Monkeys, Cartoons, and Diesel Exhaust – Why?

According to a story in the New York Times earlier this week, back in 2014, Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW financed an experiment in an attempt to prove that diesel vehicles with the latest technology were cleaner than the smoky models of old. But the American scientists conducting the test in Albuquerque, NM were unaware of one critical fact: The VW Beetle provided by Volkswagen had been rigged to produce pollution levels that were far less harmful in the lab than they were on the road.

The results were being deliberately manipulated.

But from my perspective that’s the lesser of the two evils that occurred with the experiment.

The American scientists were part of the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, the Albuquerque organization that conducted the tests with monkeys. To test their hypothesis, the researchers used ten monkeys who had to squat in airtight chambers, watching cartoons for entertainment as they inhaled fumes from a diesel car.

According to a report released last year by a committee of the European Parliament, 72,000 people in Europe died in 2012 prematurely because of nitrogen dioxide pollution, which comes primarily from diesel vehicles.

If the fumes are harmful to humans, what were these “scientists” thinking when they designed an experiment that would deliberately expose monkeys to these same fumes? What gives them the right to cause such potential harm to another living animal?

The tests were conducted using 10 cynomolgus macaque monkeys, a breed used extensively in medical experiments, according to the legal records. There’s just something wrong about the phrase I just bolded.

The natural life of a monkey is not meant to be spent in a cage, just waiting to serve as an unwilling participant in a variety of experiments. Monkeys are sentient beings (they have a conscious awareness) and can feel pain, just like humans.

So again, why we anyone deliberately subject monkeys, or any animal, to such testing?

Gas from exhaust pipes was diluted and fed into chambers containing the monkeys. To keep the animals calm during the four hours they breathed fumes, lab workers set up a television showing cartoons. “They like to watch cartoons,” Jake McDonald, the Lovelace scientist who oversaw the experiments, said in a sworn deposition taken last year.

Are you kidding me – you somehow know that monkeys like cartoons, but you don’t know that breathing exhaust fumes could be potentially harmful to the monkeys? These people should not be allowed to conduct experiments any more, and should not be allowed to call themselves scientists any more.

Shortly after the story broke, the three carmakers tried to distance themselves from the experiments, even though they are the ones who had financed the research.

Volkswagen issued the following statement: “We apologize for the misconduct and the lack of judgment of individuals. We’re convinced the scientific methods chosen then were wrong. It would have been better to do without such a study in the first place.”

“We believe the animal tests in this study were unnecessary and repulsive,” Daimler said in a statement. “We explicitly distance ourselves from the study.”

BMW too distanced itself from the trial, saying it had taken no part in its design and methods.

If the car makers were unaware of how the experiments were to be conducted, that seems like a serious breach of one’s responsibility.

I hope that these revelations force companies to take a closer look at how scientific experiments are done, and if animals are being harmed in such experiments, then that research needs to end immediately.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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