Adventures in Ethics and Science

Once again, researchers who use animals in their research have been the targets of violence at the hands of animal rights activists.

As reported by the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

In one incident, a faculty member’s home on Village Circle off High Street was intentionally firebombed at about 5:40 a.m. [on Saturday, August 2], according to police. The residence belongs to a well-known UCSC molecular biologist who works with mice. He was one of 13 researchers listed in threatening animal rights pamphlets found Tuesday in a downtown coffee shop.

In the second incident at about the same time, a Volvo station wagon parked in a faculty member’s driveway on Dickens Way on campus also was firebombed, police said.

The family was home at the time of the firebombing and the victims, including two young children, escaped on a fire ladder from a second-story window, according to police. One family member suffered injuries during the escape and had to be hospitalized briefly, police said. That bombing is being considered an attempted homicide because the family was home, police said.

The Volvo that burned also belonged to a UCSC researcher, but not a researcher listed in the pamphlet who also lives on Dickens Way, according to Santa Cruz police Capt. Steve Clark.

Clark declined to say if the researcher who owns the burned car works with animals or if the wrong car was bombed. …

Fliers identifying 13 UCSC scientists, some of whom use mice, fruit flies and other nonprimate creatures in their research, were discovered at a downtown coffee shop Tuesday. The fliers say, “Animal abusers everywhere beware; we know where you live; we know where you work; we will never back down until you end your abuse.” The names, home addresses, home phone numbers and photos of researchers were published on the fliers. …

The Santa Cruz incidents occurred one day after a mass e-mailing by Stop Animal Exploitation Now! SAEN highlighting what the group called “mounting violations of the animal welfare act” at private labs in Santa Cruz and Berkeley. Police would not say whether there is a connection between the group and Saturday’s violence. Clark would only say they are looking at several animal liberation groups, including SAEN.

The group’s president, Michael Budkie, said he was in Ohio and that group researches and highlights public records regarding use of animals in research labs. But he said the group does not use violent tactics and was not involved in the Santa Cruz attacks.

Let’s see if I have this straight: The use of animals in scientific research — including mice and fruit flies — is abuse. And, the tactic chosen to end this abuse is firebombing.

Because setting fire to a house with little kids in it — in a really dry part of California during fire season — is an effective way to get your point across.

The problem is, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the “point” these thugs are making is that they get off on making incendiary devices, disrupting scientific research, and putting their fellow human being in harm’s way. There is nothing about this kind of violent act that advances anything like an argument that animals ought to be treated with more regard. As public relations for their cause, this kind of violence utterly fails (although I suppose it may help recruit more sociopaths who like to play with fire).

If you have a reasoned argument to offer on behalf of your view, you ought to stand up and make the case. Resorting to violence amounts to admitting that you have no persuasive reasons to support your view.

If you have beliefs worth standing up for, stand up for them for real, putting your name and your face out there with them. Firebombers and vandals who strike in the middle of the night and flee the scene are cowards.

Inspiring fear does not win the argument. In fact, targeting scientists and putting their families and neighbors in harms way does a lot to discredit the animal rights movement with the public. Read the comments from non-scientists in the Santa Cruz Sentinel article; if you lose the public in Santa Cruz, do you think your “argument” holds any weight at all in much more carnivorous parts of the country?

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that groups like SAEN actually do stand against violence and are trying to make their case through peaceful activism. At this point, such groups now have a much heavier burden because of attacks on scientists.

It would be nice to see them take a stand against violence and intimidation, and for cooperation with scientists, universities, private labs, and regulatory agencies, both to make sure prevailing regulations are enforced and to find ways for each side to take the other’s concerns seriously.

Actually, it wouldn’t just be nice. At this point, taking such a stand is essential if a group like SAEN is to have any credibility at all.

Maybe some of the groups involved in firebombing and other violent attacks used to have a point worth taking seriously. At this point, their violent tactics have become their message.

Comments

  1. #1 Constance Reader
    August 5, 2008

    But is this really a surprising development in a country that kills people who have killed people to demonstrate that killing people is wrong?

  2. #2 Katharine
    August 5, 2008

    Constance, are you an animal rights activist?

  3. #3 Rev Matt
    August 5, 2008

    I’m one who could at one time have been sympathetic to the views of animal rights groups. However by the time I was in college I’d seen enough of this sort of thing to believe that these people are clearly unstable. The willingness, and in some cases eagerness, to kill people who are not a direct and immediate threat to someone’s life in order to promote your cause is, as noted above, a compelling argument against said cause.

    It was the animal rights activists who convinced me their position was wrong.

  4. #4 Evil Monkey
    August 5, 2008

    Countries that ban the death penalty can have even worse animal rights nutcase problems that we do.

  5. #5 Colin Caret
    August 5, 2008

    I’m not in favor of these tactics either, but I think that something critics often miss out on is that some people involved in the animal rights movement think of the use of animals for food and research as the moral equivalent of slavery. Maybe they are completely wrong about this, but you can understand that their tactics are not like some misguided effort at winning a debate. Such people consider our attitudes toward animals to be so skewed that only violent methods are sufficient to put it to a stop. Sort of like how slavery was finally put to rest.

  6. #6 Nalgas
    August 5, 2008

    If you shoot somebody who’s trying to firebomb you, your home, your car, or your workplace, you’ll want me on your jury.

  7. #7 Brian
    August 5, 2008

    It’s not surprising in any country, because extremism is a very human “thing.” It’s just surprising that the government doesn’t do more about it.

    Shortsightedness is not a sufficient excuse in our courts (though perhaps violent responses to irrational causes could be considered insanity). These people should be locked away forever.

    Any “animal rights” activists care to claim these criminals as their own?

  8. #8 nj
    August 5, 2008

    …or in a country that takes money away from people to demonstrate that taking money away from people is wrong?

  9. #9 Clinton
    August 5, 2008

    I think that something critics often miss out on is that some people involved in the animal rights movement think of the use of animals for food and research as the moral equivalent of slavery.

    Funny, I don’t recall that euthanizing slaves was part of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Slaves agenda…did that get left out of my history book? and was part of the agenda to go around randomly terrorizing individual slaveholders? or was there a more systematic and political approach?

    yes, there was eventually the US Civil War, which was based in very large part over the slavery issue, emerged. It was violent and nasty as war usually is. War is also a State act and like it or not has a very different moral calculus than does individual acts of murder and terrorism. So let’s keep to the proper analogies, shall we? ARA terrorism is much more like KKK nutters, fighting a battle in which they are on the wrong side, resorting to violence and terrorism because democratic societal will is against them. just like the nutters who murder abortion providers. Just like McVeigh. Just like Unabomber.

    Don’t try to pretend these firebombers out at Santa Cruz have moral standing. They do not.

  10. #10 Matt
    August 5, 2008

    At this point, taking such a stand is essential if a group like SAEN is to have any credibility at all.

    You hit this right on the mark. They do not understand how the culture of science functions, unfortunately, or else they would be able to make a significant impact on regulations…

  11. #11 SteveWH
    August 5, 2008

    I’m sympathetic, but not a full supporter, to the position that since our government, policies, laws, regulations, etc. (all of those “social contract” bits) were made without taking the interests of non-humans into account (yes, non-human animals have interests too), that some degree of “strategic monkeywrenching” can be acceptable, and, if done well, can be a useful tool for furthering a cause.

    But these tactics don’t fall under the “maybe acceptable” heading. They are simply evil.

  12. #12 Paul Murray
    August 6, 2008

    “The willingness, and in some cases eagerness, to kill people who are not a direct and immediate threat to someone’s life in order to promote your cause is, as noted above, a compelling argument against said cause.”

    Are we including the speading of “democracy” and “freedom” as one of thise causes?

  13. #13 Paul
    August 6, 2008

    These kind of tactics used to be a real problem in the UK, but better police action and rallies in defence of science by Pro-Test http://www.pro-test.org.uk/ helped turn this situation around.

    Pro-Test has a sister organization in the USA, the recently founded Speaking of Research http://www.speakingofresearch.org/

    If you’re wondering how you can help David Feldheim and his colleagues it might be a good place to start.

  14. #14 Colin Caret
    August 6, 2008

    ARA terrorism is much more like KKK nutters, fighting a battle in which they are on the wrong side, resorting to violence and terrorism because democratic societal will is against them.

    This is the sort of thing I mean. One would only see the analogy this way if one takes it that the ethical position these folks are fighting for is obviously wrong. That they, like the KKK, are “nutters… on the wrong side” of the issue. I don’t think the issue is so cut and dry, so you? Maybe what you meant was that the ARA don’t really have the interests of the animals in mind in the first place. Maybe they are acting from ulterior motives having more to do with hatred of trends in American society, etc. That’s quite possible and, if true, would undermine their movement.

    What concerns me, Clinton, is your appeal to “democratic societal will”. Do you mean to say that as long as the majority is behind it and the law supports it, there is no room for legitimate moral disagreement about it? That these poor fools are just sore losers unwilling to admit that the moral standards have been set (its okay to torture and murder non-human animals so long as we get food and medicine out of the deal)? To me this sort of appeal sounds like it is just an attempt to shut down those who disagree, which if anything will promote violent resistance rather than reasoned debate.

    At any rate, I said at the outset that I (a vegetarian, motivated by ethical concerns) do not support these tactics. So please don’t take to me be rationalizing what these people did. I was making a purely academic point about what might motivate such acts.

  15. #15 brian
    August 6, 2008

    C.Caret: “One would only see the analogy this way if one takes it that the ethical position these folks are fighting for is obviously wrong.”

    No, the analogy works fine.

    The tactics used by the KKK are reprehensible regardless of their ethical position. In the world of legitimate argument, certain tactics are inexcusable. Terrorism encompasses many of those tactics, which are used by…. the KKK and the ARA. The analogy is perfect, because they do the same damn thing.

    Whether there is any tiny morsel of supportable ethical standing in the organization is completely irrelevant, and is a diversion to the actual issue: ARA terrorism should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, just like KKK terrorism, and for the same reasons: Arson, assault, conspiracy to commit violent acts.

    The judge shouldn’t care if you did it for the bunnies or for the skin heads.

    In this country, there’s a right to assembly. The ACLU has, for quite some time, fought for the right for extremist organizations to hold rallys, protests, etc. That’s legitimate.

    You have the right to have an opinion and express it as long as you do not impede the ability for others to do the same (at least, in public forums). No one is required to respect your opinion, is all.

  16. #16 ArtK
    August 6, 2008

    I’m fond of the quote by Isaac Asimov from one of the Foundation books:

    “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

  17. #17 Samia
    August 6, 2008

    It’s one thing to put adults in harm’s way for no good reason, but children…I can’t even imagine.

    Colin, I think it’s sometimes easier for people to focus on truly scary criminal acts like these and use them to dismiss any arguments about animal rights/welfare issues. It’s seen as a fringe thing anyway, which makes it easier to condemn and forget about. I’m part of an organization at school that I guess would be classified as “animal rights”-oriented but it’s open to non-vegetarians/vegans and they actually do some really good stuff for the community.

    Is there some kind of middle ground somewhere or is everyone who has any kind of problem with the way animals are treated in the U.S. an “animal rights activist=thug?”

  18. #18 Colin Caret
    August 6, 2008

    brian,

    “ARA terrorism should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, just like KKK terrorism”

    Well sure, I didn’t realize that was the issue. I agree entirely. No issue here. But I think most people are missing my point. Would it be reasonable to take up arms to free other human beings from bondage and torture? Many would say yes. Well suppose you see animals as the moral equivalents of humans and no less deserving of every effort to intervene to keep them from being tortured? See what I’m saying? I’m not condoning the act. I should probably just drop it at this point.

    Samia, I never meant to equate animal rights activism with violent thuggery. I consider myself an advocate of animals rights and I don’t pursue these tactics. Sorry all around if there has been confusion regarding the point I was trying to make.

    to reiterate: terrorism bad.

  19. #19 Lab Lemming
    August 6, 2008

    “some people involved in the animal rights movement think of the use of animals for food and research as the moral equivalent of slavery.”

    Are most of these activists white? Because the corollary to this idea is that slaves are the moral equivalent of animals.

    Former slaves and their descendants may not take kindly to this position.

  20. #20 brian
    August 7, 2008

    “Would it be reasonable to take up arms to free other human beings from bondage and torture? Many would say yes.”

    Taking up arms is very different from vigilantism. Interestingly enough, your question isn’t hypothetical. There’s a prison (Guantanamo) where this exact situation is happening, and people ain’t doin’ nada. Would it be reasonable to attack soldiers stationed at Guantanamo to free those prisoners? I doubt you’d find many who’d say yes.

    I agree that this is an “argument” that is going back and forth on extremes, and that no one is really talking about the same thing here. All the same, there are two points that I absolutely will not back down from here. If they’re tangential to what you’re talking about, fine.

    1) These were criminal acts that are entirely separate from an “armed conflict” analogy. There’s a difference between a terrorist and a soldier. For a soldier, violence is a means to an end (and is often a last resort). For a terrorist, violence IS the desired end. We can all agree that terrorism is bad. I think we might disagree about whether these people are terrorists. I think they are.

    2) Moderate animal rights activists incorrectly assume that researchers disagree with them. They’re just not the squeaky wheel, so they don’t get much attention. There are very specific protocols used during animal research in Universities to minimize exactly the kinds of things moderate animal rights activists have a problem with (e.g. demonstrating the necessity of the animal model, using as few animals as possible, maintaining the health of animals as much as possible). Furthermore, researchers are people too, so no one wants to cause any more suffering than is necessary. Again, animal models are a means to an end. Researchers make every effort to minimize discomfort where possible (and if they don’t, they are very likely violating regulations).

    So between 1) and 2), what’s left? Pretty much everyone, researchers and activists alike, think animals have some rights and shouldn’t be in harm’s way more than necessary. You’d have to take a more extreme position to be in disagreement here, which is where we start getting to the ARA folk in the article above.

  21. #21 Colin Caret
    August 7, 2008

    Lab Lemming: in effect that is a corollary of this view, but it has nothing to do with slaves per se, it is simply the view that humans and non-human animals are moral equivalents period. That people may not take kindly to such a suggestion is irrelevant to its truth.

  22. #22 Samia
    August 7, 2008

    Colin: I don’t think you equated animal rights activisim with thuggery at all. I just see people here kinda tarring folks with a giant-ass brush, and it bugs me.

    brian, I would say that most people who eat factory-farmed meat don’t believe animals “shouldn’t be in harm’s way more than necessary,” but I don’t think that’s a popular idea around these parts. People get really emotional about meat. The disagreement centers around what constitutes “necessary harm.”

    I would love for there to be an open and respectful dialogue between researchers who use animals in their work and members of groups like the one I am part of (lots of us are science majors and eager to learn more about how experimental animals are used and cared for). My goal this semester is to push for a discussion panel about animals in science; it could also benefit members of the general public, who are invited to all our functions.

    The only time I see a science-related blog even touch on animal rights/welfare issues is in the context of a terrorist attack such as the one Dr. Free-Ride described in her post. It makes me sad and angry that criminals are a) committing these horrendous offenses against innocent people, including small children who will likely be traumatized for the remainder of their lives and b) making it seem as if anyone interested in animal rights/welfare is affiliated with or sympathizes with these idiots.

    I can understand the idea that using animals as food/experimental subjects is tantamount to slavery and have no idea how that equates to the idea that black people are animals. But I do sometimes get annoyed at how white some of these groups are. It seems like they get hung up on the wrong stuff sometimes. One thing I like about my organization is how open they are to different viewpoints and lifestyles, and there’s no “animals > people” vibe.

  23. #23 Clinton
    August 7, 2008

    … is everyone who has any kind of problem with the way animals are treated in the U.S. an “animal rights activist=thug?”

    Nope. But if you give the slightest amount of aid and comfort or wink-wink acquiescence to the conduct of nutter terrorists, well, yeah I have a problem with you. If you perpetuate factually inaccurate tripe about the treatment of animals in research, hypocritically take selective positions on a slippery-sliding moral scale, demonize industries and practices from which you fully benefit….I’m not sympathetic. You got a problem with animal research? Fine, no modern medical practices for you. If you’re cool with that and don’t backslide once you’ve moved past your naive youth and start facing personal or family health crises that are severe but fixable with modern medical practices developed with animal research…then, we can talk.

    Is there a “middle ground”? You bet your boots. It is what we inhabit right now. The middle ground. The days of do-whatever-whenever animal research are long, loooong, past. Everytime a thread like this crops up, scientists mention the detailed regulatory restrictions in how animal research may be conducted. There are plenty of online sources and of course your local animal researcher can bring you up to speed in a trice. Show an appreciation and understanding of this and if you still have concerns…we can talk. Throw that all aside offhand and say “yeah but that is irrelevant…” and we know you are arguing in bad faith from a theological perspective.

    Colin C. I take your point, really I do. But not every extremist position is on the right side of history. This is one of those. Unlike arguments that women, blacks, poor people (pick your group) are inherently inferior, the argument that animals are just like humans is never, ever going to be sustained with any sort of credible evidence. It will forever remain in the world of belief, a theological adherence without any objective merit. In short, a personal preference.

  24. #24 Samia
    August 7, 2008

    “Nope. But if you give the slightest amount of aid and comfort or wink-wink acquiescence to the conduct of nutter terrorists, well, yeah I have a problem with you. If you perpetuate factually inaccurate tripe about the treatment of animals in research, hypocritically take selective positions on a slippery-sliding moral scale, demonize industries and practices from which you fully benefit….I’m not sympathetic. You got a problem with animal research? Fine, no modern medical practices for you. If you’re cool with that and don’t backslide once you’ve moved past your naive youth and start facing personal or family health crises that are severe but fixable with modern medical practices developed with animal research…then, we can talk.”

    I found this part of your reply unnecessarily hostile and somewhat age-ist, considering there are plenty of older people interested in exploring animal rights issues. Not everyone is opposed to the same kinds of practices. I don’t appreciate your assumption that I’ve never dealt with any personal or family health crises. To my knowledge, I have never claimed that animal research is useless.

    “There are plenty of online sources and of course your local animal researcher can bring you up to speed in a trice.”

    I’ve been having trouble nailing down online sources of information on animal research guidelines, so I would love links if you’ve got the time. I would prefer someone to sit down with me and talk about it, but every time I ask one of my professors to describe the regulations, I get brushed off and sometimes scientists are actually hostile towards me. Or they look at my skin colour and assume I’m a religious nut who wants to battle them in the name of Ganesh. I make sure to ask carefully chosen, neutral questions, but some of the premier animal researchers at my school are well known for being rude asshats, so I may try some more people once school starts back up. So far I’ve been approaching guest speakers and professors whom I don’t know too well. The mentors and advisors I am more familiar with are generally biochemists and don’t use animal models in their labs, but they might still know a lot about this.

    “Show an appreciation and understanding of this and if you still have concerns…we can talk. Throw that all aside offhand and say “yeah but that is irrelevant…” and we know you are arguing in bad faith from a theological perspective.”

    No idea what elicited that response. You seem a little defensive, which I can understand given that terrorists are friggin’ firebombing scientists in the name of animal rights. I actually have a real interest in these issues that isn’t related to sticking it Teh Evil Scientists, believe it or not.

    I don’t know any animal rights/welfare supporters who believe animals are “just like” humans. And I know quite a few folks.

  25. #25 chezjake
    August 7, 2008

    Perhaps the best way to deter these people from their unwarranted violence is to prosecute those who are caught under the recent federal anti-terrorist statutes. They qualify as terrorists in every sense of the law, so treat them as such when they are apprehended. Seize all their assets, too. No matter their “justifications,” they are criminals.

  26. #26 Samia
    August 7, 2008

    chezjake: AMEN.

  27. #27 Colin Caret
    August 7, 2008

    Clinton, I appreciate your frankness. I also appreciate your willing to stand by strong moral convictions. However, I really take issue with the tone of this particular comment: “Unlike arguments that women, blacks, poor people (pick your group) are inherently inferior, the argument that animals are just like humans is never, ever going to be sustained with any sort of credible evidence.” You may think that this particular moral judgment is deeply mistaken, but to state with such confidence that it cannot be sustained implies that people who believe it are either ignorant or irrational. That’s not a casual accusation and its not one to be taken lightly. And I’ll note that you aren’t even arguing the point. It is precisely such tactics of hiding behind the status quo rather than directly engaging the controversial moral issue which can incite hostility (in light of the OP, I should say that I do not mean to be rationalizing terrorism, I am just expressing a frustration with the nature of this debate).

  28. #28 Clinton
    August 8, 2008

    You may think that this particular moral judgment is deeply mistaken, but to state with such confidence that it cannot be sustained implies that people who believe it are either ignorant or irrational.

    What I try to make clear is that I consider much of the animal activist / animal rights position to be similar in nature to a theological belief system. Yes, I happen to find believers in unsubstantiated grandiose theological structures a bit ignorant and irrational. That is beside the point, however. I would be much more comfortable if the true believers were to acknowledge the fundamental belief/personal preference nature of their position. Because when they start trying to employ evidence based arguments, well, it’s go time. When they try to force everyone else to conform to their arbitrary belief structure, even if it causes a severe insult to quality of life, ditto.

    And I’ll note that you aren’t even arguing the point. It is precisely such tactics of hiding behind the status quo rather than directly engaging the controversial moral issue

    You should be able to search Dr. F-R’s archive for animal rights threads and you will see me “engaging the controversial moral issue”. You might want to check denialism and Respectful Insolence because they cover the ARA nutjob beat too- though honestly I can’t remember if I’ve commented there or not.

    I am happy to argue your points and in fact am doing so. You advanced the animal use = human slavery analogy. I addressed that. It’s absurd to compare the tactics. It is also absurd to equate animals with any put-upon class of humans such as those with different ethnicity, women, gays, athiests, women who wish reproductive freedom, etc. You weaseled into the “moral equivalents” tripe.

    Ok. What is “moral equivalents” and on what basis do you assign this equivalence? Once again, do you recognize that this is a personal preference akin to a theological belief structure? If not, what is your argument for a more universal basis to the argument? (oh, and don’t reference some bs artist or other..what do you think?)

  29. #29 eddie
    August 8, 2008

    Who actually did this thing?

    Were they the same people who did the anthrax in the mail thing?

  30. #30 Colin Caret
    August 12, 2008

    Clinton, I’m not advocating the equivalence in question, I’m questioning your insistence that it is a mere “personal preference”. Let me pose this: what makes it a personal preference to think that non-human animals have a significant moral standing? It sounds to me like that is a moral judgment and so, if it is true at all, it would fall into the same category as saying that, e.g. torturing innocent people is wrong. Okay, so if the first one is a mere personal preference does that make all moral judgments out to be mere personal preferences? I just so happen to prefer that innocent people not be tortured, but really there is no objective backing for my preference. It’s like my taste in movies. That seems really extreme to me (and extremely wrong).

    However, if you want an argument (again, not personally advocating this position, but since you asked…). Here is an argument for the moral equivalence of all sentient animals. The reason it is wrong to harm anything is because of the pain that thing can feel, and there is no difference between a human feeling pain and a non-human animal feeling pain. It is not a huge stretch to frame such an argument. So explain to me what about this seems ignorant or irrational?