E-mail from © Dave Hay, 24th January 2001:
I can only say that whilst I worked as a scientist I saw nothing but compassion for the animals used. I never witnessed cruelty and everything possible was done to ensure the animals did not suffer. The fact that one misguided individual at HLS mistreated a dog does not mean that the rest of us are bloodthirsty, cruel torturers. There are far more pet owners who fill that position.
The studies we performed were extremely expensive, and simple economics would drive our sponsors to find any possible way of either eliminating animal trials or reducing the numbers to a bare minimum. In fact, the law requires that a minimum number of animals are used. The argument that we should use humans instead is rather hollow as we already do. Once the animal phase is over the test articles are moved onto human trial phases using either volunteers or sufferers from specific diseases.
To allow the uninformed but passionate protesters to win this argument puts us all at risk, not only due to the reversal of scientific advancement, but who knows who the next target of the fanatics will be. Fanaticism coupled with violence can never be tolerated by any fair-minded society.
As you point out, many of the protesters are well-educated and young - a recipe for idealism. With age comes a maturity and greater understanding of wider issues. We must find ways to hasten that maturity and understanding. Most of my colleagues in the toxicology business were young and very well-educated. We were driven by a desire to help and to learn. Conditions were unpleasant and salaries low, so money was not a factor. I for one would be happy to rejoin the ranks and use my scientific training for the good of all. The scientific skills of those performing pharmaceutical research are much in demand in many other industries. Society should value the researchers rather than allow them to live under threat in this way.
To which I replied (24th Jan 2001):
Many thanks for your message of support, which is one of quite a few, - which are very nice to receive and show that my web-site is read !!. But yours is certainly more extensive than most, which have generally been simply congratulatory.
Your comment is so well argued and meaningful that I immediately wonder if you would give me permission to copy it to my web-site as a supplement, so to speak, to my epistle (i.e. next page, or something like that?). I certainly do not want to embarass you by forcing you to reply and will CERTAINLY not send your message elsewhere without your express permission.
As you probably realise - I am well retired - coming up my 76th birthday, but I am so concerned about current negative attitudes to science expressed so forcefully in the media - and (even worse) by these young "protesters" that web-activity is just about as much as I can contribute.....
with the response: E-mail from © Dave Hay, 25th January 2001:
I have no objections whatsoever to you posting my ramblings on your website.
I picked up the address from the sci.chemistry newsgroup the other day.
I echo your concerns about the progression of science and the ever more powerful anti-science lobbies emerging and the influence they have. I currently work as an Environmental Scientist in a University. Our department specialises in Environmental Economics and Environmental Sciences. Part of the work involves Biology modules which include dissections of hares which we buy in after gamekeepeers have culled them. I have found that year-on-year more and more students object strongly to this to the point that we no longer offer dissection demonstrations in our courses. The knock on effect is that we are guiding students to go into Environmental work who are not fully equipped to understand the interactions of different animal species with the environment and with each other. They are also at odds with those such as gamekeepers and landowners who manage the environment on a practical level, thus widening the distrust between academic researchers and members of the public which I believe is a retrograde step.
I have read your piece on GM foods and agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments. I fear that a great deal of journalism seems to be heading down the lines of sensationalism. Two points to note recently were the floods and the fuel protests.
York was extensively covered regarding the floods and a good deal of hysteria was whipped up. The reporting would have you believe the city was about to suffer catastrophic flooding when, in fact, the truth was somewhat different. 95% of the city remained dry and the 5% that was flooded were mainly business premises and car parks. As a consequence, the tourist trade in York has suffered as people are wary of coming here because they think the city is on the knife edge of a flooding catastrophe.
The fuel protest coverage again was designed to attract viewers/listeners/readers rather than to convey facts. The result was mass panic. Some would call it irresponsible.
I venture to say that the news, particularly televised news, is less about good journalism and more about ratings and the attraction of viewers to a particular channel in order that they might continue to watch after the news has finished. This has been highlighted with the recent "ratings war" between ITV and the BBC over their late evening news slots. I believe this is a fashion that has caught on from the American style of news presentation.
In any case, this style is currently being used to the detriment of science.
Science has always suffered a poor public image and recent reporting has magnified this. Perhaps science needs the services of a good "spin doctor", I hear Mr. Mandleson is currently seeking employment! There are a few leading lights at the moment, such as Lords Winston and Sainsbury as well as Colin Blakemore (who might pay dearly for daring to speak out), but we need many more to put the point across. The article by Polly Toynbee in the Guardian made for interesting reading. I remember such people as James Burke, Carl Sagan, and Heather Coupar from the seventies and eighties who had a high media profile and certainly helped me to decide to head for science.
Scientists need to be able to wear two hats - that of sceptical researcher sifting through observations carefully weeding out fact from fiction and that of sensationalist to portray their work in an interesting fashion and in a way that stresses the benefits rather than just the hard facts of their work. Many scientists already do this as they fight to make their work stand out to the funding council committees. They should continue that beyond funding councils to the public at large. I read with interest the concerns raised by the RSC in Chemistry in Britain about the public image of science.
I fear I am rambling again - maybe I should become a journalist!
I hope you can put my argument across on your web pages and draw attention to them. It's a step in the right direction.
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