Five years ago, a sixteen year old led scientists, students and members of the public in the first ever rally to support biomedical research. Laurie Pycroft shot into the media limelight as the boy who dared to stand up to animal rights activists. The Pro-Test movement he begun has helped to shape the public attitudes towards animal research in Britain – bringing them firmly behind lifesaving research.
So where is Laurie now? The Independent recently caught up with the 21-year old Pycroft, who has become an undergraduate at Oxford with an aim to study neuroscience. He notes that, in addition to an early natural inclination in that direction, his interaction with scientists for Pro-Test drew him to research over clinical practice.
Modest about his exceptional accomplishments as founder of Pro-Test, he has been influential across the pond in the US as well. Pro-Test has acted as a model to both Speaking of Research, and the Pro-Test for Science movement (which has done more to effectively replicate Pro-Test’s tactics). His sense of justice and courage to speak out in the face of external malice and internal depression serves as a role model to us all. Below, we can see Pycroft and SR founder, Tom Holder, speaking about why they felt animal research was such an important issue while helping to inform the public on Pro-Test’s five year anniversary.
A number of scientists and organizations here in the US have stepped up to speak the truth in answer to the misleading propaganda from animal rights groups. And now, as has been widely reported, AR activists have explicitly set students in their sights, targeting them for their supposed vulnerability to manipulation.
Laurie Pycroft is Exhibit A for the error of this assertion. He is one of a kind, but what we do need is for individuals of the academic community in their departments, at their universities, and with their societies to band together in order to support one another, and to get the word out to the public about the truth of the methods and importance of animals in responsible biomedical research. This engagement is part of the responsibility of being a scientist.
Like Laurie, no doubt most researchers at least understand where many opponents are coming from:
“Some of them have an internally consistent intellectual argument,” he says. “There is a popular misconception that animal rights activists are all firebomb-throwing nuts, but a lot are very reasonable people. There is a very small minority, but a very vocal one, which is not. A lot of them are in jail and so that part of the debate has been closed down.”
Here in the US, we still have our work cut out for us to allay the ravages of extremism.
Other young adults moved to take action have received support from the Hayre Fellowship and the considerable expertise of the dedicated individuals at AMP. There is still time to meet this year’s application deadline on May 20th 2011. Any student or young person with a desire to educate and an innovative idea for outreach is encouraged to apply.
Medical progress and researchers personally, owe a debt of gratitude to Laurie and others who have shown the way by their leadership. His studies will bring many new challenges that all graduate students past and present can sympathize with (and that we often hold up as an excuse to neglect our outreach duties). He will no doubt excel, and we welcome him into the field.