Thursday, February 05, 2004

Evil British Scientists Decide Not to Build Torture Chamber for Chimps

Here's another topic that really irritates me: radical animal rights groups like PETA that would rather people died from curable diseases or conditions than use even one animal for research.

From the journal Nature: Animal Rights Activists Prevent Opening of Primate Research Center.
Animal-rights protesters have helped to end plans for a primate research centre at the University of Cambridge. But despite the activists' triumphant soundbites, their victory is unlikely to be repeated elsewhere.
Let's hope not, or else biomedical research in the U.K. is doomed. And we've got more than enough post-docs from Europe over here at the moment. I don't understand why a small, but vocal minority is allowed to dictate public policy.

It doesn't make pleasant reading, but the gloating should come as no surprise. When the University of Cambridge decided last week to scrap plans for a primate research centre, animal-rights protesters who campaigned against the facility were in bellicose mood. "An important message has been sent out to universities across the UK," activists' group Stop Primate Experiments at Cambridge said in an e-mail to supporters. "If the mighty Cambridge can only put up a pathetic fight, then they have no chance if we were to turn our attention to them."

I suppose by "turn our attention to them" he means blow up their facility, and harass and assault workers at the facility.

For any university that conducts animal research — not just the small number that use primates — this sounds like a worrying challenge. Activists clearly helped to derail the Cambridge centre. Fears about protests prolonged the planning inquiry. The need for security at the site bumped up running costs. Concerns that building workers would be threatened led some to wonder whether it could be built. When costs jumped by £8 million (US$15 million) to £32 million, the university had to pull the plug.

But that does not mean that the protesters are guaranteed other victories. Primate research is already being done in Britain, and does not need to be moved to centralized facilities. The activists also ignore public and media opinion towards animal experiments, which is more positive than they dare acknowledge. Universities and funding bodies should not prepare for war with animal-rights activists, but continue with the lobbying that is winning people round.

Good. Ignore the protestors and focus on the general public. My university gets its share of animal rights protestors every year, but so far this hasn't seriously affected research here. Usually they just march around the front entrance with their signs and their dogs on leashes. I guess that they haven't figured out that the technology that keeps their precious little Fidos free of rabies and heartworm is based on animal research.

Some universities will nevertheless decide that centralized animal facilities are the best way to improve animal care. They are likely to face threats of violence, but there is every reason to think they can resist. Opinion polls suggest broad support among the public for strictly regulated animal research. And the reaction of the media towards the Cambridge decision has been overwhelmingly pro-science.

Threats of violence? So an ALF "activist" would consider harming a human to prevent animals from being used in legitimate biomedical research? Inconceivable! At least the general public seems to have good sense.

Good public relations could head off future protests. The Research Defence Society (RDS), for example, regularly discusses animal experiments with the public and explains why they are needed. This must be a better way forward than one option considered for the Cambridge facility — retreating to a fortified lab at a secure but secretive site such as Porton Down, owned by the Ministry of Defence.

Sheesh. You'd think they were researching ballistic missile technology or anthrax or something.

Contrast this with the situation in the Netherlands and Switzerland, where animal researchers sometimes show members of the public round their lab during open days. No university in Britain could risk running such events. But unless we pursue a policy of openness, such events will never be possible, and the Cambridge decision will not be the campaigners' last victory.

I'm all for public relations. We need more of it. The general public should be aware of how much research using animals has advanced medicine and made our lives easier. There's not one drug, one treatment that has not gone through at least one round of testing in animals for safety and efficacy before it is tested in humans. It would be irresponsible not to go that route. Who wants to volunteer themselves or their children to be guinea pigs.

So yes, it's sad that some fluffy little critters are stuck in a animal facility instead of frolicking in the wild, but eliminating animals entirely from biomedical research would freeze further progress. And keep in mind, 95% of all animals used in research are rodents i.e. mice or rats. I'm not too sad that there are fewer of those critters running around free, although my cat might disagree.

Update: Here's a great article on the same subject by Wesley J. Smith from the National Review. Money quote:
Tremendous human suffering can be eliminated as a result of the proper and humane use of animals in medical research. Of necessity, this must in some cases include primates, which are indispensable in the development of an HIV/AIDS vaccine, research into malaria, hepatitis B and C, and the development of promising therapies to treat devastating neurological conditions.

But animal liberationists could care less. And it isn't just about monkeys. As far as they are concerned, better your grandmother die slowly of Alzheimer's disease than allow any animals to be used in crucial medical research.

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