Out of Left Field

On December 18, 2018, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced a new piece of controversial legislation, S.3773, or the Primate Protection and Research Modernization Act of 2018. Briefly, this law introduces new measures to prevent unethical and unnecessary research on non human primates (NHPs). To accomplish this, the bill would require the National Academy of Sciences to approve any new NHP research while also mandating an audit on all existing NHP research to determine the effectiveness of these experiments in developing effective medical interventions. Furthermore, this bill would restrict NHP research funding awards and prohibit NHP research for the development of consumer goods. Most disastrously, however, NHPs used in research would be required to be housed in ethologically appropriate habitats, including acres of open space.

An effort to appease animal rights activists in the democratic base would have disastrous effects on basic science research. The metric that the bill uses as a proxy for effectiveness in research is the development of medical interventions, but that is an unrealistic standard for basic scientists because much of the NHP research done in America is not targeted towards the clinic. NHP research provides fundamental insights regarding the function of the mammalian brain, and these insights, in time, prove valuable for the medical sector as well as the rest of the economy at large, including the development of artificial intelligence. Furthermore, the animal housing standards are not only unrealistic for all researchers in America, but they would undoubtedly ruin NHP research irreparably.

Indeed, that appears to be the goal of this initiative, as it has the backing of radical animal rights groups, including PETA. A similar measure ended all research on Chimpanzees a short time ago. This shortsighted goal ignores both the progress already made using NHP models but also ignores the potential future value for use of NHPs in developing treatments for complicated neuropsychiatric disease that are difficult to model using other systems. We the Scientists would implore Senator Booker to think beyond the short term political gains of appeasing radical animal rights activists and consider the value to the American economy and to American patients suffering from neuropsychiatric diseases.

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