Researchers need to explain why they use animals

The editorial in this month’s Nature Immunology describes how some scientists are working proactively to prevent the harassment and harm of researchers who work on non-human animals. A letter in last week’s Correspondence section of Nature (452, 934; 2008) suggests that more researchers need to take on this task. The text of the Correspondence:

Your News story ‘Animal-rights activists invade Europe (Nature 451, 1034–1035; 2008) highlights the need for medical researchers to do more to communicate to the public the reasons why they need to use animals in their research and what this involves. All too often, there is a tendency to wait until extremism becomes intolerable before taking steps to counter it (see Nature 452, 282; 2008). The little information about animal research available to the public is frequently oversimplified and tends to be over-reliant on the perceived authority of the author. The scientific literature usually requires subscription to access it and scientific training to understand it. This leaves information gaps through which antivivisectionist groups can push their propaganda.

Organizations such as the Research Defence Society do much to address this deficit, but have limited resources and cannot be expected to counter the animal-rights campaigners alone. Anyone who is wondering why somebody doesn’t debunk misleading claims made about them or their colleagues should consider the possibility that they are that ‘somebody’. Even those who are not prepared to go public can always provide detailed explanations of their work and that of others in the field to scientific advocacy campaigns.

A fact your report didn’t mention is that the new biomedical laboratory in Oxford — which, by the way, will house mostly rodents and very few monkeys — has been built. In a campaign that complemented the efforts of the police and government, Pro-Test were able to counter the animal-rights group Speak (‘The voice for the animals’) by capitalizing on the overwhelming support for the new laboratory among Oxford students and local politicians.

Extremism can be defeated, but only if scientists stand up and expose the myths and distortions that fuel it.

Further Nautilus discussion on the topic of animal experimentation can be found here.


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