What Do Scientists Mean When They Talk About Research Animals “Volunteering”?

Alexandra Palmer, Beth Greenhough, Pru Hobson-West, Gail Davies and Reuben Message
Publication date

This paper examines discourses around “volunteering” in animal research. Through a qualitative textual analysis of the scientific literature using animals in behavioral and psychological research, we demonstrate that “voluntary” and related terms are used by scientists in a variety of distinct ways, which carry a range of ethical and political connotations. While any reference to volunteering might be assumed to imply free, unconstrained, and unpaid participation in an activity, in the animal research literature the term is often used simply to signal a lack of physical restraint, even though other human-imposed constraints are at play. Though truly voluntary behavior may be impossible, we nevertheless argue that there is a case for seeing use of the language of volunteering as an ethical or political move in which scientists aim to highlight a goal of minimizing human control, promoting animal welfare, or representing their research as ethically acceptable.