Tag Archives: advocacy

Guest Post. How to Engage with the Public About Animal Research: Society for Neuroscience Panelists Offer Strategies to Scientists During Annual Meeting

Today’s guest post is from Amanda Dettmer, Ph.D.,  a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Dr. Dettmer is a developmental psychobiologist whose research examines the early life organization of sociocognitive development in nonhuman primates. She received her PhD in Neuroscience & Behavior from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009. You can follow her on Twitter.
Dr. Amanda Dettmer

Dr. Amanda Dettmer


During their annual meeting in Chicago, the Society for Neuroscience (SFN) yesterday held a 2-hour lunchtime session dedicated to public outreach concerning animals in research. The panelists were international experts on communicating the importance of animal research to the public, and they offered invaluable advice to the hundreds of scientists in attendance.

While it’s clear that scientists – and the institutions that employ them – must be more proactive in communicating the importance of their research and the animal models they use, the panelists offered several tangible pieces of advice on how to achieve this goal. The strategies offered cater to researchers working with various animal models and, more importantly, with varying degrees of comfort in engaging the public in their research.

The session opened with remarks by the chair of the SFN’s Animals in Research Committee, Dr. Michael Goldberg, who stated, “We’ve been staying under the radar to avoid animals rights activists, and this strategy is not working,” particularly with respect to nonhuman primates in research. Earlier this year, Goldberg and the President of SFN, Dr. Steve Hyman, submitted a letter to Science in response to an article published there, “Embattled Max Planck neuroscientist quits primate research.”

AM15_Logo_CMYK_Horizontal_SavedForWebThe first panelist, Dr. Rolf Zeller, is the founding president of the Basel Declaration Society (BDS) and a founding signatory of the Basel Declaration, by which researchers recognize the necessity of animal research in biomedical research, and endorse the highest standards of ethically responsible animal research. Stating that researchers will “never convince PETA, but we can convince the public,” Zeller stressed the importance of engaging the public and offered the BDS’ most effective strategies for communication in Europe: regular media training sessions for trainees and established scientists, persistent use of social media, and open access publications on scientific communication. Zeller offered his “Golden Rules” for public outreach, which included:

  • 1) Receive good training in science communication,
  • 2) Be proactive and honest about your research,
  • 3) Discuss your animal research with colleagues, especially any who might be skeptical, so that they understand why it is important,
  • 4) Make it clear you care about animals,
  • 5) Explain why animal research is essential for patients, and
  • 6) Join the BSD and sign the Declaration to be part of a proactive community.
Pro-Test Italia

Pro-Test Italia

Dario Padovan, President of Pro-TEST Italia, a non-profit that “aims to promote and disseminate to the public correct knowledge on scientific research,” followed with an emboldening presentation on how the group increased positive public perception of animal research in Italy with regular strategies easily and equally employable in the US: 1) active, daily activity on social media (the group responds to every incorrect/negative Facebook comment on their page, 2) engaging young scientific experts to reach their contemporaries (saying “most users of social media are 18-34 years”), 3) regularly producing YouTube videos that show detailed primate research in a humane and responsible way (which receive tens of thousands of views and >90% net “thumbs up” ratings), 4) fighting fire with fire by creating satirical anti-animal rights propaganda, and 5) getting patients who benefit from animal research involved in public outreach.

Pigtail macaques at the Washington National Primate Research Center

Pigtail macaques at the Washington National Primate Research Center

Dr. Michael Mustari, Director of the Washington National Primate Research Center, then highlighted the outstanding care that nonhuman primates at his, and all of the other six, National Primate Research Centers in the US, receive, as well as the significant contributions primates have made in the advances of such diseases as HIV/AIDS, polio, ebola, and Parkinson’s disease.

Mustari said, “People who argue against nonhuman primate work do not pay attention to reality.” He drove home the need to engage with the public by showing the type of video that the public needs to see regularly to understand the value of primates in research, like this one showing a quadriplegic serving himself a beer for the first time in 13 years, thanks to advances made possible by primate research. Mustari ended by discussing the inspiring global outreach the WaNPRC performs under the directorship of Dr. Randy Kyes, Head of the Division of Global Programs at the WaNPRC.

Jason Goldman

Jason Goldman

Dr. Jason Goldman, an animal-researcher-turned-science-writer, rounded out the session by sharing lessons he’s learned from animals in communicating to a variety of audiences. Using brown-headed cowbirds and betta fish as examples of animals that change their messages based on who’s listening, Goldman said, “Animals have learned what I tell scientists over and over: Different messages are required for different audiences.” Goldman offered tangible pieces of advice for burgeoning (and established) science communicators, including 1) tell personal stories whenever possible and evoke emotion (using Cecil the lion as an example), 2) use simple visuals and avoid complex graphics (even popular infographics can be hard to digest), use memegenerator.net to make your own memes to communicate science on social media (this is perhaps the easiest tip to pick up, as I was able to create my own – and first! – meme in about 30 seconds during his presentation), and 4) be relatable and make the public feel smart, not stupid.

The session concluded with a Q &A session from the participants seeking additional advice on best ways to communicate the importance of animal research to the public when you feel like your institution is resistant to the idea, how to deal with the internal struggle of loving animals while conducting research with them, and more. Given that the session went 20 minutes over its scheduled time, it was clear the audience found it an invaluable resource.

Later in the afternoon, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, gave a Special Presentation to SFN attendees in which he discussed recent advances in neuroscience with a particular emphasis on the BRAIN initiative. Though he rarely mentioned animal models in his talk, he did field anonymous questions from the audience afterward, one of which asked 1) what his personal opinion was on the role of animals, especially nonhuman primates, in the BRAIN Initiative, and 2) what concrete steps the NIH Directorship was taking to engage the public in the importance of animal research.

Collins stated that although the NIH worked with the Institute of Medicine to end chimpanzee research in the US, this “should not be seen as a reflection of how we feel about other nonhuman primates in research.”  He concluded by acknowledging the need for primates in some of the more invasive studies for the BRAIN Initiative that cannot be conducted in humans, and by underscoring the need for continued outreach to the public on the importance of animals in advancing biomedical research.

Amanda Dettmer

Amanda M. Dettmer, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Her writing does not reflect the opinions of the NICHD or the NIH.

Society for Neuroscience Today: Session on Animal Research and Public Outreach

Are you among the almost 30,000 neuroscientists are attending the annual Society for Neuroscience (SFN) meeting in Chicag0 this week?  Are you looking for a session aimed at building outreach and education efforts for better public understanding of animal research?  If so, SFN’s Committee on Animal Research has a session today at noon.

ME13  ANIMALS IN RESEARCH PANEL: Proactive Strategies to Increase the Positive Public Perception of Animals in Research.

Tuesday, Oct 20, 2015, 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM  N427

Panelists: Jason Goldman, PhD; Michael Mustari, PhD; Dario Padovan, PhD; Rolf Zeller, PhD

Description:  As scientists become increasingly visible and engaged with the public through blogs, citizen science, traditional media, and other outlets, there is also increasing interest in open communication to gain public support for animal research and to underscore its critical contribution to scientific and medical progress. This panel will answer questions like: How can scientists and organizations engage the public and speak effectively about animal research? What strategies and venues (both novel and time-tested) are being employed to engage different audiences and how can interested scientists learn and contribute? What challenges exist in this area and how are different groups addressing them?

Contact: advocacy@sfn.org

Panelists include:

  • Prof. Rolf Zeller is a developmental geneticist that studies the molecular mechanisms governing organogenesis. He is a founding signatory of the Basel Declaration, by which researchers endorse the highest standards of ethically responsible animal research. He is the founding president of the Basel Declaration Society (BDS), an international grass-root organization dedicated to the Basel Declaration and actively promoting education on animal experimentation and the dialog with the general public, politicians and moderate critics.
  • Dario Padovan is the current president of Pro-Test Italia, which is an association that aims to promote and disseminate information about scientific research to the public. He was one of the founders of Pro-Test Italia and was the first chair of its Scientific Committee. He has masters degrees with honors in biological sciences, nutrition and dietetics, and bioethics.
  • Dr. Michael Mustari earned his Ph.D. in neuroanatomy from the University of Washington.  He is currently a Research Professor of Ophthalmology (UW). Dr. Mustari also serves as Director of the Washington National Primate Research Center (NPRC) at UW. He is responsible for providing scientific and administrative leadership to ensure an optimal environment for the care and well-being of nonhuman primates, which often provide the best animal models for studies of complex systems. All 7 NPRCs support the NIH mission of advancing scientific knowledge needed to develop new treatments and cures for diseases.
  • Dr. Jason G. Goldman is a science writer based in Los Angeles. He writes about human and animal behavior, wildlife biology, ecology, and conservation for various publications. He was editor of The Open Laboratory 2010: The Best of Science Writing on the Web, is co-editor of The Complete Guide to Science Blogging, and hosts a podcast called The Wild Life. He received his PhD at the University of Southern California.

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

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.

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/


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

Part 7. Many voices speaking of research: Americans for Medical Progress

We recently wrote about the many existing venues, activities, and materials designed to encourage public dialogue and informed discussion about animal research.  Many individuals, institutions, and organizations contribute to public outreach and education efforts, and also take active roles in dialogue about continuing changes in practice and policy concerning animal welfare and the conduct of animal research.  This post is the sixth in a series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6) hosted by Speaking of Research to highlight a wide range of individuals and groups devoted to consideration of animal research.

Our latest contribution comes from Elizabeth Reitz, Program Director of Americans for Medical Progress.  

Americans for Medical Progress – Protecting Your Investment in Biomedical Research
For AMP, Protecting Your Investment in Research is more than a slogan.  We have two objectives.  One is to provide relevant, critical and timely information to the research community to help mitigate the immediate threats posed by animal rights extremists.  But we also focus on the long term through our outreach programs to inform and empower young adults about the value of animal-based research, for they represent the next generation of scientists, research advocates, and voters upon whom the future of medical progress rests.

One of our most dynamic and far-reaching advocacy initiatives, the Michael D. Hayre Fellowship in Public Outreach, supports college students and young adults in the creation of innovative peer education projects focused on the importance of animal research. Over the past four years, the Hayre Fellowship has demonstrated that creative, realistic and well-designed programs can have a positive and lasting influence on public attitudes toward the importance of animals to biomedical research.

We are delighted to have provided our inaugural Hayre Fellow, Tom Holder, a launching pad from which to create Speaking of Research, and another Fellow, Megan Wyeth, the opportunity to contribute to the development of Pro-Test for Science.   A team of Fellows, Gillian Braden-Weiss and Breanna Caltagarone, created the website Thank a Mouse in appreciation of the roles of all animal species in the advancement of medical science.

More recently another Hayre Fellows team, Elizabeth Burnett and Scott Dobrin, launched SHARE – Speaking Honestly: Animal Research Education. The program has already reached hundreds of teens and young adults on high school and college campuses across America and it has the potential to reach tens of thousands more.  Through its interactive online toolkit that includes video vignettes, course curricula, and downloadable class materials, SHARE helps teachers facilitate classroom discussions on the humane use of animals in research in an engaging and interactive manner.

AMP’s Raising Voices, Saving Lives campaign recognizes that social media has evolved into a powerful force for advocacy with immense potential to influence young audiences.  Thus we have awarded a new Hayre Fellowship this year to Gene Rukavina of UCLA, who is building a strong online community in support of animal-based research that offers information and advocacy resources via our accounts on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets.

While reaching young adults is vital, AMP also understands the importance of connecting with students at a younger age.  At the 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington DC, AMP and The AALAS Foundation created an exciting interactive exhibit about the value of animal research that reached thousands of children, parents, and teachers. Piecing Research Together cast children in the role of research investigators to build individual jigsaw games that highlight various animal models, and created teams to work collaboratively in solving a larger puzzle about biomedical research.

Piecing Research Together interactive exhibit at the 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington DC.

AMP has now turned the game over to The AALAS Foundation so it might be easily loaned to advocacy groups, institutions and teachers across America seeking resources for science education. AMP and The AALAS Foundation will continue this partnership in 2013 to create new interactive tools to help children think critically about animal research.

AMP has created advocacy resources – including some in Spanish, French and Portuguese – for those wishing to enhance their own public outreach on behalf of medical progress.

As much as we at AMP enjoy the advocacy aspect of our programs, there’s another critical component of AMP’s service:  the guidance and training that we offer to research stakeholders to mitigate the challenges to medical progress that are posed by animal rights activists. Our email newsletter is available to all in the community and offers quick updates and critical analysis of the activist opposition to research, as well as highlights of research advocacy initiatives worldwide.  AMP’s staff is accessible 24/7 to institutions and individuals facing acute activist campaigns.

Whether it’s through our innovative outreach programs, collaborative partnerships, or counsel for research stakeholders, AMP continues its work to strengthen public understanding and appreciation for the role of animals in biomedical research.

Defending science and countering falsehood at the University of Wisconsin Madison

PeTA celebrated a victory the past week when they obtained photographs of cats that are part of medical research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The work involves a small number of cats in studies that provide better understanding of hearing and that are relevant to improving treatment for human deafness.

An explanation of the purpose of the research, the care of the animals, and the reason that cats make unique contributions to this work are all clearly addressed in a university statement:

The research develops a better understanding of how the brain combines information from the two ears, including sound localization. Cats are used because of their extraordinary talents at localizing sounds. Feral cats likely do most of their hunting at night because that is when their rodent prey is most active. Because vision at night is limited, hearing is the primary sensory cue for the cat to localize its prey. The cat auditory system is very similar to that of humans, making it relevant to clinical studies of humans with bilateral cochlear implants.

An op-ed written by UW-Madison Department of Neuroscience professors Donata Oertel and Peter Lipton on behalf of 65 UW faculty members provides a voice of reason among a sea of emotive, rather than factual, accusations.

Widely recognized and respected in the biomedical research community, this research benefits hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from hearing loss. It is being mischaracterized by animal rights militants for their own purposes.

By spreading misinformation and outright falsehoods, PETA bypasses our system of justice and promotes harassment and attacks on the people and institutions that engage in important biomedical research.

Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison also seem less than impressed by PeTA’s allegations, and were not afraid to say so when interviewed by the Badger Herald and Daily Cardinal during a PeTA protest yesterday. Speaking to the Daily Cardinal about research she is involved in, biochemistry major Kelsey Corrigan rejected PeTA’s claims concerning the treatment of animals:

“We are not vicious toward them or treat them poorly, instead we use them in an effort to gain knowledge about cancer treatments.”

While PeTA used these photographs effectively to attract media and public attention, as is often the case, the images did not tell the whole story about the research.  Nor did PeTA.

That is not surprising. The point of PeTA’s three year quest to obtain these photographs—or really, any photographs at all that might be novel and useful in their campaigns—is absolutely straightforward.  Their goal is to provide the public with a negative view of animal research. The more sensational the photographs, the better they are; better for attracting media coverage, better for persuading others that laboratory animal research is inhumane without actually providing the facts, context, and accurate information.

What is surprising is the relative ease with which this tactic continues to work for groups like PeTA. Part of the reason that it works is that activist groups know they are unlikely to be countered immediately by effective presentation of the facts and explanation that the public or media would need to put the photographs into appropriate context. We have written previously about exactly this type of campaign and the continuing need for a much more public, immediate, and specific response that can provide reasonable people with answers to the questions that are raised by photographs provided without any context at all.

We were glad to see that the University of Wisconsin did in fact address each of PeTA’s claims with specific information in a point-by-point response that shows just how far PeTA went to misrepresent the facts about research at the University.  We hope that those who are interested in knowing more about the cats and the research will go beyond the PeTA pictures and give thoughtful consideration to the university’s detailed explanation of what those pictures show and why the research is performed.

The research community can do little to change the minds of those committed to ending animal research and that is not the goal of providing a public response to misrepresentation.  What the research community and their institutions can do, however, is to acknowledge the importance of contributing the factual information that is so urgently needed for the informed dialogue that a serious topic deserves.

It is an unfortunate reality that groups like PeTA will use sensational tactics and stunts as part of their agenda. In a time of continuing increases in transparency of animal research in the U.S., along with rapidly evolving communication tools, it is also an unfortunate reality that the old-school approach of institutions offering no comment, or offering blanket statements in response to public and media queries, will simply not work.  We need responses– like those of the UW-Madison faculty, administrators, and students– that support the science, address misrepresentation, provide facts, and promote civil dialogue.

Allyson J. Bennett

Addendum October 11, 2012 : The USDA inspection report has now been published and confirms that no non-compliant items were identified during the focused inspection at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in late September and early October.  In his story “Feds Clear UW of Wrongdoing Following PeTA Complaint”, Capital Times reporter Todd Finkelmeyer posts the USDA inspection report  and this summary:  “’This officially closes this matter for us,’ USDA spokesman David Sacks said in an email to the Cap Times. Sacks added that this was a ‘focused inspection — not a full facility inspection,’ and was designed to look specifically at the allegations leveled by PETA.”