Yale has been rated the “second-worst” Ivy League university in a ranking of animal mistreatment in laboratories, but University administrators have dismissed the report as misleading.
The report, compiled by the medical ethics group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, used statistics from routine inspections by the US Department of Agriculture to score the eight universities on their treatment of animal test subjects. Violations were divided into three categories — severe, nonsevere and repeat — upon which the universities were awarded points for misconduct. But Yale administrators dismissed the ranking and the organization that created it, labeling the report as “sensational” and “misleading.”
According to the report, the most serious violations at Yale were committed in 2010, when baboons suffered from blisters and burns after heating pads were used in an experiment instead of warm-water baths. The USDA inspector that year also found an unreported dead hamster and numerous other animal fatalities that had not been recorded by Yale staff, the report said.
“The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at Yale is not doing its job,” said John Pippin, lead author of the report and a former Harvard animal researcher. “We were hopeful that since they get such tremendous amounts of taxpayer money that they would comply with the animal welfare regulations. We were very disappointed that there were so many repeat and severe violations.”
But Yale administrators and external members of the medical community have rejected the organization’s criticisms.
Yale administrators said the report was taken out of context and that, while the numbers were accurate, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine did not take the size of the research facilities into account. Indeed, the administrators said that the organization purposefully presented the information in a way that propagated its own agenda — to eliminate the use of animals in medical research.
Director of the Animal Resources Center James Macy described the violations as being a combination of bad luck and human error that were taken out of context by the report.
The report deliberately chose the Ivy League programs which have large research facilities and a corresponding number of violations, Macy said. It aimed to present the findings in the most negative way possible, Macy added.
“The PCRM ‘report’ is little more than an aggregation of USDA inspection reports from the past four years and the application of a forced ranking among Ivy League schools to sensationalize the data,” said Director of Strategic Communications Charles Hogen ’70.
Macy said that in the case of the hamsters, the study was one in which some deaths were expected and that the USDA official arrived before the laboratory had time to report the death, which occurred the previous night. He added that the USDA report was based on violations reported by the University itself, which were immediately assessed by a committee whose members were appointed based on federal regulations. This committee then decided on the best course to pursue.
But Pippin refuted that neither the size of the facility nor the self-reporting were acceptable excuses for negligence.
“If you have your systems in place and are regulating research protocols it shouldn’t matter how big your program is,” Pippin said. “If your system works it works.”
The Physicans Committee for Responsible Medicine advocates non-animal methods for studying diseases, a position that is becoming more and more mainstream all the time, Pippin added. Their claims, he said, are backed up by government findings which have prompted federal organizations like the US Food and Drug Administration to focus on phasing out animal testing.
But two medical researchers from the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research and Americans for Medicial Progress interviewed said the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine was exaggerating and editorializing the data collected.
“In my view PCRM are intellectual extremists and are quite willing to use somewhat tainted language and push the truth in service of their cause,” said Alan Dittrich, president of the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research. “They say some things in their story that are either not true or exaggerated.”
The University of Pennsylvania emerged as the worst of the Ivies with a Research Misconduct Score (RMS) of 120; Princeton and Yale tied for the second spot with 49 points each.