Pro-Test: Standing Up For Science
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June 8, 2006

Pro-Test March II: 600 citizens stand up for science

On Saturday, 3 June, 600 citizens converged in Oxford city centre to support animal research, scientific progress, and the building of the Oxford lab. It was a glorious, sunny day as the crowds assembled on Parks Road to hear speeches from politicians, scientists, members of the public and Pro-Test activists. The crowd then marched south past the iconic buildings of the University – the Bodleian, the Radcliffe Camera and the University Church – and onto High Street. Maintaining a strict silence on High Street to avoid disturbing any students taking extra time to finish their exams, the march passed onto Longwall Street, where the chanting resumed: “Stand up for science! Stand up for progress!”, “What do we want? The Oxford Lab! When do we want it? Now!” The march then passed through Holywell Street past New College, back up Parks Road, and came to a halt outside the lab building site on South Parks Road, where more speeches were heard from leading scientists. The march passed off peacefully again with a minimal police presence and was stewarded by Pro-Test’s own volunteers.

The march brought out a lot of new people in support of Pro-Test, both among the marchers and the speakers. Dr Ken Fleming became the first university official to speak openly in favour of the lab and the work that will be carried out there, telling the crowd this time would be remembered as a ‘golden age’ of medicine and that it would be simply wrong to halt scientific progress. Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, spoke passionately about the work scientists do, reminding listeners that the lab was being constructed not to increase the amount of animal testing but to improve the facilities and better the welfare of animals. Having faced ten years of animal rights extremists’ abuse and assaults as a courageous lone voice speaking up for vivisection, he welcomed Pro-Test’s impact on the animal testing debate as contributing to “the most remarkable change in public opinion ever in this country”. Peter McNaughton, Professor of Pharmacology at Cambridge (Cambridge’s plans to construct a new lab were shelved after animal rights campaigners’ security threats made the scheme unaffordable), spoke about the necessity of moving on from cell cultures and computer models to testing in whole organisms. We face, he said, a “blunt moral choice” between testing on animals and testing on people, branding those who take advantage of the medical products arising from animal research while demanding the criminalisation of vivisection “hypocritical”. Does animal testing work? “The answer is right in front of me – healthy young people.”

Endorsements from government health minister Andrew Burnham, former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, and Professor Lord Robert Winston were read out. We also heard from Alan Duncan MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Alan has spoken about the necessity of animal testing on several occasions in the past, but used his speech on Saturday to reject the tactics of ‘animal rights’ campaigners. Niki Schisler again spoke movingly about her profoundly disabled child, but called on everyone to recognise their own dependence on animal research through the every day drugs we use – painkillers, antibiotics, vaccines – and to see this as an issue that affects each one of us. Pro-Test campaigner Alison Eden echoed those remarks in an impassioned speech about how she overcame her trepidation about getting involved, telling the crowd that she felt “Mrs Ordinary” had to take a stand.

Many in the crowd seemed to feel just the same way, with many scientists among them who now realise they do not have to be afraid to stand up for their work. One DPhil student working on an AIDS vaccine told me: “What a great event the Pro-Test was. I will definitely try and make it to all future Pro-Test events. I can't wait to see the press coverage of it. There were so many of us. Little wonder that Speak decided to take all 20 members out to Morton in Marsh where they wouldn't be so embarrassed. I feel ready to be much more outspoken about my animal research now, and ready to tell everyone that I've been out marching with Pro-Test, instead of not mentioning it for fear of causing offence.”

Little wonder, then, that the loudest cheers of the day were reserved for Dr Evan Harris MP, a long-time supporter of animal research who spoke for many in the crowd and for Pro-Test in saying that the issue was not about animal rights extremists – it was about “winning the hearts and minds of people for vital, necessary animal research without relying on the counter-productive and outrageous behaviour of extremists. We have to make the positive case for this sort of research. So that means we don’t need to respond any more to their agenda, we need to deal with the mainstream animal rights movement – we need to counter every myth, rebut every lie, and speak up for the rational approach to public policy based on scientific process, based on fact, not the gross misrepresentation and simplicity that you see from the protestors, from people in the mainstream of the animal welfare movement, and sometimes even from the heir to the throne.” Evan spoke of the need of striking “the right balance” between protecting those working on animal research and protecting the right of legitimate protest, backing the recent court decision not to extend the injunction to limit the number and length of protests further. He called on the Health Secretary, the Prime Minister and the opposition parties to speak out in defence of animal research and for the labelling of drugs to inform the public about the widespread use of animal testing. “Make sure in the future that we keep the momentum up, that we defend science, rationalism and animal research – not just on the basis of fighting extremism, but because it’s the right thing to do”.

You can listen to all the speeches and get a journalist’s perspective on the march at Kieran McCarthy’s blog, here.

posted by Lee at 12:29 AM  


This is blog is where you can find out information about the activities of the pro-animal testing campaign group, Pro-Test, and links to media coverage.


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March speakers confirmed
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Some recent press
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Public Meeting - a great success!
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Corpus Christi, St John's and Wadham College JCRs are Pro-Test!


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