Scientists at an EARA event have spoken of the urgent need for researchers, in Lithuania and Poland, to talk openly about the value of animal research.
Nearly 50 attendees took part in the webinar, Improving Openness in Animal Research, an online event which was supported by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the Society for Neuroscience (SfN).
And among the speakers, they heard from Professor Krzysztof Wąsowicz, of the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, who described the urgency for researchers to take an active role while speaking to the media.
“We need to be proactive and give the public and the community the right information and an accurate picture of the importance of this research.”
Prof Wąsowicz, who is also vice-president of the Polish Laboratory Animal Science Association (PolASA) added: “Our ability to reach and be present in the media is crucial to the success of our information campaigns.”
He then outlined the plans of PolASA to increase its engagement with the media following the Covid-19 pandemic.
The meeting was a satellite event of the FENS Regional Meeting, organised by the Polish Society for Neuroscience and Lithuanian Neuroscience Association, with the speakers talking about their interactions with the public on animal research.
Dr Marta Kuczeriszka, of the Mossakowski Medical Research Institute, and co-founder of PolASA, pointed out that Poland has a long way to go to improve transparency about animal research.
“I have the impression that we are still slightly ashamed [about talking about animal research], because of the conflict of animal activists who are well prepared for debate,” she said.
Dr Kuczeriszka shared her experiences of talking with academic groups who are often opposed to animal research, including interactions with law students, and why it is necessary to adapt your messages to fit the audience you are addressing.
“The biggest problem is the lack of information…once you have described your work in detail, they realise it’s not as bad as they thought,” she explained.
Dr Paweł Boguszewski, of the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, spoke of his experience in engaging with the public through the mediums of radio and podcasts.
He also stressed the need for young scientists to be engaged in
dialogue with the media and social media platforms.
“We should not treat activists as enemies, rather as well organised opposition,” he said.
EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, stressed the need for more open conversations in Lithuania and Poland, on the use of animals, in the face of increasing opposition from animal activists and political pressure to phase-out animal research with arbitrary deadlines.
Kirk explained how tactics from activist groups are changing, with more emphasis on communication with the public and political engagement, but none of the violent protests of the past.
“There are groups within the Parliament who seek to have a one-sided discussion about animals research, and we need to add balance to this”, said Kirk.
To address this imbalance, Kirk discussed how EARA is working with the European Commission to help increase transparency about animal research, including the recent publication of the EU animal use statistics, where EARA shared over 120 infographics in 10 languages.
“EARA helped the Commission get the messaging out first, while activist groups took a further four days to respond, by which time the debate had moved on”, explained Kirk.
During a panel discussion, the speakers discussed the need to use stories and emotions to help strengthen the message about animal research, with Covid-19 as an prime example of how animals are a necessary part of biomedical research and testing.
“We’re taking baby steps [towards transparency], but when we have nothing then the baby steps are a good place to start,” said Dr Kuczeriszka.
Kirk concluded the session by saying that EARA is ready to help Polish institutions take these small steps as “the evidence is there, you just need to be ready to make the start.”