Animal Laboratories Erode Trust in Science by Refusing to Abide by Open Records Laws

It’s no secret that a majority of Americans oppose animal experimentation. The Pew Research Center found that half of Americans opposed it in 2014, and the number grew to 52% four years later. That tide is unlikely to reverse.

animal laboratories

It’s no great leap, then, to say that those who conduct experiments on animals—chiefly in laboratories of government agencies and public universities—know in their bones that their work is unpopular. This may explain why so many institutions that conduct animal experiments are unwilling to open the laboratory doors for public inspection.

But that’s no excuse.

Since information about what goes on inside publicly funded animal laboratories is often not forthcoming from the institutions themselves, watchdog organizations such as PETA must turn to cumbersome federal Freedom of Information Act requests or state sunshine laws when they attempt to pry laboratory records from reluctant hands.

PETA has had to fight a massive federal agency to see photos, videos and other records documenting maternal deprivation experiments on monkeys in government laboratories. A major Midwestern research university’s refusal to turn over public records forced PETA to file suit to obtain photos of invasive and deadly hearing experiments on cats, and it took a successful lawsuit against a university in the Northeast for PETA to obtain videos showing monkeys in extreme psychological distress—pacing, circling, swinging and rocking to alleviate their mental anguish.

PETA also took a Southern university to court when it failed to give up records of cruel and deadly experiments on songbirds abducted from their homes in nature, who were then subjected to stressful conditions and killed.

And PETA sued to get a university in the Pacific Northwest to cough up videos of experiments on socially monogamous prairie voles, who were given access to copious amounts of alcohol and used in bizarre tests that purportedly examined a connection between alcohol consumption and infidelity in humans.

All those institutions would shut down tomorrow if the flow of your tax dollars dried up. Yet not one of them would willingly say how it spends that money. PETA had to pull that information out of them like a bad tooth.

All of these fights were protracted, expensive and likely beyond the reach of any one person who might have requested the same records. It took the full force of the largest animal rights organization on the planet to muscle these very public records away from institutions funded by the same American people who are denied access to them.

That’s suppression of information, any way you stack it.

Forget for a minute, if that’s even possible, that we’re talking about grisly photos, videos and other records of horrendous, deadly and pointless experiments on beings who feel pain and value their lives just as much as your dog or cat does, and then let’s talk about accountability.

Every agency funded by the public is, by definition, beholden to that public. Any member of that public should, as a right, have free and easy access on demand to the receipts for what they purchased with their tax dollars. It should not take the concerted effort of PETA U.S.—PETA entities have more than 9 million members and supporters globally—and the authority of the U.S. justice system to force these records out of gatekeepers’ hands.

Institutional secrecy such as that repeatedly demonstrated by these and other animal experimentation laboratories foments mistrust in those institutions and, by extension, in science itself. Transparency is the only antidote.

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