Sac­ri­fic­ing all be­fore in­sight

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

n the mid­dle years of his life’s jour­ney, John P. Gluck found him­self in a dark for­est where the straight path was lost. Mon­keys were his busi­ness, or more cor­rectly the tools of his trade. For 20 un­tram­melled years he caged them, drugged them, shocked them and starved them, sub­jected them to crude surg­eries and vis­ited on them cruel pri­va­tions. He did this largely be­cause he could.

There were other rea­sons, of course. So much shared DNA sug­gested pro­found ben­e­fits for the naked ape. And Gluck, as a psy­chol­o­gist spe­cial­is­ing in pri­mate re­search, had ques­tions he be­lieved de­manded an­swers.

What be­comes of a baby rh­e­sus mon­key, ripped screech­ing from its mother’s arms only days af­ter birth and con­fined for nine months in ut­ter iso­la­tion? How will its cog­ni­tive func­tions hold up? Will its so­cial skills take a hit? Will it cope? Only one way to find out (com­mon sense count­ing for lit­tle in a lab­o­ra­tory set­ting).

Will a can­nu­lated chim­panzee, of­fered free ac­cess to am­phet­a­mines and co­caine, favour one over the other? Will it favour both in equal mea­sure? Given noth­ing bet­ter to do with its days, how quickly will it suc­cumb to ad­dic­tion, and at what cost? On a more prac­ti­cal note, how to stop the chimp from tear­ing the tub­ing from its jugu­lar vein? Sim­ple: keep it in a plas­tic hel­met for the du­ra­tion of the en­ter­prise, maybe weeks, maybe months. The hel­met won’t stop tract in­fec­tions but it will re­duce them some.

Gluck was the au­thor and/or ex­ecu­tor of th­ese and other fright­ful ex­per­i­ments. When not oc­cu­pied thus, he was green-light­ing more of the same on his stu­dents’ be­half.

That the sub­jects of th­ese grim stud­ies led “stunted lives of boredom punc­tu­ated by episodes of fear and pain” was a fact he would not al­low him­self to con­sider. Science trumped sen­ti­ment. Suf­fer­ing mon­keys mat­tered not when suf­fer­ing hu­man­ity stood to gain.

Cer­tainly, Gluck’s own cir­cum­stances soared from one lofty plateau to the next. He grad­u­ated in the late 1960s from Texas Tech Univer­sity and con­tin­ued his stud­ies with fi­nan­cial sup­port at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin, the “elite cap­i­tal” of pri­mate re­search. Within a decade he was head­ing up his own pri­mate lab­o­ra­tory at the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico.

Academe as he ex­pe­ri­enced it was a club­bish, quar­an­tined world. Ten­ure came quickly, peer ap­proval felt like a gen­tle­man’s en­ti­tle­ment, grants and hon­o­rar­i­ums were plen­ti­ful and gen­er­ous. Gluck was an un­der­grad­u­ate, then a bach­e­lor and a master, soon enough a doc­tor, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor and a full pro­fes­sor. Blue skies stretched from one glo­ri­ous hori­zon to the other and no­body talked in any mean­ing­ful way about the mon­keys’ plight.

But then Peter Singer took aim at Gluck’s ear­li­est men­tor, Harry Har­low. The Aus­tralian philoso­pher was a min­now when he pub­lished An­i­mal Lib­er­a­tion in 1975, while Har­low was a gi­ant in his field. Tellingly, it was a few years be­fore the book came to Gluck’s at­ten­tion, and his re­flex re­sponse was dis­mis­sive. Even so, he con­ceded that Singer’s charges were ac­cu­rate and in some cases un­der­stated.

Slowly, very slowly, the clouds be­gan to gather. A much-ad­mired stu­dent ap­peared at Gluck’s door one day to an­nounce he could no longer shock the mon­keys. An­other prized stu­dent, the first to re­ceive his master’s de­gree un­der Gluck’s guid­ance, ded­i­cated his the­sis not to Gluck but to “the mem­ory of G-44”, a rh­e­sus that had died for the cause. In 1978, per­sons un­known broke into Gluck’s lab­o­ra­tory in Al­bu­querque and let the oc­cu­pants loose. Lest their in­ten­tions be mis­un­der­stood, they chalked a blunt mes­sage on the concrete floor: “Lis­ten Tor­turer: Mon­keys De­serve Free­dom.”

If the qualms of vig­i­lantes and no-ac­count philoso­phers were eas­ily di­min­ished, the in­dif­fer­ence of his peers was not. Re­turn­ing to New Mex­ico from a post­doc­toral clin­i­cal fel­low­ship at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton in Seat­tle, Gluck be­gan to ques­tion the value of his work.

As he writes in Vo­ra­cious Science and Vul­ner­a­ble An­i­mals, he found him­self “chas­tened by the fact that dur­ing the en­tirety of my ex­ten­sive fel­low­ship I had never once heard a sin­gle ref­er­ence to an­i­mal study”.

In­spect­ing the fa­mous chim­panzee fa­cil­ity at Hol­lo­man Air Force Base with cam­pus vet­eri­nar­ian S. Bret Sny­der, Gluck was ap­palled by what he saw. The chimps’ hous­ing re­called “a dark, max­i­mum-se­cu­rity prison”, and the in­mates were crazed and vi­o­lent, spit­ting and hurl­ing fae­ces as the men ap­proached. Th­ese apes had long fin­ished their ser­vice to NASA and were now hired out on a free­lance ba­sis to which­ever lab­o­ra­tory had a use for them. Gluck and Sny­der swapped trou­bled glances but it was some days be­fore they dared speak of the mat­ter. “The sen­ti­ment was that the Hol­lo­man chimps had paid, and were pay­ing, a hell of a price for our re­search on space ex­plo­ration and now med­i­cal ad­vance,” Gluck writes. “Our shared re­ac­tion be­came a foun­da­tion for a friend­ship, one in which we both felt com­fort­able dis­cussing an­i­mal is­sues openly.”

There was no sin­gle mo­ment of epiphany but an ex­change with Sny­der gave Gluck se­ri­ous pause. The New Mex­ico rh­e­sus mon­keys were re­fus­ing to en­gage in a se­ries of mem­ory tests. Gluck starved them to 90 per cent of their nat­u­ral feed­ing weight, hop­ing to make them more re­spon­sive to food stim­uli, but still the mon­keys wouldn’t play. Be­fore starv­ing them fur­ther, he sought ad­vice from Sny­der, who sug­gested ap­petite might not be the prob­lem.

“What does it mean,” Sny­der asked him,


that your test does not en­gage the in­ter­est and ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the mon­keys? If you have to take a mon­key to an ex­treme level

De­tail from the cover of Vo­ra­cious Science and Vul­ner­a­ble An­i­mals

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