Whether by design or naiveté, Blum's Love at Goon Park tells the story of Harry Harlow in such a way that readers with only a passing familiarity with Harlow will come away from the book with the impression that in spite of the clearly troubling nature of his experimental manipulations of baby monkeys, science and humanity - especially young human children - were well served. And readers will have the impression that such things are not allowed in today's laboratories: we have progressed ethically since the days of Harlow.
Blum accomplishes these goals in various ways. One the one hand she blindly (or carefully) omits some key points about Harlow's earliest work with monkeys. She gets it right when explaining that Harlow was surprised that monkeys are highly intelligent problem solvers who are adept at applying past knowledge to novel situations. Harlow felt and wrote that monkeys and humans have the same sort of minds. Blum does not mention the fact that Harlow, upon leaning of these seemingly profound implications, began damaging monkeys' brains and then testing their previous problem solving abilities. (See for instance, his 1950 publication in Science: "The effect of large cortical lesions on learned behavior in monkeys.") Blum also fails to mention the radiation studies Harlow conducted on monkeys. (See for instance, his 1956 publication in the Journal of Comparative Physiology and Psychology: "The effects of repeated doses of total-body x radiation on motivation and learning in rhesus monkeys.") Thus, readers do not understand Harlow's willingness to hurt animals prior to beginning his studies on attachment.
Blum also makes the historically erroneous claim that prior to Harlow's work on attachment no one was paying attention to the work of psychologists studying the effect of social and environmental deprivation in human children. She pointedly claims that Harlow began his work on "... mother love at a time when British psychiatrist John Bowlby could barely persuade his colleagues to join the words `mother' and `love' together." (p 150)
But Bowlby was commissioned by the World Health Organization to study the effects of institutionalization on orphaned children. He published his landmark work, Maternal Care and Mental Health, in 1951. Harlow published "Love in Infant Monkeys" in Scientific American in 1959. Bowlby was neither a pioneer in these studies of human children nor a lone voice. In this area of psychology, Harlow did nothing for human children; his work did, ironically, add to the wealth of evidence that monkeys and humans are disquietingly similar in ethically important ways.
Blum also reshapes history by casting doubt on the veracity and honor of Harlow's critics. For instance, she claims that "until late in Harry's career, animal activists were remarkably respectful of research priorities." (p. 298) Harlow retired in 1974. Peter Singer's Animal Liberation, cited by nearly all historians as the catalyst for the modern animal rights movement, was first published in 1975.
Love at Goon Park is a stark example of propaganda. Though the reasons for Blum's love of primate vivisectors remain obscure, the love and admiration shine forth. Two comments encapsulate all of Blum's studious disingenuousness: "Bill Mason and Sally Mendoza, at the University of California, have done remarkable work with the South American titi monkey." (p 278) And, quoting Bill Mason: "[Harlow] would write about his experiments as if he did them with glee....It made my flesh creep." (p 297)
Here is an example of Mendoza's "remarkable work" with titi's in her own words: "The propensity to seek contact with individuals with which a strong relationship ... is exemplified in the extreme by the South American titi monkey. These monogamous primates spend up to 90% of their day in physical contact with other members of their family group.... We will selectively lesion, using aspiration techniques, different cortical fields in animals from well-established social groups. We will then monitor changes in social behavior and social motivation associated with the loss of a specific field or body part representation therein." (From one of her current publicly-funded NIH grants, "Somatosensory cortex in affective social relationships.")
And William "Bill" Mason's supposed sensitivities to his teacher's research? This seems a bit misleading. His most recently published paper (2004) is titled: "Behavioral and physiological adaptation to repeated chair restraint in rhesus macaques."
Readers beware: Blum's account of Harlow, in Love at Goon Park, is perfectly aligned with her account of the entire industry, Monkey Wars. She is a staunch supporter of the industry and skillfully leads her readers to conclusions not supported by a fair reading of the facts. She presents a selective history and a carefully tailored recitation of the "facts" that seem calculated to put a positive spin on the most ethically challenging human use of animals.
In spite of this, and in part because of it, I recommend Monkey Wars and Love at Goon Park to readers. These books have much interesting information and give much insight into the willingness of the industry to put up with, to defend, and to encourage, essentially any and all forms of cruelty.