No, I don’t mean the self-imagined political wag, nor those of a similarly fantastical oppressed ethnic subculture of the US. I mean the kind of (over)educated middle to upper-middle class, progressive liberal occasionally self-avowed skeptic, contrarian and/or scientific white folk.
I’ve seen the odd social justice action now and again in the US over the past decades. Whether at the local municipal level, the University level or on national TV. African-Americans are typically very well represented even when the issue at hand is not a “black issue” per se. When it comes to the incredible underrepresentative University campus population, it is particularly striking because you will find the black faces that you’d never known were on campus appearing in support of social justice causes.
There is one notable exception and that is the animal-rights campaign. The practitioners of animal rights theology would have you believe they are engaged in a social justice battle akin to many familiar ones. They never seem to look around and ask why their tiny band of followers are so unusually devoid of the black folks.
Perhaps it is because one of their favorite memes is viscerally offensive to African-Americans?

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We’ve been talking about the use of animals in research lately. One thing that always comes up is how animals share some critical capacity with humans. I try to point out in all of this that some of these questions are amenable to investigation. Some of the claims can be supported, nullified or qualified on the basis of existing data. The process of describing or interpreting the data is never simple. And it seems that many people who parrot what seem to be simple claims actually have very little understanding of the evidence on which they rest. I have at least one observation in the archive that points out where not thinking hard about the strength of the evidence can lead to unsupported conclusions being widely disseminated. This post was originally published Feb 25, 2008.

In the midst of World War I, Wolfgang Köhler conducted a famous series of experiments to investigate problem solving ability in chimpanzees. The lasting impression of these experiments, reinforced by just about every introductory Psychology text, was Köhler’s assertion that the chimps demonstrated “insightful” learning.
Did they now?

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Thank you.
In response to the blog posts of PZ, orac, MarkCC and many others, you did what you do best. You commented. At the home blogs and at the sites of the violent Animal Rights extremists who feel it is acceptable to threaten the children of a man who no longer does the work to which they object.
Some of you were in support of animal research and some were not. But even many of the latter stood up for the civil society of discourse, unfettered by the intimidation of personal threats.
You know this, of course, because you are already engaged in the blogosphere. What you may not see is the gratitude of scientists who work with animals. In the past day I have seen several expressions of gratitude from my scientific friends, peers and colleagues in other venues. They are happy, and in cases overjoyed, to see such public support. Even if many of you are pseudonymous or anonymous. Their joy is a surprised one because it is so rare in their careers to see much in the way of individual support for their research and, more importantly, personal antagonism directed toward the extremist violent fringe of the AR movement. Even as you delight in acting the skeptic, calling out asshats, FWDAOTI and other assorted blogospheric games, know that you have real beneficial impact on the scientists who are just trying to do their jobs, create knowledge and, in many cases, improve human health in ways both small and large. It helps for these individuals to see the personal and individual expressions of outrage and support that you have posted around in various places. It makes them see in a very tangible way that they are not facing the onslaught alone.
In the name of my colleagues I thank you.

On redefining "sentience"

February 24, 2010

You may have noticed a rash of posts around the ScienceBlogs decrying the ARA terrorist extremists who have vowed, again, to target the children of a UCLA neuroscientist. Dario Ringach famously gave up his nonhuman primate research in 2006 because of threats against his family. His participation in last week’s dialog held at the UCLA campus apparently induced the extremist attention seekers, angry at having the momentum and PR shift to their slightly more rational co-travelers, to renew their threats. This is utterly despicable. Utterly.
This would be a great time for people who purport to be non-extremist animal rights advocates or sympathizers to do some deep soul searching. Soul searching that does not just easily write off the terrorists as a crazy fringe but asks penetrating questions about the nature of their own beliefs.
I cannot help you with this difficult work but I noticed something a little odd and new to me popping up in comment threads following the posts linked above. It has to do with the concept of sentience.

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A recent review paper covers animal models of adolescent drug taking, which is in and of itself an interesting read. Human adolescence tends to be a time when people first encounter psychoactive substances taken for recreational purposes. Unsurprisingly, problematic drug taking which emerges later in life often has antecedent roots in adolescent drug taking. The epidemiology goes further in identifying age-graded risk such that the earlier one starts using some drugs, the greater the chances of problematic drug use later in life.
Given the inescapable limitations human epidemiology (lack of random assignment means you cannot eliminate risk-associated variables from the genetic to the environmental) animal models are required to determine if there are neurobiological sensitivities in the adolescent brain which confer increased risk of developing dependence on a given recreational drug. This paper reviews much of the animal studies to date.

Are adolescents more vulnerable to drug addiction than adults? Evidence from animal models. Schramm-Sapyta NL, Walker QD, Caster JM, Levin ED, Kuhn CM. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2009 Sep;206(1):1-21.

In providing the background context, Schramm-Sapyta et alia did something dear to my heart, as my readers will quickly appreciate. They created an interesting graphical depiction of the conditional probability of dependence on several drugs from the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH, 2007).

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Mendel's Pink Sheets

February 22, 2010

One of our readers managed to unearth an unbelievable bit of scientific history and we are able to provide it to you thanks to his generosity. With no further delay we present….

click image

All credit, and my gratitude for the LOLz goes to Donn Young who describes the source of his re-creation as follows:

Long ago and far away [like the 1970’s], I read an article in the old Journal of Irreproducible Results [JIR] that had a copy of Gregor Mendel’s pink sheets. I have no idea who the author(s) was and I can no longer find the issue [or much else], but have this rewrite I put together using the 90’s review criteria. I’d hand it out [on pink paper] to junior faculty as encouragement in the face of an unscored application – but hey, Mendel didn’t have to worry about tenure.
Donn Young
Research Scientist and Director of Biostatistics [retired]
Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center

Did you read this fascinating bit of….whatever…from Nature? I picked this up from writedit’s thread. The title and subtitles are, I kid you not, this.
Nature‘s choices: Exploding the myths surrounding how and why we select our research papers.
You might almost think they had read my recent post on the business of spin. Apparently they think they are taking some unfair knocks about their process for publishing papers and want to spin the story back around to their liking. Fair enough.
I don’t buy their argument so I’ll take my hand at spinning it back my way.
Now, what are these evil myths you might ask? They have a list.

One myth that never seems to die is that Nature’s editors seek to inflate the journal’s impact factor by sifting through submitted papers (some 16,000 last year) in search of those that promise a high citation rate. We don’t.

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