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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Evidence and Ethics in Animal Research


Dr Helen Cassaday (School of Psychology, University of Nottingham)

Best practice for laboratory animal welfare should be based on evidence. What forms should this evidence take? The Openness Concordat, published early in 2014, aims to promote public understanding of animal research based on the increased availability of information. In particular many animal protection organisations would like greater access to images, including CCTV. However, the work of a leading neuroscientist was recently the subject of a broadcast on German national television showing footage filmed by an undercover activist working at his institute. The scientist has said the footage of his experimental work with primates was inaccurate, presenting a rare emergency situation following surgery as typical, and showing stress behaviours deliberately prompted by the undercover caregiver. So it is possible that video footage can be misinterpreted. Difficulties in interpreting video footage can work both ways - a rat might show no visible sign of distress in a nonetheless stressful environment. Which stakeholder is in the best position to contextualise CCTV evidence?

Animal behaviour science provides scientific evidence based on controlled experimental studies. Experimental studies of language learning in primates conducted in the US have been controversial in that they are non-invasive but in the longer term the ‘retired’ subjects (e.g. Nim) do not receive the same level of human attention and affection. However, such studies have been immensely important to our understanding of primate sentience. Evidence for mouse sentience should ultimately improve things for mice as a species, albeit at the expense those used in the proposed experimental studies. Invertebrates not currently protected by the UK legislative framework provided by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 have been the subject of a number of studies offering evidence that they may suffer more than is commonly believed. Should further experimental studies to delineate levels of sentience in non-human animals be permissible?

LASSH workshop and Boyd Group members could be approached.

Participants include:

  • Helen Cassaday (School of Psychology, University of Nottingham)
  • Iryna Kuksa (College of Art & Design and Built Environment, School of Art & Design, Nottingham, Trent University)
  • Dr Jo Setchell (Durham University)
  • Bella Williams (RSPCA)