Category Archives: Animal Rights News

Animal rights fanatics offer stunts, not real solutions

This post is simulposted with the Unlikely Activist blog, run by this post’s author, David Jentsch.

Fanatical animal rights groups in the US love attention-getting stunts. PeTA creates video games extolling violence and propagates advertisements that exude adolescent sexuality. White Coat Waste uses Tea party rhetoric to insist federal investment in research is tantamount to borrowing money from China. And the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS] reels endless videos of sad animals on the television to raise money for their lobbying efforts, while tricking people into thinking their donations actually help animals in shelters.

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

These are stunts, nothing more – nothing less.

In Los Angeles, local animal rights zealots are trying hard to carve out their own niche in the “stunt” art form. They light candles during vigils on the beach, hand out post cards decrying UCLA researchers at art events and recite chants in eerie synchrony, while standing in front of our homes. In truth, the occasional bizarre chanting during these stunts is slightly less demented than their usual shrieks, threats and harassment.

Later this month, the ironically named anti-science group – Progress for Science – will mount an 11-day campaign to “honor” the 11 monkeys they believe are involved in scientific research projects at UCLA. They will probably once again come to my home and threaten my neighbors, while trying to make my life miserable.

But if Progress for Science truly has the respect for life than they claim they do, perhaps they should consider a different strategy. Perhaps before mounting their 11 day campaign for 11 hypothetical monkeys, they should find it in their hearts to lead initiatives for real people affected by real disease. For example, they could:

Lead a 930 day campaign for the number of Africans that have died from Ebola so far this year.

Initiate a 4,600 day campaign for the young people in our country who took their own lives last year, often due to mental illness.

Kick off a 1.1 million day campaign for the number of people living with HIV in the US.

Support a 2.2 million day campaign for the people suffering from or disabled by schizophrenia in this country.

Demand an 8.2 million day campaign for the number of people that will die from cancer in one single year, worldwide.

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

It is, of course, true that multi-million day campaigns are impossible, but biomedical researchers in many cases dedicate their entire working lives to addressing the harm in these diseases: our own life-long campaigns. Animal rights fanatics could contribute positively to these efforts, rather than standing in the way of progress, but they won’t do that because they are not actually interested in preserving life. They are interested in stunts.

If you are interested in preserving life, then please support biomedical research, including that which involves animals. This year alone, two Americans received a treatment for Ebola that was developed based upon animal research and that likely saved their lives. This is the promise of science. Stunts, on the other hand, contribute nothing, save no lives and end no suffering.

David J. Jentsch

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

Undermining a cornerstone of medical research – examining a biased commentary on animal studies

Medical sociologist, Pandora Pound, and epidemiologist, Michael Bracken, recently wrote an opinion piece entitled “Is animal research sufficiently evidence based to be a cornerstone of biomedical research?” for the British Medical Journal. The article was chosen as the editor’s choice, leading to an editorial by the editor in chief, Fiona Godlee.

BMJ Pound and Bracken

Pound and Bracken criticise the poor quality and reporting of many animal studies, asserting that this is leading to ineffective drugs going on to clinical trials before failing.

Pound and Bracken make some suggestions for improvement, concluding:

In addition to intensifying the systematic review effort, providing training in experimental design and adhering to higher standards of research conduct and reporting, prospective registration of preclinical studies, and the public deposition of (both positive and negative) findings would be steps in the right direction. Greater public accountability might be provided by including lay people in some of the processes of preclinical research such as ethical review bodies and setting research priorities. However, if animal researchers continue to fail to conduct rigorous studies and synthesise and report them accurately, and if research conducted on animals continues to be unable to reasonably predict what can be expected in humans, the public’s continuing endorsement and funding of preclinical animal research seems misplaced.”

While some aspects of the article are reasonable, the overall impression the reader is left with is that animal research doesn’t work and can’t work in its current form. Their bias is obvious to those who are familiar with the arguments of those who argue against animal research. When they’re not incorrectly conflating basic science* with animal research (most basic biomedical research does not involve animals, e.g. human genetic research), Pound and Bracken argue that “lack of translation” is (apparently) not just from poor research practises, but also due to fundamental differences between humans and other animals, writing:

Even if the research was conducted faultlessly, animal models might still have limited success in predicting human responses to drugs and disease because of inherent inter-species differences in molecular and metabolic pathways.”

However, the bulk of the supporting literature they present to support this statement is – unlike most of the claims made in their commentary – not in the form of peer reviewed scientific research papers or meta-analyses but rather commentaries and books written by (other) opponents of animal research, including a certain Dr Greek whose misleading claims we have discussed several times on this blog (most recently here). For a commentary that sets great store by its evidence-based credentials this is, to say the least, disappointing.

Indeed, in their 2004 publication on whose anniversary this commentary was published, Pound, Bracken and their co-authors found that in all 5 cases where a therapy appeared to be successful in pre-clinical animal studies but later failed in human studies, more rigorous meta-analysis of the pooled pre-clinical animal studies showed that the treatment was not in fact successful in them, and that for one therapy (thrombolysis for stroke) such rigorous analysis would have enabled a serious side effect observed in clinical trials to be identified in the pre-clinical animal studies. In short, their own work shows that animal studies can predict the human outcome when their results are analyzed properly..

Other investigators who have examined failed therapies in cancer, ALS and stroke, have come to the same conclusion that too many therapies in some areas of research have failed in clinical trials not because of species differences, but because they never actually succeeded in animal studies, with most of the apparent successes being false-positive results due to flaws in experimental design and biases in reporting and publication. The authors all agree on a number of steps that need to be taken to avoid false-positive results being taken through to clinical trials, including better study design, requirement for independent replication of results in several animal models of the condition in question, publication of negative results (where the candidate therapy doesn’t work), meta-analyses of animal studies before beginning human trials.

An excellent analysis of animal models of stroke by van der Worp et al (2010) covers many of these issues, but also advises that to avoid false negative results in the clinical trials – where poor trial design leads to the erroneous conclusion that a therapy doesn’t work when in fact it does – human trials should match as closely as possible the conditions e.g. time to drug administration, dose, type of injury) of the successful animal studies.

The “rapid responses” to Pound and Bracken’s piece shows that many scientists who specialize in translating research from bench to bedside are alert to the flaws in their analysis.

To quote the response by Andrew Whitelaw and Marianne Thoresen, Professors of Neonatal Neuroscience at the University of Bristol:

The reader was left with impression that there were no examples in recent years of animal research leading directly to major advances in human health.

Three life-saving treatments in neonatal medicine would never have been given ethical approval for clinical trial if there had not been high quality animal models showing efficacy.

Rather than unselectively condemning the whole of biomedical animal research, we suggest that a more critical approach by funding bodies and journal editors could reduce bad research while supporting the good.

They ought to know, as basic and applied research in animals was crucial to the development of techniques that use cooling and xenon gas to protect babies from brain damage following oxygen starvation during birth.

Dr Thomas Wood, is more succinct:

[T]he overriding message of the article is somewhat confusing – demanding that we optimise and streamline animal research is very different from suggesting that it is useless, but both of these ideas are presented side-by-side.”

Prof Malcolm Macleod, a neurologist at the University of Edinburgh, and a frequent critic of poor design in some animal studies, agrees with many of Pound and Bracken’s criticisms, but in a more balanced manner, noting:

When conducted to the highest standards, animal research can indeed inform the development of human medicines. Given that there are many diseases for which we do now have treatments, it is perhaps self evident that the diseases which remain are more challenging, probably requiring research that is done to a higher standard – there is less signal, and more noise.”

Professor Macleod is one of Europe’s leading experts on the development of therapies for stroke, and is one of the leaders of the EuroHYP-1 trial of therapeutic hypothermia in adult patients with acute ischaemic stroke, a trial he advocated after undertaking a rigorous meta-analysis of studies on this therapy in animal models of ischaemic stroke.

Dr Charles M Pearman discussed how basic science makes up the building blocks that lead to human medicine:

Much clinical research is performed by standing on the shoulders of giants. A phase III drug trial comparing two antihypertensives will have much greater direct impact on clinical decision making than any individual animal model based basic science study. However, hundreds or thousands of such “low impact” works are needed to develop the drugs in questions. The authors reference Wooding et al. who themselves acknowledge this and conclude that clinically motivated basic biomedical research should be encouraged.

Basic biomedical research may try and may fail. Without it, however, there will be no successes to base clinical triumphs upon.

There have been many other comments, Prof Fernando Martins do Vale discusses why some of Pound and Bracken’s criticisms may not have much of an impact on results. Prof Robert Perlman argues that evolutionary differences between species can inform animal research. And Dr Vanitha A J explains that much cancer research has been effectively translated from animals to humans, noting in particular recent progress in cancer immunotherapy.

Another, separate, but strong response to Pound and Bracken’s paper was from Dr Liz Harley at Understanding Animal Research. Harley notes that many of the criticisms made in the original opinion piece are already being addressed by the industry. The UK Government’s delivery plan, “Working to Reduce the Use of Animals in Scientific Research”, explicitly mentioned the problems of poor experimental design and outlined several initiatives aimed to improve current practices. While Pound and Bracken call for a lay person to sit on ethical review bodies, they fail to note this is standard practice in the UK, while US regulations demand a lay person unaffiliated with the university stand on their Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees. Clearly Pound and Bracket do not do their homework sufficiently.

We finish with a quote from Prof Martins do Vale:

But the existence of bias and errors does not invalidate Science; on the contrary, as Karl Popper said, the awareness of errors is the first step for their correction and scientific progress.”

Pound and Bracken’s article opens up some important questions, but their biased interpretation risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater as they use flaws in experimental design to try and argue for a fundamental flaw in animal research. Their attempts to use legitimate concerns over experimental design to attack animal research are in fact a dangerous distraction from ongoing efforts to address problems that affect all areas of biomedical research (and indeed any areas of research where scientists have looked for them) from the most fundamental in vitro molecular biology studies right through to clinical trails.

Speaking of Research

* Confusion over what is meant by basic research is a theme throughout Pound and Bracken’s piece, it’s notable that many of the examples of “basic” research they mention are in fact applied or translational research, and that they focus on a paper on translation of basic research published by Contopoulos-Ioannidis et al. in 2003, a paper whose serious flaws in both design and conclusion we have discussed previously.

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.

The BUAV – Spies, Lies and Videotapes

For the second time this year the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) infiltrated an animal research facility and sent footage to a British tabloid. For a second time this year, the BUAV has shown us nothing the public could not find out for themselves. No unnecessary suffering. No misbegotten science.

Let us also make a quick distinction between whistleblowing and infiltration. Whistleblowing is a standard lab policy in all UK labs whereby anyone who sees anything they find concerning (particularly relating to animal welfare) can – and should – report it to one of a number of different people up the chain of leadership. Infiltration is a tactic of sending someone into a lab with the express intention of filming as much as they can to create the most dramatic short video possible. Those involved are often double paid by both the organisation they infiltrate and the animal rights group who sent them there. Importantly, infiltrators are actively trying to find shocking video moments. Furthermore, whereas whistleblowers should report animal welfare issues quickly, infiltrators will tend to sit on any animal welfare issues they see until they have finished working at an institution – leading to unnecessary animal suffering.

Cambridge University research into Huntington’s and Batten disease
Last weekend, the Mirror on Sunday ran a story alleging sheep were “being left to suffer in pain and misery for pointless experiments” at Cambridge University following a BUAV infiltration. It should be noted that we have given examples before of the Daily Mirror playing fast and loose with the truth of animal research. Thankfully the Mirror on Sunday provided more balance than its Daily sister-publication usually does by including the perspective of both a patient and a scientist.

The BUAV took hours and hours of footage provided by their undercover infiltrator and edited it down to 4 mins 21 of the “worst” footage. In it we see several sheep exhibiting the symptoms of Batten’s disease. The BUAV also make several allegations about animal welfare, none of which seem to be corroborated by their video footage.

sheep

We see sheep, group housed in large hay-covered pens, clearly well cared for, and behaving calmly when examined by scientists and veterinarians. It is a mark of the BUAV’s duplicity that they make a great play on the term “crush cage”, when in fact these cages (known as squeeze chutes in the US) are widely used by farmers to hold an animal still to minimise the risk of injury to both the animal and the operator while work – veterinary care or routine husbandry – on the animal is performed. It is worth considering that the UK eats around 1 million sheep and lambs per month.

While this may be disturbing, the reality of Batten’s disease in humans, and its effects on a patient’s loved ones, are far, far crueller.

The University of Cambridge has strongly defended this research, pointing out that:

The researchers have been testing a sheep model of Huntington’s Disease developed by collaborators in New Zealand and Australia and studying a line of sheep that carries a natural mutation for Batten’s Disease.

Whilst every attempt is made to keep distress to a minimum, the very nature of these diseases means that the animals will show symptoms related to damage of the nervous system similar to those seen in humans.

A treatment that could slow the disease process once it has started would be a major advance, but the ideal treatment would prevent the onset of symptoms.”

MSD testing and developing vaccines for pets
In March, the Sunday Express (another tabloid not known for its science journalism…to put it mildly) ran a story purporting to show “horrific photographs and video footage showing puppies panicking as they were injected with needles before being dissected” that had been taken by “a brave undercover investigator who worked at the centre for eight months” while “also working with the BUAV throughout that time”. The research at MSD Animal Health was for testing and developing veterinary vaccines. This time the BUAV edited eight months recording into six minutes of footage that showed …. nothing. No, not nothing, it showed researchers and lab technicians conducting research with animal welfare heavy on the list of priorities. The animals were healthy, well socialised, group housed and cared for by researchers who stroked and chatted to the animals.

The video did include the dissection of a dead animal. This doesn’t look nice. Dissection rarely does. However, let us remember that the animal had been humanely killed and its welfare was not influenced by the science being carried out after it died.

Who are the BUAV?
The activities of animal rights groups cost money – the BUAV spent well in excess of £1.3 million in 2013 (and almost £2 million in 2012). With fierce competition between the numerous large national animal rights groups in the UK addressing the animal research issue (including BUAV, Animal Aid, NAVS, PETA UK and HSI), the public donations tend to go to the one with the biggest campaigns and resulting media stories (see our post on structure and motivations of animal rights groups).

The BUAV spend around 10% of their £1.7m (2013; $2.9m) – £2.0m (2011/12; $3.4m) income on investigations. Half of this is on staffing, and half is on “Other Costs”. Given the sums involved it is not unreasonable to assume that the BUAV has lab technicians it has placed in labs on its payroll (note the Sunday Express described the infiltrator at MSD as “working ” with the BUAV). These are not casual whistleblowers, but people who are working at animal research facilities with the express intention of creating horrifying videotapes.

BUAV infiltration Finances

From BUAV accounts 2011-13

One has to wonder how many BUAV infiltrators are in labs around the UK. Moreover, one wonders, how many BUAV infiltration videos were never publicised due to the lack of shocking footage (even after clever editing)? Then again, if the last two videos are the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) that the BUAV produce Each of the above infiltrations involved hundreds of hours of footage being taken of which 5 minutes was considered dramatic enough for watching. Even those five minutes lack any real substance.

To the BUAV – Prove it!
To the BUAV we ask you for the openness and transparency you accuse the research community of lacking. Show us the rest of the footage. Show us the hours and hours of footage that never made it onto your final mix tapes.
Will we find hours of shocking footage? Or will we find hours and hours of individuals working hard, caring for animals, and conducting research in a manner which provided high standards of animal welfare. It’s for you to prove.

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.

More dishonesty about animal research from the Daily Mirror

Today the British tabloid newspaper the Daily Mirror published a truly execrable piece of animal rights propaganda dressed up as journalism, in an article attacking neuroscience research undertaken using cats at University College London. The article mischaracterized the two research projects, which were published in the Journal of Neurophysiology in 2012 and 2013,   from start to finish, and as you can see below included a litany of basic errors (or were they deliberate lies?). This is not the first time that the Mirror has got its story very, very wrong.

It’s interesting to see the source of the images of cats used in the report, as they tell you something about what is going on here.

The first image may seem familiar to some readers, as it is an image that PETA have used in a campaign against hearing research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison It is a campaign marked by a mixture of clever publicity and a willingness to distort and misrepresent the facts, and of course two independent investigations refuted PETA’s allegations.

The second image, also from PETA, shows a connector to a 10×10 silicon micro-electrode array first developed at the University of Utah in the late 1990’s, which later formed a key part of  the Braingate system. In 2012 the Braingate system enabled a woman named Jan Scheuermann, quadraplegic for over a decade due to a spinal  degenerative disease, to feed herself using a brain-machine interface that monitored her motor neuron activity and allowed her to manipulate a robotic arm and hand.

It’s worth noting that valuable to advancing medical science as the implants used in the UW-Madison and University of Utah research are, they were not used in the UCL research  that the Daily Mirror is attacking, but when has the Mirror ever let the facts (or truth) stand in the way of a good image*?

UCL has issued a statement on the use of cats in research, which concludes by saying:

Despite advances in non-animal methods it is still essential to use animals where no viable alternatives exist – for both the clinical science which directly informs medical treatments, as well as the basic science which, by advancing understanding of biological processes, is an important precursor to it. The earlier work carried out on cats provided an excellent understanding of how the visual system works. As a result, it is no longer necessary to use cats as the model for this type of work which is why it has been discontinued.

So here goes, a run through of what is  – hopefully – one of the worst pieces of yellow journalism that you’ll see this year.

cat story mirror

* The Mirror has a long history of distorting research to advance animal rights propaganda. In the late 1980’s they made false allegations against Professor Colin Blakemore of the University of Oxford, and were eventually forced to print a retraction.

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.

Voice Your Support for Animal Transport

Quick Summary. FBR have a petition to support Air France who continue to be one of the few airlines willing to transport primates for research. Please support them by signing the petition.

For several years animal rights activists have targeted the airlines which transport animals for medical, veterinary and scientific research. They have had a lot of success, with few companies willing to transport animals. In the words of Nature:

The pressures on primate researchers have taken many forms. In the United States, for example, commercial airlines have effectively ceased all primate shipments by air within the country, making it difficult for researchers to transport animals. Many airlines in Europe have taken similar steps, but Air France continues to provide service.

In March, China Southern Airlines announced it would cease transporting primates. This leaves Air France as one of the few international airlines that continue to transport animals.

Air France have a strong statement to this effect:

Air France Cargo ensures that all biomedical research involving the use of animals in laboratories with which the airline works is fully in line with current legislation and the regulations drawn up by scientific organizations specializing in animal welfare:
[...]
Air France Cargo refuses transportation if the testing protocols do not conform to these regulations and visits all customers to make sure this is the case. Air France Cargo also monitors the supplier, who must comply with the breeding rules in force.
[...]
The European Directive 86/609 from 8 September 2010 states that “the use of live animals remains necessary to protect human and animal health and the environment.” In particular, “the use of nonhuman primates in scientific procedures is necessary for biomedical research”.

Nonetheless, the Airline continue to suffer protests and illegal activity from animal rights activists.The Biteback website, which details illegal activities by the ALF, mentions several offices vandalised in March 2014 and December 2013.

Attack on Air France Offices, December 2013

Attack on Air France Offices, December 2013

The Foundation for Biomedical Research has produced a petition to support Air France. The petition reads as follows.

I am signing this petition to commend Air France for its valiant commitment to transporting laboratory animals for biomedical research. While many airlines have acquiesced to animal rights groups’ demands to end the shipment of lab animals, Air France has remained steadfast in its support of the scientific community.

Scientific and medical research with animal models is essential for the discovery of cures, treatments and therapies for diseases affecting both people and animals. While the majority of this research is conducted with rodents that are bred specifically for research, other animal models are essential to study specific diseases because of their biological and physiological makeup.

Because of the genetic similarities they share with people, nonhuman primates play an invaluable role in the study of devastating diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, HIV/AIDS and malaria, which affects 26 million, 7.4 million, 34 million and 216 million people respectively worldwide. In the study of these four diseases alone, 283 million people’s lives depend on the lifesaving research that scientists are currently conducting with the help of nonhuman primates.

Ending the commercial shipment of nonhuman primates will stall vital biomedical research projects that are currently underway and increase costs for scientists and institutions that are conducting this time-sensitive research.  Funds that could be invested in lifesaving research projects will be diverted to charter private flights for these animals.

Safe, reliable air transportation is an essential element of medical and scientific advancements across the globe. When research animals are not available to research centers, R&D projects are suspended or discontinued, leading to significant delays in the development of new treatments to improve human health.

I am most grateful that Air France has stood firm in its commitment to continue the shipment of lab animals and for standing with the biomedical research community in the fight against disease. Thank you for standing up for research and saving human and animal lives.

FBR note that due to the high traffic of the petition, some people are receiving error messages, but they should be assured that their responses have been received.

So please sign the petition today and show your support for Air France as they bravely stand against animal rights extremism.

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.

Pictures in need of accurate words: University of Florida animal photos

Pictures of a cat spay clinic misrepresented as a laboratory horror shop circulated the internet recently to support appeals to “end animal testing.” Speaking of Research wrote about it here “Fact into fiction: Why context matters with animal images,” noting the importance of understanding the facts and context for photographs.

This picture was used to misrepresent animal research

This picture was used to misrepresent animal research

In the cat spay clinic case, the photos were from a newspaper article. We have written previously about images of laboratory animals that have made their way to the internet via leaks, undercover operations, and open records release. In all cases, several points remain true. Images are powerful. Providing accurate information about the images is important. It is also true that there are important differences between the sources and ways that images are obtained. Those obtained via infiltrations and undercover operations may be from manipulated situations, or  small fractions of hours of recording, in both cases providing a deliberately misrepresentative view. Photos obtained from institutions via open records release can also be used to misrepresent laboratory animals’ care and treatment and can be the centerpiece in “shock” campaigns. Their value is obvious from even a quick survey of high profile attacks on research, as we’ve written about previously (here, here, here). As in the case of the spay clinic images, conflating veterinary and clinical care with scientific research is also common and further serves to confuse the issues.

Can the laboratory animal research community do a better job of providing context for images of animals?  Yes.

Knowing what the images show and why matters, particularly to people who would like to engage in serious and thoughtful consideration to inform their point of view and judgments. In absence of context and facts, the audience is left without key knowledge and an opportunity to educate is missed. Yet all too often the opportunity is missed and the images remain in public view without comment or context from those who could provide a better understanding of what the photographs show.

In reviewing laboratory animal photographs that appear on animal rights sites, it is obvious that there are generally two types: those from activities directly related to the scientific project and those related to veterinary care or housing and husbandry. In terms of providing context and information, the two differ with respect to their source and which personnel may best explain the content of the photographs.

What does the image depictSome images may be of actual scientific research activities. These may be of animals engaging in an activity directly related to the science question under study. For example, the images may illustrate how animals perform a cognitive or memory task, how they navigate a maze, or how a particular measurement is obtained. The Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics website provides an example of this, with description and photographs of rhesus monkeys and cognitive neuroscience research. Another type of image directly related to the scientific project may be of a surgery or procedure. An example of this is found in pictures of a surgery involved in cat sound localization research (photos here, video here). In each case, it is not particularly challenging to provide additional information and context because the activities are typically also explained in the protocols, grants, and scientific papers about the study.

Images of clinical veterinary care, husbandry, and housing appear frequently in activist campaigns and public view. For example, pictures of routine physical examinations, health tests, unexpected injuries unrelated to scientific procedures, or photos of animals in their normal housing, have all appeared via various sources. Many times– perhaps more often than not– the activity depicted in the images would not be obvious to a lay audience because it remains unexplained.

A common image – tuberculosis skin test

One of the best examples of misunderstood images is found in pictures of an anesthetized macaque monkey with a needle injecting something in its eyelid. The picture circulates the internet with various captions opposing “animal testing.”   What does this picture show?

tb imageIt is a skin test, commonly used in human and nonhuman primates, for early detection of tuberculosis. A small amount of tuberculin (non-harmful) is injected just under the skin. In almost all cases, the primate does not have tuberculosis and the skin remains normal. If the primate—human or not—does have a reaction to the test, indicated by redness and some swelling, it provides evidence of possible tuberculosis infection. That person, or monkey, then receives additional testing and preventive measures for treatment and to avoid infecting and harming others.

Tuberculosis testing is routinely performed as a health procedure in humans who work in hospitals, schools, with children and with others who may be vulnerable. In settings where nonhuman primates are housed, tuberculosis testing is often routinely performed with all human personnel and with the other animals. Why? Because tuberculosis is a rare disease, but one that can be a threat to the animals’ health and thus, precautions are necessary to ensure their health. The difference between human and monkey tb testing is that for humans, the injection is given without pain relief or anesthesia, via a needle inserted into the forearm.

Aside from the momentary discomfort of the injection, the test is painless and without irritating after-effects. In monkeys, the injection is typically given while the animal is anesthetized and is placed just under the skin of the upper eyelid. Why the difference? It is a simple reason—the key to the test is looking for redness or slight swelling. In monkeys, the forearm is fur-covered and it would be very difficult to detect a reaction in an unobtrusive way.

University of Florida monkey pictures

Not surprisingly, the monkey tb test photo is one that seems to appear in an ongoing campaign against the University of Florida. In response to several years of attacks on their animal research programs, public universities in Florida are pursuing new action to shield personal information about their personnel from public disclosure.   We’ve written previously about an ongoing campaign of violent threats, harassment, and protest by local activists (here, here, here).

In parallel to other campaigns, photographs are a centerpiece of the current attacks on animal research. As reported by Beatrice Dupuy in the Independent Alligator:

“Disturbing pictures of primates being examined by researchers are featured on the organization’s website along with posters with quotes like “stop the holocaust inside UF, free the monkeys.” After a three year lawsuit, the organization, formerly named Negotiation is Over, obtained UF’s public veterinary records last April. The researchers named in public records were the first ones to be targeted by animal rights activists, said Janine Sikes, a UF spokeswoman.”

What are these “disturbing pictures of primates being examined by researchers”?

The photographs <warning: link to AR site> are of macaque monkeys that appear to be receiving routine veterinary care or are simply in fairly standard housing. While the activists claim these photos are evidence of maltreatment at the hands of researchers, they likely are mostly of routine veterinary procedures. For example, two appear to be of an anesthetized macaque monkey receiving a tattoo, another two of an anesthetized monkey receiving a tuberculosis test, while others show the reddened skin that rhesus macaques exhibit normally in the wild and captivity. One photo depicts what looks like a stillborn infant macaque. Without context or confirmation, it isn’t surprising that the photographs can be interpreted in many ways.

UF’s spokesperson says: “The university wants to be very open and honest about its research,” … “It wants to stop these personal attacks against our researchers.”

One place to begin is to provide straightforward and accurate context for the images of laboratory animals that have been released. While those with experience in laboratory care of nonhuman primates can view the images and be reasonably certain that they are mostly of clinical veterinary care, it is only the UF veterinary, animal care program, and scientific personnel that can provide accurate information. Other universities have done exactly that when faced with the same situation. In “An Open Letter to the Laboratory Animal Veterinary Community and Research Institution Administration”   we wrote:

“While scientists can address questions about the scientific side of animal research, we need the laboratory animal care and veterinary staff to provide their expertise in service of addressing public questions about clinical care and husbandry.  If they do not, it will be no surprise if the public view of animal research is disproportionately colored by the relatively rare adverse events and the misrepresentations of animal rights activists. Many believe that it is possible—and perhaps acceptable—to ignore this part of reality in order to focus on more immediate demands for time, energy, and resources. Consider, however, that a fundamental part of the AWA, accreditation, regulation, and professional obligation is actually to ensure communication with the public that supports animal research.  Thus, it is our entire community who share a primary obligation to engage in the dialogue that surrounds us.”

We have consistently condemned the extremists who have targeted UF scientists and others with outrageous harassment. Tactics designed to elicit fear and terror do not have a place in democratic society and do nothing to promote fair and civil dialogue about complex issues.

At the same time, we believe and have written often, that the scientific and laboratory animal community, including scientists, veterinarians, and institutional officials should consider that better education and explanation are key to building public dialogue and understanding of research. Furthermore, as highlighted in this case and others, releasing photographs, records, and other materials without providing context serves no one well. Providing straightforward explanation of the veterinary practices, housing, husbandry, and care of laboratory animals not only gives context to photographs, but also should not be that hard to do.

Allyson J. Bennett

More information and resources:

Raising the bar: What makes an effective public response in the face of animal rights campaigns:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2013/02/20/raising-the-bar-what-makes-an-effective-public-response-in-the-face-of-animal-rights-campaigns/

Time for a change in strategies? http://speakingofresearch.com/2013/06/24/time-for-a-change/

A detailed response to a PETA video accusing a primate lab of mistreatment:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2008/07/04/peta-out-with-the-new-in-with-the-old/

Speaking of Research media briefing (pdf):  Background Briefing on Animal Research in the US

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.