March 4, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 80  

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Full disclosure needed

Animal research: even without any context, this phrase is charged with controversy.

Do we have the right to experiment on unwitting animals? If so, where do we draw the line? Are rats expendable merely because they’re not as cute and cuddly as puppies? When it comes down to it, these issues can be (and have been) fervently debated, with no resolution in sight. And we’re not about to try to reach one.

That being said, it’s interesting to note the closed-mouth attitude many universities have adopted in regard to animal research. We were pleased to have been granted a tour of parts of the animal lab in Western’s Social Science Centre, but many other universities wouldn’t even discuss the animal research taking place at their institutions. This leads us to wonder if something more is going on — something school administrations would have a reason to hide from us.

Before paranoia sets in, we’re not suggesting Western has a secret lab up on the top floor of the Social Science Centre where hideous experiments are conducted on rabbits, all for the sake of producing a new shade of lipstick. In fact, the majority of animal research done at universities is likely pretty standard: the search for new and better pharmaceuticals, cures for terminal diseases and general ways to improve the human condition.

After all, humans have always relied on animals for survival: deer are killed for meat and pelts; cattle are raised specifically to create McDonald’s hamburgers and now, in a more scientifically-driven age, animals are being used to aid survival by advancing the search for new drugs.

Yet if the research going on at Western and other schools is so innocuous, then why won’t university researchers talk openly about the gritty details? Why are they hesitant to even discuss the types of animals being subjected to this research?

Obviously, one concern is the threat of eco-terrorists: the extremist animal rights groups who could potentially read the details of animal research that’s occurring right here on campus, and go on a crusade to free the rats and rough up the labs that enslaved them. But that’s a bit of a stretch — it’s not a fair justification for refusing to explain the research to other interested parties.

Since the public purse is funding animal research at universities across Canada, the public has a right to know exactly what’s involved in that research.

Furthermore, if people had a better understanding of the nature of and the reasons behind animal research, it’s likely it wouldn’t garner so much negative attention. Keeping this information bottled up at the top scientific level is an elitist attitude and one that’s glaringly unfair in a society where information is supposed to be free.



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