The Monkey Wars

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1995:

The Monkey Wars
by Deborah Blum
Oxford University Press (200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016),
1994. 306 pages, cloth, $25.00.
Based on a Pultizer Prize-winning
investigative series published in 1991 by the
Sacramento Bee, The Monkey Wars is the
fairest, most comprehensive look yet at pri-
mate research and related protest. Author
Deborah Blum gained access to many of the
most controversial researchers and laborato-
ries in the United States. She describes from
first-hand observation the exploratory brain
surgery of Stuart Zola-Morgan, for instance,
combining appreciation of his findings with
discussion of the moral issues that have led
the activist community to brand him “Dr.

Those who hold black-and-white
positions, of whatever nature, will find
Blum’s work disturbing. On the one hand,
she demonstrates that whatever else vivisec-
tion may be, it is not scientific fraud, as the
disciples of Hans Reusch would have it, and
is often quite scientifically productive. On
the other, Blum shreds the contention of the
scientific establishment that it is quite capa-
ble of policing itself, with no help from
activists. In chapters pertaining to the Ebola
virus and other monkey-transmitted zoonotic
diseases, perhaps including AIDS, Blum
shows how risks taken in the hope of
advancing science have had potentially cata-
strophic consequences. Extensive discussion
of the psychological experiments of the late
Harry Harlow suggest that whatever benefits
they produced in better appreciating the
importance of maternal nurturing could just
as well have been achieved through case
studies of abused and deprived human chil-
dren, of whom there have unfortunately
never been a shortage. While showing
through interviews and anecdote that primate
vivisectors are for the most part well-mean-
ing people who do take various ethical
points into serious consideration, Blum also
reveals their uneasiness about what they end
up doing by documenting instance after
instance of self-censorship and obstruction
of oversight. To a considerable extent, such
camouflage has increased public apprehen-
sion about animal experimentation––and
has prevented appreciation of significant
improvement in primate care during the past
decade, to the point that as one of Blum’s
sources explains, “good” by the standards
of a decade ago might now be considered
“marginal,” or even “poor,” and marginal
by the standards of a decade ago is now
utterly unacceptable.
Blum concludes with a stern lec-
ture to all concerned: “In the last decade of
the 20th century, it is clear that the future
will continue to be shaped by science and
technology. To function in that world,
people need to understand the forces chang-
ing their lives. That means scientists must
learn that their job description has changed.
They do not work only in a laboratory; they
work for and with the rest of us, with all the
risk that entails…They must learn that if sci-
ence is worth explaining and defending at
all, it must be worth explaining and defend-
ing not just to those who already approve,
but to a broader constituency. If the price is
controversy, the reward is understand-
ing––a gain in public knowledge and a
respect grounded in reality instead of some
idealized image of Dr. Genius, mixing mir-
acles in test tubes.
“On the other hand, that openness
is not going to come if animal advocates
don’t move away from the gates, at least a
little. Whether or not they agree, advocates
need to give scientists a fair chance to
describe the work honestly, without sub-
terfuge…Break-ins at laboratories and hos-
tile vigils outside researchers’ homes have
the unfortunate effect of doing just the
opposite. The activists’ most aggressive
strategies have driven animal research
behind barricades.”
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