Check your facts first

Check your facts first

As I was going to a lecture one morning last week, I found myself face-to-face with a trio of protesters at the entrance. They didn't seem to be staff or students. They were chanting slogans and carrying megaphones, loudly proclaiming that Imperial College researchers were, among other things, evil and heartless.

I spoke to one of the demonstrators about their cause. They were animal rights activists protesting against animal testing at the university. The woman I spoke to was adamant that animal experiments had no benefits whatsoever and insisted that the practice be banned entirely.

As a student in the department of bioengineering, where testing on animals is often necessary for research, I have a natural interest in ethics and animal rights.

Of all people, biologists should understand the surprising extent of animal intelligence. There are plenty of examples in nature, including the problem-solving abilities of the cockatoo, the suspected self-awareness of elephants, the remarkable agility of the octopus and the chimpanzee's genetic similarity with humans.

Animals are often far closer to us than most suspect. And this makes it all the more difficult to perform potentially damaging experiments on animals.

That being said, animal testing is often a necessity. In conducting potentially life-saving research, such as the effects of a new medication on tumour growth, it is often too dangerous to start human trials and impossible to find non-animal alternatives for testing.

Animal experiments are also, in many cases, the best way to enhance our knowledge in science. Much of our understanding of brain functions comes from studying the brains of animals. Our knowledge of psychology and behaviour often comes from animal studies.

Of course, independent bodies are needed to ensure that basic ethical standards are met and to push for practices that improve animal comfort. It is absolutely critical that researchers meet the "Three R's of animal research" - replacement (finding other ways to do the research that doesn't involve animals), reduction (getting results using fewer animals) and refinement (reducing pain or discomfort for the animals).

However, it would be appreciated if activists could spend some more time researching the issues, and come up with plans for improvement before boldly, blindly demanding change.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Check your facts first


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