A Vocal Minority

The preface to the annual reports from the OU's Department of Biology to the Science Faculty Animal Ethical Committee states*:

'...this debate (about the use of animals by biologists) is sometimes seen as one in which biologists are in opposition to a very vocal minority in the wider world.'

Whilst the Biology Department is careful not to explicitly state that they regard those who object to animal experimentation as a vocal minority, the statement could be interpreted as an endorsement of that view. However, not only are most opponents of animal experiments not particularly vocal, we are not a minority either.

Statistics from a collection of polls on the issue have shown about half of respondents to be opposed to animal experimentation, depending on the questions asked and information (or misinformation) given. For example, a 1990 Harris poll in the UK found 48% opposition to drug testing on animals. A 1995 Gallup poll, also in the UK, found 50% against. A UK MORI poll (New Scientist, 1999) reported a range of attitudes depending on which animals were used, the purpose of the experiments, and whether respondents were told the following:

"Some scientists are developing and testing new drugs to reduce pain, or developing new treatments for life-threatening diseases such as leukaemia and AIDS. By conducting experiments on live animals, scientists believe they can make more rapid progress than would otherwise have been possible."

64% of those who were not given this 'information' voted against scientific animal experiments overall whilst, not surprisingly, fewer of those given this biased and misleading statement - 41% - were opposed.

Unfortunately the pollsters did not give the other side of the story. They could have quoted Professor Michael Balls of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (which is supported by the UK government via the EU), who predicted on the BBC Radio 4 programme 'Leading Edge' on 9th March 2000 that all animal testing will have ceased in a few decades, partly because it is ineffective or inefficient. They could have quoted Professor Fox of the University of Manchester Medical School, who said:

"I have always strongly supported the view, on both scientific and humane grounds, that the use of human tissue for research is preferable to the use of animals" (Animal Aid, 1997).

Dr Gill Langley, Scientific Advisor to the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research, says:

"Differences between species make it difficult to translate results from animals into humans, and merely serve to confuse or even mislead medical research" (New Scientist, 1999).

A workshop on brain research which included the OU's Dean of Science Dr Steve Swithenby (ATLA, 2000) reported:

"...human data compare favourably with those from animal experiments...The advantage of the human imaging studies...is that the living brain can be studied in action, and the results are of ultimate relevance...Studies of disease progression in patients have already provided a better understanding...animal experiments may provide data of considerable precision but of variable accuracy, in terms of relevance to the human brain...research culture can be slow to change...Sometimes, new hypotheses...are still tested in animals, simply because animals have always been used...It is hard to justify this practice...research councils are dominated by basic scientists who regard animal work as the norm...studies in humans...are revealing the limitations of some traditional animal models...human studies can...generate data more swiftly than...animal experiments."

92% of doctors want more effort put into developing alternatives in research and testing (New Scientist, 1999).

Next time someone suggests that we are a minority, put them straight!




'Let the People Speak', New Scientist, 22 May 1999 pp. 26-61

'Human Tissue: the neglected resource' (1997), Animal Aid, Tonbridge, Kent, UK

'Volunteer Studies Replacing Animal Experiments in Brain Research', Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (2000) vol. 28, pp. 315-331

* This statement, included since 1993, has been omitted from the 2001 report.

The main article was published by Students for Ethical Science in our May 2001 newsletter.