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EARA workshop: Communication on animal research

At a workshop organized by EARA, researchers, animal welfare officers, and communicators gained insights into how they can communicate more openly and proactively about animal research. The event, with over 80 participants, was held in collaboration with the Max Delbrück Center.

The event "Improving openness in animal research in Germany" of the European Animal Research Association (EARA) and the Berlin partner institutions took place on January 29th at Charite – Universitätsmedizin in Berlin.

EARA’s executive director, Kirk Leech, began by speaking about the organization's efforts to promote transparency in animal research across Europe and beyond. He emphasized that “we should strive for innovation, but science-driven innovation, not politically-driven innovation”.

Michael Gotthardt was part of the panel discussion with the audience.

Dr Andreas Lengeling, animal welfare officer at the Max Planck Society, addressed the issue of the “imbalance in publicly available information about animal research” and called for a more nuanced and accurate portrayal in public discourse.

This was followed up by science journalist Sascha Karberg of the Berlin-based newspaper “Der Tagesspiegel”. He discussed selecting stories for publication, especially those involving animal research, and how they resonate with human emotions and perceptions. He urged scientists to argue less rationally and more emotionally when speaking to the public.

Professor Michael Gotthardt of the Max Delbrück Center emphasized the indispensable role of both animal use and alternative methods in his studies and provided valuable insights into his research on heart failure.

Different voices at the panel discussion

The panel discussion, moderated by Nuno Miguel Gonçalves of EARA, featured all the speakers as well as Professor Christa Thöne-Reineke, head of the Institute for Animal Welfare, Animal Behavior and Laboratory Animal Science at Freie Universität Berlin. The discussion focused on the veterinary perspective on animal research to improve animal health, and the implementation of openness strategies for institutions to rebuild public trust following negative campaigns.

The audience asked about the importance of non-politicized dialogues across differing views, with the panel view that a less informal setting was the best way to humanize both sides. Potential risks of restricting certain types of research were also raised. Namely, concerns from a researcher were raised about perpetuating historical scientific biases, particularly regarding health issues affecting women, minorities, and smaller population groups, to which the audience and the panel all agreed.

Ways to enhance communication between journalists and researchers were also tackled, namely the availability of researchers for media calls at a time that is compatible with the immediacy of daily news.

This event, along with others organized by EARA in various countries, aimed to be a catalyst for a cultural transformation and inspire research institutions to constructively tackle and communicate the complexities of animal research, to foster a more informed and transparent scientific discourse.

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