The upcoming panel discussion, Perspectives on the Science and Ethics of Animals Used in Research, at the University of California Los Angeles co-hosted by Bruins for Animals and Pro-Test for Science has drawn interest all around. The event is the result of joint efforts by the two groups working together “with the goal of opening an ongoing dialogue between individuals who are in favor of or against the use of animals in biomedical research.” The panel will include six speakers who will present their views on the use of animals in biomedical research, as well as moderator-driven discussion based on questions submitted by the audience.
“The event is structured to maximize the opportunity to engage in a civil, intellectually honest discussion on issues about which people hold passionate, differing opinions. This event must demonstrate that such a discussion can effectively take place in order for future dialogue to be possible.”
In the weeks leading up to the event, it has become clear that some members of the animal activist community are using the occasion to focus threats, intimidation, and harassment on members of the panel, UCLA scientists, and research advocates. At the same time, other opponents of the use of animals in medical research have stepped forward to condemn the threats and the apparent attempts to sabotage efforts for discussion. Bruins for Animals issued the following statement on their website:
“Ideally this event would be open to the general public and originally this was our intention. Due to the fact that a group of violent individuals attempted to stop this event by threats and intimidation, we have had no option but to make this event closed to the broad public due to security concerns. These same individuals have called for open debates and are now apparently trying to sabotage our efforts to promote open dialogue and education of this important issue. It is unfortunate that the actions of a small group have resulted in the closing of this event that so many of you wish to attend, and for this, we apologize. …
Bruins for Animals condemns the use of violence, moreover the violence perpetrated by certain individuals has resulted in overshadowing the scientific and ethical reasons why many are opposed to vivisection.”
Dr. Ray Greek, one of the panel participants speaking against the use of animals in biomedical research, also addressed the issue in a thoughtful essay. Greek begins by noting the uniqueness and significance of the event, and goes on to discuss the impetus for his essay.
“This is the first time, in my recollection, that experts in their fields opposed, to varying degrees, to using animals in research and experts in favor of such use have sat down at the same forum and presented their views. As such, the event is very controversial and unfortunately more heat than light has been generated. It is the source of some of this heat that I would like to address in the essay.”
Greek’s essay is a welcome discussion of the panel’s purpose and potential to encourage dialogue about the use of animals in research. He addresses a wide range of questions and issues, including his assessment of the venue, the selection of panel participants, the audience, and the need for security. Greek criticizes the attempts of various vocal activists to derail or diminish the event:
“More pointedly, I do not understand the opposition coming from animal rightists. … But this event is the first in a series of events where the AR and AV communities are getting what they have wanted and yet I am reading what can only be described as vitriol and not well-informed vitriol at that.”
And also points out what seems obvious to almost everyone:
“If activists wish to engage in direct action, promote direct action, condone violence in the pursuit of certain outcomes and so forth, so be it. (Now is not the time and this is not the forum for a debate about the ethics of such actions and positions.) But it is disingenuous to simultaneously act in the ways described above and then feign surprise and offense when society does not take seriously their request to participate in an event that functions in the confines of the norms of society. You cannot have it both ways.”
There are a number of noted schisms between factions in the animal activist community and heated discussion over agendas, tactics, and methods of advocating for their viewpoints. Greek addresses this issue as well, with a pointed comment about the harassment directed at UCLA scientists.
“But while we are on the topic, when was the last time a protest, especially home demos (a tactic favoured by some of those expressing vitriol over the February 16 event), resulted in immediate change? If individuals in the AR and AV movements are serious about having the scientific facts on their side and wanting a forum to have those facts presented to society in general, they might consider the old medical adage: first do no harm. Continuing home demos after a researcher has agreed to a panel discussion and subsequent debate is not helpful. The researcher is under no pressure from society to participate in the process. Society already agrees with him that vivisection is a necessary evil. If the researcher is going to continue to be exposed to threats and harassment irrespective of his actions, then why bother?”
Speaking of Research does not agree with Dr. Greek’s position on the use of animals in research or many of his arguments about the validity and usefulness of the results of animal studies. We have in common, however, our understanding of one major purpose of this panel, and more broadly of encouraging discussion of this complex issue in public forums. As Greek says:
“The purpose of the panel and subsequent debate is not for anyone to change the minds of people with a vested interest in the process (this is a straw man set up by the writer)* but rather to air the various positions in a forum so society can be exposed to them and thus make a decision about the validity of the views expressed. (*The writer Greek refers to is an animal extremist posting from See You in the Streets.)”
We believe that the UCLA panel is an important step forward. There have been few other occasions and groups that have worked together to identify common ground, debate, and discuss animal research publicly. These include the 2006 debate at the University of Wisconsin Madison between scientist and Institution Animal Care and Use Committee chair Eric Sandgren and Rick Bogle, an animal activist and founder of Primate Freedom. In the UK, The Boyd Group, is a “forum for open exchange of views on issues of concern related to the use of animals in science.” Its membership includes individuals and organizations from the spectrum of views on the use of animals in research and its objectives are “to promote dialogue between these diverse people and organisations; and, where there is consensus, to recommend practical steps towards achieving common goals.” These efforts are accompanied by a range of other types of activities that promote engagement and dialogue between members of the scientific community, research advocates, and the public.
We appreciate the effort that Bruins for Animals and Dr. Greek have taken to make public statements condemning the tactics of animal activists who advocate for, or condone, violence against scientists and supporters of animal research. We look forward to this event, where panelists will offer their broad range of personal views on the science and ethics of animal research. We sincerely hope the event will mark a new beginning where civil dialogue and debate are possible in a topic that evokes strong emotions from all sides.
Allyson J. Bennett, Ph.D.
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.