Tag Archives: Allyson Bennett

Time for a change? A Scientist’s View of Public Interests in Animal Research and Welfare

Each fall since 1950, the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science has held its annual National Meeting. During the five days of the meeting, members and nonmembers come together to enjoy the workshops, lectures, poster sessions, and exhibits. The AALAS National Meeting is the largest gathering in the world of professionals concerned with the production, care, and use of laboratory animals. 

The September 2014 issue of AALAS’ signature publication, Laboratory Animal Science Professional, focused on the upcoming 65th National Meeting to be held in San Antonio, Texas, October 19-23, 2014. The magazine was delighted to publish an article from Allyson J. Bennett, this year’s Charles River Ethics and Animal Welfare Lecturer. Dr. Bennett shared thoughts from her upcoming lecture and was featured on the magazine’s cover.

“Time for a Change?” by Dr. Allyson J. Bennett appeared in Laboratory Animal Science Professional, September 2014, and is reprinted by permission.

Laboratory Animal Science

Time for a change? A Scientist’s View of Public Interests in Animal Research and Welfare

Public interest in animal research and welfare extend well over a century, with deep roots in different views of moral action, and the power to ignite highly charged emotional responses. Public interests are of two kinds: One is as recipients of the benefits that research delivers. The other is as decision-makers whose actions and views shape the social contract and conditions under which animal research is done—or not.

Decisions about animal research have consequences at societal and individual levels. As a result, serious consideration of the facts, inherent moral dilemmas, and future of animal research should extend far beyond the research community. What we often see instead is public interest in laboratory animal research represented not as the complex thing it is, but rather as a simple split: scientists on one side and animal rightists on the other. Logic versus compassion. Harm to other animals versus benefit to humans. Saving sick children versus hugging puppies. Heroes versus villains.

In this cartoon vision, opponents stand at an unbridgeable gap armed with different conclusions from facts that may, or may not, overlap. Each argues their case to sway the public, legislators, media, and youth to “their side.” This approach persists despite the long history, complexity, and critical importance of animal research to public interests.

Often animal research discussions begin and end without thoughtful dialogue, or even full acknowledgement, of what gives rise to opposed positions. Most obvious is the divide over whether animals should ever be part of research and, if so, which animals and for which purposes. Less obvious are some fundamentally different understandings and visions of how science works, how deeply it is woven into more than a century of profound changes in health, environment, and technology and out understanding of the world.

Scientists, laboratory animal research community members, advocates, and educators can play important roles in advancing the public dialogue beyond old and polarized scripts. Conveying accurate and substantial knowledge about animal research is a primary responsibility. We can share why we believe the lines of division are false, why identifying heroes and villains falls short, and why we should reject the science versus compassion formulation.

We can contribute to the dialogue with specific examples illuminating why it is wrong to cast the issue as science versus animals, or to divide along the lines of those who conduct the work and those who protect the animals. We can demonstrate that scientific study is responsible for much of what we understand about other animals and for advancing better animal welfare. Animal research has fostered better medical treatment, conservation strategies, and care for other animals.

At its heart, the purpose and motivation for animal research is the drive to reduce suffering and improve human and animal health. There is no compassion in ignoring the suffering of humans and animals threatened by Ebola or any other disease. Nor should a small, privileged segment of global society make decisions that disregard the world’s population, animals, and environment.

As knowledge, need, and perspectives continue to change, these and other topics will be central to advancing a deeper consideration and informed dialogue that can protect public interests in animal research.

This cannot be the job of scientists alone, nor does it require information and expertise available only to scientists. It may require additional effort from all of us to better understand the topics, core moral issues, and consequences of different courses of action. It will require time and change to place serious and full consideration of these issues at the center of public dialogue, but it is time well spent to move forward in addressing the difficult choices and challenges we encounter as we seek to improve a shared world.

Allyson J. Bennett, PhD is a developmental psychobiologist on the faculty of the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the Chair of the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Animal Research Ethics. Dr. Bennett is part of Speaking of Research, a volunteer organization that seeks to improve public education and dialogue about animal research. Speaking of Research’s news blog can be found here: http://www.speakingofresearch.com

Many voices speaking of animal research

We recently wrote about the range of existing venues, activities, and materials designed to encourage public dialogue and informed discussion about animal research.  Many individuals, institutions, and organizations contribute to public outreach and education efforts. They also take active roles in dialogue about continuing changes in practice and policy concerning animal welfare and the conduct of animal research.  This post is the first in a series hosted by Speaking of Research to highlight a wide range of individuals and groups devoted to consideration of animal research.

American Psychological Association:  Committee on Animal Research and Ethics

Scientific societies are sometimes portrayed as being loath to openly advocate for animal research. It’s time to lay that myth to rest.  A wide range of scientific societies actively support and advocate for the animal research conducted by its members, including the American Psychological Association (APA), of which we are members.

APA has one of, if not the oldest, governance groups dedicated to safeguarding and promoting ethical research with nonhuman animals. The APA Committee on Animal Research and Ethics (CARE) was established in 1925 by psychologists who were also animal researchers and were concerned about animal welfare during surgical experiments.

For over eighty years, CARE (or one of its precursors) has played a leading role in promoting and supporting ethical research with nonhuman animals in the behavioral and psychological sciences. As early as 1925, many research psychologists recognized both the need for attention to animal welfare and the need to participate actively in public discussion of this work.  They also recognized that psychologists have appropriate expertise to make unique contributions to each of these goals.  The early membership of CARE reflects this expertise and the range of research areas represented by the committee, including for example:  Edward Tolman, Robert Yerkes, Frank Beach, Harry Harlow, Neal Miller, and Paul Thomas Young.

American Psychological Association Committee on Animal Research and Ethics brochures

In keeping with its mission, CARE advocates at the federal level by promoting evidence-based legislation and regulatory proposals that enhance animal welfare while at the same time support valuable research.

Recognizing the need to maintain the public’s trust in science, in general, and animal research in particular, CARE’s educational and outreach activities focus on disseminating accurate information about nonhuman animal research in psychology, including a brochure and a DVD series for classroom use at the high school and early college levels.

CARE also takes an active role in science education. CARE encourages teachers at the K-12 level to expose their students to the responsibilities and obligations that are integral to conducting research with nonhuman animals. One way to accomplish this is by involving students in science fair projects that include animals. To assist these teachers, CARE developed and routinely updates its Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Behavioral Projects in Schools (K-12).

CARE provides valuable resources for researchers.  These include developing and updating a set of guidelines for ethical conduct in the care and use of animals. Adherence to these guidelines is a requirement of all research articles published in APA scientific journals. Furthermore, the APA recognizes that ethical standards and guidance for treatment of animals in research are not static and evolve with new scientific evidence. As a result, the society maintains a dynamic process for continuing evaluation and updating of the guidelines.

Finally, CARE provides resources for researchers who are targeted by anti-animal research groups.  Support and encouragement is extended to institutions to maintain their animal research programs and to continue supporting their faculty who conduct such research.

Contrary to the misperception that scientific societies do little to advocate for animal research, even a brief review of the APA CARE history and current activities demonstrate a long-standing and effective commitment to this goal.  But more importantly, psychologists recognized and acted decades ago to strongly support the ethical use of animals in research and to consider the balance of animal welfare and scientific progress.  CARE’s activities support not only the APA membership of over 154,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultant, and students but the field of psychology as a whole, as well as all scientists who conduct research with animals.

Barbara Kaminski, PhD, APA CARE member, (2008-2011), Division 25 and Division 28

George F. Michel, PhD, APA Fellow, Division 3 and Division 6

Allyson J. Bennett, PhD, APA CARE member (2011-2013), Division 6

Bridging the gap: Monkey studies shed light on nature, nurture, and how experiences get under the skin

“Is it nature or nurture?”
“How does that work? How can social experiences actually change someone’s brain?”
“So early experiences matter, but how much?  Is it reversible? How long does it last? Is there a way to change the course?”

All of these are popular questions that I hear from students, community members, clinicians, and other scientists when I talk about my research with monkeys.  The nature vs. nurture question is one of high public interest.  It is one that is at the center of our understanding of who we are and how we come to be that way.  And it is a very old question.  Yet it is also one that continues to resonate and become even more intriguing as new discoveries rapidly change what we know about biology and genes, and illuminate with increasing specificity the ways in which nature and nurture together play dynamic roles in shaping the development of each individual.

For example, through research with humans, monkeys, rats, mice and other animals, we know that genes are not only involved in differences between individuals’ behavior, health, and biology, but also that an individual’s social environment and childhood experiences can actually change how genes behave and, in turn, have biological consequences.  In other words, those previous gray areas surrounding exactly how nature and nurture work together are now being filled in with a more specific understanding.

Why does this matter? There are many important reasons. Among them, it is this specific information that allows us to develop better prevention, intervention, and treatment strategies for those negative health outcomes that follow adverse experiences. One example of this can be found in our rapidly advancing knowledge of how brain neurochemistry, which plays a major role in mental health disorders, is affected both by genetic differences between individuals and also by early life experiences. This knowledge provides not only the basis for developing treatments that target the specific neurochemicals involved in a disorder, but also provides important clues for early identification and intervention for those at risk. At the same time, understanding that experiences have long-lasting consequences on biological pathways involved in lifetime health underscores the importance of public policies that work to promote better early environments.

I am one of the many scientists who are devoted to work aimed at better understanding how many different kinds of early experiences can influence a wide range of health outcomes during an individual’s lifespan. My own part of this work primarily includes non-invasive studies with monkeys and focuses on developmental questions about behavior, aspects of brain chemistry and development, and genetics. For example, I use neuroimaging (MRI) to look at how brain development can be affected by early life experiences and we have monkeys play videogames, solve puzzles, and respond to mild challenges so that we can better understand their learning, memory, cognition, and temperament.

Part of my work involves studying how middle-aged monkeys (15+ years old) who were raised in infancy with their mothers differ from monkeys nursery-reared in infancy with their peers. The two groups have the same experiences following the early life period, and during infancy and throughout their lives, both groups are housed in enriched environments with excellent diets, toys, and medical care. Although my current work is focused on a small number of nursery-reared animals, it does not involve creating new animals or a nursery. It depends on healthy animals who have been part of our work for many years and, as with all of our studies, we treat these animals humanely, with careful attention to providing them with healthy diets, environmental enrichment (e.g., a variety of toys, puzzles, fresh fruit and vegetables, and foraging opportunities), and excellent clinical care by veterinarians.  We do this because we care about the animals’ well-being and also because our studies depend upon healthy animals.

Adult rhesus macaque

There are less than a handful of studies concerned with how monkeys’ early rearing influences their behavior and other aspects of health in middle- and older-age. As a result, although we have a strong platform of knowledge about the effects of early life experience in younger animals, we know very little about whether these effects persist into older age, about what systems are affected, and the degree to which individuals vary.

This study, like those of others who study the effect of different early life experiences on a range of health outcomes, is aimed at uncovering the biological basis of a key finding relevant to human health. We know from human studies that a wide range of early experiences, including not only childhood neglect and abuse, but also poverty and other types of adversity, are associated with negative health outcomes later in life. In humans, however, it is impossible to truly disentangle the effects of early adverse life experiences from differences in diet, environment, access to medical care, and other factors that vary across the lifespan. Animal studies allow us to control many of the factors that vary widely in humans and have consequences on health. For example, animals with different early experiences have the same environment and experiences afterwards, including healthy diets and excellent medical care. As a result, when we find significant differences in behavior, brain chemistry, brain structure, and immunology between animals with different early experiences we know that these differences are not due to disparity later in life.

Early experiences do not tell the whole story, however, as we know from the common observation that two individuals who experience the same early environment or challenging experiences, may wind up with very different health pathways.  Part of the obvious reason for this is genetic variation. Understanding how differences in genes contribute, however, and which biological pathways are affected or how permanent those effects may be, are now the real questions that remain to be fully answered. Animal studies provide one of the critical ways to view the interplay and roles of genes, environments, and experiences. This is because, unlike in human studies, animal studies can make use of strong experimental control and mechanistic approaches in order to compare the biological and behavioral responses of individuals who have similar genes and different environments, or individuals with different genes in the same environment.

Another part of my research involves studying how genes affect an individual’s response to the environment and how that occurs at a biological level.  The kinds of questions that we address include:  When two individuals experience the same stress, or the same environment, why are some relatively unaffected (resilient) and others more vulnerable?  What genes play a role in this difference?  What biological systems?  My work, along with that of my colleagues, has demonstrated that genetic factors play a crucial role in how individuals differ in terms of their resilience or vulnerability to early adversity. It is through studies with monkeys that my colleagues and I were able to first identify how interplay between specific genetic variation and early experiences together influence brain chemistry that influences a wide range of behaviors and aspects of health.  This finding in monkeys preceded and spurred subsequent similar studies in humans that continue to show that for most complex traits, genes do not always predict an individual’s destiny; environments have tremendous influence; and understanding individual differences requires consideration of both nature and nurture. As a result, we not only now know more about the genetic and biological underpinnings of individual differences in vulnerability to early life stress, but we also can move forward in identifying the specific ways that this occurs.

In all of these studies, our goal is to produce new understanding about how early experiences affect individuals throughout their lives.  Furthermore, like other biomedical animal research, our goal is to produce information that is relevant to human health and to address questions that are raised by challenges to human health but that cannot be addressed in studies of humans. In other words, aspects of similarity between human and nonhuman primate genetics and biological response to experiences are central to the rationale and success of the research. Studies with monkeys are a small, but important, part of the research aimed at uncovering how early experiences affect health.  As with most areas of research, new understanding and progress depend upon bridges between studies that use different populations (both human and other animal) and that draw from many different areas of expertise. Work in this area has progressed through the efforts of psychologists, neuroscientists, behaviorists, geneticists, molecular biologists, immunologists, physicians, population epidemiologists, sociologists, and others. In other words, the question is of interest from many perspectives and is addressed with interdisciplinary approaches that make it possible to build connections between findings so that the results of basic research can provide useful evidence to inform better health practices, clinical care, and public policy.

Why are these studies and findings important?  In short, because they provide us with a way to better understand the specific biological mechanisms by which early life events affect health.  As a result of decades of research in both humans and other animals, we know some of the specific biological, neural, immunological, and genetic pathways that are affected. These studies have informed progress in our understanding of the importance of early childhood experiences for lifelong health, the biological basis of mental health disorders, and the potential to change health trajectories through early identification of risk and appreciation of individual differences. Through the combined force of basic and clinical studies, we will continue to progress in understanding how genes, experiences, and biology interact. In turn, this understanding will continue to help in pinpointing mechanistic targets and shedding new light on those avenues for prevention, intervention, and treatment that improve human and animal health.

Allyson J. Bennett, Ph.D.

What Cost Savings? A Closer Look at the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011

The status and future of chimpanzee research in the US are at the heart of much discussion lately in both scientific and public (also here and here) spheres.  A committee convened by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to consider the issue held a number of meetings and is expected to report its findings to the NIH by the end of this year. Legislation to end great ape research, also introduced in 2007 and 2009 (H.R. 1513: Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011;  S. 810: Great Ape  Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011; GAPA), was again introduced last Spring. This is the fourth of a series of posts aimed at encouraging thoughtful and fact-based consideration of the full range of complex issues associated with chimpanzee research and both short- and long-term responsibility for their welfare, care and housing. Posts include:

08/12/11: Facts must inform discussion of future of chimpanzee research.

10/13/11: Joseph M. Erwin, PhD Efforts to ban chimpanzee research are misguided.

11/21/11: A closer look at the Great Ape Protection Act.

Previous posts and other discussions of chimpanzee research have focused on ethical questions, animal welfare, and ongoing evaluation of the role chimpanzees do play, or should play, in scientific research.  These are the most important issues to address in discussion of the future of great apes in the U.S. At the same time, this year’s version of the Great Ape Protection Act has included a new focus, with addition of the phrase “and Cost Savings.”  The new language and the calculations given as basis for its assertions have received relatively little careful broad discussion or evaluation.

According to cost analysis for the legislation compiled by the Humane Society of the United States, the majority of cost-savings from GAPA – 76% – would result from ending federal grants for projects involving chimpanzees.  Of the “nearly $30 million saved annually” over $22 million reflects funds committed to support research projects that involve chimpanzees and are funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

HSUS GAPA Cost Analysis

It appears that this number was arrived at by summing the cost of all NIH grants that involve chimpanzees, regardless of their topic or the types of activities in which the animals are engaged. Whether this number could reflect the total funds invested in what is commonly considered invasive research is not readily apparent. Some of these grants may involve noninvasive studies, others may be dedicated to studies that require as little as samples of DNA—something commonly done in human studies. It does appear that the underlying assumption for the cost analysis is a complete block on any NIH research grants that involve chimpanzees. (We welcome correction if this is not an assumption of the HSUS analysis or any cost analysis used to support the claims associated with GAPA.)

The remaining savings are projected from reduction in care costs if the animals were moved to sanctuaries.  Whether sanctuaries provide lower-cost care than research facilities is subject to some debate, in part because care costs vary across facilities. This is illustrated in the most recent data published by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) October 31, 2011 “Costs for Maintaining Humane Care and Welfare of Chimpanzees:”

Based on the most recent awards and payments, NIH is spending an average of $35 per day per chimpanzee in research facilities; $67.00 per day per chimpanzee in the research reserve facility at Alamogordo Primate Facility (APF); and $47 per day per chimpanzee in the federal sanctuary facility operated by Chimp Haven. The average for research facilities becomes $44 per day if the research reserve facility at APF is included. See Table 1 for detailed figures.”

The reasons for variance in costs are complex. Among other things, they do not reflect differences in housing, clinical care, or health status of the animals (e.g., older animals or animals with chronic health problems may require more expensive treatment and care). But overall, the numbers reported by NCRR show a rough equivalence in care costs at the federal sanctuary and many research facilities.

Table 1 “Costs for Maintaining Humane Care and Welfare of Chimpanzees, October 31, 2011

Research

Facility

# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11
(total)

NCRR cost*,
$M/year
(total)

NCRR cost,
$/animal/day,
(avg)

NIRC

117

1.23

28.8

K-CCMR

154

2.56

45.5

SNPRC (P51)

125

1.02

22.4

SNPRC (U42)

25

.047

56.3

Total

(421)

(5.3)

(34.5)

Research Reserve

Facility

# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11
(total)

NCRR cost*,
$M/year
(total)

NCRR cost,
$/animal/day,
(avg)

APF

173

4.25

67.4

Federal Sanctuary

Facility

# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11
(total)

NCRR cost*,
$M/year
(total)

NCRR cost,
$/animal/day,
(avg)

Chimp
Haven

119

2.03

46.7

What is not shown by these numbers or by most of the discussion of GAPA are the number of other issues that should accompany thoughtful consideration of the long-term care and housing of chimpanzees.  Dr. Joseph Erwin provided commentary on many of these in a previous guest post, among them concerns about ensuring the highest quality of care for the animals:

Most chimpanzees in scientific and educational institutions (research colonies and zoological gardens) live in spacious, social, and secure environments, where they are provided with excellent professional healthcare, and are afforded protection under the Animal Welfare Act, through inspection by the USDA, and publicly available reports of those inspections. The legislative ban would require removal of chimpanzees from decent facilities that were built at great public expense, and would deposit hundreds of chimpanzees in “sanctuaries” that provide no assurance of competent professional care, are not subject to Animal Welfare Act protection, and are not publicly transparent.”

One of the biggest unanswered (and virtually unmentioned in public spheres) questions surrounding the effects of this legislation is where it is that these chimpanzees would go? Is the intent that they would stay in current facilities? That new facilities would be constructed? While some animal rights groups have advocated for moving chimpanzees from their current research facilities to Chimp Haven, there is little information that would indicate that is a feasible option. Nor do the discussions of cost-savings and future plans include information about projected costs to build sufficient sanctuary space that could accommodate the number of animals currently housed in research facilities.

This is a non-trivial issue. For example, the publicly-available NCRR cost information informs us that the cost to construct the only federally-funded chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven, was $11.8 million. Chimp Haven houses 130 animals.  In other words, the initial construction cost was just over $90,000 per chimpanzee.

There are an additional 594 NIH-supported chimpanzees currently housed in research facilities. There are also hundreds of privately-owned chimpanzees. Thus, on even rough calculation based on the construction cost of Chimp Haven, it would appear that at least many millions of dollars would be required to extend the capacity for sanctuary housing to these animals. 

 

The cost, feasibility, and plan for constructing additional facilities that could provide care for these chimpanzees does not seem apparent in the cost calculations for the current legislation. Nor is it an issue raised much in public discussion.  It is a relatively easy thing to call for an end to chimpanzee research and to encourage public support by appealing to fiscal conservatism. What is far more challenging is to include consideration of real factors that significantly influence the outcomes for the animals, including an accurate assessment of where they can be housed, how best practices for care can be supported, real costs and dedicated sources of funding for long-term maintenance and facilities. Those details matter and deserve far more attention than they currently receive by those claiming to have chimpanzees’ welfare as the utmost priority.

Allyson J. Bennett

SR Outreach at Synapse Conference

An audience of approximately fifty students and faculty attended workshops on “The Future of Animal Research:  Ethics, Education, and Public Engagement” at the annual SYNAPSE meeting hosted this year at Wake Forest University. SR Committee member Allyson Bennett discussed current issues and public views relating to animal research, the importance of participating in public dialogue, and the many different avenues for outreach, education and engagement.  Bennett also shared the experiences she and her colleagues have had in developing the successful Wake Forest University Primate Center Outreach and Education Program.  The WFUPC program has provided opportunities for hundreds of NC students and teachers to visit the primate center, learn about research, and meet scientists, veterinarians, animal care staff, and other members of the research community.

Both students and faculty attending the SYNAPSE workshops expressed enthusiasm and interest in the growing nation-wide efforts to reach out to the public and speak out about the importance of humanely-conducted, animal-based studies for advancing scientific and medical understanding.   A number of them left the session discussing ways to increase outreach, education and public dialogue on their own campuses.

SYNAPSE is a one day annual conference that provides young neuroscientists with opportunities to share their research with students and professors from a number of southeastern colleges and universities. Among those schools are: Wake Forest University, the University of South Carolina, Davidson College, Francis Marion University, Appalachian State University, Furman University, College of Charleston, James Madison University, Emory University, and Winston Salem State University.

Many members of SR are involved in outreach. Please contact us if you are interested in having someone speak at your institution or conference,

Regards

Allyson Bennett

The views expressed on this blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Wake Forest University Health Sciences.

Bruins for Animals and Dr. Ray Greek speak against extremists’ attempt to derail dialogue

The upcoming panel discussion, Perspectives on the Science and Ethics of Animals Used in Research, at the University of California Los Angeles co-hosted by Bruins for Animals and Pro-Test for Science has drawn interest all around. The event is the result of joint efforts by the two groups working together “with the goal of opening an ongoing dialogue between individuals who are in favor of or against the use of animals in biomedical research.”  The panel will include six speakers who will present their views on the use of animals in biomedical research, as well as moderator-driven discussion based on questions submitted by the audience.

“The event is structured to maximize the opportunity to engage in a civil, intellectually honest discussion on issues about which people hold passionate, differing opinions. This event must demonstrate that such a discussion can effectively take place in order for future dialogue to be possible.”

More information about the February 16th panel discussion can be found at Pro-Test for Science, Bruins for Animals, and Speaking of Research.

In the weeks leading up to the event, it has become clear that some members of the animal activist community are using the occasion to focus threats, intimidation, and harassment on members of the panel, UCLA scientists, and research advocates. At the same time, other opponents of the use of animals in medical research have stepped forward to condemn the threats and the apparent attempts to sabotage efforts for discussion. Bruins for Animals issued the following statement on their website:

“Ideally this event would be open to the general public and originally this was our intention. Due to the fact that a group of violent individuals attempted to stop this event by threats and intimidation, we have had no option but to make this event closed to the broad public due to security concerns. These same individuals have called for open debates and are now apparently trying to sabotage our efforts to promote open dialogue and education of this important issue. It is unfortunate that the actions of a small group have resulted in the closing of this event that so many of you wish to attend, and for this, we apologize. …

Bruins for Animals condemns the use of violence, moreover the violence perpetrated by certain individuals has resulted in overshadowing the scientific and ethical reasons why many are opposed to vivisection.”

Dr. Ray Greek, one of the panel participants speaking against the use of animals in biomedical research, also addressed the issue in a thoughtful essay.  Greek begins by noting the uniqueness and significance of the event, and goes on to discuss the impetus for his essay.

“This is the first time, in my recollection, that experts in their fields opposed, to varying degrees, to using animals in research and experts in favor of such use have sat down at the same forum and presented their views. As such, the event is very controversial and unfortunately more heat than light has been generated. It is the source of some of this heat that I would like to address in the essay.”

Dr. Ray Greek

Greek’s essay is a welcome discussion of the panel’s purpose and potential to encourage dialogue about the use of animals in research.  He addresses a wide range of questions and issues, including his assessment of the venue, the selection of panel participants, the audience, and the need for security. Greek criticizes the attempts of various vocal activists to derail or diminish the event:

“More pointedly, I do not understand the opposition coming from animal rightists. … But this event is the first in a series of events where the AR and AV communities are getting what they have wanted and yet I am reading what can only be described as vitriol and not well-informed vitriol at that.”

And also points out what seems obvious to almost everyone:

“If activists wish to engage in direct action, promote direct action, condone violence in the pursuit of certain outcomes and so forth, so be it. (Now is not the time and this is not the forum for a debate about the ethics of such actions and positions.) But it is disingenuous to simultaneously act in the ways described above and then feign surprise and offense when society does not take seriously their request to participate in an event that functions in the confines of the norms of society. You cannot have it both ways.”

There are a number of noted schisms between factions in the animal activist community and heated discussion over agendas, tactics, and methods of advocating for their viewpoints. Greek addresses this issue as well, with a pointed comment about the harassment directed at UCLA scientists.

“But while we are on the topic, when was the last time a protest, especially home demos (a tactic favoured by some of those expressing vitriol over the February 16 event), resulted in immediate change? If individuals in the AR and AV movements are serious about having the scientific facts on their side and wanting a forum to have those facts presented to society in general, they might consider the old medical adage: first do no harm. Continuing home demos after a researcher has agreed to a panel discussion and subsequent debate is not helpful. The researcher is under no pressure from society to participate in the process. Society already agrees with him that vivisection is a necessary evil. If the researcher is going to continue to be exposed to threats and harassment irrespective of his actions, then why bother?”

Speaking of Research does not agree with Dr. Greek’s position on the use of animals in research or many of his arguments about the validity and usefulness of the results of animal studies. We have in common, however, our understanding of one major purpose of this panel, and more broadly of encouraging discussion of this complex issue in public forums.  As Greek says:

“The purpose of the panel and subsequent debate is not for anyone to change the minds of people with a vested interest in the process (this is a straw man set up by the writer)* but rather to air the various positions in a forum so society can be exposed to them and thus make a decision about the validity of the views expressed. (*The writer Greek refers to is an animal extremist posting from See You in the Streets.)”

We believe that the UCLA panel is an important step forward.  There have been few other occasions and groups that have worked together to identify common ground, debate, and discuss animal research publicly. These include the 2006 debate at the University of Wisconsin Madison between scientist and Institution Animal Care and Use Committee chair Eric Sandgren and Rick Bogle, an animal activist and founder of Primate Freedom.  In the UK, The Boyd Group, is a “forum for open exchange of views on issues of concern related to the use of animals in science.” Its membership includes individuals and organizations from the spectrum of views on the use of animals in research and its objectives are “to promote dialogue between these diverse people and organisations; and, where there is consensus, to recommend practical steps towards achieving common goals.” These efforts are accompanied by a range of other types of activities that promote engagement and dialogue between members of the scientific community, research advocates, and the public.

We appreciate the effort that Bruins for Animals and Dr. Greek have taken to make public statements condemning the tactics of animal activists who advocate for, or condone, violence against scientists and supporters of animal research.  We look forward to this event, where panelists will offer their broad range of personal views on the science and ethics of animal research.  We sincerely hope the event will mark a new beginning where civil dialogue and debate are possible in a topic that evokes strong emotions from all sides.

Allyson J. Bennett, Ph.D.

The views expressed on this blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Wake Forest University Health Sciences.

Who’s Afraid to Talk about Animal Research?

Part 1:  Outreach and Education Programs by the Nonhuman Primate Research Community

One of the misleading claims often made about members of the community of scientists and others engaged in, or supportive of, animal research is that they don’t talk with the public about their work. To the many scientists and others actively involved in a broad array of both formal and informal education, outreach, and community engagement efforts it is obvious that there is, in fact, a great deal of talking about animal research. At the same time, as with any other aspect of science or area of public interest, there is always a need for more outreach and more public engagement.

Speaking of Research encourages new outreach efforts and increased participation in dialogue about the responsible use of animals in humanely-conducted and ethical research. For those seeking to become more involved in speaking out about animal research there are many sources of information and existing programs that provide good ideas, models, and assistance in setting up new efforts.

This post will begin a series that highlights different approaches to science outreach and education, particularly those focused on research with nonhuman animals.  We begin with community outreach and education programs at primate research centers.  Many primate centers have active outreach programs built around educational objectives and service to local schools, including programs that provide opportunities for K-12 students to learn about research, internships for college students, and tours of their facilities.  The focus on educational outreach and opportunities for students is in keeping with the role of scientists as educators.

The California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) is one with a long-standing educational program.  Initiated in 2003, “the Education Outreach Program (EOP) was developed as a free, public-service program to introduce K-6 students to nonhuman primates, general health science concepts, animals in research, and biomedical research programs and careers. It supports the California Science Content Standards. This program has been a huge success with the classes visited since it began in June 2003. Comments we have received indicate that the children, as well as the adults, have a greater understanding of primates and health sciences, and the positive benefits that the primate center has on their lives.”  The CNPRC website includes links to the curriculum for their outreach program as well as many resources for teachers.

The Oregon National Primate Research Center also has an active outreach program, with its mission described as:  “Scientists have a responsibility to communicate their research findings to the public, and ONPRC scientists and administration take this responsibility seriously. The Office of Education Outreach hosts tours for over 3,000 visitors to the Center each year.”  As well, “ONPRC scientists speak to Center visitors, serve as mentors for teachers and students, and visit area classrooms. In addition, they participate in various programs through OHSU’s Science Education Opportunities Office (SOAR), and collaborate with several local and regional institutions, including Saturday Academy, OMSI, and the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research (NWABR).”

Rhesus Monkeys at ONPRC

Outreach programs at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the Tulane National Primate Research Center also support interactions between local schools and scientists engaged in primate research.  At the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research, a description of outreach programs illustrates an approach that, like others, includes many different audiences:  “The Department of Veterinary Sciences plays a vital role in helping to develop an appreciation for and an understanding of biomedical research by offering teachers, regional youth and the public a unique avenue to actively participate in the research process. Our formal education programs provide opportunities for individuals to dramatically increase their content knowledge in the sciences; access to scientists, veterinarians and other career role models in the sciences to both educators and students; practical hands-on student activities that coordinate with national science standards and curricular frameworks; and professional development for employees.”

At the Wake Forest University Primate Center the community outreach and education program “serves the community by providing children in grades K-12 and their teachers with opportunities to visit the WFUPC and learn about biomedical research. These tours are designed to give visitors educational information about nonhuman primates and the unique role that they play in translational research, to highlight the wide range of human health disorders that are addressed by the Translational Science Institute and the WFUPC, and to educate children about careers in science.”

Among the sources for educational and outreach materials about nonhuman primates are those provided by the American Society of Primatologists (ASP). ASP has a long history of encouraging and supporting “the development of educational programs in primatology” and “promoting improved instruction regarding primates.”  Their website includes helpful links and materials for teachers and others “looking for ideas on incorporating nonhuman primates into their lesson plans and anyone interested in learning more about nonhuman primates.”

Finally, the Primate Info Net (PIN), begun in 1995, provides many resources, links, and helpful educational material to those interested in primates, primate research, and outreach activities.  The PIN is maintained by Lawrence Jacobsen Library at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WNPRC), University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Primate Info Net is designed to cover the broad field of primatology, providing original content and links to resources about nonhuman primates in research, education and conservation. Through email lists and other resources, PIN also supports an informal ‘primate information network’ comprised of thousands of individuals around the world working with nonhuman primates in a variety of roles.”

There are many other ongoing outreach, education, and community engagement efforts. Those highlighted here provide just a few examples of the types of programs that encourage interaction.  Speaking of Research encourages scientists and others supportive of animal research to get involved in public outreach activities through the broad range of existing programs such as those highlighted above, but also by developing new initiatives.  Members of the Speaking of Research Committee work actively in many different types of public outreach and education and are available to share advice and experience with others.  We encourage you to use the comments section or to write posts to share your own experiences and programs and, by doing so, help to continue to build networks for supporting and increasing these efforts.

Allyson J. Bennett, Ph.D.

The views expressed on this blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Wake Forest University Health Sciences.