A letter from PETA to NKU

While People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is ethically opposed to all exploitation of animals, we typically reserve action for those particularly cruel and unnecessary abuses.

I believe Dr. Mark Bardgett’s biopsychology lab fits both criteria. The rats used by Bardgett undergo a procedure called stereotaxic surgery, in which steel spikes lock the animal’s head in place so that a piece of brain can surgically be cut out. The rats are then put through a series of experiments involving electric shock and other noxious stimuli before they are finally killed.

Even if these procedures are performed perfectly – a big “if” for inexperienced undergraduates – there is no denying that pain, distress and death await these animals.

The real argument is over the necessity of experimenting on animals. Simply, animal use is not necessary to teach undergraduate students about biopsychology research design. Bardgett and others have invoked unrelated Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia research in defense of the course, but beginner-level training experiments are not legitimate disease research. They produce no original scientific data and their only purpose is teaching research design to novices.

Bardgett and others also point out the cost of non-animal methods, a straw man argument because only a few of the relevant technologies are expensive.

More basic equipment for eloctroence phalograph (brain activity) and electromyograph (muscle/nerve activity) studies is already available to the class. Other technologies that measure skin conductance, heart rate and eye movement are inexpensive and readily accessible. Other schools use these noninvasive methods, and I’ve heard no explanation why NKU cannot manage to do the same.

Just think for a moment about the innumerable questions that can be investigated with an EEG machine. How do brain waves change before, during, and after students do 30 jumping jacks? How are brain waves affected when students are shown various images? When they do math or think about sex? Do men and women respond differently? Do students with different majors respond differently? Does conditioning participants affect results? The permutations offer limitless hypothesis testing. No explanation exists as to why human studies are unfeasible and why animal studies are necessary.

Critics further declare that students will miss out on vital experience if they don’t experiment on the rodents. But with the American Psychological Association’s estimates that only 7 percent of psychology research involves animals, are students really missing anything? More likely, students are wasting their time on archaic methods that will not be useful in their careers in psychology. So why continue with an animal-focused course – with the suffering animals must endure – instead of switching to a more relevant human-focused course?

PETA is asking that the biopsychology lab be redesigned and that animals experimentation ends after the spring 2006 semester. I urge concerned students, faculty and alumni to contact President James Votruba and tell him it’s time to give the animals a break.

Matthew Mongiello

Research Associate for PETA