PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Ethics in Communicating Scientific Animal Experimentation
Is Silence Strategic and Transparency Naive?

Katharina Emde  

Ethics in Communicating Scientific Animal Experimentation: Is Silence Strategic and Transparency Naive? The continuing necessity of animal experimentation for medical-scientific innovation is increasingly often confronted with criticism and even open resistance by citizens and politicians (e.g. Crettaz von Roten, 2013). NGOs dedicated to animal protection lead the protest and force science agents into public controversy. We discuss the ethical problems in communicating animal experimentation between strategic (crisis) PR and the transparency requirements of academic rules of conduct as well as political and journalist demands. Ethical standards both of scientific research and of best practice in public relations require institutions active in animal experimentation to communicate openly about their activities and explain to the public which kinds of animal studies are conducted and how they are justified (e.g. Dancet et al., 2013). However, this transparency approach implies a dilemma for science communicators, as such transparency may attract the attention of animal protection activists and hence (seemingly) provoke a communication crisis that could be prevented by a silence (non-transparency) strategy. As such a crisis may result not only in a loss of reputation but also in triggering militant action against scientific facilities and personnel, silence stays an appealing ‚survival' strategy for many scientists (Holmberg & Ideland, 2010). We strictly argue against this strategic override of ethical considerations. While it would be naive not to take advantage of best practice recommendations from strategic PR for crisis cases, academic institutions can only preserve their credibility and integrity by offering profound transparency and explaining their animal experimentation to journalists and other target audiences proactively. Finally, we discuss the idea of networking with similar institutions to bridge the gap between strategic risks of to bridge the gap between strategic risks of and ethical necessities for transparency.

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