On "winning" the debate by not letting it stop your work

Apr 28 2009 Published by under Animals in Research

One of the interesting things I learned from Janet's series on overcoming obstacles to discussing animal use in research appeared in the sixth installment. She noted:

because of the fear of being a target of a big, flashy instantiation of violent tactics, a lot of people do not publicize the other ways that they or those that they know have been targeted. The news doesn't cover much in the way of "run of the mill" threats by phone or mail. That doesn't mean they don't happen, although I didn't realize that they did until I became close enough to scientists who get them (death threats, threats to rape them or their spouses or their kids, other threats of bodily violence falling short of rape and murder) that they felt safe enough to mention them in conversation.

This is fascinating, if true. It does not excuse the commenter that pops up around these sorts of debates to whinge about calling a car incineration terrorism. That is pretty clear cut. But there is a perception voiced that researchers pose of paranoia over the activities of AR sympathizers is a bit over the top, perhaps disingenuous. I do wonder if this is out of an ignorance based in the fact that only the most outrageous attacks get widely publicized?


Even within the field, we do not always know what has been happening to our peers. When you get to chatting about animal rights attacks it is a reasonably consistent event that someone you know fairly well will describe an attack that happened to them* which you had not previously heard of. Very rarely, one might hear by email from a colleague that one of us is under attack.
So how on earth would the general public be aware of this low level stuff?
Of course there are strategic reasons for treating the terrorists this way, first and foremost because what they crave above all else is attention. So it ill behooves those in the rational community to play their game by publicizing each and every attack. There's some truth to the point raised by Janet in that perhaps becoming too public will lead to even more attacks on that individual. There is some evidence from the campaigns of the 80s and 90s that this is the case.
One new point that was brought to my attention this week had to do with scientists' reluctance to do what the UCLA scientists did with Pro-Test this week. A reluctance to take time out of their work schedules to deal with the issues of animal use in research. To communicate to the public via Op-Ed, interview or megaphone rally. The thinking is that if you allow the AR activists to disrupt your ongoing work, then they have won. So the best strategy is to ignore them, devote not one iota of your time to dealing with them and to continue doing great science under well-justified animal protocols.
I can understand this point of view. I think it is short-sighted, obviously, but totally understandable. After all, the progress that stands to be made seems to be negligible. The number of individuals who are willing to admit that they previously believed ARA falsehoods and misdirections out of ignorance but became informed and fundamentally changed their minds, is not large.
I don't know that I have great arguments in response to this...yet. But I can see I need to think about deflating this line of resistance on the part of fellow scientists. I need to think about ways of convincing them that we'll all benefit, eventually, from correcting the misconceptions and factual inaccuracies about research that are communicated.
__
*there are many types of threats, the majority limited to email, phone messages and placement of their identifying information on an activist website. Occasionally a local campaign of distributed print literature as we saw was the preamble to the UCSC attacks last year.

30 responses so far

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Perhaps the best (i.e., most convincing) reason for scientists to get out there and communicate is that the tactics for fighting the ARA are the same as those for protecting funding. If people understand what it takes to makes those medical breakthroughs everyone wants--the basic research, the targeted research, the safety trials, etc.--they'll value each part of it more highly. Talking about how animals fit in is just an opportuntity to talk about the whole thing.

  • becca says:

    Of course, there's always the possibility, that most scientists, being at least ostensibly rational, are unwilling to adopt a pose of paranoia, because, well, it's paranoid.
    Of course, I was pretty front-and-center for some official scientists-calming-the-public immediately after the 2001 anthrax brew-ha-ha. I'm pretty well convinced that an appropriate scientific response to terrorism, or indeed anything "scary", is to consider (or acquire, if necessary) valid data about the scope of the problem, or at least the best possible estimate as to the range of possibilities for the scope of the problem. Or should we only fight irrational emotional responses with logic when they really aren't out to get *us*?

  • Cleveland says:

    Nice concern troll becca! Sweet. AMP, FBR etc track events and there are plenty to justify the current stance of scientists. You continue to question the attitude of scientists without a single shred of evidence that you've listened to, and understood, what Janet, Orac, DM and others are saying. When are you going to admit that your theological perspective disallows any fact from penetrating your views on the matter?

  • becca says:

    Cleveland- when are you going to realize that I am a SCIENTIST. In a lab coat. Running western blots. ON BONE MARROW DERIVED MARCROPHAGES from BL/6 MICE (Note to the peanut gallery- these are primary cells, and you pretty much get one batch per mouse so it's very obviously dependent on animals- even if the antibodies I use in my westerns or the serum in my cell culture wasn't good enough). I'm doing this to try to CURE MALARIA.
    When are you going to admit that your obsession with hassling me has nothing to do with any noble defense of animal research, and that you are just a jerk?
    I have a personal* belief that animals should be used for a good purpose.
    *(personal != theological. WTF mate? Have you been pharyngulaing too long to think that an agnostic might disagree with you??)
    As far as "good purpose" I think it's open to debate. I don't personally count gustatory hedonism; I do count nearly all scientific research. I also don't expect anyone else to live by my personal belief. But I think it's worth putting it out there. Because otherwise people like you will put forth your extremist view as definitive for all scientists.
    And even people like DM, who aren't exactly trying to speak for all scientists, will realize that there are people doing animal research who have never encountered what they speak of (which is not to say that it doesn't exist and isn't common [although I wouldn't mind data regarding how common it is]. I just figure any animal rights activist in rural Pennsyltucky is going to be more concerned with the fact we get the start of deer hunting season as a government holiday around these parts than the whitecoats in the hospital who try to cure children from cancer [note- not me, but if the general populace has any idea of what we do around here, it's probably shaped by Thon; for which I am profoundly grateful.... Hmm. Maybe there's a lesson there about how to engage with the public....]).

  • DuWayne says:

    becca -
    Of course, there's always the possibility, that most scientists, being at least ostensibly rational, are unwilling to adopt a pose of paranoia, because, well, it's paranoid.
    I think the problem with this, is that I see it as more of a "doesn't happen 'round here" sort of mentality, than having anything to do with being rational. The fact is that there is a big enough problem with this in California, that it has directly influenced individual researchers and research institutions.
    I'm pretty unlikely to ever get involved in research on animals. And I live somewhere that is unlikely to have problems with AR terrorists - like as not they'd be shot. That doesn't mean this is a topic that isn't of concern to me.
    First and foremost, we're talking about motherfucking terrorist scum. Terrorist scum who manage to garner a lot of sympathy and support from the larger movement they claim to be fighting for. It is extremely important to make sure that ARA's who don't engage in terrorist acts understand that the fucking terrorists make them all look bad, so they stop supporting the fucking terrorists. This has been fairly effective as a tool to fight enviro-terrorism. Make the public aware that the ARA's are lying or ignorant and that the terrorism is very real.
    Second, I am unlikely to end up doing animal research, but the work I will be doing is going to be informed by the work of those who do. And I imagine that your own work is probably informed by researchers who work in areas where there is an elevated risk for AR terrorist attacks. I for one, am all about supporting those who are doing work that will inform my own.
    Third, I am all about benefiting from the research done by folks who may happen to work in those areas of elevated risk. While the actual odds that you are the one who might be attacked may be low, were talking about terrorist fucking scum who have, among other things, invaded homes - including one that was occupied by a family enjoying dinner. If you lived in one of the areas where these attacks are more frequent, can you honestly say this wouldn't be of concern? I want them to continue doing research that may be of benefit to me someday, so I am going to give them my support, such as it is.
    It's really easy to think it's not a big deal, when you live so far away from it. Would you be so cavalier if even one researcher in your institution was attacked by confirmed AR terrorists?

  • Cleveland says:

    "I'm just putting it out there" is diagnostic for concern trolling if I ever heard it.
    Why is the fact that you use animal models relevant to why you presume to constantly question the premise that animal researchers feel legitimately under attack. Do you think this insulates you against criticism? It does not.
    Your description of attitudes in your location and the fact that you use models that are way down the list of what anyone complains about is instructive. As is your long perspective as, what, a graduate student who has such extensive understanding of how animal use has been regulated and changed over the past four decades or more?
    I doubt very much (correct me if I am wrong) that you have been well integrated into a subfield of research long enough to have seen the labs which close, stop doing certain types of research or have found the critical gaps in the literature that are directly attributed to ARA problems. Doubt you have grappled directly (via review of grants, papers, careers) with loss of research output which accompanies such situations. If you had, and assuming you are not the concern troll I think you are, you would be much less ready to demand "numbers". You would recognize that the suppression of just one good research program is one too many to satisfy half-baked "concerns" which rest on nothing other than pullin' it out of your nether regions and/or ARA lying propaganda.
    Finally, what "extremist" view do I have? The fact that I support the use of animals in research, the responsible, humane and well regulated use, is totally mainstream in the US.

  • becca says:

    Duwayne- I don't think my stance is coming across accurately.
    Indulge me in an analogy- if somebody tells me sexism doesn't exist in science, I'll probably puke on their shoes. If somebody tells me they understand why I'm concerned about it, they'd like numbers on the scope of the problem so as to determine how best to address it (while not questioning that it's a problem), and (parenthetically) they don't personally experience it, I probably wouldn't try to drown them in a 15' deep pool of excrement.
    Honestly, I don't think I have a "cavalier" attitude here. But I probably would feel more concerned if violent acts were happening in my area or to people at my institution. That doesn't mean unlimited concern on my part would be logical.
    My point with the anthrax analogy was that it's worth trying to overcome terror with objective information about the probability of risks. I think terrorism basically depends on paranoia. By my use of the term, it's still paranoia even if they really are out to get you- if you grossly overreact to a threat.
    Remembering something is objectively an unlikely threat helps me deal with the world. I'm not trying to insist here that everyone completely control their responses to terrorism and be completely rational, or deal with the world the way I do. I was pointing out it's possible some other scientists do so.
    Cleveland-
    "you presume to constantly question the premise that animal researchers feel legitimately under attack" Well, since I am animal researcher, I can say pretty safely that not all animal researchers feel legitimately under attack.
    However, I never claimed that any given researcher's feelings were illegitimate.
    "you use models that are way down the list of what anyone complains about"
    Anyone? I lived with some vegans- they viewed my research on planarians as objectionable. We had rats for pets.
    "As is your long perspective as, what, a graduate student who has such extensive understanding of how animal use has been regulated and changed over the past four decades or more?"
    I take it you are a member of the geezertariat then? So you know how much human research restrictions have increased over the same period of time; and why we wouldn't replicate the Stanford prison experiment now.
    If a field shifts away from animal research it's not necessarily due to fear of ARA groups, nor is it always a bad thing.
    "Finally, what "extremist" view do I have? The fact that I support the use of animals in research, the responsible, humane and well regulated use, is totally mainstream in the US. " Alas, "You're either with us or you're a terrorist" is totally mainstream in the US. It doesn't make you any less of a whackaloonjackhole for approaching people that way.

  • Cleveland says:

    Well, you certainly are in good company, becca.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/apr/28/hunters-now-say-limbaugh-is-wrong/
    Now you are just being ridiculous talking about fields shifting away from animal research. The premise here is that well justified research is just that. If the need changes, the techniques change...no biggie. I'm talking about when needed research is curtailed because it is too onerous, expensive or the PI or Uni is too scared to do it. When that this has been brought about by the unjustifiable (and often the criminal) AR activities this is a bad thing.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    BECCA SMASH!!!
    (I agree w/ Becca.)
    Doc F

  • Luigi says:

    I have been threatened with bodily harm many times. A couple times, the threats actually resulted from my research 😉
    Key actions on my part:
    I didn't threaten back.
    I didn't assume anybody who threatened me was an idiot.
    I accepted that they had a valid concern, and were (admirably) passionate about it. I sympathized with their concern. I admired their moral force.
    I apologized for the fact that my work seemed objectionable, told them it was obviously not my intention to offend anyone.
    I explained why I made the choices I did as a researcher. This included honest discussion of the options and costs of my choices.
    Basically, I started a dialog. You can't do that if you assume this is a war.
    In one case, the person had simply misinterpreted a semi-accurate media report. I corrected the misperception.
    In the other case, the person and I honestly disagreed, but in the end I think we respected each other enough that violence no longer seemed reasonable.

  • juniorprof says:

    Re: gustatory research: you do realize how much we've learned about GPCRs from that line of work right?

  • Anonymous says:

    "I just figure any animal rights activist in rural Pennsyltucky is going to be more concerned with the fact we get the start of deer hunting season as a government holiday around these parts than the whitecoats in the hospital who try to cure children from cancer"
    This is just untrue, about the animal rights movement. I too rank "gustatory hedonism" below research in value. I too believe that my view shouldn't be imposed on others. But, the AR agenda is to stop animal use, starting, not ending, with animal research. Why? because they can rely on the ignorance of the people about its value (say, as opposed to their understanding of the juicy hamburger they had for dinner, the leather boots, or the nostalgic deer hunting).
    It would be wrong to believe that every researcher using animals *feels* personally threatened. But, my guess is that you're just under the radar. Win a major award (get profiled in your college newspaper, for example), that mentions that you use animals (and your research might not, at least in a way that would be obvious to the uninitiated), and there's a high probability that you will get a letter/email/phone call that calls you names and threatens you.

  • becca says:

    Cleveland- politics make strange bedfellows.
    So, if you're going to polarize the issue along those particular lines, does this mean you've joined the NRA?
    After all, if Kant and Janet are right and "he who wills an end must also will the means used to achieve that end", and the greatest headway in ensuring a favorable climate for animal research is actually done by the sportsmen that are second amendment fanatics, then shouldn't you and anyone else supporting animal research also take responsibility for hunting for sport? Shouldn't you even be obligated to oppose any gun control?
    The enemies of my enemies...
    Or we could just, you know, stop blaming people for the actions of other people that they happen to agree with in one sense, and stop conflating "disagrees with me" with "terrorist".
    On second thought, that might require nuanced views of ethics, and I'm afraid I'll have to give up my black-and-white/us v. them mentality. And that'd be no fun at all.
    juniorprof- I meant eating cheeseburgers for pleasure ("hedonism")- that doesn't teach us about GPCRs, does it?
    But actually, I don't know anything about the GPCRs and gustatory research- can you recommend a review or something?
    Anon- I suspect it's more common around here than my utter lack of experience would suggest, if for no other reason than fairly few people in my institution's horribly out of date faculty research pages made it completely clear they were working with animals. Which lead to some annoying ambiguity when I was looking for a lab. I have no trouble admitting the problem is bigger than I personally see.
    On the plus side, if you're right, we don't have to fight the ARA at all (unless they gain enormously in numbers); we just have to make sure the average person associates "biomedical research" with something at least as positive/important as "juicy hamburger". Cause I don't think ARA are making much headway on the hamburgers.
    Since biomedical research generally has a pretty positive rating (did you know a majority of people actually said they would pay more taxes if it meant more biomedical research?) that should be manageable.

  • juniorprof says:

    Becca,
    Of course eating cheeseburgers for pleasure teaches us about GPCRs, how do you think you enjoy them? Look up Linda Buck and Richard Axel, the nobel laureates. People working on gustatory hedonism are trying to tweak the chemicals (ingredients) in the food to get the GPCR activation just right for the ultimate in eating and smelling pleasure (among other things). Did you know that smelling nice things reduces pain? Look up Cathy Bushnell (Bushnell MC on pubmed) for some of that fascinating research.
    No well designed research is unworthy, IMHO. The key is having the creativity to see the connections to more practical or even therapeutic uses. My back is killing me, but nothing a great gorgonzola can't fix for at least a few minutes.

  • Denis Alexander says:

    "After all, the progress that stands to be made seems to be negligible."
    Of course, that depends where you sit in all of this. If you are a target of these lunatics then the above comment is pure nonsense. On the other hand, if you are not a target, you can easily reason that if the 99% of the biomedical research community can continue doing their research in peace, why bother and give these lunatics the attention they seek?
    The answer is simple.
    First, we cannot, we should not, have a handful of researchers in the country and their families fight the ALF and their underground criminal network alone. It is wrong from an ethical point of view: it is not only THEIR war -- it is OURS. It is wrong from an academic point of view: their academic freedoms are being violated as well.
    Second, the "not letting it stop your work" strategy has been exactly what we have tried for years now, hoping that they will get tired and leave us alone. It has not happened. It does not work. It will never work.
    This is the time to go on the offensive... All of us together, not just those under attack.
    Yes, I know... It is difficult to get scientists out of their offices and Labs out to the streets. Well, here is an idea: force them. NIH should require a percent effort from all scientists in public outreach, talking to children at schools and the lay public, explaining their work. All grants should include this objective as part of their aims. Grant renewals will then include evaluations not only of the scientific progress, but of the broader impact the PI has had with the community. Now, that will make a difference!

  • Luigi says:

    NIH should require a percent effort from all scientists in public outreach, talking to children at schools and the lay public, explaining their work. All grants should include this objective as part of their aims. Grant renewals will then include evaluations not only of the scientific progress, but of the broader impact the PI has had with the community. Now, that will make a difference!

    This is certainly feasible. NSF applicants are required to discuss the 'broader impacts' of their research, and encouraged to engage in public outreach and education efforts. But I don't think it'll make much difference. Most NSF applicants blow this off, and as a frequent NSF reviewer, I can tell you that this stuff doesn't even come close to substituting for good science. At best, it's more like 'brownie points' to boost an already good application over the top.
    But really, Denis, you want NIH tax dollars siphoned off into social engineering? Shouldn't NIH money all go toward investigator-led biomedical science? I can accept that the defense department might use some of their money on propaganda. But should science agencies? I don't think the problem is that scientists aren't communicating anyway. Most of the time you can't shut us up. All universities have PR departments too. Animal rights disagreements are not going to be settled by 'education' any more than abortion disagreements or same-sex marriage. The 'problem' is that people have fundamentally different values when it comes to these issues, and weigh the plusses and minuses very differently. It is an ignorant conceit of many biomedical scientists to think that animal rights activists will be assuaged if we simply explained what we are doing. They won't. We have fundamentally different value systems. Having known many animal rights advocates of varying extremes (from mild to criminal), including a roommate for several years who was an active and passionate member of PETA, I think differently. Ultimately the solution is going to be mutual respect. We can live with each other and learn from each other. It'll be nice. La la la la Butterflies and sunshine and all that.
    No, really. I'm serious. Even if I do sound like Rodney King.

  • Denis Alexander says:

    "But really, Denis, you want NIH tax dollars siphoned off into social engineering? Shouldn't NIH money all go toward investigator-led biomedical science?"
    Luigi, you are probably right... It is not going to work anyway. How about the following instead -- Each NIH institute hires 2-3 people on their staff that their only job is to go around communicating to people the reason behind the research they fund. Where is our Colin Blakemore?!

  • juniorprof says:

    Why don't we just do it ourselves? Did you read Obama's NAS speech? He's certainly calling on us scientists for more public outreach... with a 3% GDP investment in R&D its the least we can do.

  • Luigi says:

    Denis - PHS has many people (far more than "2-3") and substantial infrastructure for handling animal research issues. They don't just advocate FOR animal use, but also ensure that it is performed in a reasonable manner. Check out NIH.gov. or do a Google news search.
    juniorprof - Of course it's important for scientists to communicate their work not just to other scientists, but to the public that pays for the work in the first place. There is a key distinction that needs to be made however, and that distinction is between explanation and propaganda. We should explain what we do. Justify it when necessary. But not engage in propaganda. This is not a war. NIH grantees all need to remember that we work for the people, both literally and figuratively. I am worried that too many scientists think of themselves as a deserving uber-class that should dictate social policy. That is a dangerous self-deception.

  • DSKS says:

    "Nice concern troll becca!"
    Oh, come on. This is a science blog where, hopefully, reason rules; it isn't Daily Kos and isn't the CommentIsFree section of the Guardian. And the latin for the fallacy has such a pretty sound, you'd think we'd all remember it by now.
    There's just no need for pernicious labels like that and, besides, it's a paradoxical tack to take in a discussion inspired by the rude and irrational behaviour of others.

  • Cashmoney says:

    Reason rules? On this blog??? Hahahahaahahahahha!!!!

  • DuWayne says:

    Becca -
    First, I accuse you of being cavalier about this, because you really seem stuck on the notion of statistical risk analysis and assume that it's just not a big enough problem to worry about. My point is that we, as scientists and supporters of science need to work together to try to reduce the support to and public sentiment for the motherfucking terrorists. The fact that in aggregate, being an animal researcher in the U.S. isn't significantly more risky than most anything else is meaningless. The problem is pretty strictly isolated to a relatively small portion of the country.
    Or we could just, you know, stop blaming people for the actions of other people that they happen to agree with in one sense, and stop conflating "disagrees with me" with "terrorist".
    Sorry, but fuck no. While I would hesitate to call HSOUS a terrorist organization (ie. I assume they're just a lobby organization I disagree with on some issues), I have no such compunctions about PETA for example. Groups that decide not to denounce the actions of violent radicals in the name of common cause are bad enough. Groups with senior members who advocate violence and/or spew apologetics for terrorism are just as bad as the fucking scum who actually commit terrorist acts.
    Luigi -
    Animal rights disagreements are not going to be settled by 'education' any more than abortion disagreements or same-sex marriage. The 'problem' is that people have fundamentally different values when it comes to these issues, and weigh the plusses and minuses very differently.
    But take a look at the issues you list as not being settled by education. Now think about the public's attitude about abortion right now, compared to what it was even twenty years ago. And look at the public's perception of gay marriage now, as apposed to ten years ago. The public perception of both issues has shifted quite a bit in the time periods I list with them - not perfect, but significant shifts in both.
    And the bottom line in regards to ARA's, is that they are remarkably effective at painting a very ugly picture of animal research. They tell a horrible story with pictures and sometimes sound. They help to foster a visceral reaction to animal research - not just in folks who are already sympathetic to anti-animal research advocates, but in folks who support animal research. They make them uncomfortable and therefore less likely to speak out strongly in support of animal research and consequently animal researchers. People who support animal research in spite of their perception of what happens in the lab, not because they really believe that the animals are treated that humanely.
    Animal research is an abstraction to most of the general public. We don't see what's happening in labs, except for short, out of context film clips shown by ARA's, that paint a rather ugly picture. Some of us don't buy into the ARA nonsense, but that is mostly because we regularly interact with researchers who have earned our trust on a personal level. I mean in all honesty, before I started reading sciblogs and interacting with scientists, I assumed that animal research was not nearly as humane as it was. And while I didn't believe that all animal researchers were cold and uncaring about the animals they used, I did assume that most of them were pretty ambivalent about it. I was most certainly a firm supporter of animal research, in certain contexts rather adamantly so - but my perception of animal research was pretty wildly inaccurate. To me, it was a necessary evil. But while I am definitely not keen on unnecessary animal research, I feel a hell of a lot more comfortable with the research that is necessary.
    I think that it would be an excellent idea to educate the public. I would love to see shows on PBS, TLC and other appropriate venues (Animal Planet?) that paint a more accurate picture of how animal research actually works. While the regular, personal interaction that changed my assumptions is simply implausible, there is a lot more that could be done and should. Holding rallies like the Pro-Test rally is an excellent idea - but not just in places where there has been a great deal of AR terrorism. That rally was a great medium for media exposure.
    Such exposure is not a win for the motherfucking terrorists. It is exposure that tells the public, "Look folks, we're the people who are developing medicine that saves lives/we're people who's lives have been saved by these researchers - and we're under siege by fucking terrorists." And make no mistake, the fact that you might happen to be in an area that isn't prone to such attacks now, doesn't mean they won't get there eventually. The more they get away with it, the more they can affect institutions and individuals, the more they perceive their tactics are actually working - the more they'll spread.
    Responding to the terrorism by taking to the streets is not a win for the fucking terrorists. Closing labs and quitting animal research in response to these motherfucking scum - that's a fucking win for the terrorists.

  • Anonymous says:

    "First, we cannot, we should not, have a handful of researchers in the country and their families fight the ALF and their underground criminal network alone. It is wrong from an ethical point of view: it is not only THEIR war -- it is OURS. It is wrong from an academic point of view: their academic freedoms are being violated as well."
    Indeed. And, there's another important reason why "we" need "your" support. The voice of those who are personally impacted is considered suspect. We are seen as being biased, protecting our own interests, however objectively we try to present the relationship between animal use and human health. In one not so extreme scenario, we are seen as just protecting our paychecks (which depends on the use of animals). If people who, for example, use computer models, or bacterial systems, or tissue culture, or other techniques that the activists don't find objectionable don't stand up for those who use animals, if they remain silent, the activists think that "you" agree with them, that in fact, your techniques can be used to replace animal research.
    If you don't believe that, but remain silent, the edges will close in, because *our* ability to wage the information battle is limited by the perception of bias.

  • Luigi says:

    Anonymous just made the first argument that actually almost makes me change my stance. I hadn't thought about the quiet assumption that silence = agreement. I should have. Such an assumption fueled debates over global warming for years, because lay people didn't realize there was actually a consensus. Perhaps it is important for more people to speak out in favor of animal research. I still think there's an important line we need to draw between justification and blind advocacy. And I think most do a good job of expressing concern for animal welfare while remaining firm on its importance. But maybe this massage is simply not getting out?
    At first, I wonder whether DuWayne's ideas for PBS specials might be a good mechanism for getting the message out. But on further thought, I am not so sure. Animal research is still going to look horrible to most people. Even something as benign and common as mouse tail snips could actually look fairly horrifying. Guidelines require tail snipping be done on very young mice, before tail bones form. Baby mice! We are going to advertise chopping tails off baby mice?! God help us when we start showing monkeys screwed into stereotaxic clamps with electrodes in their brain.
    No, we can't show animal research for the same reason showing abortions isn't going to reduce opposition to abortion. Even if you explained that the mother has anemia and a congenitally closed cervix, and was impregnated by a rapist with a dominant mutation causing psychopathy, all people will remember is the horror of the abortion.
    I think we simply need to focus on doing good science, and talking up the benefits of biomedical science. The end will justify the means for most people. And the fact that the means is actually undertaken with great care will be icing on the cake.
    Again: it's not a war. Or if it is, it's one of attrition. Don't escalate. Wait it out.

  • DuWayne says:

    Luigi -
    I am not suggesting showing what happens in the lab. I am more interested in seeing actual researchers on screen, talking about what they do, how they do it and even talking about their own ethical positions on animal research - as well as their personal feelings. Painting a picture in response to ARA's does not mean showing actual footage of work done in the lab, though it may mean explaining why it's not being shown. It is more about making it clear that what is being done is important and why. It's about showing the public that your average animal researcher is as concerned about the welfare of the animals they work with, as anyone else.
    It's about dispelling the myths that a lot of people believe about animal research - myths that AR extremists are very good at feeding on.
    And this is important because a lot of people are just not inclined to really care much about these fucking terrorists attacking researchers. One, they don't really see it - unless they live in the areas it's happening. And two, whether they ultimately feel animal research is worth it or not, they have an underlying visceral reaction to animal research that makes it hard to really work up the outrage.
    Again: it's not a war. Or if it is, it's one of attrition. Don't escalate. Wait it out.
    Whether you believe it's a war or not, the fucking scumbag terrorists do. And the more institutions that close labs, the more researchers who quit because of them, the more they are going to use these tactics. Allow them to make it mainstream and it won't stay in California very long. Responding and responding in strength is absolutely necessary, if we want to stop these fuckers now. And if we don't stop them now, they will spread like a goddamned virus and become that much harder to deal with later.
    It is very much a war of attrition - a war that the fucking terrorists are currently winning.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Luigi@#24, I think you are making a mistake analogous to that made by Dave and Sol when we are talking about strategy in the grant game. It is not dishonest to present the best story to convince your audience. There is no obligation to shoot yourself in the foot by talking like some caricature of a detached geek scientist who dryly recites the facts, all the facts and maybe a few more facts.
    And in any case you are suggesting we should do anti-science by dealing with the least-representative data, so to speak. You leap immediately into the game played by the ARA side which is, when they are not out and out faking and lying, to take the least representative examples and try to convince people that these are representative of all animal research.
    You know damn well that tail snipping for genotyping isn't "chopping off the tail" and that if done right the animal gives little sign it even noticed. If the criticism is that this is painful, why not show what the researchers know about how the animals actually respond in the real lab setting?
    The rest of the time the majority of these genetic model mice are not doing much other than living a well fed life up until the point they are humanely euthanized for their intended purpose. If that is the criticism, that they are chronically maltreated, this can be addressed by showing their normal life in the lab.
    Mouse studies are numerically in the majority as far as vertebrates go, are they not? Primates are not representative, estimates run something like less than 5% of vertebrates used, I believe (but I'd have to check on that).
    But even if you did want to go there, the majority of the animals in the research setting are not in the sorts of studies you described. So any representative treatment of the subject would be perfectly fine.
    The point is that it is not necessary to show the worst possible examples to address a whole host of the more reasonable concerns over animal treatment.

  • Luigi says:

    I am not suggesting showing what happens in the lab. I am more interested in seeing actual researchers on screen, talking about what they do, how they do it and even talking about their own ethical positions on animal research - as well as their personal feelings. Painting a picture in response to ARA's does not mean showing actual footage of work done in the lab, though it may mean explaining why it's not being shown. It is more about making it clear that what is being done is important and why. It's about showing the public that your average animal researcher is as concerned about the welfare of the animals they work with, as anyone else.

    Ah, OK. I get it now. I actually think this is a great idea. I would like to forward a link to this discussion to an NPR reporter I know. Unfortunately, the crude language in the last part of your post, DuWayne, kind of blows it. I am not about to direct professionals I respect and who could make a difference to some internet comment littered with Fucks. Maybe DM could start over with a nice proposal along the lines DuWayne suggested, to which attention could be directed.
    DM: I know that primate use is minor. It doesn't matter. Unless all you show is Washoe asking for cookies, it's not going to look good. And honestly, tail snipping even makes ME feel a bit guilty. ARA are going to wonder why we can't use a bit of hair or a mouth swab like we do for genotyping people. Sure we can make arguments for tail snipping, but ultimately they're all based on cost effectiveness and convenience. When you weigh even the teeniest bit of animal suffering heavily, arguments that sound very reasonable to most of us no longer work. We have to remember that. Ultimately we are talking about fundamentally different value systems.

  • Denis Alexander says:

    Luigi said "Denis - PHS has many people (far more than "2-3") and substantial infrastructure for handling animal research issues. They don't just advocate FOR animal use, but also ensure that it is performed in a reasonable manner."
    I disagree about the first part. I feel NIH has rarely advocated for animal research directly. In fact, on several occasions when asked why they don't do so the answer has been: "We are a funding agency, not an advocacy group".
    If you can point out to examples other than the latest statement from the director about the recent attacks, I will be happy to stand corrected.
    Again, I ask, who is our Colin Blakemore?

  • DuWayne says:

    Luigi -
    Sorry, I have an unfortunate proclivity for the occasional use of profanity - especially when talking about terrorists. I am actually trying to formulate a post on this topic for my own blog (though it will be a few more days - trying to finish my final paper). I will make sure I don't refer to them as fucking terrorists and such. And if DM does actually pop up another post I'll do the same.

  • Govt. Bureaucrat says:

    Dennis et al.
    Not sure how much a government agency should "advocate"--inform and educate though...
    http://science.education.nih.gov/animals

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