The second online EARA openness event was held last week, in association with the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. More than 100 attendees were part of the online webinar, featuring speakers from EARA and three different Greek institutions, who shared their advice on how we must work together to improve transparency surrounding animal research in Greece.
The event was moderated by Dr Kyriaki Sidiropoulou, President of the Hellenic Society for Neuroscience, who spoke about her work at the University of Crete using animals, but also teaching undergraduate students of the importance of animals in neuroscience research.
First speaker of the morning was EARA Executive Director Kirk Leech, who gave an overview of the current openness about animal research across Europe. He outlined how animal activists have changed their tactics over the last few years, moving away from the violent protests of the past to more peaceful, campaigning tactics such as influencing animal research policy.
“Increasingly, activist groups are focusing much of their attention on the European Commission”, said Kirk, as he discussed the work that EARA is undertaking to provide a voice for biomedical researchers in opposition to this.
Kirk also shared the results of the recent EARA website study, an analysis of over 1000 websites of biomedical institutions, and highlighted the progress that Greek institutions are making in increasing openness about animal researchers in the websites.
“Greece is making good progress, but there is more to be done,” he said.
Next, attendees heard from Dr Anastasia Tsingotjidou, of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and EARA Twitter ambassador for Greece, who spoke about the initiatives of the hosting university to try and increase communication about animal research.
Dr Tsingotjidou focussed in particular on a patient engagement initiative that she had been part of, speaking to patient representatives of the International Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia Foundation about research that involved animals. Following this, Dr Tsingotjidou described the ‘rewarding experience’ of continuing the conversation with an interested patient, who was later invited to the animal facility so that they could see the research first hand.
Dr Lida Arnellou, of NCSR Demokritos, next gave a science communicator’s perspective on how and why we should be more open about animal research. She shared some practical tips about how to get started in science communication, including how to make contact with press officers at universities and institutions who will be able to help researchers share their work with the media.
Dr Arnellou also encouraged attendees who had not had experience of talking to the media to start by contacting Prisma, a bi-weekly supplement to a national newspaper that covers scientific stories in a lay person tone.
Finally, the audience heard from Dr Nikolaos Kostomitsopoulos, of the Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens, who reminded the audience that Covid-19 is providing good opportunities to start speaking about animal research.
“Public attitudes are changing”, he said, referencing the increasing coverage of animal research in the media thanks to details about drug and vaccine development for Covid-19.
The event concluded with a panel discussion, where questions included how to get started in communication and what opportunities are available. There was some discussion amongst the panel members about how much of an appetite the Greek public had for hearing about research. However, the panel concluded that, especially during Covid-19 and with the rise of fake news available on social media sites, there was certainly a need for greater communication from Greek researchers about their work.
"There is a demand from society and a willingness from researchers, we need to find opportunities to let the sharing happen,” concluded Kirk Leech.