Category Archives: Outreach News

Nobel Prizewinner John O’Keefe warns of threat to science from overly restrictive animal research and immigration rules

In an interview with the BBC yesterday 2014 Nobel laureate  John O Keefe has warned of the dangers posed by regulations that restrict animal research and the free movement of scientists across borders.

“It is an incontrovertible fact that if we want to make progress in basic areas of medicine and biology we are going to have to use animals.

“There is a worry that the whole regulatory system might begin to be too difficult, it might be constrictive.”

Professof John O'Keefe, 2014 Nobel Laureate in Medicine or Physiology. Image: David Bishop, UCL.

Professof John O’Keefe, 2014 Nobel Laureate in Medicine or Physiology. Image: David Bishop, UCL.

His concerns are well founded. Our post yesterday discussed the key role of recordings of single neuron activity in rats to the discoveries made by John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser. The post also discusses two other advances made through basic research in animals whose impact in medicine has been recognized by awards, deep brain stimulation in Parkinson’s disease, and infant massage in preterm babies. Nevertheless in many countries around the world there is increasing pressure from animal rights groups on politicians to restrict, and even ban, animal research. Scientists have a key role to play in ensuring that important basic and translational research, and we welcome John O’Keefe’s statement,  it’s an example that scientists around the world should follow.

The issue of immigration is another important one for science, and John O’Keefe knows this better than most. Born in New York, he completed his PhD at the University on Montreal under the supervision of renowned Psychologist Ronald Melzack, before moving to the UK to undertake a postdoctoral fellowship, and credits the research environment in the UK and at UCL for giving him the opportunity to make his discoveries, and later May-Britt and Edvard Moser spent time as postdoctoral researchers at his laboratory.  For science to flourish scientists must be free to travel to centres of excellence in other countries, to learn skills and establish collaborations that are key to success in many fields of research in the 21st century. This freedom is under threat from narrow-minded isolationism in many countries, for example earlier this year Switzerland found its position as a leading scientific nation undermined by a new immigration law that threatens its ability to recruit talented scientists from abroad, and has disrupted its participation in a key EU research programmes.

John O’Keefe’s warning is a reminder that the threats to scientific research can come from many directions, and of the need for supporters of science to be ready to take action to defend the freedoms on which science is built.

Speaking of Research

Time for a change? A Scientist’s View of Public Interests in Animal Research and Welfare

Each fall since 1950, the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science has held its annual National Meeting. During the five days of the meeting, members and nonmembers come together to enjoy the workshops, lectures, poster sessions, and exhibits. The AALAS National Meeting is the largest gathering in the world of professionals concerned with the production, care, and use of laboratory animals. 

The September 2014 issue of AALAS’ signature publication, Laboratory Animal Science Professional, focused on the upcoming 65th National Meeting to be held in San Antonio, Texas, October 19-23, 2014. The magazine was delighted to publish an article from Allyson J. Bennett, this year’s Charles River Ethics and Animal Welfare Lecturer. Dr. Bennett shared thoughts from her upcoming lecture and was featured on the magazine’s cover.

“Time for a Change?” by Dr. Allyson J. Bennett appeared in Laboratory Animal Science Professional, September 2014, and is reprinted by permission.

Laboratory Animal Science

Time for a change? A Scientist’s View of Public Interests in Animal Research and Welfare

Public interest in animal research and welfare extend well over a century, with deep roots in different views of moral action, and the power to ignite highly charged emotional responses. Public interests are of two kinds: One is as recipients of the benefits that research delivers. The other is as decision-makers whose actions and views shape the social contract and conditions under which animal research is done—or not.

Decisions about animal research have consequences at societal and individual levels. As a result, serious consideration of the facts, inherent moral dilemmas, and future of animal research should extend far beyond the research community. What we often see instead is public interest in laboratory animal research represented not as the complex thing it is, but rather as a simple split: scientists on one side and animal rightists on the other. Logic versus compassion. Harm to other animals versus benefit to humans. Saving sick children versus hugging puppies. Heroes versus villains.

In this cartoon vision, opponents stand at an unbridgeable gap armed with different conclusions from facts that may, or may not, overlap. Each argues their case to sway the public, legislators, media, and youth to “their side.” This approach persists despite the long history, complexity, and critical importance of animal research to public interests.

Often animal research discussions begin and end without thoughtful dialogue, or even full acknowledgement, of what gives rise to opposed positions. Most obvious is the divide over whether animals should ever be part of research and, if so, which animals and for which purposes. Less obvious are some fundamentally different understandings and visions of how science works, how deeply it is woven into more than a century of profound changes in health, environment, and technology and out understanding of the world.

Scientists, laboratory animal research community members, advocates, and educators can play important roles in advancing the public dialogue beyond old and polarized scripts. Conveying accurate and substantial knowledge about animal research is a primary responsibility. We can share why we believe the lines of division are false, why identifying heroes and villains falls short, and why we should reject the science versus compassion formulation.

We can contribute to the dialogue with specific examples illuminating why it is wrong to cast the issue as science versus animals, or to divide along the lines of those who conduct the work and those who protect the animals. We can demonstrate that scientific study is responsible for much of what we understand about other animals and for advancing better animal welfare. Animal research has fostered better medical treatment, conservation strategies, and care for other animals.

At its heart, the purpose and motivation for animal research is the drive to reduce suffering and improve human and animal health. There is no compassion in ignoring the suffering of humans and animals threatened by Ebola or any other disease. Nor should a small, privileged segment of global society make decisions that disregard the world’s population, animals, and environment.

As knowledge, need, and perspectives continue to change, these and other topics will be central to advancing a deeper consideration and informed dialogue that can protect public interests in animal research.

This cannot be the job of scientists alone, nor does it require information and expertise available only to scientists. It may require additional effort from all of us to better understand the topics, core moral issues, and consequences of different courses of action. It will require time and change to place serious and full consideration of these issues at the center of public dialogue, but it is time well spent to move forward in addressing the difficult choices and challenges we encounter as we seek to improve a shared world.

Allyson J. Bennett, PhD is a developmental psychobiologist on the faculty of the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the Chair of the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Animal Research Ethics. Dr. Bennett is part of Speaking of Research, a volunteer organization that seeks to improve public education and dialogue about animal research. Speaking of Research’s news blog can be found here: http://www.speakingofresearch.com

Urge the U. S. Surgeon General to Voice Support for Animal Research

Your scientific activism is only a click away.

A new petition in Change.org urges the U. S. Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak, to voice support for the humane, and regulated use of animals in medical research.  It reads:

There is a growing pressure from animal rights organizations that would deny Americans the health benefits derived from the use of animals in medical research.

Opponents of animal research represent a small minority of the population, but they engage in misleading, visible and vocal campaigns that can impact the ability of scientists to conduct medical research with animals.

The scientific consensus is clear — recent polls by Nature Magazine and the Pew Research Center show that 92% of scientists believe that animal research remains essential to the advancement of biomedical sciences.

We call on the U. S. Surgeon General to publicly recognize the past contributions of the humane use of animals in research that has improved the well-being of human and non-human animals, and to stress the essential role they continue to play in advancing medical science and knowledge.

By acting on this petition the U. S. Surgeon General would be publicly reaffirming the scientific consensus and join the many medical and scientific organizations that have already adopted resolutions in support of the responsible and regulated use of animals in research.  These include the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Neurology, the American Heart Association, the American Veterinary Medical  Association, the Society for Neuroscience and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, among others.

Please consider signing the petition and share it with your colleagues and friends!

Thank you!

The marchers begin to walk towards the center of the UCLA

Ask the U. S. Surgeon General to Voice Support for Animal Research!

Animal Experiments in the UK: Government releases 2013 statistics

Every year the UK Home Office publishes statistics showing the number of procedures carried out on animals covered by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986; this covers all vertebrate species. Overall, the number of animals used in research fell slightly from 4.03 to 4.02 million (0.4% fall). The total number of procedures was slightly higher, at 4.12 million, as some animals were used for more than one procedure (a 0.3% rise from 2012).

animal testing statistics uk 2013

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

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Research

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

How you can support understanding of animal research in thirty seconds

In February 2013 we wrote a post called “The Science of Linking”, which looked at how other organisations’ website linking to pages like Speaking of Research could have an impact on its ranking in Google searches.

The efforts of our followers paid up, with Speaking of Research’s PageRank (a key factor in Google search result order) rising from 6 to 7. This puts us equal to HSUS, and above both PETA (who dropped from 7 to 6 last year) and PCRM.

This video may help explain how some of these factors, including PageRank, influence search results.

Despite early success, we can continue to improve. Ideally, we need to be a first page search result for terms such as “animal research” and “animal testing”, and you can help us do that. Google considers links from .edu and .gov websites to be of greater value than those from less established websites (thus why SR outranks PETA despite having far few incoming links). So what could you do in thirty seconds?

We need you to send an email to your department website editor (and convince friends in other life science departments to do likewise) to ask them to add links to pro-research organisations on an appropriate page. Many of you will have direct control over sections of your department’s page, so please take a few seconds to add the middle section of the letter below.

Dear Webmaster

Please can you add the following paragraph to our departmental website, on our page about animal research here: <insert url>

For more information about the role of animals in research we recommend the following resources:
http://www.speakingofresearch.com – Speaking of Research
http://www.amprogress.org – Americans for Medical Progress
http://www.fbresearch.org – Foundation for Biomedical Research
http://www.animalresearch.info – Animal Research Information

Kind Regards

<insert name>

You may also wish to link to specific resources, for example our briefing notes on animal research in the US or Canada:

So you’re now twenty-five seconds down and still have a spare 5 seconds to help research just a little bit more. Well, at the bottom of this post, like every post there is a box that looks like this:

sharing speaking of research

This one comes from our successful post about misused pictures of cats

So please share this post, and others on this website, on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, WordPress, Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon and tumblr. Your efforts can make all the difference in our efforts to improve and widen our communication about animals in research.

Speaking of Research

Addendum:

We’d like to thank all of the organizations which do link to Speaking of Research. To name a few of them, The Wake Forest School of Medicine, The University of British Colombia and The Californian National Primate Research Centre at UC Davis.

 

“Animal Rights …Or Wrongs?” – July 1, 2014

Next Tuesday, July 1st. at 8:00pm ET, Nickelodeon’s “Nick News with Linda Ellerbee” will air a program titled “Animal Rights…Or Wrongs?” It promises to be a balanced look at both sides of the use of animals in research. “Nick News” has been on the air for 22 years and is recognized for discussing social, political, and economic issues important to children, teenagers, and adults.

On the “pro” side of the discussion will be Dr. Cindy Buckmaster, Director for the Center for Comparative Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and AALAS Vice President. Dr. Buckmaster has been a longtime advocate for the responsible use of animals in research and has frequently spoken about the need for those in laboratory animal science community to speak out about what we do and why we do it. She has frequently given her talk, “Stop Hiding…and Change the World” at various meetings and conferences. In addition to Dr. Buckmaster, “Nick News” will be presenting the story of Liviya Anderson  whose life was saved by animal research when she developed aplastic anemia.

animal rights or wrongs

On the “con” side will be Dr. Aysha Akhtar, a board certified neurologist currently working for the Office of Counterterrorism and Emerging Threats with the FDA and is a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics (unaffiliated with Oxford University). She is also a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post arguing against the use of animals in research. Dr. Akhtar has been covered by Speaking of Research in the past here and here. At this time there is no further information available regarding who else may be a part of the “con” side.

“Nick News” states its aim is to explore both sides of the story. They will talk to children who have opinions on both sides from those actively working to end all animal research to those like Liviya who are alive today because of it.

In addition to the interviews with experts and children, Baylor College of Medicine allowed the “Nick News” crew to film animal in the vivarium including an experiment with a mouse model for Alzheimer’s disease performing a memory task in the lab.

Assuming that this segment will indeed be an unbiased look at both sides of the story, it will be interesting to see how children respond to the same tough question we all grapple with routinely: If we stop using animal models in research, then what?

We hope this program indeed provides an unbiased look at the issues surrounding the use of animals in research. It’s one thing to argue in the abstract about what, in a perfect world, should or shouldn’t happen. It’s another thing altogether to look a patient like Liviya, or any number of others suffering from debilitating diseases, and essentially say they aren’t worth saving. Although those participating in the program will not likely come face-to-face with real patients or their families in this segment, hopefully those watching will see there are potentially real consequences for real people should animal research be discontinued. Additionally we hope the program doesn’t allow any misrepresentations of the science to go unchallenged or the use of images which don’t accurately represent current research.

How Can Charities Discuss Animal Research: A Guide

The Association of Medical Research Charities and Understanding Animal Research in the UK have recently jointly produced a booklet aimed at helping charities discuss the animal research they carry out or fund. So what is the guide about?

This guide is designed to help medical research charities answer the questions from the public about the use of animals in research.
[...]
People may have specific questions about research using animals: how and why the research is funded; what charities are doing to find alternatives; what conditions animals are kept in; how this research is regulated; what it helps us find out. This guide suggests some ways that charities can answer these questions and where they can direct people who want to find out more.

Broadly, the guide covers three main areas. It does this by taking examples of best practice from UK medical research charities to illustrate its key points.

  • Being Prepared – what charities should do in advance to help them provide the public with the information they need. This includes writing a position statement on animal research, having case studies ready and establishing a process and protocol for responding to enquiries.
  • Answering Questions – how charities can best respond to individuals asking questions by email, phone and social media. It also covers responding to negative publicity in newspapers and how to deal with campaigns and protests.
  • Opportunities to tell people more – how charities can proactively provide more information about their work such as on their website and in press releases.

The case studies throughout include example letters and position statements from charities, and bits of advice from charities who have been effectively communicating their animal work. See such a case study below:

Cancer Research UK Case Study

So why is such as guide needed? While many charities have done good work explaining their animal research, many could benefit from the extra guidance.

US medical research charities (who the guide was not aimed at, but can still benefit from) are far behind their British counterparts in discussing their animal research. By going to five of the largest US and UK medical research charities’ websites and using the search bar to look for “animal testing” and “animal research”, there was a clear and stark difference between the two countries as to the existence of a clear statement on animal research.

Charities Statements

The links at the bottom are for the UK Charities’ statements on animal research

For any charity wanting to do more to explain the important research it does, I defiitely suggest downloading and reading the aforementioned AMRC-UAR guide to “Talking to the public about animal research“.

Tom