August 22, 2006
Terror at UCLA
A UCLA neurobiologist has announced that he will no longer conduct animal research because the harassment and threats of animal rights groups have gone too far:
Dario Ringach, an associate neurobiology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, decided this month to give up his research on primates because of pressure put on him, his neighborhood, and his family by the UCLA Primate Freedom Project, which seeks to stop research that harms animals.
Anti-animal research groups are trumpeting Ringach's move as a victory, while some researchers are worried that it could embolden such groups to use more extreme tactics.
Ringach's name and home phone number are posted on the Primate Freedom Project's Web site, and colleagues and UCLA officials said that Ringach was harassed by phone--his office phone number is no longer active--and e-mail, as well as through demonstrations in front of his home.
In an e-mail this month to several anti-animal research groups, Ringach wrote that "you win," and asked that the groups "please don't bother my family anymore."
The North American Animal Liberation Press Office, a resource for the media on "animal liberation actions," according to the group's Web site, posted a news release from the Animal Liberation Front, a separate group that sometimes engages in illegal activities, about Ringach's decision. The press release describes Ringach's research as torturous and "a far cry from life saving research." UCLA officials said that groups like ALF often misconstrue information, and that, in the interest of researchers' safety, the university is not releasing detailed information about projects being attacked by such groups.
Colleagues suggested that Ringach, who did not return e-mails seeking comment, was spooked by an attack on a colleague. In June, the Animal Liberation Front took credit for trying to put a Molotov cocktail on the doorstep of Lynn Fairbanks, another UCLA researcher who does experimentation on animals. The explosive was accidentally placed on the doorstep of Fairbanks's elderly neighbor's house, and did not detonate.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is currently investigating the incident. Fairanks said in an e-mail that the "protests against me are based on complete fabrications that, unfortunately, are believed by many of their followers." She added that she is sad that Ringach is giving up his work, because he "was making new and important advances in our knowledge about how the brain processes information."
Upon Ringach's decision to stop his research, UCLA issued a statement saying that "we all suffer when animal rights activists attempt to intimidate researchers by physically threatening and harassing them and their families, including young children." The statement added that "to be so extreme as to use violent tactics aimed at halting animal research is to take away hope from millions of people with cancer, AIDS, heart disease and hundreds of other diseases."
Jerry Vlasak, a practicing physician, a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Press Office, and a former animal researcher, said that "obviously the roughly 30 non-human primates [Ringach] was killing every year would be ecstatic" with his decision to halt his work. Vlasak said that when he was an animal researcher, he published papers on his work, but didn't feel that he contributed anything important to society. As to the Molotov cocktail, Vlasak said that "force is a poor second choice, but if that's the only thing that will work ... there's certainly moral justification for that."
There are a lot of things I could say about this case, but I'll stick with the most basic thing: It's one of a growing number of similar cases happening on campuses across the country. It indicates a deeply disturbing trend in the animal rights movement toward organized violence and terror. And--here's the basic thing I want to say--this trend is passing almost unnoticed and unmarked by the very people who claim to concern themselves with higher education, academic politics, academic freedom, and so on.
InsideHigherEd.com at least covered the story. But bloggers and administrators and journalists and concerned citizens should be paying a lot more attention to the issue of animal rights activism on campus. They should be learning to understand how this movement works, studying its patterns and taking seriously its threats. And they should be doing a lot more then they are to insist that terror of this sort be recognized as such, that it not be tolerated by the law or by campuses, and that it be ended; they should be getting behind the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which would make it a crime to "harass or cause 'economic disruption' to animal researchers, suppliers, and even people who might be tangentially associated with a researcher, like, for instance, a researcher’s babysitter;" the act would also criminalize organizing campaigns of harassment or disruption.
I'd like to see the blogosphere take an interest in cases such as Ringach's, and I'd particularly like to see academic bloggers working to defend the animal research upon which we all depend--whether we eat meat or not, whether we wear leather or not, whether we approve of fur farming or not. You can love your pets and be concerned for animal welfare and even be deeply invested in scientific research being conducted in a humane way and still believe in animal research. If that describes you, you should be haunted by the behavior of groups such as the UCLA Primate Freedom Project, or the Animal Liberation Front, or even--this may surprise some readers--PETA (more on this in another post, another time). And if you are haunted, you should find a way to act.
On a different note, UCLA should be appalled that its name is being associated with the acts of a local terrorist group. The UCLA Primate Freedom Project uses UCLA's name to endorse its acts; it also uses UCLA's name in its domain name, www.uclaprimatefreedom.com. Hiding behind anonymity, the members do identify themselves as members of the UCLA community--"We are a grassroots organization comprised of UCLA students and concerned citizens of Los Angeles who are dedicated to informing the community about current research conducted on monkeys at UCLA"--and as such they affiliate their activities with the university. UCLA may not have the power to stop this group, but it could at least take steps to ensure that its name is not being used in the group's service. While one could argue that the "UCLA" in "UCLA Primate Freedom Project" refers to the group's focus on freeing the research primates at UCLA, and that as such the use of "UCLA" is descriptive rather than affiliative, the name certainly conveys the sense that the group is a part of the university, and that its work is an accepted part of the university's work. To say the least, that's not right.
UPDATE 8/26/06: Timothy Burke picks up this thread at Easily Distracted. His post and the comments of his readers are well worth a look.
Threats and violence have also been directed at companies involved in research, and at secondary parties such as the banks serving those companies. It's been credibly alleged that one company's listing was pulled at the last moment by the NYSE because of fear of violence by these "activists."
You used the world "haunted"...what particularly haunts me is the history of the Weimar Republic and the way in which political violence became so common as to be destabilizing. I worry that American leftists, particularly those centered on the university, are taking our society in the same direction.
Regarding UCLA Primate Freedom Project:
Their tactic is intimidation and when anyone gives in to it the intimidators have won - the one intimidated is under their control thereafter.
The same thing happened with the recent murder of Van Gogh in the Netherlands. The film academy chickened out of showing his film "Submission" at their next film festival stating fear of reprisals. What they failed to realize is at that very instant they surrendered to the radical Islamists without a fight. They gave up self will.
Never, ever, give in to intimidation!