Tag Archives: Pro-Test Italia

Guest Post. How to Engage with the Public About Animal Research: Society for Neuroscience Panelists Offer Strategies to Scientists During Annual Meeting

Today’s guest post is from Amanda Dettmer, Ph.D.,  a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Dr. Dettmer is a developmental psychobiologist whose research examines the early life organization of sociocognitive development in nonhuman primates. She received her PhD in Neuroscience & Behavior from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009. You can follow her on Twitter.
Dr. Amanda Dettmer

Dr. Amanda Dettmer


During their annual meeting in Chicago, the Society for Neuroscience (SFN) yesterday held a 2-hour lunchtime session dedicated to public outreach concerning animals in research. The panelists were international experts on communicating the importance of animal research to the public, and they offered invaluable advice to the hundreds of scientists in attendance.

While it’s clear that scientists – and the institutions that employ them – must be more proactive in communicating the importance of their research and the animal models they use, the panelists offered several tangible pieces of advice on how to achieve this goal. The strategies offered cater to researchers working with various animal models and, more importantly, with varying degrees of comfort in engaging the public in their research.

The session opened with remarks by the chair of the SFN’s Animals in Research Committee, Dr. Michael Goldberg, who stated, “We’ve been staying under the radar to avoid animals rights activists, and this strategy is not working,” particularly with respect to nonhuman primates in research. Earlier this year, Goldberg and the President of SFN, Dr. Steve Hyman, submitted a letter to Science in response to an article published there, “Embattled Max Planck neuroscientist quits primate research.”

AM15_Logo_CMYK_Horizontal_SavedForWebThe first panelist, Dr. Rolf Zeller, is the founding president of the Basel Declaration Society (BDS) and a founding signatory of the Basel Declaration, by which researchers recognize the necessity of animal research in biomedical research, and endorse the highest standards of ethically responsible animal research. Stating that researchers will “never convince PETA, but we can convince the public,” Zeller stressed the importance of engaging the public and offered the BDS’ most effective strategies for communication in Europe: regular media training sessions for trainees and established scientists, persistent use of social media, and open access publications on scientific communication. Zeller offered his “Golden Rules” for public outreach, which included:

  • 1) Receive good training in science communication,
  • 2) Be proactive and honest about your research,
  • 3) Discuss your animal research with colleagues, especially any who might be skeptical, so that they understand why it is important,
  • 4) Make it clear you care about animals,
  • 5) Explain why animal research is essential for patients, and
  • 6) Join the BSD and sign the Declaration to be part of a proactive community.
Pro-Test Italia

Pro-Test Italia

Dario Padovan, President of Pro-TEST Italia, a non-profit that “aims to promote and disseminate to the public correct knowledge on scientific research,” followed with an emboldening presentation on how the group increased positive public perception of animal research in Italy with regular strategies easily and equally employable in the US: 1) active, daily activity on social media (the group responds to every incorrect/negative Facebook comment on their page, 2) engaging young scientific experts to reach their contemporaries (saying “most users of social media are 18-34 years”), 3) regularly producing YouTube videos that show detailed primate research in a humane and responsible way (which receive tens of thousands of views and >90% net “thumbs up” ratings), 4) fighting fire with fire by creating satirical anti-animal rights propaganda, and 5) getting patients who benefit from animal research involved in public outreach.

Pigtail macaques at the Washington National Primate Research Center

Pigtail macaques at the Washington National Primate Research Center

Dr. Michael Mustari, Director of the Washington National Primate Research Center, then highlighted the outstanding care that nonhuman primates at his, and all of the other six, National Primate Research Centers in the US, receive, as well as the significant contributions primates have made in the advances of such diseases as HIV/AIDS, polio, ebola, and Parkinson’s disease.

Mustari said, “People who argue against nonhuman primate work do not pay attention to reality.” He drove home the need to engage with the public by showing the type of video that the public needs to see regularly to understand the value of primates in research, like this one showing a quadriplegic serving himself a beer for the first time in 13 years, thanks to advances made possible by primate research. Mustari ended by discussing the inspiring global outreach the WaNPRC performs under the directorship of Dr. Randy Kyes, Head of the Division of Global Programs at the WaNPRC.

Jason Goldman

Jason Goldman

Dr. Jason Goldman, an animal-researcher-turned-science-writer, rounded out the session by sharing lessons he’s learned from animals in communicating to a variety of audiences. Using brown-headed cowbirds and betta fish as examples of animals that change their messages based on who’s listening, Goldman said, “Animals have learned what I tell scientists over and over: Different messages are required for different audiences.” Goldman offered tangible pieces of advice for burgeoning (and established) science communicators, including 1) tell personal stories whenever possible and evoke emotion (using Cecil the lion as an example), 2) use simple visuals and avoid complex graphics (even popular infographics can be hard to digest), use memegenerator.net to make your own memes to communicate science on social media (this is perhaps the easiest tip to pick up, as I was able to create my own – and first! – meme in about 30 seconds during his presentation), and 4) be relatable and make the public feel smart, not stupid.

The session concluded with a Q &A session from the participants seeking additional advice on best ways to communicate the importance of animal research to the public when you feel like your institution is resistant to the idea, how to deal with the internal struggle of loving animals while conducting research with them, and more. Given that the session went 20 minutes over its scheduled time, it was clear the audience found it an invaluable resource.

Later in the afternoon, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, gave a Special Presentation to SFN attendees in which he discussed recent advances in neuroscience with a particular emphasis on the BRAIN initiative. Though he rarely mentioned animal models in his talk, he did field anonymous questions from the audience afterward, one of which asked 1) what his personal opinion was on the role of animals, especially nonhuman primates, in the BRAIN Initiative, and 2) what concrete steps the NIH Directorship was taking to engage the public in the importance of animal research.

Collins stated that although the NIH worked with the Institute of Medicine to end chimpanzee research in the US, this “should not be seen as a reflection of how we feel about other nonhuman primates in research.”  He concluded by acknowledging the need for primates in some of the more invasive studies for the BRAIN Initiative that cannot be conducted in humans, and by underscoring the need for continued outreach to the public on the importance of animals in advancing biomedical research.

Amanda Dettmer

Amanda M. Dettmer, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Her writing does not reflect the opinions of the NICHD or the NIH.

Society for Neuroscience Today: Session on Animal Research and Public Outreach

Are you among the almost 30,000 neuroscientists are attending the annual Society for Neuroscience (SFN) meeting in Chicag0 this week?  Are you looking for a session aimed at building outreach and education efforts for better public understanding of animal research?  If so, SFN’s Committee on Animal Research has a session today at noon.

ME13  ANIMALS IN RESEARCH PANEL: Proactive Strategies to Increase the Positive Public Perception of Animals in Research.

Tuesday, Oct 20, 2015, 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM  N427

Panelists: Jason Goldman, PhD; Michael Mustari, PhD; Dario Padovan, PhD; Rolf Zeller, PhD

Description:  As scientists become increasingly visible and engaged with the public through blogs, citizen science, traditional media, and other outlets, there is also increasing interest in open communication to gain public support for animal research and to underscore its critical contribution to scientific and medical progress. This panel will answer questions like: How can scientists and organizations engage the public and speak effectively about animal research? What strategies and venues (both novel and time-tested) are being employed to engage different audiences and how can interested scientists learn and contribute? What challenges exist in this area and how are different groups addressing them?

Contact: advocacy@sfn.org

Panelists include:

  • Prof. Rolf Zeller is a developmental geneticist that studies the molecular mechanisms governing organogenesis. He is a founding signatory of the Basel Declaration, by which researchers endorse the highest standards of ethically responsible animal research. He is the founding president of the Basel Declaration Society (BDS), an international grass-root organization dedicated to the Basel Declaration and actively promoting education on animal experimentation and the dialog with the general public, politicians and moderate critics.
  • Dario Padovan is the current president of Pro-Test Italia, which is an association that aims to promote and disseminate information about scientific research to the public. He was one of the founders of Pro-Test Italia and was the first chair of its Scientific Committee. He has masters degrees with honors in biological sciences, nutrition and dietetics, and bioethics.
  • Dr. Michael Mustari earned his Ph.D. in neuroanatomy from the University of Washington.  He is currently a Research Professor of Ophthalmology (UW). Dr. Mustari also serves as Director of the Washington National Primate Research Center (NPRC) at UW. He is responsible for providing scientific and administrative leadership to ensure an optimal environment for the care and well-being of nonhuman primates, which often provide the best animal models for studies of complex systems. All 7 NPRCs support the NIH mission of advancing scientific knowledge needed to develop new treatments and cures for diseases.
  • Dr. Jason G. Goldman is a science writer based in Los Angeles. He writes about human and animal behavior, wildlife biology, ecology, and conservation for various publications. He was editor of The Open Laboratory 2010: The Best of Science Writing on the Web, is co-editor of The Complete Guide to Science Blogging, and hosts a podcast called The Wild Life. He received his PhD at the University of Southern California.

Interview with a Primate Researcher

In the last few months, Italian animal rights activists have conducted a campaign against animal research, in particular against primate research. This is despite the important role that primates have played in breakthroughs in stem cell research and neuroprosthetics, among other things. Nonetheless, activists continue to try to claim such research is useless. In particular, they targeted Prof. Roberto Caminiti, a leading neurophysiologist at the University La Sapienza in Rome, and his research team, accusing them of animal mistreatment. Earlier this year students and scientists at the University rallied round Prof. Roberto Caminiti, his team, and his important research.
To answer some of the activists accusations, Pro-Test Italia has produced a video with Prof. Caminiti to illustrate why primate research is so important in the field of neurophysiology and brain-computer interface, and why animal models remain essential for this kind of research. Pro-Test Italia have also made an English version of the video:

It’s important to spread this video outside of Italy to both explain to the public what is going on, and to encourage other primate researchers not to remain hidden but to be clear about the important research that they do. Researchers should be proud of the important work they do in contributing to medical developments for everyone.


Students in Rome to rally for Prof Caminiti and future of science in Italy

Tomorrow students at the Sapienza University of Rome – Italy’s largest University – will join their Professors and members of the campaign group Pro-Test Italia outside the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology to show solidarity with Professor Roberto Caminiti, a leading neurophysiologist whose work is being attacked by animal rights extremists.

Tomorrow Pro-Test Italia will return to the streets of Rome, joining students and scientists in support of crucial research.

Tomorrow Pro-Test Italia will return to the streets of Rome, joining students and scientists in support of crucial research.

As with many recent instances of anti-scientific populism in Italy, the campaign against Prof. Caminiti began in earnest with a dishonest broadcast on the Italian tabloid TV news programme Striscia la Notizia which misrepresented the work being done by Pr0f. Caminiti and his colleagues. Prof. Caminiti responded to these false allegations in a video which you can watch here (in Italian with English subtitles)

Following the broadcast the European Animal rights Party (PAE) announced that they would be holding a demonstration Sapienza University of Rome, on February 5 2015, with the declared will to “free” the monkeys that are used by Pr0f. Caminiti and his colleagues. This has sparked concerns that the PAE – and the more extreme animal rights groups who will no doubt accompany them – will attempt to repeat the events of 20th April 2013, when five animal rights activists forced entry into the Pharmacology Department of the University of Milan, stealing hundreds of mice and destroying years of research.

There is, however, a major difference between 2013 and today; today scientists and students are ready to stand up and  defend their research. A group of neurobiology students at the Sapienza University of Rome have organized a counter-demonstration (see this Facebook event for details) tomorrow morning – February 5 – to show support for Prof Caminiti, defend their department, and speak up for the future of scientific research in Italy.

On Monday their stand received a boost when Professor Vincenzo Vullo, Head of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Medicine at Sapienza University of Rome, circulated an email to all scientists, staff and students to express support for Prof. Caminiti, and called on them to join him in defense of the research being undertaken at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology:

Dear colleagues, dear students,

I transmit an open letter by Prof. Roberto Caminiti in defense of the unacceptable smear campaign underway against the scientific activity of the Laboratory of Behavioral Neurophysiology, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology of our University.

In this regard, I wish to emphasize the scientific value of Prof. Caminiti, an internationally acclaimed researcher whose research has made a significant contribution to the knowledge of the central nervous mechanisms of motor control. I also want to remember especially his human qualities, demonstrated in the constant respect and care with which he always treated animals necessary for his studies.

In expressing my personal solidarity with Prof. Caminiti, I ask for the support of all members of the faculty in defense of the scientific research conducted at the Laboratory of Behavioral Neurophysiology of our university.

Vincenzo Vullo”

The email also included a letter addressed to all staff and students from Prof. Caminiti:

Dear Colleagues, dear Students,
On December 18 2014 the TV show “Striscia la Notizia”, using images illegally shot in our animal facilities, broadcast a report with the aim of stirring in the public opinion a campaign condemning the scientific activity of the Neurophysiology of Behaviour Laboratory, in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology of our Atenaeum, where other professors and I carry out our scientific activity, which started in the year1985.
To reply to the accusation of animal cruelty, as an act of absolute transparency of research towards the public, I posted online a reasoned reply, in which it is showed and commented on everything that is performed in our laboratories, thanks to several projects financed by MIUR (Italian Government research funder- Speaking of Research) and the EU, and according to experimental protocols regularly authorized by the Ministry of Health.
On January 23 2015, once again “Striscia la Notizia” returned to the topic, using the images we put online, to claim, with the help of a “flora and fauna” specialist (!) that our studies were useless and cruel, where it is unanimously recognized in the scientific community that our research, together with other work carried out in a select group of international laboratories, lead to the development of brain-computer interface in humans and to the cerebral control of artificial prostetics in patients with paralysis due to neurodegenerative or neurovascular diseases, just like similar researches lead to the development of deep brain stimulation in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Exploiting the footage broadcasted by “Striscia la Notizia”, the European Animal rights Party (PAE) launched a national demonstration, set to take place on February 5 2015, in front of our Department, with the declared will to “free” the animals that we are working with, and together with the Antivivisection League (LAV) stated that they have submitted a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office in Rome, to open an investigation aimed to the confiscation of the animals, and to open a criminal case against me for animal cruelty.
I call on you, confident that you believe in a country guided by reason, commitment and study, and not driven by obscurantism, just like the “Stamina” case, that you all well know (for more on the Stamina scandal see this recent report -Speaking of Research) . And I ask yo to defend, with the appropriate instruments, the scientific activity and the dignity of a Department of our Atenaeum.
On the morning of February 5, wearing a white lab coat and flower in the buttonhole, I will be in front of my Department to defend and reaffirm that ideal that drove us all to become MDs and researchers.
With best regards,
Roberto Caminiti

We congratulate both faculty and students at Sapienza University of Rome for taking this action in support of science, and wish them, Pro-Test Italia, and all friends of medical progress every success as they stand together in this noble cause.

Speaking of Research

Italian Researchers Threatened by Extremists

Italian research is in danger. Not only because of those seeking to twist the new EU Directive 60/3010/EU to their own agenda, but also because of a rise in extremism directed at the researchers themselves. Most recently, posters have appeared on the streets of Milan targeting specific scientists.

It would appear that animal rights groups in Italy are getting bolder. Rather than engage in reasoned debate, they would rather scare researchers who were beginning to find their collective voice.

As several Italian newspapers reported, these posters provide personal information about researchers, including their names, home addresses and home telephone numbers, inviting the public to call them at home to protest their research. Furthermore, the walls near the victims’ homes have been covered with insults by extremists.

The researchers in question are Alberto Corsini and Edgardo D’Angelo, both Professors at the University of Milan where hey both do research using animal models. Professor Corsini studies vascular diseases while Prof. D’Angelo studies physiology of respiration – both areas of utmost importance to human health.

They are not the only scientists under fire. Maura Francolini, researcher at the University of Milan, and Claudio Genchi, Professor at the faculty of veterinary at the University of Milan have received similar harassment.

Edgardo D’Angelo, vivisector, animal assassin, he is your neighbour, he lives in *address* For over 50 years he has killed and tortured dogs, rabbits and other animals for experiments about respiratory physiopathology. Shame on you, assassin! Call the killer and let him know what you think about him *number*


Edgardo D’Angelo, vivisector, animal assassin, he is your neighbour, he lives in *address*
For over 50 years he has killed and tortured dogs, rabbits and other animals for experiments about respiratory physiopathology. Shame on you, assassin!

Call the killer and let him know what you think about him *number*

Alberto Corsini, vivisector, animal assassin, he is your neighbour, he lives at *address* For more than 30 years he has killed and tortured animals for the department of Pharmacology at the University of Milan. In one of his latest experiments he intoxicated with drugs and vivisected 63 rabbits. Shame on you, assassin!  Call the killer and let him know what you think about him *number*

Alberto Corsini, vivisector, animal assassin, he is your neighbour, he lives at *address*
For more than 30 years he has killed and tortured animals for the department of Pharmacology at the University of Milan. In one of his latest experiments he intoxicated with drugs and vivisected 63 rabbits. Shame on you, assassin!

Call the killer and let him know what you think about him *number*

Urging activists to call and harass scientists is a classic extremist tactic, during the 1990-2000s, many executives at Huntingdon Life Sciences received night time phone calls (as well as “visits”) in an effort to cow them into submission. More recently, Negotiation is Over (which itself is now “over”), posted the phone number of Prof O’Leary in Marino’s campaign against him. One hopes that the Italian posters won’t be followed by more extreme actions, as they were in Santa Cruz in 2008 when a researcher’s house was firebombed only days after posters appeared in a local coffee shop.

Thankfully, the Italian researchers have been supported by the Minister of Education, University and Research, Maria Chiara Carrozza and the University of Milan, through the Dean, Gianluca Vago. The Dean also confirmed the efforts of the university to stand up for animal research and the people working with animals, reminding people that the University itself has been in the firing line when animal rights extremists broke into the animal facility and took 100 mice and 1 rabbit from the animal facility.

I wish to express my deepest sympathy with #MIUR researchers at the University of Milan for the intimidation and threats they suffered

Deputy Maria Pia Locatelli declared at the Chamber of Deputies, that aggressions and intimidations from animal activists towards science are almost becoming a habit and that all politicians should condemn these actions, even the ones that always defended animal rights in the parliament. Senator Carlo Giovanardi has also stated his support in parliament for the researchers and has demanded those responsible for the postings be found as soon as possible. In fact, DIGOS, an italian law enforcement agency that usually investigates also in terrorism cases, will examine this action.

This new activities is the latest in a growing line of actions by activists. A few weeks ago Caterina Simonsen, an Italian veterinary student whose own illnesses mean she requires medical interventions to breathe, stood up for animal research with a picture and statement supporting animal research. In response, activists attacked her on Facebook posting insults and death threats and informing her that her life was “worth nothing”. Fortunately, after this miserable attack, Caterina got the support of several politicians and celebrities.

While extremists in Italy continue to take steps which prevent open dialogue on this issue, it will not be possible to have the reasoned discussion necessary for people to understand the arguments on both sides. Pro-Test Italia has held public meetings in order to help educate the public on this issue, and we welcome their crucial efforts.  We condemn those that threaten and harass scientists and members of the public, and we urge everyone to stand up and reject such activities. Animal research remains important to those in Italy and beyond, and we must continue to make the strong case for its continuance.


Italians rally behind ill girl threatened by animal rights extremists: #Iostoconcaterina

2013 was a tough year for science in Italy, witnessing the theft by animal rights extremists of animals from a medical research laboratory in Milan and the passing by the Italian Parliament of a law that threatens the future of medical research in Italy. But it has also been the year when scientists in Italy have started to push back in earnest against the tide of ignorance and disinformation, with Pro-Test Italia holding rallies in Milan and Rome, while thousands of Italian scientists – led by the country’s largest medical research charities – wrote to the government to ask them to stop the damaging legislation, and more than 10,000 scientists signed a petition to the EU commission asking them to take action against the dangerous Italian legislation.

As 2013 came to a close this ongoing crisis took an unexpected turn, as news emerged that animal rights extremists had harassed and threatened a seriously ill student named Caterina Simonsen who had spoken out in favour of animal research.
Caterina is battling four rare genetic diseases and must constantly wear an oxygen mask. She’s affected by a respiratory failure due to a neurologic disease that damages both of her phrenic nerves. Moreover, her breathing ability is further reduced by an alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, she’s thrombophilic and immunodeficient, and she developed a prolactinoma, a benign tumor of the pituary gland.  For this reason Caterina started to document her life, both in hospital and at home, with photos and videos that she shares on her Facebook profile.  In a post on December 21, she noted:

Translation:  "I am 25 thanks to genuine research that includes experiments on animals. Without it, I would have been dead at nine. You have gifted me a future"

Translation: “I am 25 thanks to genuine research that includes experiments on animals. Without it, I would have been dead at nine. You have gifted me a future”

Caterina shared the photo on the Facebook pages of Pro-Test Italia and “A Favore della Sperimentazione Animale”. She was motivated to do this because animal rights activists, in particular the Partito Animalista Europeo (PAE – on of Italy’s largest animal rights groups), have been attacking the Fondazione Telethon, a leading Italian research charity that focuses on developing new therapies for genetic disorders.

Over the next few days she received hundreds of angry responses and over 30 death threats from animal rights extremists, which have been turned over to authorities.

One respondent wrote, “You could die tomorrow. I wouldn’t sacrifice my goldfish for you.” Another said: ”If you had died as a child, no one would have given a damn.”

Caterina Simonsen ItalianIn response to the harsh criticism, Caterina made a video (http://youtu.be/RbTfRMoj19w and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbwBuHHC-PA) that was played repeatedly on Italian television networks.  ”I have received messages saying that the lives of 10 rats are more important than mine. I don’t know what planet these people live on and who raised them,” she said, breaking into tears. ”I am alive thanks to doctors, to medicines and to animals who had to be sacrificed.” She said she wanted to become a veterinarian “to help save animals”.

In her videos and a subsequent interview with an Italian newspaper Caterina noted the serious deficiencies in science education in the Italian school system, resulting in a very poor standard of public debate on scientific issues and bad decisions by Italian politicians. She highlighted the Stamina case, where in 2013 the Italian parliament backed funding for a clinical trial of an extremely dubious stem cell therapy being promoted by a psychologist named Davide Vannoni (later blocked by the Italian Health Minister on the advice of a committee of stem cell experts).

Caterina is a vegetarian and a veterinary student who loves animals (it’s even possible to see a dog sleeping on her bed while she records the video), but this wasn’t enough for some animal rights activists who commented on her video with various kinds of insults and even death threats. Their action sparked a quick and unanimous response from many other Italians: No one can use those kinds of words against Caterina. Soon Caterina’s Facebook page and Youtube videos were flooded with messages of support, and a dedicated twitter hashtag was created, #iostoconcaterina (#iamwithcaterina).  Soon many patients and scientists followed Caterina’s example, posting a picture of themselves expressing the necessity for animal research on the Facebook page A Favore della Sperimentazione Animale, where Caterina had posted her picture, while tens of thousands of Italians showed their support for Caterina by tweeting #iostoconcaterina.

This way the topic spread through the Internet and started to attract journalists: by 27 December Caterina photos and videos appeared on the TV screen and during the news and on the newspapers (e.g. here, here, here and here) with the story subsequently being covered by media in many other countries, including the UK, Germany, Australia and USA. Many high-profile personalities expressed their support for the young girl, including  Matteo Renzi, leader of Italy’s Democratic Party and a likely future prime minister, and the film director Gabriele Muccino. A few days later in an opinion poll of over 2,000 people on the website of the leading newspaper Corriere Della Sera, 80% answered “yes” to the question “Do you support the testing on animals for therapeutic purposes?” It seems that somehow the public support to the cause of medicine and scientific research was already there, and that Caterina’s courage has brought it to the surface.

The reaction of the Italian animal rights groups was mixed, some eventually condemned the harassment and threats against Caterina, but others reacted more negatively. The PAE – which is a very strong supporter of Davide Vannoni’s  dubious stem cell therapy – retreated into conspiracy theory, even suggesting that Caterina does not actually exist!

Today, Caterina is in hospital because of her illness and even if she wants to thanks all the people that support her, she reminds them she’s not looking for fame so asks the journalists and the other people to respect her privacy.

As 2014 begins we hope that Caterina’s decision to speak out will spur more supporters of science and medical progress in Italy to make their own voices heard, her bravery has created an opportunity for the Italian scientific community to decisively turn the tide against ignorance and extremism.

Noi stiamo con Caterina!

Speaking of Research


Interview that Caterina gave to an Italian newspaper, published 27 Dec 2013


Italian science rallies for animal research at the Mario Negri Institute.

On Saturday 30th November around 400 researchers, scientists and students met at the Mario Negri Research Institute in Milan, Italy, to take part in the “Io Sto Con La Ricerca” (I’m With Research) Convention, organized by Silvio Garattini, Director of the Institute. This Convention aimed to emphasize the importance of biomedical research to human health and the role of animal research within it.

The event was organized in response to a concurrent animal rights march in the center of the city, which activists from the Animal Amnesty group had planned to end next to the Mario Negri Institute. The protesters were not only rallying against animal experimentation, but specifically against the Institute’s Director Garattini, who they condemn as a cruel “vivisector”. Just days before the rally, Garattini has received anonymous death threats from activists, which resulted in the authorities banning the animal rights march from ending at the Mario Negri Institute, and prompted the Mayor of Milan to issue a public statement to condemn the intimidation and offer support to the scientists who were meeting at the Mario Negri Institute.

The convention about to get underway. Image from Pro-Test Italia

The convention about to get underway. Image from Pro-Test Italia

Many important Italian scientists and politicians participated in the conference, making speeches about the importance of animal research for science and human health and also offering solidarity with Silvio Garattini. Speakers included Gianluca Vago, Rector of the University of Milan; Francesco Brancati, President of UNAMSI, an association for medical and health information; Emilia de Biasi, President of the Senate Health Commission; Cristina Tajani, Research Authority of the City of Milan. It was also fantastic to see Paola Zaratin, the Director of Scientific Research for the Italian Multiple Sclerosis Society (AISM), one of the largest medical research charities in Italy. Other participants included the directors of every Research Institute of Milan, and Agnese Collino, a new member of Pro-Test Italia’s scientific committee, whose speech covered the misinformation surrounding animal research – often incorrectly described as a useless, outdated and cruel research method by animal rights activists – and the way animal rights activists misrepresent and distort images and quotations to advance their cause.

Dr Agnese Collino addresses the problem of disinformation in the animal research debate. Image from Pro-Test Italia

Dr Agnese Collino addresses the problem of disinformation in the animal research debate. Image from Pro-Test Italia

The Convention went without a hitch of any kind, in a very calm and positive atmosphere, with people listening carefully and with interest to the speeches. Many journalists attended the event and wrote articles comparing it with the animal rights rally. Most described both views without taking a side, a slight but important change in the way they used to report news about this topic.  Some did even better, for example the national newspaper La Republica published a series of images from the convention and the Milan daily newspaper Il Giornale published a great article entitled “The researchers rebel: We don’t torture animals”, while the popular and prestigious Milanese newspaper Corriere della Sera published an editorial in support of Silvio Garattini and the Mario Negri Institute. Director Silvio Garattini declared the event a great success, and thanked participants for helping to ensure that the public heard the viewpoint of researchers.

We hope that this event, together with other events that Pro-Test Italia is involved in this week, could make people aware of what research actually is and how important it is for our lives, with the purpose of defeating ignorance and misinformation about this topic. Disinformation has caused increasing trouble for researchers, such as the adoption, by the Italian Parliament, of a new law, that places greater restrictions on Italian research that exists across the rest of Europe.

Andrea Tosini, Pro-Test Italia

Update: Yesterday the journal Science has reported that more than 13,000 people, the great majority  Italian scientists, have signed a petition asking the EU commission to take action to save animal research – and indeed medical research in general – in Italy from damaging laws passed by the Italian parliament. It’s another sign of just how seriously the Italian scientific community is taking this threat to their countries scientific future.