The use of animals in research is controversial and often takes place behind closed doors. Lab animal technicians responsible for the care of animals at research institutions are sometimes described as performing ‘dirty work’ (i.e. professions that are viewed as morally tainted).
New research at the University of British Columbia (UBC) has focused on how transparency can influence public perception of lab animal technicians and support for research. Researchers surveyed participants through an online survey platform, presenting hypothetical scenarios that described animal research units with different approaches to transparency. In one scenario, the laboratory was signposted from the road, was open to visits from the public, animals and protocols could be viewed by visitors, and visits were encouraged via open houses and other initiatives. In another scenario, the laboratory was hidden from public view, the public could not visit, or see animals, or view the research protocols. After reading these scenarios participants were asked questions designed to assess the perceived warmth and competence of “Cathy”, the hypothetical lab technician working in the facility, and if they were supportive of the research. Participants judged Cathy to be more warm, and were more supportive of the research she did, when participants were assigned to the more transparent scenario.
The findings were published on February 21st in the Public Library of Science journal PloS ONE and is available online at: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0193262
This study is the first to assess how people perceive technicians who work with laboratory animals. The results show that low levels of transparency, similar to that found in many university laboratories, can have unintended consequences for employees and institutions responsible for animal care. Ironically, institutions shield their animal research from public view because they believe this reduces the risk of public opposition.
Although it is typically argued that people who work with laboratory animals are viewed negatively, the results of this study show that views are mixed. Some respondents had very negative perceptions, but others expressed more positive or ambivalent perspectives. This variation suggests that public views are not fixed, and that changes in institutional transparency could result in improved perceptions. The results suggest that universities using animals in research, and the people responsible for animal care, may benefit from adopting policies and practices that allow greater openness to the public.
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