Responding to the animal research critics

Recently, the University of Wisconsin–Madison has been on the receiving end of a harsh campaign that criticizes our research using animal models. The critics are using a graphic picture, taken out of context, blown up to billboard size, and displayed on Madison’s public buses to try to turn public opinion against the valuable medical research conducted by faculty and staff at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The campaign distorts the facts about our animal research, is inaccurate in its descriptions of how we treat the animals, and does not recognize the value of this work to human and animal health. The university has articulated a strong response to this campaign and will continue to do so.

The research referenced in the bus ads provides basic information essential to understanding how the brain integrates auditory information, and helps develop technologies that benefit people who are hard of hearing. Basic research like this has helped to develop hearing aid algorithms that improve speech understanding for hard of hearing children in classrooms, has led to the creation of widely-used voice recognition systems, and has been instrumental in understanding how to treat people who suffer from vertigo or balance issues, among other benefits.

The research is conducted responsibly and humanely. The animal subjects are cared for and in good health. This has been confirmed by three separate, thorough federal inspections over the last 18 to 24 months. None of the animals show signs of pain or distress from the procedure, which is similar to one routinely done in human patients.

We have a dedicated animal care and veterinary staff who work extremely hard. Researchers have told me that if there were alternatives to the use of animal models for this or any other research that calls for the use of animals, we would adopt them.  In fact, the federal government will not provide funding to any animal research where there are viable alternatives.  But the fact is that effective alternatives for this and many other areas of biomedical or behavioral science do not yet exist.  So when animal models are needed, we strive to use as few as possible and to continually refine experimental methods to further animal well-being.

The use of animal subjects in research is a difficult issue for many people, and the current campaign is hard not to notice. However, our researchers are aware of their responsibility to the animals and understand that such research must have high scientific value to humans and other animals.  Critics who distort the facts and fail to recognize the benefits of such research are not engaging in a serious dialogue on this issue.  We will continue to stand by our researchers, and the animal care staff and veterinarians.  The work they do is important.