People with concerns about the use of animals in biomedical research should also be concerned about the actions of the Animal Liberation Front and other “animal rights” groups — at least if they want other people to take their concerns seriously.
It seems that ALF views actions like the attack of the home of UCLA scientist Edythe London last week as somehow advancing its cause. This in itself makes it pretty clear to me that they have set aside reasoned discourse as a tool and gone straight to violence and intimidation.
Here’s how the “Animal Liberation Press Office” describes the incident:
Los Angeles- Primate Vivisector Edythe London was added to the roster of animal abusers at UCLA targeted by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) for her role in torturing non-human animals to death in outdated and unnecessary experiments. In an anonymous communique received by the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, the ALF claimed to target London for her sadistic procedures addicting non-human primates to methamphetamine; she has also published data on primate addiction to nicotine, and addicting baby lambs to cocaine.
The communique claims London’s Beverly Hills home … had a window broken and was flooded by a garden hose. It reads in part: “One more thing Edythe, water was our second choice, fire was our first. We compromised because we in the ALF don’t risk harming animals human and non human and we don’t risk starting brush fires.It would have been just as easy to burn your house down Edythe. As you slosh around your flooded house consider yourself fortunate this time. We will not stop until UCLA discontinues its primate vivisection programe.” …
Press Officer Jerry Vlasak, MD states: “London’s research is a colossal waste of taxpayer money, and soliciting money from industry groups to study their retail products is considered unethical by most physicians interested in research that might help their patients. Of course, not being a clinician, London appears to have no interest in helping people, but instead derives pleasure in killing animals to further her own personal goals of academic and monetary enrichment. Why the people of California allow this abuse to continue at their expense is truly a mystery to me.”
- Intuit the motives of research scientists (and in particular, the likelihood that they derive pleasure from animal distress)
- Objectively evaluate the worth of a research program, and its likelihood of helping patients
- Speak on behalf of the people of California, at least insofar as the allocation of their tax dollars is concerned
Each of these, to some extent, would require engaging in dialogue to find something out — whether about experimental design and how a particular piece of research fits into the body of existing knowledge, or about why a particular scientific question seems pressing and a particular experimental approach to answering it seems promising, or about what precisely the taxpayers of the state of California value and what they’re willing to pay for it.
Breaking a researcher’s window and flooding her house is not an especially good strategy for gathering information or entering into a serious dialogue.
(By the way, on the assumption that Dr. Vlasak is still in practice as a surgeon, I trust he’s taken the care to identify all the surgical techniques and devices developed using research with animals, so that he can assiduously avoid them. And I trust that he makes sure his patients are fully informed that he has done so.)
Indeed, it seems like it would have been possible to get more insight into London’s interests in pursuing the research she does by asking her. Here’s how London describes her research in the Los Angeles Times:
I have devoted my career to understanding how nicotine, methamphetamine and other drugs can hijack brain chemistry and leave the affected individual at the mercy of his or her addiction. My personal connection to addiction is rooted in the untimely death of my father, who died of complications of nicotine dependence. My work on the neurobiology of addiction has spanned three decades of my life — most of this time as a senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health. To me, nothing could be more important than solving the mysteries of addiction and learning how we can restore a person’s control over his or her own life. Addiction robs young people of their futures, destroys families and places a tremendous burden on society.
Animal studies allow us to test potential treatments without confounding factors, such as prior drug use and other experiences that complicate human studies. Even more important, they allow us to test possibly life-saving treatments before they are considered safe to test in humans. Our animal studies address the effects of chronic drug use on brain functions, such as decision-making and self-control, that are impaired in human addicts. We are also testing potential treatments, and all of our studies comply with federal laws designed to ensure humane care.
While monkeys receive drugs in the laboratory, they do not become “addicted” in the same sense that humans become addicted. Still, we are able to see how changes in brain chemistry alter the way the brain works — knowledge that is vital to the design of effective medications.
My colleagues and I place a huge value on the welfare of our research subjects. We constantly strive to minimize the risk to them; however, a certain amount of risk is necessary to provide us with the information we need in a rigorously scientific manner. Since the incident at my house, our research has gotten a lot of attention. Some anti-smoking groups have raised questions about the fact that our work was funded by Philip Morris USA. Is it moral to allow the tobacco industry to fund research on addiction? My view is that the problem of tobacco dependence is enormous, and the resources available for research on the problem are limited. It would, therefore, be immoral to decline an opportunity to increase our knowledge about addiction and develop new treatments for quitting smoking, especially when teens are involved. Few people are untouched by the scourge of addiction in their friends or family. It is through work like ours that the understanding of addiction expands and gives rise to hope that we can help people like my father live longer, healthier lives.
To the extent that specific uses of animals in specific research projects may be scientifically and ethically problematic, I think that should be dealt with — but the right way to deal with it is by pointing out the problems and engaging in a dialogue about how to address them.
Destroying someone’s house, or threatening someone’s life (of the lives or his or her family members) is not the same as offering good reasons why he or she should not be conducting a particular line of research. Rather, it’s a move that indicates that you don’t believe that the reasons you have to offer in support of your aim are persuasive.
Thuggish displays of force are not terribly persuasive, either.