Category Archives: SR News

We need your help getting our message out!

Speaking of Research need your help. We want to raise $200 this year to help us pay our website costs, with a little left over for promotional activities (printing leaflets, briefings and the occasional poster, as well as online promotional work).

Donating up to €10/£10/$15 is a huge help to our efforts in explaining the important role of animals in medical and veterinary research.

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To date we’ve:

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.

Poster AALAS Speaking of Research

We are 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.

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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.

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

Speaking of Research

Dr. Dettmer Goes to Washington

Part 1 of a 4-part series in which a scientific researcher, Dr Amanda Dettmer, describes her entry into the world of legislation and public advocacy. It is important that the scientific community, and the scientists themselves, engage with science policy – policy makers are regularly courted by animal rights groups, and it is important that they also hear the voice of scientists.

On March 17, 2016, I attended Capitol Hill Day as a Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Early Career Policy Ambassador. I applied for this program because I wanted to learn more about the ins and outs of science policy: how it is enacted, who informs it, and how everyday citizens (scientist and non-scientist alike) can contribute to it. These issues can have a huge impact on science; I know this because funding issues have led to a decision to slowly close the animal facility where I work at the National Institutes of Health. Consequently, I wanted to know more about the particular steps in the science legislation process. According to SfN:

SfN Capitol Hill Day is the hallmark advocacy event of the year. SfN members from across the country convene on Capitol Hill to meet with their congressional representatives to discuss advances in the field of neuroscience, share the economic and public health benefits of investment in biomedical research, and make the case for strong national investment in scientific research through NIH and NSF.

Hill Day actually began the day before, when all SfN members who came to attend SfN Hill Day (either as citizens or as Policy Ambassadors) underwent a training session to discuss the Hill Day process, practice “elevator pitches” to give to legislators, and discuss strategies for particular types of scenarios that might occur. At the training we were divided into our Hill Day groups (there were 12) and given our meeting schedules for the next day. Each group was headed by a SfN staffer with prior experience at Hill Day.

The 2016 Class of Society for Neuroscience Early Career Policy Ambassadors

The 2016 Class of Society for Neuroscience Early Career Policy Ambassadors

My group consisted of our SfN staff leader and five scientists: a postbaccalaureate research fellow, one doctoral student, two postdoctoral fellows (including myself), and a PI from a research institution in Mexico (even abroad, scientists know the impact of sustained funding for NIH and NSF!). Together, we represented West Virginia and Maryland – four lived and/or worked in Maryland, and the other in West Virginia. The morning of Hill Day, all SfN Hill Day participants met for breakfast and for last-minute preparations before beginning meetings with legislators.

I learned something in the morning about the geographical landscape of Washington, D.C., too – the buildings on either side of the Capitol house the offices of the more than 500 legislators who serve in Congress. Every single Representative and Senator has his or her own office, with a plaque on the wall next to the door displaying the state they represent, and typically the U.S. and state flags on either side of the door. Some choose to add a little personal flair, like the Representative from Arizona who stated that his office was dog-friendly and had a sign alerting visitors that there was a dog in the office! So, our meetings were in three different buildings throughout the day, depending on if we were meeting with Representatives (buildings on one side of the Capitol) or Senators (buildings on the other side of the Capitol). There was a lot of walking…if you plan to attend a Hill Day in the future, be sure to wear comfortable shoes!

Rep. David Schweikert’s (R-AZ) dog-friendly office on Capitol Hill

Rep. David Schweikert’s (R-AZ) dog-friendly office on Capitol Hill

In all cases, we met with the staff of each legislator, who was him- or her-self out of office. I learned that this is not uncommon, especially on days like ours when a last-minute vote was called so all Representatives had to go to Capitol Hill. Our first meeting was with a staffer in Rep. Chris VanHollen’s (D-MD) office. She was very interested (and was informed about) the closure of the NIH Poolesville facility, and I took the opportunity to underscore the need for consistent funding for humane, ethical animal research, and to emphasize the importance of animal models in scientific advances. I also emphasized the impact that the facility closure has on early career scientists and students – really, the next generation of science – who must now re-evaluate their career plans. It was a rare opportunity to tell a legislator exactly how funding decisions impact the present and future state of science.

Our next meetings were with Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), and Rep. John Delaney (D-MD). In every meeting, we followed a fairly standard pattern of presentation, given that the legislators’ offices had such tight schedules. Our SfN leader, Sylvie Raver, would introduce herself and briefly give her science background, then the five of us would do the same. We would be sure to identify which of us was the constituent for that particular Congressperson, and you could see the staffer immediately hone in on that person or people. As a group, we’d thank the legislators for their past support for scientific funding (Maryland is very “friendly” to scientists, especially since NIH resides there, and the senators and representatives we met from West Virginia were also – but other states are less so and it becomes quickly apparent how advocating to your legislator in person can be very effective). We’d then recommend that they join the NIH Caucus or the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus, and ask that they advocate and vote for $34.5 billion for NIH and $8 billion for NSF in fiscal year 2017, as well as to continue to support the BRAIN Initiative at current and future recommended funding levels. With each legislator, we determined the best points in the conversation to discuss the value of humane, ethical animal research studies. Finally, constituents would invite the Congressperson for a lab tour, and we would answer any questions and offer ourselves as science resources before ending the meeting.

Me outside the office of my Representative, John Delaney (D-MD)

Me outside the office of my Representative, John Delaney (D-MD)

Altogether, the experience was extremely enlightening, and really fun. It was energizing to be a part of the process and to advocate for science in a way I’ve never done before, in a way that feels like it might actually make a difference. And the best part is – you can meet with your Representatives in your own district; you don’t have to make a special trip to Washington D.C. I challenge every scientist to schedule at least one meeting in the next year with their Representative to advocate for science funding, and particularly, for the need for animal models in science. You’ll find that you’ll be well-received, you’ll have fun, and you’ll be more engaged than ever before. In most cases, it will be the start of a relationship with your legislator – you can contact them again with updates in your field, give them data to help guide their decisions, and serve as a resource for them for future votes.

Following Hill Day, I will be conducting three outreach activities as part of my Early Career Policy Ambassadorship. I’ll be interviewing my Representative, John Delaney (D-MD), to learn the steps legislators take to devise, draft, and pass pro-science policy. I’ll also interview a science policy advocacy group, the National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR), to learn how they become involved in – and inform – the science legislation process. Finally, I’ll culminate my year with a poster at the annual SfN meeting that disseminates this information and specifically informs the public – including scientists – how they can become effectively involved in the process.

All of these activities will be blogged as well – stay tuned for parts two, three, and four!

Things I Learned

  • There is not just one Hill Day. Organizations from all over the country schedule meetings in advance with their legislators to occur on one day. I saw members from the Sierra Club in the hallways during our Hill Day. Others might have their Hill Day later in March or in April.
  • Legislators (and/or their staff) really do want to hear from constituents – they do not see it as a waste of time. Because constituents are voters, they take meetings with them seriously.
  • There are Congressional and House caucuses specifically related to science that you can – and should! – ask your legislator to join. There is the NIH Caucus for both Representatives and Senators, and the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus for Representatives only. The Senate caucuses are informal – meaning they do not receive official recognition or funding from their chamber (the Senate). Congressional caucuses are formal member organizations within the U.S. House of Representatives. A complete list of congressional caucuses can be found here.

Dr Amanda M. Dettmer

The views and opinions here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the NIH.

Over 200 institutions publish online animal research position statements

It’s a good start but there’s plenty more still to be done, and it is being done. Yesterday the University of Edinburgh launched their excellent new animal research resource, too late to be included on our list this time around, but definitely worthy of full marks!

Over 200 research institutions now have clear policy statements or public facing web pages to explain the institution’s position on animal research according to Speaking of Research. In 2015, Speaking of Research began logging the policy statements of research institutions in Europe, North America and Australia.


These web statements have been graded from 0 to 4, based on the level of information an institution provides about its animal studies. This information includes the level of detail of an institution’s research, its welfare procedures and the use of case studies, images and videos. To date, only 10 research institutions have received full marks, two in Germany, and four in each of the UK and US.

The list has been a joint effort by the research community, with scientists and members of the public submitting web statements they find – from their own institution or others – through a form on the Speaking of Research website.

Speaking of Research Director, Tom Holder, said:

There is a strong push worldwide towards openness in animal research. Speaking of Research encourage the scientific community to ensure their own institution has a clear and public statement on the importance of animals in medical and veterinary research, and to submit such statements to our website.”

The US has become increasingly open about its animal use in the past decade. Many more institutions are publicising details of the types of research going on, and the reason why on their website.

Paula Clifford, Executive Director of Americans for Medical Progress, said:

Openness about how medicine is advanced, especially information on the vital role of research animals and the care they receive, gives citizens truthful information and the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision to support of the scientists who work every day to improve the quality of life for both people and animals.”

Prof Dan Uhlrich, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Policy, said:

Our work is important enough to merit public funding, so it’s important we make an effort to show people how and why animal research is conducted at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.  We’re gratified to be acknowledged for that effort and pleased to see partners and colleagues making the same commitment.”

While many institutions have received zero or one tick, they are still doing much better than those institutions which do not discuss their animal research in a statement on their website at all. We congratulate each and every institution that puts up any statement which clearly explains why they conduct animal studies.

Those institutions with full marks are:


Background Briefing on Animal Research in Germany

Speaking of Research have now added a fourth background briefing on animal research to our list. We now have a German background briefing – in both English and German – to add to our briefings on the US, UK and Canada. We hope this briefing will offer journalists, politicians and the public a short, handy overview of the key facts. Our two-page summary provides information including the number of animals used for research purposes, the laws and regulations surrounding animal research, and some key questions people have.

Download our background briefing on animal research in Germany [or in German]

As with our previous briefings, we encourage those working in universities, pharmaceuticals, and other research institutions, to help share this document when contacting or responding to journalists about research stories relating to their institution. By attaching this background briefing to proactive stories, or reactive statements, it can help ensure that your research is understood within the context of the wider research environment.

We would like to thank Pro-Test Deutschland – particularly Renee Hartig, Florian Dehmelt and Jennifer Smuda – for their help in gathering information on the German legislation, and for translating the German-language version of the document.

The latest version of all our briefings can be found on both the Multimedia resources page, and in the menu system under Facts->Animal Research Briefings.

See a sample of the briefing below:

Briefing note on animal research in Germany

We permit anyone to redistribute this briefing providing it remain unchanged, and in whole, with credit to Speaking of Research.

We would also like to thank the Science Media Centre (in the UK), who’s “Briefing Notes on the Use of Animals in Research” provided the inspiration for our own.

Speaking of Research

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Please consider supporting the activities of Speaking of Research. We are asking our readers for small individual contributions (up to $15/€10) to help us pay our $150 website costs for 2016. See more here.

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

A new year resolution for the new academic year

As many students and faculty begin the new academic year, there is a resolution that all of us need. To be more open about animal research and how we are involved in it.

Possible ways to get involved:

Small effort (1 – 5 minutes):

Bigger effort (20 – 60 minutes):

We need your help – we need more people to get involved in writing for us – this can be through guest posts or by joining the committee and writing from within. Articles are generally 400 – 1200 words in length and can be . We need help writing about:

Could you provide photographs of animals from your lab – we need to show the world what animal research looks like. We will use them to help show the high standards of welfare in labs across the world.

animal testing, animal research, vivisection, animal experiment

An example photograph provided for Speaking of Research to use.

Large effort:

Have you considered joining the Speaking of Research committee. We ask that committee members provide a guest post for SR before they join. We are looking for keen scientists and animal welfare staff from across the world to help us keep ahead of the latest developments, support us in writing material for the website, and generally contribute to keeping Speaking of Research an organisation that can make a difference.

So what are you waiting for, tear yourself away from your research paper and get involved with helping our work in explaining the important role of animals in medical research.

Internet Writing Science Blog


Speaking of Research

The antivivisection movement and how to stand up to it

Tom Holder at the Pro-Test for Science RallyIn April 2014 Speaking of Research founder, Tom Holder, published a paper in EMBO reports looking at the structure and motivations of antivivisection groups and organizations, as well as how he got involved in defending animal research. Now, a year after its publication, this article is free-to-view online, or as a pdf. We are reproducing it below with the permission of EMBO reports (long form links have been converted into hyperlinks for the sake of the web format).

Standing up for Science

The antivivisection movement and how to stand up to it

Animal research has been and remains crucial to the development of modern medicine. The reasons for ongoing research are manifold from finding ways to treat cancer to understanding the mechanisms behind neurodegeneration to developing new vaccines against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Nearly all of us benefit from medical treatments made possible through animal research, and with so much at stake, it is important that scientists make the case for the importance of using animals in research. With animal rights extremism at an all‐time low, there has never been a better time for scientists to overcome their reluctance to talk about the benefits of their work.

Sadly, polls show that opposition to animal research among young people, for example in the UK and USA, is significantly higher than among those aged over 65 [1], [2]. In my view, this is in part because of the large amount of misinformation propagated across the Internet by opponents of animal research—the “antivivisection” (AV) movement. Moreover, the past decades have seen bouts of intense activism—including harassment, threats and violence directed towards scientists—aimed at shutting down animal research. During the same period, the scientific community have worked diligently to replace, refine and reduce the use of animals in research, making much progress; however, these efforts have not been sufficient to satisfy the passions of some activists.

Part of the problem is that scientists rarely engage with those who are opposed to animal research, which can leave them detached from the need to justify or explain their work. This lack of communication also creates an information vacuum in the public sphere about the need to use animals. In a recent poll in the UK, only 31% of respondents felt “fairly well informed […] about science and scientific research/development” [2].

“With animal rights extremism at an all‐time low, there has never been a better time for scientists to overcome their reluctance to talk about the benefits of their work.”

Ignoring the animal rights community has not worked. Wherever there has been a vacuum of understanding about research, they have filled it with disinformation based on rare instances of negligence and shocking examples of seemingly barbaric experiments, accompanied by stories describing animal research as unnecessary and out‐dated. Some animal rights groups mask their aim to ban animal research behind the noble banner of animal welfare—legitimately criticising incidents involving substandard animal care but then implying that these represent not the exception, but the rule. Yet, the huge improvements in laboratory animal welfare will never satisfy those animal rights groups that have a fundamental ideological opposition to such experiments. Instead, AV groups often buttress their position with unfounded assertions that such methods can be entirely replaced or cannot provide useful results. As activists build a seemingly stronger—even if bogus—case against the value of using animals in research, the public support for, or indifference to, some illegal activities rises.

I actually dislike the term “antivivisection.” It is scientifically inaccurate, as much animal research is non‐invasive and does not involve cutting live animals (vivisection). Nonetheless, those opposed to animal research, particularly in the UK, have taken the word to describe their movement and it is a useful term for their subsection of the wider animal rights movement.

Sidebar A:  Activism and extremism
It is useful to make a distinction between activism and extremism. Activism is the use of legal campaigning techniques to bring about a change. Such activities include letter‐writing campaigns, producing leaflets and peaceful demonstrations—all hallmarks of an open democracy. Extremism is where activism moves beyond the law. This can include vandalism, harassment, breaking into research facilities, and even arson and physical violence.

I first became interested in the issue of animal research and animal rights as a student at Oxford University in the UK in 2005. Studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics, I was probably more qualified to become a politician than I was to discuss animal research, but as I returned to my second year at Oxford, the hot topic was that AV extremists had burned down our student boathouses in protest against the new animal research facility the university was building. I became interested in the subject and spent some time researching AV websites. I was surprised to discover claims that animal research does not work and that it has held back science by many decades. The “33 facts of vivisection”, for example, references 33 claims (sometimes this list is expanded or reduced) as to why animal research does not work. What I found most concerning at the time was that the claims seemed to me to be the result of purposeful misrepresentation.

In early January 2005, it became apparent that a number of Oxford students felt the same way. The (now defunct) Oxford Gossip Internet forum was full of heated debates about animal research, and pro‐research/anti‐AV groups were gathering support on Facebook. At the same time, animal rights groups were posting calls to action to harass students, professors and partners of the university. On 22 January 2006, a communiqué from the Animal Liberation Front read: “This ALF team is calling out to the movement to unite and fight against the University on a maximum impact scale, we must stand up, DO WHATEVER IT TAKES and blow these fucking monsters off the face of the planet. Information, tools and resources are out there for everyone to take part in smashing the University of Oxford, all you need do is find them! All that stands between the animals and victory is our fear, GET OVER IT! Fear is their most valued weapon and the animals cannot afford for us to work within their boundaries. We must target their construction companies and the University’s current and future building projects. We must target professors, teachers, heads, students, investors, partners, supporters and ANYONE that dares to deal in any part of the University in any way. There is no time for debate and there is no time for protest, this is make or break time and from now on, ANYTHING GOES. We cannot fail these animals that will end up in those death chambers.”. This climate of hostility and fear understandably deterred many scientists from speaking up for research, which left the animal rights movement free reign to control the arguments presented in the media.

Ultimately, the galvanisation of the animal research advocacy movement fell to Laurie Pycroft, a then 16‐year old boy of whom British professor Sir Robert Winston described as having: “put the medical and scientific establishment, drug companies and universities to shame”. On 28 January 2006, while visiting his girlfriend, Laurie came across an animal rights demonstration protesting against the construction of the new Oxford Biomedical Research Facility. Frustrated with what he saw, he entered a shop, bought a large piece of card and marker pen and made a placard saying “Support Progress—Build the Oxford Lab!” He stood near the animal rights protest and held up his sign, despite the abuse hurled at him by AV activists.

Laurie wrote a blog entry about his day, announcing that he would hold a pro‐research rally in Oxford on February 25 to coincide with a national animal rights march through Oxford (a “pro‐test,” one of his blog followers wryly noted). In response, a handful of Oxford students approached Laurie and the “Pro‐Test” committee was born. The committee came to the decision that if we wanted people to follow us, we would have to shed our anonymity and come out publicly. To date, none of the committee has received anything nastier than a few vitriolic emails.

The Pro‐Test rally was hugely successful and the headline in the Guardian said it all: “The silent majority finds a voice”. Outnumbering the AV rally more than five‐to‐one, 850 students, scientists and members of the public marched through the streets of Oxford. From this point on, the pro‐research movement expanded rapidly, engaging in school, university, radio and TV debates up and down the country. Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister at the time, signed the Coalition for Medical Progress’s “People’s Petition,” which accumulated more than 20,000 signatures in support of animal research. Moreover, Blair wrote an open letter to the Telegraph newspaper stating his support for animal research and the Pro‐Test movement. In June 2006, Pro‐Test held a second rally, once again bringing hundreds of people to the streets of Oxford.

Oxford University opened its new Biomedical Sciences Building in October 2008, offering state of the art equipment and a “gold standard” in animal care. Perhaps Pro‐Test’s biggest contribution was breaking the taboo that said that those who supported animal research should not say so openly. It is a taboo that must continue to be broken.

In March 2008, I became a fellow in public outreach at Americans for Medical Progress (AMP, USA) and founded Speaking of Research (SR), which aimed to provide accurate information about animal research and help mobilise students and staff to defend it. Over the next year, a committee of researchers, advocates technicians and science communicators came together to help run SR, giving talks, writing articles and reaching out to those affected by AV extremism.

The USA presented different challenges to the UK. National coverage is much harder to come by: incidents in one state are often not reported in the next, causing institutions to believe that tackling activism is “someone else’s problem.” I spent much time touring facilities and it was easy to see stark differences in approach. Those who had been targeted by animal rights protesters in the past had opened up their facilities for local journalists and residents to see. In this way, their local communities could assess for themselves the veracity of animal rights accusations. Those universities that were less open sometimes found themselves on the end of a protracted animal rights campaign. Scientists at UCLA, for example, had their houses flooded and were sent bombs and razor blades by mail. It was beginning to look like Oxford all over again.

In 2009, several weeks after David Jentsch, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry & Behavioural Sciences at UCLA, had his car firebombed by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), he and a small committee, myself included, organised a rally to stand up against this extremism. UCLA Pro‐Test was born; it was later renamed Pro‐Test for Science.

On 22 April 2009, 40 animal rights activists gathered for World Week for Animals in Laboratories. Across the road, approximately 800 scientists, animal technicians and other members of UCLA marched in support of science and in opposition to animal rights extremism. The rally gave scientists an opportunity to explain the importance of animal research to journalists and members of the UCLA community. The Pro‐Test petition launched at the event garnered more than 11,000 signatures and was handed to representatives of the NIH at a second pro‐research rally 1 year later.

As SR marks its sixth birthday, I have learnt the importance of scientists supporting one another. Many researchers have felt isolated by their institution’s leadership, some of whom would rather end controversial research than stand up to activists. SR has always aimed to reach out to those researchers who have been targeted, giving them an outlet to discuss their research when their institution will not.

During 8 years of involvement, I have seen many different approaches to communicating the role of animals in research—everything from open discussion to a complete unwillingness to even acknowledge such research is conducted at an institution. I have also had many opportunities to interact and discuss with those opposed to animal research. This has allowed me to build a picture of how I believe the AV movement functions, how it is structured and the factors affecting its size and strength.

“Many researchers have felt isolated by their institution’s leadership, some of whom would rather end controversial research than stand up to activists”

AV groups and organisations vary in size and structure. Some can count their members on the one hand, while others, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA, USA), claim their membership in millions. Many of the larger animal rights organisations deal with a variety of related issues including animals for food, fur farming, pet ownership and hunting, while smaller groups often focus on just one issue.

Activists are those employed, either professionally or as volunteers, by AV groups (AVGs) and AV organisations (AVOs). While the line between AVGs and AVOs is not clear‐cut, AVOs are usually formal organisations that employ staff and tend to have a much larger turnover and greater assets. Examples of AVOs would include the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV; UK), Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM; USA) and PETA. Conversely, AVGs tend to be smaller, usually less established groups that do not salary their members, but may remunerate them for work done. Examples include Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC; UK), SPEAK (UK), Negotiation is Over (NIO; USA) and Fermare Green Hill (Stop Green Hill; Italy). AVGs may grow into AVOs; both PETA and SAEN (Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, USA) grew from being groups of like‐minded people into tax‐registered non‐profits. However, many AVGs appear to prefer the flexibility associated with their informality and small size.

To study the AV movement, it is important to keep in mind that animal rights activism has become a profession for many of those involved. While many sociologists originally believed that social movements were simply forms of collective action by individuals with common grievances, the view was later criticised as incomplete since many such grievances exist without associated social movements. The development of Resource Mobilisation Theory (RMT) noted that individuals require sufficient resources to be available to form a movement and that this has a significant impact on the potential success of a movement [3]. Figure 1 uses RMT to illustrate the movement of people and resources in the AV movement. Key resources include money, communication tools, influential networks and the activists themselves.

Image Credit Tom Holder, Originally Published in EMBO Reports DOI: 10.1002/embr.201438837

Click to Enlarge

Figure 1. A model of the antivivisection movement
The blue dashed arrows indicate the movement of people within the antivivisection movement: a person might read the website of an AVG and decide to change from non‐supporter (either someone who disagrees with the AV views or has not formed an opinion either way) to a supporter, donating money or spending their time and effort signing petitions. The green arrows denote the movement of resources (e.g. time and money), though it should be noted that these are not exhaustive lists of resources. In return for their time and effort, that person might get a “feel‐good buzz” about helping animals, or from the acceptance of their peers. Later, they might decide to get more involved. This change is the movement from supporter to activist (though the divisions are not clear‐cut). The activist still feels good about what he or she is doing—possibly with a greater social acceptance from their newfound colleagues—and might also find himself or herself remunerated. Note that by giving time or money to any one AVG/AVO, they are choosing not to give those resources to another, so there is a natural competition between these AVGs/AVOs. Years later, the person might find they have less time and will drop back to supporter status, or might find that the massive publicity surrounding an associated movement draws their time and effort (turquoise dashed arrows), such that they stop their involvement with the original AV movement. Such associated movements need not have any relation to animal rights, but the more similar they are to the AV movement, the more competition there will be. Legitimacy is an important resource that both supporters and activists provide. An animal rights group that can only muster 20 supporters at important demonstrations will eventually find its supporters moving to competing AVG/AVOs. When the entire antivivisection movement comes under negative media spotlight, or as laws or police activities make certain activities more difficult, many supporters may move to other associated movements, and many activists may choose to put their expertise into other areas.

The amount of money provided by supporters is not small. In the USA, PETA had an income of US$35.3 million in 2013, while the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) received US$180 million in 2012 from its 11 million supporters. The combined income of the three largest AV organisations in the UK exceeds £5 million. Even non‐registered groups can accrue large sums of money. SHAC activists amassed “around £1 million in donations to SHAC’s collection buckets and bank account”.

Given these sums, it is not surprising to see a certain level of competition for supporters and funding between organisations. The AVOs work hard to break the biggest stories, for example through undercover filming or by trawling through research papers or reports for sensational and often groundless claims about animal abuse. Between 2007 and 2011, for example, SAEN made more than six complaints per year to the USDA, often following up on rejected complaints with accusations that the USDA was failing in its role of regulator (e.g. here). In 2012, PETA alleged animal cruelty relating to sound localisation experiments on cats at the University of Wisconsin‐Madison. Both the USDA and the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal cleared the university and found the allegations baseless.

Despite the competition and some friction between animal rights groups, many appear to be closely intertwined, with activists moving between them. Jerry Vlasak, who is currently a press officer for the Animal Liberation Press Office—the mouthpiece for the ALF—has been involved in SPEAK, the Animal Defence League, Sea Shepherd and PCRM. These fluid movements are reminiscent of the way top businessmen move between the boards of firms as the skills gained within the animal rights movement are easily transferable. Alistair Currie moved from Campaign Director at BUAV to Campaign Coordinator at PETA and finally left the AV movement to become a spokesman for Free Tibet. Just as an experienced marketing consultant may move from a clothes firm to a car manufacturer, so a professional activist moves from movement to movement as the relative tides change. This reflects the professional nature of activism; however, some activists have suggested a “contamination” effect from animal rights activism that can make it harder to move out of the AV movement and into unrelated areas of campaigning.

However, it would seem that some prominent activists have also risen through the ranks, particularly of AVGs, on the back of extreme activities they have carried out under the banner of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an extremist group made up of small autonomous cells. Mel Broughton was convicted of conspiracy to commit arson in 1999 but went on to lead several campaigns, including against Oxford University. Luke Steele was sentenced to 18 months in 2012 for “harassing staff at Harlan laboratories” and now runs several AV organisations including the Anti‐Vivisection Coalition. Those serving prison sentenced gain prestige among parts of the AV community who support them and are quick to welcome them back into the fold upon release.

The tide of resources into the AV movement has ebbed and flowed over time. In 1903, after Stephen Coleridge, head of the National Anti‐Vivisection Society, lost £2,000 (over £200,000 in today’s money) in a libel action brought by the researcher William Bayliss during the Brown Dog Affair [4], the issue of animal research came to the attention of the media. As a result, resources flowed in; NAVS raised £5,735 (over £500,000 in today’s money) in just 4 months. Growing public disquiet about animal research also led to a string of dog protection bills being presented to parliament including the 1906 Dogs Act.

Activism waxed and waned in the following decades. In the 1960s, Ronnie Lee founded Band of Mercy, a direct action hunt saboteur group. Such groups helped to train animal rights activists in direct action methods. In 1975, the Australian philosopher Peter Singer wrote the seminal book, Animal Liberation, which provided the moral case for a new generation of activists [5]. The following year Ronnie Lee founded the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). The 1980s saw the founding of the Animal Rights Militia, who sent bombs to politicians and animal researchers. By the early 1990s, AVGs were becoming more active. Extreme groups such as the Justice Department and Animal Rights Militia were abandoning the doctrine of non‐violence. There were dozens of bomb attacks against researchers and organisations.

In 1996–1997, activists Greg Avery and his first wife Heather Nicholson ran a 10‐month campaign that closed the Consort Kennels, a facility that bred dogs for medical research. In 1997, activists began a similar campaign that would eventually close Hillgrove Cat Farm. These campaigns were, on the face of it, legally conducted protests. Nonetheless, as support flowed in, some activists believed they had licence to take more extreme, illegal, actions: the Hillgrove Cat Farm campaign resulted in 21 jail sentences.

In 1999, Avery founded SHAC, whose members harassed and threatened staff at Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), HLS’s clients and HLS’s clients’ other clients over a period of 10 years. These tactics have spread widely: the same were used in Oxford to target the contractors, and the HLS campaign was exported to the USA in 2004 under the leadership of Kevin Kjonaas, who had spent 2 years working with Avery in the UK. John Cook, the author of a Salon article on SHAC, summarises their tactics thus: “SHAC’s modus operandi is simple, elegant and shockingly effective: Publish the names, home addresses and telephone numbers of executives and employees of Huntingdon and any companies it does business with; identify these individuals as ‘targets’” [6].

The approach of seasoned activists is professional: they take on a campaign, complete it and then look for the next one to start. It seems to me that the speed and size of a campaign is often determined by the donations to the previous campaign; in my analysis, each of Greg Avery’s campaigns was bigger than the last. As such, successful campaign leaders become role models and groom supporters to become activists (Fig 1).

Most campaigns have been relatively short. Consort Kennels was closed in 10 months, Stop Primate Experimentation at Cambridge achieved its goals within 1 year and its successor, SPEAK, forced out the first Oxford lab building contractors in less than 6 months. As a campaign drags on, it can become harder to find supporters to volunteer time and money to the cause. This can increase the pressure to take more desperate measures. Perhaps the most drastic was the grave‐robbing of Gladys Hammond’s body by the Animal Rights Militia (ARM) in 2004. As the Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs campaign (SNGP) dragged into its fifth year, ARM extremists stole the remains of the deceased mother‐in‐law of one of the guinea pig farm’s owners. Four members of SNGP were later convicted of using the desecration to blackmail the family into shutting down the farm, which happened the following year.

Such actions brought widespread public condemnation and the British police were granted new powers to tackle animal rights extremism. The UK Government set up the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) to deal with domestic extremism. The crackdown and subsequent arrests included Mel Broughton (10 years), Greg Avery (9 years) and Kevin Kjonaas (6 years). Suddenly young activists were deprived of experienced mentors and many AV activists moved into other related movements. For example, Amanda King, a British protester who was previously involved in the campaign against Oxford University and the Newchurch guinea pig campaign, was most recently involved in protesting against the UK Government’s proposed badger cull. Alongside her were veteran hunt saboteurs and campaigners who had protested against HLS and Hillgrove Cat Farm, UK.

AV extremism fell steadily from around 2005, which was likely due to a number of factors. NETCU focused heavily on animal rights extremism, with judges handing down harsher sentences. Pro‐research communication was also increasing with the Coalition for Medical Progress and the Science Media Centre both founded in 2002, and the Pro‐Test movement was gaining widespread media and public support. Finally, the public condemnation that followed high profile incidents, such as the grave‐robbing of Gladys Hammond, made animal rights a less attractive issue for young activists.

While extremism in the UK and USA has fallen to an all‐time low, there are signs that activism is on the rise in other countries. In particular, activists from across Europe are targeting Italian pharmaceutical companies, universities and breeders in a sustained campaign that may pose a serious threat to research in Italy. In the past 2 years, activists have broken into a beagle breeding facility at Green Hill, “liberating” dozens of dogs; blockaded a shipment of beagles to the pharmaceutical company Menarini until the dogs were given to activists; and broken into the University of Milan, where they mixed up the animals’ records and seized approximately 100 animals. Fortunately, a vigorous response is already underway, with the newly formed Pro‐Test Italia attracting hundreds of scientists to rallies in Milan and Rome. Nonetheless, such strong responses are few and far between—after a Brazilian research facility recently shut down after activists raided it, taking almost 200 dogs, there was only minimal response from the scientific community.

“In particular, activists from across Europe are targeting Italian pharmaceutical companies, universities and breeders in a sustained campaign”

Back in the UK, online campaigns against universities seem to be increasing in number and magnitude, while a multi‐faceted campaign by many AVGs and AVOs to prevent airlines transporting primates has left only a few willing to do so. In January 2012, the last of the ferry companies transporting laboratory animals across the English Channel stopped its service as a result of pressure from AV groups.

So what should we be doing now? Thanks to the efforts of pro‐advocacy groups and the outreach activities of many research institutions and scientists, there have been positive developments in how we discuss the use of animals in research. Furthermore, as many extremists in the UK and USA are in jail, or are recently released and under control orders that ban them from being involved in AV activism, there is little danger of extremism.

Scientists must spend more time explaining their work to the public, why animals are vital to biomedical research and the measures taken to minimise their suffering in laboratories. Social networks and online outlets, such as university departmental webpages, science blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, all offer ways for scientists to interact with the public—particularly younger audiences. Understanding Animal Research’s (UAR) “Science Action Network” points the scientific community towards articles that misrepresent animal research and posts links to Twitter with the hashtag #ARnonsense. Scientists who search for this hashtag, or who follow @ARnonsenseRT, can then go to these articles and leave comments correcting the misinformation within them. The result is that members of the public who come across these articles can quickly reassess their content.

Younger scientists often find it the hardest to speak up. Nevertheless, their voices are important. Start small; conversations with friends and family play a crucial part in “normalising” the issue of animal research, as well as practising science communication skills. Simple things like sharing animal research stories on Twitter or making mention of animal research on Facebook provide another avenue for discussion. A step further would be to write for a blog, student or local newspaper. Speaking of Research started a series of guest posts entitled “Speaking of Your Research” to provide scientists and animal care staff with a safe environment to discuss why they use animals. With science becoming more popular with the general public, there has never been a better time to discuss this issue (note the 12+ million likes for the “I Fucking Love Science” Facebook page).

“… scientists still go surprisingly quiet about animal research.”

While researchers directly involved in animal research are in the best position to talk about what they do, they are also open to accusations of bias. Therefore, it is important that the rest of the scientific community helps to explain why such research is carried out. All scientists should promote the value of both basic and applied science in all fields. I know plenty of researchers who have defended the Rothamsted Research Institute’s genetically modified wheat trials in the UK in the face of anti‐GM protests in May 2012. Yet, scientists still go surprisingly quiet about animal research.

Institutions must also speak louder. It was reassuring, for instance, that the Bremen University in Germany legally and financially supported researcher Andreas Kreiter against attempts to shut down his research on macaque monkeys. Yet, in my view, too many research institutions, particularly in the USA, lack clear and open statements about the existence and importance of their animal research programmes. This is especially true of those organisations which fund, but do not carry out, animal research, such as medical research charities. The more details provided, along with pictures and videos, the better; otherwise, activists will be happy to supply their own, unrepresentative images. Organisations also need to work with local communities, inviting residents and journalists to tour facilities and sending scientists to schools in the local area. This can help minimise the resources (of local supporters) available to a new AV campaign (Fig 1). Importantly, such actions must happen in the good times, or else risk being perceived as a cheap public relations stunt.

“The more details provided, along with pictures and videos, the better; otherwise, activists will be happy to supply their own, unrepresentative images”

While we still have a way to go, the UK continues to provide the best practice in pro‐research advocacy. Newspapers regularly report on interesting or promising research involving animals, thereby normalising the animal research issue. Universities and other institutions have driven this change by mentioning the animals used in research more regularly. Nonetheless, the long wait between initial studies in animals and the launch of new treatments means that the public can often lose sight of the link between the two. Those working on clinical research have a duty to recognise the contribution of animals when discussing new therapies with the press. In 2012, more than 40 institutions and organisations signed the Declaration on Openness, pledging to do more to communicate the important research they carry out. This is a positive step that could be emulated in other countries.

Medical research involving animals is important to all of us, and we all have a duty to provide the accurate information the public needs to make up their mind.


  1. Pew Research (2009) Scientific Achievements Less Prominent Than a Decade Ago. Washington, DC: The Pew Research Center.
  2. Ipsos Mori (2012) Views on the Use of Animals in Research. London, UK: Ipsos Mori.
  3. <em>McCarthy JD, Zald Z N (1977) Resource mobilization and social movements: a partial theory. Am J Sociol 82: 12121241 CrossRef
  4. Illman J (2008) Animal Research in Medicine: 100 years of Politics, Protests and Progress. The Story of the Research Defence Society. London: Research Defence Society
  5. Singer P (1985) The Animal Liberation Movement: its Philosophy, its Achievements, and its Future. Nottingham: Russell Press
  6. Cook J (2006) Thugs for puppies. Salon, Feb 7.