Animals in Research: The conversation begins

August 8, 2008

The recent firebombing of the homes of two researchers employed at the University of California, Santa Cruz has been covered by a good slice of ScienceBlogs including AinEandS, Respectful Insolence, Terra Sigillata and new Sb blog Built on Facts (which advocates high-noon style armed shootouts, apparently). I have little to add; my outrage about this violent terrorism of people who are trying to help their fellow citizens of this planet Earth through scientific advances is not readily expressed.
Where I think I can contribute is to a recent conversation that arose over at AinEandS in which it became clear that some undergraduate students who may wish to educate themselves on the use of animals in research feel stymied and blown-off by their professors.

I’ve been having trouble nailing down online sources of information on animal research guidelines, so I would love links if you’ve got the time. I would prefer someone to sit down with me and talk about it, but every time I ask one of my professors to describe the regulations, I get brushed off and sometimes scientists are actually hostile towards me. Or they look at my skin colour and assume I’m a religious nut who wants to battle them in the name of Ganesh.

This commenter, Samia, then made the following observation at her own blog:

..according to some SB commenters, apparently my membership in an animal rights organization at school means I support terrorism or something. You know, what the f*** ever. What I’m gleaning from this whole thing is that everyone is stupid except me.

We can’t have this. Really, we can’t. So let us see if this blog can do a little something to redress this situation.
[As a bit of a sidebar here, fair warning. This is a discussion for legitimate actors. For people who in good faith wish to discuss the use of animals in research. I am not putting up with nutjob activists in the comments for one second. Make anything that sounds even vaguely like a threat to any scientist (comments or email) and I am going to PZ you by publishing any details about your identity, IP, etc that are available to me. You want to make an argument, make it. But if you throw off one-liner talking points without a fleshed out argument or citations and refuse to respond to dialog, I may delete you out of the thread. Show a protracted refusal to read the controlling law and regulation, ditto. This thread will be for productive and informative discussion only. Consider yourself warned.]
First, let me give a partial defense to the researchers who are suspicious and actively hostile to some random undergraduate student who approaches them on the topic of animals in research. I know everyone likes to think that they are wonderful, unique and deep thinkers. That they are the whitest of white hats with only the purest intentions in the world and that life should be open to them like a book. To this attitude I recommend that you grow up and get real. Do you really grasp what the UCSC researchers, Edythe London, Dario Ringach and a host of other scientists who got hit by the ARA terrorists in prior incidents went through? Do you really understand the gravity of the situation of coming under attack by activists? It can derail a research program for years and sometimes end careers. Scare the bajeezus out of spouses and other family members. Nobody. Wants. That. Noise. So before you get your back up about how researchers respond poorly to your questions, think about this. Approach professors with whom you have a history so that they know you a little bit. If you belong to some ARA-sounding group, think about how this is going to come off. Finally, do realize that you are not unique. Researchers have seen people like you and your arguments over and over and over again. Their experience is that the vast majority expressing some sort of anti-animal-use perspective are 1) woefully uninformed about the actual use of animals in research and 2) almost entirely resistant to education on the topic.

The place to start educating yourself on the use of animals in research (in the US, apologies to my world-wide readers but this will be US focused) is the Animal Welfare Act first enacted in 1966. The US Department of Agriculture site is a good place to start.

Enacted August 24, 1966, Public Law 89-544 is what commonly is referred to as The Animal Welfare Act although that title is not mentioned within the law. It authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to regulate transport, sale, and handling of dogs, cats, nonhuman primates, guinea pigs, hamsters, and rabbits intended to be used in research or “for other purposes.” It requires licensing and inspection of dog and cat dealers and humane handling at auction sales.

The links on that page seem screwed up, the current version AWA text is here. I say “current version” because the AWA is active, with various updates and amendments being passed over time; this is not a static Federal law.
One important basic place to start is the section on definitions.

The term “animal” means any live or dead dog, cat, monkey (nonhuman primate mammal), guinea pig, hamster, rabbit, or such other warmblooded animal, as the Secretary may determine is being used, or is intended for use, for research, testing, experimentation, or exhibition purposes, or as a pet; but such term excludes (1) birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research, (2) horses not used for research purposes, and (3) other farm animals, such as, but not limited to livestock or poultry, used or intended for use as food or fiber, or livestock or poultry used or intended for use for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber. With respect to a dog, the term means all dogs including those used for hunting, security, or breeding purposes;

I should note that “birds, rats…mice” were excluded from the provisions of the Act in 2002 via the “Helms Amendment”. This most certainly does not mean that research on these species is not regulated and in fact the vast majority of the policies and procedures I will be discussing apply to these species as well because of regulation. Nevertheless, there are times when the regulations are looser on “non USDA species” than they are on the remaining species covered as described above. I will also note that invertebrate animals are not covered and my subsequent remarks do not apply to such popular research species as fruit flies, sea slugs, nematodes, bacteria used in various ways, etc.
The next step in the education process is to familiarize yourself with the USDA’s Regulations for Animal Welfare as overseen by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The regulations are the procedures and interpretations that have been adopted by the USDA under their AWA-directed responsibilities, to oversee animal use in the US, including (but not limited to) use for research purposes. This brings me to our first essential point: The use of animals for research purposes is a (highly) Federally regulated activity. Local research Universities and institutions have to follow regulations or else they cannot use animals for research purposes. I highlight this because this is a major starting point for the discussions that seem to follow any blog posts on the topic of animal research. Many (many, many) people who express themselves skeptical or uncomfortable with the use of animals do not seem to understand or recognize this fact. Understandably because the propaganda war is currently being won by a side which has no interest in presenting a balanced truth. Scientist commenters fire back with this observation about regulation but things rarely progress. So if you profess yourself a concerned but legitimate actor in this little drama consider this a put up or shut up moment.
Let’s do a little reading, shall we?
These USDA/APHIS Regulations dictate a number (!) of specifics which sometimes merely quote the AWA but oftentimes go beyond in a explication and refinement of the ways animals can and cannot be used in research. I will attempt to highlight some of the most important basic concepts.
I’ll start with the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) which is a regulatory requirement for each University or research institute approved by the USDA to conduct animal research. The second essential concept is that an individual researcher cannot conduct animal research except under current approval of a protocol document which has been submitted to and reviewed by the IACUC. These protocols will have to wait for a later post, first I want to discuss the IACUC itself.
The membership of the IACUC is partially mandated by AWA [ TITLE 7:CHAPTER 54:Sec. 2143. Standards and certification process for humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of animals(b)] and it is critical to highlight the two most-important individuals. The APHIS regulatory version is a slightly more fleshed out version of the above-linked AWA section.

The Chief Executive Officer of the research facility shall appoint an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), qualified through the experience and expertise of its members to assess the research facility’s animal program, facilities, and procedures.
Except as specifically authorized by law or these regulations, nothing in this part shall be deemed to permit the Committee or IACUC to prescribe methods or set standards for the design, performance, or conduct of actual research or experimentation by a research facility.
(b) IACUC membership.
(1) The members of each Committee shall be appointed by the Chief Executive Officer of the research facility;
(2) The Committee shall be composed of a Chairman and at least two additional members;
(3) Of the members of the Committee:
    (i) At least one shall be a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, with training or experience in laboratory animal science and medicine, who has direct or delegated program responsibility for activities involving animals at the research facility;
    (ii) At least one shall not be affiliated in any way with the facility other than as a member of the Committee, and shall not be a member of the immediate family of a person who is affiliated with the facility. The Secretary intends that such person will provide representation for general community interests in the proper care and treatment of animals

The Attending Veterinarian is a role that is mentioned throughout the AWA and all other guiding regulation. My reading is that the expectation and obligation is that the AV is an independent advocate and gatekeeper of the welfare of all individual animals being used in the local institution. I will admit up front that there is some debate about whether the IACUC or the AV is the pre-eminent authority but I think most agree that the AV has the authority to intervene whenever s/he is concerned about the distress or treatment of a given animal. The AV is also to be consulted in a general sense on the treatment and distress that is under discussion on a given protocol; in this s/he is considerably more-equal than other members of the IACUC. In practice, animal research (by general protocol or in specific cases) cannot proceed over the objections of the AV.
The “lay member” of the IACUC is also critically important because s/he has no allegiance to the institution, no interest in their continued ability to conduct science and receive NIH grants. His or her interests should be as a representative of the taxpaying public in the local community.
I’ll take up the duties of the IACUC in the next installment.
Update 8/9/08: Related posts from acmegirl and drdrA. Update 8/10/08: Why we use animals from Neurotic Physiology and a roundup from Greg Laden.

No Responses Yet to “Animals in Research: The conversation begins”

  1. Mark P Says:

    Maybe you can make some headway here, but I’m not too hopeful. Every discussion has to start from some point of agreement, and ultimately, there is no point of agreement on this issue. If you believe that it’s OK to use certain animals (not fruitflies and the like) for research, then you start at point A. If you believe that is is wrong to use those animals for research, then you start at point Z. That difference in belief, unfortunately, boils down to an issue of personal ethical considerations. You can cite all the benefits of animal research, but if a person believes it is ethically wrong to use animals in research, that argument simply holds no water. Some people might call them crazies for that reason, but all that does is push the two sides further apart, especially if everyone who holds such a belief is equated with the few people who try to harm researchers. I don’t know how either side can convince the other that their position is the “right” one.
    Maybe more familiarity with the regulations will help to defuse the issue. Maybe not.


  2. This a great post DM!
    I think education is definitely the best route. Another good reference for students is a book that Nick and I both reviewed, called “The Animal Research War.” It does a good job of explaining the rules for working with animals and philosophy behind the rules.


  3. DrugMonkey Says:

    That difference in belief, unfortunately, boils down to an issue of personal ethical considerations.
    You are right but this is not the audience I seek to address. There are those that profess to be in this discussion in good faith. See the comments from Samia over at Janet’s blog that I linked. Those individuals get pretty ticked when scientists just assume they are the usual bad-faith animal activist who cannot ever be convinced because of their animal rights faith. I am willing to assume that there are those who really seek understanding. I am sympathetic to the idea that their local animal researcher is justifiably paranoid about speaking with them. A blog is a reasonable place to have the conversation with such individuals.


  4. Mark P Says:

    Your chosen audience might well benefit from this and what I assume will be equally enlightening posts. I am sure there are some who are in the middle ground, who are uncomfortable with the use and treatment of animals in research, but knowing how it’s really done will help.


  5. Samia Says:

    You really know nothing about who I spoke to and how I got in the same room with them (or who referred me to these researchers). But somehow you still manage to conclude that I was some random undergrad popping out from behind a tree armed with endless pointed questions and a bucket of red paint. Spare me. For anyone wondering, my group is not “ARA-like.” We’re a friggin’ school-sponsored organization and nothing remotely resembling untoward (let alone harmful/illegal) behavior is allowed. If my “good faith” is still being questioned after all I’ve said on some of these posts, I’m done here. Not interested in throwing poo over the internet. Thanks for the info though; I did bookmark everything (and I’m glad you brought up USDA because there’s a facility literally next door to EPA and they do a loooot of cool-looking pathology stuff). I will most definitely be doing some serious reading at the beach next week. Thanks again.


  6. scicurious Says:

    Thanks so much for doing this! I know these explanations are a lot of legwork, but a lot of people will appreciate the information. I eagerly await the next installment.


  7. DrugMonkey Says:

    Samia, calm down. Srsly. I am trying to answer your questions here. I would not be doing so if I were not personally convinced that you are acting in good faith.
    I’m also trying to communicate to you and others of your position that even if you are in completely good faith and opposed to ARA terrorism and all that- your local investigators don’t know that. How do you think PETA moles sneak into lab jobs for their faked-up “expose” camera work? By telling the labs what they are up to? hell no. Is if fair that there is a shading or suspicion that anytime anyone says ” I think there are problems with animal research can we talk about it” they are viewed as possible terrorist apologists or worse? no, but life ain’t fair. And the calculus of assuming someone like you is a bad-faith ARA terrorist over risking an action against one’s own lab is overwhelming for your local researchers.
    As far as activist groups go, well, PETA and HSUS and the like swear up one side and down the other that they reject terrorism and all that. But guess what? total lies. (Click Sandra’s name above for the links to get you started) Again, your group may be on the complete up and up but nobody knows that except you!


  8. soap Says:

    Animals don’t have rights. That’s why they are used for experiments we wouldn’t dream of doing in humans. Personally, I think the payoff is enormous. Medical research would come to a screeching halt were it not for animals. Not only that, we are starting to know how brains, neural systems, and other organ systems work. What makes us tick.
    Most people overlook the fact that animals are used for experiments because of evolution. They share many of the same evolutionary traits and behaviors as humans. Many animal rights people don’t seem to understand that scientists are not cruel people who don’t give a shit about animals. We DO care. We have pets, and many of us do love animals. I personally strive to reduce the amount of suffering experimental animals go through.
    I do think that terrorist activities such as firebombing or threatening one’s kids are ineffective and have no place in society. Even if it is done in the name of “animal rights.”
    I do not think education and science policy are the only things we as a scientific community can do to ameliorate concerns from the general public. However, the general public doesn’t really give a damn about any of this. In the end, we’d all just like a magic pill that will cure Alzheimer’s/drug addiction/obesity/etc.


  9. Karen Says:

    Humans only have the rights that our society grants them; I count myself very fortunate to live in the West where those rights are strong. Our human society, in turn, grants rights to animals. That is the only source of their rights.
    Because we, as a society, are at least somewhat compassionate, we grant research animals the rights to be handled humanely. (We don’t necessarily grant those same rights to food animals, but that’s another issue.) But our society is a human society. It takes care of itself first, and that care extends to approving the use of animals in research.
    To the extent that the animal rights activists can influence the definition of “humane”, they will make progress. But terrorist activities are evil, ultimately counterproductive, and will do nothing in the long run for their cause. Labs will get more security. Researchers will get more security. The research work calls, and it will happen.


  10. TSS Says:

    I’ve worked in many realms of animal research, and have been directly (although not personally threatened) exposed to many facets of the animal rights (AR) movement. I am not ashamed to admit that I have struggled with some issues myself about the nature of the research I participate in. And I genuinely feel that the AR movement serves as a functioning method of checks and balances for the treatment of animals in our society. Having said that, there are two issues which have always bothered me about these types of attacks on the science community.
    First, there seems to be little definition about what types of animal research is unnecessary and “evil,” which stems, I believe, from the utter lack of understanding about science by the AR people. So how do these individuals and organization draw lines? Lab? Bad. Captivity? Bad. Wait what bout captive animals who are endangered or too rare to study in the wild? Wait, what about studying animals in the wild? Many field projects (which may include a variety of invasive procedures) are primarily “basic science” but few can completely ignore conservation efforts even if their particular subjects are not threatened. If we take blood from a free-living animal in the name of conservation… is this bad in the minds of the AR groups? MOST groups cannot address these issues because they have almost no knowledge about how we do science and why.
    Second, I have never understood why science is attacked over and above commercial industry (NOT THAT I ADVOCATE THIS!!). Perhaps my news sources are biased toward reporting attacks on science, but I have the distinct impression that science research bears the brunt of the AR negativity, while animal testing for commercial purposes, etc. seem relatively unscathed (with a few notable exceptions like circuses or the fur industry). Is there something about science in particular that draws this fire? It perhaps goes back to the fact that the operation of the scientific community is mostly an unknown to the larger population.


  11. TSS- I would agree that it is, at least in part, the ‘unknown’ of academia that draws such fire and criticism concerning the use of animals. My personal experience has often indicated that outsiders perceive us as being ‘above them’ and willing to do anything in the name of science. Academia is a black box for many people, and they choose not to educate themselves before proclaiming us weirdos and monsters.
    I think another part of it is that many universities are state/government-run institutions, and people think they have the right to question institutions funded by their own taxes.


  12. bsci Says:

    I want to give an anecdote that might better help understand the hesitation/fear of some animal researchers. I was walking with a researcher who was known to openly defend animal research (his own and others). A small branch dropped from a tree and hit him on the shoulder. When he realized it was just a branch, the first thing out of his mouth was thankfulness that it wasn’t a bullet.
    He is literally walking around always wondering if someone is going to shoot him! Yes, this is more than slightly paranoid, but because of some of the anti-animal research protests against him, the paranoia has some justification.
    The lack of response you are getting is paranoia, but, sadly, it might be rational paranoia.


  13. jj Says:

    As a UCSC Biology Alumn, still living here in the city (I work about 2 minutes off campus), I have to say that these acts where disgusting and really angers me that UCSC students could go so far. The school prides itself on tolerance, and the idea that a researcher has to watch their back for doing their job is just down right disturbing for what this campus is known for. Yes, the students like to protest (normally it’s about the jerk-off regents or shitty staff pay), and that’s all good. The responsible parties for this need to sit down and do the Santa Cruz thing, smoke your bong and get in a protest drum circle – no violence needed. Maybe if these vegan extremists would take a shower they’d wash off all that irrationality.


  14. Becca Says:

    Personally, I wonder about the scientific analysis skills of someone who lumps together a thoughtful and respectful undergrad who has reservations about animal research with lunatic fringe whackaloons who engage in horrific acts of hypocritical violence.
    This seems especially foolish to me considering that most of the biomedical researchers I know have some reservations about animal research.
    You might well regard me as “expressing some sort of strong anti-animal use perspective” simply because I think eating mammals is wrong… and I do animal research!
    (It’s a cost-benefit analysis, ultimately. Gustatory hedonism is totally not worth killing little mammals. The best research I can do, with the ultimate goal of curing a disease that makes life miserable for over 500 million people a year, and ultimately kills millions who are mostly very small children-folk? Well, now. That is another matter.)
    I still agonize over it though. So will most ethically conscious (albeit flawed) individuals.


  15. May Says:

    In some countries, an ‘animal welfare advocate’ is also included in the makeup of the IACUC (in addition to the lay member). For example, the Australian code of practice states that all animal care committees must include a a person with “demonstrable commitment to, and established experience in, furthering the welfare of animals, who is not employed by or otherwise associated with the institution, and who is not involved in the care and use of animals for scientific purposes…While not representing an animal welfare organisation, the person should, where possible, be selected on the basis of active membership of, and nomination by, such an organisation”


  16. DrugMonkey Says:

    Personally, I wonder about the scientific analysis skills of someone who lumps together a thoughtful and respectful undergrad who has reservations about animal research with lunatic fringe whackaloons who engage in horrific acts of hypocritical violence.
    There is nothing scientific about dealing with the threat of animal rights terrorism. It’s “terrorism”, get it? These people are not acting rationally, they are acting on some personal version of the 1% doctrine.
    Why is this so hard for you to understand? We are dealing with actual cases in the news where scientist’s homes were violated, in this last case with firebombs. I have difficulty grasping why, at the least, you cannot stretch your imagination to understand how a research scientist might feel about this.
    Whether such individuals are reacting “scientifically” or “rationally” to the potential is completely beside the point.


  17. DrugMonkey Says:

    This seems especially foolish to me considering that most of the biomedical researchers I know have some reservations about animal research.

    I still agonize over it though. So will most ethically conscious (albeit flawed) individuals.

    You are raising a straw argument. Biomedical researchers with their upfront consideration of the use of animals in research (we’ll get to this in future posts) also have demonstrated commitment to the principles of using animals in research. The ‘debate’ such as it is, concerns how, why, under which circumstances, etc animals are used.
    I disagree that it is necessary to “agonize” over animal research. This implies that one who has an (ongoing?) emotive struggle is somehow morally superior to one who has considered many of the aspects of animal research quite closely from dispassionate intellectual or philosophical perspectives and has come to some fundamental decisions at a time long past. Questions about the basic orientations and beliefs such as “It is justified to use animals for human purposes” do not require constant updating. Practices? yes. Fundamental orientations? not so much.


  18. leigh Says:

    ok, i haven’t slept in over a day but this whole terrorist topic just bothers me enough to stay awake and type. what bothers me more than anything is that the general public is apathetic about it because we’re perceived as being so evil for doing awful things to animals- one response i got when asking someone about it was something sharp about how hate breeds more hate. WTF is THAT supposed to mean?!
    my dissertation project relies exclusively on the use of laboratory rats. i have justified their use and all of my methods quite thoroughly to various committees as needed- well, because there’s no other way to study development of the brain, now is there?
    i have never LIKED it- i think anyone who LIKES killing rats needs evaluation- but i have come to an understanding about the whole thing. these rats were created exclusively for research. we create a demand, they are born and raised to satisfy that demand. what we do with them is regulated, regularly evaluated, periodically inspected for compliance, justified before the money even comes in. my job is to treat the animals with dignity and spare them unneeded suffering while performing quality work so that i don’t need to use more animals to repeat studies.
    laboratory animals are not people. they don’t have families to support, jobs to go to, society to participate in. we do this research for the benefit of people because it benefits society. selfish? absolutely. but isn’t that one of the definitions of humanity? it’s also what’s gotten us where we are today, in every good and every bad sense.


  19. asdf Says:

    I kind of agree with Leigh. Are we supposed to stop eating the chicken too?


  20. juniorprof Says:

    DM, I appreciate what you are doing here. It is important to let the public know that there are strict rules in place for the use of animals for research and to give them access to those rules. It is also worthwhile noting that these rules can be found on the University Animal Care website for nearly every university and they can also be found through any IACUC website.
    With respect to researchers not being willing to talk about these issues with non-laboratory members, I have to say that I have never been approached but I would not speak about it. I would refer any such interest in the rules and regulations to our IACUC website and tell them that our laboratory behaves in strict accordance with the rules and that all of our procedures are IACUC approved. The fact of the matter is that I have an obligation to justify every single thing that I do to IACUC and I am obliged to be present and give full explanations for everything to any IACUC or Federal inspections that come by. I would not endanger myself, my family or my laboratory trainees or employees by speaking to anyone who raised even the slightest suspicion. I would like to believe that people like Samia are acting in good faith but it isn’t worth any more effort than writing down the IACUC website for reference to me. Sorry if this seems overly cold but the evidence is overwhelming that these people use deception and lies to inflict terror on their victims.


  21. Becca Says:

    There is nothing scientific about dealing with the threat of animal rights terrorism. It’s “terrorism”, get it?
    Screw “scientific”. There is nothing RATIONAL about going around equating innocent people with terrorists.
    You are taking a bright and concerned undergrad, and telling them that they will be mistaken for a terrorist if they dare to question animal research. You are also skirting insulting them directly for believing it’s a valid thing to question.
    This is no better than someone who tells a brown person “you should expect to get hassled at airports if you have unusually shaped packages. You are a dumbass for having an unusual package anyway.” You might be right- the person might get hassled. But that is no reason to insult them for doing something that seemed reasonable to them, and should be seen as reasonable. I believe it should be viewed as reasonable to question animal research because of a general moral principle- the right of dissent. But I also believe questioning animal research should be encouraged for the sake of scientific progress.
    Look, if you personally operate in fear of your life because you do animal research, please blog about it directly (that would be powerful stuff).
    Don’t try to pull this vague “how a research scientist might feel about this”. Sometimes people feel completely illogical things (yes, even research scientists!). Telling someone who inadvertently frightens people who have illogical fears that they are at fault does not address the base illogical fear. You are so much more likely to get hit by a bus than blown up by any terrorist, of any stripe, whether you do animal research or not. I refuse to respect people’s right to be frightened of illogical things- that’s the attitude that got us into Iraq due to fear over phantom bioterrorism/WMDs.
    Also, I never said it was necessary to agonize over animal research. I think it is common to do so- perhaps I’ve just asked people the question differently than you have. I definitely believe it is no weakness to have emotions regarding animal research. I am inclined to worry slightly about people who start with negative emotions and become indifferent (not through rational processing of their own reservations but simply through becoming jaded).


  22. secret postdoc Says:

    I am a postdoc and very early on (when I was in h.s.) I learned never to speak about animal experiments. I avoid saying anything about animals when people say, “So what do you do?” The point is I don’t want a whole fucking debate about what I do. You’re not going to change my mind and while I can potentially change your mind, why should I bother? Do I get anything out of it? It’s like arguing about religion. It’s less work to not provoke other people.
    In terms of students raising concerns about animal research, by all means do so. But do it with an open mind. Don’t assume you know what anyone is doing, the reasons for it, or that your opinion is above that of other people’s.


  23. Wow, I take the opposite stance from JrProf and secret postdoc.
    I work with mice. Most everything I do to them involves complete anesthesia, so I don’t stress about what I’m putting them through; however, it does bother me that we keep so many of them in relatively deprived conditions. I personally refuse to work on rats, cats, or monkeys.
    I am comfortable, even open, saying this to any undergrad or HS student or whoever asks [ok not stranger on my doorstep]. I also say, “Everyone draws their own conclusions about what they’re comfortable with in animal research. I encourage you to think about what you’re doing, to assess how you feel about it, and to ask as many questions as you need to understand our policies for animal treatment.”
    Because you know what? I used to be a PETA member. Waaay back when I was a teenager and veal seemed like the cruelest thing anyone could ever do. I adore animals; I hate to see them suffer; and so I empathize with anyone who’s facing these issues themselves.
    I also hope that by putting a sensible, concerned face on animal research, I might help some animal-rights types see that scientists think about these ethical issues too. Our goal should be to defuse the us-vs-them dynamic that leads to extremism. If I thought all animal research was wrong, and every professor I ever spoke to about it refused to talk about it with me, it would be easy to conclude that they didn’t care.
    And it’s just a hop, skip, and a deranged fucking jump from there to terrorism.


  24. Questions about the basic orientations and beliefs such as “It is justified to use animals for human purposes” do not require constant updating. Practices? yes. Fundamental orientations? not so much.
    Gotta disagree with this one, DM. What we knew in the fifties about animal brains led many to conclude that they didn’t really have emotions or thoughts. Most bio researchers would now disagree with that statement, at least for some “higher” critters. People’s attitudes about what animals they’re comfortable studying may have shifted accordingly.
    Thanks for opening the conversation.


  25. acmegirl Says:

    Becca – please, stop! DM did not say that students like Samia were wrong for asking about animal research. He actually suggested that such students should consider what may be behind a certain reluctance to discuss things given the climate.
    A similar situation – female scientists get asked all the time about their marital/family status. Many choose to be evasive or flat out refuse to answer because of the overwhelmingly chilly climate in many fields. They are simply concerned that they will not be taken seriously if they let on that they have children or may want to have children someday. One response to that behavior is to get mad at the women who do this. Because they should not be so paranoid. And they are shutting down discourse about a very important issue. Another response is to come to grips with the sadness of the situation, and then work to change things so that women will feel more at ease about speaking openly about their families.
    I think we really need to take the second approach here. We need to acknowledge that there is a problem – public perception of animal research is really messed up and making it hard for scientists who work with animals to feel comfortable talking about their work. Does that mean the inquiring fresh-faced student is wrong? No. But it affects how the professor will answer. Because professors are people, too.
    The only real solution here is to try to improve public perceptions of animal research. And to put those thugs in jail.


  26. acmegirl Says:

    BTW: great post, DM.


  27. bsci Says:

    You are taking a bright and concerned undergrad, and telling them that they will be mistaken for a terrorist if they dare to question animal research.
    Becca, The terrorists often are or were bright and concerned undergrads. Perhaps one in twenty who asks a question might have hostile intents now or in the future. The odds are small, but much higher than the racial profiling examples you give. I’ve known situations where a scientist has said some innocuous comment that was then taken out of context and led to years of harassment.
    Pushing away concerned undergrads is NOT a rational response. It is a paranoid response, but it’s paranoia based on experience. One success of the animal terrorism movement is the silencing of real education on this topic (something DM is trying to correct). It’ easy to say researchers should be more open on this topic, but wait until you or someone directly linked to your research gets their first personal threat/attack.


  28. Venkat Says:

    If I may point out (perhaps someone already did), this topic is related to the question: should one (or one’s butcher) have to kill animals to eat?
    The answer to this question seems easier in a way as it is more related to ‘basic desires’ as opposed to research, for which the justification may seem more convoluted and ‘rational’.
    I think the only way these issues can be dealt with is not just (intellectual) dialogue, but also being aware of how sensitive or insensitive one is to things around oneself.


  29. drdrA Says:

    Quite right. About 20-30 million animals are estimated to be killed after use in research annually in the United States (maybe somebody has more accurate figures), 10 billion (yes that’s a billion with a B) animals are slaughtered for human consumption annually in the United States. And, these numbers don’t count the companion animals that are euthanized annually in animal shelters – that number is between 3 and 9 million, depending on who you read. Most people don’t even bother with euthanasia of these companion animals as a problem.


  30. Becca Says:

    DM did not say Samia was wrong for asking questions. Instead he more or less told her to “grow up and get real”. That doesn’t exactly encourage discourse, does it?
    I can kind of understand what you’re saying about what breeds this paranoia. If people want to discuss their own experiences, or what they are afraid of, I will not ridicule them. I will try to understand.
    However, using someone else’s irrational paranoia as an excuse to take cheap patronizing shots at an undergrad (even indirectly) is still bunk.
    bsci- Do you have anything remotely resembling actual data backing up that 1/20?
    I have never run across any undergraduate who has a violent hostile attitude toward animal research (I’ve seen some non-violent hostile verbal disagreement, but considerably milder than at certain scientific conferences).
    Furthermore, I lived in a vegetarian co-op in undergrad, and worked with co-opers nationally (including some very nice people from Santa Cruz). I was working in a lab doing animal research at the time, and freuqently discussed this. I’ve known the strictest of vegans, who were frequently utterly convinced of the righteousness of their views. They were indisputably adament, but not literally “militant”. So, all in all, I’m quite suprised I’ve never encountered someone like you describe in the circles I frequent, if they are anywhere near as common as you suggest.
    I know whackaloon ALF folks are out there, and I can sort of understand being scared by them. But I suspect if you compare “# of people who engage in violent acts in the name of animal rights/# of people who have reservations about how animals are treated” you will end up with a number similar to “# of people who engage in violent acts in the name of Muslim extremism/# of people who are of arabic decent + those who are of the Muslim religion”.
    Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde- I know of a lot of scientists who come at this from something like your perspective. I actually think not being open to talking about it is rare.


  31. DrugMonkey Says:

    Let me see if we can pull this back around to the secondary points here.
    Did you know that there was a voting member of each and every IACUC who was not affiliated with the local institution? Is this a good thing? Irrelevant? Absolutely critical?
    Is the perception of researchers that the Attending Veterinarian of your local institution has a special and independent role as the overseer of animal welfare? Is s/he active in this role or more or less subordinate to the IACUC as far as you are aware?
    On the information-seeker side, is a vet a credible animal advocate or just a tool of system? Is it good, bad or indifferent that there is a prioritized role of a single responsible veterinarian?


  32. bsci Says:

    I have run across undergrads with hostile intents. I’m not sure that’s the type of data you want, but it’s true. If you look at the active supporters of this terrorism. Many are or recently were undergrads. In addition, even people without hostile intents can cause problems. For example, let’s say someone gets information an starts publicizing the evil work of some “vivisectionist.” That original person might be a peaceful and intelligent protestor, but one the attention is there less innocent people are attracted. I’ve definitely seen this happen too. This is again what makes the ratial profiling example flawed in this case. A peaceful protester has a higher likelihood of unintentionally giving info to someone who would do violence.
    Also, innocent vs. not innocent isn’t always clear. PETA is in theory a peaceful organization, but they rarely explicitly reject violence and chapters and the national organization have repeated had paid speakers who have been known to advocate violence. Does that mean all PETA members are advocates of violence. Absolutely not. Still, does this make a researcher comfortable speaking to someone who says they are part of a campus chapter of PETA?


  33. juniorprof Says:

    Did you know that there was a voting member of each and every IACUC who was not affiliated with the local institution? Is this a good thing? Irrelevant? Absolutely critical?
    I would go with absolutely critical. It shows a commitment to honesty and openness in the process. It also emphasizes the importance of justification for all experimental procedures in a way that should be clear to anyone.
    Is the perception of researchers that the Attending Veterinarian of your local institution has a special and independent role as the overseer of animal welfare? Is s/he active in this role or more or less subordinate to the IACUC as far as you are aware?
    My experience in all of my research locations is that the vet has been independent. I have always received helpful advice from the vet (and their residents — yes institutional vets tend to have residents just like in hospitals). On several occassions vets have come by to watch our techniques and give input on how things could be done better. These situations are also somewhat stressful because you are aware that if you don’t know what you are doing they can shut you down. This is an extra check on the system that I think is very important. The only way it can be effective is if the vet has some level of autonomy.
    On the information-seeker side, is a vet a credible animal advocate or just a tool of system? Is it good, bad or indifferent that there is a prioritized role of a single responsible veterinarian?
    Again, my experience has been that the vet is a credible animal advocate. An important aspect in all experiments is animal health. I have been lucky enough to work in very clean, well cared for animal housing units. These have always (at least for the past 5 years) included animal enrichment programs (things for rodents to play with in their cages) and strict limits on housing occupancy. Consistent checks on sentinel cages give us the confidence that there are not infectious diseases spreading through our colonies. These factors demonstrate (at least to me) a commitment to animal advocacy on the part of the vets which is combined with a commitment to excellence in research.


  34. Lab Lemming Says:

    It is worth pointing out that violent attacks aren’t the only thing researchers have to fear from “interested undergrads”. Assuming that the scientists who run the labs are more interested in science than in the minutiae of regulation, they may see the interested students as “volunteer auditors”. If this is the case, interaction has the potential to offer many negatives (getting lab up to code, finding paperwork, etc.) and few or no positives. So there is little incentive for the researcher to engage.
    In fact, one unintended effect of animal rights activism may be for labs to hire people who are less animal friendly that they would otherwise choose.


  35. David Says:

    I posted most of this on Greg Laden’s blog a little while ago, but it seems relevant to this conversation so here it is again.
    I’m a supporter of groups such as AMP and Speaking of Research that campaign for the responsible use of animals in research and against AR extremism, and believe that the research community needs to do more to stand up for colleagues who are under threat.
    Having said that I do think that there needs to be more consideration given to how animal research is done and how it is regulated. There have been several recent reviews that indicate that a large part of the apparent differences observed between preclinical animal studies designed to assess the effectiveness and safety of treatments (basic research is another matter) and subsequent human clinical trials are due to poor experimental design (Scott S. et al 2008, Perel P. et al 2007). Problems include general issues such as study and control groups too small, lack of (formal) randomization, no blinding (although staffing limits might make blinding difficult), and more specific issues such as unrealistic timing of treatments and in the case of virology an over reliance on challenge with homologous strains. It seems likely that a large proportion of the observed discordance between human and animal data is due to errors in the way the experiments are done rather than deficiencies in the animal models themselves (which rather ironically both scientists and AR activists usually rush to blame when a drug fails). Since a main justification for animal research is it’s benefit to human (and in some cases animal) health I think we need to make sure that we are getting the most out of animal research, and of course better experimental design will also help to identify those models which really do need to be improved or replaced.
    I’m also slightly concerned that in the US there is too much variability between IACUCs. While most allegations by AR organizations about “pointless research” turn out on examination to be nonsense there have been a couple of examples on Science blogs in the past few months of projects that should never have got approval, for example a study of Reiki that involved placing electrodes in the brains of rats
    Now I know that this is a procedure that causes much less suffering than might be expected, it’s used quite regularly to treat humans with diseases such as Parkinson’s, but it’s still a highly invasive procedure being used to test a load of unscientific nonsense.
    I know that there is now more discussion going on about these issues, at least within particular areas of research such as HIV vaccine development and stroke where the problems with experimental design have been most obvious. I still wonder to what extent such discussion has been hampered by an unwillingness on the part of scientists to appear to break ranks and express concerns for fear that they might be viewed as aiding the anti-vivisectionists, or even because of worries that their actions might lead to attacks by extremists on their colleagues.
    Perhaps we need to do more to explain why animal research is valuable and support colleagues who are threatened , but I do think that the animal research community does need to do more to ensure that when experiments are done they meet the highest standards possible in both design and welfare. Whether this requires more federal involvement is something that may merit discussion.


  36. TSS Says:

    David, Just to clarify on your statement: “There have been several recent reviews that indicate that a large part of the apparent differences observed between preclinical animal studies designed to assess the effectiveness and safety of treatments (basic research is another matter) and subsequent human clinical trials are due to poor experimental design (Scott S. et al 2008, Perel P. et al 2007).”
    Are you indicating that basic research is better or worse in its usage of animals than applied research? Regardless, I think the activists pay little heed to such differentiation. The majority of those attacked seem to be basic researchers like the prof at UCSB, while the majority of the AR propaganda talks about applied science (e.g. futility of HIV studies, drug efficacy, the taxonomic differences between animal and human physiology, etc). Which again highlights their ignorance of the scientific community. While I choose not to be active myself, I applaud the intents of the well informed groups like those you’ve mentioned, who I feel (as I said before) provide a good critical view of animal research and give us valuable checks and balances.


  37. DrugMonkey Says:

    David, if I take your point about study design, you seem to be arguing against many principles of animal use as we currently have them. Principles put in place for welfare and ethical use issues. To wit, you seem to be asking for larger studies with greater sample sizes and more control groups, the use of outbred populations instead of purpose-bred (generality of conclusions over decreased experimental variability) which again will increase the numbers, and applicability to human which would seem to be requesting many more dog, pig and nonhuman primate studies in preference to rodent. It is an arguable, but unusual, position to take.
    With respect to ‘unscientific nonsense’, well, there’s plenty of stuff that I think is a bunch of nonsense and a waste of valuable time and effort. I certain there are plenty of people that think the same about my work. I think the strengths of our independent-investigator-initiated system of science more than outweigh any complaints anyone might have about a specific study. While I am not familiar with the study you cite, I’ll also say that one or three well-done studies which demonstrate clearly that something is a pack of unscientific nonsense may be of value in decreasing the probability of subsequent studies ever being conducted. I see autism/vaccine tests in a similar light, btw.


  38. David Says:

    First off, I’m sorry I didn’t supply the PubMed ID’s of the publications I mentioned, here they are:
    Scott S. et al 2008 PubMed: 18273714
    Perel P. et al 2007 PubMed: 17175568
    I don’t entirely agree with the conclusions of Perel P. et al., they are perhaps a little too harsh given the smaller resources (funding and staff) available for most animal research compared to clinical trails, and in a couple of cases they seem too quick to suggest that the animal model itself may be at fault when they have no real evidence to back up that assertion.
    To clarify. I think that we need to make a distinction between basic research intended to increase understanding of biological functions and processes, and the more applied research aimed at evaluating potential treatments before they go on to human clinical trials. My view is that the experimental standards of these pre-clinical tests should be improved to be closer to what we expect these days from clinical trials, though exactly how much closer a question that I can’t answer. I think it’s fair to say that in the past decade or so the scientific community has become more aware of the need for good experimental design in clinical trials, what I’m arguing for is a similar awareness when it comes to the pre-clinical evaluation of treatments.
    I know that there is a lot of pressure on scientists to use as few animals as possible in their tests, both because of a desire to implement the 3Rs and because animal research is expensive. Using as few animals as possible is of course a good thing, but not if it results in an underpowered study that yields an unreliable result.
    There will always need to be a balance animal welfare, cost and indeed time considerations against the need to do experiments that yield reliable results, but the available evidence suggests that the “system” is unbalanced. I would suggest that there needs to be a wider discussion, involving animal researchers, statisticians, experts in clinical trail design as well as those charged with protecting animal welfare. This would also require more systematic reviews to identify where and why animal research is performing well or underperforming. Perhaps only small changes will be required in specific areas, or maybe much more general changes will be recommended, but I think that we should at least take a good look at the issue.
    That animal research has made an enormous contribution to our understanding of biological processes and the development of new treatments is beyond question, and it continues to be crucial. One of my worries is that if the scientific community doesn’t itself review how well animal research works and implements appropriate improvements the field will be wide open for anti-vivisectionists to dominate the field of “systematic reviews of animal research”, presenting misleading work to a public that will in most cases not be able to see its flaws.
    I agree that the AR extremists rarely make a distinction between basic and applied research. I’ve always assumed that the reason they tend to go for basic researchers is because they are easier targets, with descriptions of their work on departmental websites and less protection than a pharmaceutical company can offer its staff.


  39. David Says:

    Another clarification, I would not advocate that all pre-clinical evaluation of treatment efficacy in animals should involve much larger numbers of animals. What may be useful for treatments whose results in the current tests are promising enough that they are being considered (pending good enough toxicology and pharmacokinetics results) for human trials to be subject to larger, more rigorous, tests in animal models.
    This shouldn’t lead to a huge rise in the numbers of animals required to develop a treatment.


  40. Leni Says:

    Thanks, DM! I think it’s great that you’re doing this and I appreciate your efforts! I also appreciate your “warnings” to the more un-hinged potential posters. It actually makes it much easier to be frank and understanding when there aren’t emotional-freak outs and threats

    Samia, if you’re still reading, I think your anger with the professors you’ve approached is understandable. By refusing to talk about it, they are doing you (and presumably other students) a disservice and I can see why that would be seriously frustrating.
    That said, I don’t think DM was accusing you of anything. I think he was simply pointing out that it’s an incredibly sensitive topic (sometimes involving death threats!). You should expect that some people, most even, just aren’t going to respond well no matter how polite and considerate you are. So you shouldn’t take their less than enthusiastic responses personally- that’s just the way it is. The point is that if you want a positive response you are going to have to go make the extra effort.
    But if you aren’t willing to acknowledge their fears (“What I’m gleaning from this whole thing is that everyone is stupid except me.”) or if you are going to accuse them of racism when they react badly (“Or they look at my skin colour and assume I’m a religious nut who wants to battle them in the name of Ganesh.”) then you will probably never get the response you want. I’m sorry to say this, but it really does sound like you don’t understand where they are coming from. Or where their hostility is coming from.*
    You are asking something really, really sensitive from them- potentially career-ending and even life-threatening. They aren’t just going to jump into a casual discussion about something that may not be safe for them (or their families) with anyone who asks. And judging from your response here, it seems like you don’t understand that, and I think DM was right to caution you about your approach. If it doesn’t apply to you, fine! He was wrong! But it’s a fair point nonetheless.
    Instead of getting angry and worrying about poo-flinging, maybe you could tell us about what specifically happened and we can try to think of ways to make it go better next time. I know that sounds incredibly corny, but I’d hate to see you give up on talking about it because it didn’t work out the first few times. I think it’s important that professors discuss this with their students. I wish they would more, honestly. It’s just that it goes both ways and it would be better if we could all get something positive out of it.
    * Trust me, “brown” or “Ganesh warrior” doesn’t really fit the hardcore animal-rights activist stereotype. It’s more like young, white, middle class, liberal, granola-eating pseudo-commie đŸ™‚ Maybe I’m dating myself, but it isn’t really roving bands of brown-skinned Hindus that I imagine are responsible for the majority of animal research related problems. I’d be much more likely to assume white, western and far-left than anything.


  41. symball Says:

    It is very interesting to see how the debate is going in the US following the recent upswell in anti animal research activity. Speaking as someone who used to work in one of the main animal research centres in teh UK (although only as an in vitro scientist) It is now SOP for all scientists wha are even remotely linked to animal research to keep very quiet about what they do. just in my personal experience I have been spat on, hassled in the street and photographed just because I was recognised as a worker in the animal research company, I know people who have been harrassed (orders for coffins/ funeral flowers placed at local undertakers, threatening letters sent to their home address), been subjected to slanderous leaflet campaigns (accused of being paedophiles to whole neighbourhood) and having had their cars vandalised (covered in red paint and smashed up) for being linked to animal research.
    The risks in the UK are not small, and the threats are genuine, the story of a researcher paraniod about being shot are quite understandable and although guns are less common in the UK, violent attacks are not.
    The problems have become slightly reduced now as there are stronger laws about animal protests and a crackdown on activists by the police, however I doubt any researcher in the UK would admit that they were to a stranger- let alone discuss the ethics of animal research with one. This isn’t a good thing but it is the direct result of the animal rights terrorists we have in the UK


  42. druggedmonkey Says:

    until an animal rights activist stops eating meat (obviously most do), wearing leather (OK, I know), going to the doctor’s (I mean, what would they know without the animal research that has come before them), the pharmacy (right, with me now) or encourage a loved one to take a medication for a seriously debilitating illness.

    I mean, COME ON – put up or shut up –

    if your stance is that scientists who use animals deserve to suffer and die, how can you justify benefitting in any way from what research ON ANIMALS has contributed to your well-being

    I treat my monkeys better than you treat humans…much better!


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