Essential Steps Researchers Should Take
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) supports the use of animals in carefully regulated and humane scientific research.
Animal research is suitable only in carefully planned studies, which have been approved by an independent committee concerned with animal welfare, when suitable alternatives are unavailable, and only when appropriate precautions are taken to minimize distress. Research animals should not be subjected to avoidable distress or discomfort and only the smallest number of animals to produce significant results should be used.
Scientists that work with animals can follow several steps to prepare for an attack by activists. However, all researchers can benefit from following the practices below.
Comply with Regulations
SfN recommends that researchers who work with animals comply with the appropriate policies, regulations and laws:
- Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals: Eighth Edition (required if research is conducted with Public Health Service funds)
- U.S. Animal Welfare Act and its implementing regulations from the USDA (if conducting research in the U.S.)
- Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals
- Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) within institutions
- Other local or state regulations
- Applicable international laws and regulations
Maintain an Animal Use Project File
In addition to the files normally maintained for various aspects of research, members should start and regularly update a file that contains background material that would be useful in case there was an inquiry into the care and use of animals in their research. Keep in mind the following situations:
- Administration of drugs by any route, other than those originally approved, requires an addendum to protocol;
- Administration of one novel compound in place of another requires an addendum in protocol;
- Four-day versus 24-hour survival requires an addendum to protocol.
Specifically, animal use files should contain the following:
- Approved research grant documentation;
- Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)-approved protocol and any other related documents;
- List of all research grants, fellowships, honors, and awards received by researchers working on the project;
- List of clinicians who would be willing to speak out on the need for the specific type of research;
- Brief description (1-2 pages), in lay terms, of all research projects, including its goals and accomplishments (see a sample research project description). This document should describe the nature of the research, why it is being conducted, why the use of animals is necessary, how the research will benefit humans and animals (either directly or in the long run) and what official approval agencies have approved the research. After this statement is drafted, ask the media/public relations office at the research institution to provide feedback and edit the document. SfN has provided tips for members on how to coordinate with research institutions (coordinate with research institutions);
- List of publications in which citations of the research have appeared, as well as an estimate of the number of citations (list does not have to be complete list since this information can be obtained in the Citation Index). This list could be crucial in combating typical claims by animal activists that the research is trivial, has no impact on other scientists, or is of no use to humans;
- Institution's plan for responding to animal activist allegations, including names and phone numbers of whom to contact within the institution in case of an attack or threat of an attack. Post the list of contacts in places readily available to laboratory personnel.
Every project that uses animals should have a separate file that includes the above information and documents. If a scientist is the target of an attack by animal activists, keeping these documents up-to-date and organized will be of assistance in developing a timely and appropriate response.
Coordinate with Research Institutions
Researchers should not be responsible for defending their work against allegations made by animal activists. SfN members should work with their institutions to ensure actions will be taken in the event of an attack by animal activists.
- Institutions should have an administrative plan for defending allegations made by activists. If an institution does not have a plan, take responsibility to ensure there is a plan in place.
- At minimum, the plan should include:
- Names and responsibilities of key people within the institution who should be contacted immediately if an incident occurs, e.g. security, administrative representative, veterinarian, animal care and use staff;
- Name of the official spokesperson;
- Lines of communication;
- Security procedures;
- Public relations procedures;
- Support groups within the community to contact;
- Other organizations to contact nationwide.
- Researchers should be familiar with their institution's plan and know who the official spokesperson is for responding to allegations
- Place on file with the IACUC a request to be notified if there are any FOIA requests related to your research.
Word Research Documents Carefully
Non-scientists may be reading documents associated with researchers' work. Animal activist groups usually quote passages out of context and overlook vital information. It is unlikely that researchers can completely immunize themselves from misrepresentation. However, if all surgical and experimental procedures involving animals are thoroughly explained, emphasizing what procedures are used to ensure that the animals suffer minimal discomfort, a reasonable person, supplied with all information, should discount activists' claims as extreme.
Scientists especially susceptible to being targeted by animal rights activists:
- Conduct research on dogs, cats or non-human primates;
- Conduct research on animals from shelters or pounds;
- Conduct research funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or the National Eye Institute;
- Conduct research that has been accessed through the FOIA.
It is recommended that scientists go beyond the minimal statement required when drafting manuscripts, applications or animal care and use forms. Additionally, it is critical to stress and justify the importance and impact of the work.
It is important for researchers to:
- Consider that grant applications, IACUC forms, and other related documents might be read and reprinted out of context by animal activists, who may try to gather such information via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA);
- Coordinate with institutions to be notified when a FOIA request is put in for documents pertaining to their research;
- Pay special attention to those sections of grant applications and manuscripts describing experimental procedures involving animals; these sections are often singled out and misconstrued by animal activist groups;
- Educate and inform everyone in the lab on the details of the research project, including the importance of humane treatment of the animals - technicians, students, and the head vet of the animal care facility.
Become an Advocate
Promoting public awareness about animal research creates an environment in which radical actions of animal rights groups are unwelcome.
- SfN has information on how to become an advocate and actions you can take
- Visit BrainFacts.org for information outlining how animal research has contributed to our understanding and treatment of human brain disorders - a great tool for educating media and the public
- Engage the media to educate the public about animal research