Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (Livingstone), Animal Tormenter

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3 min read

Harvard experimenter Margaret Livingstone—known for sewing shut the eyelids of infant monkeys for up to a year—has a long history of engaging in reckless animal experimentation, gloats over the devices she has fashioned to torment animals, and, interestingly, also shares a creepy childhood hobby with infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

But you don’t have to take our word for it: She conveniently lays it all out herself in an autobiography that she penned for The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography, vol. 9—a series that collects the stories of neuroscientists, in their own words.

In it, Livingstone mirthfully describes incidents in her career in which she went rogue with experiments on animals, puffs up with pride over a device she built herself to torment cats, and casually denigrates whole species of animals in a remarkably unsympathetic and incognizant chronicle of her own career.

Livingstone’s 40-year career is built on taking perfectly healthy baby monkeys away from their loving mothers at birth and depriving them of normal visual input by stitching their eyes closed or by altering their sight in other ways. In some of her experiments, laboratory staff wear welding masks when they’re in the presence of the motherless monkeys. The infants never see a face, monkey or human.

This is all great fun for her, she says. She couldn’t possibly love it more. So fun.

“I spend a lot of time now taking care of baby monkeys while wearing a mask so they never see any faces, and I can’t imagine having more fun doing anything else,” Livingstone says in the autobiography.

In some experiments, monkeys are deprived of all liquids for hours on end and an experimenter will dole out mere drops of juice—a “juice reward,” in animal experimenter parlance—for the monkeys’ continued cooperation. Livingstone finds the monkeys’ reaction “fascinating.”

“They will do whatever they need to do to get a juice reward, and sometimes what they do is not exactly what you thought you were training them to do. It’s like raising children—you need to be aware of what it is you are reinforcing,” she says.

Well, it’s not exactly like raising children, though, is it? Pretty sure there are laws against depriving children of liquids as a super-fun behavior modification technique.

Livingstone, who says all spider monkeys are inherently “neurotic” and difficult to work with, recalled how as a student she had asked an instructor if she could inject some lobsters with a chemical—you know, just to see what would happen. He refused. So she did it anyway—and the lobsters became “frozen” in “stereotyped postures” for aggression and submission. How much did she inject?

“About a pinch as I recollect,” she said.

Very scientific indeed, Margaret.

Livingstone at one point in her career experimented on cats, keeping them awake for hours. To accomplish this, she designed her own torture device using a cardboard drum she found at a nearby demolition site. Wistfully and without a hint of empathy, she then recalls how she and a colleague prevented a cat inside it from sleeping by slowly revolving the drum.

“I also remember that after we had used this huge drum to sleep deprive a cat, we took it into the men’s room to empty it into a toilet,” she says. “We both ended up with soggy cat excrement all over our feet.”

Oh, the madcap hijinks of animal torturers. Will the hilarity never end?

In another experiment, Livingstone recalls that one of the cats didn’t fall asleep. She gave the cat Valium to induce drowsiness—but didn’t realize that the drug has the opposite effect in cats. She laments that she had to stay with the cat for 12 more hours and decided to pass the time reading. She writes, “The experiment was a failure, but the book was fantastic.”

Livingstone’s obvious irony deficiency may be rooted in her childhood, during which, she says, she collected skulls she had found and “made skeletons from road kill by soaking the carcasses in lye.” Playing with roadkill is a childhood amusement that was also enjoyed by serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Livingstone has conducted her obscenely violent experiments on monkeys for 40 years. Since 1998, she has collected $32 million in taxpayer money from the National Institutes of Health to bankroll them. Yet she has not produced any cures or treatments for humans. Harvard must shut down her laboratory.

Please join more than 70,000 PETA supporters by telling Harvard to close Livingstone’s laboratory.

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