Last night (27 apr. 2006) there was a debate at the Oxford Union (the world’s premier debating centre), on the motion: "This house should not test on animals." For the motion: Dr Gill Langley (Dr Hadwen Trust), myself, Uri Geller (psychic and TV personality), Alistair Currie (BUAV). Against the motion: Laurie Pycroft (16 yr old who started the ‘Pro-test’ movement in Oxford), Prof Colin Blakemore (British Medical Research Coucil), Prof John Stein (Oxford Physiology Laboratory), Lord Robert Winston (Scientist and TV presenter).
People who have previously spoken here include: Albert Einstein, Presidents Clinton and Ariel Sharon, Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, and numerous others who have gone on to become, or perhaps have been, UK parliamentarians incl prime ministers.
This was the first formal debate of term, and the previous weekend had seen a very loud demonstration of around 800-1000 in Oxford against the proposed biomedical research lab. Laurie Pycroft’s ‘Pro-Test’ movement had also recently been founded. Consequently, the hall (and ceiling galleries) was packed to overflowing. There were probably well over 500 people. Regrettably, it became obvious that most of the audience had made their minds up about the issue prior to the event, and most probably did not change their views. I summarised some large-scale scientific reviews of hundreds of animal experiments, and made the point that whenever such reviews are conducted, they invariably seem to derive the same result: that animal experiments are insufficiently predictive of human outcomes to make a substantial contribution to the development of methods for combating human diseases. The opposition had no such evidence to support their claims – only anecdotal stories about certain patients helped by an individual therapy they claimed had relied on animal experiments for development (they offered no evidence to substantiate these claims). Their best point may have been the development of a method they stated helped thousands of Alzheimers patients, which they claimed had relied on experiments on 20 monkeys. They had no large-scale reviews of hundreds of animal experiments to support their claims, as we have.
We were generally very disappointed with the lack of intellectual rigour, particularly of the audience of hundreds of Oxford students, because they are supposed to be among the smartest in the world. It was disturbing to see them be willing to cling to opinions contrary to stronger evidence (the other side presented weaker evidence in the form of individual case studies), and to sometimes show obvious disrespect (occasional mocking laughter etc) for the lives of lab animals (although at other times they were duly respectful of human suffering). The opposition also relied on stories of threats made against themselves (although many more animal rights activists have been subject to violent attacks than our opposition – which we did not raise) when they should have been discussing the issue.
Alistair Currie from BUAV gave an absolutely outstanding ethical presentation really challenged people to reconsider their morals, and made them aware that what had been presented from the other side was largely anecdote, rather than systematic reviews. Feedback from post-debate discussions w Oxford students indicated that
our team had put our case very well, that the other side had not been so impressive, and that it was the first time they had ever heard the AV case put to them properly. For most of them, their only contact with AV people has been via the regular AV demos against the Oxford animal lab, which are loud and intrusive. Many students feel personally aggrieved by that, incl the apparent threats against Oxford students by some members of the AR community.
Some science and medical students said that while they didn't agree with our stance we had certainly informed them and made them think. One student suggested there should be another, different kind of forum (than a Union debate), perhaps a panel discussion, to get a better quality conversation going.
The event was black tie (tuxedoes and evening dresses) and held inside ancient Oxford buildings, with a very high level of pomp and ceremony. I found it an amazing experience, and certainly enjoyed some aspects of it!
Animal Consultants International