Next up in Elon Musk’s comic book evil villain transformation: Neuralink, his medical device company, is under federal investigation for potentially violating animal welfare regulations, reports Reuters.
Neuralink Corp hopes to develop a brain implant to cure neurological ailments, including helping paralyzed people walk again. In an extensive report, Reuters spoke to several former and current employees who allege the company has killed more animals than necessary in its tests due to Musk’s push to create the implant faster. As a result, the US Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General opened an investigation in recent months to determine if its animal testing has violated the Animal Welfare Act.
The company’s employees allege that pressure from Musk to accelerate development has led to botched experiments that subsequently require repeated tests — and more animals killed in the process. Reuters’ sources describe a “pressure cooker” environment that has forced employees to “[scramble] to meet deadlines and [make] last-minute changes before surgeries, raising risks to the animals.” On several occasions, the report says, Musk told employees to imagine they had a bomb strapped to their heads in order to get them to move faster.
Reuters reports Neuralink has killed about 1,500 animals — including more than 280 sheep, pigs, and monkeys — after completing experiments since 2018. Since the company doesn’t keep precise records on the number of animals tested and killed, however, the number could actually be higher.
As Reuters notes, the total number of animal deaths doesn’t necessarily mean Neuralink is violating regulations. Many companies in the same field also rely on animal testing and kill those animals when experiments are done to examine them for research purposes.
In traditional animal testing, however, scientists test one specific element at a time and draw solid conclusions before moving on to a new study. At Neuralink, scientists are forced to launch various tests in quick succession before drawing complete conclusions — or fixing the human errors that took place due to their fast movements. As a result, more animals are tested and killed since many tests require repeated attempts to draw conclusive results.
An animal rights group called Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a complaint with the USDA back in February accusing University of California Davis and Neuralink of nine violations of the Animal Welfare Act. In the complaint, PCRM alleged 15 of 23 monkeys with Neuralink brain chips at UC Davis between 2017 and 2020 died.
Read Reuters’ full report on Neuralink here.
Musk may not be popular in some circles — Tesla’s stock dropped 50% after he bought Twitter, and Jack White mocked him for finally learning the dangers of unregulated speech after he suspended Kanye West from the app for inciting violence with his hate speech — but Netflix’s CEO is a fan, and a bunch of crypto nerds made Musk a $600,000 statue, so, you win some, you lose some.