Is it just a wall of ideology that separates animal researchers from animal rights campaigners?
If so, why has it often seemed like a one-sided argument: activists brandishing placards, rocks, slogans and some dodgy statistics that persuade an ill-informed public, while those actually doing the research only speak up when they find a cure for a disease.
This was the subject of a recent opinion piece, We Must Face the Threats by Dario Ringach and David Jentsch from the University of California in the Journal of Neuroscience. The evaluations on Faculty of 1000 from an unusually high number of senior scientists showed the impact this has on the science community.
My friends over at NC3Rs and other agencies are funding programmes to replace and reduce the number of animals used in research but for the areas where this is currently not possible, Jentsch and Ringach argue that scientists should not have to suffer the harassment and misinformation campaigns directed at them by animal rights campaigners.
While the media hasn’t been as forthcoming in identifying it as a great story, our Faculty Members and their colleagues and supporters obviously see it as vital that the truth comes out. One Faculty Member from a German institute even said “the article … should be part of the standard curriculum, discussed in seminars, schools and in public”.
There are several problems here for scientists looking to tell the public what their research is really for, why they need to use animals in the lab and why animal rights protestors generally get it wrong.
One is the proliferation of faux science and stats that filled the void created when college Deans of medicine, pharma company directors and others benefiting from animal research decided to keep quiet in the face of protest.
Well-known critic of (in his opinion) the misuse of science, Ben Goldacre, even gave a reason back in 2006 for why he chooses to skirt around the animal rights issue:
I’ve generally steered clear of writing about animal rights stuff, partly because I don’t often see them making straight bad science claims in the mainstream media, but also because I can’t be bothered with taking my shirt off, strapping an AK47 across my pecs, storming a building single-handed smeared in engine oil while choppers circle above, and rescuing the kids from kidnappers, all over again.
He played it safe and sarcastic but it hits at the same Catch-22 that Jentsch, Ringach et al. were talking about: fear of retaliation has outweighed the need for scientists to start tackling rights group’s claims and begin a real discussion with them and the public.