I need to share with you a situation that is infuriating.
It’s infuriating to me, and I believe it should be infuriating to anyone who values a civil society worth the name.
Harassment drove UCLA neurobiologist Dario Ringach out of primate research in 2006. This was not just angry phone calls and email messages. We’re talking about people in masks banging on the windows of his house in the night, scaring his kids. Without support on this front from other scientists or from UCLA, Dario abandoned research that he believed to be important so that he could keep his family safe.
Since then, there has been more violence against researchers who work with animals. UCLA started to stand up for its researchers in the face of incendiary devices. Scientists started calling for an end to violent tactics in their journals, and in petitions, and in demonstrations.
As someone with experience being on the receiving end of such tactics, Dario stood up to decry their use against other scientists.
And, Dario participated in the dialogue at UCLA that was aimed at getting people with different views on animal research to engage with each other peacefully and productively. On a panel that included a strong defender of animal rights, Dario explained the role he thinks animal research plays in answering scientific questions that matter to us — to the public as well as scientists.
Not everyone on the panel, or in the audience, agreed with Dario’s point of view (although I daresay this was so for every one of the six panelists). But all seemed to recognize that it was a honest articulation of his view, and that it was his right to hold it and to articulate it.
For just daring to stand up and share his view, Dario was targeted for more home demonstrations. And now, activists threaten to bring the demonstrations to his children’s schools, to “educate fellow students what their classmate’s father does for a living”.
Express the view that scientific research is worth doing, plan on your kids being harassed? Is that what we’ve come to? Is this really the society we want to live in?
If it’s not, we need to stand up and say so, in no uncertain terms.
Having differing opinions is not a crime. Nobody’s kids should be targeted for harassment because you disagree with their parents. We need to call this behavior out, no matter who does it, no matter what cause they hope to further with it.
Each time these tactics are the ones that are used, we die a little as a pluralistic society, no matter which side we support. Any member of the public paying attention to such shenanigans should be outraged, and should say so.
And members of the scientific community especially have reason to oppose these tactics. They reflect, after all, the impression that scientists aren’t really a part of our society, that they’re not really members of our moral community. You can bang on their windows and scare the crap out of their kids, and “normal” people won’t make a peep about it.
Scientists are normal people, despite their specialized skills and interests. They need to see this bullying for what it is and raise their voices to reject it.
Scientists, are you mad? Then stand up and say it.