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Laboratory Animals in the Social Sciences and Humanities Developing a Collaborative Agenda for Humanities and Social Scientific Research on Laboratory Animal Science and Welfare

Workshop #1: The History and Future of the 3Rs

The first workshop took place on 25th June 2014 at the University of Exeter. It was attended by approximately 30 international and interdisciplinary experts, with representatives from across the humanities, arts, social sciences, veterinary sciences and biological research.

The papers are currently being developed for a journal special issue. The special issue proposes to examine the contribution of the humanities and social sciences for understanding the intersections between science, culture and care in the development and implementation of the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement) in laboratory animal research.

Workshop #1: Questions

The workshop addressed the following main question: What are the contributions of the social sciences and humanities to understanding and implementing the 3Rs in laboratory animal research?

In addition it explored the following specific points:

Workshop #1: Context

Today, the 3Rs, first systematically articulated in Russell and Burch’s The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique (1959), have become a rallying point for the improvement of the welfare of laboratory animals within the biomedical sciences. The principles of replacement, reduction and refinement of experimental animal use, form the basis for the incorporation and professionalization of laboratory animal welfare across policy-making, animal care and housing, experimental protocols and ethical review. The 3Rs now provide the core of political commitments to, and social understandings of, ethical animal experimentation and are increasingly implemented internationally. The remaking of the 3Rs in different institutional and international contexts is raising important questions for policy-makers, researchers and animal care-takers and researchers, as well as questions of critical interest to historians and social scientists.

As we approach the 60th anniversary of Russell and Burch’s book, we returned to the history of the 3Rs, to reflect on their current application and discuss their future challenges. Through a series of interdisciplinary and international case studies we discussed the role of the humanities and science sciences for understanding the interactions that have shaped the histories and institutionalisation of the 3Rs, in ways that might support reflexive public dialogue and build productive relations between research in the sciences, humanities, social science and policy. Many of the contemporary social aspects to laboratory animal research draw heavily on the concept of the 3Rs, often without awareness of the strong social scientific component in their original formulation.

Workshop #1: Programme


Professor Gail Davies (Department of Geography, University of Exeter)
Professor Nick Talbot (professor of Molecular Genetics and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Knowledge Transfer, University of Exeter)

Paper Session 1 Animating Histories

Robert G. W. Kirk (Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester):
More than a dashing metaphor, but a good deal less than a map: The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique and the challenge of the ‘The Two Cultures’
Tone Druglitrø (TIK — Centre for technology, innovation and culture, University of Oslo):
Historicizing skilled care and animal welfare in Norwegian Laboratory Animal Science
Respondent: Elizabeth Johnson (Department of Geography, University of Exeter)

Paper Session 2: Public Interfaces

Pru Hobson-West (Centre for Applied Bioethics, School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham):
Understanding the 3Rs, public opinion and transparency: The contribution of critical social science research
Elisabeth H. Ormandy (Animal Welfare Program, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia):
Opening up: Is sunlight the best disinfectant?
Respondent: Helen Scalway (artist at the Department of Geography, Royal Holloway University of London)

Paper Session 3: Placing Care

Beth Greenhough (Department of Geography, Queen Mary University of London) and Emma Roe (Geography, University of Southampton):
Taking care of experimental subjects in animal research laboratories: An ethnographic investigation
Gail Davies (Department of Geography, University of Exeter):
Engineering performance or performing engineering standards? The international landscapes of laboratory animal care
Respondent: Henry Buller (Department of Geography, University of Exeter)

Workshop #1: Abstracts

Robert G. W. Kirk, More than a dashing metaphor, but a good deal less than a cultural map: Laboratory animal welfare and the challenge of The Two Cultures.

In 1959 W. M. S. Russell and Rex Burch published The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, an interdisciplinary and obtuse volume charting ‘a new discipline of applied science’ concerned with the humane treatment of laboratory animals. The Principles contained the first systematic articulation of the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of animal experimentation). Yet it quickly fell out of print, remaining so today. By examining the wider historical context of the period, not least the disciplinary schism framed by C. P. Snow’s 1959 Rede Lecture, ‘The Two Cultures’, this article argues that one explanation for its failure was its interdisciplinary scope. Weaving together biological, physiological, ethological, behavioural, psychological, psychoanalytic and social science disciplines, The Principles developed a synthetic programme transcending divisions between ‘scientific’ and ‘humanistic’ inquiry. It presumed, in a way that commentators such as F. R. Leavis refused to acknowledge, that science was culture. As such, good science expressed the best human values. By locating the Principles within the ‘two culture’ schism, this paper explains why the project of humane experimental technique failed to gain traction and the consequence of this failure for today’s efforts to establish its core methodological tools, the 3Rs, as governing logic for the ethical regulation of early twenty-first century animal dependent science.

Tone Druglitrø, Standardizing care, conceptualizing human-animal welfare: Developments in laboratory animal science in Norway.

The principles on which the 3Rs are based, linking reliable science to the quality and welfare of the animals used, was established in the early 1950s in Norway. Increased use of animals in core public health institutions, such as the National Institute of Public Health, depended on standardized, identical animals in large numbers. Being central to facilitating public health politics of vaccination and prophylactic medicine, caring for laboratory animals came to be characterized as one of the core activities of public health medicine. Care, as well as the infrastructures for housing animals, was believed to take part in refining experiments. Care was not only materialized in practice and technologies, but also translated into specific conceptions of animal welfare. Good animal husbandry based itself on the management of “sound principles of moral and economy”.

The paper draws together the material and conceptual transformations of laboratory animals and welfare in the 1950s to the 1970s in Norway. It argues that during this period, the professionalization of care in the animal house became central not only for the promotion of public health medicine, but also for the public acceptance of the increased use of animals in science. In doing this, the paper demonstrates how expertise on laboratory animal welfare had to be negotiated across science and culture, and that this work took part in establishing standards that embodied practices and conceptions of animal welfare and its specific relation to human welfare.

Pru Hobson-West, Understanding the 3Rs, public opinion and transparency: The contribution of critical social science research.

From humble roots in 1959, the 3Rs has become a fixed feature of contemporary debate about the use of animals in scientific research. One obvious function of the Three Rs concept is to summarise or promote good (welfare) practice. However, taking a broader social scientific perspective, we are also able to study the way in which the concept of the Three Rs is actually used by stakeholders in the debate. For example, previous work based on in depth interviews has argued that, regardless of the intentions of its original authors, the concept has become a kind of ‘hybrid’, and is used as an ethical, scientific and a political concept (Hobson-West 2009). In other words, the 3Rs is conceptualised in several different ways. A similar argument can also be applied to the public. In short, whilst it is interesting to carry out public opinion and engagement type exercises to try and establish what people ‘think’, social scientific research also suggests that the very idea of the public is open to multiple conceptualisations or constructions (Hobson-West 2010). This paper will identify the implications of these findings for the policy and practice of animal research and animal research governance. It will also draw on new research (with Carmen McLeod) into the concept of transparency. Despite becoming a buzzword in the UK debate, the paper argues that the meaning of transparency is far from fixed, and that greater critical research is needed into the social and political assumptions underlying the apparent contemporary faith in what transparency can be expected to achieve.

Elisabeth H. Ormandy, Opening-up Animal Research: Is sunlight the best disinfectant?

Transparency or openness of animal research has become an increasingly hot topic. However, there are myriad ways in which this term can be conceptualized. In this paper I present the ways in which my lived experience as an animal welfare scholar, a member of animal care staff, and a member of the Canadian Council on Animal Care (Canada’s governing body for the care and use of animals in research, teaching, and testing) has informed my own conceptualization of the term “openness” as applied to animal research. First, there is a need for greater openness between the research community and various publics. Second, there is a need for greater openness within the animal research community itself. Third, there is a need for emotional openness within the animal research community. Finally, there is a need for greater openness at the level of Canada’s national governing body (specifically in terms of democratic discourse that promotes respectful listening and an open forum for all members’ views to be bought to the table). In these respects, greater openness can help to build an ethical culture of animal research where the 3Rs are embedded into all aspects of a multi-part system that is self-reflexive and has opportunities for “virtuous feedback” through evidence-based metrics and quality assurance (as opposed to the 3Rs being one step in the process that becomes a box-ticking exercise).

Beth Greenhough and Emma Roe, Taking care of experimental subjects in animal research laboratories: An ethnographic investigation.

This paper will draw on new ethnographic research exploring the relationships between junior animal technologists and the laboratory animals they care for. Contrary to popular imaginations, many of those who work with laboratory animals are driven by a deep personal attachment to animals. Once in the animal facility, animal technologists learn, and will continue to learn, to become attuned to and affected by the animals in their care, and in so doing place themselves 'at risk' of their emotional and social responses to the procedures these animals may be used for. The animals too may develop unique relationships with their care takers, becoming trained participants whose efforts contribute to the success of experimental procedures. Drawing on Haraway’s term ‘response-abilities’ (2007) and Berlant’s ‘sympathetic agency’ (2004) we explore ethics as something which is performed through practice and expressed in the development of junior animal technologists’ skills, sensitivities and understandings as they gain experience and training. We argue that this tacit and intangible knowledge is a key aspect of the second of the 3Rs (refinement), but one difficult to recognise or encode within formal regulation or monitoring procedures.

Gail Davies, Engineering performance or performing engineering standards? The international landscapes of laboratory animal care.

This paper reflects on the changing geographies of the biosciences, with particular attention to international differences in the regulation of animal research and the implementation of the 3Rs. The landscapes of the contemporary biosciences are increasingly extensive, with established research centres in Europe and the North America supplemented by emerging initiatives in China, India, Singapore and elsewhere. Scientific research is also becoming more interconnected, with an intensification of transnational collaboration, notably in initiatives for generating, characterizing and archiving research animals across the international scientific community. The widening scope and diversity of places involved in laboratory animal research is the focus of concerted efforts to harmonise international guidelines and continued debate on the best way of achieving outcomes for animal welfare. Conceptually, the paper locates and traces these debates by drawing on and developing comparative work by Jasanoff (2006) on the different national operation of politics, policy and practice in the life sciences. Empirically, the paper presents research from in-depth interviews and participant observation with researchers and stakeholders involved in the changing organisation of laboratory animal research in North America, Europe, and South-East Asia. Specifically, it explores the operation of often-entrenched debates between the use of performance and engineering standards to argue for animal welfare in, and increasingly beyond, the USA and Europe. Both forms of reckoning for animal welfare are linked to situated and divergent political cultures and civic epistemologies in Europe and the US, which are increasingly seeking to extend influence over new scientific centres in SE Asia. Concluding, I suggest the debate between them needs revision to further animal welfare, public accountability and meaningful collaboration within the increasingly global landscapes of laboratory animal research.