UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding the social licence to use animals for scientific purposes and the role of institutional transparency Brunt, Michael Warren


Meaningful societal dialogue about the use of animals for scientific purposes requires a level of transparency regarding the procedures these animals are likely to experience and the processes institutions engaged in using animals employ to determine what is acceptable. The overall thesis objective was to better understand social licence to use animals for scientific purposes and the role of institutional transparency in this process. Analysis of interviews with research animal facility managers and attending veterinarians at Canadian universities showed the interpretation of institutional transparency varied within and between universities, institutional transparency could be influenced by internal and external pressures, and the main barrier to increased transparency was a lack of motivation to change. Transparency was conceptualized in four ways: 1) true transparency; communication of information for the sake of openness, 2) misguided transparency; attempt to educate people about animal research because then they will support it, 3) manipulative transparency; selective release of positive stories to direct public opinion, and 4) fearful non-transparency; not communicating any information for fear of negative opposition to animal research. Given the diverse understanding of the purpose of transparency, I suggest that active and sustained communication between senior administrators, university veterinarians, animal care staff, and scientists is necessary to build a consensus on how to pursue transparency. While generating consensus at the local institutional level is important, substantial progress would likely benefit from involvement of all stakeholders to work collaboratively and agree to a shared vision for transparency. Analysis of a mix-methods survey that requested public input on proposed animal experiments found that many participants provided substantive and nuanced input that could aid in institutional decision making including social policy alternatives. Analysis of a second mix-methods survey found the public expected oversight for invertebrate animals used for scientific experiments and the absence of this oversight decreased public confidence and trust in scientists. In summary, my results suggest that increased information in the public domain about these practices, incorporation of societal values into decision making, and increased opportunities for participation in research animal governance could help institutions maintain social licence for these practices.

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