Speaking of Research Year in Review 2019

January 1st 2020

It’s been a great year for Speaking of Research, with over 600,000 site visits and sustained engagement by our 5000+ avid social media followers and readers. As in previous years, we worked closely with media outlets and scientific and other advocacy organizations  to defend public interests in science, support scientists, encourage greater openness, and put pressure on government institutions. Our committee, comprised of volunteers in a diversity of areas and expertise, has also grown. To kick off 2020, we highlight key events and some of the unique work that our members have produced in 2019.

January: SR committee member, Allyson Bennett, and Psychology student, Alanna Brownell, provided contextual information on the US annual reports of animal numbers used in research. In this piece, they highlight why simplistic views of numbers of animals in research does little to serve public interests or public understanding of how science contributes to human and nonhuman animal health. From the perspective of an absolutist—one who believes any use of nonhuman animals by humans is wrong—the only annual animal number report that is acceptable is zero. But for those who recognize that the small fraction of animals used by humans for research and testing has potential benefits to humans and other animals, the question and assessment of use should be more nuanced than “how many?”

February: We commented on the duplicitous nature of the newly introduced congressional bill — Providing Responsible Emergency Plans for Animals at Risk of Emerging Disasters (PREPARED) Act. Our conclusion to all members of the U.S. Congress: Before wasting your – or your staffers’ time – in drafting and introducing duplicitous and unnecessarily burdensome legislation, consider contacting us or reading relevant pages on our website to learn the truth about laws that already exist regarding animal-based research and welfare.

March: Committee Member Amanda Dettmer highlighted the animal research behind the FDA’s approval of the nasal spray version of the drug ketamine for treatment-resistant depression (TRD).The new use for ketamine underscores the “long game” aspect of science – developments and discoveries can take decades, and can sometimes arise from basic research questions which lead to real world applications that improve the quality of life for millions of people. The science behind the application of this drug involved research using monkeys, cats, rodents and chickens!

April: Committee Member Jeremy Bailoo in light of #WorldImmunizationWeek wrote a series of posts which highlight facts pertaining to vaccine production, how safety and efficacy are assessed (part 1), the historical aspects that lead to the “anti-vaxxer” movement, why critical consideration of the facts pertaining to that movement is warranted (parts 2 and 3), and the longer term repercussions of not pushing back against such misinformation, as it affects public health and well-being at a global scale (part 4).

May: We highlighted how a push poll by an anti-animal research group shows even less respect for its supporters than the vital animal research that this group seeks to undermine. In this piece, we help our readers to quickly identify these kinds of polls, as well as provide some alternative questions that might be asked against this blatantly slanted campaign.

June: We covered the contentious topic of the retirement of monkeys used in research. Like our previous coverage on this topic with respect to chimpanzees, we demonstrated that this topic requires careful consideration of facts, and is not as simple as many news organizations would make this out to be. In fact, a primary reason that monkeys are not sent to sanctuaries is that many scientific studies depend upon analyzing tissues (e.g., brain, liver, cardiac and other systems) after the animals have been humanely euthanized. Other studies focus on aging and development, which necessitate studying older animals. In both cases, a critical part of the rationale and ethical justification for using nonhuman animals is that the information necessary to address the question and advance understanding of health cannot be obtained otherwise.Therefore, although there are some animals that are no longer needed in research following the end of a study, many others continue to be needed. To our knowledge, there is no current estimate of what that number may be.

Male rhesus macaque. Source: Kathy West.

July: We wrote about some of the contemporary legislative campaigns and tactics currently in play in the fight against animal research. Our conclusion: Legislative maneuverings to impede, hinder, and ultimately abolish all research involving nonhuman animals are not in the best interest of humans, other animals, the environment, and society writ large. They threaten sound public policy that can have serious ramifications for scientific advancement, medical progress, and public health. As an informed scientific citizen, the obligation of a research community member to respond to these challenges is not actually that daunting. You could: 1) Contact your university’s government relations office to inquire how they intend to respond to a bill that would seriously hinder vital research that is being conducted on your campus. 2) Write a thoughtful, fact-based message to your own Congressional representatives informing them about the importance of animal research in general and the relevance of the particular research or animal model under attack. 3) Contact your scientific societies or professional associations and ask them how they are responding to legislation and other efforts to impede scientific research. 4) Spread the word among colleagues, urging them to take similar actions.

August: Committee member, Juan Carlos Marvizon, wrote a post titled “What is sentience?”. If you have struggled to define this word and its implications for ethical and other considerations related to animal research, then you should read this post!

September: What a busy month! We covered the Golden Goose Awards and the Lasker Awards — two awards given to researchers who have changed the face of human health and which has benefited society — often involving animal research. In addition, we activated our Rapid Response Network — to voice our opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to reduce and eventually eliminate animal research and testing — which is a threat to human, animal, and environmental health. This initiative carried over into October and garnered over 800 signatories from the scientific community.

October: Another busy month. We submitted our letter to EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, calling for a reversal of his decision. The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three scientists for their valuable research using animals, and in some positive news, the National Institutes on Health (NIH) decided that 44 elderly and frail chimpanzees would not be forced to leave their social groups or partners to endure a stressful cross-country move, quarantine, and introduction to new housing at the federally-funded US chimpanzee sanctuary. We subsequently called upon Chimp Haven to provide the public with evidence and data to inform critical decisions about retired chimpanzee health and well-being.

November: Committee Member Justin Varholick wrote about ‘low vision’ which impacts more than 39 million Americans, costs $68 billion annually in direct health care costs, and is only growing in our population as baby boomers enter the at-risk age group of 65 and older. In this excellent piece, he highlights the timescales often involved from bench to bedside — and which involves animal research. In addition, we updated our post on the legislative efforts and campaigns targeting nonhuman animal research in the US earlier this year.

December: Committee member Chris Petkov tackled the question: “Is animal research worth the expense?” — something that those opposed to animal research would have you believe that it is not. In this post, we highlight some of the underhand tactics that these groups use, and means by which you can combat some of this misinformation. Chair of our fact checking panel, Dr. Petkov, has started a social media movement where if you suspect bias online or in news articles, tag them with #FactCheckNeeded or #AskScientists. This will encourage journalists to ensure that they ask scientists for comment and to fact check their sources.

We hope that 2020 continues to build on 2019’s successes. Until then, all of us at Speaking of Research wish you a Happy New Year!

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