Research agenda 1

June 1, 2007

Simon Festing of the Research Defence Society calls for openness (Opinion, May 18), but this is media spin, not genuine candour.

For years, the RDS's disproportionate media focus on animal rights extremism has attempted to discredit the antivivisection agenda as an issue of the "militant" few. In truth, it is the concern of many, including medical, scientific, legal and academic professionals, who share an objection, both ethical and scientific, to animal experiments.

As the UK's leading non-animal medical research charity working in universities nationwide, the Dr Hadwen Trust meets many academics who share a deep disquiet about the portrayal of animal experiments as the "gold standard". Some feel unable to voice doubts for fear of career reprisals.

Festing encourages researchers to be outspoken about their support for animal experiments, yet he has no such encouraging words for researchers who oppose them.

Why not? Genuine openness does not deny all criticism nor exclude or discredit detractors.

Public relations tours of laboratories present only a facade of openness.

An afternoon of restricted access will never convey the suffering for animals confined for months or even years. Marmosets with stitched scalps recovering from invasive brain surgery rarely find themselves on the tour agenda - rodents in neat racks of clean cages are far more likely to feature.

Openness means more than simply being open about your support for animal experiments. It means being open to criticism, especially from within, and genuinely honest about animal suffering and the undeniable fallibility of the animal research model itself. Otherwise, openness is just another buzzword in an increasingly disingenuous publicity war.

Wendy Higgins
Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research

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