Author Archives: Tom

Behaviourists Defend Basic Science

The August issue of the journal Animal Behaviour contained a commentary “Time to step up: defending basic science and animal behaviour.” The authors, Dr. Patricia Brennan, Dr. Rulon Clark and Dr. Douglas Mock begin by providing a history of how it became politically fashionable to ridicule basic scientific research. The Golden Fleece Awards were started in 1975 by Senator William Proxmire to provide examples of frivolous spending. Unfortunately, several federally funded research projects fell under Proxmire’s scrutiny and had small pieces of information exaggerated or distorted to seem completely ridiculous. The practice continues to this day and was last written about here in 2010. The mocking of basic science provided some people short-term political gains with unknown long-term national costs.

The bitter partisanship existing within the USA and challenges over budget appropriations the authors discuss strategies for how scientists can defend their work if they are the focus of unwarranted political or media attention.   The commentary outlines what researchers can do before or after one is targeted. Who should be informed, what to say and nine talking points to drive home the importance of basic science.

Talking points

  1. Basic science is the foundation of all applied science. Because we cannot predict which basic science projects will turn into an application, we must cast a wide net.
  2. The connection between basic and applied science is seldom a straight line; more often, it involves a network that connects novel ideas, methods and data in a new way, leading to innovations.
  3. The government must fund basic science because its potential economic gains are unpredictable and generally long term. No private investing company can invest under those conditions.
  4. Government investment in science guarantees that at least some of our discoveries are free of special interests, and therefore it protects the integrity of the scientific process. Federal investment in research and development was only 24% of all U.S. science investment in 2008 .
  5. Funding decisions at NSF, NIH and other agencies are made by panels of scientists who judge projects on the basis of their intellectual merit and impact to society.
  6. These agencies are severely underfunded and, as a result, many high-priority projects do not get funded.
  7. The return on investment estimated from government funding of science is enormous. Not all projects turn a profit, but when they do, they can transform society: think Google, Taq polymerase and green fluorescent protein (GFP).
  8. Federally funded basic science projects are the engine of many research universities. Without these projects, universities could not train the next generation of scientists. Involvement in basic research is often the highlight of a student’s undergraduate experience and provides training that cannot be replicated through coursework.
  9. Organisms are exquisitely adapted to their environment and the study of these adaptations has allowed us to make great strides in medicine and technology.

“Not responding to politically motivated attacks is likely to be the wrong strategy. Silence may further erode public confidence in science, as it may be interpreted as implicit acceptance that there is something wrong with your project.”

They also include several examples of fundamental behaviour research that have had unanticipated significant impacts. For example:

The Sexual Behaviour of the Screwworm Fly

One of the recipients of a Golden Fleece Award was E. F. Knipling for his research into the sex life of parasitic screwworm flies. Knipling developed the sterile male technique to eradicate this cattle pest, based on observations during the 1930s that male screwworm flies will mate with many females, while females will mate only once. He used this information to devise a male sterilization strategy using X-rays. He released sterile males into the population and in a few generations completely eradicated this parasite. Knipling’s $250,000 grant from the Department of Agriculture led directly to a program estimated to have saved at least $20 billion for U.S. cattle producers. The sterile male technique is currently used as a standard eradication technique on many agricultural pests.

Screwworm Fly

Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis in the Brain

The discovery that humans can grow functional neurons in the brain during adulthood is revolutionizing the understanding of learning and memory, recovery from brain injury and disease, and the effects of addiction and neurodegenerative diseases. Several of the most influential early studies that discovered adult neurogenesis in the brain were conducted by Fernando Nottebohm, who showed that seasonal changes in the song nuclei of male canaries, Serinus canaria, were explained by recruitment of new neurons and death of old ones. Nottebohm also showed that black-capped chickadees, Poecile atricapillus, grow neurons associated with spatial memory in the brain during the autumn, perhaps to facilitate finding their food caches during the winter months, further supporting a role of learning on neurogenesis. Nottebohm was an avid birder from childhood and his interests were centred on understanding how and why birds sing. When Nottebohm published his first papers on neurogenesis in the avian brain, the central dogma of neurobiology was that no new neurons grew in adult brains, but his careful and continued work served as a platform to develop new ideas on neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.

Atlantic Canary

Host Manipulation by Parasites

Studies of host manipulation by parasites were not begun by behavioural ecologists, but they have embraced this field in the last two decades, rapidly advancing the grasp of how parasites change host behaviour. The study of parasite manipulations has important applications to conservation, agricultural production and medicine. One of the iconic examples involves infection of carpenter ants by the trematode Dicrocoelium denditricum, which affects wild and domestic ruminants. Ants are the intermediate host of this trematode, and the larvae form cysts that make the ants climb grass blades and grasp the top securely until a grazer comes by and eats it, thereby completing the parasites’ life cycle. In humans, toxoplasmosis infection has been linked to a variety of mental disorders, and this link has been particularly well studied in schizophrenia. Many studies have shown that schizophrenic individuals are more likely to be seropositive for antitoxoplasma antibodies. Moreover, Toxoplasma gondii appears to have major effects on human behaviour, including several personality traits.

The authors finish their commentary by stressing the need to educate the public, engage the younger generation, increase social media presence, train scientist to communicate science to the general public and support them actively communicating their findings. The recommendations to defend the need for basic science presented in the current edition of Animal Behaviour are relevant not only to this field but all scientific diciplines across the world.

Michael Brunt

Tweet for Science!

We have written thousands of tweets about animal research since we opened our accounts a little over five years ago. Now we want you to help us spread our Twitter messages.

We have created a list of short, tweet-able, facts on our new “Arguments For Animal Research” page. Each fact is followed by a “Tweet This” button which will automatically open your Twitter status page, with the tweet ready to go – all you have to do is press Tweet.

Clicking the Tweet this button will bring in up page like this

Clicking the Tweet this button will bring in up page like this

These short facts were inspired by Understanding Animal Research’s successful page entitled “40 reasons why we need animals for research”. While our list is currently limited to 29 facts, we hope to continue to add to our list until we surpass even UAR’s impressive list.

Have you got ideas for some more tweetable facts? Tell us in the comments below. They need to be 102 characters (including spaces) so that we can fit a link back to the page and our Twitter after it.

Remember to shout "For Science!" when clicking the Tweet this button. Cartoon by Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Remember to shout “For Science!” when clicking the Tweet this button. Cartoon by Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

 

So, for science, it is time to get tweeting and make sure those around you know the important role that animals play in medical research. Perhaps try to post a pro-research message each week on Twitter.

Speaking of Research

Background Briefing on Animal Research in the UK

In February we launched our US briefing. In April we launched our Canadian briefing. Now, we’re launching our UK background briefing on animal research (all of these can be found on the resources page). We hope this will offer journalists, editors, broadcasters and interested members of the public who may wish to discuss this issue, a handy overview of the facts. Our two-page summary provides key information including the number of animals used for research purposes, the laws and regulations surrounding animal research, and some key questions people have.

Download the briefing here.

UK animal research media briefing

We permit anyone to redistribute this briefing providing it remain unchanged, and in whole, with credit to Speaking of Research.

Our briefings are based on the Science Media Centre’s “Briefing Notes on the Use of Animals in Research”. We thank the Science Media Centre for offering their support.

Speaking of Research

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

ALF Claims Responsibility for CALAS National Office Vandalism

On Tuesday, July 15, an act of vandalism occurred near the Canadian Association for Laboratory Animal Science National Office in Toronto, ON.  There were no injuries and a police investigation is ongoing.

CALAS Canadian Association Laboratory Animal ScienceThe extremist website Bite Back published an unsigned communique:

“On July 14, 2014, in Toronto, the Animal Liberation Front injected butyric acid into the office of the Canadian Association for Laboratory Animal Science. CALAS is an organization made up of vivisectors that promotes animal research. The butyric acid will soak through the carpet and into the floorboards of their offices, and major repairs will be needed to get rid of the stench. Any building managers considering taking in CALAS as a tenant should be aware that unless you want something similar to happen in your offices, then think twice before doing business with these murderers. -ALF”

Any type of vandalism, violence or intimidation is counterproductive to informed and civil discussion.  We, at Speaking of Research condemn this type of activity while applauding CALAS for their dedication to the welfare of laboratory animals in the face of this cowardly and illegal act. The following excerpt is taken from the CALAS website:

CALAS/ACSAL is a national association dedicated to providing high quality training and educational resources to animal care professionals across Canada. We believe animal research, when necessary, must be conducted professionally, ethically and compassionately.Our training and certification programs are internationally respected and support national standards of excellence in animal research, teaching, and testing across Canada. Our members are committed to the humane and professional care of research animals. They have received advanced training in the highest standards of animal care. We support a diverse group of professionals including animal care attendants, animal health technicians, and veterinarians.

The irony that ALF failed to see is that this association, by promoting training for laboratory animal professionals and promoting the sharing of best practices actually lead to improved animal welfare of laboratory animals.

Speaking of Research

Top marks for Speaking of Research website

The industry magazine Lab Animal occasionally reviews websites applicable to it’s readers. Earlier this year, they reviewed the Speaking of Research website. The article does a good job of relaying the history behind how Speaking of Research began and some background on the people involved. They also note that SR does a lot of reporting on situations with animal extremists in Europe and North America.

The reviewer goes through each section of the website giving their readership the basic idea behind each of the sections and points out a few of the more interesting items beyond just news items, including games, quizzes and an article on Gorgon aliens.

In reviewing our “AR Undone” section (now called “Animal Rights Pseudoscience”), which responds to 19 common myths used by animal rights groups, the reviewer described SR’s responses as “authoritative, heavily references and, in some cases, linked to other websites and documents.”

“This is an excellent, informative site … It’s a must read for any animal researcher.”

The Speaking of Research website is then graded on content, appearance and usability, receiving the maximum of five out of five paws in each category.

Speaking of Research website rating

Read the full article

We are very pleased to have received such high marks from Lab Animal and truly appreciate the review.

Pamela

Animal Experiments in the UK: Government releases 2013 statistics

Every year the UK Home Office publishes statistics showing the number of procedures carried out on animals covered by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986; this covers all vertebrate species. Overall, the number of animals used in research fell slightly from 4.03 to 4.01 million (0.4% fall). The total number of procedures was slightly higher, at 4.12 million, as some animals were used for more than one procedure (a 0.3% rise from 2012).

animal testing statistics uk 2013

Overall, 98% of animals used in scientific experiments were mice, rats, birds or fish, while dogs, cats and primates (which are offered special protections under UK law) combined, remain under 0.2% of the total.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The number of non-human primates rose 11% from the previous year, however a sharp decline in 2011 means primate use remains lower than for any year prior to 2011. Note that the graph above uses procedures, not numbers of primates (as they were easier to collate). In 2013 the number of primates used was 2,202, up slightly from 2,186 the year before.

A ban on cosmetic testing on animals (1998) and of using great apes (gorillas, orang-utans and chimpanzees) in research (1986) meant both had 0 procedures in 2013. Similarly, efforts to phase out tests on household products meant that no animals were used for this purpose for the third year running.

Animal rights groups have worked hard to find things to be upset about in the stats. Michelle Thew of the BUAV was quoted in the BBC saying:

“The government has now failed for a third year on its 2010 post-election pledge to work to reduce the number of animals used in research.”

Which is a curious way of describing a small drop in the number of animals used. The BUAV could also be found to be cherry picking the statistics on Twitter. In a set of tweeted pictures they spoke of the 7% rise in primate procedures (whereas numbers of primates rose only 1%), then switched to describing an 11% rise in the number of dogs used, neglecting to mention that procedures on dogs had fallen 1.3%.

For more statistics, check our UK stats page (now updated)

Speaking of Research

Find more on the stats here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/statistics-of-scientific-procedures-on-living-animals-great-britain-2013

Israel provides animal research statistics for 2013

The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, has reported on the 2013 animal testing statistics, which were recently released by the Health Ministry’s Council for Experimentation of Animals.

The total numbers rose 6% to 299,144 animals, of which 86% were mice or rats. This total is still much lower than the peak of over 340,000 animals were used in 2007. Rodent use has increased since 2010, from 81% of the total up to 86%, with an increase in genetically modified rodents likely to be influencing this rise.

Animals used in research in Israel 2010-13

Click to Enlarge

Non-rodent species have declined since 2010, with dogs and cats falling to 0, and primate use falling by almost a third, from 33 down to 25.

Dogs cats monkeys used in Israel

Most research, 80%, is conducted at universities and research institutes, while only 10% were carried out by biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Cosmetic testing is illegal in Israel, as is the sale and import of cosmetics and cleaning materials tested on animals.

Like the UK, and several other EU countries (e.g. Denmark, Germany, Switzerland), the Israeli Government publishes a breakdown, by species, of the number of animals involved in experiments every year. This proactive publication of the stats is a step in the right direction for openness in animal research.

On July 10th 2014 (Thursday), the UK Home Office will publish the 2013 statistics for animal research in England, Scotland and Wales (Northern Ireland publishes it statistics separately, though its numbers are very small by comparison). We will provide a detailed post on this on Thursday as we have in previous years.

Speaking of Research

Israeli data from:
2013 – Ido Efrati, Haaretz, Israeli science used 6% more animals in testing last year
2012 – Dan Even, Haaretz, Number of animal experiments up for first time since 2008
2011 – Dan Even, Haaretz, Only 3 percent of animals survive lab experiments
2010 – Ilan Lior, Haaretz, Study shows steady decline in use of animals for lab testing in Israel