The claim often made by animal activists is that much about animal research is hidden from public view and that the animal research community makes little effort to share their work and their perspectives with the public. There are a number of facts that not only provide the basis for a strong argument against that claim, but also underscore the importance of defining more clearly what reasonable and productive goals might be for public engagement.
Understanding the range of existing outreach activities, current venues for public access to information, and level of participation in these various activities is the foundation for an informed evaluation and reasonable discussion of progress in this area. Reviewing some of those efforts is the subject of this initial post.
Those who engage in scientific outreach and education efforts find that members of the community welcome opportunities to hear from us and to learn about other views of animal research. The great majority are interested in knowing more about why we believe animal research is essential, how we treat animals in our care, and how our studies may contribute to improvements in human and animal health. There is no shortage of public interest in learning more about animal research.
What are the sources of information about animal research that are freely available to the public? Among them are:
- Websites of research institutions, scientists, scientific societies, government agencies, advocacy organizations, educational organizations, laboratory animal research associations, and medical charities.
- Scientific papers and books in which animal researchers write not only about their findings and methods, but also about the rationale for their studies and why the findings are important.
- Publicly-available databases listing federal grant funding for animal research projects
- Facility records and inspection reports available via the federal agency charged with oversight of animal research, the United States Department of Agriculture.
In addition to these, there are a large number of materials that are available to the public via federal Freedom of Information Act requests or open records requests at the state level. In fact, it is via this well-known and often-used avenue that animal activists obtain a range of documents that can then be placed on their websites in order to share with the broad community. Although there is variance across the states, it is also true that in some state universities, the meetings of the committee (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) that evaluates each proposal for an animal research project are also open to the public.
Beyond publicly-available information, there are also many efforts by individuals, institutions, and organizations to provide dynamic interactions and opportunities for dialogue. We’ve written previously about why public education and dialogue are important and about the many different paths to accomplish this goal. Those include:
- Community and classroom programs
- Public discussion forums
- Televised debates
- Social media, including blogs
- Individual interactions
It is against this backdrop that the animal research community and research advocates reject the stock, broad criticism that there is little openness or engagement on this issue. It is certainly the case that specific types of engagement, or specific forms of openness, that some animal rights activists desire are not supported, but that is a different complaint and discussion. Do all institutions exhibit adequate openness at all times? Probably not. But neither should sweeping complaints about researchers’ lack of engagement be accepted at face value.
There are a number of considerations that can influence differing perspectives on the need for, or the merit of, particular approaches to dialogue and information-sharing about animal research. Continuing to focus narrowly on specific requests, without acknowledging the many existing venues, efforts, and activities for exchange of information on animal research, works against the claim that activists are genuinely interested in dialogue. That narrow perspective also fails to consider that the goal of many of these efforts is to reach the larger audience and public that has broad interest in medical research in general, and is not just interested in the ethical debate over the use of animals in biomedical research.
5 thoughts on “Animal Research in the Public Eye”
Wow, I did not know there were activists that endorse the murder of people working at research institutions? Can you give some examples of activists murdering scientists or people working in these labs?
In which planet do you live?
Just a few examples:
Jack, the post above notes that “Do all institutions exhibit adequate openness at all times? Probably not.”. Actually, having had a look through a few posts on this blog I would have written “certainly not”, as a fairly large numbers specifically address the issue of universities and other research institutions not engaging sufficiently with the public or not being open enough about the research they conduct.
As for your comment on going to the primate center and asking for a tour, none of the dozen or so research institutes and university departments that I’ve been affiliated with as either a student or staff member would give a tour to somebody who just turned up at the reception. That list includes a couple of animal labs, but also biomedical and molecular biology labs where no animals were kept, computer science departments, clinical research units, computational biology and bioinformatics institutes and a chemistry department. Not sure that they’d call the cops in all cases, but I guess that would depend on whether the person making the request is known to have links to activists who endorse the murder of people who work there.
I live in a city where they do horrible experiments on primates and let me tell you how difficult it has been for citizens and animal rights groups to try to get information from the university. It is literally like pulling teeth. It is next to impossible to get any of the researchers to publicly talk about their experiments unless of course it is researchers who do very non invasive observational studies with primates. Most of the information that we receive is often redacted. And the university here even shredded the 600+ videotapes of primate experiments (they said they were lost in a fire) before they would ever show them to the public.
If you go to the primate center here on campus and ask for a tour of the center, they will say, “just a minute” and then call the police on you.
All invasive animal experiments at research labs involve treating the subject animals cruelly, which is enough reason to consider any and all of it immoral. and thus not “essential” in any sense of the word.
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