Saturday, February 19, 2011

Use and Abuse

A friend recently sent me an amusing thread of emails from Mammal-L on the subject of IACUCs. For those of you who don't work on living animals, an IACUC, or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, is the organization within your institution that  reviews research protocols that involve the use of animal subjects and conducts evaluations of your institution's animal care. The system, which is a key plank of animal welfare legislation in the USA, was developed to deal with laboratory usage of animals, but its provisions also extend to fieldwork, including museum collecting; anyone wanting to collect vertebrates has to submit an animal use protocol for approval by IACUC. The collision of these two worlds provides ample opportunities for field biologists to complain about the lab-based eggheads that they have to deal with on the committee; I have a strong suspicion that the "eggheads" have their own roster of stories concerning bearded and gun-toting yahoos from organismal biology departmens.

What struck me most forcefully when reading the Mammal-L emails was the fact that these people, especially those from museums, should be down on their knees giving thanks for the existence of IACUCs. As I discussed last month, the day will come when someone will decide to take on the big natural history museums over their vertebrate collecting programs. When that day comes, we're going to need ample evidence that we make our collecting policies with certain principles built in - adequate scientific justification, minimization of the number of animals sacrificed, and humane methods. All the hoops, in fact, that those IUCAC eggheads make us jump through before we get our protocols approved. It still may not be enough. But without them, our days of rat and bat trapping are likely to be numbered.

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