Thursday, November 7, 2019  
A weekly newsletter from Americans for Medical Progress highlighting the latest
animal activism developments and significant science news for communicators and security professionals.

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The Many Lessons That Can Be Learned From Texas A&M’s Response to James Cromwell’s Media Stunt
Last week, PETA did something it has done many times before. It enlisted a celebrity to create headlines. In this case, the activist group convinced actor James Cromwell, best known for his role in the movie Babe, to disrupt a Texas A&M Board of Regents meeting. It was the latest move in PETA’s longtime campaign against the university’s Duchenne muscular dystrophy research in dogs. 

Part of Cromwell's goal, and the obvious result, was his arrest. The experience was nothing new for the actor. Based on our review of past news coverage, we were able to locate at least six other instances where Cromwell had been arrested, mostly related to animal rights or environmental protests .

Of course, the arrests and resulting court appearances are simply part of PETA’s overall media strategy. They know that a boisterous disruption and images of a celebrity in handcuffs will create plenty of headlines and social media posts. However, Cromwell and the animal rights group he supports likely did not predict that in this case, Texas A&M University was prepared to respond in length. Here’s a link to a People Magazine article that is worth reviewing.  

The university’s response was impressive for many reasons:

They recognized their audience and spoke to them.  

It's easy to forget that our target audience is the vast majority of Americans who do not have hardened opinions on this issue. Sometimes we respond with criticism of the animal rights group making the claims. In this case, Texas A&M did not forget that they needed to address public questions and concerns. Consider this excerpt from Texas A&M's response: 

“Texas A&M University appreciates this opportunity to correct and clarify misleading information regarding our Duchenne muscular dystrophy research. It’s a shame that misinformation continues to be spread about this important research being done on behalf of humans and animals.” 

This is an excellent message. 

They responded with specifics.

Here’s another excerpt from Texas A&M’s statement to People: 

“Human clinical trials in DMD patients, based in part on studies in dogs, currently are underway,” the statement read. “The DMD research done at TAMU has contributed to preclinical data that led to the FDA approving the experimental therapy in these human patients participating in the clinical trial.”  

At times, research organizations have provided limited and/or general responses when facing claims by animal rights groups. In this case, Texas A&M spoke in detail about the results of the research and the promise and hope that this critical information will lead to medical advancements.  

They responded at length.

One smart strategy when countering animal rights claims or actions is to speak extensively with reporters and offer several knowledgable spokespeople. The goal should be to get as many expert and pro-science voices in the news coverage as possible. 

They showed empathy:

Here’s another portion of TAMU’s response:

“Texas A&M looks forward to the day when animals aren’t necessary for research in which they’re trying to find cures and therapies for people, but right now it’s critical when researching some diseases.” 

In labs and animal care facilities, scientists and staff go to great links to ensure animals are treated with care and respect. However, sometimes we forget to share this same level of empathy when speaking with the public or reporters. In this case, Texas A&M made it clear that studies in animals are not taken lightly at their institution. However, at the same time they recognize the lack of alternatives.  

They made use of helpful information already on the record.  

One smart move by communications staff was to point the reporter to a previous story where they spoke at length about the research in question. In doing so, they were able to include additional details that conflicted with PETA’s claims. 

They highlighted their commitment to animal care.  

Finally, one more excerpt:

“As one of the veterinarian caregivers explains: ‘These dogs are loved from the moment they are born until they leave this Earth.’ They receive around-the-clock veterinary care at a world-class facility that opened in 2016. They play outside and have toys and friends to play with.”

Including the voices of animal care staff in news coverage reminds the public that research animals receive expert care and attention. On top of that, many organizations are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of allowing staff to talk about the bonds they have formed with animals. This is another important aspect of animal research that many in the public are unaware of.  

AMP congratulates Texas A&M University for their outstanding response.  
White Coat Waste Project Turns Its Focus to the NIH 
White Coat Waste Project is returning its attention to the National Institutes of Health. The animal rights group’s past efforts have focused on federal agencies including the FDA, USDA and VA. However, several recent social media posts by the group have included claims that NIH funding recipients have been violating the Stevens Amendment, which requires organizations to disclose federal funding amounts for research in press releases and public statements. 

Another recent example of White Coat Waste’s attention shift is their October 31 blog post titled “13 Terrifying & True Torture Devices Used in Taxpayer-Funded Animal Labs.”
AMP Advice: The Unique Challenges of Responding to Animal Rights Claims 
Over the past few months, AMP has had the opportunity to speak in front of several groups about effectively communicating with the public. When we do this, we think it's important to highlight how discussions about animal research differ greatly from communications on many other topics. Here are some unique aspects that are worth thinking about when developing communications plans and messages:

The public views the research community as fighting for the status quo, while activists are portrayed as fighting for change.  

Those working at universities or other organizations facing animal rights campaigns often become frustrated with the willingness of the media to broadcast activist claims without significant amounts of verification. This is been an issue for several years and sadly it will not likely change anytime soon. The nature of news reporters and editors, and for the most part all humans, is to gravitate to individuals or messages that seek to disrupt the status quo. We must keep this in mind when responding to such claims. We must also make sure that our messages remain compelling. 

Few Americans understand how and why animals fit into the research process.  

It's no secret that animal rights groups take advantage of the fact that few Americans understand how complex health research can be. Many Americans also assume that because they've personally witnessed incredible technological advancements in their lifetimes, that our understanding of living systems is just as advanced. As a result, some believe the need for animal studies has decreased. We need to recognize these types of common misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions when communicating.  
Opponents are always searching for ways to keep the story alive.  
Some animal rights campaigns can last months or even years. This is the case because protest groups spend countless hours coming up with strategies to keep their issue in the news. On top of that, they often have the financial resources to support these efforts. As a result, employees working within a targeted facility often feel like they are constantly under attack, leading to anxiety and morale issues. This is why communications planning should take into account the impacts on staff and look for ways to proactively and reactively address these issues.  
Update on PETA’s University Speaking Tour
In a recent edition of AMPNews , we mentioned PETA’s highly-touted North American university speaking tour by PETA VP Alka Chandna. The first announced stop was Johns Hopkins University on October 24. However, at the time, PETA withheld the names of institutions that would host future talks. Now that the tour is completed, we have the full list . Chandna also spoke at the University of Windsor, Brock University and Western University all in Ontario, Canada. She made no other stops at institutions in the United States. 
Invitation to Take Part in Discussion About Possible U.S. Openness Agreement 
Americans for Medical Progress is partnering with several other organizations and individuals to host a discussion later this month on the possible formation of a U.S. openness agreement. Recently, several research organizations have voiced their belief that it is time for a coordinated effort to expand public discussion about animal research. The move comes after other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal and Belgium have all formed similar agreements.  

The web discussion is scheduled to take place on November 12th. Here are the details: 
Considering the Creation of a Formal Openness Agreement in the United States - a Discussion
Tuesday, November 12th 12-1:30pm EST
The session is being hosted by the authors of a recent ILAR Journal article titled " Communicating About Animal Research with the Public ."
Upcoming Animal Activism Events 
We have included Facebook links, when possible, with additional information. 
November 9  
Kingston, New York 
An event organized by NY Farm Animal Save. 

November 10

November 14  
Seattle, Washington 
Event organized by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. 

November 23
Kingston, New York
An event organized by NY Farm Animal Save.

May 29, 2020
Berkley, California 
Ten Research Stories Worth Sharing
Americans for Medical Progress closely monitors the news media and other sources on a daily basis for breakthroughs involving animals. Please feel free to share these stories on your organizations' social media channels:










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