Are We Right to Experiment on Animals to Save Humans?

I believe that higher animals feel emotions and maybe even have souls, so we should try to treat them humanely. I am deeply conflicted on how far animal experiments are justified in the pursuit of curing human diseases. Whenever possible, animal experiments should have the potential to benefit the animals in the experiments, as well as the human experimenters.

(p. A15) The “title characters” of Brandy Schillace’s admirable biography “Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher: A Monkey’s Head, the Pope’s Neuroscientist, and the Quest to Transplant the Soul” were one and the same person: Robert J. White, a distinguished neurosurgeon, an accomplished neuroscientist and a man dedicated to searching for the means to transplant souls by transplanting the human brain. If this makes White sound macabre, Ms. Schillace’s account of his life, work and temperament is anything but. She deftly persuades the reader to take White seriously (he wasn’t even eccentric) and to ponder profound medical-scientific-philosophical issues. Best of all, the book is fascinating.

. . .

White felt it was his religious and medical duty to devise techniques for rescuing healthy brains from otherwise diseased and dying bodies. His solution was to transplant heads (containing their brains) onto cadavers that were brain dead but otherwise physiologically viable.

Before he could attempt such surgery on people, White experimented, mostly on monkeys, dozens of times, to ascertain and refine the necessary procedures. In March 1970 he succeeded in transplanting a monkey’s head onto another monkey’s body.

. . .

During the era in which White conducted his experiments, politicians, doctors, journalists and celebrities were becoming deeply and increasingly dismayed by scientific experiments on animals. White ran afoul of the animal-rights advocacy organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and was threatened by animal-rights extremists (he remained imperturbable). White prided himself on scrupulously avoiding harm to his animal subjects. But he didn’t believe that animals had souls: For him, Ms. Schillace writes, “the human was more than animal, and equating the two was not only wrong, it was dangerous.” One of White’s rejoinders to those who would halt animal experimentation was, to paraphrase: If you were a surgeon, how would you like to tell parents that their young child is going to die because the operation that might save him or her was impossible to perform, mainly because the necessary animal-dissection research that would have permitted it was forbidden by law or the medical canon of ethics? His foes never had a good answer.

For the full review, see:

Howard Schneider. “A Heart in the Right Place.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, February 22, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 21, 2021, and has the title “Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher’ Review: A Heart in the Right Place.”)

The book under review is:

Schillace, Brandy. Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher: A Monkey’s Head, the Pope’s Neuroscientist, and the Quest to Transplant the Soul. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.

Freireich on Chemo-Cocktail Cure for Childhood Leukemia: “I Thought About It and I Knew It Would Work”

(p. A20) Dr. Emil Freireich, a renowned cancer doctor and relentless researcher who helped devise treatments for childhood leukemia that transformed the lives of patients thought to have little hope of survival, died on Feb. 1 [2021] at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he had worked since 1965.

. . .

When Dr. Freireich (pronounced FRY-rike) started work at the N.C.I., in Bethesda, Md., in 1955, acute childhood leukemia was considered a death sentence. Entering the ward where the children were being treated, he recalled their hemorrhaging because their blood had virtually no platelets, the disc-shaped cells that clot blood.

. . .

Dr. Freireich, a hematologist and oncologist, tested his hypothesis that the lack of platelets was causing the hemorrhaging by mixing some of his own blood with some of the children’s.

“Would it behave normally?” he said in interview for an N.C.I. oral history project in 1997. “Sure enough, it did.”

Further testing, done to persuade his skeptics at the cancer institute, proved him right.

. . .

. . . Dr. Freireich’s most important and most enduring achievement was in using a combination of drugs to send leukemia into remission. He explored options in chemotherapy with several N.C.I. colleagues, including Dr. Emil Frei III, who was known as Tom.

They made an aggressive assault on childhood leukemia by devising a cocktail of four drugs that would be administered simultaneously — a technique similar to the three-drug regimen used to treat tuberculosis — so that each one would attack a different aspect of the physiology of the cancer cells.

“It was crazy,” Dr. Freireich told Mr. Gladwell. “But smart and correct. I thought about it and I knew it would work. It was like the platelets. It had to work!”

But not without peril and concern. Some of the children nearly died from the drugs. Critics called Dr. Freireich inhumane for experimenting with his young patients.

“Instead, 90 percent went into remission immediately,” he told USA Today in 2015. “It was magical.” But temporary. One round of the cocktail was not enough to eliminate all the cancer, so Dr. Freireich and his team treated them with the drugs monthly for more than a year.

. . .

Dr. Freireich compared his early fight to cure childhood leukemia to being in a battle in which he and the N.C.I. team had an alliance that was “forged under fire.”

To cure cancer, he added: “Motivate people and give them the opportunity. People are innately motivated. Nobody likes to be lazy and do nothing. Everybody wants to be significant.”

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Emil Freireich, 93, Pioneering Researcher and Cancer Doctor, Is Dead.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 13, 2021): A20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Feb. 8, 2021, and has the title “Emil Freireich, Groundbreaking Cancer Researcher, Dies at 93.”)

Malcolm Gladwell devoted a chapter to Freireich in Gladwell’s book:

Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

When Leftist James R. Flynn Disagreed, He Would Argue, Not Cancel

(p. B10) Dr. Jensen was best known for an article he published in 1969 claiming that the differences between Black and white Americans on I.Q. tests resulted from genetic differences between the races — and that programs that tried to improve Black educational outcomes, like Head Start, were bound to fail.

Dr. Flynn, a committed leftist who had once been a civil rights organizer in Kentucky, felt instinctively that Dr. Jensen was wrong, and he set out to prove it.  . . .

Like most researchers in his field, Dr. Jensen had assumed that intelligence was constant across generations, pointing to the relative stability of I.Q. tests over time as evidence. But Dr. Flynn noticed something that no one else had: Those tests were recalibrated every decade or so. When he looked at the raw, uncalibrated data over nearly 100 years, he found that I.Q. scores had gone up, dramatically.

“If you scored people 100 years ago against our norms, they would score a 70,” or borderline mentally disabled, he said later. “If you scored us against their norms, we would score 130” — borderline gifted.

. . .

“He surprised everyone, despite the fact that the field of intelligence research is intensely data-centric,” the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker said in an interview. “This philosopher discovered a major phenomenon that everyone had missed.”

Though Dr. Flynn published his research in 1984, it was not until a decade later that it drew attention outside the narrow world of intelligence researchers.

The turning point came with the publication in 1994 of “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life,” by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles A. Murray, which argued that genes play a dominant role in shaping intelligence — a position that its fiercest critics called racist. In reviewing arguments for and against their position, the authors outlined Dr. Flynn’s research and even gave it a name: the Flynn effect.

. . .

“Jim was a paragon of intellectual curiosity and willingness to look at all the evidence,” Dr. Murray said in an interview. “He had almost a childlike curiosity, and I mean that in a good way.”

. . .

Unlike many academics, Dr. Flynn increased his output as he aged: Eleven of his 18 books appeared in his last decade, many of them going back to his earlier interests in political theory and free speech. He became increasingly focused on academic freedom and a critic of so-called cancel culture, especially on campus.

His last book, “In Defense of Free Speech: The University as Censor,” was rejected by its first publisher as incendiary — though, as Dr. Flynn pointed out, he was merely summarizing the positions of people he disagreed with, in order to make a larger point. Frustrated, he found a new publisher for the book, which he retitled “A Book Too Risky to Publish: Free Speech and Universities” (2019).

“Dad was always very respectful of people he disagreed with, and hated the trend of boycotting academics because of their views,” Professor Flynn, his son, said. “He very much thought that people should be able to express their views, and if you don’t agree, argue with them.”

For the full obituary, see:

Clay Risen. “James R. Flynn, Who Found We’re Getting Smarter, and Why, Dies at 86.” The New York Times (Wednesday, January 27, 2021): B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 25, 2021, and has the title “James R. Flynn, Who Found We Are Getting Smarter, Dies at 86.”)

James R. Flynn’s last book was:

Flynn, James R. A Book Too Risky to Publish: Free Speech and Universities. Washington, DC: Academica Press, 2019.

An Octopus “Is a Being With Multiple Selves”

(p. 11) What makes this book shimmer and shine is Godfrey-Smith’s exploration of marine life (drawing on his vast and extensive diving knowledge and field experience) to illuminate the ways in which the animal mind works — and the thoughts and experiences that give it shape.

. . .

Godfrey-Smith has an elegant and exacting way of urging along our curiosity by sharing his own questions about animal cognizance and the ability of some animals, like rats and cuttlefish, to “meander, drift off and dream.” But perhaps the most enthralling part of this book is the author’s experiences diving at famous sites now affectionately called Octopolis and Octlantis, just off the coast of eastern Australia where several octopuses live, hunt, fight and make more octopuses.

It’s an experience that demands we consider the very real possibility that an octopus, an animal already regarded as one of the most complex in the animal kingdom, is a being with multiple selves. A breathtaking explanation follows, and it’s one that makes even a cephalopod fan like me swoon over the myriad possibilities for rethinking the mind as a sort of hidden realm for sentience.

Godfrey-Smith declares, “The world is fuller, more replete with experience than many people have countenanced,” . . .

For the full review, see:

Aimee Nezhukumatathil. “Deep Dive.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, December 27, 2020 ): 11.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 12 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Where Does Our Consciousness Overlap With an Octopus’s?”)

The book under review is:

Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.

“The Founding Principles Have Been Lost”

(p. B1) The president has some bones to pick with the American media: about our “bias,” our obsession with racism, our views on terrorism, our reluctance to express solidarity, even for a moment, with his embattled republic.

So President Emmanuel Macron of France called me on Thursday afternoon from his gilded office in the Élysée Palace to drive home a complaint. He argued that the Anglo-American press, as it’s often referred to in his country, has blamed France instead of those who committed a spate of murderous terrorist attacks that began with the beheading on Oct. 16 of a teacher, Samuel Paty, who, in a lesson on free speech, had shown his class cartoons from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

“When France was attacked five years ago, every nation in the world supported us,” President Macron said, recalling Nov. 13, 2015, when 130 people were killed in coordinated attacks at a concert hall, outside a soccer stadium and in cafes in and around Paris.

“So when I see, in that context, several newspapers which I believe are from countries that share our values — journalists who write in a country that is the heir to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution — when I see them legitimizing this violence, and saying that the heart of the problem is that France is racist and Islamophobic, then I say the founding principles have been lost.”

For the full commentary, see:

Ben Smith. “(French) President Faults The (American) Press.” The New York Times (Monday, November 16, 2020): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 15, 2020, and has the title “The President vs. the American Media.”)

Mathematical Disciplines Need the “Re-injection” of “Empirical Ideas”

(p. C4) Mathematicians have faced a similar choice between pure and applied work for millennia. In his 1940 book “A Mathematician’s Apology,” G.H. Hardy made a hard-core case for purity: “But is not the position of an ordinary applied mathematician in some ways a little pathetic?…‘Imaginary’ universes are so much more beautiful than this stupidly constructed ‘real’ one.”

On the other hand, John von Neumann rebuked purity in his 1947 essay “The Mathematician”: “As a mathematical discipline travels far from its empirical source…it is beset with very grave dangers. It becomes more and more purely aestheticizing,…whenever this stage is reached, the only remedy seems to me to be the rejuvenating return to the source: the re-injection of more or less directly empirical ideas.”

I think von Neumann has the better of this argument. In his own career, he used his mathematical talents to pioneer fields like game theory and computer science, leaving a titanic legacy, practical as well as intellectual.

For the full commentary, see:

Frank Wilczek. “WILCZEK’S UNIVERSE; Beautiful, Impractical Physics.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020): C4.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date October 29, 2020, and has the same title as the online version.)

The John von Neumann essay mentioned above is:

Neumann, John von. “The Mathematician.” In Works of the Mind, edited by Robert B. Heywood. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947, pp. 180-96.

Costs and Difficulties of Clinical Trials Delay “Most Promising Experimental Drugs”

(p. A6) As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc in the United States and treatments are needed more than ever, clinical trials for some of the most promising experimental drugs are taking longer than expected.

Researchers at a dozen clinical trial sites said that testing delays, staffing shortages, space constraints and reluctant patients were complicating their efforts to test monoclonal antibodies, man-made drugs that mimic the molecular soldiers made by the human immune system.

As a result, once-ambitious deadlines are slipping. The drug maker Regeneron, which previously said it could have emergency doses of its antibody cocktail ready by the end of summer, has shifted to talking about how “initial data” could be available by the end of September [2020].

And Eli Lilly’s chief scientific officer said in June that its antibody treatment might be ready in September, but in an interview this week, he said he now hopes for something before the end of the year.

“Of course, I wish we could go faster — there’s no question about that,” said the Eli Lilly executive, Dr. Daniel Skovronsky. “I guess in my hopes and dreams, we enroll the patients in a week or two, but it’s taking longer than that.”

For the full story, see:

Katie Thomas. “Clinical Trials of Drugs For Virus Are Delayed By a Swamped System.” The New York Times (Saturday, August 15, 2020): A6.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 14, 2020, and has the title “Clinical Trials of Coronavirus Drugs Are Taking Longer Than Expected.”)

Bayesian Updating, Not Clinical Trials, Is Key to Advancing Medical Knowledge

(p. D8) In the early pandemic era, for instance, airborne transmission of Covid-19 was not considered likely, but in early July the World Health Organization, with mounting scientific evidence, conceded that it is a factor, especially indoors. The W.H.O. updated its priors, and changed its advice.

This is the heart of Bayesian analysis, named after Thomas Bayes, an 18th-century Presbyterian minister who did math on the side. It captures uncertainty in terms of probability: Bayes’s theorem, or rule, is a device for rationally updating your prior beliefs and uncertainties based on observed evidence.

. . .

As Marc Lipsitch, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard, noted on Twitter, Bayesian reasoning comes awfully close to his working definition of rationality. “As we learn more, our beliefs should change,” Dr. Lipsitch said in an interview.

. . .

But there is little point in trying to establish fixed numbers, said Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

“We should be less focused on finding the single ‘truth’ and more focused on establishing a reasonable range, recognizing that the true value may vary across populations,” Dr. Dean said. “Bayesian analyses allow us to include this variability in a clear way, and then propagate this uncertainty through the model.”

. . .

Joseph Blitzstein, a statistician at Harvard, delves into the utility of Bayesian analysis in his popular course “Statistics 110: Probability.” For a primer, in lecture one, he says: “Math is the logic of certainty, and statistics is the logic of uncertainty. Everyone has uncertainty. If you have 100 percent certainty about everything, there is something wrong with you.”

By the end of lecture four, he arrives at Bayes’s theorem — his favorite theorem because it is mathematically simple yet conceptually powerful.

“Literally, the proof is just one line of algebra,” Dr. Blitzstein said. The theorem essentially reduces to a fraction; it expresses the probability P of some event A happening given the occurrence of another event B.

“Naïvely, you would think, How much could you get from that?” Dr. Blitzstein said. “It turns out to have incredibly deep consequences and to be applicable to just about every field of inquiry” — from finance and genetics to political science and historical studies. The Bayesian approach is applied in analyzing racial disparities in policing (in the assessment of officer decisions to search drivers during a traffic stop) and search-and-rescue operations (the search area narrows as new data is added). Cognitive scientists ask, ‘Is the brain Bayesian?’ Philosophers of science posit that science as a whole is a Bayesian process — as is common sense.

. . .

Even with evidence, revising beliefs isn’t easy. The scientific community struggled to update its priors about the asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19, even when evidence emerged that it is a factor and that masks are a helpful preventive measure. This arguably contributed to the world’s sluggish response to the virus.

. . .

In 1650, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, wrote in a letter to the Church of Scotland: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

In the Bayesian world, Cromwell’s law means you should always “keep a bit back — with a little bit of probability, a little tiny bit — for the fact that you may be wrong,” Dr. Spiegelhalter said. “Then if new evidence comes along that totally contradicts your main prior belief, you can quickly ditch what you thought before and lurch over to that new way of thinking.”

“In other words, keep an open mind,” said Dr. Spiegelhalter. “That’s a very powerful idea. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be done technically or formally; it can just be in the back of your mind as an idea. Call it ‘modeling humility.’ You may be wrong.”

For the full story, see:

Siobhan Roberts. “Thinking Like an Epidemiologist.” The New York Times (Tuesday, August 4, 2020): D8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “How to Think Like an Epidemiologist.”)

New York Times’s “Inexcusable” Reporting Ignored Sophia Farrar, Whose Actions Belied the Kitty Genovese Narrative

(p. A24) The story of Kitty Genovese, coupled with the number 38, became a parable for urban indifference after Ms. Genovese was stalked, raped and stabbed to death in her tranquil Queens neighborhood.

Two weeks after the murder, The New York Times reported in a front-page article that 37 apathetic neighbors who witnessed the murder failed to call the police, and another called only after she was dead.

It would take decades for a more complicated truth to unravel, including the fact that one neighbor actually raced from her apartment to rescue Ms. Genovese, knowing she was in distress but unaware whether her assailant was still on the scene.

That woman, Sophia Farrar, the unsung heroine who cradled the body of Ms. Genovese and whispered “Help is on the way” as she lay bleeding, died on Friday [Aug. 28, 2020] at her home in Manchester, N.J.

. . .

The murder was reported in a modest four-paragraph article in The Times. Two weeks later, its interest piqued by a tip from the city’s police commissioner, The Times produced a front-page account of the killing that transformed the murder into a global allegory for callous egocentrism in the urban jungle and undermined the innocent-bystander alibi.

. . .

That account — epitomized by one neighbor’s stated excuse that “I didn’t want to get involved” — galvanized outrage, became the accepted narrative for decades and even spawned a subject of study in psychology: how bystanders react to tragedy. Except that with the benefit of hindsight, the number of eyewitnesses turned out to have been exaggerated; none actually saw the attack completely; some who heard it thought it was a drunken brawl or a lovers’ quarrel; and several people said they did call the police.

. . .

In several retrospectives decades after the murder, The Times reassessed the original account, concluding that more neighbors might have heard Ms. Genovese’s screams than actually witnessed the attack. But only one Times article, during Mr. Moseley’s trial, even mentioned Mrs. Farrar’s name, reporting that she and Ms. Zielonko found the victim in the vestibule.

Since Mrs. Farrar was interviewed on camera in “The Witness,” though, among those who criticized The Times’s failure to report her presence in earlier accounts of the crime was Joseph Lelyveld, who was the executive editor of The Times in the 1990s. He has called the omission “inexcusable.”

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “Sophia Farrar Dies at 92; Belied Indifference to Kitty Genovese Attack.” The New York Times (Friday, September 4, 2020): A24.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 2, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

“Pessimism of the Intellect and Optimism of the Will”

(p. C4) Advertisers may have been peddling baubles or junk food, but their cash funded serious journalism — the kind that could afford to send a reporter to, say, every municipal board meeting. “People knew that,” the former editor of the once mighty Youngstown Vindicator told Sullivan, “and they behaved.” This watchdog function had tangible benefits for subscribers and nonsubscribers alike. “When local reporting waned,” Sullivan writes, “municipal borrowing costs went up.” Local news outlets provide the due diligence that bondholders often count on. Without the specter of a public shaming, corruption is freer to flourish.

. . .

“Ghosting the News” concludes with a soaring quote from the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci about “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will,” but the local reporter in Sullivan follows it up with a more immediate analogy: Even if no one seems to be coming to the rescue while your house is on fire, you still have to “get out your garden hose and bucket, and keep acting as if the fire trucks are on the way.”

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “Books of the Times; Another Endangered Species.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 30, 2020): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 26, 2020, and has the title “Books of the Times; Yes, Fake News Is a Problem. But There’s a Real News Problem, Too.”)

The book under review is:

Sullivan, Margaret. Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy. New York: Columbia Global Reports, 2020.

Universities Are No Longer Bastions of Free Speech

(p. C2) The problem of free speech takes different forms in different settings. Speech controversies on college campuses affect relatively few Americans, but they receive a great deal of attention, since colleges have traditionally been centers of open debate. Students once jealously guarded their speech rights. The Free Speech Movement, the first great student protest of the 1960s, erupted at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964, when a former student was arrested by a campus police officer for leafleting on behalf of the civil rights organization CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. At the height of the protest, up to 4,000 students demonstrated in favor of free speech on campus, and 800 went to jail.

To see how much things have changed, look at the case of Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which the Supreme Court recently agreed to take up. The case deals with a 2016 incident in which a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, a public college in Lawrenceville, Ga., was disciplined for making a public speech testifying to his Christian faith. Ironically, Chike Uzuegbunam was standing in one of the school’s designated “free speech zones” when a campus police officer told him that the school had received complaints and he had to stop speaking.

In a 2017 brief arguing for dismissal of the case, Georgia’s attorney general argued that the officer was justified because Mr. Uzuegbunam “used contentious religious language that, when directed to a crowd, has a tendency to incite hostility.”

. . .

. . ., when people are told that they can’t say what they think, rather than being presented with an argument for why it’s wrong, they may comply, but they won’t change their minds. As the philosopher Benedict Spinoza wrote in the 17th century, when religious opinions were the ones being censored, people “are most prone to resent the branding as criminal of opinions which they believe to be true…In a democracy, everyone submits to the control of authority over his actions, but not over his judgment and reason.”

For the full commentary, see:

Adam Kirsch. “Land of Free (and Fettered) Speech.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 5, 2020): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses between, and at the start of, paragraphs added; ellipsis internal to the last paragraph in original added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sep. 4, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)