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Bill Russell, co-founder of the 3Rs, dies at age 81

(Remembering Bill Russell, see obituary here)

William Moy Statten Russell, one of the scientists who first formulated the 3Rs of alternatives, died July 27, 2006. He was 81.

In 1954, Russell, a zoologist, joined with microbiologist Rex L. Burch in a systematic study of the use of laboratory animals in research. In 1959, the pair published The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique in which they classified humane techniques under the headings of replacement, reduction, and refinement-now commonly known as the three Rs. (Full text of this ground-breaking book is available on Altweb here.)

Russell and Burch had spent several years reviewing data produced in studies that observed the three Rs and data from studies that did not. Their findings pointed to what they called the "intimate relationship between humanity and efficiency in experimentation." They concluded that the most humane possible treatment of experimental animals, "far from being an obstacle, is actually a prerequisite for successful animal experiments" — i.e., more humane science also is better science.

But Russell and Burch were well ahead of their time. Their book was largely ignored when it first came out, and the two researchers went their separate ways. By the 1980s, however, the world started to catch up. The book finally found its audience, and it has provided the underpinnings for the burgeoning field of "alternatives."

Russell and Burch were delighted to learn of the impact their work now has on the lives of laboratory animals, and they were honored guests at several major meetings in the field. Participants at these meetings (including the second World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences) may well remember Bill Russell's lively renditions of the 3Rs framed as Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs.

His 3Rs song was no anomaly. Journalist and family friend Cleo Paskal described Russell as "one of the world's great polymaths," who combined his "vast knowledge and superb memory with an infallibly generous and cheerful disposition and the propensity to break out in song."

Russell's interests and expertise extended far beyond the 3Rs, as is readily apparent in the London Times obituary. He was a classical scholar with a zoology degree from Oxford. He taught at the University of Reading on a wide range of topics, including primate sociology, statistics, demography, genetics, ecology, cultural evolution, and the social stratification of city-states in ancient Mesopotamia and Greece. He was known to deliver lectures in rhyming couplets.

Russell also wrote prolifically, again covering a wide range of topics - from the origins and nature of violence to the effects of overpopulation to the folklore of ghosts. His wife, psychotherapist and poet Claire Hillel (1919-1999), shared his breadth and depth of knowledge, and together their writings basically covered the whole history of human civilization.

As a researcher, as a scholar, as a human being gifted with wit and wisdom and undying enthusiasm, Bill Russell has left a lasting and inspiring legacy.

Russell's colleague in the 3Rs, Rex Burch, died in 1996. (For an obituary, see this page).

New ALTEX: 2/2018

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