The Economist and the Irish Famine

by Henry Farrell on December 13, 2012

The Economist has a “review”: of two books on the Famine in the most recent issue.

Both authors describe the folly and cruelty of Victorian British policy towards its near-forsaken neighbour in detail. The British government, led by Sir Charles Trevelyan, assistant secretary to the Treasury (dubbed the “Victorian Cromwell”), appeared far more concerned with modernising Ireland’s economy and reforming its people’s “aboriginal” nature than with saving lives. Ireland became the unfortunate test case for a new Victorian zeal for free market principles, self-help, and ideas about nation-building.

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Dr Who Monopoly

by Harry on December 13, 2012

Everyone knows that next year is the 50th anniversary. In fact it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out the day after the far less significant 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination: a special is promised, though no details yet. The doctor is even, right now, on the cover of TV guide magazine though not, contra the inside story, for the first time: somewhere in a depths of my 16 year old’s bedroom is the TV guide from just before she was born with Paul McGann on the cover promoting the 1996 TV movie. (And the adorable Larry Hagman is relegated to the back cover — who, when JR was shot, would have imagined that when the real JR died he’d be upstaged by John Smith?) So I thought I’d poke around for a good present for the 16 year-old from her loving siblings and found….Monopoly: Dr. Who Edition 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition. Fantastic! (PS, don’t tell her, please).

Peak Pale

by John Holbo on December 13, 2012

It seems to me that, just as ‘peak oil’ refers to the “the point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production is expected to enter terminal decline,” so ‘peak pale’ ought to refer to the point in time when the maximum relative rate of white vote extraction is reached by the GOP, after which the party’s rate of election is expected to enter terminal decline. (So it isn’t that we’ve ‘run out of’ whites – not exactly. Let’s be precise about this, shall we?)

I am not sure how this relates, if at all, to my previous post.

Maternal Deprivation Studies at UW Madison

by Harry on December 13, 2012

Lori Gruen has had a post up for a while at New APPS, on the renewal of maternal deprivation research at UW Madison. Here is her description of what the researchers plan to do:

A psychiatry professor who has a distinguished record of research on anxiety disorders plans to separate more monkey babies from their mothers, leave them with wire “surrogates” covered in cloth (a practice developed by Harlow) to emulate “adverse early rearing conditions,” then pair them with another maternally deprived infant after 3-6 weeks of being alone. The infants will then be exposed to fearful conditions. The monkeys in this group and another group of young monkeys who will be reared with their mothers, will then be killed and their brains examined.

Here is the experimental protocol and here is a history of maternal deprivation studies at UW Madison, from a site established by critics of the research.

The protocol describes the value of the research as follows:

While numerous studies have been performed examining the effects of surrogate/peer in nonhuman primates, no studies have been performed examining the effects of this rearing modification on brain development using state of the art imaging and molecular methods. These efforts will allow us to identify the exact brain regions affected, the changes in gene function in these regions, and the specific genes that are involved increasing the early risk to develop anxiety and depression. Such information has the potential to identify new targets in specific brain regions that can lead to new ideas about treatment and even prevention of the long-term suffering associated with early adversity. For example, understanding the involvement of brain chemicals that have never before been implicated in anxiety, will allow the field to begin to search for medications that affect these newly identified systems. In addition, the molecular information, combined with the imaging data, may allow for interventions that target novel brain regions that are critically involved in anxiety and depression.

Part of me is very resistant to forgoing human benefits for the sake of non-human animals. The other part of me thinks that the more like a human being an animal is (and thus the more likely research on it is to be useful for the treatment of humans) the more likely it is that the animal has a high degree of moral status. And there can be no question that the monkeys will be caused psychological harm by this study, since the monkeys’ susceptibility to anxiety and distress is an integral part of the research. And while studies of this kind do differ from Harlow’s experiments involving total social isolation, they still seem spectacularly cruel.

The university seems to have been pretty unforthcoming about the research. A quick Google Search for “maternal deprivation UW Madison” shows the top hits as a page against the research by Alliance for Animals, a Madison-based animal rights group, a petition by Gruen to the UW Provost to stop the research, and another website hosted by Alliance for Animals that has a pledge for alumni to refrain from donating to UW until the maternal deprivation experiments are stopped. But I don’t see anything by UW. I’d be interested to know if anyone has seen more information. Or could offer a convincing defense.