Can't play, won't play
An editorial in this week’s edition of the leading science journal, Nature, calls on the US authorities to tackle animal rights extremism as effectively as we have in the UK. Last month seven UK extremists were sentenced to between 4 and 11 years each for their sustained campaign of intimidation and harassment directed at customers, suppliers and employees of Huntingdon Life Sciences.
The Times reported that the judge told them:
'Hundreds, probably thousands of ordinary decent men, women and children have had their lives made a living hell by your activities.' He added 'You are not going to prison for your beliefs, you are not going to prison for expressing your beliefs. You are going to prison because each of you has committed a very serious criminal offence.'
Nature urges the US authorities:
'to go beyond enforcement and take an unequivocal, public stand that emphasises the importance of animal research for drug testing and basic science — as did former UK prime minister Tony Blair. It would be especially helpful if President Barack Obama were to make such a statement.' It continues: 'Such a level of open support might make individual researchers more apt to speak up about their own work. Britain again provides a good model in the form of Pro-Test'.
We can all agree with these sentiments. Not only has Pro-Test had a significant effect, but we have encouraged and witnessed more openness and transparency by UK researchers and institutions over the last two years. There are now many more people engaged in simply discussing their research and the role of animals.
But what of Nature’s conclusion, that such approaches open up space for more constructive dialogue, especially on the three Rs – reduction, replacement and refinement of animal use in research?
We have been trying for some time to promote such nuanced debate in the UK. The successful government strategy against extremism has certainly helped, and the National Centre for the Three Rs www.nc3rs.org.uk is doing some excellent work. But we face another problem – the mainstream antivivisection groups whose views - but not tactics - are just as extreme as those of the extremists.
The antivivisectionists refuse to accept the value and validity of animal research and continue to push replacement alternatives that cannot, in the real world, replace animals. It is the antivivisectionists who can’t play, won’t play, their part in constructive dialogue.