I wanted to have a post up about this several days ago when I first heard about this incident. It's taken me several days because this makes me so angry that my writing is completely incoherent. It also makes me feel really ill, and well, nobody likes to feel sick. However, this is a really important issue and the more people who say something about it the better. Please write something yourself.
To summarize: UCLA recently hosted an important dialogue on animal research. The event was co-sponsored by animal rights group Bruins for Animals, and pro animal research organization Pro-Test.
It featured several viewpoints from prominent positions on either side of the issue. Despite the best efforts of extremist ARA organizations to intimidate participants via their websites and to disrupt the dialogue or turn it into a debate, the event went off really well. You can read more about it at Adventures in Science and Ethics. I think that this is a HUGE WIN for everyone involved. Being able to have an open, respectful and informative conversation about something as important as animal research is absolutely crucial to improving protection for animal research subjects while at the same making the research process more transparent to the public. These are all good things.
Unfortunately, some ARA groups do not agree. Instead of making productive steps in furthering the dialogue they've taken a particularly low and despicable tactic. They've launched a terror campaign targeting the children of one of the dialogue participants who spoke in support of animal research. They have done this before. Harassment from ARA terrorists included people in masks coming to Dario Ringach's home and banging on his children's windows at night. It got so bad that the cost to his family's sense of safety was too great - he got out of primate research in 2006 and now has security personnel outside his home. While the loss of his contributions to the research community are a travesty, one can hardly blame him. Now, four years later, his children are being targeted, again, because he participated in a discussion about animal research. Some organizations are planning demonstrations at his kids' school to scare them and "show them what their father does for a living."
(I would like to point out here that Bruins for Animals, one of the co-sponsors of the event that has precipitated unwarranted attacks on children, has publicly condemned acts of terror and violence towards researchers and their families. BfA's continued commitment to ensuring animal welfare, by promoting such dialogue and taking a stand against all violence toward both human and non-human animals, is to be commended.)
A number of other people have written about this. Dr. Free-Ride, of course, who was also targeted in online intimidation tactics. PalMD has expounded upon the hypocrisy of de-humanizing the persons targeted to level of animals so that attacks can proceed in the name of elevating animals to human status. DrugMonkey talks about the problem with ARAs conflating "sentience" with "sapience". Orac exposes the fallacy in targeting one innocent under the guise of protecting another. Sci makes an excellent case for the very real ethical motivations and actions of researchers themselves. MarkCC points out the continuing necessity for animal research even as computer modeling advances.
All of these folks are making some really excellent points and I really encourage you to go read them. I'd like to talk about another hypocrisy that I see here.
The language used by some ARAs to incite violence against researchers and their families strikes me as particularly troubling. It is not accurate for starters, but I don't think that we're really expecting that. Most ARA terrorists clearly have no first-hand experience with how ethical animal research is conducted, and they sensationalize their rhetoric to amplify this ignorance into an inflammatory statement.
What really strikes me is that a lot of this rhetoric reads like snuff-porn.
There is intense focus on graphic descriptions of grisly procedures (which would never be allowed under any IACUC), illustrations of the targets wearing bloodied clothes (or none at all) and carrying medieval torture instruments, caricatures of researchers taking pleasure in exacting pain upon animals. It's all very sadistic-sounding, and it's all untrue.
It's a hook. It's meant to grab the reader. Shock is a very effective tactic for accomplishing this and they're employing it well towards that end. But there's more to it than that. There is an undercurrent of appetite for the kind of violence they describe. It reads as if they take pleasure in imagining the violence they describe (starting to sound familiar?), and they are inviting the reader to join in that sadistic pleasure. You can almost hear the drool. The reader is encouraged to be titillated by violence too, to want more violence --this time, not imagined violence. The reader of this rhetoric is explicitly encouraged to act out this desire upon their chosen dehumanized targets, the researchers that they have characterized as monsters. And worse, the "offspring" or "spawn" of those "monsters". In their snuff-porn fantasy, they've made real people, including children who are not involved in the activities that ARAs purport to rationally and ethically oppose, the targets of their lust for violence.
I am utterly gobsmacked that they cannot recognize their own sadism and hypocrisy, even while accusing researchers of precisely this. Frankly, it sickens me. This kind of acute lack of self-awareness smacks of sociopaths. This post was really really hard to write. Sadists creep me out and make me feel nauseous. It's very disturbing pathological behavior and I find it to be very distressing that it carries any appeal to recruit people to a cause.