We recently wrote about the many existing venues, activities, and materials designed to encourage public dialogue and informed discussion about animal research. Many individuals, institutions, and organizations contribute to public outreach and education efforts, and also take active roles in dialogue about continuing changes in practice and policy concerning animal welfare and the conduct of animal research. This post is the fifth in a series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) hosted by Speaking of Research to highlight a wide range of individuals and groups devoted to consideration of animal research.
Society for Neuroscience Committee on Animals in Research
Neuroscientists are no strangers to attacks by animal rights extremists. In 1981, the founders of PETA famously attacked a primate lab in Silver Spring, MD that ushered in the current animal activist movement. As a result of this and many other attacks, the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) developed a Committee on Animals in Research (CAR) to help protect its member scientists from attack and generally enhance our ability to use animals in research appropriately.
With the SfN now past 40,000 members, this role has become increasingly important. CAR is the mechanism by which the Society protects our ability to engage in responsible, legal research. Standing up for members who are under attack is one of CARs primary missions, and it has developed a number of resources for those situations. These include crisis guidelines and talking points for those who need them. CAR also spent a good deal of effort to develop materials that help universities and other organizations create environments that protect research and researchers. In 2008, CAR began to distribute a set Best Practices for universities to use to nurture research and protect researchers and working with other groups, like the National Association of Biomedical Research (NABR) and Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), developed guidelines for how to appropriately respond to Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests. CAR also provides other resources of its own and links to a wide array of outside material.
Nurturing an environment that favors biomedical research and the necessary use of animals, involves more than just focusing on direct threats to researchers and institutions. Over the years, CAR has played an important role in public education. In the late 1980s, CAR realized that animal activist groups were beginning to focus on public K-12 schools, putting materials into classrooms that painted scientists as cruel and heartless and animal research as pointless and inhumane. CAR members therefore worked with Society leadership to create a new committee on scientific literacy, which is now called the Public Education and Communications Committee (PECC). The mission of PECC is to work more directly in the broad area of public outreach and education.
One of the committee’s first accomplishments was to secure a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institutes of Health to work with the National Association of Biology Teachers to develop classroom materials to teach the neurosciences. Part of the grant also helped to establish the first of what are by now many hundreds of partnerships between SfN members and K-12 teachers. It is now well-recognized that putting scientists into classrooms or bringing students and teachers into labs is a direct and powerful way to let kids know what science is and what scientists are really like. There is a map on the SfN website to help direct teachers to scientists who are willing to visit their classrooms.
This is only one example of how the SfN works to nurture research. SfN also sponsors and participates in a broad array of public outreach activities, each of which helps protect our ability to use the best animal models in our research. Brain Awareness Week, is a now well-recognized public education campaign sponsored by the DANA Foundation, which now supports over 475 events in the US alone. All of these are run by, or have participants who are, members of the SfN. Often, these are graduate students and postdocs, who inject a huge amount of energy into public education. Each event is an opportunity to demystify science and discuss the use of animals in research. In addition to or in conjunction with BAW, the society also supports the Science Olympiad and local, national, and international Brain Bees.
CAR has worked to assure that animal research is prominently featured in the new SfN public education website. Brainfacts.org is a remarkably information-rich, though still developing, website about the nervous system and nervous system disorders. If you haven’t seen it yet, visit soon – it’s really exciting, and visits to the site have been increasing dramatically since it went online earlier this year. While information about how animals have participated in the creation of knowledge about the nervous system is prominently featured throughout the web site, specific information can also be found in a special section: Animals in Research.
CAR is also the focus of a number of important relationships with other organizations that work to protect animal research. We have a long-standing relationship with NABR and often work together on projects. More recently, CAR forged a relationship with Americans for Medical Progress, and several joint projects are being planned. Interestingly, members of CAR are often involved in “Hill Day,” which brings neuroscientists to lobby their members of congress in Washington DC.
Because animal activism is a world-wide phenomenon, CAR has long worked with European and other neuroscience organizations, like IBRO, to help support animal research outside the US.
In summary, the Society for Neuroscience has a very active Committee on Animals in Research. It has long been involved in helping to protect investigators under attack, public outreach and education, as well as working with government agencies and other not-for-profit groups. Over the past year, CAR has been exploring new ways to help members under attack, engage in targeted public outreach, provide enhanced guidance and advice for scientists who use animals in their research and work with other professional societies and non-profit groups to support research. We expect to see an even more active committee in the future.
David P. Friedman, Member, Committee on Animal Research and Professor of Physiology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine
Sharon Juliano, Chair, Committee on Animal Research and Professor of Neuroscience, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences