I don't write much about the antics of animal rights activists these days, because while some of their activities have a very negative impact on the work of some scientists, they're really just a marginal--albeit highly vocal--bloc that thrives on attention. Still, sometimes they need to be called out, and Janet of Adventures in Ethics and Science is doing just that:
Harassment drove UCLA neurobiologist Dario Ringach out of primate research in 2006. This was not just angry phone calls and email messages. We're talking about people in masks banging on the windows of his house in the night, scaring his kids. Without support on this front from other scientists or from UCLA, Dario abandoned research that he believed to be important so that he could keep his family safe.
And [more recently--this year], Dario participated in the dialogue at UCLA that was aimed at getting people with different views on animal research to engage with each other peacefully and productively. On a panel that included a strong defender of animal rights, Dario explained the role he thinks animal research plays in answering scientific questions that matter to us -- to the public as well as scientists.
For just daring to stand up and share his view, Dario was targeted for more home demonstrations. And now, activists threaten to bring the demonstrations to his children's schools, to "educate fellow students what their classmate's father does for a living".
To summarize, Dario Ringach gave up the his own research program to save his family from the viscous harassment of animal extremists. But, after going out of his way to engage in a dialogue with these people, he has all of a sudden become a target again. Now, I've said before that based on my experience with the animal rights movement, there's little to be gained from opening up a dialogue with these extremists. And, the totally asinine reaction by them to Ringach's conciliatory efforts just further bears that point out. Still, what Ringach and the others on that panel did was noble, and I support Janet in calling these clowns out.
Update: Orac has a post up at Respectful Insolence that provides additional background and details about this whole ordeal, and it's worth a look. His post also reminds me that I forgot to mention that Janet herself was made a target of animal extremists after the panel--despite her only connection to animal research being as a very moderate voice offering contemplative and balanced discussions on the topic from time to time.
Update 2: Also, check out the post at Speaking of Research for a rundown on what people are saying about this across the web.
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I was reviewing your blog and appreciated your sentiments. I wrote a piece of a similar nature. Please read it at your leisure and comment. I am the founding chairperson of Ve'ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian & Relief Committee and spend a lot of time helping people. I do appreciate helping animals but wonder what is the balance.
Thanks, Avrum Rosensweig (http://avrum.net)
I don't blame Mr Ringach for stepping back to save his family. The anti-abortion extremists seem to have set the tone for anti-vivisection behaviour. Anti-abortionists were the first to target the children of people whose behaviour - whilst legal - offended them.
IMO targeting children is inexcusable, unforgivable and should be the subject of separate criminal law no matter what the excuse/reason.
Now the courts in the US might unwittingly be condoning this behaviour by handing out lesser sentences to anti-abortionist killers - http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60A2Q520100111.
Not good news for Mr Ringach and his family.
Whilst transparent ethics committees and 3Rs may work for the more rational on both sides it's the irrational that tend to have the loudest voice and the greatest tendency to violence.
Sadly, our democratic societies have lost site of the principles of Voltaire.
Education and debate must be the only answers in the long term but it's difficult to see a solution in the short-term.
I think it's only fair to point out that some AR activists have been forthright in condemning the tactics of the extremists, and even in some cases found themselves at the reseaiving end of extremist anger and even threats as a consequence of entering into a dialog with the scientific community http://speakingofresearch.com/2010/02/10/bruins-for-animals-and-dr-ray-…
David Jentsch made some suggestions (see below)on Dr. Free-Ride's blog for anyone who wishes to do something about this situation. I'll only add a recommendation that you also sign the Pro-Test petition at http://www.amprogress.org/petition
"For those that support research or researchers, I offer a number of possibilities that will allow you to become involved in this struggle:
1) Participate however you can in supporting science and scientists. This may include forceful statements about the values of academic freedom and calls for your University administration to make categorical statements about threats to controversial research. Get ahead of the curve and condemn it on principle, not just because someone in your University is being threatened.
2) Write letters to the editor of your local papers about your position on research. Promote science education and an understanding of biomedical research through presentations about science at your children's school.
3) Speak to your friends and family members who hold views critical of research. Open a dialogue with them. Compare notes about what you feel the ethical basis for conducting animal research is and why you think it is justifiable. Try to achieve an agreement that they should condemn those in their movement that support "direct action" (which is a barely concealed attempt at rebranding criminal behavior).
4) Write to your Congressperson and Senators and demand that they strengthen and support legislation that increases civil and criminal penalties against activists who go beyond Constitutionally-protected speech and begin resorting to criminal harassment and stalking. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism act is under judicial review. The House and Senate need to consider revisions and extensions now.
5) If anti-research activists show up on campus or in your community with their dated pictures and slogans, show up as well and present your own perspective forcefully but articulately.
6) Foster your own campus dialogues with animal rights activists, but refuse to respond to, engage with or involve persons unwilling to PUBLICLY condemn people that support or apologize for direct action campaigns."
Those are very good suggestions, Paul. Thanks for passing them along.
Actually, I mentioned that in my post. The AR extremists apparently gave Ray Greek some serious flak for agreeing to be on Janet's panel.
You certainly did Orac, and it's a point worth stressing. These extremists are the moral equivalent of the IRA terrorists who put bullets through the doors of SDLP politicians during the bad old days* in Northern Ireland.
I'm not sure it's wise to refer to it as "Janet's panel" as it was actually a 50/50 effort by BfA and P-TfS, the nutjobs will now probably quote you as "proof" that Janet was running the whole thing from the start;-)
* though with his weeks bombing sadly not nearly "old" enough.
SR just put up a post on this:
I remember when you were at the front of reporting on animal rights antics back in your oxford days
Thanks for passing that along, Tom. I placed a link to it in the post.