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Submission: Scientists should uphold animal research standards

By David Jentsch

Feb. 10, 2014 11:51 p.m.

BY DAVID JENTSCH

Of all the ways that animals are involved in human society, none is more regulated than their use in biomedical research. Federal laws, regulations and policies reflect social expectations regarding the conduct of biomedical research involving animals. I, like most scientists, believe in and support those rules.

A recent article in the Daily Bruin (“Animal rights group claims UCLA non-compliant with policies”) details the activities of an animal rights group called Stop Animal Exploitation Now that has been involved in a more than decade-long effort to mislead the public about the nature of groundbreaking and lifesaving biomedical research going on at UCLA. The article begins by noting that SAEN has obtained records from the federal government indicating that a small number of problems with animal research have occurred at UCLA over the past years. The group misleads the public by claiming that these events are representative of research programs at UCLA or are anything other than rare. In fact, researchers take these events very seriously.

The reason they were able to obtain these records is because UCLA promptly identified the problems, corrected them and reported them as required by law. While I do not personally know all the facts, the case described in the Daily Bruin story appears to be wholly unacceptable, and I categorically condemn any activities that have violated policies on animal research (whether those be the federal regulations or UCLA’s own very high standards). If a researcher is found to be conducting activities that harm animal welfare and defy the regulations, I believe their research activities should be stopped. I have no sympathy for any reasoning as to why any one investigator decided to violate the rules.

Why? Because when a small group breaks the social trust, they harm the rest of us who are working hard to ensure that we uphold social expectations on the conduct of research. My own laboratory’s work has never been the subject of such a problem, nor have those of virtually any of my colleagues that I work with on a regular basis.

When one investigator steps outside the bounds, she or he gives fodder to animal rights groups that attempt to, in turn, malign all of us. When they do, they directly contribute to the anger and vitriol of the hateful activists who march outside of my home on a regular basis.

Meeting social requirements to conduct humane animal research in a responsible manner is not the ceiling: it’s the floor. We should be looking for all researchers to go well beyond simply meeting minimum standards and to never once find themselves in a situation where they fall short of the target of maintaining an exceptional record of compliance with statutes.

Once again, I condemn any actions undertaken by researchers at UCLA or elsewhere that intentionally violate the standards set by the American public when it decided that regulated and limited animal research is a social good that is moral and justifiable. The single most effective action that any researcher can do to ensure that societal support for research continues is to avoid these situations.

Jentsch is a professor of psychology at UCLA.

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