Across the world individuals and organisations misrepresent science for their own end. Such misinformation has been seen in the MMR vaccine-autism debate, the questions over the GM foods, and the causes and effects of climate change. More recently, a confused Republican Senate Nominee, Todd Akin, claimed that “the female body has ways to try and shut down” pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape”. This misinformation is as rampant in the debate over animal research as it is over many other scientific areas already mentioned. Speaking of Research, as well as a host of others scientific organisations, have worked hard to debunk the huge amount of disinformation that is spread by animal rights groups.
There are broadly three ways in which disinformation propagates through the media – authorities, celebrities and public weight.
Authority involves bringing a respected authority to bear on the issue. Unfortunately for the animal rights lobby, their figures of authority – the few doctors who are against animal research – have been roundly discredited. The views of figures such as Dr. Menache, Dr. Greek and Dr. Vlasak have been overwhelmed by the medical community – In 2006 a survey of General Practitioners in Britain found that 93% agreed that “animal experiments have made an important contribution to the many advances in medicine”. Similarly high support can be found around the world by the medical and scientific community.
Nonetheless, it is important that those in a position to speak with authority on animal research do so. There are many stories in the newspapers which lack the voice of a scientist directly involved in such research. Universities and other research institutions must know that
Celebrities often jump on what they see as a popular bandwagon in their support for the animal rights movement. What is more concerning is that many media outlets give more time to the views of these celebrities than to the scientists who would correct them. When the British media caught onto a story about child-blindness research on kittens at Cardiff University, it was the comedian Ricky Gervais who led the voices of unreason. Now I’m more than willing to listen to Gervais tell me about the current state of British stand up, or how to write a sitcom, but I am not interested in his views on which scientific methods for carrying out biomedical research are or are not a thing of the past. PeTA have been effective at bringing celebrities on board to their campaign against animal research and it is about high time that the public starts giving those celebrities some flak for it.
Next time you see Ricky Gervais, or any other celebrity, tweet something which condemns lifesaving biomedical research, tweet back a correction. Better still, get friends to tweet back. Declare a call to arms to correct the misinformation about science wherever it is. If done effectively, with numbers, we will hopefully see less celebrities keen to mouth off about something they know little about.
Public Weight is the mass of people who can be mobilised quickly to back a campaign or story. When groups like PeTA target an airline or ferry company that transports animals to research facilities, they can galvanise their followers to send thousands of emails and phone calls to these companies – many of whom have bowed under pressure. Animal rights groups can quickly fill up petitions, send thousands of emails to research institutions, weigh in on polls and fill up the comment sections of news articles with their misinformation.
The pro-research organisations need to be able to act similarly fast. By communicating stories, and alerting people to animal rights misinformation it is important that we bring the weight of scientists into discussions on the radio, in the newspapers and across the internet. Similarly, we need to get this same body of people to support the good work done by researchers – from sharing and “liking” pro-research stories, to adding your voice to discussions in the news and pointing out the role of animals, often missing from the headlines.