Attitudes toward animals, and how species and purpose affect animal research justifiability, among undergraduate students and faculty.

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Attitudes toward animals, and how species and purpose affect animal research justifiability, among undergraduate students and faculty.

PLoS One. 2020;15(5):e0233204

Authors: Sandgren EP, Streiffer R, Dykema J, Assad N, Moberg J

Abstract
As members of a university community that sponsors animal research, we developed a survey to improve our knowledge about factors underlying the perceived justifiability of animal research among faculty and undergraduate students. To accomplish this objective, we gathered quantitative data about their general views on animal use by humans, their specific views about the use of different species to address different categories of scientific questions, and their confidence in the translatability of animal research to humans. Students and faculty did not differ in their reported levels of concern for the human use of animals, but women reported significantly higher levels of concern than men. Among students, experience with animal research was positively correlated with less concern with animal use, and having practiced vegetarianism or veganism was associated with more concern. Gender, experience with animal research, and dietary preferences were similarly correlated with the extent of justifiability of animal use across all research purposes and species. Faculty responses resembled those for students, with the exception that justifiability varied significantly based on academic discipline: biological sciences faculty were least concerned about human use of animals and most supportive of animal research regardless of purpose or species. For both students and faculty, justifiability varied depending on research purpose or animal species. Research purposes, ranked in order of justifiability from high to low, was animal disease, human disease, basic research, human medicine, animal production, chemical testing, and cosmetics. Justifiability by purpose was slightly lower for students than for faculty. Species justifiability for students, from high to low, was small fish, rats or mice, pigs or sheep, monkeys, and dogs or cats. Faculty order was the same except that monkeys and dogs or cats were reversed in order. Finally, confidence in the translatability of animal research to our understanding of human biology and medicine was not different between students and faculty or between genders, but among faculty it was highest in biological sciences followed by physical sciences, social sciences, and then arts and humanities. Those with experience in animal research displayed the most confidence, and vegetarians/vegans displayed the least. These findings demonstrate that, although the range of views in any subcategory is large, views about animal research justifiability can vary significantly among respondent subpopulations in predictable ways. In particular, research purpose and choice of animal species are important variables for many people. This supports the claim that ensuring purpose and species are robustly integrated into research proposal reviews and approvals should be considered to be a best practice. We suggest that strengthening this integration beyond what is described in current regulations would better meet the justifiability criteria expressed by members of our campus community.

PMID: 32470025 [PubMed - in process]

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