The Scientific Activist

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When I first arrived in Oxford, about two and a half years ago, I found myself face to face with a very vocal and determined animal rights movement. Thriving on misinformation and intimidation–through their visible rallies and underhanded techniques of arson, grave robbing, and constant threats–they had stalled construction on Oxford’s new animal research building (a building designed to even further ensure humane conditions for research animals). And, they had effectively silenced the scientific community and the much larger portion of the population that supports animal research.

Then, two years ago, Pro-Test, a small organization made up primarily of Oxford students and researchers, took its pro-research message to the streets. Vowing to support scientific progress and not bow to intimidation, Pro-Test drew crowds of hundreds of supporters to its rallies in February and June 2006. These events were lively and spirited, but characterized mostly by a grave determination to face the threats ahead, and colored by both a sense of duty and fear.

But what a difference two years can make. Pro-Test marched again today, but the prevailing feeling this time seemed more one of resigned joy, of “mission accomplished”. Oxford hasn’t been the same since Pro-Test first stood up to the animal rights extremists: scientists more frequently stand up for their work, animal rights activists are less visible, and the new animal research building has been completed. In fact, researchers will be moving in within the next few weeks. The crowd wasn’t as large today (a couple hundred people)–but it didn’t have to be. Although protecting scientific progress will always require constant vigilance, this time the forces of science have won.

i-1586b6630c5621aade480d93df185fc3-pro-test-2.gifThe rally started at noon today on Broad Street. Emcee Tom Holder kicked things off, and was soon followed by Laurie Pycroft, the founder of Pro-Test. Pycroft gave a victory speech, of sorts, but also summarized the importance of animal research. He noted that one day, hopefully, animal research will no longer be necessary, but that day is at least several decades away. Pycroft also said that Pro-Test had shown the animal rights extremists that “violence is not an acceptable way to conduct a political campaign.”

Pycroft was followed by David Priestman, a scientist in the Department of Pharmacology, who spoke about his own work and the importance of mouse knockout models. He noted that each year, about one billion animals are used for food in the UK. In contrast, only three million are used for research. Tom Holder then read a statement from the University of Oxford in support of Pro-Test.

Next up was Iain Simpson, another member of the Pro-Test committee, who gave another victory speech. He was followed by Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat and MP for West Oxford, who has been a strong supporter of Pro-Test from the beginning. I particularly respect Harris, because he has done a great job of balancing the need to stop the intimidation of scientists with the basic rights the animal rights protesters have to voice their opinions. He has cautioned the university and local police against coming down too hard on protesters and has lobbied to make sure they are able to protest with free speech rights fully intact. His sense of humor on full display, during his speech Harris introduced an “anti-testing card” which he suggested animal rights activists should carry around. The card said something like “I don’t agree with animal research, so I do not want to receive any treatments that have been tested on animals, including [long list of treatments]–basically anything except for homeopathy.” Zing.

The Pro-Test demonstration then left Broad Street toward the site of the new animal research lab, taking the same route that it did two years ago. As we marched, I heard many of the same chants:

What do we want? The Oxford Lab! When do we want it? Now!

Pro-science! Progress! Pro-Test!

Stand up for Science! Stand up for Research!

There were a couple of new ones, but they were a little awkward and didn’t have the same effect. Due to the nature of this rally–the smaller crowd and the reduced sense of urgency–the chants played a much diminished role, and were not yelled as enthusiastically.

i-d583e60998e9b6bde4cded701bbcf563-tom-holder.gifTom Holder speaks (and the new building can be seen in the top left corner)

Once we were at the site of the recently completed building, speeches resumed. First up were Tipu Aziz and John Stein, both Oxford University professors who use animal models for neuroscience research. Both spoke of the impact that Pro-Test and others have had by standing up for scientific research. Aziz noted that the European Parliament recently modified its hard line pledge against animal research. Closer to home, Stein said “your support was vital in changing the atmosphere so we could tell people why animal research is important.” Stein, like many others at the rally, also listed off just a small sampling of the many, many medical treatments developed through animal experimentation, including antibiotics, vaccines, transplants, etc.

Next up was Kevin Elliot who spoke about his medical condition, cervical spondylosis, which causes chronic pain and decreased mobility. He descibed the operation he would be undergoing soon to treat his condition, an operation, once again, only available because of past animal research. Then, after emcee Tom Holder gave a short speech about the significance of the day, the rally headed back to Broad Street for the final slate of speakers.

First up back at Broad Street was Frank Rothnie. He spoke from the perspective of a beneficiary of animal research, due to a car accident he was in several years ago. “I’m not special,” he said. “I’m just an ordinary guy in the street: like you. And, animal research is here for you.” Next, Tom Holder read what I can only describe as a very supportive statement from the Minister of Science on behalf of the UK government. After that, Helen Dale, a lawyer, spoke about what has impressed her the most about Pro-Test and the supporters of animal research in general: they have been so polite (in contrast to the animal rights protesters), almost to a fault.

i-5c68b30e71f08d4720d64ebc38a756e6-robin-lovell-badge.gifRobin Lovell-Badge addressing the crowd

As things came to a close, Robin Lovell-Badge–head of the Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics division at London’s MRC National Institute for Medical Research–gave his perspective. He also spoke about the central role that animal research plays in moving both science and human medicine forward. In addition, he noted that science relies on openness, so it is imperative that the public is given accurate information about animal research, something that Pro-Test strives to do.

Finally, Tom Holder thanked those who made the rally possible, and Iain Simpson gave a few closing remarks. At the end of the day, I was once again struck by the difference in tone between the supporters of animal research and its opponents. This is all the more relevant today, as just this week the home of UCLA animal researcher Edythe London was subject to arson, less than four months after another attack on her house by animal rights extremists. This difference in tactics may partially explain Pro-Test’s incredible success, in contrast to the dwindling fortunes of the animal rights activists in Oxford, who seem to have alienated any popular support they once enjoyed. Compare this to what advocates of animal welfare can accomplish when they take a more positive approach, instead of relying on intimidation and misinformation. A textbook case is the humane society effectively shutting down a slaughterhouse last week where animals were being subjected to outrageous treatment. All they had to do was let the public know what was going on.

In a democracy, truth wins out in the long run. Here in Oxford, the supporters of animal research have been honest with the public and have turned the tide. So, until the animal rights extremists come to terms with the facts, they’ll be fighting a losing battle.


Click here and here for past posts on Pro-Test and here and here for past posts on animal rights. You can visit Pro-Test’s website here, and donate to the cause here.

Comments

  1. #1 Relladon Caferdy
    February 9, 2008

    I think those who are against dictatorships should have a “only sell me products made in democracies” badge.

    Stand up for science? Like Dr Mengele? That was science, wasn’t it? Science and Progress. If you’re wearing a lab rock and make experiments, it’s Science, and if it’s Science it’s Good.

    Good thing you invited Tipu Aziz. With a meat eating legalize-animal-torture-so-that-we-can-have-better-cosmetics guy I’m sure you will persuade many. Tipu supports animal testing because it saves Homo Sapiens lives. Yup, I believe that.

  2. #2 T. Bruce McNeely
    February 9, 2008

    WHOOOOOOOOSH!!!

    That’s the sound of Nick’s point going right past Relladon Caferdy’s head…

  3. #3 Kevin Elliott
    February 10, 2008

    I don’t see the animal rights movement doing anything for disabled people Relladon, unlike Pro-Test who were really helpful yesterday.

    Perhaps you can let me know how the discectomy and fusion operation I’m expecting could have been developed without animal research?

  4. #4 Chad
    February 10, 2008

    There’s really no point arguing with Relladon. I’ve met plenty of zealots like him before and they are so far gone into their thoughts that no amount of facts thrown their way will change a thing. What was the first thing he did? Animal researchers = Nazis. The ol’ argumentum ad Nazium, nice move there Relladon. Classy.

  5. #5 Paul Browne
    February 11, 2008

    I was on the march on Saturday and I agree with your assessment, it was certainly the most relaxed and cheerful demonstration that I’ve ever been on. In a way that was its main failing, contentment does not a good demonstrator make, and the lack of anger and urgency that was evident among those taking part probably explains why the turnout was quite a lot lower than two years ago.

    It’s not surprising though, in the two years since the first demonstration we’ve seen overwhelming support for the lab among students (90% in a students union referendum), support from the local council (http://www.oxfordmail.net/mostpopular.var.895382.mostviewed.council_backs_animal_testing.php), and continuing solid support from the British Government. The numbers of attacks and instances of intimidation have also fallen a lot, probably because many of those responsible are now serving jail time or awaiting trial.

    Evan Harris probably gave the best speech, though his tone was a bit downbeat at times which jarred a little with the mood of the marchers. What you forgot to say was that the one heckler we got unwisely decided to intervene during Dr. Harris speech, inadvertently providing the perfect prop for the “anti-testing card” part of the speech!

    The chants were a bit cumbersome at times, but it’s only fair to say that some of those leading the chants were enjoying themselves a little too much playing around with them, it was all a part of what was a pretty lighthearted affair.

  6. #6 flosmum
    February 11, 2008

    The work that is carried out in animal laboratories is never seen by the public. Now why is that? Could it be that it is so cruel and barbaric that normal people would be sickened at the sights.(although it obviously would appeal to a person who has a sadistic and pervert nature) No caged, defenceless creature should ever be subjected to such atrocities. Have these Pro-test Oxonians never heard of the Doctor Hadwin Trust? This Trust carries out extensive (and successful) research without the use of one single animal. The Pro-test Oxonians would do well to use a little lateral vision instead of, seemingly, trying to ‘get one over’ on the people who support animal rights. Or are they studying to become vivisections themselves. In which case are they really fighting, not to save people, but to save their future prospects. The thought of what is done to animals in these laboratories makes me physically sick and this is a sickness that no amount of research can cure, it will only be cured when animal experiments have been placed, where they belong, in the history books

  7. #7 Paul
    February 11, 2008

    flosum, us Pro-Test Oxonians are well aware of the Dr. Hadwen Trust, and though it does fund some good work it’s also a bit naive in thinking that animal research can be replace entirely (at the moment at least) even the highly ambitious NRC report published last year admitted that some animal testing will still be required even if the plan they propose is implemented (which will itself take decades) http://dels.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/Toxicity_Testing_final.pdf.

    About 90% of biomedical research does not involve animals, and only 25-30% of medical research projects use animals (the difference between the figures is because many projects use a variety of non-animal and animal methods). It is certainly possible to have a career in medical research without ever working with animals, but in almost all cases for that research to lead to treatments somebody at some point (and usually at several points) will have to work on animals.

  8. #8 Nick Anthis
    February 11, 2008

    I’m a scientist–a biomedical scientist, in fact–but I have never done any animal research. And, based on my current focus, I probably never will. This puts me in with the vast majority of scientists (and the vast majority of Pro-Test’s supporters), who will never do animal research because their focus does not necessitate it (and because they lack the expertise and facilities to do it, anyway). So, this argument about supporters of animal research just looking out for their career prospects has absolutely no grounding in reality. However, as I’ve pointed out time and time again on the blog (such as here, for example), animal research is very necessary, and without it we would almost never bridge the gap between basic research and clinical medicine.

  9. #9 flosmum
    February 11, 2008

    To Paul, Toxity testing final pdf and Nick Anthus. Why can none of you explain why these animal experiments are carried out in the strictest of security and well away from the public eye? And don’t say it’s because it is secret work. That’s just balderdash. It’s because if the general public could see the atrocities being perpetrated on defenceless creatures, the scientists would loose any support they had and their work would be seen as the barbaric practice that it is. Oh, and maybe the people who work in these laboratories would miss the feeling of great power they have over and animal that can’t fight back.With todays technology, animal experiments are no longer necessary. End of.

  10. #10 Nick Anthis
    February 11, 2008

    No, it’s because there are plenty of wackos out there who would hurt the scientists and destroy the labs if they had a chance. Even at the building site of the new lab in Oxford, construction workers had to wear full-face masks to prevent extremists from identifying and targeting them.

    Besides, science labs aren’t generally open to the public. Even in my building, where we don’t work with any animals, we have strict security to protect the very expensive scientific equipment we use and to protect people from coming in and exposing themselves to a variety of chemicals that could be very dangerous in the hands of the untrained layperson.

  11. #11 flosmum
    February 12, 2008

    Sorry Nick Anthus, there are plenty of buildings that contain chemicals and lots of expensive equipment that do not have the amount of security and secrecy that is displayed at these laboratories and they are not in any danger from ‘wackos’. Besides, the general public would not need to be trampling through the buildings. Why not allow independant filming to take place in ALL areas of the laboratories,not just the nice clean,white coat areas. And don’t tell me that they are already inspected because we know that these ‘so called’ inspectors are mostly ex vivisectionists and their visits are generally a social call with very little inspection taking place. They are appointed by the Home Office who appear to have a very keen interest in preventing the public from actually knowing exactly what does go in in these establishments. We’ve seen,on T,V. the undercover films and quite honestly they make one weep when you see the brutal and cruel way these defenceless creatures are treated. No Nick, you’ll have to have a better reason as to why these places are protected by such secrecy. Expensive equipment and dangerous chemicals are held in many buildings but, thank God,those buildings don’t hold animals who are destined for a life of cruel and barbaric treatment. Someone has to speak up for these animals

  12. #12 Nick Anthis
    February 12, 2008

    All I’m reading here are the same tired conspiracy theory arguments that have been rehashed time and time again by animal rights activists, arguments that show no understanding of the process of research in general. If you come up with something new and give some indication that you’re interested in real dialogue here, then we have a place to start from, but otherwise you can count me out.

  13. #13 flosmum
    February 12, 2008

    O.K. Nick, I’ll count you out but undercovering filming tells the truth, obviously something which vivisectionists and the governmnet are afraid of. Cheers and goodbye.

  14. #14 Paul
    February 12, 2008

    “undercovering filming tells the truth”

    Except of course when it doesn’t, like when BUAV staged some filming at Harlan a few years ago, and they’re rather creative editing (sorry we’ve lost the original material…yeah right!) of footage shot at Cambridge.

  15. #15 flosmum
    February 12, 2008

    So Paul, you think that the undercover filming showing a puppy squeeling with pain because the vivisectionist was trying to introduce a canula that was too large for the puppies vein was a sham was it? And because it cried it had it’s head bashed against the wall.Or the little monkey who was threatened with the parting words from the ‘lady’ (I use that word loosely)in the white coat’I’ll get you next time you little b—–d’ God only knows what she did to it the next time it was brought out to her for more torture.. No one will ever convince me that cruelty and sadistic natures are not rife inside these places.If these films were falsified, why were no charges ever made?

  16. #16 MartinM
    February 12, 2008

    No one will ever convince me that cruelty and sadistic natures are not rife inside these places.

    Then fuck off. What’s the point in posting here if you have no interest in an honest discussion?

  17. #17 Paul
    February 12, 2008

    Not all instances of abuse are fabricated, some bad things have happened, but shit happens in all professions. Some GPs have been serial killers, does that mean all GPs are not to be trusted? I’m not saying that abuses shouldn’t be investigated and that regulations shouldn’t be in place to prevent them from happening in the first place, but to smear an entire profession because of the misdeeds of a few is wrong. In my own experience the animal researchers I’ve met have been very professional and looked after the animals in their care well.

    Anyway here’s a case in point
    http://www.rds-online.org.uk/pages/news.asp?i_ToolbarID=6&i_PageID=197
    http://www.rds-online.org.uk/pages/news.asp?i_ToolbarID=6&i_PageID=241

  18. #18 Bianca S
    February 12, 2008

    flosmum: Many extreme organisations (PETA comes to mind) use extremely old footage and photographs to support their own ends. Many of them are stuck in the past and have no interest in what animal research can offer today in the modern world, as opposed to 10, 15, 20, 30 years ago.
    If you don’t like animal research, why not print off a ‘do not treat’ card for yourself? I think it may serve you well.

  19. #19 flosmum
    February 12, 2008

    To MartinM.. What a nice person you appear to be and with such a refined vocabulary!!What a good education you must have received. And to BiancaS…Thank you for your advice but I already carry such a card so I’m afraid your advice is years too late. These are my last comments because I realise I am comminicating with people I don’t like. You are quite immune to animal suffering. I wouldn’t want to mix with any of you socially so I will sign off saying Goodnight. Now isn’t that a nicer way to end rather than the comment made by MartinM?

  20. #20 T. Bruce McNeely
    February 12, 2008

    Flosmun, after seeing you throw words like “barbaric”, “sadistic”, perverted”, etc., it’s a bit much for you to object to MartinM’s suggestion.
    So you carry a “do not treat” card? Good.

  21. #21 MartinM
    February 13, 2008

    Yes, apparently accusing a large number of people you know nothing about of cruelty and sadism is just fine, but usage of the word ‘fuck’ is outwith the bounds of acceptable conversation.

    Oh, and:

    Now isn’t that a nicer way to end rather than the comment made by MartinM?

    No, it isn’t. It’s actually substantially worse.

  22. #22 kim
    February 14, 2008

    it`s unbelievable that someone supposedly educated at the level professed to be the highest attainment of knowledge in all of history and for such a superior creature in intellect and all other classes could even say that testing done on anything other than some clinical object[microarray,ect.]is acceptable because it advances science at the minor expense of some lower form of life[supposed assumption].when the legal system of humans recognize that animals have as much right to any defense that is afforded to any being then maybe things will improve but i have serious doubts that any rational debate will ever insue because the same tired arguments that are used by the religious science community as always about how the misguided animal rights wackos constantly never get the facts right where the science community has hard evidence that their statements are correct.being american it gives me hope to see that the passion[supposedly waning but from here it appears to be alive and very vocal] for banning this barbaric,outdated,ignorant and completely useless[animal models don`t predicate human science,etc.]is really up and going; which is what should be more vocal as well over here.any way i could go on and on but if your opinion is probably already made up and no amount of conversation would change it otherwise anyway.

  23. #23 Nick Anthis
    February 14, 2008

    Kim,

    I’ve taken on the “all animals are equal” argument before:
    http://scientificactivist.blogspot.com/2006/01/are-all-animals-equal.html

  24. #24 T. Bruce McNeely
    February 14, 2008

    Small K kim:

    Your lack of paragraphs and capitals is cruel, sadistic and barbaric to your readers.

  25. #25 Calli Arcale
    February 26, 2008

    Some thoughts for the advocates of animal rights:

    * Animal research is mostly not vivisection. Is it not therefore inaccurate to describe people who do research on animals as “vivisectionists”?

    * The people of Pro-Test do not support animal cruelty. Their aim is to achieve a balance between the greater human good and animal welfare. Is this not a good thing?

    * It ought to be possible to confine one’s animal testing to that which is humane. Better enforcement of animal welfare regulations is a good way to achieve this, and ensure that the truly depraved and/or indifferent are caught and punished. Would you support animal testing on this basis?

    The animal rights movement has managed to give itself the impression of caring more for animals than for humans — and at the same time demonstrating that it has only a loose connection with reality. The biggest tragedy out of all of this is not that people are being harmed for stupid reasons (like being related to someone working for a company with a loose third-party financial relationship with another company who supplies an animal research facility). The biggest tragedy is that despite all the pain and suffering they cause, the animal rights extremists do no good whatsoever for the actual animals, and in fact set the cause of animal welfare back by alienating the general public. Go ahead; make the average person think that animals and humans can’t coexist, because being close to animals means being targeted by crazy people. Make them think that it’s either the animals or the humans. I’d happily bet money which one most people will pick. And it won’t be the animals.

    Pro-Test worked because it didn’t go out of its way to antagonize the opposition. Instead, it spoke to the public. Groups like PETA and the ALF don’t do that, and that is why they fail in their message. That is why their efforts do more harm than good to the animals they claim to support.

    (It would also help if they actually gave a moment’s thought to the consequences of their actions. I’m not just talking about the human lives they ruin, but the animal lives. ALF has been responsible for the senseless waste of hundreds of animal lives, mostly because they can’t be bothered to think about what “liberating” lab animals means, yet somehow they get a free pass. PETA euthanizes dogs by the score, not always humanely, and oddly ALF happily takes their money and is silent on their abuses.)

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