Opinion

ROE: John Hopkins Experiments On Barn Owls In A Little Shop Of Horrors

JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Those who have been lucky enough to spot an owl while hiking are usually filled with awe for these amazing creatures. Throughout history, humans have been fascinated with their astounding characteristics and abilities.

Barn owls make their homes in grasslands and forests, in suburbia and agricultural areas. They roost in tree cavities, crevices, caves, and even buildings such as barns, and at night they hunt swiftly and silently over a large territory.

But dozens of barn owls, held captive in a basement laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, are deprived of every semblance of the life that nature intended for them. Your tax dollars are paying for their living hell — a situation that must end immediately.

Here’s what’s going on: An experimenter cuts open their skulls to expose their brains. He screws and glues metal devices onto their heads. He implants electrodes in their brains and cements steel bolts to their heads to prevent them from moving their heads during experiments. The owls endure two or three invasive surgeries before the experimenter forces these magnificent, fully conscious birds into plastic tubes so tight they cannot move. Their eyes are held open with clips.

For up to 16 hours their tormentor bombards these exquisitely sensitive, nocturnal animals with sounds and lights. During these experiments, he pokes electrodes around in the brains of the fully conscious birds, mutilating their brain tissue so severely that they become “unusable” to him — at which point he kills them.

Some owls are used only for practice surgeries by inexperienced staff and then killed.

Dr. Shreesh Mysore in the school’s Department of Neuroscience claims the “studies” relate to attention deficit disorder (ADD) in humans. Really? Anyone with half a brain knows that owls have very distinctive auditory and visual systems that differ in profound ways from those of humans and that what he does to owls in no way translates to ADD in humans.

Further, there are ADD-afflicted humans who would happily volunteer for non-invasive brain scans and other clinical studies that might actually lead to information that could help them. Even Johns Hopkins admits that the choice of owls is about convenience rather than sound science.

What is Mysore’s reward for the sadistic boondoggle? More than $1.3 million of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars, courtesy of the National Institutes of Health. The funds continue to pour in to Mysore’s laboratory, as well as to the university’s coffers, despite a shocking lack of the supposedly required information on procedures and permits in his documentation.

Johns Hopkins — which could and should be leading the world in sophisticated and human-relevant technologies — aids and abets this abuse.

If the owl is a symbol of wisdom then surely Mysore represents humanity’s barbarity. And Johns Hopkins, which receives more research funding from NIH than any other school in the country, is fast becoming a symbol of waste and cruelty.

There are many good human-relevant, animal-free studies that could and must be undertaken. But this obscenity must end.

Katherine Roe, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. She previously conducted brain-imaging research with human subjects at the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of California–San Diego.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.