Neuralink: are we throwing away animal’s lives?

By Gracie Linthwaite

When Time Magazine made billionaire Elon Musk its person of the year for 2021, they described him as a man of extremes: both clown and genius, edge lord and visionary, industrialist and showman. From founding SpaceX to the most valuable car company in the world, Tesla, it is clear that whether you like him or not, Elon Musk has influence.

As such, the news that Neuralink Corporation, co-founded by Musk, has implanted a device into a monkey’s skull in an attempt to make it play video games with its mind is particularly concerning.

Following reports of deadly brain experiments on 23 monkeys, it is not surprising that The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has filed a complaint with the USDA against the research for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.

On the private app Clubhouse, Musk is reported to have described his company’s endeavour as “pretty cool” — a comment which affirms Time’s description of him as a clown. It is clear to anyone with a sliver of empathy that such fatuous experimentation is not cool, it’s downright cruel.

The use of animals in experiments is not only cruel, but very often fruitless and unproductive

Unfortunately, such tests are not the only time the company has utilised animal experimentation. Technology hoped to be able to create a “Fitbit for your skull with tiny wires” has been tested through implantation into the skulls of pigs. These procedures have involved removing a piece of the animal’s skull and implanting the device, which is then left inside the brain for about two months to track neural signals from the brain to the snout.

Although the company assures that such tests will contribute to research into spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s and dementia, scientists such as the PCRM are dubious about their necessity. Furthermore, Musk has been over-optimistic about the company’s scientific development: in 2019 he predicted that the device would be implanted into a human skull by 2020.

Even more worrying is the fact that Neuralink is far from alone in its barbaric research practices. Despite growth in alternative approaches to scientific research and an increase in public concern, in the US alone over a thousand facilities test on animals, from dogs and cats to primates, with over 30% of the experiments involving moderate to severe suffering.

It has been revealed that in the UK 2.9 million tests involving living animals were carried out in 2020, with 53% of these undertaken simply for ‘basic research’ in universities.

Close to home, a recent study has revealed that in 2018 researchers at Newcastle University subjected two monkeys to gruelling strength training for thirteen weeks to study the impact that weightlifting could have on the human brain. Despite only weighing approximately 6 to 6.5 kilograms themselves, the animals were forced to pull a load weighing up to 6.5 kilograms 50 times; this would be comparable to a human performing 50 single arm pull-ups in 20 minutes. While the necessity of such a study is unclear, it does illuminate the ways in which British scientists still remorselessly push animals to their limits.

The use of animals in experiments is not only cruel, but very often fruitless and unproductive. Animals are not affected by many of the diseases that humans are, including some cancers, Parkinson’s disease, multiple varieties of heart disease, as well as many mental health conditions.

During experiments, very often the symptoms of these illnesses must be simulated in the animal for the test to be able to take place. As such, in the US, although animal testing costs the taxpayer 14 billion dollars, over 98% of drugs developed in these experiments are never made available to the public.

Despite this, as we have seen with the testing of Musk’s implant, animals are increasingly being used in experimentation that isn’t even for medical purposes. The European Union has estimated that only 20% of animal experiments are regulatory requirements.

We need to be questioning the direction science is heading in; in the case of Neuralink, the decision to test on animals is one that comes out of laziness, for validated non-animal methods are available that are often cheaper, quicker, and in many cases more accurate.

The recent criticism of Musk’s company has highlighted that whether you are the richest man in the world or a researcher at a UK university, more needs to be done with regards to the practice of humane scientific research that achieves results without animal suffering.

Photo: Pavan Prasad, Pixabay

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One thought on “Neuralink: are we throwing away animal’s lives?

  • Terrible Article misusing quotes to lead readers to false assumptions and understanding of Neuralink’s goals.

    Reply

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