Highlights from Nature’s Q&A

Today (about 5 minutes ago), Nature ran an online Q&A session on the subject of animal research to fit in with its latest special editorial on the topic.

There was a lot of interesting background to the Q&A session in the latest issue including a the results of a poll of around 1,000 scientists. Over 90% of the scientists (70% of whom conduct research) believed that animal research was crucial to the advancement of biomedical science (2.7% disagree, 0.7% strongly disagree):

Nature Poll of 1,000 ResearchersA more interesting result came from the question that asked:

Nature Poll of 1,000 ResearchersIt was interesting to see that the UK, where animal rights activism is at an all-time low, considers it a bigger threat than the US. Perhaps this is because the UK has seen the damage that animal rights activism can do to biomedical research. Also of note was that almost no one in the rest of Europe disagreed with the premise, perhaps reflecting the generally high levels of extremism which have occurred across the continent.

Another background article was Tipu Aziz and John Stein’s (of Pro-Test) piece on the importance of speaking out (we approve!) Their article was next to Ranga Yogeshwar who suggested those conducting animal research should “[s]tay as far away from the camera as possible” (we don’t approve!!) Tipu and John made a clear and forceful argument, and their conclusion is one of the most clear and succinct pieces of reasoning for advocacy:

In this electronic age, remaining silent is not an option for scientists engaged in animal research; anyone can use Google to look up what a researcher does. The sensible thing is to be proactive and prepared to defend our work. The public needs to hear all sides of the story.

Anyhow, on to the Q&A:

The discussion began with questions over the impact of animal rights activism and extremism on the scientists and their research. This was later beautifully summed up by the Nature news writer and discussion moderator, Daniel Cressey:

What we were trying to bring out in the feature is that the fringes are currently defining the debate for a huge proportion of policy makers and scientists. I’d love to get to the point where the minority who are extremists don’t have this power over the debate.

His fellow news writer and discussion moderator, Brendan Maher, commented:

[…] that violent elements are few and far between. But they do so much to derail any fruitful conversation, they must be countered strongly. As soon as you introduce fear or intimidation into the debate, there’s no more room for intelligent conversation.

There were some comments on the impact of Pro-Test in the UK, as well as the benefits of added legal restraints and sanctions to activist actions. In reply to concerns from one scientist about speaking up, Daniel Cressey replied:

I think that the Pro-Test group has shown how support of animal research can be done, and done well and safely. The real danger – to my mind – is keeping silent on this. Scientists should be proud of the work they do, whether or not that involves animals.

In the UK there is the perception that tougher laws have helped. One of our features from this week looks at one activist who fell foul of them (http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110223/full/470454a.html). In the US they have had some teething problems, but they do show that attacks on animal researchers will not be tolerated.

Discussion quickly moved onto the 3Rs, and whether enough was being done to ensure they were being put in place. ToniS said:

We asked our researchers if there were blockers to doing more for the 3Rs. They all said “time.” They are under so many pressures to focus on commercialization. How do we MAKE the time internally or do we “outsource” through academia, consortia, or scholarships?

Science Blogger Harlequinclrty took the time to comment on some of the replies (in 140 characters or less):

And @tomholder nails it: “It is not a case of 3Rs research or normal research—the 3Rs are just principles of good science” #animalresearch

And @tomholder continues to nail it: “just because they are not called the 3Rs does not mean people don’t use them” #animalresearch

At the accusation that the 3Rs was not understood by all scientists, Barbara Davies of Understanding Animal Research said:

Let’s face it, the three Rs are jargon. If we talk about the principles underlying the jargon, most scientists will recognise them.

There were many more insightful comments from the variety of people who contributed, and you can read it all on Nature’s website.


Tom Holder