.

Tormenting animals in this way does not replicate human depression. But experimenters then attached wet clips to the animals’ ears and delivered electric shocks for up to 10 days, causing acute pain and seizures. Afterward, they put mice through stressful tests to gauge their “depression,” including the “forced swim test,” in which the terrified animals are dropped into a cylinder of water and must swim until they give up — even though this has been disproven as a measure of depression.

These experiments — all of which were approved by Johns Hopkins’ oversight committee — are sloppy and mean, but even the most meticulously conducted studies on animals are inaccurate and inapplicable to humans. The stress that animals endure from confinement to barren laboratory cages and painful procedures skews results, and significant differences in physiological responses among species make it virtually impossible to apply the results of tests on one species to another. That’s why 90 percent of animal studies fail to lead to treatments for humans, and 95 percent of new drugs that test safe and effective in animal studies fail in human trials.

It’s time to stop the hoax of animal experimentation and instead support advanced, animal-free and human-relevant research.