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M any readers of The Guardian , a British newspaper, will have been surprised at a recent online arti- cle in which Sophie Petit-Zeman, a neuroscientist and journalist, explained how she could at the same time be a vivisection- ist and a vegetarian 1 . But they will not all have been surprised in the same way. Some will have been surprised at the existence of such a com- plex position in an area where much of the dis- cussion is depressingly black and white. Others will have been surprised not by the position itself, but by its being discussed in public. As a poll of Nature readers working in the biomedical sciences reveals, many scientists who work on animals have complex takes on the issue. But they are not often willing, or encouraged, to express these feelings. Some of this is directly due to fear of animal-rights extremists; some is an indirect effect of the polarized atmosphere that surrounds the issue. In some labs, at least, scientists feel pressured to keep quiet about the grey areas of debate, lest they undermine the official mantra And how do they square the ethics of it all? As well as polling our biomedical readers (for full results see http://www.nature.com/news/ specials/animalresearch), Nature set out to get some voices from the front lines — and found a lot of ducked heads. It would be fair to say that the average researcher prefers not to talk to the press about his or her work. And yet, there are those who are not only willing to talk, but have plenty to say. It quickly becomes clear that each researcher has his or her own system of ethical equations in place, but that the simpli- fied pro–con debate makes it very difficult to communicate this — or have any kind of calm conversation about animal research. So let’s meet the researchers. Tom Burbacher runs an infant primate lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, which models the cog- nitive effects of prenatal exposures to environ- mental contaminants in macaques. He talks publicly about his work, but does not defend the entire enterprise of animal research, believ- ing it is a waste of time to defend such a large, abstract concept. He adds that he feels that his work, which is clearly linked to human health, is easier to explain than some blue-sky research, such as mapping the brain or describing how vision works. “There is a lot of basic research going on that is harder to talk about,” he says. Burbacher got involved in toxicology as an undergraduate, and has been working with animals ever since. “I had a study that followed animals from the time they were born until they were more than 20 years old. I got old with them,” he says. Then, they were killed. “It was tough,” he says. Burbacher is not shy about the emotional toll that working with animals can sometimes take. He says the toll is two-fold: “It does wear on you sometimes. I have on differ- ent occasions thought about getting out. The death of an animal is an acute stress, but the activists are a chronic stress.” Fine lines
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This note was uploaded on 04/15/2008 for the course CHEM 112 taught by Professor Hardy during the Spring '08 term at Adrian College.

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