Tag Archives: 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.

Sincerely

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.

Cheers

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

AAAS recognizes the work of Speaking of Research members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While noting that:

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

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

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

Regards

Tom Holder

An Open Letter to the Laboratory Animal Veterinary Community and Research Institution Administration

The decades following passage of the U.S. Animal Welfare Act in the 1960s are marked with wide-ranging and significant changes to the administration, oversight, and responsibility for daily operations of institutions engaged in laboratory animal research. The intent of the legislation, and the central purpose of the accompanying and continuing changes, is to best ensure the welfare of animals in research.

This goal encompasses all aspects of laboratory animal care— their participation in ethical scientific studies, their humane treatment during daily care and maintenance, and their receipt of the highest standard of clinical care. Do scientists engaged in animal research perform all of these duties?  No. In fact, by law, it is not scientists who have the ultimate responsibility for oversight of all issues involved in animal welfare, but the attending veterinarian and institutional officials.

In practice, there are a range of individuals who share in the responsibility to provide for animal welfare. Many different types of expertise are needed to provide the best management of a laboratory animal research facility. Scientists working with animals have expertise in the topic their research addresses, in the activities that research requires, and in use of animals in research. Depending on their research area, background, and training they may have tremendous depth and breadth of knowledge about the animals’ behavior, psychology, physiology, and other systems. But it takes more than this to accomplish all that is needed to maintain an animal research program.

Animal research programs always include veterinary staff to provide the animals with clinical care. They typically also include animal care staff to provide daily husbandry; behavioral management staff to provide environmental enrichment and animal training; and facility management staff who work with engineers and others to maintain clean and safe environments for the animals. In addition to facility management, clinical care, and daily husbandry there are also divisions of personnel charged with evaluation and oversight of the research, including the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, associated staff, and compliance officers. Oversight for the entirety of the animal research program typically rests at the level of university administration.

In sum, the number of individuals and divisions now involved in ensuring laboratory animals’ welfare and humane treatment in ethical scientific studies extends far beyond the scientists most identified with animal research.  What does this mean? It means that there is a great deal of shared responsibility for both successes and the occasional failures in the conduct of laboratory animal science.  It also means that any discussion of continued improvements in the daily activities that affect animal welfare, as well as changes in policies that govern the conduct of animal research, should benefit from teamwork among these different stakeholders.

A Veterinary Technician works with rodents

A huge number of people are involved in animal welfare in laboratories

Finally, it should mean that in public dialogue the voices of scientists and research advocates are routinely joined by laboratory animal veterinarians, university officials, and others who play important roles in laboratory animal research.  This is true even when that research is controversial and has the potential to elicit attention from animal rights activists. All too often, however, few of these voices are raised when the public eye is turned to issues of concern in animal facilities. Rather, in place of thoughtful answers to questions raised by a range of parties—by the press, by animal rights activists, by other scientists, by USDA reports— what is often offered are generic statements that contribute little to understanding of the events and the context in which they occurred. For example, in response to virtually any type of incident, an institution’s response might be along the lines of:  “We follow all regulations and hold animal welfare in highest regard and priority…”

It is long past the time that our community should have abandoned this approach and required more from each of its members and divisions.  To accept anything less is a mistake.  Absence of accurate information, accompanied by the failure of institutions and their representatives to engage in public dialogue, only further erodes public trust.

The intent of the AWA, subsequent legislation and policies, accreditation programs, revisions of guidelines, and continued increases in regulatory oversight is to ensure the best animal welfare and humane treatment possible.  In the rare cases where the apparatuses put in place to achieve this goal fail, sometimes from accident or human error, two things must happen.  First, it is contingent upon all of those involved to immediately work together to identify the reason for the failure and ways to minimize the possibility that it occurs again.  Second, those ultimately responsible for oversight should provide the public with accurate information, explanation, and opportunity for discussion.  At the very least, they should be able to articulate the rationale and their support for the research programs and their contribution to scientific and medical progress.

Are we suggesting that attending veterinarians and institutional officials open their doors for daily chats with animal rights activists?  No, but we do believe that addressing legitimate public concerns and questions about their animal research programs are among the key obligations of those charged with oversight and conduct of those programs.

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.

Speaking of Research Committee

Animal People’s Statement on Animal Rights Extremism

In this holiday season Animal People reminds us all that we are privileged to live in a democratic society, where different points of view can be expressed, discussed and debated freely, and where violence has no place as a tool to advance social change.

Speaking of Research welcomes and applauds this statement.  We hope the new year will only expand the circle of those open to civil dialogue and public debate.

The Animal People’s board resolution reads in its entirety:

The Animal People, Inc. Board Resolution on Activist Tactics

        Arresting the cycle of violence in human affairs is of greater importance than the accomplishment of any single tactical objective–whether trying to stop the slaughter of animals for food,  fur,  sport,  or religious rituals;  addressing the scientific use of animals;  or dealing with any other particular exploitation of animals.  We enjoy the opportunity to address social injustices,   inequities,  and cruelties (toward animals,  children,  women,  gay people,  poor people,  and racial and ethnic minorities) because we are privileged to live in a democratic society,  which through the effort of generations of our forebears has (however tenuously at times) replaced the old paradigm of “might makes right” with respect for the rights of individuals,  democratic process,  public debate,  freedom of expression,  and divergent points of view.

        Part of our social contract as civilized people is that we agree to trust in the ability of our ideas to persuade,  and to operate within established systems until they can be improved by peaceful means.

        We believe that no principle should be more inviolable than the principle that violence–including psychological violence such as intimidation,  the invasion of familial privacy,  and engagement with persons not responsible for or directly involved in issues (such as relatives of parties with whom there is a dispute)–must never be employed as means to achieve moral progress and advance social change.

        Protesters have the right to express dissent,  rally,  and even agitate in order to arouse public concern in the hope of prompting action,  but demonstrations,  rallies,  and actions involving civil disobedience should be held at appropriate sites,  such as public areas including shopping malls,  universities,  government buildings,  or office buildings connected to the issues of concern.