An event aimed at empowering researchers, animal welfare officers, communication personnel, and institutions in biomedical sciences, in Germany, to be more forthright about their animal research activities, took place in Berlin this week.
EARA executive director, Kirk Leech began by speaking about the organisation's efforts to promote transparency in animal research across Europe and beyond. Kirk emphasised that ‘we should strive for innovation, but science-driven innovation, not politically-driven innovation’.
Andreas Lengeling, animal research & welfare officer, at the Max Planck Society, addressed the issue of the ‘imbalance in publicly available information about animal research’, and called for a more nuanced and accurate portrayal in public discourse.
This topic was followed up by science journalist Sascha Karberg, of Der Tagesspiegel newspaper, who discussed selecting news articles for publication, especially those involving animal research, and how such stories resonate with human emotions and perceptions. He challenged scientists to be less rational and more emotional when speaking to the public.
Researcher Michael Gotthardt, of MDC, underlined the indispensable roles of both the use of animals and alternative methods in his studies and provided valuable insights into his research into heart failure.
The panel discussion, moderated by Nuno Miguel Gonçalves, of EARA, featured all the speakers plus Christa Thöne-Reineke, head of the Institute for Animal Welfare, Animal Behaviour and Laboratory Animal Science at FU.
The discussion looked at the veterinary perspective on animal research for the improvements made in animal health, and the implementation of openness strategies for institutions to rebuild public trust following negative campaigns.
The audience asked about the importance of non-politicised dialogues across differing views, with the panel view that a less informal setting was the best way to humanise both sides.
Potential risks of restricting certain types of research were also raised. Namely, concerns from a researcher were raised about perpetuating historical scientific biases, particularly regarding health issues affecting women, minorities, and smaller population groups, to which the audience and the panel all agreed.
Ways to enhance communication between journalists and researchers were also tackled, namely the availability of researchers for media calls at a time that is compatible with the immediacy of daily news.
This event, along with others organised by EARA in various countries, aims to be a catalyst for a cultural transformation and inspire research institutions to constructively tackle and communicate the complexities of animal research, to foster a more informed and transparent scientific discourse.