Tag Archives: Pro-Test Petition

Speaking of Research remembers David Hubel

This guest post by Gregory Frank discusses the life and legacy of David Hubel, who was a great advocate for animal research. Hubel won a Nobel Prize in 1981 for his work on brain functions – much of which involved animal research.

David Hubel, who passed away this fall at the age of 87, not only shared the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his scientific accomplishments, but he also inspired scientists to speak up about how research with animals benefits society.

David Hubel

David Hubel

During the early 1950’s two neuroscientists at Johns Hopkins University, David Hubel and his research partner Torsten Weisel, undertook the daunting task of understanding how the brain processes visual information.  Hubel recalled the grueling late night experiments. “I knew we were losing traction in an experiment when Torsten began talking to me Swedish; usually this was around 3:00AM.”  These experiments revolved around using electrodes to map neuronal stimulation in anesthetized cats as well as monkeys. The pair would flash shapes and lines on a screen in front of the animals and try to map out whether different signals would lead to different patterns in the cortex.

Years of painstaking research led to the discovery that different neurons within the visual cortex recognize different shapes and patterns. The columns, lines, colors, and various shapes of an image are all individually recognized by distinct sets of neurons, which are then viewed in its totality by the higher brain centers.  This groundbreaking work led to Hubel and Weisel, along with Roger W. Sperry, winning the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.  In addition to their Nobel Prize research, Hubel and Wiesel uncovered the importance of the critical period, a transient, early developmental stage where the brain is highly plastic.  They showed that normal visual stimulation during this time is critical for the visual system to wire correctly.  Their pioneering work has opened the door to the study of how the critical period is controlled by the brain, and how could it be reopened in adulthood to treat not only central deficits of vision, but to allow rewiring of the nervous system after traumatic brain injury.

Hubel understood how animal research was essential to his scientific accomplishments. Long a proponent on the necessity of animal research, Hubel was thrust into the spotlight during his tenure as president of the Society of Neuroscience in 1989.  A spate of extremist attacks on animal research labs during the 1980’s led him to undertake what was then an untested strategy: take proactive action and communicate to the public about animal research, regaining the initiative from extremists.

David Hubel Letter

“I’ve decided to concentrate on offensive tactics, rather than limit myself to fighting brush fires,” Hubel stated in a letter to scientific colleagues building support.  Along with other Nobel laureates, Hubel organized a letter writing campaign to local newspapers, schools, charity organizations, and members of Congress communicating the benefits of humane animal research. He also worked tirelessly to inspire scientists to speak out for themselves, helping organize workshops to train scientists how best to explain their research to their communities.  Hubel also urged physicians to educate patients on how integral animal research was in developing the treatments prescribed to them.

Even late into his career, Hubel remained a strong leader in promoting the benefits of animals in research, adding his considerable voice to animal research awareness actions such as the Pro-Test Petition. This initiative cosponsored by Americans for Medical Progress, Pro-Test for Science, and Speaking of Research, urged scientists to become public advocates for animal research.  Dr. Hubel will be missed for his accomplishments not only in neuroscience but also in animal research advocacy.

Gregory Frank

Coverage of the Pro-Test for Science rally 2010

The Pro-Test for Science rally (yesterday) was a huge success, and here is a selection of the coverage from it.

First up, Nature introduced the rally as:

A rally in defense of scientists who use animals in research drew between 300-400 supporters to the campus of the University of California Los Angeles today.

The UCLA Newsroom gave a great summary of the event in their posting. They also clearly showed what was at stake as they talked about the importance of research in animals:

Animal research at UCLA alone has led to lifesaving medical breakthroughs in cancer, stroke, organ transplants and many other areas. There is overwhelming agreement among physicians and scientists worldwide that laboratory animals provide irreplaceable and invaluable models for human systems. Research involving laboratory animals at UCLA is heavily monitored and subject to stringent and multiple federal laws and university regulations.

The Daily Bruin covered the event, noting some fantastic comments from those marching:

UCLA researchers, students and faculty were among the hundreds of protestors advocating for animal research who, despite coming out for different reasons, marched alongside each other.

“I participate in animal research, so obviously people threatening directly impacts the research we are doing, so it is important to show our solidarity,” said first-year psychology doctoral student Kimberly Beach.

Stephanie Groman, a graduate student in psychology, came out to protest as more than just a researcher.
“Amongst other reasons, my family has been afflicted with cancer, and both of my parents are survivors of cancer because of animal research done on chemotherapy treatments that have allowed them to live longer”.

Janet Stemwedel (Adventures in Ethics and Science) made an important comment that such rallies should not be limited to researchers:

You don’t need to be someone who conducts animal research to take this kind of stand, just someone who recognizes the ways that animal research helps us take care of some of the most vulnerable members of the human community.

Abel Pharmboy (Terra Sigillata Blog) mentioned the rally, adding how important animal research is to every person – including himself (he is also calling for people to add their own similar stories to his blog):

Bear in mind also that virtually every single prescription drug sold across the world has required animal research and testing for their development. Every single drug.
Animal testing was required for me to receive the antibiotics, anti-inflammatory steroids, and bronchodilators needed for me to recover from my long bout of pneumonia this year.
Animal testing was required for the vaccines and drugs needed by our beloved family dog.
Animal testing was required for the organ transplant that has allowed my wife to have her mother and my daughter to have her grandmother for the last eight years.
Animal testing is the reason that my mother is a 25-year breast cancer survivor.

There were also mentions of the rally on the blogs from DrugMonkey, Scicurious (Neuotopia), and Nick Anthis (Scientific Activist).

A Review of 2009

2009 has been a big year for Speaking of Research as we went global with debates in Dublin, presentations in Ystad (Sweden), and rallies in the Los Angeles. In the US, Speaking of Research also had the opportunity to get the advocacy message outo to hundreds of scientists and researchers at 2009 annual meetings of both the Society for the Study of Reproduction in Pittsburgh and the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago. We also expanded our repertoire of social media (e.g. YouTube and FaceBook) to include Twitter – ensuring our message can be spread as widely as possible. This has clearly been effective as our website traffic has been increasing by approximately 50% every 6 months.

Just as we haven’t stopped, nor has the world of biomedical research. There have been advances in genetically modified monkeys, progress in combatting Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), the use of gene therapies for cerebral X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy and Leber’s congenital amaurosis and research into repairing heart damage. Read all about these and more in our Science News section.

A Novartis executive has his house burned down by the Animal Liberation Front in August 2009

Sadly, the animal rights activists and extremists have also not slept this year. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) have struck across the US with a home visit (with paint stripper) to the UCI chair of pathology, arson attacks against a UCLA Professor’s car, vandalism to lab suppliers in Nevada, and threats made across the web to researchers across the country. Given many university’s preference to play down or bury stories of animal rights extremism against them it is hard to get a clear indication of the total level of attacks made by the “anti-vivisection” community. There has also been a rise in attacks across the rest of the world, particularly in the campaign against Novartis Chief Executive, Daniel Vasella, who’s holiday home was firebombed, and parents’ graves were desecrated. It is in response to such attacks that we developed a new page on the website specifically to deal with AR Extremism.

However there has been a shining ray of hope in the US. After the attack on Professor David Jentsch’s car in Los Angeles, a group of professors and researchers founded Pro-Test for Science (originally named UCLA Pro-Test). In April 2009, Pro-Test for Science (supported by Speaking of Research) organized a rally in support of life-saving medical research. This demonstration attracted almost 800 people, and provided a platform for researchers to explain the importance of their research to the Californian media. Many UCLA officials came out to speak out against extremism and in support of science. Read the full report of the rally.

The Pro-Test march snakes along Westwood

The rally also begun another campaign. Supported jointly by SR, Americans for Medical Progress and Pro-Test for Science, Tom Holder announced the creation of the Pro-Test Petition – a public petition to support the use of animals in medical research. So if you haven’t already, sign up now! This petition has already gained a following of close to 12,000 signatories – and the number continues to grow.

So here is the tip of the iceberg of the events of Speaking of Research in 2009. To win public support we cannot slack now, and I urge as many new people as possible to get involved in our growing committee.

Wishing you a Happy New Year

The Speaking of Research Committee

Pro-Test for Science website revealed

Check out www.pro-test-for-science.org for the updated website.

Pro-Test for Science, previously known as UCLA Pro-Test, became a major story in April 09 when they held a rally in support of biomedical research, mirroring the tactics of Pro-Test in the UK. At the rally the Pro-Test Petition was announced, and we urge the public to add their name to almost 12,000 others who have actively shown their support for biomedical research.

Pro-Test for science website



UCLA challenges AR misinformation

In the rush of other news including the SfN conference and the Pro-Test for Science gathering I forgot to mention this important development.

On Sunday, October 18th, UCLA put a full page advert in the LA Times aimed at educating the public on the important role of animals in lifesaving medical research. On top of this it spells out its opposition to animal rights extremism and urges readers to sign the Pro-Test Petition.

Inroads against disease can originate from a variety of sources. Yet there is overwhelming agreement among physicians, veterinarians and scientists that laboratory animals provide invaluable and irreplaceable models for human systems and for how the human body functions. While the vast majority of research conducted at UCLA does not involve the use of animals,this work has played an essential role in creating lifesaving breakthroughs that could not have been accomplished without it.

View the full advert here.

UCLA Advert LA TimesIt is bold actions like this, aimed at winning hearts and minds, which can have the most effect in dismantling support for extremist actions, and consequently their activities. Speaking of Research applaud this step forward in clearly explaining why animal research is crucial for medical progress. I finish this post as the advert does, by urging readers who have not done so to sign the Pro-Test Petition.

UCLA needs and welcomes your support on this critical issue. While questioning our work is everyone’s right, attacking our researchers and administrators is criminal. To add your name to thousands who’ve signed a Pro-Test petition that supports this necessary work, please visit www.raisingvoices.net.


Tom Holder

Speaking of Neuroscience

All three organizations behind the Pro-Test Petition came together in support of lifesaving research at the Society for Neuroscience this weekend gone. Both Pro-Test for Science founder, David Jentsch, and Speaking of Research founder, Tom Holder, made appearances at Americans for Medical Progress’ booth to encourage students and scientists to sign the petition. The petition, now at well over 11,000 signatories, recently gained the backing of the Society for the Study of Reproduction who emailed all their members – adding their name to the list of bioscience organisations in supports including the American Physiological Society and the Society for Neuroscience.

Holder also addressed scientists during the “Animals in Research Workshop: Widening the Tent: Building Support, Creating New Allies for Animal Research“. The workshop was chaired by Dr. Jeffrey Kordower, who recently wrote an article for the Journal of Neuroscience about the need to address animal rights extremism in the US. The first speaker, Jasper Daube – Professor of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic – talked of the importance of using a wide range of social media to bring our message to the public. The second speaker, Robin Elliott, urged scientists and institutions to contact Patient Advocacy Groups – a natural ally of modern research – to get involved. Elliott also mentioned the problem that a passionate majority will trump a quiet majority – a point picked up by Tom Holder during his talk on getting the science community to stand up publicly for research. Holder spoke of the change in public opinion in the UK, and parallels with the US before offering some practical suggestions on how the science community must approach this issue. Finally Helmut Kettenmann, President of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, talked about the new European Directive on animal research. One particularly good idea made in this final speech was for scientists to encourage their PhD students to give local school talks on the importance of animal models – such students are often more energetic and of a closer age to their high school counterparts.

PeTA (People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals) also made an appearance. After a national press release they attracted a grand total of nine activists to stand outside the SfN conference wielding emotive and completely out of context images of animals in research. When approached, the activists appeared to have no idea of where, when, or even what country, the pictures on their banners were from.

To finish with a quote – the blog Neurotopia covered the Animals in Research workshop:

I got to hear Tom Holder, the founder of Speaking of Research , talk about the progress that has been made. In the UK, people have vocally supported animal research, marches in support have easily outnumbered and overwhelmed the vocal minority. In the US, that is not yet the case, scientists are still scared.

But, as David Jentsch told me later, we cannot let fear hold us back, we need to let our outrage overwhelm the fear that we are all feeling. And we are outraged. In biomedical research, we scientists have made huge strides in developing cures for illness. Cancer drugs, psychiatric medications, the new flu vaccine, treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis, arthritis. We need animals to do our research. We use other techniques in cells and humans, of course, but the fact is, we just don’t know enough about the body to make non-animal models which are useful.



Activists try “Climate of Fear” approach!

The recent success of the Pro-Test Petition (10,000 signatures and counting) has caused stirs among animal rights activists. Two extremist blogs – the Thomas Paine’s Corner (which we have previously mentioned and is staffed by a number of ALF Press Officers) and the Negotiation is Over blog (which we have also mentioned), decided to encourage other activists to harass scientists who had signed the Pro-Test Petition.

The petition is both a directory of people whose minds need to be changed (and in many cases whose behavior needs to be changed) … Please select as many names from the petition as you see fit and contact these individuals as soon as possible. Some common names may be difficult to trace to the particular individual but many names will not be difficult (particularly if they have listed educational credentials or academic titles with their name).

It is only just the someone who opts to take a public position in favor of violence toward animals receive some negative feedback from more compassionate individuals such as the many dedicated activists who read this blog.

The effect is to create a climate of fear among scientists whereby they do not feel secure enough to speak up about their research or the research of others. Pro-Test for Science and Americans for Medical Progress have responded by emailing signatories and urging them to ignore any harassment (and to report it to us – contact@speakingofresearch.com), a response to which SR adds its name. Thus far we have not heard of anyone who signed being contacted by activists.


The petition is a good example of safety in numbers and the importance of standing up together to defend research – it becomes almost impossible for activists to effectively isolate and target individuals. This is what happened in the UK with the original Pro-Test movement and the subsequent “People’s Petition” which attracted over 20,000 signatories. So if you haven’t signed the Pro-Test Petition there is never a better time than right now!

A couple of blogs have also rallied round in defence of the petition such as Lousy Canuck and Traumatized By Truth:

So please, if you have not signed, now is the time to lend your support. Let these vile cretins know that you support science, you support medicine, you support a better understanding of disease, you support new medicines and improving old ones.

Let them know you support a better future for your parents, your children, your grandchildren, your friends – yourself. Let them know you support the scientists who are helping make that better future and will not tolerate violence against them.

Remember – the actions of the animal rights activists reflect the reasons behind our creation of the Pro-Test Petition. The more they harass us, the stronger our resolve must be to overcome it.


Tom Holder