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May 29, 2006

New poll puts support for animal research 'at record high'

A new Telegraph/YouGov poll out today puts support for animal research at a 'record high'. 70% of people surveyed believed that animal testing is acceptable, while 72% felt that there was no alternative. In fact, other surveys have already revealed an even higher level of public support for vivisection, with 77% backing 'any research on animals' in a 1999 New Scientist poll, and 75% in 2002 and 2005 polls for the Coalition for Medical Progress, with 90% backing the research so long as suffering was minimised (which it always is). See today's poll data here and an op-ed piece by Prof Colin Blakemore describing the shift in opinion over the last 20 years here.

What the latest poll actually seems to show is outright opposition to animal testing at an all time low. Only 18% think testing drugs on animals before humans is unacceptable under any circumstances, with 11% saying they don't know; only 19% believe alternatives are available and 9% didn't know.

Today's survey mixes the questions on animal research with questions on animal rights extremism, and it's noteworthy that more people are firmly opposed to the extremism than are strongly in favour of animal research. This is to be expected, especially given that people continue to be targeted, but it shows that there is still a sizeable part of the population who are yet to be won over to the pro-testing side on the basis of the scientific and ethical arguments. As the Telegraph's leader notes, the results are partly due to Pro-Test's organisation of a public, pro-science movement, but also partly due to a backlash against extremism.

A huge, overwhelming majority back animal research. Scientists should take heart from today's figures, which are, as Blakemore says, a sign of the changing climate around the animal testing issue. As the Telegraph says, it certainly undermines anti-vivisectionists' claims to enjoy majority support. But neither scientists, nor groups like Pro-Test, can afford to be complacent. Around 10% of the public still don't know where they stand on the issue, while nearly 20% erroneously believe there are viable alternatives
to animal research available now, and nearly 20% are opposed to testing medical treatments (not research in general - specifically, medical treatments) on animals before humans. Even if the tide has turned against animal rights extremism, we are still a long way from a climate where the science of animal research is properly understood and scientists can command the respect they deserve for the work they do, and the freedom they need to do it.

Also in the press: Kate Hoey MP alleges that the Labour party's acceptance of funding from animal rights groups 'gave them credibility'; The Glasgow Sunday Herald notes a small rush among GSK shareholders to remove their details from the public arena, and argues, as Pro-Test has been arguing, for business to rely on making the positive case for animal testing, rather than relying on secrecy.

posted by Lee at 9:37 AM  


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