Speaking of Research Year in Review 2018

It’s been a great year for Speaking of Research. Visits to the website rose 6% to break new records in 2018, with more new content added than in any previous year. It is not just web traffic which saw an increase, our media work also increased in 2018, as we worked closely with outlets including USA Today, Science, the Washington Post, Undark and more. Our social media has also had tremendous success with sustained engagement by our 5000+ avid followers and readers monthly! This has all helped increase SR’s influence as we worked to defend public interests in science, support scientists, encourage greater openness, and put pressure on large government institutions. We also celebrated our ten year anniversary this year! To kick off 2019, we highlight key events and some of our hard work from 2018.

January:  SR questioned the manner in which the FDA reviews and terminates primate study on nicotine use and abuse.

  • Image: André Ueberbach

    The year held new challenges, though some of the old challenges of 2017 still lingered. In January, we continued our coverage of the FDA’s decision to terminate important research on nicotine addiction in NHPs, including their lack of transparency, oversight and decision-making processes concerning this issue. Later in the month, the FDA officially announced the termination of this study, an issue which we also covered. Perhaps, in the bitterest of ironies, later on in 2018, the FDA finally acknowledged the unprecedented use and abuse of nicotine products by underage children–in particular e-cigarettes. While this is a promising step, the FDA’s mandate aims to circumvent the major issue–there is much we do not know about new trends in nicotine consumption, particularly with respect to child development. As we at SR have highlighted previously, animal research into nicotine addiction, because of e-cigarettes and the host of unknown chemicals that co-occur with their consumption, remains imperative–more than 2 million middle and high schoolers used e-cigarette products in 2017.

February: SR (past and present members) joined the BDS in their yearly conference, calling for greater transparency and openness in animal research.

  • Past SR member Dario Ringach posed a question that he believed all those involved in animal research must be able to answer: “Why is it ok to harm animals to advance science and medicine?”; Kirk Leech of EARA, but also a member of SR, spoke about new tactics of animal rights groups, including their sustained campaign against airlines which transport animals for research; SR founder, Tom Holder, spoke about how individual institutions could benefit from engaging in greater openness and transparency; and SR members, Paula Clifford (also of AMP) and Allyson Bennett, lead a workshop on openness and transparency in animal research.

March: We questioned claims that an animal rights organization is using unique new strategies to campaign against animal research.

  • In this post we debunked this statement and highlighted issues with the statements made by such groups, including the conscious omitting of critical facts, focusing almost entirely on large animal studies, making statements that glaringly conflict with one another, making misleading statements, taking advantage of limited public understanding, and overstating the capacity of alternatives.

April: We called for increased openness in animal research and launched our Rapid Response Network!

  • Our open letter called for greater openness in animal research, reminding Americans that animal studies remain necessary to develop scientific knowledge to combat disease and improve health. Later published in USA today, and with over 600 signatories — this letter as well as our signees, highlight the commitment of those involved in animal research to speaking out in defense of animal research in an open and transparent manner. Our Rapid Response Network was launched to fill a critical gap in advocacy–one where all of those involved in animal research have a voice in tackling misinformation about animal research, can defend fellow scientists conducting animal research, and most importantly, have a support network which responds rapidly to these issues.

May: SR provided an example of the timescales involved from Bench to bedside, highlighting the four decades it took for the Ebola vaccine to come to fruition.

  • Many people will remember the outbreak in 2014 that led to more than 10,000 deaths in West Africa. In efforts to curb a new outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a vaccination campaign. So far, they have sent 4,000 doses of the vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV, with another 4,000 doses soon to follow. But how did we get this vaccine? Animal research of course. If you missed this post–click the hyperlink above to find out more!

June and July: SR stood up for Max Planck neuroscientist, Nikos Logothetis.

  • In 2014 an animal rights activist infiltrated the institute and filmed over 100 hours of the daily life of nonhuman primates within a period of approximately 6 months. An edited selection of less than 20 minutes of that footage was then aired on German television, to show out-of-context, selected scenes, such as those showing the behavior of an animal with a rare brain injury following surgery. Because of a lack of support from the Max Planck Society (MPS), Professor Logothetis stopped using non-human primates in his vital research. We later penned an open letter, asking scientists to stand beside their fellow scientist and colleague. A number of scientific organizations, in response, posted their own public letters of concern to Max Planck Society (MPS) (here, and here). MPS later responded with this letter, followed by a rebuttal letter from Professor Logothetis. Professor Logothetis, in December of 2018, was finally cleared of all charges.

August: SR asked the public for their opinion on:  when does free-speech cross the line?

  • This post was prompted by an animal rights organizations’ advertising campaign targeting America’s seven National Primate Research Centers. What did our readers have to say? Click the hyperlink to find out.

September: The 2018 Lasker awards were announced, and SR covered the vital role that animal research played in the American version of the Nobel prize.

  • Ever wonder how proteins, perhaps one of the most vital molecules in the human body, are created?And how many of you have ever undergone surgery with anesthesia? So you know anyone with an inherited developmental disorder? If the answer to any one of these questions is yes, you should click the hyperlink above to find out how animal research has played an important role in all of these discoveries that are common in our day to day lives.

October: Another year, another Nobel prize — SR covered the Nobel prize awardees for Physiology and Medicine, awarded to two recipients for their vital animal research into cancer immunotherapy.

  • You’ve probably heard about surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy to treat cancer. How about using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells? Intrigued? Click the link above to read more.

November: SR highlighted why animal use numbers don’t tell us the whole story surrounding the important use of non-human primates for research.

  • The use of primates for research is an emotionally laden topic, polarizing groups of people. This is why we believe that any news surrounding their use should include all of the facts. What happens when prestigious magazines, such as Science, do not present all of the facts? Well, for one, it selectively weights the debate in one direction, creating bias, and potentially a misinformed public. In this piece SR tackled this issue head on.

December: SR covered the breaking news that allegations against Max Planck Scientist, Nikos Logothetis, were dismissed by a German court.

  • While we covered some of this in our June and July update, we believe that it is important to highlight the end result here. Why? Because much more work remains to be done to undo the serious damage done to Dr. Logothetis. Independently of the court’s actions, and in response to an animal rights video, the Max Planck Society removed Dr. Logothetis’ authorization to conduct animal research. Some four years later, the damage is massive. We hope that this court decision and calls from the scientific community will motivate the Max Planck Society to finally restore the authority of Dr. Logothetis to perform research on monkeys and to try to undo the damage they have caused to his reputation.

We hope that 2019 continues to build on 2018’s successes. Until then, all of us at Speaking of Research wish you a Happy New Year!

Speaking of Research