Ten days ago we announced our Science Action Network (supported by UAR), which aims to debunk animal rights misinformation (Twitter: #ARnonsense) across the internet. Our first week has had its successes, turning one poll from 22% against to (at time of writing) 71% in favour of animal research. We’ve also helped direct a few extra pro-research comments to areas where animal rights activists had a monopoly. The campaign continues (so keep checking our Twitter, Facebook and #ARnonsense hashtag), but a broader question remains. Why should we reply to the ramblings of activists? Do these comments benefit the broader debate?
There are some truly incredible claims made by activists. Some suggest (and presumably believe) that animal research has not made a single contribution to modern medicine, others believe that we have already cured cancer but that pharmaceuticals are trying to cover it up in order to sell more treatments (below). We believe that it is important to challenge these misinformed mistruths. But why? Let us explore a number of scenarios.
There are many stories which make mention of animal research. Some are directly about the general debate, or about a lab (the rare lapses in animal welfare tend to make a lot of news), or a new drug development with a (all to brief) mention of the animals in the research. Animal rights groups often swarm these stories, giving readers the impression that the general public is against animal research (which is untrue). On top of this the misinformation written by activists can sometimes sway those less informed about research and less able to spot the spurious claims about research from the genuine ones. Therefore, it is important to comment on these stories in order to (a) show editors and readers that the public is not against research; and (b) to ensure that ridiculous claims (e.g. “we don’t need animal research, we have other methods”) are challenged and debunked for the casual reader.
Letters to Newspapers
Activists often send letters to newspapers (more often the local ones) about the evilness of animal research. The pseudoscience they peddle, as well as the cruelty they claim, will often begin to sway the uninformed reader – so it is important that replies are made. The more replies to a letter, the more likely it is that one of them will be published.
At the start of this article I celebrated us attracting an extra 100 votes in support of research so that, in a poll of under 200 people, we were in the majority. Why does it matter? Presumably the pollsters have made up their mind. However, when others do look at the poll (or indeed search for polls to assess public opinion) we do not want them seeing some small poll and come to the false conclusion that the majority of people are against animal research. Depending on how one asks the question, support for animal research tends to be between 55% and 80% in the US.
So why does it matter what people are writing on obscure internet sites? When Jonny95 asks the interwebs about whether animal testing is good or evil there are unlikely to be more than a handful of undecided readers. However, if little Jonny is bombarded with anti-research nonsense he is not only more likely to not support it, he is also more likely to be one who propagates the animal rights claims in the future. The more he is subjected to just an AR message (with no scientific response), the more likely he himself will become an animal rights activist.
Pro-Research Stories / News
So someone has written a pro-research story in their blog or website – why should we be leaving positive comments or “liking” their posts? Two reasons, if activists mob their posts with negative comments then the individual responsible is less likely to write anything similar again, secondly, those in favour who look at the post are also less likely to stick their head above the parapet.
Animal Rights Forums
While there are some forums which simply aren’t worth putting in a comment (e.g. ALF or the PeTA forums) there are some places where animal rights individuals tend to collect in greater number (e.g. the Care2 forum). While you may not win over many hearts and minds, it is sometimes worth installing a little doubt in the mind of those opposed to animal research. Furthermore, it does help prevent the break the constant reinforcement of views that occurs when an activists every claim is celebrated no matter how ridiculous.
So with all this in mind there seems only one things left to say – and that is to provide the #ARnonsense of the day.
1. Dr. Hansen claims that animal research is cruel and unnecessary – Please explain how animal research is heavily regulated, and essential for understanding of the body and the pathologies that affect it.
2. Holly Buckley claims animal research is irrelevant and cruel – Please debunk