University sends official representative to march with Pro-Test
For the first time, Oxford University is sending an official representative to speak on its behalf at a Pro-Test event: Dr Ken Fleming, Head of the University's Medical Science Division and Member of Council. We are delighted that the University has seized the opportunity to come out and defend the work of its scientists and students in public.
Dr Fleming spoke at our recent public meeting but only in his capacity as Head of Medical Science. He will be appearing in his capacity as a University official on Saturday and we are grateful to him for his participation.
In the meantime, it's become clear what SPEAK will be doing on Saturday. They recently announced that they would be staging a counter-demonstration but were keeping the details secret for 'tactical' reasons - presumably like the location of their forthcoming training camp where they train 'activists' how to violently incapacitate and blind people.
So what are they up to? Well, as an email to their supporters revealed, they have found where the construction workers building the Oxford lab are living - at the Fire Service College at Moreton-in-Marsh - and, after an initial show of force today, they'll be rallying their supporters to harrass and intimidate the builders there.
How sad that instead of making the arguments and trying to win people over in the public domain, SPEAK will again be targeting a group of people whose only interest is to do an honest day's work, in a vicious attempt to yet again delay building on this vital project - and to thereby delay the crucial, life-saving experimentation that is due to take place once the lab is finished. Back in 2004, SPEAK's campaign of intimidation forced Montpellier to pull out of the lab, leading to a 14-month hiatus in building. This was shortly after spiralling security costs - thanks to another SPEAK campaign - caused plans for a similar lab at Cambridge to be shelved. Just last week, a steel company withdrew from the Oxford lab, citing fears of intimidation, and SPEAK are obviously hoping for another success for their campaign of harrassment.
It reflects pretty badly on the anti-vivisectionist movement that they dare not stage a counter-rally in Oxford itself for the very justified fear of being outnumbered, that they would rather bully builders than engage in rational debate and try to win the public over. As the recent Telegraph poll showed, SPEAK and their ilk are losing the argument, haemorraghing public support, and so retreat to trying to frighten people at the margins.
Pro-Test is proud to stand full-square with the construction workers. We signalled our solidarity with the builders earlier this year and urge them to continue refusing to be intimidated off the job. We're campaigning for open, rational discussion of the science and ethics of animal research to build a mass movement in favour of continued vivisection and scientific progress that puts human beings in the centre of our worldview. In doing so, we aim to dispel the climate of fear whipped up by groups like SPEAK, encouraging scientists to defend and promote their work publicly, and showing the 'silent majority' that they don't need to be afraid, that they too can stand up for science.
So, while SPEAK are off bullying builders in an isolated rural town, Pro-Test and its supporters will be rallying on the streets of Oxford, marching for reason, science and progress, with speeches from leading scientists, patients' representatives and university officials. We are Pro-Test... are you?
New poll puts support for animal research 'at record high'
A new Telegraph/YouGov poll out today puts support for animal research at a 'record high'. 70% of people surveyed believed that animal testing is acceptable, while 72% felt that there was no alternative. In fact, other surveys have already revealed an even higher level of public support for vivisection, with 77% backing 'any research on animals' in a 1999 New Scientist poll, and 75% in 2002 and 2005 polls for the Coalition for Medical Progress, with 90% backing the research so long as suffering was minimised (which it always is). See today's poll data here and an op-ed piece by Prof Colin Blakemore describing the shift in opinion over the last 20 years here.
What the latest poll actually seems to show is outright opposition to animal testing at an all time low. Only 18% think testing drugs on animals before humans is unacceptable under any circumstances, with 11% saying they don't know; only 19% believe alternatives are available and 9% didn't know.
Today's survey mixes the questions on animal research with questions on animal rights extremism, and it's noteworthy that more people are firmly opposed to the extremism than are strongly in favour of animal research. This is to be expected, especially given that people continue to be targeted, but it shows that there is still a sizeable part of the population who are yet to be won over to the pro-testing side on the basis of the scientific and ethical arguments. As the Telegraph's leader notes, the results are partly due to Pro-Test's organisation of a public, pro-science movement, but also partly due to a backlash against extremism.
A huge, overwhelming majority back animal research. Scientists should take heart from today's figures, which are, as Blakemore says, a sign of the changing climate around the animal testing issue. As the Telegraph says, it certainly undermines anti-vivisectionists' claims to enjoy majority support. But neither scientists, nor groups like Pro-Test, can afford to be complacent. Around 10% of the public still don't know where they stand on the issue, while nearly 20% erroneously believe there are viable alternatives to animal research available now, and nearly 20% are opposed to testing medical treatments (not research in general - specifically, medical treatments) on animals before humans. Even if the tide has turned against animal rights extremism, we are still a long way from a climate where the science of animal research is properly understood and scientists can command the respect they deserve for the work they do, and the freedom they need to do it.
Also in the press: Kate Hoey MP alleges that the Labour party's acceptance of funding from animal rights groups 'gave them credibility'; The Glasgow Sunday Herald notes a small rush among GSK shareholders to remove their details from the public arena, and argues, as Pro-Test has been arguing, for business to rely on making the positive case for animal testing, rather than relying on secrecy.
Lady Margaret Hall and Pembroke College JCRs are Pro-Test!
Another JCR has stood up for science by passing Pro-Test's motion in support of Oxford's new biomedical research facility: Pembroke JCR joins the JCRs of New, St John's, Wadham and Corpus Christi Colleges, and the MCR of Merton College on the roll-call of our 'Oxford Declaration'.
There was an interesting op-ed piece in the Observer last Sunday, arguing that there is no middle way on drug testing: given the current level of scientific knowledge (the lack of genuine alternatives to animal-based research) anti-vivisectionists need to make the argument for testing on humans. On this, we completely agree. Anti-vivisectionists are generally extremely disingenuous, pretending that the alternatives already exist, and rarely admitting what a ban on animal research would mean for humans. Pro-Test seeks to draw them out on this point. At a recent debate at Sheffield University between Pro-Test member Kristina Cook and Jarrod Bailey from Europeans for Medical 'Progress' (full write-up coming soon from an audience member), Kristina pointed out Dr Bailey would prefer to test drugs on members of the audience rather than animals. Bailey responded: "Well, yes I guess I would rather test on members of this audience but, um..."
Merton College's Middle Common Room (graduate students) has become the latest student body in Oxford to pass Pro-Test's motion in support of the Oxford lab, continued vivisection and scientific progress. There was a fruitful debate of all the issues, and the final vote was carried overwhelmingly, with only 2 'nays' and 2 abstentions. Well done, Merton!
Merton's MCR joins New, Wadham, Corpus Christi and St John's College Junior Common Rooms (undergraduates) on the 'Oxford Declaration' in support of the lab.
Monday 22 May saw 100 people join the Pro-Test committee at the Oxford Town Hall to hear the scientific and ethical cases for animal research. The expert panel included Prof Andrew McMichael (researching an AIDS vaccine using monkeys), Dr Ken Fleming (head of Oxford University's Medical Science Division), Dr Evan Harris MP (LibDem Science spokesman), Niki Shisler (bestselling author and mother of a child with a rare form of muscular dystrophy), and Vicky Cowell (Director of Patients' Voice for Medical Advance). Chris Bickerton and Laurie Pycroft from Pro-Test also gave speeches explaining the formation and evolution of our campaign and why we believe a positive, public defence of science and animal research is necessary in today's climate.
The atmosphere was friendly and civilised - in marked distinction to the last time scientists tried to defend their work at the Town Hall, when they were barracked by masses of anti-vivisectionists, who hissed at and taunted Parkison's sufferer Mike Robins, who had come along to explain how research on animals had led to a device that had transformed his life, calling him a 'Nazi' and telling him to 'roll over and die'. In encouraging people to attend this time, we found many people feared a repetition of these events, and even that a list of attendees could fall into the hands of extremists. We are glad to report such fears were quite unfounded. A majority of the audience were scientists themselves and it was fantastic to see so many of them out in force to talk about their work. It represents an important strike against the climate of fear and intimidation that has silenced many scientists and allowed animal rights extremists to hold hostage the public debate on vivisection.
Questions from the floor were taken after the speeches, with people from both sides of the debate participating. The audience had the opportunity to learn about some of the cutting-edge research going on in Oxford and why it requires the use of animals, the glowing record of animal research at Oxford and the prospects for a new 'golden age' of medicine, what the new facilities on South Parks Road will incorporate, how animal research is regulated, and the ethics of animal testing. Members of the audience also asked about the University's latest attempts to gain injunctions against SPEAK, raising concerns that they had gone too far in trying to limit freedom of speech. The audience heard how Pro-Test seeks to offer an alternative solution to the dominance of anti-vivisections in the debate on animal research -- a positive, public defence of the merits and benefits of vivisection and a popular movement that aims to bring out scientists, students, patients, members of the public and politicians to stand up against irrational, unscientific arguments and to demand the continuation of scientific and medical progress.
Pro-Test were out on Cornmarket Street yesterday handing out flyers to let people know about our two upcoming events - our public meeting on Monday 22 May at the Town Hall, and our next march on Saturday 3 June.
Reactions from the public were overwhelmingly positive. So many people initially walked past, then did a double-take -- "did you say in support of animal testing?" -- and turned around to take a leaflet. Many congratulated us for our stand, saying, "yes, I'm Pro-Test" or shaking our hands. Many said that they were glad to hear the other side of the argument for a change, rather than just hearing the anti-vivisectionists shouting into a vacuum.
We can't claim to have universal support, of course - there's still a long way to go in convincing people of the evidence and arguments after years of one-sided 'debate'. One woman handed me her flyer back. "No, I'm not Pro-Test," she stated. I pointed out she was wearing a red ribbon (a badge of support for the Terrence Higgins Trust, Britain's leading HIV-AIDS charity), and asked how she expected a cure to be found without research and testing. Unfortunately, I didn't get an answer. I guess it's easy to make the simple gestures - like buying a red ribbon - but harder to follow through with the harder choices.
Of course, not everyone was happy to see us -- SPEAK were positively rattled by our arrival. At one point, as I stood in the rain, five of them confronted me, jeering slogans and tearing up my leaflets. "Get a proper job!" one of them yelled. Not exactly a robust argument in favour of banning animal testing.
But SPEAK were so rattled that, after it stopped raining, they came back to hand out their own flyers and shout slogans through a megaphone. Sadly for them, their bully-boy tactics impressed no one. Their behaviour continued to be aggressive, coming right up to us to hand out their material and yelling - so aggressive that the police had to intervene a number of times. And when a member of the public berated SPEAK for their behaviour, three SPEAK activists began yelling at the man, following him down the street - prompting another intervention from the police to ensure the man's safety. At this, the public had had enough -- in addition to continued vocal support, several bystanders grabbed some of our flyers and started handing them out themselves.
It was a fine day, despite the weather -- just to see more and more people standing up for science, rationality and progress.
Corpus Christi, St John's and Wadham College JCRs are Pro-Test!
Corpus Christi, St John's and Wadham College JCRs have stood up for science by passing Pro-Test's draft motion in support of animal testing and the Oxford lab. Students recognised the scientific necessity of animal research, refused to be intimidated by the likes of the ALF, and voted to back the lab and to lobby the dons at each college to do the same. Wadham passed the motion unanimously and Corpus with an overwhelming majority. All three JCRs join New College JCR on the roll-call of the 'Oxford Declaration', Pro-Test's campaign to get all of Oxford to come out in favour of vivisection and the construction of the University's new biomedical research centre.
To find out how you can get your college involved in the 'Oxford Declaration', click here.
Our next big event is our public meeting on Monday 22 May, at 7pm at the Oxford Town Hall, St Aldates. This is a great opportunity for people who want to find out more about the scientific and moral case for animal testing, direct from the experts. Our confirmed speaker list is as follows:
Prof ANDREW McMICHAEL Director of the Medical Research Council Human Immunology Unit, Oxford University Researching an HIV-AIDS Vaccine Dr EVAN HARRIS MP LibDem Science Spokesman, MP for Oxford West Dr KEN FLEMING Head of Medical Science Division, University of Oxford NIKI SHISLER Best-selling author of Fragile, journalist and mother of a profoundly disabled child VICKY COWELL Director, Patient's Voice for Medical Research
The format will be short speeches from the scientists, politicians, university and patient/ charity representatives, then at least an hour of questions and answers from the floor. If you are curious about any aspect of animal testing, or would like to find out more about Pro-Test, what it is planning in the next few months and how you can get involved, please come along. Everyone is welcome and the event is free. Please drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know that you'll be coming.
A poster advertising both this event and our forthcoming march on 3 June is now available herehere to download the Acrobat Reader if necessary). Please download it and send it to your friends. We can also provide hard copies if you are able to distribute them around your area or organisation - just send us an email.
Writing in today's Daily Telegraph, Tony Blair has spoken out in support of animal testing, saying "There is no alternative for the foreseeable future to using animals if we are to see the full benefits of scientific advances", and pledging to sign the People's Petition. He also welcomes the "changed climate" around animal testing and the Pro-Test movement, noting it is holding another march and "deserves support".
Blair's public stand is of course a step in the right direction. He makes many of the right arguments in support of the science behind vivisection - that no credible alternatives exist and that without it medical progress would effectively grind to a halt - but much of the article is concerned with criminal and extremist acts. We would like to see more on the science rather than simple condemnations of extremism.
The only policy announcements in the statement relate to the Companies Act, which Blair intends to amend to secure greater director and shareholder anonymity for firms. We'd prefer to see Mr Blair and his government join us in our attempt to create a climate where anonymity is no longer required - where people are proud to stand up for science and proud to support animal testing as essential for scientific and human progress. Encouraging further anonymity is unlikely to change the mistaken perception that shareholders of firms like GSK or HLS have something to be ashamed of. Pro-Test's publicised purchase of GSK shares demonstrated our faith in the firm's good scientific practices and our refusal to be intimidated by anti-vivisectionists. We would like Mr Blair to join with us in campaigning for an environment where everyone feels able to do this.
So, we're pleased that Mr Blair has finally come out publicly to support a growing movement led by scientists, students and concerned citizens, but signing the petition is just a first step - the arguments still need to be made in favour of science and progress. Since we "deserve support", we'll be looking for more of it in future - starting with our Public Meeting on 22 May, and our next demonstration on 3 June. The Prime Minister has been invited to attend or send his representative to both.
In a further reflection of the way the public climate around animal testing is rapidly shifting, seven major investment companies have spoken out publicly against the extremists threatening GlaxoSmithKline shareholders, declaring they will not be intimidated and vowing to maintain their investments in GSK. In a letter to the Financial Times, ABP Investments, the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme, F C Asset Management, Hermes Investment Management, the Public Sector Superannuation Fund, and the Wellcome Trust pledge to "stand firm alongside the small shareholders" in support of "lawful research to the benefit of society". They continue: "Our funds represent millions of individual beneficial corporate owners who may benefit from the results of such research both directly and indirectly."
The difference between today and 2004 - when HLS were forced off the New York Stock Exchange and were almost bankrupted when major investors (which included the Labour Party!) dumped their shares in panic - is again very striking. Pro-Test is delighted that as the scientific and moral arguments for animal testing are being aired more forcefully to counter the irrational arguments of 'animal rights' campaigners, public opinion is becoming increasingly supportive, to the extent that individuals and institutions are proud to declare their connections to this crucial form of research. The more people stand up together, the more ridiculous groups like CAHALS look in claiming that they will be able to intimidate everyone to give up their stake in animal research.
'Animal rights' campaigners have launched a campaign of intimidation against private shareholders of the pharamceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), sending them letters threatening to publish their personal details online if they fail to sell their shares in the company, which is involved in animal testing. GSK has obtained an injunction against further harrassment of their shareholders.
As the Research Defence Society points out, the newly-appeared Campaign Against Huntingdon Animal Life Sciences (CAHLS), the group behind the campaign of intimidation, has its work cut out for it if it really thinks it can harrass GSK's shareholders into bailing out - there are 167,000 of them in total.
The Pro-Test committee has bought 10 shares in GSK, one for each member of our committee. We are proud to stand up against such extremism, in solidarity with GSK and its shareholders, and all the millions of people who have seen medical benefits from animal research and refuse to be intimidated into abandoning hope of future advances. We believe there is no shame in being connected with animal research that saves lives and cures diseases.
What's more, we're far from alone. Public opinion is so vehemently pro-animal-testing that GSK's share prices have gone up, by 18p yesterday on the London Stock Exchange -- people are apparently buying up GSK shares to express how they feel, more than off-setting any fear caused by CAHLS's poison-pen letters.
This is a far cry from the campaign of shareholder intimidation waged by CAHLS's predecessor group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Life Sciences (SHAC, see here for more details), against HLS that forced it to de-list from the New York Stock Exchange and almost bankrupted the company. It's also a far cry from the shareholder intimidation that contributed to construction firm Montpellier's decision to pull out of the Oxford lab project in July 2004.
As a spokesman for the British Pharmaceutical Industry said in the Independentyesterday, public opinion is shifting rapidly in favour of continued animal research as people learn more about the benefits and the science behind the research, assisted by groups like Pro-Test, which raise awareness of the issues and provide hard facts to counter the irrationality of groups like CAHALS, SHAC and SPEAK.
Coverage - Pro-Test members in the News:
Prof Tipua Aziz on BBC News 24 and the Bill Heine show (10 May)
Pro-Test will be holding another march on 3 June 2006 in support of the new Oxford Biomedical Research Facility and animal research.
The march will begin at 11:45 on Parks Road, between the intersections with Broad Street and South Parks Road. Speeches on Parks Road will begin at approximately Midday.
The demonstration will start on Parks Road, go down Catte Street, along High Street, up Longwall Street, along Holywell Street, into Parks Road and up into South Parks Road where there will be closing speeches.
Speakers for 3 June are still being confirmed. The last march gathered over 800 people in central Oxford, distinguished speakers included Dr. Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat science spokesman and MP for Oxford West.
Get involved: email us with any questions you have about the march (press enquiries should go here). We are happy to help coordinate transport arrangements for those travelling from outside Oxford. Contact Chris Bickerton if you would like to bring a group down from another university.
This is a major national issue: a proposed animal lab was scrapped by Cambridge University in the face of animal rights extremism, and the line must be drawn here. Medical research is under threat -- are you ready to stand up for science?
Students at New College, Oxford, have stood up for science by endorsing the construction of the University's new animal research laboratory. The College's Junior Common Room passed a motion drafted and sponsored by Pro-Test members, noting the rise of 'animal rights' extremism and the dangerous domination of the animal testing debate by an unrepresentative minority, and calling for the completion of the lab as a crucial method of advancing medical science (see the draft motion here). Last term, the JCR of Jesus College, Oxford, also passed a motion condemning the extremism of those opposed to the lab.
This term, Pro-Test is aiming to get every Oxford College's JCRs, MCRs and SCRs to pass motions in support of the lab - for science, for medical progress, for academic freedom - to show their support for this vital project. The tactics of violence and irrational arguments only work when the proponents of animal research (over 76% of the general public according to a 2003 poll and 85% of Oxford students recently surveyed) allow themselves to be intimidated and shouted down. To show the strength and depth of support for animal research, we are encouraging everyone to stand up for science. The People's Petition, recently launched by the Coalition for Medical Progress, is a good step forward, but its anonymous nature still implies people might be ashamed to defend this vital research. Pro-Test believes that scientists should be proud of the work they do, that they deserve our vocal support, and that we can recall our strength in numbers by speaking out together (see here for more).
To get involved, contact Chris Bickerton about motions in JCRs and MCRs, and Jim Panton about motions in SCRs. We are happy to liaise with you and send speakers to explain the issues to your groups.
Two Pro-Test members went head-to-head with two 'animal rights' activists in a debate on 5 May organised by the student magazine, Isis.
Representing SPEAK, the main group opposed to the building of Oxford's animal lab, was its founder, Mel Broughton. Broughton was convicted of conspiracy to commit arson in 1998 and jailed for four years, and is (along with others) the subject of a court injunction taken out by Oxford University. Kathy Archibald from Europeans for Medical Progress spoke alongside Mr Broughton (you can read more about her disingenuity here).
Representing Pro-Test was its 16-year-old founder, Laurie Pycroft, and Prof Tipu Aziz, Oxford neurosurgeon and scientific advisor to the Pro-Test committee.
The debate was another success for Pro-Test, and on the back of the Oxford Union debate will further gather support among students and academics for the vital work to be carried out at the Oxford lab. It also marks another departure for SPEAK: having initially dismissed Pro-Test's campaign as "media rubbish", suggesting Pro-Test's march did not outnumber SPEAK's on 25 February and claiming that Pro-Test was a flash in the pan, SPEAK now appears to recognise that Pro-Test is here to stay and must, of necessity, be engaged with. Unfortunately for them, this marks the beginning of the end, since in any rational debate, they are doomed to lose.
Coverage: BBC; BBC 10 O'Clock News; Radio 4's 'The World Tonight'.
Pro-Test's founder, Laurie Pycroft, lead a distinguished team of debaters at the Oxford Union last week to defeat a proposed motion, This House Would Not Test On Animals. Pro-Vivisection views won the day, with 85% (225 our of 331) voting in favour of continued animal testing.
Debating against Dr Gill Langley and Alistair Currie (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection) Andrew Knight (specialist in welfare science) and Uri Gellar (spoon-bending 'psychic'), Laurie was accompanied by eminent scientists Prof Lord Robert Winston (TV personality, former President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science), Prof Colin Blakemore (Chief Executive, British Medical Research Council) and Prof John Stein (Oxford University Professor of Physiology and Pro-Test member).
Laurie made Union history by becoming the youngest ever person to speak there, aged just 16 years and 6 months.