Swiss researchers hear arguments for openness

EARA’s free event in Zurich, has highlighted the importance of the forthcoming Swiss transparency agreement and its commitment to greater public openness about research using animals.

Members of the Swiss life sciences community heard from a panel of experts from primate research, animal welfare, and science communication on this topic and the steps toward a formal agreement (STAAR) between institutions in Switzerland on openness.

Professor Michael Hottiger, (pictured) molecular biologist and President of Forschung für Leben, rounded off the event by describing the aims and commitments of Swiss Transparency Agreement on Animal Research (STAAR), due to be launched in the new year, which he co-initiated.

‘Such a transparency agreement is a commitment to rigorous and responsible research, and to want people to find more out about animal research.’

Professor Valerio Mante, group leader at the Institute of Neuroinformatics (UZH), meanwhile gave a practical example of his experience of being more proactive when discussing the primate research that he leads.

‘When I talk to people and show them the experiments, their attitudes are always more positive at the end than when they first walked in,’ he said.

This involved producing professional photos and videos including a 24-hour recording of the labs and the enclosures where the monkeys are kept, distributing information about animal research on websites and in talks, and inviting groups such as schools, students, and journalists to discuss the experiments.

Kirk Leech, EARA Executive Director, outlined the past, present, and future pressures facing the European biomedical research community, which demonstrated the need to provide better information to the public.

‘One of the main problems is that there is not a balanced narrative of the use of animals in research,’ he said.

He then went on to discuss the opportunities available to the life sciences community to improve openness, including through social media, non-technical summaries (NTS), and in particular transparency agreements.

‘NTS are a great opportunity to give clarity to why you are doing research to a non-scientific audience.’

Head of Communication at the Swiss Academy of Sciences, Marcel Falk, expanded on the need for transparency.

Marcel advised how researchers that use animals should interact with the media: ‘A lot of people rush into answering, but first be sure that you know which section of the newspaper it will appear in, and find out what kind of story the journalist has in mind.’

The event ended with a panel discussion to answer a broad array of questions including, ‘why don’t you adopt a more emotional approach to communicating about animal research?’ where the panel explained that there is a place for both rationality and emotion communication, where factual information and personal experiences are combined.

The event, at the University of Zurich (UZH), was supported by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the Society for Neuroscience (SfN).