Taking a stand for science

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
Adi Bloom meets the unusual teenager who started a movement to protect animal testing.

Laurie Pycroft's first campaign ended in a string of detentions. His latest endeavour, by contrast, has amassed hundreds of followers and extensive media coverage.

The 16-year-old founded Pro-test, the pro-vivisection group which this weekend drew more than 700 supporters to a march in Oxford.

"We can't allow medical research to be hindered, so I'm taking a stand,"

said Laurie, who has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.

"But this sort of thing definitely wasn't encouraged at school. I've always felt school was rather constrictive. I prefer to do my own research, spending hours on the internet, reading anything that takes my interest."

Laurie, has dropped out of sixth-form but hopes to go to university.

He set up Pro-test from his Swindon bedroom, in direct response to animal-rights campaigners he encountered in Oxford earlier this year.

Laurie attempted to argue with the anti-vivisectionists, who were protesting against the building of the university's new science laboratory.

In return, he was threatened and called "human excrement".

Using his online blog as a starting-point, Laurie then organised a pro-vivisection rally. Speakers included Tipu Aziz, a neurosurgeon, and John Stein, a neurophysiologist, both of whose work has relied on animal testing.

But this is not the first time Laurie has stood up for his beliefs. "At school, the librarian chucked me out for reading a book I'd brought from home," he said. "She said I wasn't using the library's resources properly.

I called her a fascist, and was banned from the library. So I got annoyed, and decided to demonstrate."

He produced a series of protest posters, which he pinned up around school.

He was subsequently placed in detention "for ages", and forced to write a letter of apology to the school librarian. "More needs to be done to nurture tomorrow's leaders," he said.

"Modern British schools are not places we should be teaching them. I was on the school council, and that was a complete farce. If schools are going to be analogous to fascist regimes, then I resent the facade of democracy."

Laurie, who is a member of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth ("it's a step in the right direction," he said), has very definite ideas about what he would like from the school system.

In his blog, along with descriptions of "what's currently residing on my desk" (empty pot-noodle carton; 13 empty Coke cans; large packed of Pro-Plus), he toys with the idea of forming his own political party.

"It's an exercise in mental masturbation," he said. "I would split up schools into three categories at age 11. First, there would be vocational schools. Many of the people who are going to become mechanics just disrupt classes. They don't need to be learning biology.

"Then there'd be one for people who are going to become middle managers.

They'd be taught basic literacy, numeracy and science.

"The third would be for the top 10 per cent. The current educational system is exceedingly poor at teaching them."

These final schools, he says, would provide formal tuition for two days a week. The remaining time would be spent in independent research.

"Most of the true greats haven't been at home at school," he said.

"Einstein dropped out of school at an early age. We need to be given an atmosphere in which we can thrive."

* adi.bloom@tes.co.uk


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