If you are one of mother earth’s warriors who think that humans are just a burden to this planet and less worthy than cockroaches, then this post is not for you, nor is it if you are a creepy little creature that enjoys the infliction of pain.

I don’t know anyone –anyone- who enjoys performing experimental work with animals; I certainly try to avoid it. However, experiments with animals are an invaluable tool for science –specially biomedicine- and almost any single major achievement in medicine that has led to an improvement in standards of living relayed on animal work of some kind.The common flow of research goes from cells to animals to humans. Sometimes it is impossible to use cells; many times it is not safe to move from cells straight into humans.

If the dead of today hurts think what grows out of it

Last week I received an email from the central animal facility informing that the Sunday Times was planning to run an article criticising animal work atImperialCollege. The article “wouldn’t mention names” but “could rise concerns” about animal welfare. A clandestine video was filmed inside one of the facilities* by an animal rights activist who got a job as a technician.

I have seen the video and I chose not to post it here; it can be easily found in the web anyway. I chose not to post it here not because I don’t want people to see it but because what it shows is unnecessary. Of course there is blood in it, as there is blood in any surgeon operating table, as there is blood during the delivery of babies, as there is blood in a slaughter house**. The fact that there is blood in it doesn’t make the activist’s claims truer. And their objective is clear: The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) wants to stop animal research completely, not to improve it, not to regulate it even more, they want to stop it.

The BUAV’s video focuses on what is done to animals (rats and mice) without mentioning why it is done. The entire pseudo-documentary is flawed, for example: it shows mice on a treadmill and comment: “mice are run to exhaustion and given electric shocks when they stop running”. Fair enough mice are forced to run, but the reason for it may be researchers studying a muscle wasting condition, or ways to improve recovery after trauma or ways to treat diabetes or how the brain works. We will never know what scientists were trying to achieve, it is not said in the video. But you can rest assured that THERE IS NO WAY that you can do this in a UKuniversity “just for fun”. In the future tens of thousands of people may benefit by the suffering of those mice. But BUAV’s activists care very little about the sufferings of millions of two legged creatures without feathers that can talk.

Recently, scientists have successfully produced artificial kidneys using stem cells. Those kidneys were transplanted into rats and worked like kidneys (1). Was there no suffering? No blood on those experiments? Certainly there was. But the suffering of these few animals will someday provide relief for tens of thousands of people with kidney failure.

In addition to the unnecessary display of necessary blood the video raised true awareness about some issues:

Two imbeciles claiming that they were good at writing projects allowing them to do whatever they wanted to lab animals, for example. Anyone involved in animal research knows that this is impossible. Projects are scrutinised by committees before approval, committees formed by scientists who are not idiots and by technocrats that will enforce the book to the last comma. But even if they were good at deceiving committee members: What would they gain? Will they take all the burden of going to the animal facility, changing all their clothes, passing through many barriers, paying astronomically high animal maintenance fees and risk being caught just for something they could easily do in their basements? Clearly they were two blokes bluffing in front of a girl (the infiltrated animal activist). The life of some male scientists is just sad.

Other issue was a poor chap -who clearly didn’t have much idea of what he was doing- confessing to someone -that was supposedly there to help (a technician!)- that he didn’t have much idea. Unfortunately for him that person was not there to help; she was an undercover BUAV’s activist.

Other issue: someone was not sure about the difference between mild and moderate pain (who is?). Here we have an important legal problem: Licences to work with laboratory animals explicitly state the level of pain that a researcher is allowed to cause. But what is mild and what is moderate cannot be precisely determined and relies in philosophy more than in science.

For any rational common-sense-driven person these problems do not justify the abolition of research with animals. The narrator’s comments are malicious and support an ideology that is anti-scientific and anti-human; its message is not that we should improve animal research practice but that we should stop it altogether. Despite the fact that research with animals has helped to extend our life span more than 3 times in the last few hundred years, they want to stop it. Despite the fact that we live with much less pain; despite the fact that we live much more comfortably, they want to stop it. Despite the fact that some things, simple things such as sun screens, cannot be tested in other way, they want to stop it.

If you chose to see the video (you just have to Google “ImperialCollege” + “British Union for the Abolition for Vivisection”) and if you have never worked with laboratory animals in theUK, you will see blood, but think:

There will always be blood in an operating table. Experiments that cause distress to animals have as ultimate goal to reduce both human and animal pain in a much bigger scale. The vast majority of scientists are not monsters that enjoy the infliction of pain. All work with animals is closely regulated and approved by committees. Committees are formed by knowledgeable people, not idiots. If someone is acting wrongly he or she will ultimately be detected and dealt with. Finally, if you are over 25 years old: without animal research you would have a 1 in 4 chance of having died already -in excruciating pain- of tuberculosis or some other infectious disease like our 19th century ancestors. Don’t allow fundamentalists to deceive you by showing you distressing and out-of-context pictures. You can campaign against electricity, against cars, against life-saving surgery with that method. Each project involving research with animals needs to be analysed on an individual basis, considering costs and benefits, and this is what happens every time.



* The video is a close encounter of the blurry type. Opinions among my colleagues regarding the site where it was filmed are divided; some even think it is a fake; I think it is real.

** I am old enough to remember bloody pieces of meat on a butcher’s bench; you don’t see it anymore in supermarkets.


1. J Am Soc Nephrol. (2012) 23:1857-1868.


  • Post a comment

    Threaded commenting powered by interconnect/it code.

  • Mike Mellor 01/06/2013 at 3:42 pm

    Ariel, I bet I can prove you wrong.

    In the early 1940’s, an infamous doctor called Josef Mengele performed experiments on living humans. The experiments were complete nonsense, without any scientific value whatsoever. But just say that the experiments had supplied a cure for cancer? That would make them OK, right?

    • Ariel Poliandri 01/06/2013 at 7:15 pm

      Mike I don’t understand what you want to prove wrong.
      I am well aware (like any other educated person) of who Mengele was.
      Are you implying that the average morality of scientists is that of a sadistic Nazi? and consequently that the ethic values of universities and research institutes’ committees are of a kind to those of the Nazi Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda?
      I love animals in a way that would have probably sounded silly to most 19th century Europeans (and would sound silly to many 21st century people outside Europe too). I dislike suffering both animal and human and I am in favour of reducing pain. However I do value human life the most, especially when animals have been bred by humans for a higher purpose.
      In any case, in almost 15 years of having access to different animal facilities in different European countries I can say that 99% of the rats and mice living there have a much easier life and die in much less pain than their wild counterparts. In addition, researchers are working very hard to reduce the pain of the remaining 1%; they do that because they are nice and decent people and not because stupid stuck-up activists that do not know anything about the real world force them to do so.

  • A Friend 24/04/2013 at 7:23 pm

    This is a very good article and these things need to be said. The healthcare that we all take for granted is based upon decades of research and no one would expect to receive treatments that had not been tested thoroughly. Many people choose to live in denial of the means used to develop the advanced treatments that we rely upon to save the lives of the people whom we love. I certainly hope that biomedical research will continue, so that people who appear to prefer animals to their own species can continue to receive the benefits of modern medicine.
    Another point for all pet owners who pride themselves in loving animals so much – where do they think the veterinary treatments come from? I just read today that domestic cats in the UK kill 200 million wild animals, about 60 times more than the number killed by humans in the pursuit of knowledge in the UK every year. This includes millions of songbirds, some of which could become extinct. Twice as many abandoned stray dogs are put down as the number of lab animals used in research, according to the RSPCA. I think people should get their priorities right.

    • Ariel Poliandri 25/04/2013 at 5:30 am

      Thank you for a very eloquent comment. Most people that oppose research with animals never stopped to think what the world would be like without it. And thank you for the data; I wouldn’t have imagined that cats cause such havoc in Britain (I like cats).

    • Mike Mellor 01/06/2013 at 3:37 pm

      A Nameless Friend, in the time it takes you to read this sentence, a billion wild animals will have been killed. Naturally that’s an invented number, but I’ll bet it’s not very far out. It’s called the ecosystem. All around the world, animals are killing and eating other animals.

      You’re probably conditioned into thinking that an animal is something warm and fluffy, or perhaps scaly but elegant. In short, something you might keep for a pet or watch a Disney movie about.

      But flies, plankton, beetles and moths are animals too.

      Domestic cats can be a problem for certain kinds of birds, mainly those kinds that forage on the ground or that nest in places accessible to cats. I don’t think they present any kind of an extinction threat. A naturalist called Charles Darwin wrote an interesting book on the topic.

  • Callum 22/04/2013 at 10:45 am

    I think the scientists have done a lot in the past years to firstly reduce the number of animals in research but if it cannot be avoided then they have moved great lengths to reduce the pain and suffering of the animals. And as you mention the animals in an overall majority of the cases are kept in better conditions than most pets are by their loving owners. I think animal activists should be realists and understand that society works by consensus and sees these kinds of experiments as a necessary evil (although I use the word evil lightly if you compare to some of the terrible things people do to each other). As you say more constructive for them would be to not fight for complete abolition but rather offer constructive criticisms that can be practically implemented that might alleviate some of their worst worries. A compromise approach.

    I also think that why this might be controversial, universities should be more open as I often see animal activist protests displaying images of cruelty which are simple fake and I have never witnessed in my own experience or heard of from many of my friends who also work in such facilities. When the image isn’t a fake, it is most likely an extremely rare case (for instance one cherry picked animal). Owing to the laws of chance and how many facilities there are it’s more surprising how well the current system works to maintain such high standards. The activists simply aren’t that well informed and there imagination runs away with them. This is not there fault as the animals are usually kept submerged beneath research buildings with jacked up security. Practically, owing to the extreme cleanness needed to be maintained this would be tricky for them to be more open but if we have the situation were people are sneaking in through security because they feel there is a story, some better public engagement is needed much like the trend of science communication is doing for portraying the actual research these days (e.g Pint of Science festival). You may argue that Home Office inspectors regularly play this role by visiting such facilities but again this isn’t really public knowledge.

    I understand that facilities were more open in the past and this allowed for atrocious acts of terror and vandalism from activist but I feel it has gone too far the other way. It is a natural reaction for the younger activists to feel that the ultra-high security we are now accustomed to must equal to something dodgy going on (Why hide it?), not realising the precautions are there to prevent incidents such as technicians being physically attacked that happened before.

    My hope is that if we are more open rational thought will prevail. The “average Joe” will reaffirm their positive views on animal experiment as a necessity in an imperfect world and maybe for some activists they will realise that actually there are far better things to protest about.

    P.S As a side note I think this specific act by the journalist also raises another issue about how bad specifically investigative journalism is now, disregarding the general lack of morality British newspapers seem to show. They could do with taking some research tips from scientists who uncover more truth while still working to high ethical and moral standards. These are the same people we need to communicate are research results to the public…………..oh dear!

    • Ariel Poliandri 23/04/2013 at 5:34 am

      Hey Callum,
      Thank you for your comment! I agree with all your points, especially the first sentence.
      I also think that we need more public engagement to stop this irrational nonsense. But the main problem is that whatever you do to uphold science on “controversial” issues you may end up being bullied and many scientists have had enough bullying when they were at school. In the case of animal rights activists you have a physical treat: people have been pushed, cars have been vandalised and letter bombs sent. In the course that you have to pass to obtain a licence to work with lab animals in the UK you are told again and again not to talk about your work with the general public “for your personal security”. These days with internet we have a better chance to share the burden of been bullied and also help each other.
      Regarding science journalists: I have been in a “science writing” course where the chief science editor of a respected UK journal explicitly said “your job is not to be an advocate of science your job is to sell stories”. Make your own mind.

      • Callum 23/04/2013 at 9:01 am

        Yes I have also done the course and many times when sitting in pubs with friends we find ourselves using coded language so that we can discuss our work :) It is silly but I guess you not only have to consider the consequences for yourself as an individual but what you say may slip details that can be used against the system and facilities. The latter I think is more the issue they are worried about rather than “personal safety”.

        I think this science communication trend is worrying as I know many disenchanted scientists who want to leave academia and move on to something else like writing about science. However if you say holds true then we will have a whole new generation of even more depressed ex scientists on our hands being told to forget their principles and write something that sells.

        Hopefully with blogs like your own, which are independent of money making grubby hands, they will provide the best medium for public engagement.

        Keep up the good work.

Subscribe for email alerts

Visit my LinkedIn Profile

What’s on @arielpoliandri

Join Us

Hit Counter provided by orange county divorce attorney

Hit Counter provided by orange county divorce attorney