The Big Animal Research Debate, organised by the International Debate Education Association and the charity Understanding Animal Research, is taking place across more than 30 UK universities between 14 and 17 October.
Endorsed by groups including the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and the Association of Medical Research Charities, each event will focus around the motion: “This house would ban all forms of animal research.”
Results of the debates are to be published online. As of 16 October, eight debates had so far gleaned around 500 votes.
David Willetts, the universities and science minister, lent his backing to the project saying he hoped it would encourage a better understanding among the British public, and especially among young people, about how and why animals are used.
“The use of animals in scientific research - where there is no alternative - remains a vital tool in improving our understanding of how biological systems work in health and disease, the research and development of new medicines for humans and animals, the development of cutting edge medical technologies and protection of our environment,” he added.
Alongside students, speakers will include academics Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience and philosophy at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, opposing the motion, and Andrew Bennett, director of the FRAME Alternatives Laboratory, speaking in favour.
However, some animal welfare groups who declined to take part in the debates criticised the event as “crude” and “forcing an all-nothing-position”.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Centre for Animals and Social Justice told Times Higher Education that the debate came from an “over simplistic” position that undermined its likely contribution to public understanding of animal experimentation.
“The debate motion calls for an immediate ban on animal experiments, but both the letter of the law and the majority of the public currently judge animal experiments on a far more nuanced case-by-case, harm-benefit basis, rather than forcing an all-or-nothing position,” they said in a statement.
But organisers said the motion allowed the proposing side to frame the debate, including arguing for a gradual move to a ban.