2016 Is The Year Of The Monkey. Small Comfort For The Ones Being Used In Experiments


The bad far outweighs the good in the use of monkeys for scientific research, writes Jordan Sosnowski.

According to the Chinese zodiac, everything spells disaster for monkeys in 2016. But for monkeys in Australia, this unlucky period in the 12-year calendar cycle has nothing to do with the alignment of the planets – it’s their uncles who are to blame.

Primates used in the pseudo-science of astrology are in for an inauspicious 2016, but if they knew what was happening to those used in current, experimental science, they’d be thanking their lucky stars. You see, for years now we’ve been subjecting our primate relatives to “Frankenstein-like” medical experiments. And every single one of these experiments has done more harm than good.

You might think this a harsh assessment. But when considering the swathe of experiments conducted by Australian researchers, I wouldn’t be surprised if Frankenstein’s author Mary Shelley, had vivisection on her mind when she penned the cult classic almost 200 years ago.

Holes drilled into heads, electric shocks to the brain, retina dissection, pig organs transplanted into baboons. Our tax-payer dollars are paying for these monstrous experiments, which read like a bad horror movie.

If these experiments yielded good results for humans, it might make me feel a little better about the violent script. But a recent comprehensive scientific review found that results of experiments using animals are “frequently ambiguous and inconsistent with human outcomes”.

Despite this review, scientists continue to overstate the benefits of invasive research. Many invoke the penicillin success story and other “countless treatments” derived from animal testing. Pro-testing scientists also point to the research involving animals in Australia occurring “inside a legal and regulatory framework”.

One Australian scientist advocating for animal testing, recently had the gall to cite Australia’s myriad anti-cruelty acts – such as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act – as evidence of the high calibre legal regulation around animal testing.

What the learned Professor failed to mention was that animal research is specifically exempt from the anti-cruelty legislation. It is actually a defence to any animal cruelty charge that the conduct was carried out “in the course of, and for the purpose of animal research”.

A 2011 review of almost all primate research carried out in the UK had a panel of scientists admitting that:

“In most cases … little direct evidence was available of actual medical benefit in the form of changes in clinical practice or new treatments.”

And this review wasn’t from a small panel. It was taken from scientists from varying fields including neurobiology, neurology, psychology, zoology, reproductive biology and translational research.

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If animal experiments could save thousands of lives, the utilitarian scale would begin to tip in favour of animal testing. But relying on animal tests could actually be putting human lives at risk.

One widely read textbook states: “Uncritical reliance on the results of animal tests can be dangerously misleading and has cost the health and lives of tens of thousands of humans.”

And this reliance doesn’t come cheap. Over the last 10 years, almost $6 million dollars has been given to NSW universities to conduct experiments on primates.

Meanwhile a Senate inquiry is currently looking at a Greens bill that seeks to ban the importation of primates used for experiments. The RSPCA supports the bill, stating that primate testing inevitably causes them “pain, suffering or distress”.

While the Greens bill is a good first step, it doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t ban the actual use of primates in experiments, which is long overdue given the evidence demonstrating animal testing is archaic and unnecessary.

In perhaps one of the more gruesome experiments recently exposed by Fairfax, a baboon named Conan was given a kidney transplant using genetically modified pig’s organs. It’s interesting that researchers have gone from calling their science projects numbered “specimens” to actually giving them human-like names.

What many people forget about Frankenstein, is that the novel’s monster was never actually given a name – it was the doctor who bore the surname Frankenstein. But over the years, the “hideous thing” he created has become known as “Frankenstein”. Perhaps because the creature, in true biblical style, was made in the doctor’s image.

I suppose that’s the worrying thing about carrying out monstrous experiments in the name of science. What we carry out and create becomes an extension of our characters. The upshot being, we run the risk of ending up monsters ourselves.

But the sad thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way.

I find solace in one Chinese horoscope prophecy that says this year is also aligned with the earthly element of Wind, which could signify great change.

I hope for the monkeys’ sake this latter prediction rings true and they don’t have to wait out another 12-year cycle for us to see the monstrous error of our ways.


Jordan is the Advocacy Director at Melbourne-based organisation Australia for Dolphins. She graduated from Monash University with a Master of Laws, Juris Doctor. Jordan was admitted as a lawyer in NSW in 2013 and is an Associate Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.