13 / 11 / 2023
This blog is written by Dr Renelle McGlacken, an interdisciplinary social scientist interested in the ethical dimensions of human-animal relations and science-society relations around controversial areas of science. Renelle currently works as a Research Fellow on the Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award programme ‘The Animal Research Nexus: Changing Constitutions of Science, Health and Welfare’ (AnNex) at the University of Nottingham. Her work examines relations between publics and animal research professionals, with a particular focus on the Named Veterinary Surgeon.
In the UK, the views and opinions of members of the public towards animal research have often been represented in polarised terms of ‘acceptance’ or ‘opposition’, ‘for’ or ‘against’. A key aim for my PhD research at the University of Nottingham on the topic of UK societal relations with animal research was to add nuance to the simplified ways in which public opinion on the issue has been understood. This project was part of a broader programme of research titled ‘The Animal Research Nexus: Changing Constitutions of Science, Health and Welfare’ (AnNex) which explores the historical dimensions and social relations of animal research in the UK.
To examine how people understand animal research, I analysed writing on the topic collected through the Mass Observation Project, which is a national life-writing project documenting ‘everyday life’ in Britain. The Mass Observation Project asks its voluntary panel of writers, who are referred to as ‘Mass Observers’, to write about a diverse range of issues by sending them a set of questions or prompts on a particular topic. My research looked at writing on the topic of ‘using animals in research’ which was gathered in 2016.
My findings suggest first that ‘acceptance’ of animal research not only often depends on particular understandings of necessity but is often marked by hopes for the full replacement of animal models. Such insights reveal how acceptance of animal research may hinge on hopes for a future in which such animal use is no longer needed, with expectations for the eventual replacement of animals allowing some people to accept their use in the present.
Recognising that acceptance of animal research may often be connected to expectations that it will one day no longer be needed complicates what we traditionally understand as ‘acceptance’ in this context, with acceptance here perhaps more accurately reflecting a reluctant concession rather than contentment.
Secondly, within many of the Mass Observation Project writings I analysed, expressions of acceptance towards animal research were often accompanied by regret. Indeed, regret around the need to use animals in scientific research was touched on almost two decades ago by the then chair of the Animals Procedures Committee (now the Animals in Science Committee) Michael Banner, who said that “For many people the use of animals is thought of as a regrettable necessity; in that context, there can be no satisfaction with the status quo, but only a determination to consider what steps can be taken, compatible with legitimate scientific progress, to avoid or reduce animal suffering”.
That the acceptance of animal research can be accompanied by feelings of regret and hopes for a future in which it is no longer needed underscores Banner’s call to resist being satisfied with the ‘status quo’ of their use. Yet, the development of alternatives remains underfunded[5-6], with some claiming that low funding levels could reflect ‘a general apathy about the need to improve the humanity and reliability of scientific methods’. Connecting with Banner’s call against resting on the ‘necessity’ of scientific animal use, my thesis argues that the animal research community should also not rest on the repeated claim that the public accept animal research as necessary when no alternatives are available and no ‘unnecessary’ suffering is involved.[8-10]. My work argues that viewing such claims as representing a broad ‘public acceptability’ of animal research ignores the ways in which such acceptance is often accompanied by regret around the need to use animals in science and hopes for their replacement.
Overall, societal investment in the goal of full replacement emphasises the importance of developing non-animal methods. By recognising this, the development of alternatives can be more explicitly framed as a matter of public interest. Alongside the scientific and ethical concerns which motivate efforts to develop alternatives, the public and their hopes and expectations for the full replacement of animal models should therefore form another important catalyst stimulating the shift away from animal research.
 McGlacken R and Hobson-West P (2022) Critiquing imaginaries of ‘the public’ in UK dialogue around animal research: Insights from the Mass Observation Project. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 91: 280-287.
 McGlacken, R. (2021) Exploring everyday relations with animal research: a sociological analysis of writing from the Mass Observation Project. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham. http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/66576/
 Animals Procedures Committee (2003) Review of Cost-Benefit Assessment in the Use of Animals in Research. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-cost-benefit-assessment-in-the-use-of-animals-in-research, Home Office, 1.
 Taylor K (2014) EU member state government contribution to alternative methods. ALTEX 31(2), 215-218.
 Herrmann K (2019) Refinement on the Way Towards Replacement: Are We Doing What We Can? . In: Herrmann K and Jayne K (eds) Animal Experimentation: Working Towards a Paradigm Change. Brill, 3-64.
 Taylor K (2019) Recent Developments in Alternatives to Animal Testing. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 599.
 Clemence M and Leaman J (2016) Public attitudes to animal research in 2016. https://www.ipsos.com/en/public-attitudes-animal-research-2016, 1-63.
 Ipsos MORI (2018) Public attitudes to animal research in 2018. News & Polls: News https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/public-attitudes-animal-research-2018, 1-36.
 Williams B (2020) Public attitudes to animal research under COVID-19: Survey report. https://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/news/communications-media/survey-shows-high-public-acceptance-of-animal-research-to-find-treatments-for-covid-19/
 McGlacken, R. (Forthcoming) Complicating acceptance of animal research: An analysis of writing from the Mass Observation Project. EurSafe 2022 Congress Proceedings, Wageningen Academic Publishers.Bias in scientific publishing towards animal research Understanding how non-animal research methods are underfunded in the UK