After action by PETA scientists and prominent bioethicist Peter Singer, articles describing horrific “depression” experiments on monkeys have been removed from the scientific literature.
Deprivation, Dystopia, Dousing With Ice Water
In 2021, PETA uncovered several scientific papers describing experiments conducted in China that sounded more like reports from CIA black sites than anything carried out for legitimate educational or research purposes. These experiments subjected monkeys to torture techniques used to break humans physically and emotionally.
In one paper, posted on the pre-print host Research Square, experimenters describe how they confined male long-tailed macaques to restrictively small cages in which they were “barely able to turn around” (see image below) and couldn’t see or touch other members of their species for nearly three months. During this time, the experimenters subjected the monkeys to things called “stick stimulation,” “stick cage,” and “cage dystopia,” which are not further described; deprived them of food and water; kept the lights on at night or deprived them of any light during daytime hours; and sprayed or doused them with ice water. The proposed goal of this torture was to “[simulate] the environment of human depression and [establish] a cynomolgus monkeys depression model.”
This torture is not acceptable for any reason, and as PETA scientists wrote to Research Square, these types of extreme stressors do not adequately represent the social and physical stressors that can lead to mental health conditions in humans. In reality, sexual abuse, physical abuse, substance use disorders, difficulties in interpersonal relationships, economic stress, and chronic illness or injury are more common life traumas associated with depression in humans.
What’s more, even the monkeys used as a “control group” in most of these experiments spent much of their time in barren metal cages and were subjected to constant experimental testing. These living conditions cannot provide an accurate example of “typical” or “healthy” development for any species, and the additional stress of laboratory conditions confounds the experimental stressors introduced in this study. Then there are the fundamental differences in genetics, brain anatomy and function, and development among humans and monkeys that further render these experiments useless.
Research Square thought so, too. The site removed the paper, citing ethical concerns, and worked with PETA scientists to strengthen its screening process in order to help prevent papers like this one from being widely disseminated.
Ethics Dumping and Backtracking
Another of the horrible papers—this one coauthored by an experimenter at Wake Forest University—described lab workers in China caging macaques alone for 80 days. For 55 continuous days, experimenters blasted them with a 100-decibel sound—roughly the volume of a car horn—for 12 consecutive hours. They deprived the animals of water or any other fluids for 12 hours at a time and of food for 24 hours. They put the monkeys in cages barely bigger than their bodies, severely restricting their movement for four hours; sprayed them with cold (50-degree) water for 10 minutes; forced them to endure a strobe light for 12 hours; and subjected them to inescapable and repeated electric shocks on their feet for up to 90 seconds.
The authors also subjected the monkeys to the human-intruder test, a horrifically cruel experiment developed by notorious monkey tormenter Ned Kalin to “elicit anxiety-like behaviors.”
An earlier version of the paper claimed that the experiments were partially paid for by the taxpayer-funded U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). But, after PETA contacted the agency about the paper, including the fact that it did not appear to have had the necessary approval by Wake Forest’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, NIH denied having funded it.
Renowned bioethicist and Animal Liberation author Peter Singer took an interest in these papers and PETA’s work to scrub them from the scientific literature in a recent piece he published in Project Syndicate, “Research Ethics and Non-Human Subjects.”
Singer’s article brought renewed attention to the papers, and Research Square learned that the one it had removed for ethical reasons had been published in the journal Clinical and Translational Medicine, this time with many of the original, horrible methods obscured. Research Square wrote to the journal, sharing the concerns that PETA scientists and Singer had brought to its attention. As a result, the paper was formally retracted, and explained why:
The retraction has been agreed due to the shortcomings of the cynomolgus monkey depression model. The isolated conditions applied, and the flawed behavioural classification method and the insufficient experimental duration of the animal model render the conclusions of the article inaccurate.
Why Retractions Matter
PETA’s goal is to end all experiments on animals, and creating deterrents is a part of achieving that. For scientists, publishing papers is one of the primary measures by which their success is judged—it’s how they get promotions and grant funding, so they must “publish or perish.” When experimenters realize that useless tests that cause extreme harm won’t add to their publication count, they’ll stop conducting them, sparing animals and facilitating better science. Had PETA, Peter Singer, and Research Square not acted, these two papers would have been allowed to remain published, rewarding the experimenters and encouraging others to perform the same kind of torture.
Take Action for Primates Who Suffer in Cruel Experiments
Every year in the U.S., more than 109,000 primates are imprisoned in laboratories, where most of them are abused and killed in invasive, painful, and terrifying experiments. Much of this torment takes place within the remaining seven national primate research centers (NPRCs), hellholes established by the NIH in the 1960s and which serve as breeding grounds for diseases as well as places of immeasurable pain, misery, and death. The NPRCs have been a total failure in advancing our health and well-being. Join thousands of PETA supporters in calling for the immediate closure of the NPRCs and the release of their monkey victims to appropriate sanctuaries, where they would be safe for the rest of their lives and treated with the dignity that they deserve.