Musk is a co-founder of Neuralink, a neurotechnology startup working on brain implants that could restore movement to the paralyzed. According to documents reviewed by Reuters and sources familiar with the investigation and the company’s operations, the federal government is investigating Neuralink for potential violations of animal-welfare laws following complaints from employees that the company is rushing through animal testing, leading to unnecessary suffering and deaths.
Two sources familiar with the inquiry have confirmed that the Inspector General of the United States Department of Agriculture initiated the previously undisclosed criminal investigation at the request of a federal prosecutor in recent months. One of the individuals stated that violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates how researchers treat and test particular animals, are the primary focus of the investigation.
Neuralink Employees Claim Pressure From Elon Musk To Accelerate Development Resulted In Botched Experiments
According to a Reuters review of dozens of Neuralink documents and interviews with more than 20 current and former employees, the investigation has come at a time of growing employee dissent about Neuralink’s animal testing, including complaints that pressure from CEO Musk to accelerate development has resulted in botched experiments. Workers claim that due to repeated attempts at these tests, a greater number of animals have been subjected to them and ultimately killed. Among the firm files are emails, audio recordings, presentations, and reports that have never before been made public.
Reuters was told by sources that many of the errors that risk the welfare of animals might have been prevented. Workers said that the company botched surgery on two pigs by implanting their chips on the wrong spine, prompting the corporate veterinarian to recommend killing one of the animals due to its “bad psychological well-being.”
Even worse, staffers told Reuters that Musk’s eagerness for the company to work faster than was safe occasionally worsened blunders that led to the deaths of the animals. Reuters intercepted a communication in which an employee complained to coworkers about the company’s animal testing. The publication said that several workers had complained about the treatment of animals within the organization and that some had even resigned over the issue.
The story also included a detail that smelled like a retroactive approach to scientific literature: after Musk described the company’s approach to surgery as “confirmatory, not exploratory,” researchers were allegedly instructed to scrub the word “exploratory” from study titles retroactively and avoid using it in the future.
Many Animal Deaths Could Have Been Prevented
A source familiar with the incident and corporate papers and communications examined by Reuters indicates that in 2021, 25 out of 60 pigs in research had devices implanted in their brains that were the wrong size, an error that could have been averted with more planning.
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Researchers at Neuralink were alarmed by the blunder. The company planned to submit the data to the FDA as part of its application to commence human trials, and in May 2021, researcher Viktor Kharazia warned his colleagues that the error would raise red flags. According to the source familiar with the matter, his coworkers shared his opinion, and the experiment was run again, this time with 36 sheep. They added that after the procedures were completed, all of the animals, including the piglets and the sheep, were slain.