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Harvard Primate Center Closing: A Call to Action to Question Animal Research

Harvard Primate Center Closing: A Call to Action to Question Animal Research

The following is in response to the May 29, 2015 Boston Globe article, 'Harvard primate lab’s end puzzles researchers.'

While Harvard has irrefutably contributed to human advancement, I would never describe its Southborough Primate Facility as “a unique spot in the region’s landscape of prestigious biomedical research institutions.” It was not.

During the 1980s, before my tenure as New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) president, I worked on a Mass Department of Public Health Committee with Dr. Ronald Hunt, former head veterinarian at Southborough. I sat aghast as he vehemently opposed such minor animal welfare changes as allowing each cat in a “colony” access to a perch, as being off the ground helps decrease their fear. He remains in my mind a prime example of why animal welfare cannot be left to those for whom animal use is profit and job security.

Around 2008, NEAVS placed outreach ads that included a photo from Southborough of a “retired” greyhound. She was muzzled, and fearfully submissive as a technician shaved and prepared her for research. The fact that so many racing “losers” ended up in horrific research, increased public outcry to end greyhound racing.

If only Harvard had the courage to take the higher moral ground and admit Southborough’s serious violations of humane and scientific practices. To say the closure was not “because of a series of high-profile revelations of monkey deaths [and other abuses],” and also say “Primate research is stronger … more needed, than ever … closing … doesn’t in any way speak to the lack of importance of research using non-human primates,” makes no sense. One or both of these statements must be a misrepresentation.

If primate research is essential and if Harvard profited some $25 million per year in grants, then Harvard Medical School dean Dr. Jeffrey Flier’s comment that, “the decision to close the center was unrelated to these problems and the loss will not diminish the university’s research capabilities,” can only make reasonable readers suspicious that someone is hiding something. Or that primate research actually is not essential. I implore readers to look between the lines - beyond the rhetoric - and ask … why the double talk?

From my perspective, the facility caused enormous animal suffering for decades, offered little in real scientific advances, and reaped taxpayer dollars despite inadequate oversight of animal welfare or scientific integrity. Examples of what is wrong with all closed-door laboratories include:

  • BOSTON, Sep. 6, 2012 – Former Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser fabricated and falsified data and made false statements about experimental methods in six federally funded studies, according to a report released yesterday …
  • BOSTON, Dec. 15, 1981 – [Dr. John R. Darsee] … a rapidly rising young doctor at the Harvard Medical School has admitted that he falsified data in a heart research experiment …

The closing of Southborough is not the end of a story. It is the resurrection of a story that has been going on for decades. It is a call to action to question animal research, at Harvard and other facilities where problems are indeed “deeper and more troubling than … admitted.”

Photo of monkey in sanctury: © Jo-Anne McArthur

Theodora Capaldo, EdD

Theodora Capaldo, EdD

Theodora Capaldo, EdD, is President Emeritus of NEAVS.

Theodora Capaldo, EdD signature

Theodora Capaldo, EdD