‘By hiding we are not helping public understanding’, Portuguese audience hears at EARA event

EARA’s latest event in Lisbon, this week, highlighted the importance of the new Portuguese Transparency Agreement and the need to be proactive in giving the public information on the use of animals in research.

Susana Lima of Champalimaud Foundation presenting her work at the EARA event on openness about animal research

Around 60 people, from the life sciences community heard speakers from the Champalimaud Foundation, which hosted the event, EARA, the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência and the publication Visão discuss the topic, Improving Openness in Animal Research in Portugal.

The initiative at the EARA’s member Champalimaud Foundation was supported by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the Society for Neuroscience (SfN).

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, explained why there is a need to improve openness and transparency in Portugal.

He outlined the fact that Portugal’s ‘animal party’ has now four deputies at the parliament, reinforcing the importance of the Portuguese Transparency Agreement signed by the main universities and research centres in the country.

Neuroscientist, Susana Lima (pictured), of the Champalimaud Foundation explained that her work on sexual behaviour of mice represents a double challenge to communicate to the public. Firstly, because it is basic research with animals and secondly because it is sex research.

“I have the responsibility to communicate my research, it’s one of my duties,” Susana said.

“By hiding we are not helping anybody. People don’t know how animals are handled and the general public thinks there are no rules.”

Ana Mena, head of public engagement, at Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC) described how IGC has been committed to openness even before the signature of the Transparency Agreement proposed by EARA.

“The Transparency Agreement was a very natural step for IGC”, she said. “It was more a formalisation and can encourage other research institutes to be more open.”

She explained that the establishment of the IGC Ethics Committee gave confidence at the institutional level to adopt a proactive approach on communicating animal research.

Also, IGC looked at how other bodies have communicated on animal research such as, Understanding Animal Research (UAR) and the National Centre for the Replacement Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), in order to develop their strategy.  

Examples of how IGC is committed to openness include visits to schools, Open Days, the NOS Alive Music Festival, and multimedia resources such as “Me and my body” and “The amazing world of living things: a short story about Evolution” available at the IGC YouTube Channel.

Multimedia resources from Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC)

“Use as much different communication channels as possible to reach different people,” Ana Mena concluded.

Science journalist, Sara Sá, of Visão, gave the context of science journalism in Portugal showing data from SciCom, that there are just 17 journalists covering science, health and environment – only two have a scientific background.

Highlighting EARA’s work and the need for researchers to communicate on this subject, she said: “Instead of waiting for journalists, scientists should make the first step and speak about this.”

Giving more advices on how scientists could improve their relationships with journalists, Sara mentioned the “creation of a bond with a journalist you trust” and the “magic of storytelling”.

The event ended with a panel discussion to answer the audience’s questions including “Where we draw the line of what we should communicate?” Where Kirk Leech gave advice on how each institution should discuss internally their communication strategy and refer to the EARA Communications Handbook.

Panel discussion with Kirk Leech (EARA), Ana Mena (IGC), Sara Sá (Visão) and Susana Lima (Champalimaud Foundation)