The Dogs That Couldn’t Bark

The Dogs That Couldn’t Bark

  • July 6, 2022

NIH attempts to bury information about controversial beagle study draw lawsuit

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust announced a transparency lawsuit attempting to force the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide information on possible NIH involvement in a study a bipartisan group of lawmakers termed “cruel” and a “reprehensible misuse of taxpayer funds.” The study’s authors originally claimed funding from NIH but, after public outcry, issued a correction stating that claim was made in error.

The study, titled “Enhanced attraction of sand fly vectors of Leishmania infantum to dogs infected with zoonotic visceral leishmaniasis,” allegedly involved “drug[ging] beagles and lock[ing] their heads in mesh cages filled with hungry sand flies so that the insects could eat them alive,” according to an organization called the White Coat Waste Project. The group’s revelations about the research generated a tremendous backlash, including the letter from the congressional representatives. Following the letter, on November 11, 2021, the study’s authors posted a correction stating,

There are errors in the Funding statement. The correct Funding statement is as follows: The authors received no specific funding for this work.

The US National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust did not provide any funding for this research and any such claim was made in error.

The chain of events raises questions whether NIH did, in fact, provide funding for the study but then demanded the authors make the correction in the face of criticism, or whether NIH provided funding to the groups who conducted the study that was not earmarked for “this research.” PPT sent a Freedom of Information Act request to NIH to get to the bottom of these questions, including by requesting records of communications regarding the allegations NIH funded the research involving beagles and the correction in the funding statement. Despite multiple attempts at outreach with NIH regarding the request, the agency has not provided any responses, other than an auto-generated “status update” acknowledging the request had been received on the date it was submitted.

“Trust is by far the most precious commodity that health care officials possess,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, said. “But, through incidents such as this, our health care leadership has squandered the trust of the American public. Refusing to provide records about this research, which elected officials on both sides of the aisle have condemned, is another big step in the wrong direction.”