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EARA event in Hungary

EARA’s first openness event in Hungary, in association with the University of Pécs, was held this month and heard from a panel of speakers that urged the audience to do more to explain about their biomedical research using animals.

Around 40 attendees from a wide range of Hungarian institutions attended Improving Openness in Animal Research in Hungary, supported by Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), and were told about the positive ways they could communicate about research, but also reminded that there was much work to be done.

In particular, Dr István Gyertyán of Semmelweis University and head of the National Ethics Committee on Animal Research in Hungary, revealed that almost all the top search result hits for ‘animal research’ in Hungary returned results that portrayed the research in a negative light.

“The situation is unbalanced, and we are not winning at the moment,” he said of the results, while encouraging attendees to improve their transparency.

The event was moderated by Dr István Hernadi, of the University of Pécs, who opened by sharing some of his positive experiences of speaking to the media and the public about his research work using animals, and highlighting the valuable help they have had from EARA while improving the university’s communication with the public.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, presented the results of the EARA 2020 website study of more than 1,000 EU biomedical institutions, showing that Hungarian institutions have some way to go to improve openness to a satisfactory level. Although many individual research labs in Hungary have websites that openly display their work, this is lacking at the institutional level, and could easily be missed by members of the public who wished to find out more.

Kirk also explained how EARA had worked with the EU Commission to help disseminate information about the EU statistics on animal use in research, which gained positive media attention, allowing researchers and communicators to explain the numbers in context, rather than only commenting if they receive negative remarks from animal activists.

Next the audience heard from Professor István Ulbert of Pázmány Péter Catholic University and current FENS CARE chair, who spoke about the public engagement initiative Brain Awareness Week and how it was helping the university improve its outreach and transparency. Besides engaging via institutional websites, Professor Ulbert stressed that ‘we have to provide interesting events for the public’.

For example, he said that the Psychophysiology Playground, part of a week of activities organised by Hungarian universities with the support of FENS, attracted over 2,000 attendees who were invited to see first-hand the enclosures, take part in workshops and even see some of the animals used in research at the institutions.

Dr Gyertyán then spoke about the value of non-technical lay summaries (NTS) when communicating with the public, sharing examples and saying that a correctly written summary can ‘help improve openness, but transparency is needed’. He also mentioned an upcoming conference in Hungary (dates to be confirmed), which aims to help scientists improve NTS writing and to adapt to the new EU regulations.

The event finished with a panel discussion, where the audience asked where they could find training to help researchers gain confidence and experience sharing their work with the general public and the media. Kirk highlighted the success of EARA’s media training events, also supported by FENS and SfN, that have been taking place over the last month. There was also discussion about the value of national transparency agreements in encouraging all national institutions to increase openness, and how this could be brought about in Hungary.

The panel ended by stating that the audience should not be afraid of sharing their research, ensuring that they do so in an honest, responsible and open manner.

“The way to impact on people, is to share your own work,” Kirk Leech concluded.

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