Poll: Scientists say animal research ethically complicated, but necessary

Animal research has helped scientists understand human disease, and in some cases, develop cures. But it has also exposed them to an onslaught of attacks -- some violent -- from animal rights activists who question the ethics and necessity of animal experiments.

This week, the journal Nature takes a look at the complicated case of animal activism and its effects on scientific research, publishing the results of a poll of 980 biomedical scientists from around the world.

The vast majority -- 91.7% -- said they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “Animal research is essential to the advancement of biomedical science."  About 70% of those polled said they conduct experiments on animals.  

At the same time, almost 16% said they had experienced misgivings about the role of animals in their research -- and half of those said that the misgivings had led them to change the direction of their research. Thirty-three percent said they had ethical concerns about the role of animals in their current work.


Many said that discussing the issue of animal testing with the public was very difficult, but there were signs that communication efforts might be improving. More than half said that the institutions they work for encourage them to speak with the public about their work (less than a third reported this to be the case in a 2006 Nature poll.)

Also released Wednesday:

  • a comment article by two Oxford researchers arguing that scientists need to speak out in favor of animal research;
  • a second comment article by the host of a science TV show in Germany who notes that “the ethics of animal experimentation are not simple,” and suggests that researchers are better off if they “stay as far away from the camera as possible,” because "[television] is a totally unsuitable platform for delivering complicated information or detailed discussion;”
  • and an article about British Ph.D. student Joseph Harris, a cancer researcher (and reluctant participant in animal research) who became the first person convicted under a U.K. law targeting activist extremism.

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