Joe Freeman is enthusiastic
In your June issue (pp10-11), you have a debate about online public engagement. Here at Diabetes UK we see online engagement as a key way to support people with diabetes and share information about the work we do as a charity.
Twitter has proved an invaluable tool to help us do this. With over 11,000 followers at present we instigate conversations with people, as well as answer myriads of questions people want to ask – from advice on getting an insulin pump to providing fundraising information. These more personal, one-to-one interactions help form stronger relationships with supporters, which will ultimately help us spread the word about our work. They also allow us to offer personal encouragement to people with diabetes in the hard times.
We regularly receive positive feedback from followers and people we tweet, thanking us for providing advice and guidance. We see this as a good measure of success and proof that as a medium, Twitter is worth investing time and effort in. In Diabetes Week in June, we held our first live chat where we answered people’s diabetes-related questions. It was a huge success and something our followers have requested to have more regularly. We are now working to make this happen.
It is important to have an online presence in the places our supporters and beneficiaries use. With people spending more time on social networks such as Twitter, this is going to become more apparent for the many organisations which don’t already maximise their use of social media. We can provide advice as and when people need it, and can also easily promote our messages to an ever-growing audience that has huge potential reach. This is part of our future goals and Twitter, along with other social networks, will prove key tools to help us fulfil them.
Maintain UK standards for animal experimentation, urges Barney Reed
Both articles in your June issue (pp 14-15) on ‘Scientists and animal experimentation’ call for more openness relating to the use of animals in research. This is welcome, but to achieve better public understanding and a more nuanced debate, the information provided must be meaningful and balanced. Simply repeating generic statements that there is ‘no alternative’, that ‘animal research is essential’ and that animal welfare is ‘the highest priority’ is not sufficient.
Large sectors of the public have, and will likely always have, significant and legitimate concerns about the suffering of animals in laboratories. Polls show that around a third of people don’t trust the system of regulation, and while most think some animal use may be justified, they also set limits relating to the use of particular species, the level of suffering involved and the purpose of the experiments.
It is no surprise that the public expects a robust regulatory system which ensures that animals are only used where absolutely necessary and justified and that everything possible is done to avoid or minimise suffering. Most research is done directly or indirectly with public money, or in the public’s name, so their concerns should not be dismissed.
The government is currently consulting on how it should implement a new European Directive - many requirements of which fall short of the animal experimentation law we currently have in the UK. Some in the scientific community may welcome the idea of a ‘lighter touch’ of regulation. However, they would do well to reflect on what effect such a watering down of controls and standards might have on public confidence. There would be just cause for public disgruntlement if those same people who have previously taken every opportunity to proclaim that everything is done to ‘the highest possible standards’ now took advantage of, or even actively lobbied for, a weakening of the UK law so they could reduce their own provisions for animals.