The controversy over Oklahoma State University’s President Burns Hargis’ recent 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.
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.
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: