For years, animal rights groups have campaigned for universities and other institutions to disclose information about the research they carry out on animals. In 2006 the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) made a request for fourteen UK universities to disclose information about their use of primates in research, under the Freedom of Information Act.
Many of these institutions complied with the request and disclosed the figures. However, five universities (Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, UCL, and Kings College London) appealed against the decision, due to the fear that disclosing the information could endanger the safety of those carrying out the research.
Since the introduction of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act of 1986, universities have been required to release the numbers of all animal used in research to the Home Office for annual publication. However, earlier this month, the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that universities must also individually publish the numbers and species of primates they use.
It is easy to see why the universities were unwilling to disclose the information. For those who work in animal research, their fear of the extremists is very real. Although incidences of violence directed against researchers are decreasing, past troubles are not easily forgotten. Indeed, there are still individuals and groups out there who are prepared to use extremist methods – seven SHAC members were jailed in January for a campaign of terror against those connected with Huntingdon Life Sciences.
However, the opposition of these five universities has ultimately only worked to the advantage of the animal rights groups. They have always painted the picture of animal researchers as secretive scientists who carry out research on animals which they do not talk about, either because they are ashamed, or because they know they are wrong.
Indeed Michelle Thew from the BUAV said in The Scientist, “Risk to personal safety, though real in isolated cases in the past, is hugely exaggerated and often used as a smokescreen when researchers do no want to tell the public what they do.”
This view is strongly evident on the animal rights groups websites, and in the literature they distribute. They often quote horror stories of animal research, which are out of date, or wholly inaccurate. If scientists are too scared to come forwards and discuss the true facts of research in the public domain, these groups are only going to continue with getting away with this.
Also, is it just me, or is information about numbers of animals being used contained within published research papers anyway? Surely it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to estimate the numbers used in each institution by using these papers?
The fact that this information will now be publicly available is undeniably a good thing, however, researchers must realise that openness is the only way to successfully dispel the misinformation surrounding animal research. They must stop opposing such ideas. Openness about the research taking place is the only way that meaningful dialogue can even happen between animal rights groups and animal researchers, without outlandish claims on both sides. With the future of animal research dependent on public opinion, (MEP’s in Europe are set to vote in May on amendments to the 1986 Act) they deserve to be informed of facts not myths.