Wildlife scientists are increasingly encountering difficulties conducting research on wild animals due to opposition from animal welfare proponents. Given the current biodiversity crisis, research into animal biology and ecology is urgently needed. Collecting such information may involve invasive research on individual animals, which to some parties is unacceptable, even if ultimately it leads to better conservation outcomes for populations. We argue that these conflicting philosophies on how to treat animals represent a tension between two attitudes to animals. Nevertheless, an acceptable space for essential research can be found. By judicious application of the principles outlined in Bateson's Decision Cube, conservation scientists can effectively and clearly highlight the benefits of their work and more successfully engage the public in the complex debate about the value of conservation research to protecting ecosystem function, ecosystem services and evolutionary potential.