Pro-Test: Standing Up For Science
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18/02/11

Permalink 11:36:16 pm, by Tom, 312 words, 11815 views   English (UK)
Categories: News

Pro-Test: Five Year Anniversary

Pro-Test: Five Year Anniversary – Friday 25th February 2011

Five years ago, in a climate of fear and harassment from animal rights extremists, 1,000 students, staff and members of the public marched through the centre of Oxford to defend life-saving medical research.

Led by a 16-year-old student, Laurie Pycroft, the Pro-Test rally helped change the attitudes of public, politicians and media towards animal research in the UK.

Pro-Test 2006

On Friday February 25th 2011 Pro-Test are holding a series of events to celebrate the progress Pro-Test has made over the last five years.

From 12 – 2pm Pro-Test will be manning a series of stalls on Cornmarket in order to show its continued efforts to educate the public about the crucial role of animals in medical research. Come along and support the cause!

At 4pm Pro-Test members will head online to Nature’s live Q&A on the animal research issue (link). Pro-Test members have already provided background articles for Nature to support this event.

At 7.15pm (Lecture Theatre 23, Balliol College) Pro-Test will hold a discussion in conjunction with the Philosophy, Politics and Economics Society (PPE Soc) to talk about how Pro-Test’s efforts have helped to shift the public attitude on animal research. Speakers will be:

  • Laurie Pycroft – Founder of Pro-Test and currently an undergraduate at Oxford University – Pycroft will talk about the birth and growth of the Pro-Test movement in the UK
  • Prof. Tipu Aziz – Consultant Neurosurgeon at Oxford University – Prof. Aziz will give his views on the changing climate of research at Oxford University and beyond
  • Tom Holder – Founder of Speaking of Research, Pro-Test’s US sister-organisation formed in 2008. Holder will discuss successful campaigning methods, and the lessons learned from the UK and US pro-research movements.

University members will be required to bring their university card. Non-university members should email tom[at]pro-test.org.uk to book tickets.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Pro-Test

15/02/11

Permalink 10:27:27 pm, by Tom, 731 words, 12524 views   English (UK)
Categories: News

A fish named Hope.

If you have watched TV in the past week or two, you may have seen the excellent ads produced by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) as part of a major fundraising drive to support their new Mending Broken Hearts campaign.

The Mending Broken Hearts campaign is a major new multidisciplinary initiative which seeks to harness the power of regenerative medicine to better treat, and one day cure, heart failure. If you want to learn more about this work, the BHF website has information on the science behind the initiative, and why their scientists are studying zebrafish.

It is an ambitious and fascinating project, and an excellent example of how the differences between species can be as valuable to medical advancement as the similarities.

But that’s not all that is striking about this campaign.

This is a fundraising campaign by a major medical research charity that not only acknowledges the importance of animal research, but places it centre stage. Little more than a decade ago that would have been unthinkable.

When I first started my career in science in the late 1990’s public support for animal research in the UK was considerably lower than it is now, and few scientists willing to discuss their work in public or counter the misleading propaganda of animal rights activists. Animal rights extremists appeared to be able to harass, intimidate and coerce at will, using tactics such as hate mail, vandalism, arson, grave robbing and violence to force several animal breeders to close, and even contributing to a decision by Cambridge University to abandon plans to construct a new primate laboratory in 2004. As the 21st century dawned the future of biomedical research in the UK looked very bleak.

But behind the scenes things were changing. The tireless efforts of research advocacy groups including RDS and the Coalition for Medical Progress (now merged to form Understanding Animal Research ), Sense about Science, and Seriously Ill for Medical Research, who spoke up for animal research and countered the distortions spread by animal research, and the bravery of individuals including the Oxford neuroscientist Professor Colin Blakemore and patient activist Andrew Blake, who continued to speak out in support of animal research despite threats against themselves and their families, began to yield dividends. As time went on more and more scientists were persuaded to discuss the role of animal research in their work in more detail when talking to journalists, rather than referring obliquely to “laboratory studies”, and by the middle of the decade opinion polls indicated that public support for the use of animals in medical research had increased dramatically. Politicians also began to wake up to the threat posed to science in the UK by animal rights extremism, and the danger that other unrepresentative minorities might adopt the tactics of animal rights extremists to foist their views on the rest of society: Something had to be done. A series of laws were passed to prevent intimidation and harassment being used as campaign tools, while for the first time sufficient resources were made available to police units to counter domestic extremism.

The tide finally turned in the spring of 2006 when hundreds of citizens, scientists, students in Oxford joined together under the banner of Pro-Test to march in support the construction of a new animal research laboratory. Responding to threats by animal rights extremists, and inspired by the example set by Laurie Pycroft, the marchers showed that they would not be silenced and would not be intimidated. That rally, and the widespread coverage it received in national and international news media, released a pent-up wave of support from animal research that almost instantly changed the tenor of the debate on animal research in the UK. The new Oxford laboratory was completed in 2008.

Now five years later many of the animal rights extremists whose terror campaigns made the lives of so many people a misery are behind bars, and scientists are more willing than ever before to talk about the contribution of animal research to medical progress.

So the zebrafish are not just an example of the promise of 21st century medicine, but show us that if scientists and supporters of science stand together we can defeat extremism, we can counter the lies and distortions spread by animal rights campaigns, and we can secure the future of scientific medicine. That's a lot of hope for such a small fish.

Paul Browne

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