Category Archives: SR in the Media

Help us to support the research community

The Speaking of Research committee spend hours every week supporting the research community by helping with outreach efforts, debunking common myths, networking key people, talking to the public and media, and much, much more.

Since October 2014, we have:

  • Written 97 articles for the website (and added many more permanent pages)
  • Been quoted at least 20 times in newspapers and news websites
  • Spoken and debated on radio four times
  • Spoken on Television News twiceBBC News and ITV News
  • Written one article for Huffington Post, which gained over 4,200 likes
  • Sent out one Press Release that was picked up by Science
  • Presented a poster at AALAS

While our committee does not ask for any money for their efforts, our web hosts do. In 2014/15 we spent around $150/yr on website related costs (and some more on our AALAS poster); this was provided by numerous small donations made by our supporters.

We are now asking for small individual contributions (up to $15/€10) so we can continue to grow in 2015/16. Any money we receive, above what is needed for the website costs, will go towards other online activities such as promoting posts on various social media platforms in order to boost our readership. Click the Donate button below. 

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Some people have had problems making donations by debit/credit card. If you find changing the country from UK does not change the British “provinces” (to, say, US “states”), try picking a random country first, wait for it to change the menu options, then change to your chosen country (and wait a few seconds). This should work.

Donate today

Speaking of Research supported the Pro-Test for Science rallies in 2010. Now we need your help. Donate today. (click for original image)

We have also made a new page showing all the great work our committee have done in the media. The “SR in the Media” (under About) will be kept up to date with examples of Speaking of Research being quoted in newspapers, news websites, and when we appear on TV or radio. The page includes YouTube videos of our appearances, and radio shows can be listened too straight from our website. See the example below:

Many, many thanks for your ongoing support – we could not do it without you!

Speaking of Research

Why People Are Wrong to Oppose the New UK Beagle Breeding Facility

This post was originally posted on Huffington Post UK’s website. It is reprinted with permission from both the author and the Huffington Post. The original hyperlinks which were stripped out of the HP article have been returned.

Where do medicines come from?

It’s not a question most of us bother with when we take advantage of the huge array of medical treatments available to us.

All modern medicine is built on the ‘basic research’ which allows us to understand our physiology, and the diseases we suffer. Much of this research has been done, and continues to be done, in animals. Had Mering and Minkowski not shown the causal link between the pancreas and diabetes in dogs, we might never have discovered insulin (much more work was conducted in dogs by Banting and Best who later won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of insulin). Had Pasteur not shown how dogs could be vaccinated using weakened samples of the virus (made from rabbits), we would not have both the veterinary and human rabies vaccines.

Animals are also used to develop and refine medical techniques. Dogs played a key role in perfecting artery to vein blood transfusions, as well as showing that citrated blood could be safely transplanted (thus preventing the blood from clotting). More recently, 23 pet dogs with paralysing spinal injuries were able to regain some use of their rear legs thanks to a novel stem cell transplant treatment. This research had originally been done in rats, and last year was used to successfully treat a paralysed man in what could prove to be one of the biggest medical advances of the decade.

By law, animals must also be used to test the toxicity and safety of new drug compounds before they can be given to human volunteers. A pharmaceutical company will have used the findings of basic research studies to identify types of drugs which might be effective against certain diseases. They will then use a variety of non-animal tests – computer modelling, cell cultures and more – to identify the most promising drug candidates. Those compounds will then be tested in animals. If they are deemed safe enough, they may then be moved forward to human trials. It is testament to the effectiveness of animal safety tests that nobody has died in Phase I clinical trials in the UK for over 30 years (with only one badly conducted clinical trial causing severe harm in recent times).

Given public misconceptions on the issue, it is worth being clear and saying that in the UK, and across the rest of the EU, it is illegal to use animals to test cosmetic products or their ingredients. The UK ban came into force in 1998, one year after a ban on tobacco research using animals. The Government has also announced a ban on using animals for testing household products.

Graph - Milestones in Animal Research

So what about dogs?

Laboratory DogsDespite the examples used in this article, dogs are not used that much in research in the UK. They account for less than 0.1% of all animals used in the UK each year. This compares to the 98% of procedures which are conducted on mice, rats, fish or birds. In 2013 there were 3,554 dogs used in 4,779 procedures (down 30% from a decade ago). Due to special protections that exist for dogs, cats, primates and horses, researchers must justify to the Home Office why another species, such as a mouse, fish or sheep, cannot be used instead of a dog. The research must be approved by an ethical review board, who will work to ensure the implementation of the 3Rs (Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research). The researcher, the institution and the individual procedure must each be licensed by the Home Office. The video below, produced by Understanding Animal Research, shows dogs in a typical pharmaceutical laboratory in the UK.

So why a breeding facility?

Currently, around 20% of the dogs used in research in the UK are imported from abroad (those involved in 956 of the 4,779 procedures in 2013). This is because the UK breeding facilities cannot provide all the dogs used in the UK. These dogs have to endure long and potentially stressful flights from other countries. Surely it is better to breed them here in the UK, where we have some of the highest standards of laboratory animal welfare in the world and where our facilities can be easily monitored by the Animals in Science Regulation Unit inspectors? The new breeding facility offers animal welfare standards above and beyond those demanded by the Government. Dogs will be kept in socially housed groups in multi-level pens which can be joined together to create larger runs for the animals. All the animals will have toys and enrichment in their enclosures, and will interact with trained laboratory technicians every day. It is this sort of investment in animal welfare we, as an animal-loving nation, should embrace.

Petitioning the Government to reverse their decision on approving the beagle facility in Hull is misguided. It will not reverse our need to use animals in research, or even change the number of dogs used in the UK. What it will do is force another generation of puppies to take long flights from other countries, having been bred in older breeding facilities away from the UK inspectorate.

Animal research may not be something we want to think about when we take our medicines – but it is something necessary for those medicines to exist. Instead of trying to ban animal research, let’s instead make sure that if we do it, we do it to world-class standards.

Tom Holder

Director of Speaking of Research

Five Star review for Speaking of Research website

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

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

It concludes:

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

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

Speaking of Research

Top marks for Speaking of Research website

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Research website rating

Read the full article

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


Big Questions, but few answers from opponents of animal research

A recent edition of the BBC1 Program called “The Big Questions” offered a brief debate on animal research. Among those discussing the issues was SR’s founder, Tom Holder. Within this post we will discuss some of the many issues which were touched upon, but barely explored in this brief debate.

Some of the questions centered on moral issues, other on scientific ones. At the beginning of the discussion Prof. John Stein of Oxford University explained his use of monkeys in studying Parkinson’s disease, after which he was asked if he would experiment on great apes.  He replied he would not, unless there was some extreme circumstance that required them.

Where would you draw the line?” — countered the host.

Let us pause for a second here. This is an important question that is worth asking. But first let us consider – and reject all the theories that do not involve drawing any lines at all.  What theories are these?

One is the Cartesian view, which posits animals do not truly suffer, do not really have emotions, and do not really have interests of their own. Consequently, the Cartesian view is that humans can use animals as we please. We do not know any living scientist or philosopher that would seriously defend this view.

The other theory that does not draw any lines is the animal rights view, in which all living beings have the same basic rights to freedom and life as a normal human. Although most members of the public reject this view as making no sense at all, nobody in the panel cared to explain, nor did the host bother to ask, what justifies this stance.

What Prof. Stein articulated as a justification was a version of something called the sliding scale model.  Here, the moral weight of a living being’s interests depends on the individual’s degree of cognitive, affective and social complexity. Where we draw the line for different types of experiments in animals is a valid and important question, but we can only ask it that if we all agree with the notion of graded moral status.

Opponents of research reject such a theory.  Alistair Currie, from PeTA, stated:

Suffering is suffering.  We have a moral obligation not to impose it on anybody.”

We generally agree that unnecessary suffering should not be imposed on other living beings, and as Prof. Stein stressed, scientists work hard to ensure that suffering is eliminated or reduced to an absolute minimum in laboratory animals. We do not think there are absolute moral principles.  Even “thou shall not kill” permits exceptions, such as in the case of self defense. Another example is the infliction of harm to other human beings that was, for most of us, morally justified and necessary when it came to liberating the concentration camps in Nazi Germany.

If we truly had an absolute moral obligation to never impose suffering on anybody, as PeTA representative Currie suggests, liberating concentrations camps would be morally wrong. We might accept such a declaration from someone who is a declared pacifist, but we have plenty of evidence to suggest that PeTA is a far from being such an organization.  PeTA remains morally confused.

Invariably, when opponents of animal research fail to make an ethical case for their position, they attack the science. In this case, it was Kailah Eglington, representing the Dr Hadwen Trust, who was in charge of this strategy.

“Scientifically looking at the facts, the animal model is flawed.” — she declared without even blinking.

Wait a second. Where was she when Prof. Stein explained how he found an area of the brain that when inactivated could relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s? How does she explain his success?  Or does she deny the benefits of the work?

Ms. Eglington also suggested that Prof. Stein could have used non-invasive methods in humans, such as MEG, suggesting the same information could be obtained by this techniques. As Prof. Stein pointed out in his response this is flatly wrong. Prof. Stein not only uses a range of such techniques, including MEG and fMRI alongside his studies in macaques, but with his colleagues at Oxford University pioneered the use of MEG as a research method in patients undergoing deep brain stimulation. However, none of the non-invasive methods can yield the same data that one obtains using micro-electrode recordings from the brain, as we discussed in an earlier post on the limitations of fMRI.

A quick visit to the Dr. Hawden Trust web-site reveals that they state with absolute certainty that:

Alternatives to animal experimentation are available in virtually every field of medical research.”

Wow…   Let’s be clear: this is complete utter nonsense that deserves to be filed here. Should we be surprised at the lack of sensible science by someone who, on the side, founded an organization which claims that “the power of positive thinking” can treat physically debilitating conditions.

Kailah Eglington furthered her pseudo-scientific nonsense by claiming that: “9 out of 10 drugs that are tested on animals successfully fail in humans“. The problem here is the mistaken blame on the animal model – these same drugs have already passed pre-clinical non-animal tests such as cell cultures and computer models; moreover, about 90% of drugs fail at every stage of development – meaning that 90% of those that pass early clinical trials in humans still fail to make it to market – this is not something we can blame the animal model for. We have previously written a full and clear rebuttal of the 90% claim – however it continues to be used by the animal rights community.

Such examples go to show a common problem for advocates of science – that it takes a lot longer to debunk junk science, than it does to make it up. While Tom Holder and Prof. Stein argued science’s case very well the debate highlighted some of the limitations of this format, though perhaps this is all we can expect from a format that tries to address Big Questions in 15 min of television programming.  It seems the goal here is more to get opposing sides to have a screaming contest rather than to provide an opportunity for thoughtful exploration of the questions at hand.

Speaking of Research

Tom Holder to Debate on the BBC’s Big Questions

Tom Holder, founder of Speaking of Research, will debate the question “Is Animal Testing Ever Justified?” on the BBC1’s The Big Questions. The show is live on Sunday at 10am GMT (BBC1 – UK Channel).

The panellists speaking on the show, hosted by Nicky Campbell, include –
Supporting animal research:
– Tom Holder, founder of SR
– Prof. John Stein, an Oxford University Neuroscientist who was a scientific advisor to the student movement Pro-Test

Those against include:
– Peter Tatchell, human rights campagner
– Kailah Eglington, Chief Executive of the Dr. Hadwen Trust
– Alistir Currie, from PETA

Furthermore, there will be a selection of religious figures (who are mainly there is discuss the other question of the direction of the Church of England and Polytheism).

This debate coincides with the recent problems that Britain is having in transporting animals in and out of the country.

Speaking of Research.

AAAS recognizes the work of Speaking of Research members

On Friday two of our number, David Jentsch and Dario Ringach, travelled to Vancouver to join their UCLA colleague Edythe London in receiving the prestigious Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society, with over 125,000 members, and the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award “honors scientists and engineers whose exemplary actions, often taken at significant personal cost, have served to foster scientific freedom and responsibility”. Recent recipients including the climate scientist James Hansen, NCSE director and defender of science education Eugenie Scott, and epidemiologist and public health expert David Michaels.

Both Dario and David have been long time SR committee members, writing numerous articles for the website on the importance of animals in research, the importance of researchers speaking up, and the dangers of animal rights extremism.

Both scientists are at the heart of the Pro-Test for Science, the movement which stood up to extremists at UCLa in 2009. Around 800 staff, students and members of the public followed Ringach and Jentsch’s lead as they marched through the streets of Los Angeles in support of lifesaving medical research. Well over 10,000 people followed their example by signing the Pro-Test Petition (supported by Pro-Test for Science, Americans for Medical Progress and Speaking of Research) in support of well regulated biomedical research on animals.

Edythe London has also been at the forefront of the battle to explain the role of animal testing in the development of modern medicine. In November 2007, she wrote a Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times to explain “Why I use animals in my research”. This excellent article was a brave and important stand for a researcher who had previously been targeted by animal rights extremists.

Animal studies allow us to test potential treatments without confounding factors, such as prior drug use and other experiences that complicate human studies. Even more important, they allow us to test possibly life-saving treatments before they are considered safe to test in humans. Our animal studies address the effects of chronic drug use on brain functions, such as decision-making and self-control, that are impaired in human addicts. We are also testing potential treatments, and all of our studies comply with federal laws designed to ensure humane care.

The AAAS made this award to Dario, David and Edythe in recognition of:

 “their rare courage, their strong defense of the importance of the use of animals in research, and their refusal to remain silent in the face of intimidation from animal rights extremists.”

While noting that:

“AAAS has consistently supported the responsible use of animals in research, testing and education. A 1990 statement of the AAAS Board and Council noted, for instance, that “the use of animals has been and continues to be essential not only in applied research with direct clinical applications in humans and animals, but also in research that furthers the understanding of biological processes.”

With this award the largest scientific organisation in the U.S. reiterates its unequivocal support for the responsible use of animals in biomedical research, and emphasises the increasing need for both scientists and professional organisations to engage the public in both scientific and ethical issues of great importance to our society.

We at Speaking of Research are grateful for the contribution which all three scientists have made to advance the public understanding of this controversial area of science – and we congratulate them for their accomplishments.


Tom Holder