Employees criticize Elon Musk's Neuralink for animal cruelty

Employees criticize Elon Musk's Neuralink for animal cruelty

Elon Musk's Neuralink company is said to be causing unnecessary animal suffering in its brain chip research. Employees go public.

Elon Musk's Neuralink, a company that researches brain-computer interfaces, has reportedly killed about 1,500 animals in experiments since 2018. That includes more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys. That's according to records obtained by Reuters.

In addition, there have been an increasing number of complaints from employees about botched experiments and criticizing the handling of animals at Neuralink, the report states. Investigations by authorities into violations of the Animal Welfare Act have reportedly been ongoing for months.

Animal testing for human health care

The numbers cited for Neuralink's killing of animals come from estimates by sources who reportedly have direct knowledge of Neuralink's animal testing, according to Reuters. The company does not keep official figures on animals killed. However, the shockingly high figure of 1,500 dead lab animals alone is not illegal.

Animal testing is often routine, especially in human health research facilities. U.S. regulations do not specify how many animals companies "may" use for research. The animals are killed after the experiments primarily so that the effects of the research can be studied postmortem.

Legally, the company has been on the safe side so far. Neuralink passed all regulatory inspections of its own facilities. However, evidence is mounting that the animals are not being "cared for with great effort," as Elon Musk claims. Botched surgeries are said to cause unnecessary suffering and drive up the number of dead animals.

Neuralink: Animal welfare law violations suspected

As Reuters reports, Neuralink has been under official investigation for months for possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act. So far, the investigation has not been officially announced. However, sources familiar with the investigation have confirmed this.

The federal investigation was launched by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's inspector general at the request of a federal prosecutor. According to Reuters, the investigation involves violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates, among other things, how researchers may treat and test certain animals.

First signs of animal cruelty by Neuralink as early as February

In February 2022, it first became known that Neuralink research could cause "extreme suffering" in animals. The focus was on a facility not operated by Neuralink itself. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) sued the University of California-Davis, alleging it had conducted animal studies on Neuralink's behalf.

Fifteen of 23 monkeys died in agony during and after the experiments. Some monkeys had their skulls drilled out up to ten times. Facial trauma, seizures and recurrent infections at implantation sites had occurred.

In addition, the test animals were killed after the research with an unapproved substance that destroys parts of the brain and leads to an agonizing death. Elon Musk denied these allegations. He said Neuralink was not conducting research at UC Davis. It is not known if the research that has now come to light is related to this lawsuit.

Employees complain of unnecessary animal suffering at Neuralink

Adding to the regulatory investigations, according to Reuters, is growing discontent from the company's own workforce. Neuralink's employees are said to be complaining that hastily conducted animal testing is causing unnecessary suffering and death to animals.


Reuters reportedly analyzed dozens of Neuralink documents and conducted interviews with more than twenty current and former employees. The channels of information also include previously unpublished news stories, audio recordings, emails, presentations, and reports that are said to span several years.

Pressure from Elon Musk is said to drive employees to make mistakes

CEO Elon Musk is also at the center of the criticism. Musk had provided pressure to accelerate the development of Neuralink's research. He had threatened to shut down the company and accused the researchers of not working fast enough.

Musk had asked several employees over the years to imagine bombs hanging over their heads to speed up their work. This was confirmed by three sources who claim to have heard these remarks repeatedly.

The pressure had led to botched experiments. Failed experiments had to be repeated over and over again, steadily increasing the number of animals tested and killed. More animals were killed than was actually necessary.

Hasty interventions: Implant inserted into wrong vertebra

In 2021, 25 of 60 pigs had devices of the wrong size implanted in their heads. The experiment was then repeated with 36 sheep. All animals were subsequently killed. In two pigs, implants had been placed in the wrong vertebrae. One of the animals had to be killed immediately on the advice of the farm veterinarian to end its suffering.

Reuters said it was able to identify four specific experiments involving 86 pigs and two monkeys that had been compromised by human error.

These failures would have weakened the research value of the experiments and required replicates. According to the sources, the failures were due to a lack of preparation by experimental personnel in a pressurized environment.

Neuralink falls short of ambitious targets

Internal calls for a more traditional approach of sequentially testing elements of an animal study before moving on to new experiments have been shot down. Instead, Neuralink continues to run tests in rapid succession before problems from previous tests are even resolved, or full conclusions can be drawn.

As a result, the researchers themselves had doubts about the quality of their own test results, they said. In a presentation in late November, Musk again announced plans to soon test brain chips on humans. The corresponding papers have already been submitted to the FDA.

Musk is already lagging behind the competition with this goal, which is likely to make the ambitious CEO increasingly impatient. Competitor Synchron, which like Neuralink was founded in 2016, has received approval from the relevant authority to conduct tests on humans as early as 2021.

Sources: Reuters