The Emotional and Personal Toll Animal Research Takes on Scientists

A fascinating but harrowing transcript of podcast interviews of scientists involved in medical research involving animals (i.e. vivisection). In it the hosts and guests describe the intimidation tactics researchers face at the hands of animal rights terrorists.

Animal Research Scientists Have Avoided the Public Eye – at a Cost

07/25/2020 – The Wire

Featured image: Researchers check on a lab rat. Photo: Penn State/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In this transcript of an episode of The Undark Podcast, science journalist Bradley van Paridon and podcast host Lydia Chain as they investigate the tension that shrouds the culture of silence in animal research, and the emotional toll it may be taking on the scientists who fear stigmatisation from the public.

You can also subscribe to The Undark Podcast at Apple PodcastsTuneIn, or Spotify.


Katharine Shapcott: It is difficult, you know. Nobody enjoys hurting animals, like you try to avoid it as much as possible. But I really think it’s important what we’re doing.

Bradley van Paridon: That’s Katharine Shapcott, a neuroscientist who works with primates. She believes her work provides us with information about our brains and bodies that would be impossible to get any other way. But for her and many other scientists who work with animals, there’s an emotional toll…both from the work itself and from the reactions of people around them.

Katharine Shapcott: And people struggle to do this and then being told that you’re horrible at the same time doesn’t really help anything.

Lydia Chain: This is the Undark Podcast. I’m Lydia Chain. Decades of tension between animal researchers and animal rights activists left many early career scientists reluctant to speak about what their jobs are like. Communicating about their work with the public can open them up to social stigma and even campaigns that threaten careers. But working with animals, including performing surgeries and euthanasia, can be an emotionally tough job and some researchers and advocates say the culture of silence in the field makes that job even harder, isolating scientists and strengthening public misconceptions. Bradley van Paridon has the story.

Kirk Leech: So, for a long period of time, animal rights extremists using violence — and some nasty violence — had the research sector pretty much cowed.

Bradley van Paridon: That’s Kirk Leech. He’s the executive director of the European Animal Research Association, or EARA, which seeks to increase public understanding of animal research. According to Leech, aggressive tactics and violence by animal rights activists scared the research sector into silence for a long period of time, coming to a head in the early 2000s.

Kirk Leech: The straw that broke the camel’s back was when a number of activists dug up the dead body of a woman whose family ran a guinea pig farm, breeding guinea pigs for research, and they ransomed the body and said that unless you stop breeding guinea pigs for research, you won’t get your grandmother back. And it was successful. The company closed.

Bradley van Paridon: Incidents like this led the U.K. government to impose stricter laws around this kind of activism. It became a criminal offence to cause economic damage via campaigns of intimidation and to threaten an individual with an unlawful act because they were connected with animal research.