Tag Archives: speaking of research

Speaking of Research: The Fifth Anniversary

If Speaking of Research was a person in the US, entering its sixth year of life, they should have received vaccines for the following: chickenpox, diphtheria, Hib, HepA, HepB, flu, measles, mumps, pertussis (Whooping Cough), polio, pneumococcal, rotavirus, rubella and tetanus (a similar schedule exists in the UK). All of these have depended on animal research (see previous links). If we were born prematurely we would have relied on incubators and corticosteroids, both products of animal research. Asthma is also common, affecting 1 in 10 children in Britain; once again, treatments are thanks to animal experiments.

Given the huge benefits of animal research, it is important that people continue to stand up and explain clearly and scientifically, the reason that animal research must continue. To celebrate our five year anniversary, some of our committee members came together to produce a number of pledges of what they would do to communicate the importance of this issue as SR enter its sixth year.

(YouTube link – please vote and leave a positive comment)

Speaking of Research have moved from strength to strength over the past 5 years. Our website readership in 2012 more than doubled from the year before, and we are now the most read pro-animal-research website on the web.

Please celebrate with us by posting a video, image or comment saying how you will help people understand the role of animals in research. Send them to us at contact@speakingofresearch.com

What will your pledge be?

Speaking of Research

Speaking of Research? Speak with Us

After a hugely successful 2012, Speaking of Research is setting its sights ever higher. Since it’s inception in 2008, Speaking of Research has grown into the largest trafficked website explaining the important role of animals in medical research (last year alone our traffic more than doubled). Indeed WordPress informs me that we get over five times more visits than Liechtenstein.

Now we need your help – we need more people to get involved in writing for us – this can be through guest posts or by joining the committee and writing from within. Articles are generally 400 – 1200 words in length and can be . We need help writing about:

Internet Writing Science BlogSo what are you waiting for, tear yourself away from your research paper and offer to spend an 30 minutes this year writing something in defence of lifesaving animal research.

Contact us via “contact@speakingofresearch.com”


Tom Holder

Speaking of 2012: A year in Summary

It has been a fantastic year for Speaking of Research, reflected in the fact that the website traffic has more than doubled (130% growth and still rising). Thus trying to summarise will be the 127th post of the year thanks to the commitment of our committee. An extra special thanks has to go to four of our most regular authors – Allyson Bennett, Dario Ringach, Paul Browne and Tom Holder.

This year has provided many posts on the ethics and welfare discussions surrounding animal research – starting with the very first post of 2012 on the meaning of “being humane”. We also discussed the ethics of negative results, why not doing research is morally wrong, why animal rights groups are wrong to use marginal case arguments (e.g. cognitively impaired people), the idea of graded moral status, and the relevance of moral intelligence. Another common theme was that of Free Speech and how it can be used to stifle the free speech of others. Parallels were made with how anti-abortion extremists create a climate of fear among their opposition.

Science has always been at the centre of the Speaking of Research website. Among many topics we have written about early successes with using stem cells to repair damaged heart tissue, how cooling the body could improve life chances of stroke victims, huge leaps forward in facial transplant surgery, using Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis to prevent genetic diseases in IVF embryos, several  different advances in paralysis treatment (in dogs as well), new treatments for TB, a new Meningitis B vaccine, and how human embryonic stem cells have helped gerbils’ hearing. Breath. Oh, and both the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to work requiring animal models.

GM mice have made crucial contributions to our understanding of Fragile X syndrome. Image courtesy of Understanding Animal Research.

We discussed how GM mice are helping research Fragile X Syndrome

Other than scientific advances, we also spend a fair amount of time debunking common animal rights crank myths such as surrounding Adverse Drug Reactions, that research is just about money and . SR has helped defend a number of organisations from animal rights misinformation, including Cardiff University’s research on kittens, UW Madison’s research on cats, and the University of British Columbia’s research on monkeys. We have called on people to build their own networks for science to counter the animal rights nonsense (#ARnonsense) they propagate online.

Speaking of Research has always taken a strong stance against animal rights extremism, posting about Camille Marino’s threats, arrest and prosecution as well as Stephen Best’s war against fellow activists, baseless legal threats against us, and why he may have breached ethical standards on academic conduct.

A number of outreach initiatives started this year including Speaking Honestly – Animal Research Education (SHARE), Brainfacts.org, and Keep Research Afloat. Many organisations could still do more as was shown by the statements about research from pharmaceuticals and charities. However, we must congratulate those institutions, like Leicester University, that did outreach right. Of course one of the biggest outreach stories of the year was one we covered only last week, the launch of Pro-Test Italia!

Our own outreach efforts have included a series of guest postings, starting with David Abbott’s post on polycystic ovary syndrome. This precipitated the “Many Voices Speaking of Research” series of guest posts [See post 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7].

So to finish our roundup with a bit of fun, go and play our hugely popular Animal Rights Bingo game.

Merry Christmas Mouse

So Happy Holidays, and have a great New Year!

Speaking of Research

Public Opinion and the Importance of Transparency in the UK

The UK has a long history of animal rights activism and many might expect the public to be a difficult crowd to win over. However over the years the British public have expressed overwhelming support for the use of animal experiments for medical purposes. In 2010 90% were conditional acceptors (that is agreeing with medical research provided suffering is minimised and there are no alternative methods – all of which must be true if a project is to be licensed in the UK) and 60% were unconditional accepts.

So it was with some disappointment that the release of the latest Ipsos MORI polls which show a 5% drop in conditional accepts to 85%, and a 5% drop in unconditional accepts to 55%. To put in perspective, the British public still firmly support the humane, regulated use of animal research in concordance with the use of the 3Rs. It was notable that the survey found that support for animal research and enthusiasm for science was highest among those with higher levels of educational attainment, which should noth be surprising as the Ipsos MORI report notes that “Greater knowledge of science tends to garner more favourability towards it – so ABs [a higher socioeconomic group] are more positive about science’s role (84%), just as they claim to be best informed about scientific developments”.

Nonetheless, David Willetts, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, attended a press conference on the release of the statistics stating that animal research forms a small but vital component of bio-medical research. He also offered examples of some of the UK Medical Research Council funded work in dementia that involved animal work.

So how have research institutions and advocacy groups responded to the (albeit small) drop in support by the public? With action!

Understanding Animal Research have organised the “Declaration on Openness on Animal Research,” signed by 41 institutions including medical research charities (inc. Cancer Research UK and Alzheimer’s Research UK), Universities (inc. Oxford and Cambridge), Pharmaceuticals (inc. GSK and AstraZeneca) and other institutions. Those signatories have agreed:

The life sciences sector is at the forefront of developing ground breaking treatments and cures which transform the lives of humans and animals. To do this we need to increase understanding of normal biological functions and disease. Where possible, we use cells grown in a lab, computer models and human volunteers. When this isn’t possible, research may involve animals. When we need to use animals, we strive to reduce the number needed, and seek to develop viable alternatives.

Public acceptance of the use of animals in research has been strong over the last decade. Public scrutiny has also played an essential role in building the world-leading ethical framework that supports our research and ensures it meets the highest welfare standards, only using animals where no alternative exists.

Confidence in our research rests on the scientific community embracing an open approach and taking part in an ongoing conversation about why and how animals are used in research and the benefits of this. We need to continue to develop open dialogue between the research community and the public.

We, the undersigned, commit to work together to establish a Concordat that will develop principles of openness,

It is fantastic to see institutions agreeing to do more to explain to the public why and how animal research is carried out. We, at Speaking of Research, hope that many more institutions get on board with this Concordat. With almost two thirds of the general public claiming to be poorly informed about animal research, it is important that science institutions do more to fill these gaps in public understanding, let animal rights groups attempt to plug the gap themselves (leading to many of the common myths of research being propagated). After all, the Ipsos-MORI poll shows very clearly that the better informed people are about the role played by animal research in medical science, the more likely they are to support it.

In the meantime Speaking of Research continue to play their part in informing people around the world about animal research. A major campaign at the moment is the Science Action Network, which we urge you to get involved in.

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.

Benefits of Animal Research, Right Down to the Letter

It’s always exciting, in this day and age, to get a letter that isn’t spam. Even more exciting when the letter is from another continent. And even more when it’s a letter as supportive and insightful as this one (full text below).

Dear Tom Holder:

I am a freshman studying at Orange County High School of the Arts. In my literature class, I recently gave a political speech addressing the benefits of animal research. I understand that your organization strongly encourages animal research. Allow me to thank you for actively supporting the use of animals in biomedical research by inspiring students and scientists to speak out in favor of animal research.

With animal testing, the world’s life expectancy is remarkably high. From the eradication of polio and small pox to breast cancer treatments, animal research has proved to be fundamental to the well being of this species. Viruses, diseases, and illnesses should never get in the way of our country’s success. By means of animal research, we have several vaccines and prescriptions available to the country to prevent these. Conventional wisdom states that animal testing implies animal abuse. But in reality, most scientists build up strong attachments to the animals they use in their experiments. Public misconceptions about alternatives to animal testing remain high, In vitro testing, MRI scanning, computer modeling and micro dosing are al vital, but these aspects of medicine simply compliment animal testing. One cannot purely find a replacement to animal research. Animal research should therefore not only be allowed, it must be strongly encouraged.

Animal research is irreplaceable and crucial to medical progress. Thus, thank you for standing up for science by founding several organizations similar to Speaking of Research. Please continue inspiring others and encouraging students, like me, to speak out for the benefits of animal research.


Momachi Pabrai
(reprinted with permission of author)

I congratulate Momachi for standing up among her colleagues to tell them of the benefits of animal research. Her letter shows that she has clearly thought through this controversial issue. Momachi hits upon the key ideas of why animal research is done. Namely:

  1. It is crucial to medical development; and
  2. It is currently irreplaceable

She includes examples such as the polio vaccine and breast cancer treatments (e.g. Herceptin) to back up her arguments. This is an example of how anyone, no matter what their scientific background, can make the case for animal research.

On behalf of Speaking of Research I wish Momachi all the best in the rest of her freshman year.


Tom Holder

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