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That led to a debate about just what constituted “necessary” and “moral justification.” Even research that doesn’t have an immediate translation to people—like figuring out how the monkey brain works—is necessary, argued Newsome, because it could eventually lead to significant new knowledge that might improve human health. “It will be a tragedy for the world if we don’t leave room for basic science.” Most attendees seemed to agree, with some stating that not doing research on monkeys was ethically indefensible because humans would suffer down the line.

Despite that ethical debate, animal welfare groups said they were upset that science—not welfare—dominated the workshop. Of the 13 speakers, eight make their living working with nonhuman primates. The workshop also only devoted 2 minutes—instead of its scheduled 30 minutes—to public comments. “We are extremely disappointed that no animal protection groups were invited,” wrote Kathleen Conlee, vice president of animal research issues for The Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C., in an email to ScienceInsider. “It is clear that NIH has not followed through on what Congress requested, which was to examine ethical policies and processes.”

Allyson Bennett in Madison, a spokesperson for Speaking of Research, an international organization that supports the use of animals in scientific labs, says that there was more discussion of ethics than it appeared on the surface. “Ethical considerations are embedded in institutional review and federal oversight,” she says, noting that no work on nonhuman primates can be funded or take place unless it meets strict welfare guidelines. “The workshop absolutely fulfilled its mandate.” Ethics, she says, go beyond animal welfare. “The public is interested in new knowledge and medical progress. That’s a key piece of the ethical justification for this work.”

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