By Justin Goodman
Most people are probably familiar with the infamous experiments conducted by Harry Harlow starting in the 1950s.
Harlow — whom author Laurel Braitman calls “a dark lord of monkey torture” in her new book, Animal Madness — tore newborn monkeys away from their mothers, gave some infants “surrogate mothers” made of wire and wood, and kept other traumatized babies in isolation in tiny metal boxes to cause them irreparable psychological damage.
They rocked incessantly, bit and clutched at themselves and ripped out their own hair. Some even died.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that these archaic experiments had already gone the way of transistor radios, Polaroid cameras, the Edsel and other ’50s-era relics, but similar experiments have continued for 30 years—and you’re still paying for them.
That’s what PETA discovered after obtaining more than 500 hours of videos, hundreds of photographs and many internal documents from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through a Freedom of Information Act request for which the agency unsuccessfully tried to charge PETA $100,000.
Terrorizing baby monkeys is archaic, morally reprehensible and completely irrelevant to our understanding and treatment of human mental illness, and it needs to stop.
Every year, dozens of monkeys are intentionally bred to be genetically predisposed to mental illness in the NIH laboratory of psychologist Steven Suomi, a Harlow protégé. Currently, some 200 monkeys of various ages are being used in these cruel and archaic studies.
Half of the monkeys born each year are separated from their mothers within hours of birth and never returned.
As in Harlow’s experiments, some are given only a fabric-covered bottle to cling to in place of their mother. They undergo years of terrifying and often painful experiments that are designed to cause them to suffer from severe anxiety, fear, depression and other physical and mental illnesses. A
As they age, some monkeys are forcibly addicted to alcohol, making their symptoms even worse.
NIH videos obtained by PETA reveal that in recent experiments, newborn infants were restrained inside tiny cages and placed in isolation in “startle chambers.”
The experimenters terrified the babies with loud noises, causing them to cry out and try frantically to hide or escape.
In some trials, the experimenters released a realistic-looking electronic snake into the cage with the baby monkeys, who innately fear the reptiles.
In other experiments, infants were caged with their mothers, but the mothers were chemically sedated. The terrified babies screamed and cried, climbing onto and frantically shaking their unresponsive mothers.
In one case, experimenters can be heard laughing while a mother struggles to remain awake to comfort her distraught infant.
In a pathetic attempt to defend the barbaric project, NIH made the ludicrous statement that the laboratory is “not that different from a human nursery”!
In the past seven years alone, these experiments have received $30 million in taxpayer money, even though they have never led to the development or improvement of treatments for human mental illness.
As far back as 1977, Suomi acknowledged, “Most monkey data that readily generalize to humans have not uncovered new facts about human behavior …” After four more decades of these useless experiments, nothing has changed. In a recent paper, Suomi and his colleagues wrote, “[T]his animal model of maternal separation has never been validated as a measure of drug efficacy in humans. … The only way to know definitively whether [anti-depressant drugs work] in humans would be to study our species.”
Meanwhile, researchers who actually do study our species—conducting sophisticated brain imaging and other human-based research that actually benefits human health—struggle to find funding.
Respected researchers, mental health professionals and primate experts including Dr. Jane Goodall have joined PETA to urge NIH to end its maternal deprivation experiments on baby monkeys and modernize its research program.
Technology has changed since the 1950s, and so has science. Just as doctors would no longer dream of endorsing cigarettes and parents would no longer buy radioactive science kits for their kids, it’s time for NIH to stop conducting and funding equally indefensible and archaic experiments on monkeys.