Web edition: July 8, 2008
Associated Press story in the morning paper, today, described a move by animal
activists to make attacks on researchers who work with animals increasingly
personal. Teams that used to hold placards outside conferences and labs now picket
scientists’ homes. Some “animal rights” groups use bullhorns to send neighbors
the message that “Your neighbor kills animals,” the story said.
rile me up. On lots of levels. First, so-called animal-rights groups seek
to compel change through brutish intimidation. They are, in a word, bullies. The
goal here is not to change the minds of scientists about the value of their
labors but to intimidate their families and annoy — if not enrage — their
neighbors. (I don’t like neighbors’ dogs barking all day or night;
bullhorn-bleating activists are just a human corollary.)
activists have a beef with scientists, they ought to compel with data or the
law. If those don’t work, maybe the argument they’ve been trumpeting isn’t all
that compelling after all.
like to see someone probe the behaviors of these alleged animal guardians to
see how well they practice what they preach. For instance, I strongly suspect
that when the animal crusaders (and especially their loved ones) become ill or
injured, they don’t eschew life-saving medicines and procedures that were first
pioneered through animal research. And if they don’t, they’re hypocrites to
picket, harass — and occasionally even destroy the research of — toxicologists and
researchers I know truly love animals. Many trained as veterinarians. Their
goal, indeed their passion, is the humane treatment of animals, often in
service of understanding — and ultimately eliminating — threats to the health
and well being of wildlife.
suspicion: Animal rights crusaders don’t have an abiding respect for all fauna.
Indeed, I’d like to see some organization — perhaps a major biomedical research
group — finance detectives to investigate how deeply animal-protection
attitudes run in all members of the movement.
we’d find that if their homes were under siege by marauding termites or
carpenter bees, they wouldn’t let the insects destroy those structures. If activists
moved into a roach-infested apartment, they probably would not willingly let
these pests share their food, beds, and their infants’ eyebrows (because yes,
roaches will eat nails and brows). If their kindergartners were sent home with
lice, what do you want to bet they’d just accept the infestation and resort to
home schooling these kids?
morning’s news story quoted Jerry Vlasak of the Animal Liberation Front as
saying that although he would not advocate an animal-scientist’s murder, “if
you had to hurt somebody or intimidate them or kill them, it would be morally
justifiable.” I can’t begin to fathom what moral compass would lead him to that
assessment. Such a comment also goes a long way toward undercutting the basic
premise of protecting animals (of which Homo
sapiens is but one).
every American’s first amendment right to free speech. But bullying and
harassment is not protected by law in many jurisdictions. Moreover, if we’re
talking morality here, which is more moral: to threaten the safety and life of
a researcher engaged in studies that may improve the health, well-being, and
longevity of millions of people or to threaten the lives of several dozen
animals that were bred for the express purpose of being humanely sacrificed for
highly regulated and well-supervised health studies?
substitutes to animals in toxicology exist, I support their use. But initially
validating even those may require the use of some animals for comparison
purposes. And in many instances, good substitutes do not exist (for technical
reasons). In those instances, I see no reason to substitute toddlers, grandpa,
or college co-eds as our initial hypothesis-testing guinea pigs.
targeting scientists and harassing their families, I’d like to see animal
activists focus their attention on those who not only encourage animal research
but also provide most of its funding: Uncle Sam and Big Pharma. If the charge
is that animal research is amoral, activists should engage constructively and deliberatively
with those responsible for balancing the risks and benefits of research.
But we should never give activists even tacit license to bully researchers, because in short order it may escalate to terrorism.
M. Wohlsen. 2008. Scientists Fear Intimidation Tactics. Express (July 8):A4.