Scientists must stand up and be counted


In your Editorial 'Against vicious activism' (Nature 457, 636; 2009), you call for scientists and the authorities to stand up for animal research in basic and applied science. However, you may be putting the cart before the horse in recommending that officials and politicians become advocates of animal research in order to encourage individual scientists to do so.

In the United Kingdom, it was the actions of individual scientists — and of members of the public who joined the Pro-Test demonstration in Oxford in February 2006 and signed the Coalition for Medical Progress's petition — that gave politicians and other public figures the encouragement they needed to come out in support of animal research. The lesson to be learned from the UK experience is that scientists at the universities being targeted by extremists, alongside students and advocacy groups, must be encouraged to stand up and be counted. Only then can they expect others less directly involved to take an unequivocal public stand.

A parallel could be drawn with the debate over the use of embryonic stem cells for research in the United States, where support among the general public and in Congress has been driven by the strong vocal endorsement of individual scientists and advocacy groups.

The truth, uncomfortable though it may be, is that — as with many controversial areas of science — those working with animals in research must make a public case to justify their use, and must be willing to show unequivocal support for colleagues who speak up. Do that, and the rest will follow.

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Bienus, D. Scientists must stand up and be counted. Nature 458, 571 (2009).

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