Imagine a debate on animal experiments, and no one gets upset

Pro-Test Deutschland was founded on the idea of disseminating factual information about animal research. The non-profit organization stands behind information that has been formally vetted for reliability and accuracy. Pro-Test Deutschland seeks to offer a public platform for discussing animal research.

Pro-Test Deutschland supports the idea that there is a current need for animals in basic and applied scientific research. Thus, it is a pillar of the organization’s values to offer forums for public discussion. It is crucial that members of society can openly discuss how this research is condcted in compliance with ethical and scientific standards. To fulfill this notion, a formal discussion on animal research was organized in the Tübingen town on November 7, 2016.

Three experts were invited to speak at the event, each representing a different perspective and background. There was Dr. med. vet. Barbara Grune from the Department of Experimental Toxicology and the Center for Documentation and Evaluation of Alternatives to Animal Experiments and the National Institute for Risk Assessment; Dr. Gardar Arnason from the Institute for the Ethics and History of Medicine at Tübingen University, and Dr. Lars Dittrich, a neuroscientist and representative of Pro-Test Deutschland’s chapter in Bonn.


Paul Töbelmann (Pro-Test Germany member) introducing the expert panel (from left: Töbelmann, Arnason, Grune and Dittrich)

The event, organized in cooperation with Tübingen University, was held at the Weltethos Institute for Global Ethics. Dr. Christopher Gohl, of the Weltethos Institute, assisted with the event by moderating core segments of the discussion and facilitating the interaction between the panel and audience. There was roughly an hour of debate between the speakers, each one drawing from their own area of expertise. Dr. Dittrich spoke of his experience working with rodents as his model for sleep research; Dr. Grune spoke of the need to invest more efforts into the development of alternative methods, and Dr. Arnason spoke of the ethical and moral grounds for animal use.


Moderator Christopher Gohl leading discussions of the panel members (from left: Gohl, Arnason, Grune, and Dittrich).

Each speaker delivered insight into how animal research has aided in the development of alternative methods, while helping to further understand the animals as well as human beings. “The public debate about animal research is very polarised, sensationalist, and often misinformed. Events such as this one are very important, to
inform the debate and to give people from both sides a chance to listen to each other,” commented Dr. Arnason

After the speakers’ addresses, the floor opened up to the audience for questions. An audience of nearly 70 people spent a good half-hour asking questions, to which they received factual answers. “The contributions and questions by the audience really demonstrated the enormous demand for such information. Why can’t we replace animal research with bodies donated by deceased people? When we say research is preferred to be performed with simpler animals if possible, what is the basis for a distinction between simpler and more complex animals? People where genuinely interested. There were many excellent questions and we discussed them in an open and civilized manner,” noted Dr. Dittrich.


An audience of almost seventy people listening to the panel discussion.

“I thought the event was a great success. I learnt a lot about animal research and the problem of developing alternatives. I also enjoyed talking to a group of students at the end of the event about animal rights and the ethics of using animals for human purposes,” Dr. Arnason said after the event.

“There is an increasing danger that people get isolated in groups of those who share their views. The algorithms of social media platforms result in echo chambers, where the users are rarely exposed to information that contradict their views. We therefore need opportunities to come together to discuss ethical disagreements about animal research with respect for each other and with an open mind for facts and arguments that may challenge our beliefs,” said Arnason. Nevertheless, the deliberations at the event showed that there was a particular consensus amongst the speakers, and that a topic as controversial as animal research could be discussed openly in a public setting.

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