Creating a Unified Voice for Animal Research

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), indeed they were one of the first scientific societies to back Pro-Test for Science in the run up to the historic rally last April. With over 40,000 members SfN is the world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to advancing understanding of the brain and nervous system.

The winter issue of the SfN newsletter Neuroscience Quarterly opens with a message from SfN President Professor Michael E. Goldberg entitled “If We Are Not for Science, Who Will Be for Us?” in which he writes:

“As an SfN member, you have potential to help change this scenario although scientists do not control the federal purse. The answer is sustained communication, advocacy, and action.”

He is of course highlighting the need for scientists to engage with the Obama Administration, Congress, and the public in order to protect funding for scientific research and the investment made in last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but he could just as easily be discussing the need for scientists to respond to the threat to the future of science posed by animal rights zealots.   It is therefore fitting that pages 6 and 7 of the newsletter are devoted to an interview with Speaking of Research founder Tom Holder.

Tom addresses the crowd at the UCLA Pro-Test for Science rally

In an interview that touches on both the threat posed by animal rights extremism and the success of recent rallies lead by scientists in support of animal research Tom notes that one of the keys to the success of the Pro-Test rallies in Oxford and Los Angeles was the opportunity they gave to scientists to gather in mutual support:

“Groups like Speaking of Research and Pro-Test allow scientists to spread the risk of being targeted – when 1,000 people hold a march the chances of being picked out by the AR community are greatly reduced – and the number of people willing to come to your support is much larger than if you try and speak up on your own”

Rallies are of course a valuable means through which scientists can demonstrate support for colleagues who are threatened by extremists, and a fun way to inform members of the public of the value of animal research to medical progress, but as Tom explains effective advocacy need not involve a megaphone!

“Every scientist who stands up and speaks about their research, every scientist who writes a blog about their research, and every scientist who offers to explain their research at their child’s school or college plays a crucial role in combating the misinformation of animal rights activists. Speaking of Research regularly offers spots on its blog to guest writers to talk about why they use animals, but this shouldn’t stop people being proactive in getting the message out themselves. Next time you see an anti-research letter in a newspaper, take five minutes to e-mail a reply! It’s amazing how many people you can connect with.”

We should remember that the work we do as scientists is also amazing, if you need proof of that just read the discussion of the new science of optogenetics in Neuroscience Quarterly. If we take the time to explain what we do and why we do it the great majority of the public will be impressed and supportive, but if we keep our heads down they may assume that the lies, half-truths and distortions spread by animal rights activists are true.  Tom and Professor Goldberg leave us in no doubt that the choice, indeed the responsibility, of standing up for science is ours.

Paul Browne