Category Archives: SR in the Media

Open Letter to the Australian Senate regarding a proposed bill to ban the import of primates

The following letter has been sent to the Committee Secretary of the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications regarding the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Prohibition of Live Imports of Primates for Research) Bill 2015. This proposed bill would ban the Australian research community from importing primates for use in biomedical research. The following is a segment of the proposed amendment:

Australian Bill

We encourage the scientific community to leave comments of support for our letter in the comment section below.

Dear Committee Secretary,

Nonhuman primate research has played an important role in many medical breakthroughs, from the polio vaccine to the development of life support systems for premature babies.

Studies with nonhuman primates are a small fraction of basic, behavioural, and biomedical research; however, they are critical to scientific research that seeks to address health issues of grave concern to the public. Nonhuman primate research includes studies relevant to understanding, preventing, and treating a range of diseases including, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, anaemia and a multitude of mental health conditions.

Thanks to research on primates:

  • Polio has been eradicated from Australia, saving tens of thousands of children from crippling disability
  • Thousands of Australians have had Deep Brain Stimulation to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s
  • Over 20,000 HIV positive Australians can live a relatively normal life thanks to the development of antiretrovirals
  • Australian children can be vaccinated against Hepatitis B, diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella

Measures to constrain nonhuman primate research in Australia puts future medical breakthroughs in jeopardy.

Australian law already bans the use of wild caught nonhuman primates for research (as does the EU). Such laws should continue to be actively enforced to uphold animal welfare standards, but importantly, should not be expanded to prevent important nonhuman primate research being conducted.

Preventing researchers from importing nonhuman primates could prevent scientists from responding to public health issues or new areas of biomedical research in Australia and beyond. The domestic supply of nonhuman primates may be able to provide for most of the needs of the scientific community, but also risks constraining it. Any future Australian research would be limited to species of monkeys currently bred in Australia’s three breeding colonies, effectively restricting the animal models available to the biomedical community.

Research conducted with nonhuman primates is strictly regulated. All research must be approved by Animal Ethics Committees, who apply the 3 Rs framework to ensure that animal studies are Replaced wherever there is a non-animal alternative, Refined to ensure animal suffering is minimised, and Reduced to ensure that as few animals are used as is necessary to produce scientifically viable results. Animal welfare remains a high priority for the scientific community – with animal care personnel and veterinary staff providing round-the-clock care for their wards.

Yours faithfully,

Speaking of Research

Inês Albuquerque
Jeremy Bailoo, Ph.D
Prof Mark G Baxter
Prof Allyson Bennett
Paul Browne, Ph.D
James Champion
Paula Clifford
Amanda M. Dettmer, Ph.D
Prof Doris Doudet
Jazzminn Hembree RLATG
Tom Holder
Prof J. David Jentsch
Juan Carlos Marvizon, Ph.D
Kimberley Phillips Ph.D
Prof Dario Ringach
Simon R Schultz, DPhil

A successful year for Speaking of Research in the media

2015 was another successful year for Speaking of Research in the media.

In February, Speaking of Research Director, Tom Holder, was invited to speak to BBC Look East (from 1:36 in video below) about the construction of a new medical research facility in Cambridge, UK. In the interview, Holder reminded viewers that “animal research plays a small but vital role in the development of nearly all of the medical and veterinary treatments that we know today“.

In March, as the UK parliamentary elections loomed, we  found that many election candidates had signed animal rights pledges which would effectively ban 88.6% of research – including all basic research. SR was quoted by BuzzFeed saying  that banning basic research was “akin to asking a child to solve a difficult crossword without first teaching them to read” and in in-Pharma Technologist saying that “the reality is that without the fundamental research and the breeding of GM animals, the Applied research could not happen“.

This story was picked up again in April by a Wall Street Journal blog, which further noted the dangers of banning basic research. Among a number of quotes by SR, we noted that “All veterinary research would end. And it would cripple our ability to make advances in cancer, heart disease and many other conditions, all of which rely on studies on genetically modified animals”.

June marked the first of many stories in 2015 where Speaking of Research weighed in on the building of a new and improved beagle breeding facility in Hull, UK. There has been an ongoing battle over planning permission for the extended facility. SR mentioned the potential medical benefits in an interview (from 1:40 below) with ITV, saying, “There are thousands and thousands of medical breakthroughs which have come about, in part, because of studies using animals, and hopefully we will be able to develop the next generation of cancer treatments, and the next generation of heart treatments“.

In July, Speaking of Research put out their first press release, to cover the publication of the 2014 US animal research statistics. The release was picked up by Science, a better result that if the story had only been sent out from the animal rights lobby in America. Later in the month the beagle breeding facility story was again picked up in Inquisitr and Huffington Post with SR quotes; Holder told HuffPost, “Dogs have played a crucial role in medical advances including the development of ECG, insulin, heart transplant surgery and treatments for prostate cancer. They continue to be used for research into stem cell treatments and spinal injury, as well as to ensure the safety of new medicines and treatments“.

The HuffPost story also led to a blog on Huffpost entitled “Why people are wrong to oppose the new beagle breeding facility” by Tom Holder. The article was shared over 650 times, and garnered well over 4,000 Facebook likes. July also resulted in two radio interviews. Firstly, Holder spoke to Radio Spintalk Ireland about the general subject of animal research – covering common misconceptions, the regulations in Ireland, and the possible effects of banning animal studies. You can listen to this below.

Secondly, Speaking of Research spoke to BBC Radio West Midlands after an investigation looked at the number of animals being used in research in several British universities.

Laboratory Dogs

“Animal research may not be something we want to think about when we take our medicines – but it is something necessary for those medicines to exist. Instead of trying to ban animal research, let’s instead make sure that if we do it, we do it to world-class standards.”, writes Tom Holder in Huffington Post


October gave Speaking of Research the chance to say something about the animal rights group PETA. US News, the Daily Mail and New Zealand Herald all picked up on an article by AP about AP’s 35th birthday. Speaking of Research were quoted saying:

“By campaigning against animal research, PETA presents a threat to the development of human and veterinary medicine. Only days ago we saw the Nobel Prize awarded to Tu Youyou, whose work in monkeys and mice paved the way for the use of artemisinin to protect against malaria, saving over 100,000 lives every year. If PETA had got their way 30 years ago, we would not have vaccines for HPV, hepatitis B or meningitis, nor would we have treatments for leprosy, modern asthma treatments and life support for premature babies,”

In November Science Insider discussed PETA’s targeting of the NIH director’s home in a bid to fight primate research in the US. Tom Holder described the tactic of sending out letters with personal details of a researcher as “irresponsible and dangerous”

Finally, in December, Science Insider followed the story after the NIH decided not to continue to the primate research of Dr Suomi. Speaking of Research commented on this, saying that the NIH needed to become more vocal in explaining research. We have also been writing about this on the website.

We hope to have another successful year in 2016. Until then have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Speaking of Research

Help us to support the research community

The Speaking of Research committee spend hours every week supporting the research community by helping with outreach efforts, debunking common myths, networking key people, talking to the public and media, and much, much more.

Since October 2014, we have:

  • Written 97 articles for the website (and added many more permanent pages)
  • Been quoted at least 20 times in newspapers and news websites
  • Spoken and debated on radio four times
  • Spoken on Television News twiceBBC News and ITV News
  • Written one article for Huffington Post, which gained over 4,200 likes
  • Sent out one Press Release that was picked up by Science
  • Presented a poster at AALAS

While our committee does not ask for any money for their efforts, our web hosts do. In 2014/15 we spent around $150/yr on website related costs (and some more on our AALAS poster); this was provided by numerous small donations made by our supporters.

We are now asking for small individual contributions (up to $15/€10) so we can continue to grow in 2015/16. Any money we receive, above what is needed for the website costs, will go towards other online activities such as promoting posts on various social media platforms in order to boost our readership. Click the Donate button below. 

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Some people have had problems making donations by debit/credit card. If you find changing the country from UK does not change the British “provinces” (to, say, US “states”), try picking a random country first, wait for it to change the menu options, then change to your chosen country (and wait a few seconds). This should work.

Donate today

Speaking of Research supported the Pro-Test for Science rallies in 2010. Now we need your help. Donate today. (click for original image)

We have also made a new page showing all the great work our committee have done in the media. The “SR in the Media” (under About) will be kept up to date with examples of Speaking of Research being quoted in newspapers, news websites, and when we appear on TV or radio. The page includes YouTube videos of our appearances, and radio shows can be listened too straight from our website. See the example below:

Many, many thanks for your ongoing support – we could not do it without you!

Speaking of Research

Why People Are Wrong to Oppose the New UK Beagle Breeding Facility

This post was originally posted on Huffington Post UK’s website. It is reprinted with permission from both the author and the Huffington Post. The original hyperlinks which were stripped out of the HP article have been returned.

Where do medicines come from?

It’s not a question most of us bother with when we take advantage of the huge array of medical treatments available to us.

All modern medicine is built on the ‘basic research’ which allows us to understand our physiology, and the diseases we suffer. Much of this research has been done, and continues to be done, in animals. Had Mering and Minkowski not shown the causal link between the pancreas and diabetes in dogs, we might never have discovered insulin (much more work was conducted in dogs by Banting and Best who later won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of insulin). Had Pasteur not shown how dogs could be vaccinated using weakened samples of the virus (made from rabbits), we would not have both the veterinary and human rabies vaccines.

Animals are also used to develop and refine medical techniques. Dogs played a key role in perfecting artery to vein blood transfusions, as well as showing that citrated blood could be safely transplanted (thus preventing the blood from clotting). More recently, 23 pet dogs with paralysing spinal injuries were able to regain some use of their rear legs thanks to a novel stem cell transplant treatment. This research had originally been done in rats, and last year was used to successfully treat a paralysed man in what could prove to be one of the biggest medical advances of the decade.

By law, animals must also be used to test the toxicity and safety of new drug compounds before they can be given to human volunteers. A pharmaceutical company will have used the findings of basic research studies to identify types of drugs which might be effective against certain diseases. They will then use a variety of non-animal tests – computer modelling, cell cultures and more – to identify the most promising drug candidates. Those compounds will then be tested in animals. If they are deemed safe enough, they may then be moved forward to human trials. It is testament to the effectiveness of animal safety tests that nobody has died in Phase I clinical trials in the UK for over 30 years (with only one badly conducted clinical trial causing severe harm in recent times).

Given public misconceptions on the issue, it is worth being clear and saying that in the UK, and across the rest of the EU, it is illegal to use animals to test cosmetic products or their ingredients. The UK ban came into force in 1998, one year after a ban on tobacco research using animals. The Government has also announced a ban on using animals for testing household products.

Graph - Milestones in Animal Research

So what about dogs?

Laboratory DogsDespite the examples used in this article, dogs are not used that much in research in the UK. They account for less than 0.1% of all animals used in the UK each year. This compares to the 98% of procedures which are conducted on mice, rats, fish or birds. In 2013 there were 3,554 dogs used in 4,779 procedures (down 30% from a decade ago). Due to special protections that exist for dogs, cats, primates and horses, researchers must justify to the Home Office why another species, such as a mouse, fish or sheep, cannot be used instead of a dog. The research must be approved by an ethical review board, who will work to ensure the implementation of the 3Rs (Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research). The researcher, the institution and the individual procedure must each be licensed by the Home Office. The video below, produced by Understanding Animal Research, shows dogs in a typical pharmaceutical laboratory in the UK.

So why a breeding facility?

Currently, around 20% of the dogs used in research in the UK are imported from abroad (those involved in 956 of the 4,779 procedures in 2013). This is because the UK breeding facilities cannot provide all the dogs used in the UK. These dogs have to endure long and potentially stressful flights from other countries. Surely it is better to breed them here in the UK, where we have some of the highest standards of laboratory animal welfare in the world and where our facilities can be easily monitored by the Animals in Science Regulation Unit inspectors? The new breeding facility offers animal welfare standards above and beyond those demanded by the Government. Dogs will be kept in socially housed groups in multi-level pens which can be joined together to create larger runs for the animals. All the animals will have toys and enrichment in their enclosures, and will interact with trained laboratory technicians every day. It is this sort of investment in animal welfare we, as an animal-loving nation, should embrace.

Petitioning the Government to reverse their decision on approving the beagle facility in Hull is misguided. It will not reverse our need to use animals in research, or even change the number of dogs used in the UK. What it will do is force another generation of puppies to take long flights from other countries, having been bred in older breeding facilities away from the UK inspectorate.

Animal research may not be something we want to think about when we take our medicines – but it is something necessary for those medicines to exist. Instead of trying to ban animal research, let’s instead make sure that if we do it, we do it to world-class standards.

Tom Holder

Director of Speaking of Research

Five Star review for Speaking of Research website

A few months after the Speaking of Research website got full marks in a recent review we’ve done it again. In Lab Animal Europe‘s Website of the Month, Speaking of Research got an overall score of five out of five and was considered ‘Excellent’ for Ease of Use, Content and Visual Impact.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

It concludes:

All, in all, this is an excellent and informative website. […] We highly recommend it.

A big thanks to Lab Animal Europe for the review and we’ll keep trying to add “more information, more updated news, and, actually, more of everything we loved about this website“.

Speaking of Research

Top marks for Speaking of Research website

The industry magazine Lab Animal occasionally reviews websites applicable to it’s readers. Earlier this year, they reviewed the Speaking of Research website. The article does a good job of relaying the history behind how Speaking of Research began and some background on the people involved. They also note that SR does a lot of reporting on situations with animal extremists in Europe and North America.

The reviewer goes through each section of the website giving their readership the basic idea behind each of the sections and points out a few of the more interesting items beyond just news items, including games, quizzes and an article on Gorgon aliens.

In reviewing our “AR Undone” section (now called “Animal Rights Pseudoscience”), which responds to 19 common myths used by animal rights groups, the reviewer described SR’s responses as “authoritative, heavily references and, in some cases, linked to other websites and documents.”

“This is an excellent, informative site … It’s a must read for any animal researcher.”

The Speaking of Research website is then graded on content, appearance and usability, receiving the maximum of five out of five paws in each category.

Speaking of Research website rating

Read the full article

We are very pleased to have received such high marks from Lab Animal and truly appreciate the review.


Big Questions, but few answers from opponents of animal research

A recent edition of the BBC1 Program called “The Big Questions” offered a brief debate on animal research. Among those discussing the issues was SR’s founder, Tom Holder. Within this post we will discuss some of the many issues which were touched upon, but barely explored in this brief debate.

Some of the questions centered on moral issues, other on scientific ones. At the beginning of the discussion Prof. John Stein of Oxford University explained his use of monkeys in studying Parkinson’s disease, after which he was asked if he would experiment on great apes.  He replied he would not, unless there was some extreme circumstance that required them.

Where would you draw the line?” — countered the host.

Let us pause for a second here. This is an important question that is worth asking. But first let us consider – and reject all the theories that do not involve drawing any lines at all.  What theories are these?

One is the Cartesian view, which posits animals do not truly suffer, do not really have emotions, and do not really have interests of their own. Consequently, the Cartesian view is that humans can use animals as we please. We do not know any living scientist or philosopher that would seriously defend this view.

The other theory that does not draw any lines is the animal rights view, in which all living beings have the same basic rights to freedom and life as a normal human. Although most members of the public reject this view as making no sense at all, nobody in the panel cared to explain, nor did the host bother to ask, what justifies this stance.

What Prof. Stein articulated as a justification was a version of something called the sliding scale model.  Here, the moral weight of a living being’s interests depends on the individual’s degree of cognitive, affective and social complexity. Where we draw the line for different types of experiments in animals is a valid and important question, but we can only ask it that if we all agree with the notion of graded moral status.

Opponents of research reject such a theory.  Alistair Currie, from PeTA, stated:

Suffering is suffering.  We have a moral obligation not to impose it on anybody.”

We generally agree that unnecessary suffering should not be imposed on other living beings, and as Prof. Stein stressed, scientists work hard to ensure that suffering is eliminated or reduced to an absolute minimum in laboratory animals. We do not think there are absolute moral principles.  Even “thou shall not kill” permits exceptions, such as in the case of self defense. Another example is the infliction of harm to other human beings that was, for most of us, morally justified and necessary when it came to liberating the concentration camps in Nazi Germany.

If we truly had an absolute moral obligation to never impose suffering on anybody, as PeTA representative Currie suggests, liberating concentrations camps would be morally wrong. We might accept such a declaration from someone who is a declared pacifist, but we have plenty of evidence to suggest that PeTA is a far from being such an organization.  PeTA remains morally confused.

Invariably, when opponents of animal research fail to make an ethical case for their position, they attack the science. In this case, it was Kailah Eglington, representing the Dr Hadwen Trust, who was in charge of this strategy.

“Scientifically looking at the facts, the animal model is flawed.” — she declared without even blinking.

Wait a second. Where was she when Prof. Stein explained how he found an area of the brain that when inactivated could relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s? How does she explain his success?  Or does she deny the benefits of the work?

Ms. Eglington also suggested that Prof. Stein could have used non-invasive methods in humans, such as MEG, suggesting the same information could be obtained by this techniques. As Prof. Stein pointed out in his response this is flatly wrong. Prof. Stein not only uses a range of such techniques, including MEG and fMRI alongside his studies in macaques, but with his colleagues at Oxford University pioneered the use of MEG as a research method in patients undergoing deep brain stimulation. However, none of the non-invasive methods can yield the same data that one obtains using micro-electrode recordings from the brain, as we discussed in an earlier post on the limitations of fMRI.

A quick visit to the Dr. Hawden Trust web-site reveals that they state with absolute certainty that:

Alternatives to animal experimentation are available in virtually every field of medical research.”

Wow…   Let’s be clear: this is complete utter nonsense that deserves to be filed here. Should we be surprised at the lack of sensible science by someone who, on the side, founded an organization which claims that “the power of positive thinking” can treat physically debilitating conditions.

Kailah Eglington furthered her pseudo-scientific nonsense by claiming that: “9 out of 10 drugs that are tested on animals successfully fail in humans“. The problem here is the mistaken blame on the animal model – these same drugs have already passed pre-clinical non-animal tests such as cell cultures and computer models; moreover, about 90% of drugs fail at every stage of development – meaning that 90% of those that pass early clinical trials in humans still fail to make it to market – this is not something we can blame the animal model for. We have previously written a full and clear rebuttal of the 90% claim – however it continues to be used by the animal rights community.

Such examples go to show a common problem for advocates of science – that it takes a lot longer to debunk junk science, than it does to make it up. While Tom Holder and Prof. Stein argued science’s case very well the debate highlighted some of the limitations of this format, though perhaps this is all we can expect from a format that tries to address Big Questions in 15 min of television programming.  It seems the goal here is more to get opposing sides to have a screaming contest rather than to provide an opportunity for thoughtful exploration of the questions at hand.

Speaking of Research