Category Archives: SR News

Help us help you!

The Speaking of Research website provides a wealth of information for the public about why animal research remains an important part of scientific, medical and veterinary discoveries. While our news blog may be most relevant to those involved in the field, the static pages provide information about the animal model, medical developments, regulations, statistics and more. So we believe the more easily the public can find our website, the better for everyone in the field.

So what happens when a member of the public searches for “animal testing” (which, according to Google Trends, is searched for around three times as much as “animal research”)?

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Eight of nine search results on the first page provide a negative idea of animal research. The last one provides arguments from both sides. No wonder that young people are now opposed to animal research by a 14 percentage point margin.

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There is, however, something you can do. Google’s algorithms mean that websites that are linked to by .edu and .gov websites will be more trusted and be pushed further up the search results. See more on the video below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNHR6IQJGZs

We need you to get www.speakingofresearch.com added to your University department website (or Government website if you are that position). So please send an email to your department website editor (and convince friends in other life science departments to do likewise) to ask them to add links to pro-research organisations on an appropriate page. Many of you will have direct control over sections of your department’s page, so please take a few seconds to add the middle section of the letter below.

Dear Webmaster

Please can you add the following paragraph to our departmental website, on our page about animal research here: <insert url>

For more information about the role of animals in research we recommend the following website:

http://www.speakingofresearch.com – Speaking of Research: Providing accurate information about the important role of animal experiments in medical and veterinary research.

Kind Regards

<insert name>

Why not help a few key organisations by asking them to add more than one website, such as:

http://www.speakingofresearch.com – Speaking of Research
http://www.amprogress.org – Americans for Medical Progress
http://www.fbresearch.org – Foundation for Biomedical Research
http://www.animalresearch.info – Animal Research Information

With your help we can ensure the public sees the facts about animal research!

Speaking of Research

The USDA’s removal of information about animal research is a step backwards for transparency

Speaking of Research has considerable concerns about the wealth of information that has been removed from the USDA website in the last week. The USDA has removed access to an online database that allowed the public to easily obtain documents involving the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).This information includes the annual reports showing the number of animals used in research each year, and the animal welfare reports that are produced. [Direct links to annual reports were broken, but the reports still exist on the USDA website – Ed.]

According to Science Magazine, tens of thousands of reports have been removed, relating to around 1200 research labs and 6500 non-research facilities that are registered or licensed by the USDA. A statement from the USDA says:

Based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals, APHIS is implementing actions to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that contain personal information

No doubt many will see some irony in starting a statement about the removal of information with “Based on our commitment to being transparent”. That said, it is not yet clear if reports are being removed permanently or simply temporarily removed until they have been assessed for privacy issues. Though the previously public information will still be available through FOIA requests, the statement concludes by saying “If the same records are frequently requested via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process, APHIS may post the appropriately redacted versions to its website”.

It is not just animal rights groups who have expressed concern. Matthew Bailey, President of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, said:

“I would certainly agree that protection of personal information is of utmost importance, especially given the rich history of targeting the individuals involved in animal research. However, this change also makes it more time consuming, although not impossible, for organizations like FBR to analyze trends in animal use in research.”

Speaking of Research also has concerns. We believe the availability of data can foster an environment of openness and transparency about animal research. When information is hidden, particularly where it was once available, the public will naturally wonder why many stakeholders have cause for concern: the public wonders what is being hidden and why, and researchers must devote even more resources to combatting the public perception that they are not transparent.

USDA Statistics showing number of animas used in research

Speaking of Research uses the type of information that was available to help explain the realities of animal research to the public and media.

The USDA’s decision is also out of step with the direction of travel of many other countries. Approximately one month ago, after urgings from Speaking of Research, the EU website added a new page providing links to the annual statistical reports on animal research of member countries.

In our own commitment to openness, Speaking of Research has uploaded the Annual Reports of the USDA’s animal research to its website. They are available on our US Statistics page, or can be found below. We will be looking at what other information we can practically add in coming weeks.

Thousands of removed USDA documents have now been archived here.

Speaking of Research

How to Engage Institutions to Publicly Support Animal Research. The Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting

During their 2016 annual meeting in San Diego, Society for Neuroscience (SfN) held a two-hour session dedicated to public outreach concerning animals in research. The panelists offered different perspectives on communication about essential animal research for the public.  The session opened with remarks by the chair of the SFN’s Animals in Research Committee, Dr. Mar Sanchez, who stated the importance of the role of scientists in raising awareness about animal research.  Sanchez encouraged the audience to immediately take action by signing up to advocate for biomedical research by reaching out to their elected officials.

The first panelist, Kirk Leech, is the Executive Director for the European Animal Research Association. Leech overviewed the current state of opinion about animal research and shared how the UK and other European countries are helping to be more transparent.

He pointed out that although physical attacks by activists have decreased, their tactics have become more complex and influential.  He said that “it is essential to engage with the public, media and policymakers about animal research.” Aim of the panel was to explain how for example in Spain, Belgium and the UK we have sought to use Institutional Openness, – private and public research agreeing to certain principles about how they will seek to improve public understanding of animal research. If the voices of the research community are not heard, the conversation about animal research will continue to be driven by anti-animal research rhetoric.

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Dr. David Jentsch, professor of psychology at Binghamton University, began by insisting that today’s activists remain extreme and sometimes abusive, even though they are legal.  He noted that although they are not bombing cars and breaking into labs, they still are making a very real impact on the scientists they target through campaigns that involve personal targeting and harassment. After overviewing the players in current activist campaigns, and their tactics, he pointed out the results of their activities. These included researchers ending controversial projects, graduate students pursuing alternative pathways, funding not being applied for or lost, and the endless waste of resources being spent on having to respond to frivolous activist campaigns. Jentsch shared his perspective through the lens of a researcher about engaging with the public about work with animals in research and working with your institutions, scientific societies and advocacy groups to implement a proactive campaign.

He says that, “Researchers can, and should, be proactive and plan for public engagement about their work.”  He recommends that the scientific community proactively navigate this reality by planning, finding their own voices, controlling the message, and demanding specific forms of institutional support. He points to examples like Edythe London’s personal and emotional defense of her own research in a LA Times OpEd as an excellent example of transparent and effective advocacy. Additional advice includes preparing in advance for negative criticisms, participating in public communications through blogs, letters, and websites, and forming a group of like-minded individuals at your institution to encourage public statements and protection for researchers. He closed by sharing a solemn voice of support thanking the research community for its research and advocacy.

john-morrison-slides-sfnThe next panelist, Dr. John Morrison,  Director of the California National Primate Research Center, highlighted the outstanding care that nonhuman primates at the seven National Primate Research Centers (NPRC) in the US receive, as well as the significant contributions non-human primates have made in the advances of such diseases as HIV/AIDS, polio, Ebola, and Parkinson’s disease.  Morrison stressed that, “hiding doesn’t work.”  He encouraged the development of strong proactive messages that emphasize the connection to human health and to get this message out as often possible. Some venues for message distribution include giving tours and presentations, using the website and social media, developing press releases, and engaging with all partners. He says, “engage your press office and publicize science as often as possible.”  Morrison shared a cohesive message being shared by the seven NPRCs which includes, “The National Primate Research Centers are a national network of dedicated teams fighting diseases from Alzheimer’s to Zika and improving human health and lives worldwide.” This cohesiveness gives strength to their communications about essential research with non-human primates.

Morrison then shared tips on engaging with several stakeholders:  the home institution, NIH and the scientific community, the public, policymakers, and employees. Tips included:

1) Home Institution:

  • Engage the highest level of leadership in a social setting to present scientific discoveries and their importance to human health and the financial impact of research for the institution.
  • Engage your Press Office and publicize science as often as possible
  • Establish a crisis and issues management protocol
  • Fully integrate into the academics of the home institution
  • Provide tours to campus scientists, administrators, potential collaborators
  • Participate in outreach and development efforts
  • Develop a unified message around science and health

2)  NIH and the scientific community:

  • Maintain open and strong communication with NIH Program Officers and other officials
  • Provide expertise and participate in NIH Workshops
  • Educate the scientific community on animal research
  • Sponsor conferences
  • Work with Professional Societies and their programs on animal research
  • Provide access to expertise for scientific colleagues

3) The public:

  • Open your doors by giving tours
  • Distribute material for lay audience through website, social media, and local media
  • Go into the community and provide presentations

4) Policymakers:

  • Provide invitations for tours to federal and state government officials, academic leaders, leaders of Pharma and Biotech
  • Visit Capitol Hill
  • Engage with NIH and other federal agencies
  • Provide material on animal research

5) Employees:

  • Implement an internal communications program about animal research at your institution
  • Communicate your vision, purpose, core values, key messages to connect the work with animals with the overall institutional goals
  • Create an advocacy program so employees can be advocates for animal research

Morrison emphasized, “In all of these interactions, emphasize the power of animal research to impact human health.”  His talk ended by showing a powerful video of a man with Parkinson’s disease and the medical advancement that gives him the ability to function normally.  Without the deep brain stimulation developed through the nonhuman primate model, this man could not even hold a pencil.

carrie-wolinetz-sfn-slidesThe final panelist, Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, Associate Director for Science Policy and Director of the Office of Science Policy, National Institutes of Health, began her talk with an overview of NIH and related agencies. She also explained NIH’s relationship with Congress and the fact that since they are a public agency, paid for by all taxpayers, they represent the view of the entire public, including those that may oppose animal research.  This representation of all members of the public is what results in things like the September 7th workshop to review its ethical policies and processes for the nonhuman primate research model. She assured the audience that Dr. Francis Collins supports their work with animals.

The NIH has a public statement on their website in support of animal research and will continue to support the scientific community, as well as their public stakeholders.  NIH also offers support for researchers on their website.  Wolinetz ended her talk by encouraging scientists to engage with the public and tie their work with the human condition.  The session concluded with a Q &A session from the participants.  These included:

“How do I make the case for basic research?”

“What support is there for ordinary scientists in communicating about animal research?”

“Are K-12 teachers being engaged?”

Discussions about hosting another panel next year are underway. Ideas for topics to include can be emailed to the Chair of SfN’s Animal Research Committee, Mar Sanchez, mmsanch@emory.edu.

Do you have a passion for explaining science? We need you!

Speaking of Research is a group of like-minded researchers and science communicators. We have flourished over the last 8.5 years thanks to the hard work of a committee that has come together to help each other, as well as fellow researchers and institutions. Despite having a budget of about $200/year, we have come together to build one of the biggest resources about animal research on the internet. We believe that openness about animal research is the best way to win over public and policymakers. But, we need your help to achieve this.

The SR committee is an ever-changing group of around 20 people who are motivated to make a change in the way we talk about animal research. The committee is made up of people from across North America and Europe, but we would also welcome people from further afield to help us understand the animal research environment in other countries.

Committee members often write articles debunking misinformation propagated by animal rights groups [Image by Randall Munroe or XKCD]

Committee members often write articles debunking misinformation propagated by animal rights groups [Image by Randall Munroe or XKCD]

What type of people on the committee?

  • Scientists who use animals in their research – be it fruit flies, mice or monkeys. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Masters student or a tenured professor, your support is valued.
  • Veterinarians who work within animal research facilities.
  • Animal care technicians who work to look after animals in laboratories.
  • Science communicators, particularly those who do media relations or public engagement for an institution conducting animal research or relevant society.

What does the committee do?

  • Writing – this is one of the key jobs of our central committee – ensuring that there is new material on the website (and updating existing pages). People write about their own research, research in the news, debunking misinformation by activists, responding to policy changes and much more. Not a great writer? Some of our best articles are produced by guest authors, but we still need to be the ones to find those people.
  • Social Media – we need people to help put science news on Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels.
  • Sharing news and information. Seen some amazing new medical breakthrough? Information about animal activism?
  • Networking – From individuals and institutions wanting to become more actively involved in animal research outreach, to those targeted by activism, the SR committee works to support scientists and institutions worldwide.
  • Media work – We are often required to give comments to journalists, or occasionally appear on radio and TV. Having numerous people prepared to step up to the plate is always useful. We have worked with committee members to train them in talking to the media. We also put our press releases and produce briefing materials for journalists.
  • Conferences – Speaking of Research members have often spoken about animal research outreach at conferences including Society for Neuroscience and AALAS.

SR member talking about the importance of openness on the BBC.

How can I join the committee?

Contact us! We’d love to hear from you, even if you just have some questions. We ask new members to write an article for the website to show their interest in explaining animal research (we can help advise on topics, as well as provide support in editing and proofing any drafts).

What am I expected to do on the committee?

We do understand that our careers often mean there are periods where we are unable to help, but hope you find  some time to contribute in some manner to Speaking of Research’s goals.

  • Email List – the committee communicates through an email list. While we don’t expect everyone to reply to every email, we do ask that people contribute their knowledge or support occasionally.
  • Blog – We ask every committee member to contribute one article every four months (or to find a colleague who might contribute a guest post). This ensures we have a minimum amount of news on the website (thankfully, some committee members contribute much more). Articles tend to be 400-1500 words, but we are very flexible.
  • Contribute – We hope committee members find other ways of contributing. Some people keep an eye out for new statistics, some people look out for institutional animal research statements, and some people help post on social media. Whatever you can do, we welcome the help.
The committee communicates primarily by email

The committee communicates primarily by email

I’m not ready for the committee, but I still want to help!

We have written extensively on other ways you can help us.

While all our committee are volunteers, we still require a small amount of funding to keep our website going and carry out small outreach activities (we have produced posters for conferences and promoted articles on social media). Donating just €10/£10/$10 is a huge help to our efforts in explaining the important role of animals in medical and veterinary research.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Yours sincerely

The Speaking of Research committee

Society for Neuroscience: Session on engaging institutions about animal research

If you are one of the 30,000 or so neuroscientists attending the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) 2016 meeting in San Diego that starts this weekend, then make sure you watch this session on engaging institutions about animal research.

Animals in Research Panel (SfN; Tues, Nov 15, 10am-Noon, CC Room 10):  

How to Engage Institutions to Publicly Support Animal Research; a Top-Down Approach

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Description: Worldwide, researchers are engaging the public to increase the understanding and need for animals in research. However, scientists need research institutions to facilitate greater openness about animal research conducted on campus and to reject the fear of attracting negative attention. This panel will discuss the proven benefits of positive institutional public communication and openness, as well as strategies to engage our institutions to publicly support animal research.

  • Opening Remarks: Committee on Animals in Research Chair, Mar Sanchez, Ph.D. (Associate Professor, Emory University)
  • Kirk Leech, (Associate Director, European Animal Research Association –EARA-)
  • David Jentsch, Ph.D. (Professor of Psychology, Binghamton University)
  • John Morrison, Ph.D. (director of the California National Primate Research Center)
  • Carrie Wolinetz, Ph.D. (Associate Director for Science Policy and Director of the Office of Science Policy, National Institutes of Health –NIH-)
  • Q&A session

Separate to this meeting, you should check out Booth 4216 in Exhibit Hall to talk to the Consortium for Public Outreach on Animal Research (@AR_Consortium) of which Speaking of Research is a member.

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Dr. Dettmer Goes to Washington, Part 4

Dr Dettmer

Dr Dettmer

In the first 3 parts of this series, I described my experiences at Capitol Hill Day, my interview with the National Association for Biomedical Research, and my interview with Rep. John Delaney (D-MD, 6). In this instalment of the series, I interview Lisa Kaeser, J.D., the Director of Legislation and Public Policy for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Here, she answers questions regarding her role in the legislative process, focusing in particular on science policy, and the ways in which NIH as an institution – and individual scientists – can become involved.

According to Kaeser, one of the major ways scientists funded by the NICHD, and other institutes within NIH, can become involved is by regularly engaging with their institute’s Office of Legislation and Public Policy about recent scientific discoveries, advances in the field, and especially the rigorous methods involved. This interaction helps these offices to “get it right” when giving briefings to policymakers in Congress.

What role(s) do you take in the legislative process surrounding science policy?

Our office is named the Office of Legislative and Public Policy to address the nexus between science and public policy. Helping to explain scientific advances and the scientific process to policymakers means that we must have a broad understanding of the wide range of science conducted and supported by NICHD. This often takes the form of briefings on Capitol Hill and responding to letters and other inquiries. Of course, I work closely with our scientists to make sure I’m getting it right. Conversely, policymakers in Congress — who must answer to their constituents — offer legislative proposals that may have a helpful, harmful, or benign effect on the science we fund. It’s up to our office to interpret those proposals and, if asked, provide technical assistance on what their impact might be on NICHD’s work.

How does your office work to keep legislators informed of science topics and the latest scientific findings to inform policy?

NICHD has a terrific Office of Communications that provides a huge amount of information on our website, including press releases on new scientific findings and “spotlights” that highlight a researcher or scientific topic area. NICHD also is fortunate to work with a wide variety of constituency organizations that support some aspect of our research. These range from large professional medical societies, to organizations representing scientific disciplines, diseases or condition-specific groups, and are collectively known as the “Friends of NICHD.”  These organizations and their members are effective advocates for science, so it’s critical that we keep them informed about recent advances and get their input on research priorities. For example, NICHD has a monthly newsletter that pulls together the most recent scientific highlights, which we send to all of these groups to help them describe NICHD’s work on Capitol Hill. In addition, the groups are helpful in sponsoring and arranging for congressional briefings, where our scientific staff are asked to speak about research in their fields of expertise.

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What particular steps in the legislative process does NIH become involved in (and, is there an example of science policy that NIH has been involved in that you could provide)?

  • Responding to congressional requests/inquiries: everything from science policy (e.g., stem cell research, research with animals), an update on the latest research developments (e.g., autism), to the status of a grant application in their state or district.
  • Requests for briefings: scientific presentations must be tailored to a lay audience.
  • Requests for technical assistance on proposed legislation: NICHD may not take a “position” on legislation unless the Administration has taken a position. So comments must be limited to what effects the proposed legislative language might have on the research enterprise. For example, legislation that would require NICHD to report back to Congress on progress being made in a specific area might not be especially onerous, whereas legislation that would require establishment of a large research resource (but without additional funding) might not only be redundant with current research efforts, but force difficult funding decisions for the Institute.
  • Preparing for hearings and briefings: The NIH Director is asked to appear before both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees each year. Staff of the 27 NIH Institutes and Centers contribute to a large database of scientific issue briefs that he uses to prepare for the multitude of questions that may be posed by the committees’ members. In addition, each Institute Director may submit a statement for the hearing record that highlights recent research advances and priorities.

In which steps of the process can scientists effectively engage and become involved?

The first step is to become informed about the process, which is what the SfN Early Career Policy Ambassador program, and others like it, do so effectively. While scientists who are Federal employees may not lobby using government time or resources, they are free to speak or write to policymakers on their own time without using their government titles. Non-government scientists are not restricted from working with policymakers, including writing, meetings, or even tours of their labs; they would probably want to work with their home institutions in arranging these visits. And most of the professional societies are deeply engaged in this process, so being an active member of these groups is an excellent way to make your voice heard.

Dr Amanda M. Dettmer

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

Scientific community unites in defence of primate research

The Backstory

It’s been a busy few weeks for those who wish to explain the role of primates in research. Last week the NIH held a workshop on “Ensuring the Continued Responsible Oversight of Research with Non-Human Primates” (watch it back here). The Congressionally mandated workshop resulted from report language that was associated with a PETA campaign. PETA hoped the workshop would question whether primates should be used in research at all. Instead PETA were disappointed when many experts came together to talk about how primates remained important to medical and scientific research. Days before the event, PETA activist, Professor John Gluck, wrote to the New York Times to criticise the use of primates in research. Speaking of Research posted a response – “The ethics and value of responsible animal research” – that was signed by over 100 scientists. Other organisations have subsequently written back to the newspaper with letters published this week.

Over in the UK, a group of 21 academics (primarily anthropologists) including Sir David Attenborough (notable broadcaster and naturalist) wrote to the online-only Independent newspaper to call for an end to certain neuroscience experiments involving primates. This provoked a backlash from the research community, who accused him of being “seduced by pseudoscience“. They may have had a point – Attenborough’s letter,  organised by Cruelty Free International, backed itself up with a recent paper “Non-human primates in neuroscience research: The case against its scientific necessity” (authored by two staff at Cruelty Free International). The UK Expert Group for Non-Human Primate Neuroscience Research told The Independent:

“We are disappointed to see that David Attenborough and a number of scientists have been misled by the pseudoscience in the paper by CFI, an organisation intent on ending research with all animals, not just primates. “

The paper (by Bailey & Taylor, 2016) itself suggests that several medical advances – such as Deep Brain Stimulation – did not rely on animal studies. This would not seem to match what can be seen in the academic literature, indeed Alim Benabid, who won a Lasker Award for his role in developing the technique noted the important role of animal models, including primates.

Researchers Unite!

There are many other events which have played into a frustration by primate researchers, but the response was huge. Understanding Animal Research coordinated a letter on the role of primates in research. Within a few days hundreds of primate researchers and neuroscientists had signed up. Notable signatories included: Sir John Gurdon, who won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and the 2009 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, for their work in reprogramming mature cells into early stem cells; Sir John E Walker, who won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for elucidating the mechanisms behind the synthesis of ATP; Professor Mahlon DeLong and Alim Benabid, who jointly won the 2014 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for their research developing Deep Brain Stimulation as a surgical treatment for Parkinson’s (the same discovery that the Bailey & Taylor, 2016, paper suggested did not require  primates); and Professor Miguel Nicolelis, whose Walk Again project allowed a young paraplegic in an exo-skeleton to kick a football.

neuroscience-starsOver twenty organisations, including Speaking of Research, the Society for Neuroscience (SFN), and the American Psychological Association (APA) signed their support ( a full list of signatories can be found here). The letter was published by the UK newspaper, The Guardian, on 13th September (and the following day in print), along with an accompanying article.

Furthermore, around 400 researchers also signed on to the letter:

Nonhuman primates have long played a key role in life-changing medical advances. A recent white paper by nine scientific societies in the US produced a list of fifty medical advances from the last fifty years made possible through studies on nonhuman primates. These included: treatments for leprosy, HIV and Parkinson’s; the MMR and hepatitis B vaccines; and earlier diagnosis and better treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome and breast cancer.

The biological similarities between humans and other primates means that they are sometimes the only effective model for complex neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. More than ten million people suffer from Parkinson’s worldwide, and a recent study estimated that one in three people born in 2015 will develop dementia in their lifetime. Primate research offers treatments, and hope for future treatments, to patients and their families. Already over two hundred thousand Parkinson’s patients have had their life dramatically improved thanks to Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, which reduces the tremors of sufferers. This treatment was developed from research carried out in a few hundred monkeys in the 1980-90s.

Given that primates are intelligent and sensitive animals, such research requires a higher level of ethical justification. The scientific community continues to work together to minimise the suffering of primates wherever possible. We welcome the worldwide effort to Replace, Refine and Reduce the use of primates in research.

We, the undersigned, believe that if we are to effectively combat the scourge of neurodegenerative and other crippling diseases, we will require the careful and considered use of nonhuman primates. Stringent regulations across the developed world exist to ensure that primates are only used where there is no other available model – be that the use of a mouse or a non-animal alternative and to protect the wellbeing of those animals still required. The use of primates is not undertaken lightly, however, while not all primate research results in a new treatment, it nonetheless plays a role in developing both the basic and applied knowledge that is crucial for medical advances.

A segment of the letter printed in the Guardian

A segment of the letter printed in the Guardian

Get involved – show your support!

While, the letter itself is published. Understanding Animal Research are continuing the accept signatories from neuroscientists and primate researchers (signatories must be from academia and must hold a PhD, MD or equivalent). These are being updated on a regular basis on their website.

So if you wish to sign – click here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/PrimateLetter

Already they are up to over 550 signatories – just one week after they started collecting (considerably more than the 21 signatories that Cruelty Free International managed in their letter, and with a lot more expertise in the area of Neuroscience).

Speaking of Research