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Animal rights activists target Brookhaven Lab workers

'Filbert', a baby squirrel monkey, rides the back

'Filbert', a baby squirrel monkey, rides the back of his mother, 'Meg', at the Philadelphia Zoo. Photo Credit: AP File / Jan. 2001

Brookhaven National Laboratory employees were targets of a "robo call" campaign Thursday, sponsored by the animal-rights organization Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which is protesting a proposed squirrel monkey experiment at the lab.

The calls were placed directly to the office lines of employees by Voice Broadcasting Corp., in Arlington, Texas, carrying a message from former NASA International Space Station engineer April Evans, according to the group. Evans resigned from her NASA job in Houston earlier this year after learning about the proposed experiment at Brookhaven.

The monkey experiment has stirred controversy ever since NASA officials in Washington announced plans for the $1.75-million project last year. Brookhaven is merely the site where the experiment is to occur; its scientists are not involved in squirrel monkey research. However, NASA operates Brookhaven's Space Radiation Laboratory, the country's only center producing highly charged particles that mimic deep space radiation, and the experiment would expose the animals to radioactive fields.

Behavioral pharmacologist Jack Bergman, of McClean Hospital, in Belmont, Mass., who designed the experiment, wants to use the monkeys as proxies for humans to determine how galactic radiation affects the brain. NASA would use the information to determine how astronauts might be affected during a Mars voyage.

Dr. John Pippin, senior medical and research adviser for the physician's organization, said, "This kind of experimentation is not only cruel and inhumane, but would not prove anything.

"What [Evans] hopes the message will do are two things - to get her viewpoint out there as a well-credentialed NASA scientist, and to get employees to tell decision-makers in these institutions that they oppose this experimentation and to stay out of the business of bad science."

Deep space radiation has long been seen as an obstacle to extended expeditions. Evans said in her message: "There are better strategic approaches available for NASA to combat radiation, such as developing space radiation shielding technology to protect our astronauts."

Brookhaven spokesman Peter Genzer said the lab completed reviews of the experiment and the decision is "pending based on the outcome of high-level talks between DOE and NASA." The experiment calls for transporting monkeys from the hospital, irradiating them at the lab, then returning them to Massachusetts. McClean Hospital employees also received robo calls Thursday.

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