Daily Archives: November 11, 2017

2017 SFN Attendees: Does your research depend on animal models?

If it does, consider adding this session to your conference plan:

What: SFN Animals in Research Panel. How to Effectively Communicate Your Animal Research:  Elevator Speech, Social Media, and Best Practices.  When & Where:  Monday November 13. Noon-2pm. Room 103A

Why? (as in, SFN is busy enough, why add a “non-new-science-discoveries-session” to your already packed science agenda?)

Reason 1) Did you answer “Yes, my research depends on animal models?” If so, communicating about your work via media and other public avenues can involve some challenges if you plan on accurately conveying your work.  

Sharing the findings, value, and excitement about research is something that scientists do through peer-reviewed publications, but also popular and public media. Communicating well—in an accessible and engaging way—about new discoveries can be a challenge in of itself. Good science communicators within university and institutional press offices can provide enormously valuable help. For those whose work depends on animal models, there are often unique challenges to public communication about the research. That may range from concern and fear about attracting the attention of opponents of animal research to uncertainly about how to talk about animal research to suppression by institutions who do prefer to remain low profile about their animal research programs.

The SFN panel addresses these challenges and can add to your tool-kit to assist you in broader dissemination of your work. The panel will be led by experts with extensive experience in public communication about animal research.  Together, the interactive panel will provide a basic understanding of, and show attendees strategies to engage with, various audiences on the importance and benefits of animal research.

The panelists include:

Amanda M. Dettmer, a senior editor for Speaking of Research, an international advocacy group that provides accurate information about the importance of animal research in biomedical science. Amanda obtained her PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and for over 15 years has been studying nonhuman primate models of human development and disease. She is currently working in Washington, DC, as the American Psychological Association’s 2017-18 Executive Branch Science Policy Fellow.

Paula Clifford, MA Executive Director, Americans for Medical Progress. Paula Clifford is the Executive Director for Americans for Medical Progress where she is leading national advocacy efforts. She creates and implements several innovative programs designed to provide information to the public about biomedical research and the role of animals in advancing medicine and science. Previously, she was the Executive Director for the PA Society for Biomedical Research (PSBR) where she led efforts to provide educational programs about biomedical research for K-12 classrooms.

Chris Barncard, Research Communications, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Chris writes about science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, describing new insights on the world around us in a way that the uninitiated can understand. Alongside coverage of psychology, engineering and energy research, he helps researchers talk to journalists and the public about their work with animals. His work can be found at the UW-Madison animal research website where a dynamic news section is updated regularly with stories about the university’s research. Chris has also worked as a newspaper reporter, winning awards for coverage of elections, gambling and suicide.

Another reason to make time in your SFN schedule:  Did you answer “Yes, my research depends on animal models?” If so, your work also depends on public knowledge about animal research.  

Why? Because animal research may only be conducted if the public, through its elected representatives, continues to support legislation and regulation that allows for nonhuman animals to be involved in humane, well-regulated, and ethical research.

While you may know that such studies are only permitted in the US under a host of conditions mandated by federal law, it is safe to assume that there is a wide swath of the public—including voters, students, journalists, and policy-makers—who do not know.  You may know that:

  • Animal research is highly-regulated, with standards to protect animal welfare and oversight by institutional and federal agencies
  • Federally-funded research must balance scientific objectives with consideration of animal welfare
  • Laws require that animal research may only be conducted when there is no appropriate alternative to reach the scientific objective
  • Basic research is the foundation of discoveries that provide for new understanding of behavior, brain, biology and health
  • In turn, basic research – much of it with nonhuman animals – is critical to developing new prevention, treatment, and intervention to benefit human and animal health, society, and the environment

None of that may matter much though if the larger public is left in the dark.  Over the past decades, SFN has grown in size and new discoveries in neuroscience have proliferated to substantially advance understanding of the brain and health. At the same time, public opinion polls show a continuing decline in public approval for animal research. The gap between scientists and the public is large. In a recent PEW poll, for example, nearly 90% of AAAS sciences favored the continued use of animals in research, while less than 50% of the general public felt the same.

Opinion differences between the general public and AAAS scientists (adapted from Pew, 2015).

Is this what the scientific community thinks:  Not our job, not our problem?

The gap between opinions of scientists and those of the public is likely caused by many factors. Among them is the probability of differences in knowledge about why animal research is needed, what it has accomplished, when it is necessary, and how it is conducted—including how studies are evaluated, how animals are cared for, and how it is overseen.  Scientists can play an important role in engaging in public dialogue and informing the public about each of these topics.

Scientists have many responsibilities and demands on their time. After all, they are charged with doing science, writing papers and sharing science; with teaching and training students and next generation scientists; with service work that includes reviewing papers and grant proposals; and with generating new ideas, new avenues of discovery and obtaining funding to make the work happen.

None of that leaves a lot of time for public engagement and education about the big picture – why animal research is needed. In some cases, scientists believe that the job of public engagement and communication is one best left to others. Indeed, there are full-time organizations whose mission is entirely public outreach, education, and advocacy.  There are also full-time science communicators, public information officers, and others within our universities and research institutions whose job it is to engage with the public and share news about science.

Scientists themselves play a key role in communicating the science accurately and fully to the public. The SFN panel aims to provide scientists with tools for doing so and with information to carry back and facilitate efforts at their own institutions.

Want to do more?  Tweet, blog, and share!

If you’re planning to be at the SFN panel, please consider live-tweeting the session with hashtags #animalresearch #sfn17.  We will storify the tweets to provide a view for those who cannot attend (and to share with university and institutional communications offices).

Better yet, if you’d like to write a guest post summarizing the panel and your own take-away messages, please contact us or leave a comment below. We would love to provide space for SFN guest bloggers who would like to share why their research matters and why it depends on animal models.

Speaking of Research