Standing Together: Widespread Support for OSU and its Research

The controversy over Oklahoma State University’s President Burns Hargisrecent decision to cancel a major research project has attracted international attention.  What has emerged is not yet a reversal of a bad decision, but evidence of far-reaching support for the OSU scientists who courageously spoke out and, more generally, for the responsible use of animals in lifesaving biomedical research.  The outpouring of concern over Hargis’ errors in decision-making has sent a clear message that such actions will be met with broad public attention and censure by those who support scientific progress.  If Hargis and OSU’s administration believed that their interference with an approved and funded biodefense research program could be accomplished without notice, they were proved wrong. This episode will stand as an example of public condemnation of institutions and administrations that cede to animal activism, whether it is from the pressure of donors or from threats of violence either real or anticipated. Taking anything less than a strong stand against the fear that animal activists seek to inspire is to take the wrong path. It leads away from scientific progress and away from democratic process.

A fringe contingent of animal activists would like for this case to represent the power of what they call direct action, campaigns of violence, harassment, and fear against those engaged in animal research.  And it has already been cited <Warning: Animal Extremist Site> in their calls <Warning: Animal Extremist Site> for what can only be called terrorism.  This is not a surprising result. It should have been anticipated by Hargis and should be by others who would bow to animal activists. For the vast majority of those concerned, however, this episode illustrates something more important. It highlights the growing resolve, support, and consensus for vocal and visible support of animal research, support that extends beyond the academic and scientific community to the greater public who benefit from progress in increasing basic understanding of health and from medical advancements that are achieved through animal research.

It is not difficult to appreciate Hargis’ fear of animal activism.  Many of us, particularly– but not only– those of us engaged in primate research, have been the targets of actions that are designed to induce fear by those who are unable to achieve their goals through civil means. These experiences are intended to be disturbing. Without the support of our institutions and others, the actions of animal activists pose challenges that can be difficult to overcome. Ending fear campaigns is an essential goal. What is also essential is that individual scientists and institutions realize that silence ultimately does little to protect against animal activism and that no one has to stand alone against it.

Burns Hargis

Speaking out in support of animal research has occurred in many places and by many individuals. In the U.K., Pro-Test sets a remarkable example of the power of taking a strong and public stand on the importance of responsible use of animals in lifesaving research.  Building on Pro-Test’s success, Tom Holder founded Speaking of Research in the U.S. and energized the growing coalition of scientists, students, and others who speak out and stand publicly for scientific progress and animal research. In California, where scientists have endured the worst of animal activism, UCLA scientists Drs. J. David Jentsch, Dario Ringach, Lynn Fairbanks and others founded Pro-Test for Science and demonstrated the surge of public support for its scientists and animal research programs.  With Americans for Medical Progress, Speaking of Research and UCLA Pro-Test initiated the Pro-Test Petition in April. Over 11,000 signatories to date have affirmed the value of animal research and the importance of defending it.  These efforts join the many local and national programs that engage the public in dialogue about the role of nonhuman animals in ethical and humane behavioral and biomedical research. Together they show the strength of a community that can effectively challenge animal activism and demonstrate the importance of animal research to the public.

Speaking of Research provides a summary of the coverage of the OSU situation here and encourages you to share it with others who are interested in following this important discussion. The outcome has implications well beyond primate research, and will certainly help to shape the future of animal research in the US and around the world.

Allyson J. Bennett, Ph.D.

Speaking of Research

The views expressed on this blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Wake Forest University Health Sciences.


Summary of news and opinion:

11/30/09:   In the Daily Oklahoman reporter Susan Simpson breaks news of OSU President Hargis’ decision to cancel a primate research project.  Anthrax study rejected by OSU:  Euthanasia of primates may be to blame for decision to cancel veterinary school project.
11/30/09:  KOCO 5 Oklahoma City. OSU Turns Down Anthrax Study: President Against Animal Testing
11/30/09:   Science bloggers quickly picked up the story. In her post, Ongoing witch-hunt against Oklahoma scientists, Part Deux, Science Blog’s ERV called it:  “Quite possibly one of the weirdest things I have ever witnessed in my scientific career– The president of Oklahoma State University has ‘forbidden’ an ethics panel approved, NIH funded research project on ‘his’ campus.”
11/30/09:    Science Blogs, Drug Monkey. OSU President Blocks NIH Funded Science to Appease Philanthropist.
12/01/09:  Animal activist Madeleine Pickens, wife of wealthy donor T. Boone Pickens, praised Hargis’ decision on her website. Re-posting a story from DVM Magazine, Pickens places her commendation in the article’s title, adding to it “Kudos for a Great Decision!”
12/01/09:  Tulsa World. Editorial.  Anthrax fiat: Science should guide research.
12/01/09:  The Scientist. Jef Akst. School halts baboon anthrax study.
12/02/09:  Speaking of Research.  Oklahoma University President Interferes with Federally Funded Health Research.
12/02/09:  Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) releases a statement in support of animal research.
12/02/09:  Primate Freedom. Rick Bogle. Panties Bunched Up by Baboons. <Warning: Animal Extremist Site>
12/02/09:  Science Insider. Greg Miller. Why Did Oklahoma State Cancel Anthrax Research Project?
12/03/09:  Science Blogs, Scicurious at Neurotopia. An Open Letter to OSU.
12/04/09:  Daily Oklahoman, op-ed by OSU President Hargis OSU’s best interests at center of decision.
12/04/09:  Drug Monkey. OSU President Responds to Critics, Fails to Explain Anything.
12/07/09:  Speaking of Research, Dr. Allyson J. Bennett. OSU President Yet to Explain Decision to Cancel Primate Project.
12/07/09:  Nature News.  Brendan Borrel. Primate study halted by US university: Officials fear violent reprisals from a reinvigorated animal-rights movement.
12/08/09:  Discover Magazine. University, Fearing Animal-Rights Violence, Axes Baboon Study.
12/08/09:  The New Scientist. Andy Coghlan. Anthrax study on baboons axed by university president.
12/08/09:  AgrOpinion. Daryl and Jody Donohue. Did Oklahoma State Bow to Activists?
12/09/09:  Daily Oklahoman. “OSU chief Burns Hargis discusses research decision: Burns Hargis had ended a project that would have resulted in euthanizing baboons.” Hargis says his decision was based on “confidential factors.”
12/09/09:  Science Blog’s ERV posts The Ballad of Leeroy Hargis in response to OSU President’s admission that he made a “rookie error” in his decision-making.
12/09/09:  Minneapolis Post. Sharon Schmickle. Animal rights vs research: OSU halts anthrax study.
12/09/09:  Advocates for Agriculture repost Minneapolis Post story, add commentary from rancher perspective OSU Bows to Activists Threat.
12/09:09:   Inside Higher Ed.  Scott Jaschik. Euthanized Research Project.
12/10/09:   Speaking of Research.  Dr. David P. Friedman.  University Leadership and Animal Research: A Dean’s Perspective.
12/10/09:  Newsweek.  The Primate Problem:  OSU has halted a baboon study, infuriating scientists. Are animal-rights extremists finally getting their way?
12/10/09:  Nature. Editorial. A slippery slope: Animal research policies should be guided by moral consensus, not by arbitrary decisions. Nature 462, 699 (10 December 2009) | doi:10.1038/462699b; Published online 9 December 2009.
12/10/09:  Negotiation is Over.  Direct Action Gets the Goods…Pre-emptively. <Warning: Animal Extremist Site>
12/11/09:  Science. Greg Miller. Animal Research: Rejection of Anthrax Study Kicks Up a Dust Storm in Oklahoma. Science 11 December 2009: Vol. 326. no. 5959, p. 1464. DOI: 10.1126/science.326.5959.1464

One thought on “Standing Together: Widespread Support for OSU and its Research

  1. This incident highlighted two things that really pissed off scientists.

    1) The danger of ‘executive’ decisions. What Hargis did sets a precedent. Will my university president cancel my research tomorrow because of pressure from politicians, because evolution is ‘controversial’ here in Oklahoma? (I know the answer is no, because I rather like our uni president, but still, would a politician expect it? will vocal anti-science groups always expect unis to bow to their wishes?)

    2) None of us are safe. Im a vegetarian (not for ethical reasons, I just dont like meat). I have never used any animal for research (my research is not even close to ‘clinical’, I can do everything in culture). Yet animal liberation psychos declared that since I supported animal research, I did animal research (or am at least just as ‘bad’ as people who do). None of us are safe if animal researchers arent safe too.

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