Author Archives: Tom

What makes a good animal research statement?

Recently we created a list (still in progress) of the public facing statements institutions have on their website about their animal research. The quality of these statements and associated web pages are of mixed quality. In the second half of this post we assess ten top life science universities (according to the THE World Ranking) for how well they explain animal research on their websites.

In the UK, we ranked 13 out of 56 listed institutions as having exemplary pages relating to their animal research. In the US only 2 of the 47 could be considered exemplary. We lack enough statements from other countries to be able to draw any conclusions from there.

Many British institutions have recently updated their pages on animal research as part of their commitment to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK. So far in the UK, 85 organisations “involved with life science in the UK” have become signatories to the Concordat. Signatories pledged to:

Commitment 2:

We will enhance our communications with the media and the public about our research using animals

  • Within one year of signing up to the Concordat we will make a policy statement about the use of animals in research available via our websites, to provide clear information about the nature of our own involvement with animal research and its role in the wider context of our research aims…

British and American institutions can learn a lot from some of the best practices of the most open organisations. Below we provide six suggestions for improving a website.

Step 1: Have a statement about animal research!

This one seems obvious, but many institutions fail at this most basic hurdle. Of the Top 10 Universities in the World for Life Sciences (according to Times Higher Education 2014-15), MIT (Massachuetts Institute of Technology) either do not have any statement explaining that they do animal research and why, or have hidden it so well on their website that it may as well not exist.

A statement should provide some indication of why there are animal experiments being conducted at the university. It should be written in a style which is suitable for consumption by the general public (many institutions place a short statement on animal research on their IACUC page, which is not intended for the public).

Step 2: Provide additional information about why and how animal research is conducted

A good statement should not only inform the public that an institution conducts animal research and why, it should provide an indication of what animal research is conducted and the welfare considerations and tight regulations involved. For example, the University of Cambridge (#3 for Life Sciences) explains that animal research has been and continues to be important for developing treatments, that it is only done where there is no alternative, that it is strictly regulated with welfare being a high priority and when it is done. This is before you read any of the accompanying pages (including an FAQ, case studies of current animal research at Cambridge, their policies etc.). Cambridge University’s statement on animal research begins with this:

Research using animals has made, and continues to make, a vital contribution to the understanding, treatment and cure of major human and animal health problems; including cancer, heart disease, polio, diabetes and neurological diseases and disorders. While new methods have enabled scientists and medical researchers to reduce studies involving animals, some work must continue for further fundamental advances to be made.

The University of Cambridge only uses animals in research where there are no alternatives. In fact, the law demands that where a non-animal approach exists, it should be used. The principles of reduction, refinement and replacement of animals in research (the ’3Rs’) underpin all related work carried out at the University; ensuring that the number of animals used is minimised and that procedures, care routines and husbandry are refined and regularly reviewed to maximise welfare.

To support your information, include a link to other websites which provide information on animal research. Perhaps add the following:

For more information about the role of animals in research we recommend the following resources:

Step 3: Make the statement page easy to find

There is no point creating a lovely set of resources about your animal research is no one can find it. There are three main ways people look for this information. The first is to Google phrases like “<institution> animal research” or “<institution> animal testing” or “<institution> animal experiments”. The desired page should really be first or second on the Google list if it intends to be read. The second way people search is the search bar on the institution’s website, and the third method is to try and browse through the menu system on  a University’s main page. Consider the ease with which people can find across all three.

Below looks at what position on Google their animal research statement comes when googling the following phrases (a dash means they were not in the top 8 search results)

 Institution <institution> animal research <institution> animal testing <institution> animal experiments
Harvard - - 2
MIT - - -
Cambridge 1 1 1
Oxford 1 1 1
Stanford 1 3 2
CalTech 1 1 1
Yale 1 1 1
Princeton 1 1 2
Johns Hopkins 2 5 4
Imperial 1 1 1

While six of the universities rank 1st for at least two of the phrases, the top two institutions – MIT and Harvard – fail to rank for most phrases on Google.

Step 4: Provide case studies which explain an institution’s animal research

Case studies are a great way of helping members of the public understand why animal research is done at a university. Case studies allow the public to better understand how the use of animals fits into the research process.

If a newspaper picks up a story (perhaps sent by an animal rights group) about an institution’s animal research, it can be helpful if a journalist can find examples of the types of research and research areas that a research facility is engaged in.

Of our top 10 Life Science universities, only Cambridge and Oxford universities provided Case Studies.

Step 5: Provide statistics on the use of animals in research

Numbers are not everything – they do not contextualise the size of an institution’s biomedical research department relative to other universities – they do not tell you how much work is being done using alternative methods – they can mislead people if one experiment, one year, happens to require a lot more animals BUT if you don’t publish them, someone else will – and you can be damn sure there will be even less context.

Freedom of Information laws in both the US and UK can allow animal rights groups to force the numbers out of institutions, and then use it for a press release condemning the university. However, newspapers are far less likely to run with the story if those statistics are available clearly on the website – it becomes less of an exclusive, and more of a non-story of “animal rights group emails readily available statistics on a website to a newspaper”. All responses to number-related enquiries should then simply direct people to the section of the website that hold them.

Good statistical information will include a breakdown of the number of animals by species, preferably including information on the use of non-AWA covered species such as mice, rats and even fish.

The UK institutions again come up trumps, with all three of its institutions on the top 10 providing some statistics. Cambridge provides its 2013 statistics alongside an explanation of why animal use is rising. Imperial College provide information on the number of animals used in both 2012 and 2013 including all vertebrate species. Oxford only provides information on the number of primates held, and the number undergoing procedures. This probably reflects a long time media interest in primate research at Oxford.

Step 6: Provide images and/or videos showing your animal facility

The best images include animals, but any image that can help dispel the idea of a blood-spattered basement with maniacal scientists is a step in the right direction.

Oxford are the only institution in the top 10 which provides any pictures, but let’s face it, it’s better having this:

Oxford University animal research

Than letting people think it looks like this:

PETA's MMA game depiction of animal research.

PETA’s MMA game depiction of animal research.

So all said and done, how do our top ten universities stack up on our six steps?

Institution Statement? More Info? Google? Case Studies? Statistics? Images / Videos?
Harvard
MIT
Cambridge
Oxford
Stanford
CalTech
Yale
Princeton
John Hopkins
Imperial

Communication on animal research is still new to many institutions,and we believe the website is a great place to start. Here we provide six steps to help universities provide more information to the public.

We encourage institutions to add a link to Speaking of Research so that the public can be better informed about why we need animals to help  medical, veterinary and scientific progress continue.

Speaking of Research

Animal Research Statistics for Northern Ireland 2013

We’ve been busy expanding our animal research statistics on the website. We now have a new main statistics page, from which viewers can then look at pages devoted to the number of animal experiments in different countries (note that “Statistics” in the Facts menu no longer sends readers to the US stats page, though no urls have changed).

On Friday we posted statistics for the Netherlands, today we produce the recently published statistics for Northern Ireland. Whereas England, Scotland and Wales (collectively “Great Britain”) produce one set of statistics together (which tend to be referred to as the “UK Stats”, though this is not technically correct), Northern Ireland produce their own. However, practically, Great Britain accounts for over 99.5% of the UK’s animal experiments, so they are often referred to as the UK stats.

According to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland, in 2013, there were 19,860 procedures on 18,638 animals*. Most of these were on mice, but there was also a significant number of pigs (959), sheep (790), cattle (914), birds (2095), rats (995) and fish (521). No cats, dogs or primates were used in 2013.

*animals are only counted in the total numbers the first time they are involved in research, so an animal which is used in both 2012 and 2013 is only included in the 2012 “number of animals”, but will be included in the “number of procedures” for both 2012 and 2013.

Compared with the previous year, there were 1,193 more animals used, representing a 7% rise from 2012. This was likely due to a rise in the number of chickens (up 1,076).

animal testing statistics northern ireland

Click to Enlarge

It should be noted that despite Northern Ireland using 200 times fewer animals than the rest of the UK, is still holds itself to the same high quality of statistical reporting.

Know of any other countries which have reported statistics in 2012 or 2013, then please tell us where to find them!

Animal Research Stats for the Netherlands in 2013

The Dutch authorities have reported on the 2013 animal experiment statistics, which were recently released by junior economic affairs minister, Sharon Dijksma.

The total numbers fell 10.6% to 526,593 animals, of which 93% were mice, rats birds or fish. This total is over 60% smaller than the historic peak of  over 1.5 million animals used in 1978.

animal research holland netherlands dutch statistics

Click to Enlarge

Full statistics can be downloaded (in Dutch) from the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

The number of primates fell over 30% from 393 to 262 between 2012 and 2013.The number of experiments on genetically modified animals fells by 4% (3,502 animals) from 92,055 to 88,553 – though they now represent a larger proportion of the total number (16.8%, up from 15.6% in 2012).

According to Dutch News, 88 organisations are licensed to conduct animal studies.

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

Speaking of Research

What does your institution say about its animal research?

There was a time when institutions conducting animal research would deny that they did so (some still do!). Thankfully most research institutions have started down the path of openness. The first step, for many of these institutions, is to put a statement on their website explaining why animal research is necessary. As an institution moves towards greater transparency they may include case studies, statistics about their animal use, and information about their animal welfare.

Speaking of Research is compiling a list of statements from institutions about their animal research. We have picked either their public-facing statement, or, where appropriate, their public-facing animal research information page.

If university’s do not stand up and explain why they conduct animal research, then why should anyone else support this work? Scientists want to know their institution values their research – a public statement of support is the first step towards that goal.

Please check if your institution is included by searching (Ctrl+F) the list, which is ordered by country. If not, have we simply missed the page – in which case send us the link. Or does it not have one, in which case we recommend emailing the appropriate senior administrators and encourage them to write one.

Oxford University's Statement on Animal Research

Oxford University’s Statement on Animal Research (Click to Enlarge)

Openness at Oxford

Oxford University was once a primary target of animal rights extremists in the UK. In 2005, activists set fire to student-run university boathouses, at an estimated cost of £500,000. More bombs were placed in 2006 and 2007. The University was also the centre of the grassroots pro-research student movement, Pro-Test, which defended the building of a new, improved, animal research facility. If any university had an excuse to try and hide their animal research, it would be them – thankfully, they’re having none of it.

The “Animal Research” pages are excellent. explaining why animal research is essential for the world-leading medical and scientific work being done by the institution. Oxford provide case studies (with videos and pictures) explaining why they use animals for specific pieces of research, they have details of how animal welfare is monitored and improved, they have details of the regulations, and they provide a great overview which includes common questions about research.

Around half the diseases in the world have no treatment. Understanding how the body works and how diseases progress, and finding cures, vaccines or treatments, can take many years of painstaking work using a wide range of research techniques. There is overwhelming scientific consensus worldwide that some research using animals is still essential for medical progress.

We hope that all institutions become more open about the role of animals in research and why their institution conducts such studies. The more open we are, the better public understanding about animal research is, and the more we show that we have nothing to hide.

So check if your institution has a statement on animal research, and if not – ask them why.

 

 

Let’s show the world what animal research looks like!

Animal rights activists frequently use images of animals which do not offer a fair representation of research. Photos are often from other countries, out of date, or entirely out of context. Consider the primate image below, which can also be found on placards of demonstrators in 1980 (See Animals’ Defender – Jan/Feb 1981, p6).

The primate image on the left is over 30 years old

The primate image on the left is over 30 years old

It is up to scientists to help rebalance this. If you want to see the scale of the problem then I recommend you Google ‘animal testing‘ or even ‘animal research‘ and look at the huge number of unrepresentative images.

A number of Canadian researchers recently helped us take a step in the right direction. They went to their labs and took some photos of animals and provided Speaking of Research with the rights to the picture (see pictures below). We are now sharing these under the Creative Commons By Attribution (CC BY). This means you can use and share the image provided you mention it came from “www.speakingofresearch.com”. By providing these on Creative Commons we can help spread them far and wide. Next time you see a media story about animal research, would you rather see our pictures, or the ones sent by activists?

We need you. We need as many pictures as possible. We need you to provide us with the right to the picture so that we can release them to the world CC free, with an attribution license that will send people back to our website to discover accurate information about animal research.

We need pictures of animals in enclosures, pictures of the refinements in animal housing, pictures of animals undergoing procedures. We need all species, especially the mice, rats, birds and fish than make up around 95% of research subjects.

Pictures should be sent to contact@speakingofresearch.com

Take a photo of your animals and help combat the misrepresentation of animal research. Tweet this!

See some of our existing images below: (Click to enlarge)

You can find all our photos permanently based on our resources page. This is along with our background briefings on animal research and other materials.

Speaking of Research

Top Israeli academics beg Prime Minister to protect animal research

Seven Nobel Laureates and the Presidents of seven major Israeli universities and research institutes are the signatories of an unprecedented letter that calls for to government to refrain to impose any additional limitations on the use of animals in research. A translation of the letter can be found below:

Such limitations, and pressure from activists resulted in the birth of Pro-Test Israel earlier this year. The former Environment Minister, Gilad Ardan, added regulations to prevent the export of primates for biomedical research, claiming that such experiments were immoral. Activist pressure in 2012 had already forced Israel’s largest airline, El Al, to stop transporting primates for research, and they have since refused to carry any animals involved in medical research – to the detriment of patients worldwide.

The letter sent to PM Benjamin Netanyahu

The letter sent to PM Benjamin Netanyahu. A translation can be found below

Nobel Laureates Explain need for animal research

Nobel Laureates from Left to Right: Prof Yonath; Prof Shechtman; Prof Levitt; Prof Hershko; Prof Warshel; Prof Ciechanover

An article by Ariela Ringel Hoffman and published in the Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, provided a copy of the letter. It also gathered quotes from the Nobel Laureates who has signed their name. Among notable statements Professor Aaron Ciechanover said “We decided the time has come to tell truth and lay the facts in front of the public.” Professor Arieh Warshel added “The existing limitations are already making it difficult to carry out advanced research.” Professor Avram Hershko noted “I know few professional doctors that oppose such experiments.”

Perhaps most concerning was the comment by Professor Dan Shechtman, who said: “Animal rights organizations forced us to write this letter to the Prime Minister”.

It is definitely worrying when a countries top academics feel the need to publish a letter to the Prime Minister expressing their concerns about the direction of research in their country.

The following is a translation from the original Hebrew letter (pictured above).

To: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

The future of the biomedical research in Israel is in danger
We, the undersigned, Presidents of the Israeli universities and Nobel laureates, write to you in an unusual way and out of concern and fear for the future of the scientific research in genera1l, and specifically biomedical research in Israel.

We want to state clearly that we are not asking you for any additional budget. Until today, despite smaller budgets compared with those offered by academic institutes in other countries, the academic research institutes of the state of Israel manage to be at the front line of scientific and biomedical research worldwide.

Research in Israel has lead to significant breakthroughs in the scientific and biomedical knowledge and some of them have led to the development of drugs and treatments for incurable and chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s, cancers, Alzheimer’s, blindness, schizophrenia and many other diseases.

Those treatments and drugs save the lives and improve the quality of life of billions of people and makes Israel’s science renowned across the world.

Lately we see attempts almost every day to block the activity of the Israeli academic research institutes that use animals in their research. These attempts include legislation aimed at blocking such research. This is done by a loud minority which opposes any kind of animal use and now threatens the existence of the scientific and biomedical research in Israel.

The limitations now put in place are already creating difficulties for researchers in Israel to conduct advanced research which is critical for the scientific knowledge that can save the lives of billions of people and improves their life quality. Such limitations can lead to the destruction of many years of research and academic achievement.

Research with animals is carried out in Israel according Israeli’s Animal Welfare (Experiments on Animals) Act, 1994. Research is done only with a specific permit and supervision, and only if no non-animal alternative is viable. Such research is essential to save human lives and that why it must continue.

We would like to warn you that scientific research in Israel is in a real danger. We ask you and your government to prioritize scientific excellence in the national interest and to examine each new legislation which might have direct or indirect effects on research in consultation with the relevant experts in the field, so that we can allow the necessary conditions to allow scientific research in Israel remain at the forefront of the international scientific community.

Signatories:

Prof Aaron Ciechanover – Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2004
Prof Ada Yonath – Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2009
Prof Avram Hershko – Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2004
Prof Michael Levitt – Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2013
Prof Arieh Warshel – Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2013
Prof Dan Shechtman – Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2011
Prof Roger Kornberg – Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2006

Prof Menachem Ben-Sasson – President of the Hebrew University of Jersualem
Prof Daniel Zajfman – President of Weitzmann Institute of Science
Prof Peretz Latvie – President of Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
Prof Joseph Klafter – President of Tel Aviv University
Prof Rivka Carmi – President of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Prof Dan Hershkowitz – President of Bar-Ilan University
Amos Shapira – President of the University of Haifa
Prof Jacob Metzer – President of the Open University of Israel

Israel publishes its animal research statistics annually. In 2013, researchers used 299,144 animals of which 86% were mice and rats. 80% of the research is conducted in the universities and research institutions – the majority of which are represented in the letter to Benjamin Netanyahu.

Animals used in research in Israel 2010-13

Speaking of Research

Five Star review for Speaking of Research website

A few months after the Speaking of Research website got full marks in a recent review we’ve done it again. In Lab Animal Europe‘s Website of the Month, Speaking of Research got an overall score of five out of five and was considered ‘Excellent’ for Ease of Use, Content and Visual Impact.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

It concludes:

All, in all, this is an excellent and informative website. […] We highly recommend it.

A big thanks to Lab Animal Europe for the review and we’ll keep trying to add “more information, more updated news, and, actually, more of everything we loved about this website“.

Speaking of Research