DAVIS, Calif.—As part of an ongoing public records lawsuit by a national doctors group, the University of California, Davis revealed this month that it possesses 371 photographs related to monkey experiments conducted by Elon Musk’s company Neuralink. The nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine sued UC Davis in February 2022 for refusing to release photographs and videos of the experiments. According to university veterinary records, Neuralink experimenters cut holes in monkeys’ skulls to implant electrodes in the animals’ brains as part of the company’s work on a “brain-machine interface.” Between 2017 and 2020, the company paid UC Davis $1.4 million to use the university’s facilities and animals. Neuralink now conducts experiments at its facilities in California and Texas.
In a legal document, UC Davis acknowledged on Sept. 7 that it has 185 photographs related to necropsies of animals killed during the Neuralink experiments. Yet the university’s attorneys argued that the images should not be released because the public would misunderstand them.
“UC Davis thinks the public is too stupid to know what they’re looking at,” says Ryan Merkley, director of research advocacy with the Physicians Committee. “But it’s clear the university is simply trying to hide from taxpayers the fact that it partnered with Elon Musk to conduct experiments in which animals suffered and died.”
More than 600 pages of records previously released by UC Davis showed monkeys suffering from chronic infections, seizures, paralysis, and painful side effects following experiments by Neuralink. In two separate incidents, experimenters used an unapproved adhesive called BioGlue to fill holes in the animals’ skulls, which seeped through to the monkeys’ brains. In one monkey, the use of BioGlue caused bleeding in her brain, and she vomited so much from the resulting side effects that she developed open sores in her esophagus.
UC Davis also acknowledged that it possesses an additional 186 photographs taken by Neuralink employees related to the monkey experiments. Yet, despite public funding of the university and extensive work by public employees on the experiments, UC Davis claims these images should not be released because they are “proprietary.”
“These photos are public records created with public funds, and the public deserves access to the research they paid for,” says Deborah Dubow Press, Esq., associate general counsel with the Physicians Committee.
Reina Pohl, MPH
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.