Yale has recently found itself the target of protests from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and affiliated animal rights activists. In particular, they have focused on the work of postdoctoral researcher Christine Lattin. Lattin has done an admirable job of standing up for herself and her research in the face of intimidation and threats. The protests, and Lattin’s work, have attracted national attention, including unaffiliated individuals protesting in New Haven and participating in online harassment of Lattin. The national narrative has focused on the granularities of Lattin’s work, but now is an opportune time to address important points about animal research here at Yale and in general.
This column will not be just a specific defense of Lattin, who has clearly articulated the details of her work and responded to numerous complaints. Points highlighted by protestors have included claims that the birds used in Lattin’s research are not protected by federal law (they are), that Lattin’s research is not applicable to other species (it is) and that computer models are sufficient to replace animals in her research (they’re not). These claims echo common refrains used in critiques of all animal research and have all been thoroughly debunked. But I want to focus on important facts left out from these discussions about animal research in general.
Federal and state law, as well as Yale policy, place strict controls on animal research. Yale conducts more laboratory inspections than required by federal law and requires tight record keeping, such as constant monitoring of expiration dates on all chemicals used in procedures.
As another example of oversight, according to the most recent data, the average animal protocol takes 52 days to be approved. It is important to note that this is not a blanket application covering all animal research in a lab — this is approval for a single technique or experiment. This means each new experiment takes an average of 52 days to be approved before it can begin.
Yale even maintains tight control over external collaborations and sources of reagents. For example, researchers at Yale who contract with external companies to produce an antibody must use an approved list of contract research labs, and any new contract lab must be subject to further oversight, such as a site visit. These are just a few examples of how Yale maintains high standards of institutional oversight of animal research.
Additionally, federal regulations recognize the importance of maintaining independent oversight and involving nonscientists in the discussion of research ethics, which is why all Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees, or IACUC, including Yale’s, are mandated to include “one member whose primary concerns are in a nonscientific area and one member who is not affiliated with the institution other than as a member of the IACUC.” Details like this are missing from the critiques of Lattin’s research and animal research in general.
The importance of careful and reasoned discussion about animal research ethics, rather than patently false claims and inflammatory language and harassment, is made clear by the history of animal rights extremism. University of California, Los Angeles, in particular, has a history of violent acts against animal researchers, including attacks at homes and threats against children and families of professors. A few years ago, an organization called Negotiation Is Over posted fliers around multiple university campuses offering money for the home address and photos of students training in lab with animal research, referring to them as “vivisectors.” Negotiation is Over stated on its website that aspiring scientists needed to see their future as full of “car bombs, 24/7 security camera, embarrassing home demonstrations, threats, injuries and fear.” This is the context in which PETA posted Lattin’s home address online. This is the context for violent online threats against Lattin, herself a training scientist.
Animal research is an integral component of the modern scientific arsenal and essential for continued scientific progress in areas of health and human disease. It is also absolutely critical to perform research responsibly and ethically. This is especially true for research involving live subjects, animals or humans — which is itself an entirely separate but also hugely important ongoing ethical discussion in science. However, the recent focus on Lattin is unjustified and rooted in false and inflammatory claims, and it represents genuine threats against a responsible, ethical individual. I am glad that Yale has maintained its support of Lattin and believe it is important that we continue to stand up for responsible scientists and to denounce uninformed demagoguery.
Connor Rosen is a graduate student in the Department of Immunobiology. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .