Animal research: will secrecy end?

May 8, 2014

What an extraordinarily one-sided piece (“Nothing to be ashamed of”, Features, 1 May).

In a lengthy article, there is not a single quote from an animal welfare organisation. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection’s exposé of Imperial College London is disparagingly dismissed as a “sting” (in fact, it was a nine-month undercover investigation, with hundreds of hours of footage: no one has disputed the damning findings).

The culture of animal research has indeed been one of secrecy. Newcastle University recently spent an astonishing £250,000 resisting a Freedom of Information request by the BUAV about neuroscience research on macaques (the university lost). Understanding Animal Research, supported by other universities and the big research funders, subsequently sought to persuade the Justice Select Committee that universities should have a veto over disclosure of the information they hold.

If animal researchers have belatedly come to the transparency table, we welcome them. But what do they mean by transparency? Reassuring statements on websites, PR visits by selected journalists shown selected animals, articles and abstracts stripped of information about what the animals actually experience have historically been the staple (at best).

The writer of the piece says that the BBC, extraordinarily, offered a laboratory full editorial control of footage; and that researchers are willing to discuss animal research in the abstract, but not, it seems, particular experiments. Note that Dominic Wells of the Royal Veterinary College says, chillingly, that the amount of transparency will require monitoring. All this is not true openness, but propaganda.

Successive surveys show what the public wants: full information about what is done to animals and why, and with what results, with names and genuinely confidential information excised. Participants in the recent Ipsos Mori in-depth study – shown footage of several BUAV undercover investigations – supported CCTV and a right to challenge experiments before they go ahead. There is widespread concern not only about wrongdoing but about the terrible toll of suffering to which animals are legally subjected, the often unreliable nature of the science and the fact that available alternatives are often not used (the BUAV has countless examples).

As the government consults on sweeping away the pernicious secrecy law governing animal experiments, we will see whether animal researchers really are on board. Universities should be places of open, healthy debate, not self-perpetuating cabals of elitism and furtiveness.

Michelle Thew
Chief executive
British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV)

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Dental Clinical Skills Assistant UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest