Franco, N. H., Sandøe, P., Olsson, I. A. S. 2018. Researchers’ attitudes to the 3Rs—An upturned hierarchy? PLoS ONE 13(8), e0200895.
Animal use in biomedical research is generally justified by its potential benefits to the health of humans, or other animals, or the environment. However, ethical acceptability also requires scientists to limit harm to animals in their research. Training in laboratory animal science (LAS) helps scientists to do this by promoting best practice and the 3Rs. This study evaluated scientists’ awareness and application of the 3Rs, and their approach to other ethical issues in animal research. It was based on an online survey of participants in LAS courses held in eight venues in four European countries: Portugal (Porto, Braga), Germany (Munich, Heidelberg), Switzerland (Basel, Lausanne, Zurich), and Denmark (Copenhagen). The survey questions were designed to assess general attitudes to animal use in biomedical research, Replacement alternatives, Reduction and Refinement conflicts, and harm-benefit analysis. The survey was conducted twice: immediately before the course (‘BC’, N = 310) and as a follow-up six months after the course (‘AC’, N = 127). While courses do appear to raise awareness of the 3Rs, they had no measurable effect on the existing low level of belief that animal experimentation can be fully replaced by non-animal methods. Most researchers acknowledged ethical issues with their work and reported that they discussed these with their peers. The level of an animal’s welfare, and especially the prevention of pain, was regarded as the most pressing ethical issue, and as more important than the number of animals used or the use of animals as such. Refinement was considered more feasible than Replacement, as well as more urgent, and was also favoured over Reduction. Respondents in the survey reversed the ‘hierarchy’ of the 3Rs proposed by their architects, Russell and Burch, prioritizing Refinement over Reduction, and Reduction over Replacement. This ordering may conflict with the expectations of the public and regulators.