Health Care Workers, Animal Research, and Effectiveness
Many people have an opinion on the use of animals in scientific research, but, in terms of value, some opinions are louder and are seen, perhaps, as more “legitimate” than others. Consciously or not, some people seem to value the opinions of scientists or other professionals, because they are considered more informed about or experienced in the issue. The public are generally viewed as “conditional acceptors” of animal research – accepting the practice because it promises cures and treatments for human illnesses, as long as animal welfare is taken into account on some level. However, there is growing evidence that raises concerns about the practice of animal research (AR) on two major levels:
First, the methodological quality of AR is often poor in both experimental design and animal welfare aspects[…] AR publications rarely report performing a systematic review to determine the necessity of the research project, rarely report the use of continuous monitoring of the level of anesthesia or pain control, and often do not report the use of acceptable methods of euthanasia. Second, the translation rate from AR to humans has been disappointing. Extensive AR in the fields of sepsis, stroke, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, cancer, degenerative neurological diseases, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, asthma, and other fields has translated to humans in 0-5% of cases.
In other words, the use of animals in research is not only ethically objectionable, it also does not appear to be particularly effective in predicting human health outcomes. The growing literature challenging animal research is something that advocates are becoming increasingly aware of and employing in their various work.
However, the questions surrounding the efficacy of animal research places health care workers (HCWs) – who “often perform animal research, promote animal research directly with trainees and indirectly as role models, and advocate for use of public funds towards animal research” – in a difficult position. Due to their work they sometimes engage in animal research, and are also a voice in support of animal research, encouraging the government to put money towards it. A study at a Canadian university, found that HCWs have a disproportionately positive perception of animal research. They tend to think that animal experiments are done to high quality and disagree with recent findings that animal research rarely produces a human benefit.
So, we arrive at a point of cognitive dissonance: HCWs believe in animal research and have high expectations of its efficacy, however their expectations are greater than empirical data shows is being achieved. What’s more, when asked if they think that animal research is contributing positively to human health, many HCWs tend to think it is doing more good than is actually the case. Their support of animal research could be misleading to the general public who might look to HCWs to have a trustworthy opinion. The public might end up believing something based on the HCWs’ perceived authority, rather than considering the facts. For advocates, this means that even more education of the general public needs to be done to inform them of the truth about animal research, and encourage them not to necessarily believe the opinions of those working in science.