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Biomedicine in museums

Sacrifice a mouse or perish! The slippery ethical slope road to tenure

My spam mail filter (Spamfighter) is pretty efficient and I usually empty the spam folder without paying much attention to its content. But sometimes I take a closer look. Last night the filter had caught a mail that wanted to sell me laboratory mice with the following argument:

Dear Colleague,

Mice generated by Ozgene have been published in scientific journals such as PNAS, Nature, Science and Blood. For a complete list of publications visit our website at

The latest publication involving mice generated by Ozgene was in June 2006:
York IA, Brehm MA, Zendzian S, Towne CF, Rock KL. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2006 Jun 13;103(24):9202-7

Why not get Ozgene to help generate the mice for your next publication?

Best regards,
Dr Frank Koentgen
Director & CEO
Ozgene Pty Ltd
PRIVACY POLICY: Your email address is safe with us. Ozgene will not share your personal contact information with anyone, for any reason. If you feel that this email is of no value to you and you do not wish to receive further info from us, simply reply with “remove” in the subject line.


Indeed I didn’t reply with “remove” because I rather wanted to discuss what is going on here. This is not an ad that wants scientists to use research animals to combat human suffering, as we outsiders always thought. What Ozgene actually say is that they sell mice to help scientists pursue their careers. Animals shall perish so that people can publish (and not perish in the academic competition).

Don’t misunderstand me —
I’m not at all against sacrificing research animals to help fight crippling and deadly human diseases, as, for example, Princeton University’s famous bioethicist Peter Singer and the infamous animal liberation movement are. But I’m less sure that killing animals with the argument that this will help you publish yet another paper in a highly-cited peer-reviewed journal like PNAS is ethically okey. To me Ozgene’s spam argument sounds like a rather steep slippery ethical slope, if not outright cynical (I can hardly wait to see what Hanne will make out of this in her PhD thesis.)

Dr. Koentgen/Ozgene probably just write what every insider knows, viz., that much of biomedical research is not necessarily only about finding out how nature works or alleviating human suffering. Like most other scientific areas it is also about getting published. The means (publishing) may sometimes even be more important than the goal (increasing knowledge or changing reality).

In other words, what is so interesting about this spam mail is that it is so frank (no pun intended) about Ozgene’s raison d’etre. Dr. Koentgen doesn’t try to conceal the fact that research animals are killed for the sake of getting tenure, or raising one’s standing in the academic community, or securing yet another research grant. The major problem, as I see it, is not that this happens (after all, this is not a perfect world, and shit does indeed happen). The problem is that he doesn’t give a damn about it — nay, he is apparently (and unwittingly?) proud of it.

In this light, the otherwise cool “mousified” paraphrase of the famous Leonardo da Vinci drawing (of a man inscribed in a circle and a square) on the Ozgen website acquires a new, albeit probably unintended, meaning: crucify a mouse in order to publish — or perish!

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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