Dr. Ned Kalin from the University of Wisconsin–Madison is subjecting baby rhesus macaque monkeys to a controversial series of experiments designed to maternally and socially isolate them, then terrify them for over a year, before killing them to examine the effects of fear on their brains. The purpose of the experiments is “to understand the effects of early adversity, as this is the most important environmental component that contributes to risk of developing anxiety and depression.” But many UW alumni are speaking out against the experiments, saying the techniques are outdated, inhumane, unethical, clumsy, oversimplified, and quite simply “relentless torture.” Dr. Ruth Decker, an alumna of UW-M’s School of Medicine, has started a petition on Change.org requesting that the University’s Board of Regents cancel the tests, and alumni group Not In Our Name have a website where UW alumni can express their opposition to the project. Read on for further details.


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Dr. Kalin is the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.In 2011, he requested to resume experiments using a process known as maternal deprivation. Newborn rhesus monkeys are taken from their mothers and isolated with just a stuffed-toy-like “surrogate” for company. After a couple of weeks, the experiments start, including the process known as “the human intruder.” These experiments are specifically designed to cause fear and terror in the young monkeys. After several weeks, the baby monkeys will be paired with a peer undergoing the same process, but they will be isolated when subjected to testing. Another experiment involves confronting the monkeys with a live king snake. Kalin argues that a live snake must be used because rubber snakes “do not elicit as reliable or robust of a fear response as as a live snake does in nonhuman primates.”

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At the end of the process, Kalin hopes to see differences between the dissected brains of the traumatized monkeys and the brains of a control group of normal baby monkeys not taken from their mothers at birth. Ninety monkeys were requested for the experiments, 20 to undergo maternal deprivation and the remainder being the control group of baby monkeys, mothers, “replacements,” cage mates and those to be used as participants in the fear-inducing experiments. But the value of the project is being questioned by many alumni who argue that the known outcome of completely traumatized monkeys does not in any way contribute to our further understanding of or ability to assist traumatized children. As clinical pediatric psychologist Dr. Sujatha Ramakrishna argues, “the research conditions under which these monkeys are raised in no way resemble any sort of conditions ever experienced by human babies.” Questioning Dr. Kalin’s ethics she asks, “If the emotions and behavior of primates are so similar to ours, doesn’t that make it wrong to intentionally cause them pain and suffering?”

Dr. Kalin’s work also does not come cheap. Not In Our name states, “In the past ten years alone, it has cost us [taxpayers] $5,075,798.” At time of writing, the Change.org petition was approaching 200,000 signatures. You can add your name to the petition here, and if you are a UW alumni or current student, you can make your pledge here to the UW System President and let him know you are withholding your support from the University until these cruel experiments are ended.

Lead image by Skynavin via Shutterstock; photo by Not in Our Name