Category Archives: Campus Activism

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.

Understanding addiction: NIDA article highlights contribution of animal research

Professor David Jentsch is a highly respected UCLA neuroscientist who specialises in the study of addiction, one of the most widespread and serious medical problems in our society today. Sadly, by devoting his career to finding out how to better treat a condition that ruins – and all too often ends – many millions of lives in the USA and around the world every year, David has found himself, his colleagues, and his friends and neighbors under attack from animal rights extremists whose tactics have ranged from harassment, stalking and intimidation, to arson and violence.

Did this extremist campaign persuade David to abandon his research?

No chance!

In 2009 David responded to the extremist campaign against him and his colleagues by helping to found Pro-Test for Science to campaign for science and against animal rights extremism at UCLA, and has been a key contributor to Speaking of Research, writing articles on the role of animal studies in the development of new therapies for addiction, what his studies on rodents and vervet monkeys involve, and how addiction research can help us to understand obesity.

Vervet monkeys involved in David Jentsch's research program live in outdoor social groups to ensure optimal welfare

Vervet monkeys involved in David Jentsch’s research program live in outdoor social groups to ensure optimal welfare

This week the NIH’s National institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has published an excellent article on David’s ongoing research entitled  “Methamphetamine Alters Brain Structures, Impairs Mental Flexibility”, which highlights the importance of non-human primate research in identifying how addiction alters the brain and why some individuals are more prone to develop damaging methamphetamine dependency than others. You can read the article in full here.

Human chronic methamphetamine users have been shown to differ from nonusers in the same ways that the post-exposure monkeys differed from their pre-exposure selves. The researchers’ use of monkeys as study subjects enabled them to address a question that human studies cannot: Did the drug cause those differences, or were they present before the individuals initiated use of the drug? The study results strongly suggest that the drug is significantly, if not wholly, responsible”

This knowledge of how drug use disrupts brain function will be crucial to development effective clinical interventions for methamphetamine addiction, and the huge scale and devastating impact of methamphetamine use makes it clear that such interventions are desperately needed, as David highlights in the article’s conclusion.

Methamphetamine dependence is currently a problem with no good medical treatments, when you say a disease like methamphetamine dependence is costly, it’s not just costing money, but lives, productivity, happiness, and joy. Its impact bleeds through families and society.”

At a time when animal rights activists in many countries are pushing to ban addiction research involving animals, the NIDA article on the work of David and his colleagues shows why this work is so valuable, and just what would be lost if animal rights extremists are allowed to have their way.

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.

Statement on postponement of Pro-Test for Science rally

Dear colleagues, students, friends and supporters,

We want to thank each and every person that put aside their valuable personal time when they committed to attending this weekend’s Pro-Test rally in Westwood. Your agreement to participate is a testament to your commitment to scientific research and to the scientists who have been targeted at UCLA.

Our real goal was to positively change the climate for researchers at work and at home, where protesters are conducting their campaigns of terror. Counter demonstrating was but one way that this can be accomplished, and indeed, we believe a multi-faceted approach is required. Your commitment to this demonstration has evoked a renewed motivation in the University to work with us to create new strategies to bring under control the activities of animal rights extremists who insist on conducting campaigns of harassment, intimidation and threats against scientists and their families. At the recommendation of the University and to give these strategies an opportunity to develop and take effect, Pro-Test for Science has decided to defer the event planned for this Saturday.

We want to thank our supporters, and those who may object to aspects of the work but still hold that moral disputes ought to be resolved in the court of public opinion by civil debate. We will continue to express our expert views to the public so that society can take informed decisions in matters of basic, medical research and public health.

Pro-Test for Science

PTfS_8137

I Pro-Test for Science

Please leave your messages of support including your full name in the comment section at the bottom of the page (no sign up necessary). We must show our fellow scientists that they have our support. Names in the comment section will be added to the signatures at the bottom of the post.

When researchers are harassed and intimidated for carrying out their work, we must consider the whole scientific community to be under threat. We may not always be available to stand shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues, but we can still offer our strength and support from afar.

At UCLA, the scientists and their community are standing up to end the home demonstrations that have targeted their colleagues for many years.  As Professor David Jentsch writes

For more than a decade, the streets in front of the homes of UCLA researchers have been the scene of regular, brutal, vitriolic and hate-filled campaigns by animal rights hooligans. …  We have decided to act, with our voices, our messages of scientific progress and – most importantly – with the unity of our community.

Speaking of the successful first counter-demonstration at a home protest Professor Dario Ringach writes:

… it should not come as a surprise to anyone that after a decade of harassment, intimidation and threats,  we have decided to mount counter-demonstrations when these animal right terrorists show up at our homes.

These activists now have the shameless audacity to play the victim of this encounter. Incapable of understanding the message, they are now recruiting more misguided individuals to join them in their fanatical crusade and come back to harass us at our homes on February 15th.

We will be there to meet them once more and convey one simple message,

We are not going to take it anymore!

Colleagues and friends – please take a moment to leave a message of support for the brave UCLA scientists who have been subjected to fire bombs, home harassment, threats to their children, and relentless fear-campaigns for over a decade by animal rights activists, yet continue their work to advance science.  It may be difficult to imagine what this is like, and easy to imagine is an issue that is someone else’s– one that will never be yours– but it is not. It is an attack on public interest in scientific progress, in medical progress, civil dialogue, and democratic ideals. Our community is often silent in the face of attacks. We can change that and we really must.

I am Pro-Test

For those who think that this is about animal welfare, about specific types of research, about whether or not invasive research in nonhuman animals is justified, or about some other distinction among the wide range of issues concerning captive animals, it really is not.

We ask you to please read David Jentsch and Dario Ringach’s posts (here, here, here), watch this video, and get better look at what is happening.

These are our colleagues and scientists who bravely defend their work, who engage in public dialogue, who lend their voices to serious, fact-based consideration of ethical issues. Consider whether you really believe that the actions taken by the animal rights groups represent a best path forward.  If you do not, please take a minute to comment in support of the UCLA scientists and share with others who can be there to stand with them. Even if you cannot be in LA to stand with them, you can offer a comment in support and let the public know that home harassment is the wrong path.

Please leave a comment including your full name to be added to the list below.

We should all be Pro-Test. Now it’s time to say so.

Speaking of Research

Counter-demonstration. When: February 15, 10:15am sharp!
Where: Franz Hall Lobby @ UCLA (near Hilgard and Westholme)  http://maps.ucla.edu/campus/

Signatures:

Allyson J Bennett
Tom Holder
Chris Magee
Pamela Bass
David Jentsch
Dario Ringach
Jacquie Calnan
Paul Browne
David Bienus
Andy Fell
Jim Newman
Prof Doris Doudet
Gene Rukavina
Prof Bill Yates
Christa Helms
Jeff Weiner
Justin McNulty
Alice Ra’anan
Jordana Lenon
Jae Redfern
Melissa Luck
Claudia Soi
Kevin Elliott
Brian L Ermeling
Teresa Woodger
Joanna Bryson
John Capitanio
Dennis J Foster
Juan Carlos Marvizon
António Carlos Pinto Oliveira
Dawn Abney
Michael Brunt
Wayne Patterson
Greg Frank
Jim Sackett
Davide Giana
Paulo Binda
Emiliano Broggi
Marco Onorato
Cardani Carlo
Pasquele Franzese
Diana Gordon
Janet R Schofding
Rick Lane
Lorinda Wright
Jamie Lewis
Judy Barnett
Martha Maxwell
Stacy LeBlanc
Deborah Donohue
Paula Clifford
Cindy Buckmaster
Diana Li
Ashley Weaver
Jayne Mackta
Giordana Bruno Michela
Agata Cesaretti
Enrico Migliorini
Kim Froeschl
Daniele Mangiardi
Liz Guice
Myrian Morato
Patricia Zerbini
Michael Savidge
Jefferson Childs
Kimberley Phillips
Anne Deschamps
Dario Parazzoli
Robert M. Parker
Agnes Collino
Alberto Ferrari
Igor Comunale
Kristina Nielsen
Marco Delli Zotti
Megan Wyeth
Carolina Garcia de Alba
Andrea Devigili
Erin Severs
Patricia Foley
Mary Zelinski
Alison Weiss
Savanna Chesworth
Christy Carter
Joel Ortiz
William Levick
Lauren Renner
David Andrade Carbajal
Federico Simonetti
Daniele Melani
Dwayne Godwin
Howard Winet
Jeremy Bailoo
Stephan Roeskam
Mary-Ann Griffiths
Carolyn Pelham
Francesca Digiesi
Nicola Bordin
Dianna Laurent
Joe Erwin
Jennifer Picard
Vicki Campbell
Erin Vogelsong
Bob Schrock
Silvia Armuzzi
Elizabeth Harley
Wendy Jarrett
Barbara Rechman
Daria Giovannoni
Patricia Atkins
Scott Hall
Vickie Risbrough
Liam Messin
Brian McMillen
John Meredith
Aleksandra Gondek
Tehya Johnson
Nancy Marks
Leonardo Murgiano
David Markshak
William Horn
John J Eppig
Mila Marvizon
David Robinson
Steven Lloyd
Shari Birnbaum
Matthew Jorgensen
Karen Maegley
Barry Bradford
Corinna Ross
Stephen Harvey
Deborah Otteson
Bette Cessna
Steven Wise
Michael Conn
Gregory Cote
James MacMillan
Suzanne Lavalla
Lisa Peterson
Jennifer Perkins
Richard Nyhof
Beth Laurent
Gabriele Lubach
Michele A. Basso
Cindy Chrisler
Jian Wu
Mahmoud Loghman-Adham
Claire Edwards
Daniel T. Cannon
Emil Venz
Hyeyoung Kim
Jon E. Levine
Ken Linder
Kathy Linder
Matt Thornton
Margaret Maloney
Regina Correa-Murphy
Kristine Wadosky
Victor Lavis
David Fulford
Josiane Broussard
Fabio De Maio
Rachel J. Smith, PhD
Trinka Adamson
Cobie Brinkman
Emily Slocum
Michael J. Garrison
Tom Greene
Jenny Kalishman
Marcia Putnam

Outreach, Not Out-of-Reach

This article updates an original article entitled: Time for a change?

This weekend’s counter-demonstration at UCLA is another sign of a growing movement and change in the approach the research community is taking towards defending public interests in scientific research. The actions and growth of Pro-Test, Pro-Test for Science, and Pro-Test Italia have all provided powerful examples of the strength of community efforts to stand for science. While far from universal, we are also seeing steady progress towards new standards for public engagement and education by institutions, organizations, and individuals. Nonetheless, too many institutions are still choosing silence instead of outreach. For them, it’s time for a change.

Press release comes in, journalist is demanding a comment, animal rights activists are arriving for their demonstration – what do you do? For too many organizations the strategy has been to simply ignore it – keep yourself out of reach of journalists and activists. Well there’s only one problem – it doesn’t work.

The science community often receives some fairly standard advice when they are targeted by the activities, press releases, and publicity stunts of animal rights groups. That advice often sounds a little bit like this:

  • If you don’t acknowledge them they will go away
  • Fighting back will just make them fight harder
  • Don’t give them free publicity, the attention just helps them grow.
  • Responding to them just takes time away from more important work

What is the impact in the short term? Will it make the activists go away? How does it affect relationships with journalists? What about your local community? How about your own researchers? Does it make those targeted safer? Does it support them? Does it decrease an institution’s exposure to activists’ campaigns and “bad” publicity?

What about the long term? Does it make an institution more resilient to future campaigns? How does it change long term perceptions about your institution? Is your research community safer in the long run?

Picture Credit: Lorenzo Todaro

Pro-Test Italia: They’re not ignoring the problem.

Unfortunately, there is little solid data or empirical study to support an evidence-based approach in selecting the best strategy for responding to various campaigns by groups opposed to nonhuman animal research.

What if we look to the current state and conclusions of those engaged in fighting back against other anti-science campaigns? How would we feel if those explaining climate change or promoting vaccination stopped discussing their work and let climate change deniers or anti-vaccination lobbyist create their own “truths” for the public. The reality is that more public engagement and accurate information is needed to mount an effective defense of the scientific truths. We must support a robust education on issues such as evolution, climate change, and vaccines.

We have written many times here about education and outreach programs for animal research and the perils of “no comment” approaches. For decades the scientific community has tried to ignore the animal rights activists and yet we have not seen a decline in their efforts. New laws – such as AETA in the US and the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act in the UK – have been effective in  stemming the extremist elements of the movement in some countries, but they cannot address the misinformation which is propagated legally by the movement. While extremism has fallen from the early 2000s, the animal rights movement has continued to grow in number, reach, income, and supporters. Consider PETA, for example. Founded by two activists in 1980, it is now arguably the most visible animal rights group in the world. They claim to have three million members and supporters. PETA’s 2012 revenue of over $30 million, with $15 million going to outreach and international grassroots campaigns, solidly demonstrates its growth over 30 years.

Ignoring PETA has not made them go away.The organization’s survival and growth relies on their regular publicity. They must continue to shock their supporters with new horrors and crimes against animals which justify their continued existence. While they can continue to convince people that atrocities are perpetrated on laboratory animals, they will continue to expand their celebrity line up, supporter numbers and, crucially, donations.

Scientific institutions must call out PETA (and other such groups) when it misrepresents them. They must call out PETA when it promotes violence against them. Many of the public supports PETA because it believes their messaging – it is important that those people have access to the true facts behind the, often groundless, accusations by PETA.

Early action is the best action. Effective communication with a journalist investigating an animal rights press release can help the reporter see that the claims are inaccurate the stop the story in its tracks.

Nor does PETA’s success depend upon attention directed at them from the scientific community. At this point in time, a mix of celebrity endorsements, stunts, and emotive campaigns successfully drive and sustain PETA’s publicity. Additional efforts by the scientific community to counter campaigns of misrepresentation, provide accurate information, and to condemn PETA’s promotion of violence toward scientists can at least make sure that the voices of scientists are heard in the media coverage. In some cases effective engagement early on can help journalists to see that the claims are inaccurate, and stop the story in it’s tracks. While we often see news coverage of accusations by animal rights groups, there are many more stories that never make the newspapers because the institution actively shows the journalist that the claims are without merit – through explaining the research thoroughly or offering tours of the facilities.

As we mentioned before:

An argument can be made that ignoring PETA’s escalating antics and failing to advance a public counter to their claims may have facilitated the success with which PETA has gained support. For example, if there is no public response or condemnation when PETA does something like releasing a videogame that promotes “beating up” scientists, the game is unlikely to go away. There will be little chance that scientists will reach this audience in order to counter the game’s gross misrepresentations of laboratory animal care. If we say nothing, the individuals playing the videogame, the game’s designer, and those providing positive media coverage of the game will fail to receive the message that it is not ok to promote violence against scientists (or others with whom you disagree). In effect, violence against scientists will be further “normalized” as a tactic that can be rationalized or acceptable.

PETA's MMA game depiction of animal research.

PETA’s MMA game depiction of animal research.

So what about the original question?

Press release comes in, journalist is demanding a comment, animal rights activists are arriving for their demonstration – what do you do?

Well the first, and most obvious thing to say is – plan now. Know who is responsible for providing comment. Know exactly who must sign off comments. Know who to talk to to get the journalists inside the lab. Know the facts of your research – how many animals, what species, what purposes. There is no risk in having a fact sheet about your animal research – including case studies – ready to go – better to have one and not need it than need it and not have it! Examples of good case studies can be found on Oxford University’s web pages dedicated to its animal research.

So the press release is in – the first thing to do is to try and give yourself some time to plan. Journalists may phone on a Friday wanting a comment for immediate print, so ask for a few days and promise to provide a full statement just for them. If you offer to invite them into your facility, they will often give more time – most journalists want to get to the bottom of the story – they simply don’t know or understand why and how research is conducted, having only seen an emotively worded press release full of shocking claims by animal rights activists. Your priority is to show them what your research is really about. That starts with how science benefits the public, why animal studies are conducted, and how the research community protects animal welfare.

Of course, why wait for the phone call? Get your journalist in to your lab today. Provide them with the facts of your research. Send press releases that highlight the important work that your researchers are doing. You may find that they not only ignore the press released claims by animal rights groups (which they have seen first hand are false), they may even give you an early heads and forward you the press release lest any other, less informed, journalist picks up the story. And while your at it why stop at journalists, successful outreach programmes have also enabled undergraduate students and members of the local community to tour laboratories and talk to scientists.

Laboratory tours and press releases are only two of  the many ways in which scientists and supporters of medical research can reach out to the public, policy makers and the press,  American Physiological Society has put together an advocacy resource and public outreach toolkit full of great examples and advice.

Putting yourself out of reach of those who would criticize your institution does not work. Organizations both in and out of the media spotlight must understand that outreach is the best way of preventing and handling a negative story created by animal rights groups. While many scientists, educators, and advocates already engage, it seems that too many organizations and institutions continue with the old approaches that don’t work for the short- or long-term. It’s time for a change.

Public opinion on animal research in Italy 2014

Ipsos Public Affairs has recently published a follow-up poll on Italians’ opinions about animal testing; Ipsos did the first survey on this subject in 2011, and the results were discussed in the Italian Senate the following year: many politicians were surprised to discover that opposition to animal research was considerably lower than animal rights groups made it out to be (activists have been repeating a claim that 86% of Italians are against animal research, though this figure does not hold up to professional polling stats released by Ipsos).

After three years, Ipsos repeated the poll to check if something has changed in the italian perception of animal research: this post aims to look at the positive changes that have occurred, and the swing in public opinion behind animal research. 1,000 people were surveyed in Ipsos’ research.

2011 Italian public opinion

As an example, in 2014 49% of the interviewed subjects think that experimenting on animals to test medicines is acceptable; in 2011, this number was much lower, only 33%.

2014 Italian views on animal testing and other animal useItalians are still very much against hunting (85% of Italians consider it unacceptable), the fur trade (95% said it was unacceptable) or experimenting on animals to verify the quality of cosmetic products (93% are against) – though it should be noted that cosmetic testing on animals is illegal in Italy (and thoughout the EU). While there has been a minor fall between 2011 to 2014 on public opinion on this issue, the change is small and does not alter the fact that most Italians remains supportive to animal welfare causes. However, these days there are clearly more people that understand how caring for animals and supporting animal research are not mutually exclusive goals.

Let’s examine the graphs further. In 2011, only 51% of the interviewees thought that animal research was necessary for medical progress. In 2014, this number has grown to 61%: that’s 6 out of 10 Italians. Compare this to the number of people that don’t think animal research is necessary for medicine – just 36%.

Are scientific experiments on animals necessary. 2014 Italian poll

Animal rights activists often say that animal research is outdated, that technology can substitute animals for all kinds of testing; naturally we know this to be untrue, but what about Italians? What do they think about alternative methods?

In 2011, 63% of interviewees thought technology was able to take the place of most, if not all, medical purpose animal tests. In 2014 that number has dropped to 54% (see graph below), pointing to a more realistic outlook on the actual possibilities of technology. This reflects an improvement in the information that people are getting about animal research. This is likely to be, in part, because of the public focus on animal research (due to the violent activities of extremists) and because of the information provided by advocacy groups such as Pro-Test Italia.

Italy Are there alternatives to animal research 2014 Ipsos poll

These numbers are very encouraging, and they get even better. In both the 2011 and in 2014 Ipsos polls, the pollsters asked those surveyed whether they thought that animal research for medical purposes was acceptable or not; the subject’s answer was written down, the interviewer then provided information regarding animal research to the participant (such as the way European regulations protect lab animals’ health and well-being, how suffering is limited and regulated, and so on), and the initial question was repeated (“in light of these informations, do you think that animal research is acceptable?”). After being informed of the way lab animals are cared for by researchers, many subjects changed their answer; the harshest critics of animal research (those that answered “it’s never acceptable”), went from 30% down to 16%, while strong supporters of animal research went from 26% to 37%.

Is animal testing acceptable - Italian poll 2014 Ipsos

The 2014 Ipsos poll confirms what we already discovered in 2011: when people are correctly informed about animal research, their support of it grows noticeably. However, the 2014 poll showed an increased awareness of the general public in regards to animal research and its importance in the development of new drugs: this is no surprise, over the last few years Italian scientists and researchers started fighting back the “no vivisection” movements, with the support of new associations such as Pro-Test Italia.

To cut a long story short, providing accurate information about animal research remains key to giving people the means to form an educated opinion about animal research, and with an increase of knowledge on the subject, there’s also an increase in animal research’s acceptance. We have a long way ahead of us, but we’ve definitely started on the right foot.

Daria

Italians rally behind ill girl threatened by animal rights extremists: #Iostoconcaterina

2013 was a tough year for science in Italy, witnessing the theft by animal rights extremists of animals from a medical research laboratory in Milan and the passing by the Italian Parliament of a law that threatens the future of medical research in Italy. But it has also been the year when scientists in Italy have started to push back in earnest against the tide of ignorance and disinformation, with Pro-Test Italia holding rallies in Milan and Rome, while thousands of Italian scientists – led by the country’s largest medical research charities – wrote to the government to ask them to stop the damaging legislation, and more than 10,000 scientists signed a petition to the EU commission asking them to take action against the dangerous Italian legislation.

As 2013 came to a close this ongoing crisis took an unexpected turn, as news emerged that animal rights extremists had harassed and threatened a seriously ill student named Caterina Simonsen who had spoken out in favour of animal research.
Caterina is battling four rare genetic diseases and must constantly wear an oxygen mask. She’s affected by a respiratory failure due to a neurologic disease that damages both of her phrenic nerves. Moreover, her breathing ability is further reduced by an alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, she’s thrombophilic and immunodeficient, and she developed a prolactinoma, a benign tumor of the pituary gland.  For this reason Caterina started to document her life, both in hospital and at home, with photos and videos that she shares on her Facebook profile.  In a post on December 21, she noted:

Translation:  "I am 25 thanks to genuine research that includes experiments on animals. Without it, I would have been dead at nine. You have gifted me a future"

Translation: “I am 25 thanks to genuine research that includes experiments on animals. Without it, I would have been dead at nine. You have gifted me a future”

Caterina shared the photo on the Facebook pages of Pro-Test Italia and “A Favore della Sperimentazione Animale”. She was motivated to do this because animal rights activists, in particular the Partito Animalista Europeo (PAE – on of Italy’s largest animal rights groups), have been attacking the Fondazione Telethon, a leading Italian research charity that focuses on developing new therapies for genetic disorders.

Over the next few days she received hundreds of angry responses and over 30 death threats from animal rights extremists, which have been turned over to authorities.

One respondent wrote, “You could die tomorrow. I wouldn’t sacrifice my goldfish for you.” Another said: ”If you had died as a child, no one would have given a damn.”

Caterina Simonsen ItalianIn response to the harsh criticism, Caterina made a video (http://youtu.be/RbTfRMoj19w and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbwBuHHC-PA) that was played repeatedly on Italian television networks.  ”I have received messages saying that the lives of 10 rats are more important than mine. I don’t know what planet these people live on and who raised them,” she said, breaking into tears. ”I am alive thanks to doctors, to medicines and to animals who had to be sacrificed.” She said she wanted to become a veterinarian “to help save animals”.

In her videos and a subsequent interview with an Italian newspaper Caterina noted the serious deficiencies in science education in the Italian school system, resulting in a very poor standard of public debate on scientific issues and bad decisions by Italian politicians. She highlighted the Stamina case, where in 2013 the Italian parliament backed funding for a clinical trial of an extremely dubious stem cell therapy being promoted by a psychologist named Davide Vannoni (later blocked by the Italian Health Minister on the advice of a committee of stem cell experts).

Caterina is a vegetarian and a veterinary student who loves animals (it’s even possible to see a dog sleeping on her bed while she records the video), but this wasn’t enough for some animal rights activists who commented on her video with various kinds of insults and even death threats. Their action sparked a quick and unanimous response from many other Italians: No one can use those kinds of words against Caterina. Soon Caterina’s Facebook page and Youtube videos were flooded with messages of support, and a dedicated twitter hashtag was created, #iostoconcaterina (#iamwithcaterina).  Soon many patients and scientists followed Caterina’s example, posting a picture of themselves expressing the necessity for animal research on the Facebook page A Favore della Sperimentazione Animale, where Caterina had posted her picture, while tens of thousands of Italians showed their support for Caterina by tweeting #iostoconcaterina.

This way the topic spread through the Internet and started to attract journalists: by 27 December Caterina photos and videos appeared on the TV screen and during the news and on the newspapers (e.g. here, here, here and here) with the story subsequently being covered by media in many other countries, including the UK, Germany, Australia and USA. Many high-profile personalities expressed their support for the young girl, including  Matteo Renzi, leader of Italy’s Democratic Party and a likely future prime minister, and the film director Gabriele Muccino. A few days later in an opinion poll of over 2,000 people on the website of the leading newspaper Corriere Della Sera, 80% answered “yes” to the question “Do you support the testing on animals for therapeutic purposes?” It seems that somehow the public support to the cause of medicine and scientific research was already there, and that Caterina’s courage has brought it to the surface.

The reaction of the Italian animal rights groups was mixed, some eventually condemned the harassment and threats against Caterina, but others reacted more negatively. The PAE – which is a very strong supporter of Davide Vannoni’s  dubious stem cell therapy – retreated into conspiracy theory, even suggesting that Caterina does not actually exist!

Today, Caterina is in hospital because of her illness and even if she wants to thanks all the people that support her, she reminds them she’s not looking for fame so asks the journalists and the other people to respect her privacy.

As 2014 begins we hope that Caterina’s decision to speak out will spur more supporters of science and medical progress in Italy to make their own voices heard, her bravery has created an opportunity for the Italian scientific community to decisively turn the tide against ignorance and extremism.

Noi stiamo con Caterina!

Speaking of Research

NOTES:

Interview that Caterina gave to an Italian newspaper, published 27 Dec 2013

http://www.ilsussidiario.net/mobile/Cronaca/2013/12/27/STAMINA-Caterina-ecco-perche-ho-deciso-di-vivere-anche-se-so-che-non-guariro/452623/

Speaking of 2013: A year in summary

As another year for Speaking of Research has passed it seems only appropriate to spend a moment looking back.

Animal research is important because of its contributions to human and animal health. In 2013 we saw a promising clinical trial for epidermolysis bullosa (EB), the development of pluripotent human stem cells from cloned human skin  cells, a new diabetes treatment developed from the Gila Monster, the first transplanted liver that had been preserved at room temperature, and a gene therapy for hemophilia A in dogs. Then, of course, the Nobel Prizes reminded us of the value of animal research once again. No doubt 2014 will continue to push the limits of medical science, with animal research continuing to play a vital role.

Sadly, despite the many successes of animal research, animal rights extremism was in the rise in Europe in 2013, particularly in Italy. In response to an attack on the University of Milan, over 5,000 people signed the Basel Declaration’s call for solidarity. There was hope, with the rise of Pro-Test Italia, who held their first rally in June 2013. Sadly, in August 2013, the Italian Chamber of Deputies passed amendments which would limit some aspects of research in Italy. Just before the New Year, Caterina Simonsen, an Italian veterinary student, received a string of abuse for posting a message on Facebook about animal research is keeping her alive (expect us to write more on this in the coming days). See her message below:

Translation: ""I am 25 thanks to genuine research that includes experiments on animals. Without research, I would have been dead at nine""

Translation: “I am 25 thanks to genuine research that includes experiments on animals. Without research, I would have been dead at nine”

In our blog, we spent a fair bit of time looking at the process of drug development and the regulations involved. In 2013, the UK transposed EU Directive 2010/63/EU, updating and harmonising animal research regulation in the EU, into UK law. The EU released its 2012 statistics on animal research. We wrote about how research progresses from an idea to a study and clarified differences between “animal testing” and “animal research”. Expect us to continue such posts.

Animal rights activism also persisted through 2013. PETA’s ongoing campaign against UW Madison involved celebrities crashing meetings (among other celebrity shenanigans), creating video games where characters must beat up scientists (also see PETA’s pathetic defence), putting out expensive bus adverts condemning UW Madison, and generally ignoring all inspections that found no wrongdoing by the University of Wisconsin Madison. We have discussed PETA in other contexts, such as the hypocrisy of one of scientific consultants, Dr Laurence A. Hansen. Activity by groups like PETA made us look long and hard about what makes a good response to animal rights allegations.

As usual there was much debunking of animal rights misinformation. Prof Robin Lovell-Badge provided us with two posts which dealt with statistics which are misused by members of the animal rights community – one on the FDA’s drug failure rates, and a second on the success rate of animal research. Mark Wanner of Jackson Labs explained why failures in some animal models do not mean failures in others. We spent time debunking the Huffington Post diatribes of Aysha Akhtar, twice, as well as putting the story straight on the history of diabetes, and debunking the myths of a new UK activist group, For Life on Earth.

We had a variety of guest posters this year which included Kelly Walton explaining why she became a laboratory animal veterinarianPeter Wright discussing UK regulations, and Brian Anderson explaining how animal research was saving the life of his daughter Liviya, who suffers from aplastic anemia. We will be hoping for many more guest posts in 2014, and encourage people to write about their research in the Speaking of Your Research series.

Thank you to all who have followed us this year. Please continue to help us, reading and sharing our writings, in the hope we can make 2014 the best year for animal research outreach yet.

Speaking of Research