Anti-vivisection organizations claim victory while running on old momentum
WASHINGTON D.C.–– Fewer Americans than ever before––just 51%, barely more than half––believe biomedical research on animals is ethically acceptable, according to 2017 Gallup polling data.
Paradoxically, total use of animals in experiments appears to have soared to an all-time high, according to research funded by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, increasing by nearly 73% since 2001 even as moral approval of animal use dropped by 21%.
Rapid gains in public opinion, but not results
Nearly two-thirds of the U.S. public approved of animal use in biomedical research as recently as 2001, and more than three people out of four approved of animal use in biomedical research as of 1989, according to Gallup polls.
Perhaps even more indicative of shifting views on animal use in biomedical research is that the 2017 Gallup survey found that 44% of U.S. adults now believe such use is “morally wrong,” up from 26% in 2001.
Gallup reported that “The change is driven by younger Americans, who are more likely than their older peers to disapprove of [animal use in] medical testing.”
Parallel to falling approval of animal use in biomedical research, Gallup found that acceptance of the use of human embryonic stem cells in medical has increased from 52% in 2002 to 61% in 2017.Use of human embryonic stem cells is among many advanced technologies now widely employed in place of traditional animal experimentation––mostly, however, because research using actual human tissues tends to produce more accurate results than animal experiments.
Little change in views on cloning
“Changes in opinions about the moral acceptability of behaviors like doctor-assisted suicide and animal and human cloning were not statistically significant,” Gallup said. “Support for animal cloning hovers just above 30%, while human cloning was favored by only 14%,” both close to the findings in every year since 2001.
“The poll had a sampling error rate of four percentage points at the 95% confidence level,” said Gallup.
AV societies do little to reach the unpersuaded
U.S. antivivisection societies have been quick to claim credit for shifting public opinion as shown by Gallup.
Yet an ANIMALS 24-7 analysis of the fundraising and spending patterns contributing to the Gallup findings suggests most U.S. antivivisection societies are accomplishing little or nothing to persuade the unpersuaded, despite raising and spending far more money than ever before.
By far the four largest U.S. anti-vivisection societies, in terms of income and assets, are the American Anti-Vivisection Society, National Anti-Vivisection Society, New England Anti-Vivisection Society, and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, founded in 1883, 1929, 1895, and 1985, respectively. Three of the four enjoyed record public support in 2015, the most recent year for which IRS Form 990 filings are available.
SAEN runs on a fraction of the $$
A fifth major anti-vivisection society in terms of public recognition and media prominence is Stop Animal Exploitation Now, founded in 1996, but as recently as 2012 still raising and spending less per year as an organization than the top executive salaries paid by three of the other four.
AAVS president Sue O’Leary received total compensation of $74,466 in 2015; 30-year NAVS president Peggy Cunniff received $205,568 (and her husband, attorney Kenneth Cunniff, was paid $159,342); NEAVS president Theo Capaldo received total compensation of $126,518; and PCRM assistant secretary Betty Wason received total compensation of $98,649.
But SAEN leads in winning media notice
SAEN public support more than doubled from $84,185 in 2012 to $179,029 in 2015, as did SAEN media exposure. But even in 2011-2012, SAEN won more media exposure for animal use in biomedical research (53 mass media articles indexed by NewsLibrary.com) than AAVS, NAVS, and NEAVS combined (43 articles.)
IRS Form 990 filings indicate that the antivivisection society giants––AAVS, NAVS, NEAVS, and PCRM––allocate relatively large sums to direct mailings and other activities tending to reinforce the views of people who are already established animal advocates and anti-vivisectionists.
Relatively little of AAVS, NAVS, NEAVS, and PCRM spending, however, appears to result in reaching the uncommitted public, as measured by media impact.
Of 465 total mass media articles spotlighting anti-vivisection activity published 2011-2015 and indexed by NewsLibrary.com, ANIMALS 24-7 learned, SAEN alone accounted for 43%. PCRM accounted for 38%, NAVS for 8%, NEAVS for 6%, and AAVS for just 3%.
50 times more cost-effective than the runner-up
Relative to expenditure, SAEN achieved mass media exposure once per $3,032 spent; NEAVS once per $152,259 spent; NAVS once per $243,000 spent; PCRM once per $252,789 spent; and AAVS once per $426,274 spent.
Translation: SAEN was 50 times more effective in reaching the uncommitted public than NEAVS, the next nearest rival, and 140 times more effective than AAVS, which had the worst efficiency ratio.
Preaching to the choir
Another way to read the data: if reaching unpersuaded Americans costs only a little more than $3,000 per exposure through mass media, the four largest U.S. antivivisection societies have wasted more than $66 million just in the past five years by emphasizing preaching to the choir.
Allow that preaching to the choir has value in helping to hold the congregation and then, maybe, some of the big antivivisection society spending has helped to keep about a third of public persuaded––but that amount should logically not be more per exposure than is necessary to make new converts to the cause.
70+ years of gains in public opinion
Moral objections to animal research appear to have increased and gained momentum relatively steadily since the first scientific public opinion survey of animal use in experimentation showed 85% approval of animal research in 1949. Funded by the pro-animal research Rockefeller Foundation, the 1949 study was done by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
Before the 1948 U.S. presidential election, several generations of conservative political candidates, influenced by the antivivisectionist media baron William Randolph Hearst, had avidly courted the “antivivisectionist,” “temperance,” and “creationist” votes as perceived facets of the same larger cause.
Antivivisectionism, opposition to consuming alcoholic beverages (temperance), and opposition to teaching evolution in public schools (creationism) were widely perceived as related planks of political platforms with appeal to evangelical Christian voters.
Opposition to animal use in experimentation had to that point mostly been linked to the notion that humans, created by God according to the Biblical Book of Genesis, are so inherently different from animals that animal experiments could not derive insights useful in treating human diseases and injuries.
This idea continues to underlie “scientific antivivisectionism,” as espoused by anti-vivisectionist author Hans Reusch (1913-2007) and other politically conservative opponents of animal experimentation to this day.
“People of high moral principle”
Going into the 1948 U.S. presidential campaign, the first in 20 years in which the deceased four-time president Franklin D. Roosevelt would not be a candidate, and the first after World War II, the American Naturopathic Association formed the American Vegetarian Party. American Vegetarian Party presidential nominee John Maxwell, M.D. hoped to forge an alliance with prohibitionists, anti-vivisectionists, anti-smokers, and “other people of high moral principle,” he told media, which he predicted might win as many as five million votes.
But Maxwell, 84, was actually ineligible to run for U.S. President because he was born in England. And, though the Vegetarian Party nominated candidates in presidential elections through 1964, it never actually qualified a candidate for any state ballot.
Rockefeller Foundation pushed “pound seizure”
The 1948 failure of the Vegetarian Party emboldened the Rockefeller Foundation to push legislation mandating that impounded dogs and cats be made available for laboratory use, a practice called “pound seizure,” and to commission the 1949 National Opinion Research survey to demonstrate how weak antivivisectionism might actually be.
Resurgent political support for creationism and other aspects of Biblical literalism in recent decades came after opposition to vivisection and support for prohibition of alcohol and tobacco were uncoupled from the evangelical Christian platform.
Meanwhile, advances in animal research contributed to a rising tide of recognition that animals, as well as physiologically resembling humans, are much like humans in their capacity to suffer from fear, pain, and deprivation, and might therefore be entitled to at least some basic “human” rights.
Unlike the most of the anti-vivisection movement as it had existed for several centuries, the anti-vivisection theme emerging in the animal rights movement during the 1970s and 1980s embraced evolution and came to be associated more with “left” than “right” political philosophies.
Opinion research resumed in 1983
Public opinion research tracking the changes since 1949 does not appear to have been done until 1983, but then 14 major national surveys asked similar questions in the 13 years between 1983 and 1996.
Studies commissioned by entities favoring biomedical research use of animals found moral approval of animal use declining from 81% to as little as 68% by 1996.
Studies commissioned by anti-vivisection societies and/or news media found both less moral approval of animal use in the mid-1980s and less evidence of changing attitudes by the mid-1990s.
Glamour & Parents
A noteworthy outlier was a 1990 survey of readers of Glamour magazine, most of whom were young women without children, which found only 37% approval of animal use in medical research––still by far the lowest rate of moral approval found by any survey yet.
But a 1989 survey of readers of Parents magazine found just 58% approval of animal use in medical research, the same percentage found two years earlier by a Harris poll of the general public sponsored by the Foundation for Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments. Of approximately the same age skew as the Glamor readers, the Parents respondents appeared to have similar reservations about the value of animal experimentation, if to lesser degree.
Six of the public opinion surveys done between 1983 and 1995 specifically separated animal use in testing cosmetic products from other categories of animal use in biomedical research and product safety testing. Each found substantially less support for animal use in testing cosmetic products. Five found from a third to half as much:
Responding to those findings, major cosmetics and personal care product manufacturers markedly reduced animal testing, as did schools and other educational institutions, which found dissection requirements increasingly challenged by students who chose not to do them, chiefly for moral and ethical reasons.
Animal use in labs is up
Twenty-odd years later, PETA-funded researchers Justin Goodman, Alka Chandna, and Katherine Roe reported in the February 25, 2015 online edition of the Journal of Medical Ethics, “Far fewer animals are used in certain areas, such as teaching and product safety testing. These categories of animal use formerly used by far the greatest numbers of animals per experiment,” Goodman, Chandna, and Roe noted.
Because of the reduction in animal use in teaching and product safety testing, which formerly tended to use large numbers of animals in single experiments and teaching exercises, the average number of animals used per experiment appears to have dropped to the lowest point since the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act of 1966 introduced record-keeping requirements.
72.7% increase since 2001
At the same time, the total number of animal experiments appears to be steeply up, according to the Goodman, Chandna, and Roe findings, resulting in a net increase in overall animal usage.
Based on an analysis of “use of all vertebrate animals by the top institutional recipients of National Institutes of Health research funds over a 15-year period,” Goodman, Chandna, and Roe reported “a statistically significant 72.7% increase in the use of animals at these U.S. facilities” since 2001, “driven primarily by increases in the use of mice,” they wrote.
Emphasis shifts away from lab animals
Meanwhile, the emphasis of organized animal advocacy has shifted away from laboratory use of animals to an unprecedented extent. As of 1992, the biggest U.S. animal advocacy organizations addressing the spectrum of animal issues––the Humane Society of the U.S., the American SPCA, and PETA––claimed only six to ten times the public support and assets of AAVS, NAVS, NEAVS, and PCRM.
None of the biggest U.S. animal advocacy organizations appear to raise or spend even as much in connection with laboratory use of animals day as they did in 1992. But HSUS and the ASPCA now attract nearly 20 times more public support than even PCRM, by far the largest anti-vivisection society.
Farmed animal advocacy
Organizations advocating specifically for farmed animals and/or for vegan and vegetarian diets meanwhile have come from the economic margins of animal advocacy to collectively eclipse the anti-vivisection sector.
The largest organization specifically advocating for farmed animals, Farm Sanctuary, now attracts more than 40% more public support than PCRM––which itself may now attract more support and spend more money promoting vegan and vegetarian diets than in connection with laboratory animals, the original focus of the organization.
Plous’ surveys predicted change
All of this is in keeping with projections based on Wesleyan University psychologist Scott Plous’ 1998 article “Signs of Change Within the Animal Rights Movement,” published in volume 112, #1 of the Journal of Comparative Psychology––perhaps the most prophetic public opinion survey ever done with regard to the direction of animal advocacy.
Plous in June 1990 surveyed 402 participants in the first March for the Animals in Washington D.C., and followed up in June 1996 by surveying 372 participants in the second such march. These subjects were each at least 18 years of age, identified themselves as animal rights activists, and “reported traveling from another state expressly to join the march,” Plous wrote.
AR movement “stalled for a decade”
The respondents’ profiles each year were so similar, except in average duration of animal rights involvement, which increased by three years, that Plous concluded the animal rights movement had essentially stalled in terms of recruitment for a decade. This tendency was affirmed by the findings of professional fundraisers employed by animal advocacy organizations, who observed that the cause did not resume growing and attracting donors until the parallel but separate emergence of the “no kill” movement in animal sheltering and the vegan movement as forces in their own right.
Between 1990 and 1996, however, Plous found that “a significant shift took place in the priorities” of animal rights activists, presaging what has followed since then.
From labs to barns
“Whereas a majority of activists in 1990 saw animal research as the most important issue,” Plous reported, “activists in 1996 tended to identify animal agriculture.”
In 1990, 54% put research first; 24% cited agriculture. In 1996, 48%––twice as many––put agriculture first. 38% named research.
Total animal use in connection with biomedical research, both in the mid-1990s and now, accounts for just three tenths of 1% of intentional animal killing for human purposes: a bit less then and much less now than either companion animal killing in animal shelters or killing by the fur trade.
Yet through 1990, according to researchers C.S. Nicholl and S.M. Russell, animal rights organizations had published 659 pages of literature addressing laboratory issues for every page on animal agriculture.
Opposition to vivisection became more nuanced
Plous found that activist opposition to animal testing if anything increased between 1990 and 1996. In 1990, 85% of his survey subjects favored full elimination of animal testing; 90% did by 1996.
Yet the view that animal researchers don’t care about animals softened to about the same degree, from 81% holding that attitude in 1990 to 76% retaining it in 1996. And 61% of animal advocates in 1990 favored covert break-ins to rescue animals and collect evidence against biomedical researches, but only 55% did in 1996.
There appears to be no recent research following up on Plous’ findings. But the implications of the Gallup poll results since 2001 indicate that opposition to biomedical research use of animals today is a sub-cause running on old momentum, sucked forward––to whatever extent that it is progressing at all––in the wakes of more energetic and vital branches of animal advocacy.