BERLIN—A national ad campaign targeting the work and person of neuroscientist Andreas Kreiter has caused an uproar in the German scientific community. Today, the Alliance of Scientific Organizations in Germany published a sharply worded statement against the full-page ads, which appeared in regional and national newspapers in April.
The ad “crudely hurts the personal rights” of the scientist, the organizations write, and “defames biomedical research as a whole.” “The ad aims for personal annihilation,” Kreiter says, “and it is not acceptable for a state founded on the rule of law.”
A professor of animal physiology at the University of Bremen (UB), Kreiter studies the neurophysiology of the macaque brain. His work has met with fierce resistance since the 1990s, but Kreiter says hostility peaked after he won a series of protracted legal battles over his work. The most recent trial finished in February, when the Federal Administrative Court of Germany confirmed earlier decisions that the animal distress caused by Kreiter’s research is justified given its scientific significance.
A group called Tierversuchsgegner Bundesrepublik Deutschland (the German Association for Opponents of Animal Research), whose proclaimed goal is to end animal experimentation in Germany, has used advertising as a weapon for several years. But the most recent one (click here for a larger version in PDF) is the most personal and aggressive yet, Kreiter says; headlined “Kreiter continues in cold blood,” it features a photo of the researcher as well as a picture of a macaque, sitting immobilized in an experimental laboratory setup. It ran in many outlets on 16 and 17 April, including in leading newspapers such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Zeit.
The text says that “animal experimenters are a special kind of being—you should not lightly call them human.” The ad questions the validity of Kreiter's study results and denounces his group's research as "cruel," "barbaric," and "scientifically pointless." It ends with an appeal to citizens to “treat animal experimenters with contempt.”
The head of the group, Rainer Gaertner, writes in an e-mail to ScienceInsider that the discussion about human dignity following the ad is used to distract from the suffering of animals. Nevertheless, Gaertner says the ad is a great success because of the reactions it has generated; the next one is already being planned, he says. Kreiter says that UB has filed libel charges against Gaertner's organization. Although the ads have cost him a great deal of energy and time, Kreitner says the scientific community's recent response has given him strength.
The ad has also triggered a discussion about freedom of speech and the division between editorial and advertising departments in the media. Die Zeit, renowned for its science coverage, published an article saying that the newspaper evaluated the ad on a strictly legal basis, without consulting its science journalists, who have been covering Kreiter’s case for years. (It added that although the ad might be legally covered by the freedom of speech, its content is still unacceptable.) Süddeutsche Zeitung, another prestigious national newspaper, wrote that it chose not to print the ad.