Category Archives: SR News

2017 SFN Attendees: Does your research depend on animal models?

If it does, consider adding this session to your conference plan:

What: SFN Animals in Research Panel. How to Effectively Communicate Your Animal Research:  Elevator Speech, Social Media, and Best Practices.  When & Where:  Monday November 13. Noon-2pm. Room 103A

Why? (as in, SFN is busy enough, why add a “non-new-science-discoveries-session” to your already packed science agenda?)

Reason 1) Did you answer “Yes, my research depends on animal models?” If so, communicating about your work via media and other public avenues can involve some challenges if you plan on accurately conveying your work.  

Sharing the findings, value, and excitement about research is something that scientists do through peer-reviewed publications, but also popular and public media. Communicating well—in an accessible and engaging way—about new discoveries can be a challenge in of itself. Good science communicators within university and institutional press offices can provide enormously valuable help. For those whose work depends on animal models, there are often unique challenges to public communication about the research. That may range from concern and fear about attracting the attention of opponents of animal research to uncertainly about how to talk about animal research to suppression by institutions who do prefer to remain low profile about their animal research programs.

The SFN panel addresses these challenges and can add to your tool-kit to assist you in broader dissemination of your work. The panel will be led by experts with extensive experience in public communication about animal research.  Together, the interactive panel will provide a basic understanding of, and show attendees strategies to engage with, various audiences on the importance and benefits of animal research.

The panelists include:

Amanda M. Dettmer, a senior editor for Speaking of Research, an international advocacy group that provides accurate information about the importance of animal research in biomedical science. Amanda obtained her PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and for over 15 years has been studying nonhuman primate models of human development and disease. She is currently working in Washington, DC, as the American Psychological Association’s 2017-18 Executive Branch Science Policy Fellow.

Paula Clifford, MA Executive Director, Americans for Medical Progress. Paula Clifford is the Executive Director for Americans for Medical Progress where she is leading national advocacy efforts. She creates and implements several innovative programs designed to provide information to the public about biomedical research and the role of animals in advancing medicine and science. Previously, she was the Executive Director for the PA Society for Biomedical Research (PSBR) where she led efforts to provide educational programs about biomedical research for K-12 classrooms.

Chris Barncard, Research Communications, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Chris writes about science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, describing new insights on the world around us in a way that the uninitiated can understand. Alongside coverage of psychology, engineering and energy research, he helps researchers talk to journalists and the public about their work with animals. His work can be found at the UW-Madison animal research website where a dynamic news section is updated regularly with stories about the university’s research. Chris has also worked as a newspaper reporter, winning awards for coverage of elections, gambling and suicide.

Another reason to make time in your SFN schedule:  Did you answer “Yes, my research depends on animal models?” If so, your work also depends on public knowledge about animal research.  

Why? Because animal research may only be conducted if the public, through its elected representatives, continues to support legislation and regulation that allows for nonhuman animals to be involved in humane, well-regulated, and ethical research.

While you may know that such studies are only permitted in the US under a host of conditions mandated by federal law, it is safe to assume that there is a wide swath of the public—including voters, students, journalists, and policy-makers—who do not know.  You may know that:

  • Animal research is highly-regulated, with standards to protect animal welfare and oversight by institutional and federal agencies
  • Federally-funded research must balance scientific objectives with consideration of animal welfare
  • Laws require that animal research may only be conducted when there is no appropriate alternative to reach the scientific objective
  • Basic research is the foundation of discoveries that provide for new understanding of behavior, brain, biology and health
  • In turn, basic research – much of it with nonhuman animals – is critical to developing new prevention, treatment, and intervention to benefit human and animal health, society, and the environment

None of that may matter much though if the larger public is left in the dark.  Over the past decades, SFN has grown in size and new discoveries in neuroscience have proliferated to substantially advance understanding of the brain and health. At the same time, public opinion polls show a continuing decline in public approval for animal research. The gap between scientists and the public is large. In a recent PEW poll, for example, nearly 90% of AAAS sciences favored the continued use of animals in research, while less than 50% of the general public felt the same.

Opinion differences between the general public and AAAS scientists (adapted from Pew, 2015).

Is this what the scientific community thinks:  Not our job, not our problem?

The gap between opinions of scientists and those of the public is likely caused by many factors. Among them is the probability of differences in knowledge about why animal research is needed, what it has accomplished, when it is necessary, and how it is conducted—including how studies are evaluated, how animals are cared for, and how it is overseen.  Scientists can play an important role in engaging in public dialogue and informing the public about each of these topics.

Scientists have many responsibilities and demands on their time. After all, they are charged with doing science, writing papers and sharing science; with teaching and training students and next generation scientists; with service work that includes reviewing papers and grant proposals; and with generating new ideas, new avenues of discovery and obtaining funding to make the work happen.

None of that leaves a lot of time for public engagement and education about the big picture – why animal research is needed. In some cases, scientists believe that the job of public engagement and communication is one best left to others. Indeed, there are full-time organizations whose mission is entirely public outreach, education, and advocacy.  There are also full-time science communicators, public information officers, and others within our universities and research institutions whose job it is to engage with the public and share news about science.

Scientists themselves play a key role in communicating the science accurately and fully to the public. The SFN panel aims to provide scientists with tools for doing so and with information to carry back and facilitate efforts at their own institutions.

Want to do more?  Tweet, blog, and share!

If you’re planning to be at the SFN panel, please consider live-tweeting the session with hashtags #animalresearch #sfn17.  We will storify the tweets to provide a view for those who cannot attend (and to share with university and institutional communications offices).

Better yet, if you’d like to write a guest post summarizing the panel and your own take-away messages, please contact us or leave a comment below. We would love to provide space for SFN guest bloggers who would like to share why their research matters and why it depends on animal models.

Speaking of Research

 

Join us at the 5th International Conference of the Basel Declaration Society in February 2018

The 5th International conference of the Basel Declaration Society, focused on “Openness and Transparency: Building Trust in Animal Research” will take place in San Francisco on the 14th – 15th February 2018. Four Speaking of Research committee members will be involved as speakers or workshop leaders – Allyson Bennett (also University of Wisconsin), Paula Clifford (also Americans for Medical Progress), Tom Holder, and Kirk Leech (also European Animal Research Association).

The conference is free to attend (on a first come first serve basis), and the deadline for registration is 1st December 2017. So register today! The full conference program provides an insight on what promises to be an interesting and useful day on animal research communication.

The conference aims to provide “a unique opportunity for all stakeholders from academia and industry to meet and discuss best-practice examples of improved open communication and other innovative efforts to increase trust [in animal research]”. It has been convened by Americans for Medical Progress, Foundation for Biomedical Research, National Association for Biomedical Research, and the Basel Declaration Society.

Speaking of Research committee involvement:

  • Kirk Leech, who is also the Director of the European Animal Research Association, will discuss “How greater openness with the public can ease pressures on the animal research supply chain”
  • Tom Holder, Director of Speaking of Research, will provide “The case for openness: why institutions benefit from a proactive approach to animal research communication”. He will also be leading a workshop on “Science Communication and Social Networks”
  • Paula Clifford (also AMP) and Allyson J. Bennett (also University of Wisconsin) will jointly lead a workshop on “Openness and transparency in animal research”. The aim of this workshop is to work on a written document that can be seen as a commitment to a process aiming to increase openness and transparency concerning animal research in the USA.

UCLA scientist and former SR committee member, Dario Ringach, will also be speaking on the “Moral disputes on science”.

Read the full program.

By bringing together speakers from Europe and North America, the conference hopes to share some of the best examples of openness from across the developed world. This comes during a time of falling public support for animal research in both the US and UK (though the UK saw a slight uptick in support in the most recent polls).

Credits: J. You/Science; (Data) Ipsos MORI, Gallup

Our animal research statement list continues to lengthen, suggesting a greater number of institutions committing to being more open about their animal research. Yet many institutions in many countries still do not acknowledge the animal research they so publicly. The list shows a diversity of available information – with many institutions providing all manner of information, case studies, images and videos, while many more provide only the briefest mention of their own scientific endeavors.

We hope many of you will be able to join us at the Basel Declaration Society conference in February, so register today!

If you don’t want to miss a thing

Thanks to the incredible work of the SR committee, the amount of news we produce has risen to the point that there are posts almost every other day. Our end-of-week Research Roundup allows readers to keep abreast of the week’s animal science news, while we also cover news from animal rights groups, worldwide statistics, and more.  Our hard work is being rewarded, Speaking of Research are increasingly being quoted in the media, and our calls to action are being taken up by hundreds of scientists (For example, Christine Lattin has already received over 300 comments of support).

We want to make it as easy as possible for you to catchall our great stories, so here are three ways you can keep up to date.

1. Email 

At the bottom-right of any page (on desktop view) is a button allowing you to sign up for email alerts. Receive a quick email from WordPress the moment a new post is published. THe button may look slightly different if you are logged into a personal WordPress account at the time.

Find the button pictured to sign up for email alerts.

 

2. Facebook

All the latest stories are posted on our Facebook page, usually within an hour of them going up on the website. This allows you to easily share the posts with your friends. You can also find links to other interesting animal research stories from across the internet – all in one place. So please “like” us on Facebook, and encourage friends and colleagues to do so as well.

3. Twitter

We provide links to all our latest posts on our @SpeakofResearch Twitter feed. On top of this we also tweet and retweet links and information we think is useful to our supporters. So please follow us!

4. LinkedIn

Most of our posts can also be found on our LinkedIn page, so please take a moment to follow us on this platform.

5. Visit us all the time

The tried and tested tradition of booking marking our website and visiting it every day to check for new posts is still a great way of ensuring you don’t miss a thing. Seriously though, something new might have been posted … hit F5 and check. No? What about now?

If you came to this post hoping for something about Aerosmith, we’re sorry you had to read this far:

We’ve always assumed he was talking about Speaking of Research too!

P.s. Thanks to Dr Windsor for suggesting we add this feature to our website!

FDA response to Goodall letter found lacking

On September 25, 2017, Dr. Scott Gottlieb , Commissioner of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) replied to a scathing letter from Dr. Jane Goodall, where Goodall denounced what she called the “cruel and unnecessary nicotine addiction experiments on monkeys”. We previously evaluated that letter from Goodall and now do the same with Commissioner Gottlieb’s letter.

The FDA Commissioner’s letter starts with an acknowledged appreciation of Goodall’s opinion and a re-statement of the FDA’s commitment to compliance with the rules and guidance governing the use of animals for research. It is indeed admirable that Commissioner Gottlieb places emphasis on compliance with the long-standing regulatory framework and guidance governing animal research in the US. What is unacknowledged in the letter is that all studies involving animals used in research, including the one that Goodall references, are continually monitored with respect to such compliance.

Gottlieb writes:

“After learning of concerns related to the study you referenced, I directed the Agency to place a hold on the research study earlier this month. Accordingly, at this time, all experimentation involving the monkeys in the study you referenced has been halted.”

Several things are surprising about this approach. Foremost, the vague reference to “concerns” when coupled with the failure to mention the review and oversight mechanisms in place, can give a public impression that is confusing. For example, is Gottlieb saying that his response is driven by Goodall and WCW? Speaking of Research, like the scientific community, supports an effective oversight system that has mechanisms for investigation and correction of animal welfare issues. In this letter, however, the Commissioner appears to bow to celebrity opinion, halting an ongoing experiment without providing evidence or acknowledgement of the continual monitoring that surrounds research. In fact, subsequent media coverage of Gottlieb’s response also conveys the impression that the decision was made directly in response to Goodall’s letter.

This is alarming on many levels. There is, for example, no acknowledgement of contact with the research institution’s federally-mandated review board (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, IACUC), no mention of the FDA’s process for review of research, or evaluation of records. Instead, the letter suggests that the federal agency’s decision is a bow to celebrity pressure from Goodall, who is acting on behalf of an anti-animal research organization (White Coat Waste, WCW).

Gottlieb continues:

“I asked for a medical team of primate experts to conduct a site visit to evaluate the safety and well-being of the monkeys and to understand whether there are additional precautions needed.”

This statement and the announcement of “halting” the study, absent any other information, imply that animal health and well-being are in immediate jeopardy. The evidence for that claim is not presented. If the animals were in immediate jeopardy, we would expect that the facility’s personnel would be taking action. Whether that is the case or not cannot be ascertained from Gottlieb’s letter. At the very least, the commissioner’s letter should acknowledge any ongoing efforts by his agency’s personnel—including those at National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR).

Squirrel monkey. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

The letter can leave readers with the several wrong impressions by leaving out any information about the expertise of the existing veterinary, animal care, and scientific staff at the federal facility. Readers may be left with impression that primate experts—including scientists and veterinarians — are absent at the long-standing federal research facility, the NCTR. That is unlikely to be the case. Further, even when people with a high level of expertise and experience are present, adverse events that require thoughtful review and modifications in procedures sometimes occur. Animal research, like all human endeavors, has potential for error. Research teams, IACUCs, and regulatory bodies all play a role in making sure that those errors are addressed and corrected. Thus, in light of full transparency, actions taken by the institutional IACUC, the scientists, and the facility’s veterinarians, along with further information including the timing and venue for a public report of findings before decisions are taken need to be specified.

Gottlieb’s letter continues:

“I also appointed an independent FDA review team, led by senior career experts and with the guidance of primate veterinarians, to assess the science and integrity of the animal research process for this study. I also asked this team to evaluate whether the re-initiation of the study you referenced is necessary to fulfill FDA’s public health responsibilities, or if the study should be halted indefinitely.”

This is one of the more troubling aspects of the FDA commission’s letter as it is unclear whether he is aware that firstly, this study must have gone through rigorous review in terms of scientific merit, evaluation of the risks to the animals being used as well as the proposed benefit to humans, when it was funded. Secondly, the IACUC at this institution will have vetted all procedures being performed on these animals, including consideration of response and correction should an adverse situation occur.

Finally, separate to this letter, but parallel to this issue, an FDA spokeswoman is quoted as stating, “the agency is also considering creating a wider-ranging function that would provide for even greater oversight of the care of animals in the agency’s possession.”

This statement is alarming in its lack of specificity and requires clarification. Does it mean that FDA is conducting a re-assessment of the existing federal structure for reviewing and conducting all animal research? If so, what is the impetus for the review? How is it different from existing policies? Who is involved in the review? What is the process by which public interests in scientific research that informs public health policy will be protected and scientific objectives balanced with animal welfare? How will the public be assured that the full range of relevant expertise is included in the review? There are many additional questions—all raised by the statement, none addressed, as far as we are aware, by any other materials provided by the FDA.

Finally, it is also important, in light of full transparency that the FDA provides an update about its ongoing lawsuit with WCW. The WCW suit appears to have arisen as a consequence of the FDA’s response to a WCW freedom of information (FOIA) request for records about the NCTR research. At this time, it is unclear whether the FDA’s decision to suspend this ongoing and already scientifically-justified funded research is related to this lawsuit. The Washington Post writes:

“Goodall was enlisted in the fight against the monkey tests by the White Coat Waste Project, an advocacy group that says its goal is to publicize and end taxpayer-funded animal experiments. In January, the organization obtained 64 pages of documents on the nicotine-addiction research from the FDA under the Freedom of Information Act. It is suing the agency to get more information on the research’s costs, as well as veterinary records and photographs and videos of the experiments.”

Speaking of Research is not the only organization concerned with the FDA response. The American Psychological Association (APA), the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP), and the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD), have jointly penned their own letter to the FDA demanding a clear explanation for the suspension of the nicotine research project. Part of it is quoted below:

“As you may be aware, Dr. Goodall’s letter to you came at the behest of an organization, White Coat Waste Project (WCW), that is fundamentally opposed to all research with nonhuman animals. Your decision to suspend the research is extremely troubling because it appears to have occurred without any substantive input from experts in the scientific community who have deep knowledge and understanding of research on substance use disorders. Furthermore, the methods and technologies used in this study have been rigorously validated and commonly used in studies of substance use disorders, including research that is funded by other federal agencies, such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).”

Speaking of Research shares the APA, ACNP and CPDD’s concerns. We hope the FDA will be forthcoming with an explanation of the suspension of the research project in question. We also hope that they will be taking the evidence of experts over the opinions of prominent celebrity scientists and animal rights groups.

Speaking of Research

Speaking of Research response to FDA announcement regarding nicotine research

For immediate release

Speaking of Research response to FDA announcement regarding nicotine research

Late on September 25, as reported by the Washington Post, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made the startling announcement that it has suspended a nicotine research project involving non-human primates; the goal of this research is to build a better scientific approach to preventing and treating smoking and its associated health complications. The FDA has not yet provided evidence or clear justification for why they took this action. This lack of transparency is concerning not only for halting an important research program that had the potential to improve human health, but also for the welfare of the animals involved.

The FDA yesterday began a review of animal welfare at the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) where the research was conducted. The reason given for the review is four animal deaths that occurred over an unspecified time period. Whether the deaths were associated with the research procedures is also unspecified. While it is not clear when the deaths occurred, the article and timing of the announcement followed closely after publicity from a letter by celebrity primatologist Jane Goodall to the FDA Commissioner, stating her opinion that the research should be halted. Furthermore, Dr. Goodall has aligned herself with an anti-animal research group, The White Coat Waste Project, which perpetuates the notion that research addressing the health problems associated with substance use disorders, including problematic tobacco use, in animals is unethical. Together, these events raise the extremely disturbing possibility that the FDA may have relied on claims provided by individuals with no scientific background or expertise in addiction science to make their decision, rather than on sound scientific evidence.

In an open letter posted at Speaking of Research on September 22, dozens of scientific experts, including the many of the nation’s leading scientists conducting research into drug abuse and alcoholism, expressed deep concern over Dr. Goodall’s egregious and unscientific remarks.  Research into the biological effects of nicotine using primate models has, and continues to be, critical for understanding and development of medications for tobacco use, which is unquestionably a major public health problem worldwide.  That this research could be halted due to political reasons is outrageous, and speaks to the influence of a group opposed to animal research and their celebrity allies over science that impacts the health and care of our citizens.

Dr. J. David Jentsch, a spokesperson for Speaking of Research said:

“Speaking of Research condemns the lack of transparency surrounding the decision to halt important research into understanding addiction.  We call on the FDA to provide much greater transparency on this issue, including a full explanation as to why they have cancelled the studies, and information on the findings of any and all inspections of the NCTR facility leading up to this decision.  

“We are gravely concerned over the influence that Jane Goodall and the animal rights organization The White Coat Waste Project appear to have over FDA research. Animal research remains a critical component of our understanding of disease and the development of new treatments to tackle them. The FDA must be led by the advice of the research community, not from those minimal understanding of key scientific issues.”

###

Squirrel monkey.

EU Regulations on animal research explained

The Speaking of Research website aims is one of the biggest and most accurate resources for information about animal research worldwide. In our mission to provide as much information as possible, we have recently added a page on the European Union’s regulation of animal experiments. While regulations across the 28-EU countries are created and implemented at a national level, they must all conform to EU Directive 2010/63, which aims to harmonise the regulations between member countries. 

Our new page on “Animal Research Regulation in the EU“, adds to those pages on UK and US legislation, to help people understand the requirements that EU Directive 2010/63 places on EU member countries.

See an overview of EU legislation below:

Countries in Europe have differing systems of regulation, but those within the European Union must meet the standards set out by EU Directive 2010/63/EU. The purpose of the Directive is to harmonise standards across the EU, as well as to promote and implement the 3Rs – Replacement, Refinement and Reduction  of animals used for research. The Directive was adopted in 2010, but member states were given until January 2013 to transpose these regulations into domestic law.

Where specific parts of a country’s laboratory animal welfare standards were higher, they were permitted to retain them, for example, the UK retains its additional protections for cats, dogs, horses and primates. However, overall, the minimum regulations set by the EU are high by international standards. Every aspect from cage sizes to staff training is covered, with the 3Rs of Reduction, Replacement and Refinement at the heart of the Directive’s aims. The Directive requires a risk-based inspection regime and lays down minimum standards for housing and care, and systematic project evaluation. While the UK follows these EU regulations, we have written about their specific rules and regulations on our Animal Research Regulations in the UK page. In March 2017, the UK gave notice of its intention to leave the EU, however, the Government has so far suggested it intends to maintain its current animal welfare legislation after Brexit.

The legislation covers non-human vertebrate species (including independently feeding larval forms and last trimester foetal forms of mammals) and cephalopods.

Cephalopods, such as octopus and cuttlefish, are protected under EU regulations

[…]

All EU countries must also provide public statistics outlining the numbers of animal procedures completed each year. These are broken down in many ways, including by species, by type of research, and by severity. Speaking of Research provide analysis of these national statistical releases, which can be found on our Animal Research Statistics page. Across the EU, mice, rats, birds and fish tend to account for over 90% of the animals used in each country.

Scientists must also produce a non-technical summary of their experiment – essentially an abstract stripped of esoteric language so it can be understood by a layman. In countries such as the UK, these are made available on the regulator’s website for the general public to see (UK example).

To read the whole article, see our page on EU legislation.

Speaking of Research

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”)?

animal-testing-search-annotated

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.

pew-research-animal-research

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