Unveiled: The Moveable Middle on Animal Research Is Larger Than We Thought

June 16, 2021

This guest post was written by Matthew R. Bailey, president; Eva Maciejewski, director of communications; and Leah Jessen, digital communication manager, Foundation for Biomedical Research

The research community has a prime opportunity to educate the so-called moveable middle with facts about why animal research is necessary for medical advancements, polling data show.

Forty-seven percent of registered voters polled in 2021 said scientific research to develop lifesaving medicines for people and pets is “morally acceptable,” while 18% said it is “morally wrong.”

But the 34% who are unsure about their views of animal research is untapped territory. In fact, we discovered how large this group is after commissioning a poll* on animal research in March.

We quickly observed the moveable middle is approximately 30 percentage points higher than what Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs poll showed in 2020. That is not the only discrepancy we found between Gallup’s and FBR’s polls. Thirty-nine percent of Gallup respondents said medical testing with animals is morally wrong compared to 18% of respondents in the foundation’s poll.  

This suggests fewer Americans believe animal research is morally wrong than reported in Gallup’s poll and a far greater percentage of Americans are undecided about the moral acceptability of animal research.

Image source FBR. Gallup asked: Regardless of whether or not you think it should be legal, please tell me whether you personally believe that, in general, medical testing on animals is morally acceptable or morally wrong? FBR asked: Please indicate whether you personally believe the humane use of animals in scientific research to develop lifesaving medicines for people and pets is morally acceptable or morally wrong.

The questions were structurally similar in both polls. But unlike Gallup, FBR provided much-needed contextual information about the use of animals in medical research.

Gallup asked: “Regardless of whether or not you think it should be legal… please tell me whether you personally believe that in general [medical testing on animals] is morally acceptable or morally wrong.[1]We asked: “Please indicate whether you personally believe the humane use of animals in scientific research to develop lifesaving medicines for people and pets is morally acceptable or morally wrong.[2]

In contrast with Gallup’s reference to “medical testing on animals,” we referred to “the use of animals in scientific research to develop lifesaving medicines for people and pets” to characterize the use of animals in medical research and to demonstrate its benefits. We also used the qualifier “humane” to underscore the strict regulations that permit the use of animals in biomedical research.       

If you want a thoughtful response, ask a thought-provoking question.

Context is key. This is where the research community has work to do.

FBR staff tracked more than 3,000 news articles and press releases highlighting the importance of animal research during the pandemic. For example, scientists tested therapies and vaccines for COVID-19 with laboratory animals such as mice and monkeys.

Humane and ethical animal research helped move the world forward with safe and effective coronavirus treatments. The number of news outlets covering medical research with animals considering the coronavirus pandemic is by far the most acknowledgement from legacy press we have ever seen in this field.

Although Americans appear to remain divided over moral acceptability of animal research and testing, FBR’s latest polls indicate they are more likely to support it when informed about the role of animal models in the development of medical treatments and vaccines.

The next question in our poll offers evidence of the interaction between context-setting and moral acceptance of animal research. We asked: “If there is no other effective way to do the research and there is no unnecessary suffering for the animals, please indicate whether you personally believe the humane use of animals in scientific research to develop lifesaving medicines for people and pets is morally acceptable or morally wrong.[3]

Fifty-seven percent of participants said they consider animal research morally acceptable, compared to 47% of participants in the first question. By prefacing the question by stating animal research is contingent upon there being no effective alternatives and the animals incurring no unnecessary suffering, moral acceptability rose by 10 percentage points.

Moreover, opposition appears to decline significantly when influential leaders publicly support animal research. Sixty-four percent of participants in FBR’s October 2020 poll indicated support for animal research knowing that National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci made public remarks about the importance of animal models for the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

Image source FBR. Q. At a recent White House briefing on efforts to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that animal research plays an important role in helping us understand whether or not a coronavirus vaccine will be effective and safe to use. Would you say you support or oppose the humane use of animals in biomedical research, education, and testing in cases where that research supports the development of a vaccine and treatments for the coronavirus?

Public education about the essential role of laboratory animals in medical research promises to make a difference for the larger-than-expected group of individuals on the fence and to motivate a part of this group of undecided individuals to support animal research.

Armed with facts, the research community can and should persuade the moveable middle.

Animal research opponents simply point fingers at scientists who conduct animal research, while the research community has a more complicated story to tell. But those explanations are necessary, and it is up to all of us to do our part to provide context to the public.

We want the public to know what you already know: that thanks to animal research, Americans and their furry family members are living healthier and longer lives than ever.

*Echelon Insights conducted the foundation’s poll with 1,008 registered voters between March 15-21. Find more poll details here: https://fbresearch.org/polls-2021/.


[1] https://news.gallup.com/poll/1681/moral-issues.aspx

[2] https://fbresearch.org/polls-2021/

[3] https://fbresearch.org/polls-2021/

One thought on “Unveiled: The Moveable Middle on Animal Research Is Larger Than We Thought

  1. Great article. Thanks to the authors for their analysis. As scientists, we like facts, figures, and evidences. Here, we have many to ague about more openness. The authors start the article with the statement ‘The research community has a prime opportunity to educate the so-called moveable middle…’. Based on the demonstration, is it only an opportunity? As a member of the research ommunity, I’d argue that this is OUR RESPONSIBILITY.

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