Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Science of Linking

The growth of social media has given organisations new ways of engaging with audiences across the internet. However, a website’s core traffic is still derived from search engines, primarily Google (90% global market share). To increase traffic, a website needs to increase its position in search results for its key terms. This position is determined by a number of factors, most importantly by PageRank algorithm (after co-founder Larry Page). PageRank is a logarithmic scale from 1 to 10 that determines how important Google believes a page to be, it is determined by analysing the incoming links to a given website, both their quantity and quality. Bear in mind that very few websites have a PageRank of 10 (USA.gov.uk is one), even google.com and bbc.co.uk only score a 9. The best PageRank’s come from having a lot of incoming links from websites which themselves have lots of incoming links. This gives the research community a good opportunity to compete, as animal rights websites tend to have less incoming links than university and government websites. Check the video below for more information on Google’s search methods.

So let’s have a look at the scores of some animal research and animal rights websites:

UK

US

 

In the UK we can see that pro-research websites are generally doing better than the anti-vivisection societies. On the other hand, there is a much more level playing field in the US. This could be down to better connections between pro-research organisations and universities, industry and government websites in the UK.

What about the number of incoming links. Although there is no definitive way to measure this, I have used Alexa to compare all of them.

UK

US

A much more concerning picture for research, with websites opposing the use of animals in research receiving more incoming links than pro-research websites by a huge magnitude – around 5x the number in the UK and a whopping 50x the number in the US.

If you wonder why this matters then consider this. Younger generations, who typically use the internet when researching new issues (such as animal testing), are almost twice as likely to support a ban on research than the more senior members of society (Pew Research Centre 2009, Mori Poll 2012). This is, in part, because of the plethora of bright and shiny animal rights websites they come across when investigating this thorny topic.

There are a number of ways that websites can improve their search traffic, often known as “Search Engine Optimization” (SEO). This ranges from the White Hat tactics of generating good content that people want to link to (which Google encourages), to Black Hat tactics of spamming keywords and paying for links (which Google actively punishes when it finds it). Older websites, with new content, easy to navigate, with a clear layout, sitemap and up-to-date information is important, but it is all useless without the quality and quantity of incoming links mentioned above.

What can you do?

It is important for all of us to defend animal research, and one of the easiest ways you can do this is to talk to your university or institution about adding a link to Speaking of Research (as well as the other pro-research organisations) to your webpage on the use of animals in research, or a links page. It is not just large institutional links which are important. If you are a blogger, tweeter, forum-user, new article commenter, then please try to include a link to our website – it could really make a difference in our ability to provide students of today with the information they need.

Speaking of Research

Raising the bar: What makes an effective public response in the face of animal rights campaigns?

For some scientists and institutions engaged in animal research,  activist campaigns against them are a fact of life.  These campaigns vary in tactics, scope, and longevity. At one end of the scale are the limited scope campaigns, perhaps when a paper reprints, more or less verbatim, an activist press release manufactured from misrepresenting publicly-available records. At the other end are sustained campaigns aimed at driving a scientist out of research by using mail and phone harassment, home protests, car fire, or threats of targeting children.

Somewhere in between are other types of campaign that should be of concern to those interested in public views of animal research. One is the sustained high-profile, multimedia effort targeting a specific scientist or research area. Another is the lower profile, insidious, and sustained misrepresentation of animal research, including promotion of ideas such as:  diet is the cure for most diseases; there are non-animal alternatives that could successfully achieve the same scientific goals as animal-based research; most research animals are not covered by any regulation; to name just a few.

These campaigns, and their consequences, affect everyone—scientists, physicians, medical charities, patients, policy makers, the public— with an interest in the current and future conduct of ethical, humanely conducted animal research aimed at progress in scientific understanding and medical advances.

Why?  Because animal research depends on democratic support, with a majority who agree upon its need, its benefits, and the conditions under which it is conducted.  It also depends upon the willingness of scientists to choose to spend their lives pursuing questions that currently require animal research.  Finally, it depends upon public and private institutions’ willingness to provide the support and facilities for the work.

Animal rights activists understand this, and over many decades have developed and refined multifaceted approaches aimed at undermining each of these three cores that are necessary for continued research.  So-called “Hearts & Minds” campaigns undercut public understanding and appreciation of research.  They can also work against institutions and individuals by devaluing the true benefits of their work and increasing fear of unwanted, negative attention.

Meanwhile, harassment campaigns directed at specific individuals or institutions – while giving every appearance of affecting only a tiny fraction of scientists who are targeted – actually have disproportionate jmpact because they contribute to a general impression that there is a risk to researchers’ personal safety.

Beyond duress to individuals, these campaigns have a much broader and damning net effect:  They contribute to creating a climate in which scientists, institutions, medical charities, and others are less likely to speak publicly about the value of animal research.  In turn, they then contribute to decreased opportunities for serious,  fact-informed, and civil public dialogue about animal research.  They also lower the likelihood of the public receiving accurate information in the face of activists’ campaigns that rely on gross misrepresentation of the conduct, need, and benefit of animal research.

Viewed from this perspective, it seems clear that those institutions, organizations, and individuals, who maintain the belief that they are not personally affected by the issue because they have not been directly targeted by animal rights activism must be persuaded to reconsider.

What can be done to counter this ongoing public campaign against animal research?  We have written previously and extensively about many approaches, venues and organizations engaged in effective ongoing efforts to explain the role of animals in research (here, here, here and here).   We believe that the responsibility for public engagement and education about animal research is one that is shared by the entire community.

So what makes an effective public response in the face of animal rights campaigns?

evaluating response to public interest in animal research graphic for SR post 02.18.13To begin with, we acknowledge that there are very different domains of public engagement with animal research.  Although they may have overlap in the broad goal of increasing public understanding, fact-based consideration and dialogue about research, they also differ in audience, participants, time-line, and goals, among other things.  Two general domains include:

1)      Outreach and education. Designed to provide the public with accurate information about animal research, including education about its conduct, goals, relative harms and benefits.  Successful outreach and education programs include sustained efforts that may include full-time groups, communicators, and educators working in concert with scientists, clinicians, animal care staff, veterinarians and others, or may occur as service without formal support. The range of venues and creativity in outreach and education programs is broad.  It includes face-to-face activities – laboratory visits to scientific talks, science festivals, community events, school workshops, for example.  It also includes articles, newsletters, web posting and other educational written, oral, and visual material disseminated publicly.

2)      Response to specific campaigns and events.  Ideally, also designed to provide the public with accurate information about animal research. Designed to counter inaccurate information, provide balance and context where needed, and defend those who are attacked.

Both of these domains are essential to build public understanding of animal research and to promote opportunities for continued progress in serious consideration and fact-informed public dialogue of some of the challenging issues involved in this area.  It is also the case that there are few norms for what good programs in either domain might look like.  As a result, what we see currently is widespread unevenness across institutions and organizations in terms of how they handle these activities.  Even the degree to which individuals, institutions, and organizations engage in any response varies markedly.

What would an optimal, successful response to an animal rights campaign look like? There is obviously no one answer, but if we arranged common response types we’ve seen over the last few years, we can identify some that are clearly less than effective.

The worst response is no response. Over and over again institutions discover that it simply makes it appear as if they have something to hide. Then, activists and the media emphasize the “suspicious” silence.

One up from no comment is the completely generic comment.

“The University of X conducts well-regulated animal research according to the principles of the 3Rs. Our research aims to better understand diseases such as diabetes and AIDS”

While better than no comment, it does nothing to address the media or activist concerns. Any institution which does only this has its reputation tarnished, and convinces activists that the institution will not challenge their accusations.

The middle of the road response is immediate and specific to the claims made. It will address and allay fears that an institution is ignoring its responsibilities to animals, explain the role of animals in research, and talk about specific research going on in the institution. This statement should include a comment from a very senior administrator, to show the institution is serious, and should include a link to the institution’s animal research policy. This statement should not only be provided to inquiring journalists, but also sent to any media outlet which has run the story. If those media outlets did not contact your institution first, then take this up with the editor – it is not acceptable to repeat claims without checking them first.

Institutions can improve these responses further, by inviting journalists or local politicians to view the facility. The best tours are led by someone with a clear understanding of both the science and the animal welfare implications around the lab (e.g., a scientist, a head veterinarian). This also serves to make personal connections with journalists and to immunize them against further animal rights campaigns.

Institutions should also be aware that publicly-available documents, ranging from USDA reports to veterinary clinical records, are often used by activists to generate news releases that may not be examined critically by reporters or others reading them.  As a result, the information in these documents can be presented in a way that lacks appropriate context or interpretation.  As we have written previously, this is one area which institutions and professional organizations could address more effectively by increasing their efforts to provide accessible explanations.  For example, when materials are released to open records request, an institution can provide a cover page that offers explanation of terms, places numbers in context, or otherwise demystifies documents in order to allow a more informed, balanced, and open view to a reasonable reader.

However, the very best response is to get in there first. Don’t wait for animal rights campaigns to start your outreach – proactively offer tours to the local community, provide speakers for local schools- engage with those who may defend or turn against you.  Also recognize that just as the science and discoveries occurring within your institution are of interest beyond the local community, so is news about your animal research programs.  Reaching those audiences with accurate information about the animals’ humane care and value to a wide range of research should be an explicit and supported goal in communicating science news.

Speaking of Research

Reduction: A Measure You Can’t Measure

The 3Rs – Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animal research – can we measure the impact? Seems easy enough, but there are challenges.

How many experiments have been replaced by non-animal alternatives? Do we count every time a cell culture is used in an experiment that might once have been done in vivo? No. While some critics point to the relatively small sums of money that organisations like the Dr Hadwen Trust or NC3Rs spend on research in replacement, few note the huge sums spent by industry on researching and using alternatives.

Refinement is even harder to quantify. Do we look at the money spent on refinement? Do we include bigger, better enclosures? What about the smaller enclosure before that were still better than the ones that preceded it? How do you put a measure of social housing of animals? Once again measurement becomes nigh on impossible.

So, we arrive at the third R – Reduction. Surely this is the easiest to measure, we simply look at the total number of animals used in research and see how the numbers have changed?

The US has seen a 50% decline in the use of AWA-covered animals since 1992, despite a slight rise in 2010. However, it is unknown whether this fall has correlated with a similar fall in the use of mice, or whether researchers have been choosing to use mice instead of “higher” animals.

In the UK, where all vertebrates are counted, there has been a steady rise since 2001, from 2.6 million procedures (slightly fewer animals) to 3.8 million (2011).

Number of Animals used in research UK Home Office

Does this mean the UK is failing to implement the principle of Reduction? The British Union for the Abolition for Vivisection certainly think so. In their new “Broken Promises” campaign they say:

The Government is failing on its pledge to work to reduce the use of animals in research. This is an issue where there is strong public concern yet the latest statistics show that animal experiments in the UK are at an all-time high since 1986 (the introduction of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act in Great Britain).

When the Coalition Government took office in 2010 it’s Programme for Government included the pledge to “work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research.” This was included after strong lobbying from the BUAV, and we have been leading the way in holding the Government to account ever since.

However, the latest statistics from the Home Office show that despite this pledge the number of animals being used in experiments is now more than 3.7 million, the highest figure for 25 years.

It is true that the number of animals used in research has risen since 2001. One of the main reasons for this is the huge rise in funding for animal research. Since 1995 (remember that funding has a lagged effect on the number of animals used), the expenditure on bioscience and medicine R&D in the UK has gone up by 150%, while the number of animals has risen by only 30% – that means that animal use is shrinking as a percentage of funds (though this effect will be slightly mitigated by the fact that animal use has become more expensive over the period).

Rises in funding in Biomedical research in the UK

We must realise that Reduction is not about using less total animals, but like the other Rs, is about the conduct of individual experiments. Russell and Burch, who first described the 3Rs in 1959, described Reduction as:

Reduction means reduction in the numbers of animals used to obtain information of a given amount and precision.

It is about using fewer animals to obtain given pieces of information, i.e. individual experiments (not the total in a country). Scientists have been effective at reducing the number of animals they use in experiments thanks to better models and improved scanning devices. Whereas at one time a cancer study might have involved 10 rats being euthanised one a fortnight to study the progress of a tumour, modern scanning techniques can allow the tumour of one rat to be studied non-invasively over the whole period – reducing the number of animals used. Counting these reductions is difficult. The NC3Rs provide a similar example:

There are many examples, including in the research we fund on cancer drug screening, where new methods allow animal studies to be avoided. These are not one to one replacements for the animal studies. Instead new in vitro tools are used to screen drugs so that only those that are likely to be suitable for further development are taken into animal studies. This avoids wasting animals on drugs destined to fail in preclinical development – animals which would,

if used, have been recorded in the statistics. It is difficult to envisage how collecting information centrally on efforts to avoid unnecessary animal use could be done in practice (without an unnecessary burden on scientists and institutions) but it does illustrate the complexity of measuring the 3Rs.

The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), which works to implement and fund the 3Rs, warned against drawing conclusions from the “total” number of animals released by the Home Office, saying:

The annual statistics published by the Home Office on procedures performed under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 contain a large amount of information on animal use – numbers, species and purpose. At first sight it would be expected that they would be a good benchmark on 3Rs activities in the UK and indeed they are routinely used in this way by some campaign organisations. The statistics were, however, never intended to be a gauge of progress in the 3Rs, and in any case their utility for such a purpose is limited for a number of reasons.

They went on to provide possible reasons for a rise in the number of animals used (now or in the future):

  • Strategic investments in particular research areas or geographic locations:
    This includes when Pharmaceutical companies relocate between countries, changing the numbers of animals used in old and new locations.
  • Availability of new technologies:
    The introduction of GM animals resulted in most of the UK’s increase over the past decade
  • Regulatory Requirements:
    The EU’s REACH legislation could potentially increase the number of animals tests in Europe by 9 to 64 million additional animals.

The BUAV are disingenuous when they describe the Government as failing to meet their pledge on reduction. There has been in the past, and continues to be, great strides in managing the reduction of animal research in individual experiments. It would be wrong for the Government to call on a general reduction in the total number of animals as they cannot predict the course of medical development in the coming years.

Speaking of Research

Addendum:

It is also worth remembering that an arbitrary reduction in the number of animal experiments in the UK (or another country) would simply push that research to countries with lower animal welfare standards. In the words of Mark Harper MP, the UK Government minister on this issue:

Of course, the quickest way to reduce the number of animals would be to drive the work overseas, which would not be good for the United Kingdom, for jobs or for animal welfare. We must be thoughtful about the numbers. We should consider the size of the industry and the work that is being carried out, and whether we are driving down the proportion of animals being used in that work.

Why mice may succeed in research when a single mouse falls short

The New York Times recently produced an article entitled “Mice Fall Short as Test Subjects for Humans’ Deadly Ills” which argued that certain mouse models were flawed. This post by Mark Wanner was originally posted on The Jackson Laboratory‘s “Genetics and Your Health” blog aimed to clear up some of the misunderstandings that may have come from this article, as well as to explain the benefits that can still be accrued from mice. It is being reproduced here with the full permission of the original author.

What would happen if all clothes were made to fit only one person, or at most, that person and his or her identical twin? Whoever it was, this one person wouldn’t represent all people. I hope this is an obvious statement—we all have differences in every measurement possible, and certainly no manufacturer would make a line of clothing tailored only to one person’s size.

But imagine taking this person and testing a new drug in her. Or him. Would you consider the drug fully tested for all people? No, it’s common sense that different people would respond differently, a concept borne out by the presence of side effects of varying severity for every significant pharmaceutical. But historically, that’s how most drugs have been selected for development until very late in the process. And that’s just one reason why it’s important to discuss the full story behind the recent New York Times article “Mice Fall Short as Test Subjects for Humans’ Deadly Ills.”

Let’s move past the sweeping generalization of the article’s title, which is belied by the fourth sentence anyway: “The study’s findings do not mean that mice are useless models for all human diseases.” The main point of the article is valid, which is that a recent study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows using mice for research into response to sepsis, burns and trauma (collectively called “shock”) has not translated into useful medicines for humans. In fact, the researchers showed that the genetic response to the narrow spectrum of maladies under discussion had very little correlation at all between mouse and human. For many scientists, this is very old news.

The NY Times article doesn’t address the fact that the studies it cites used the equivalent of one mouse—a single inbred strain, to be precise—to study the correlation (or the lack of correlation) between mouse outcomes and human outcomes in sepsis and shock. It is now well known that some inbred mouse strains, such as the C57BL/6J (B6 for short) strain used, are resistant to septic shock. Other strains, such as BALB and A/J, are much more susceptible, however. So use of a single strain will not provide representative results.

The strain in question, B6, is a reasonable starting point, but every B6 mouse is inbred to be an identical twin of any other B6 mouse. Characterizing the immune response in a single mouse strain is like doing so in a single person. Just like the analogy of the one-size clothing manufacturer, making a drug solely on the basis of one genetically isolated individual (especially a single mouse) is bound to fail. So it would have been far more accurate to use the title “A Single Mouse Falls Short” rather than “Mice Fall Short.”

Mouse used to treat deadly ills - Jackson Laboratory

Lenny Shultz, Ph.D., a professor and immunologist at The Jackson Laboratory who has made significant improvements to mouse models for human immune disease said, “. . . the mouse strain used in the study (C57BL/6) is representative of a single individual and doesn’t cover the diversity in the mouse population. Use of diversity outbred cross or collaborative cross mice would provide additional diversity.” The diversity outbred cross (as previously discussed in this blog) and collaborative cross mice are mouse populations specifically developed to provide wide genetic variability, and both have been developed mainly within the past decade. Possibly, if this diversity outbred resource was used, an appropriate range of results more representative of human outcomes may have emerged.

Elissa Chesler, Ph.D., a behavioral genomicist at The Jackson Laboratory, further commented: “For behavior and many other biomedically relevant fields we can’t simply generalize from “MOUSE” to “HUMAN”–we must ask which mice, and which human. Most studies involving mice are restricted to a small handful of strains. New genetic and genomic methods enable us to ask this question with improved efficiency and effectiveness. Learning how to grapple with genetic diversity and delivering experimental systems that make this genetic diversity readily accessible to those working on disease therapeutics is critical to improving the success rate of preclinical research.” Thus, genetic diversity should be accounted for in future pre-clinical tests, and researchers need to pay greater attention to selecting the right model system to mimic human disease.

Now, largely through Lenny Shultz’s efforts, mice are also available that can host human cells. These so-called “humanized mice” have recently improved greatly in effectiveness and use, as Shultz himself documented in a recent Nature Reviews Immunology review. They are very useful for immune response studies, partly for the very reasons documented by the PNAS study authors—mouse and human immune responses differ. Engrafting human immune tissue into an experimental mouse system provides a much better platform for translational research: it tests a real human immune system in a whole organism rather than in a test tube. Therefore the mouse remains a pivotal model system for the human condition.

Such improvement comes on top of the mouse’s already highly significant legacy, of course. I recently wrote about the work of George Snell, whose groundbreaking immunological research in mice led to the discovery of the major histocompatibility complex and, ultimately, successful organ transplants. A recent success is the multiple sclerosis therapeutic BG-12, which underwent testing in mice before showing dramatic success in clinical trials. The compound is still under review by the FDA, but approval is highly anticipated.

There has been some thoughtful coverage of both the PNAS study and the NY Times article in publications such as The Scientist and Science News. Both publications speak mostly to those who are already scientifically inclined, however. It would be good to see more nuance in mainstream media outlets. It seems like there’s little middle ground between “hope for cure” articles from model organism studies that minimize the translational difficulties and “research debunked” articles like the current NY Times example. But in reality, almost all studies live in that middle ground.

Medical progress is hard-won, and few studies contribute directly to improvements in the clinic. But research adds to knowledge, some of which will eventually help doctors and their patients. Without it, we’ll have to live with the status quo, something very few will choose to accept. So read between the lines and learn about the roots of our medical “breakthroughs.” Chances are they started a while ago—in a mouse.

Mark Wanner
The Jackson Laboratory

The British Government is Speaking of Research

Animal Rights groups are getting smart in their attempt to influence policy in the United Kingdom. The BUAV (British Union for the Abolition Vivisection) already have a collection of “pet” MPs who they use to create EDMs and put their signatures to letters in local newspapers. On the 5th February 2013 they convinced the Conservative MP, Henry Smith, to introduce a debate to the House of Commons on the subject of animal experiments.

Henry Smith MP animal rights

Henry Smith MP (left) with Russell Whiting from the BUAV (right)

Mentioning the BUAV pretty quickly in his opening remarks, Smith spoke about the current coalition government pledge to reduce the numbers of animal in research (in accordance with the 3Rs), to end testing on household products and the implementation of the new EU directive.

Smith went on to call for a ban on the import of primates, which account for 47% of primates used. This reflects the BUAV (and others) campaign to force airlines not to transport primates.  He also made calls to further drive the 3Rs within research – something most scientists would agree with.

Kerry McCarthy, a Labour MP also frequently found in BUAV press releases, followed on from Smith, questioning many of the Government’s policies before bringing all of animal research into question. McCarthy showed her scientific inexperience when she asserted:

An experiment at Cardiff university, for example, which involved sewing up the eyelids of newborn kittens had already been done elsewhere; it had turned out to be fruitless in finding a cure for lazy eye in children.

Sadly, McCarthy’s belief that the Cardiff experiments were a duplication of Blakemore’s earlier experiments is incorrect (this is not the first time such accusations have been made by animal rights groups). Cardiff was focused on how gene expression leads to functional blindness whereas Blakemore’s research was focused on brain elasticity. McCarthy’s comment also shows a misunderstanding of the development process – scientists must understand a disease before they can treat it.

After input from several other MPs, Mark Harper MP (Conservative) – who represents the Government on this issue – came in to establish the view of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government:

The position of both coalition parties—I think it is shared on both sides of the House—is that we should license the use of animals only when it is essential and when there is no alternative. That is, indeed, Government policy, and it was the policy of the previous Government.

Mark Harper MP

Mark Harper MP

He continued on:

At the same time, animal experiments continue, at the moment, to be necessary if improvements in health care are to be developed with the minimum of delay. It is a fact that our national health service would be unable to function effectively were it not for the availability of medicines and treatments that have been developed and tested through research using animals. Almost every form of conventional medical treatment has relied in part on the study of animals. That includes asthma treatments and medicines for ulcers, schizophrenia and depression, polio vaccine, and kidney dialysis and transplants—those are just a few examples.

While we accept that animal experiments are effective and necessary, they should be used only when the benefits have been carefully weighed against the costs to the animals; when there is no other way of achieving the desired result; when the procedures applied to the animals will cause the least suffering possible; when the minimum number of animals will be used to achieve the outcome; and when high standards of animal welfare are applied. That approach closely reflects what the public want. They understand the necessity and importance of using animal experiments in some areas, but they want the number of such experiments to be the minimum necessary.

It is very reassuring to see the Government providing a clear message on why animal research is important to medicine. Harper also dealt effectively with the calls to arbitrarily reduce the numbers of animals used in research. It is  important for Reduction to be seen in the context of individual projects, rather than over all of research.

Of course, the quickest way to reduce the number of animals would be to drive the work overseas, which would not be good for the United Kingdom, for jobs or for animal welfare. We must be thoughtful about the numbers. We should consider the size of the industry and the work that is being carried out, and whether we are driving down the proportion of animals being used in that work.

Harper restated the Coalition’s commitment to the 3Rs as well as pointing out that no licenses had been given out in 2011 for household product testing using animals.

The full transcription of the debate can be found on “They Work For You”.

Overall it was reassuring to see the Government stand firmly in defence of the use of animals for medical research. It was also important they continue to take a strong stance in maintaining high standards of animal welfare.

Speaking of Research

A Lesson in hypocrisy as PETA cries foul over one cat’s death while secretly killing hundreds more

You may have missed it, but Thursday was a big press day for PETA. A recap:

First, PETA recruited a well- intentioned, yet surprisingly uninformed actor as a participant. Then, for the cost of a couple of plane tickets, the country’s most outlandish ad agency animal rights group appeared at a University of Wisconsin Board of Regents meeting to create a media moment. We would give you the play by play…but we don’t have to. PETA filmed the whole thing so they could simultaneously stage an event and cover it themselves. (Now that’s news!)

So what PETA’s “create your own media moment” get them? Here are a few links to the coverage:
ABC NEWS – Actor Cromwell Arrested at Wis. Regents Meeting
TODAY SHOW – James Cromwell arrested for protesting alleged cat abuse
WASHINGTON POST – Wisconsin police arrest actor James Cromwell for protest against animal testing at university

We’re certain there were plenty of high fives in the halls of PETA on Thursday. But what’s wrong with this picture?

Aside from the fact that creating a public disturbance and filming yourself isn’t really news…. a lot of problems.

First, the alleged abuse that these two activists so loudly protested (but very quickly…the entire event occurred in less than 90 seconds)…has already been examined at great length and was found to NOT be abusive. As we reported last fall, the United States Department of Agriculture, which enforces the country’s animal abuse laws, found no wrongdoing after conducting a thorough investigation.

Another big problem with this story is the lack of interest from almost every news outlet in explaining why this research is done in the first place. Read the coverage. In many stories, there is little to no summary of the research. In rare cases where the goal of the research is addressed, it’s briefly mentioned in the final paragraph. That’s a huge failure by the press.

For those who don’t know, the studies center on efforts to combat hearing loss and develop new and better methods to assist those who are born deaf or become deaf during their lifetimes. Check out our previous post about why the research is critical and why cats play such an important role in helping us combat the problem.

However, by far, the biggest problem with this story is the amazing level of hypocrisy demonstrated by PETA. For months, PETA has filled Wisconsin (and now national) newspapers and airwaves protesting the death of a single cat. However, do you know how many cats PETA killed in the past year alone? We do: 1,045.

But that’s not all – it gets much worse. In addition to all those cats, PETA also killed 602 dogs placed in their care.

How do we know all this? Hidden cameras? Stolen documents?

No, nothing that exotic. We simply looked at the Virginia Department of Agriculture’s 2012 report on what PETA did with the hundreds of animals placed in their care last year. In 2012, PETA accepted a total of 1877 animals. Then PETA killed 1675. That’s an 89 percent kill rate. Let’s put it in an easy graph.

Peta Kills in Animal Shelters EuthanizedThe same organization that screams “cruelty” when asked about research involving a handful of animals…kills many more and more often. However, unlike at the University of Wisconsin, animals aren’t humanely euthanized for the greater good…PETA kills animals because it would rather spend its millions creating media moments than saving animal lives.

So what have we learned from this episode? First, it’s time for the media to be forced to do their job. They can certainly cover PETA’s highly staged stunts, but viewers must demand to know what’s being protested and what we all risk losing if they blindly accept the opinions of PETA and other such organizations.

Secondly, it’s time to turn the tables and address the hypocrisy. Groups like PETA have no right to protest the reasonable use of animals in research while senselessly killing so many themselves. PETA might put “ethical” in their name, but they certainly leave it out of their actions.

Speaking of Research

Medical Research Needs Your Signatures

The difficulties surrounding the transport of laboratory animals, particularly primates, have been growing over the past 12 months. Efforts by PETA and the “Gateway to Hell” campaign have successfully coerced a number of airlines to stop transporting primates destined for labs, including Air Canada and United Airlines (both of which capitulated to animal rights demands in the last 2 months).

The Canadian Association for Neuroscience and the Society for Neuroscience have both called upon their members to contact these airlines and urge them to rethink their current policy.  The Canadian organisation has suggested the following letter to the directors of Air Canada:

To: Mr. Calin Rovinescu, President and CEO of Air Canada
calin.rovinescu@aircanada.ca

Dear Mr. Rovinescu,

I was troubled to learn that Air Canada has recently decided to halt transport of non-human primates for use in biomedical research. I urge you to reconsider this position, as animal models, including non-human primates, are essential to advancing our understanding of diseases and disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis that could lead to treatments and cures of these devastating conditions. Misinformation, spread by “animal rights” extremists, threatens to hinder research efforts, and must not be allowed to affect policy making in important Canadian companies such as yours.

The significant role that animal models play in lifesaving research is undeniable. Almost every major medical advance in the last century was made possible by carefully regulated, humane animal research. In Canada, the Canadian Council on Animal Care is responsible for setting and maintaining standards for the ethical use and care of animals in science in Canada, and institutions review all animal research to ensure the protection of the welfare of animals used for research purposes. Studies using animal models follows strict ethical guidelines. Airline transportation, provided by companies such as yours, ensures that laboratory animals are available for lifesaving biomedical research in universities, hospitals and research centers.

Highly vocal animal rights extremists are attempting to halt all research which involves animal models, and to sway public opinion in their direction. These people represent a very small number of individuals, much less than the millions who are dependent on the discoveries brought about by humane, well-regulated animal research – not to mention the tens of thousands of scientists who rely on air travel to attend scientific conferences and to conduct their research.

I hope that your personal commitment to advancing science, exemplified by your recent membership in the McGill University Health Research Center Board of Directors, will be reflected in policies at Air Canada that will allow important scientific research to move forward.

Sincerely,

Name (First and Last)
Contact information: Email, Full mailing address.

Society for Neuroscience have set up a system where you can use their website to send emails to both Air Canada and United Airlines – and we, at Speaking of Research, urge you to do this.

Petition support animal research

Click the image above to sign the petition

The Advancing Animal Research blog has also got a petition running to support the transport of animal research (follow it on Twitter via @ERaemdonck). Keep an eye on this blog as it produces regular stories on the importance of animals to biomedical research, with a Canadian twist. The petition reads:

Support Medical Progress through Science and Animal Research

Most medical advancement is achieved through the tools provided by Science. Animal based research is a tool that benefits Humanity and animals alike. If you or a relative of yours is affected by a disease, a disability or a disorder, you’d like for cures, drugs or treatments to be available to you. Sign this petition to show your support!

Sincerely,
[Your name]

Finally, for all those living in the UK, it is really important to sign and share the Government e-petition to “Protect transport of animals for medical research“. In the UK, animal rights activists have not only managed to shut down most air transport, but have also successfully pressured the ferry companies to shut down their own transportation of laboratory animals.

PETA and BUAV have operated a systematic campaign of lobbying against hauliers. The government must support and protect the medical research industry by ensuring animals are transported for vital medical research.

Ferry companies and airlines (inc. BA) are refusing to carry animals due to this pressure.

http://www.nature.com/news/activists-ground-primate-flights-1.10255
http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2012/03/stena-lines-wont-ferry-animals.html
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/14/laboratories-animals-anti-vivisection-campaign

Life sciences = £50bn year to UK economy
UK biotech = 31% EU market
UK is responsible for 15% of world’s academic output.

http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/economics-and-statistics/docs/10-541-bis-economics-paper-02.pdf

The spurious claims of an (albeit vocal) minority of extremists are compromising the healthcare of future generations and damaging the economy.

So make sure you sign this petition now. Furthermore, support them on Twitter via @KEEPRSRCHAFLOAT and visit their website.

So take 5 minutes to do the following:
– email Air Canada and United Airlines with the email from Society for Neuroscience
– Sign the Change.org petition in support of animal research
– Sign the Government e-petition urging the government to protect the transport of animals (UK only)
– Share these petitions and this post with as many people as possible on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Google+ and any other outlet – see the social media buttons below.

Please Act Now!

Speaking of Research