Twelve months of Speaking of Research

Speaking of Research joins others in a year-end wrap up post.  As Drug Monkey says: “The rules for this blog meme are quite simple. Post the link and first sentence from the first blog entry for each month of the past year. I originally did this meme, after seeing similar posted by Janet Stemwedel and John Lynch. … If you blog, I encourage you to do your own year-end wrap up post.”

January: “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.”

February: “We will be counter-demonstrating.”

March: “The animal rights group “Progress for Science” (P4S) made one more appearance last night to harass a UCLA professor at his home.”

April: “Last month Speaking of Research (SR) committee member Michael Brunt took part in an outreach lecture at the annual Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT) 2014 conference.”

May: “A common argument from animal rights organizations is that animal models cannot tell us anything useful about human medicine, that animal research is outdated, and should be replaced with other methods.”

June: “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.”

July: “The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, has reported on the 2013 animal testing statistics, which were recently released by the Health Ministry’s Council for Experimentation of Animals.”

August: “We have written thousands of tweets about animal research since we opened our accounts a little over five years ago.”

September: “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.”

October: “The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has campaigned against the use of animals in research since 1898.”

November: “Seven Nobel Laureates and the Presidents of seven major Israeli universities and research institutes are the signatories of an unprecedented letter that calls for to government to refrain to impose any additional limitations on the use of animals in research.”

December: “Only have a few moments to spare? Quick jump straight to one of the Five Ways to Help.”

1 hour explain animal testing

Five Ways to Help

Only have a few moments to spare? Quick jump straight to one of the Five Ways to Help:

  1. Check what your institution says about its animal research [2 minutes]
  2. Get them to add a link to Speaking of Research [3 minutes]
  3. Help share Speaking of Research’s message on social media [3 minutes]
  4. Send us a picture [10 minutes]
  5. Speak up about YOUR research [30 minutes]

There are over “300,000 Biological and Life Scientists” in the US. The average person in the US spends 5 hours 15 minutes per day doing leisure and sport activities, of which 45 minutes is spent “socializing and communicating”. Combine those statistics and you find that a single year contains over 500 million scientist leisure hours (= 65,625 years) or 82 million hours of scientists socializing and communicating for leisure (=9,375 years). Imagine the impact on the public understanding of science if those scientists spent 1% of their leisure time communicating science to the public (equivalent to one scientist fitting 650 years worth of science communication into every year).

Speaking of Research is small organisation with virtually no budget and a committee of less than 20 volunteers. This year we have produced over 100 posts and attracted well over half a million views to the website. For the hours of effort we have put in this year, we want one back from you. Here are five ways to help us in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Lost (and definitely more satisfying when you finish) or listen to the Beatles White Album (you could probably do that at the same time).

1 hour explain animal testing

Check what your institution says about its animal research [2 minutes]

A measly minute to do a Google search and/or the search box on your institution’s website. If you find one, check if it appears in our list of statements, and if not then use the form on the page to submit the link.

If there isn’t a statement available on why your institution uses animals in research then we recommend emailing the communications department to ask why not, and suggest they create one. Point out examples (particularly the exemplary statements in bold) of good statements.

Get them to add a link to Speaking of Research [3 minutes]

If you found an animal research page, does it have a link to Speaking of Research? These links help us rank on Google and get more people reading about the important role of animal experiments in modern science. We recommend sending the following email to the webmaster or commnications team:

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>

Help share Speaking of Research’s message on social media [3 minutes]

As we enter the sixth minute we ask you to think about how you can help inform friends and relatives about the role of animals in research. Could you help share our materials?

At the bottom of every one of our pages is a box (see picture below) where you can share our message on a wide number of social media websites including Facebook, Twitter and Google+. It takes seconds to share one of our posts, and helps us spread our message to those who have not come across our website.

sharing speaking of research

Another way of sharing is through our short tweetable facts about animal research. We will be posting one every weekday on Twitter until Mid January, so consider retweeting us, or writing and posting your own fact.

Send us a picture [10 minutes]

Last month we asked for your help to “show the world what animal research looks like!” We need you to spend a few minutes taking some photos of animals in your lab (make sure you get necessary permissions) and then send them to us. We don’t need to say which institution the photographs were taken, we just need real images showing what animal research really looks like. We want scientists to gift us these images, so we can redistribute them around the internet and help show the world what animal research looks like.

Speak up about YOUR research [30 minutes]

It’s great photographing animals, but what we really need is an explanation to go with it. We want scientists to write about why they use animals in research, what your research hopes to achieve, and how you care for animal welfare. Whether you are a PI, a post-doc, a veterinarian or an animal tech, you have a unique insight into how and why animal research is carried out, and we want you to share that! Read more on the Speaking of Your Research initiative here.

If Frederick Banting was alive, I'm sure he'd be writing about his research for us.

If Frederick Banting was alive, I’m sure he’d be writing about his research for us.

Join us [It’s up to you!]

Can you spare a little more time to help us run Speaking of Research? If you’re willing to participate on the email-based committee, and can commit to writing an article for us once every four months, then we would warmly welcome your help. Committee members put in whatever time they can spare to help us better communicate with the general public about animal research. So contact us today!

Remember

Science Needs You

What makes a good animal research statement?

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

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

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

Commitment 2:

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

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

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

Step 1: Have a statement about animal research!

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

A statement should provide some indication of why there are animal experiments being conducted at the university. It should be written in a style which is suitable for consumption by the general public (many institutions place a short statement on animal research on a

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 3: Make the statement page easy to find

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oxford University animal research

Than letting people think it looks like this:

PETA's MMA game depiction of animal research.

PETA’s MMA game depiction of animal research.

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Research

Animal Research Statistics for Northern Ireland 2013

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

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

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

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

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

animal testing statistics northern ireland

Click to Enlarge

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

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

Animal Research Stats for the Netherlands in 2013

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

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

animal research holland netherlands dutch statistics

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Research

What does your institution say about its animal research?

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

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

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

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

Oxford University's Statement on Animal Research

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

Openness at Oxford

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

The primate image on the left is over 30 years old

The primate image on the left is over 30 years old

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

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

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

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

Pictures should be sent to contact@speakingofresearch.com

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

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

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

Speaking of Research