“Stay as far away from the camera as possible.” That’s the advice given to scientists involved in animal research by Ranga Yogeshwar, a TV presenter and former scientist, in this week’s issue of Nature. As part of a special focus on animal research, Yogeshwar goes head-to-head with Tipu Aziz and John Stein from John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, UK, on the contentious topic of whether scientists who conduct research using animal models should become public advocates for their research (see ‘Animal testing: TV or not TV?’).
Yogeshwar contends that speaking out will have no discernable impact on the threat posed by fanatical activists. “No amount of argument will change such views,” he says. He isn’t against speaking out in support of animal testing in public per se, but says it should be done via the print media. Television, he argues, is a “totally unsuitable” platform for discussing nuanced subjects such as animal research because it is dominated by emotionally charged simplistic messages.
Aziz and Stein, who spoke about their work on macaque monkey models of Parkinson’s disease in a BBC documentary in 2006, contend that scientists must speak out to counter anti-vivisectionists who twist the truth. They add that the documentary led to a proper national discussion on the issue. And with researchers’ details freely available on the web, “remaining silent is not an option”.
If scientists do speak out, what support should they expect from their employer? In many cases not much, according to a survey of nearly 1,000 biomedical scientists also published in Nature this week. Although 55 per cent of animal researchers said their institutions encouraged them to communicate with the general public, less than half of them were offered support and training to help them do so (see ‘Battle scars’ and ‘Animal rights and wrongs’).
What do you think? Should animal researchers speak out in public in support of their work, and if so, how? Should institutions only put forward researchers who have been appropriately trained to deal with the media? Share your views in the comments below.