A former animal researcher speaks out

Dario Ringach used animals in his research in neuroscience. When extremist animal rights activists tried to blow up his house in 2006, and accidentally almost blew up the wrong person’s house (in characteristic fashion, they got the address wrong, and the bomb did not function) Ringach got spooked and quit using the animals. Recently, Ringach has been speaking out regarding this issue, and the current Nature News has a write up.

After three years of keeping a low profile, Ringach is now trying to raise public support for the use of animals in research. This month, he published a commentary on the subject in the Journal of Neuroscience1 and a letter to the editor in the Journal of Neurophysiology2 in which he calls on scientists to publicly support such research. His coauthor on both was David Jentsch, a neuropsychopharmacologist at UCLA whose work involves primates and whose car was firebombed earlier this year. Nature spoke with Ringach about his concerns.


The interview is here.

In the interview, he supports the claim he has made earlier that animal rights extremists are winning, because an increasingly larger percentage of the public opposes using animals in research. Personally, I tend to disagree. The extremists are not winning that battle, unless one places all people who even question the use of animals in research (but do not use violence to push their position) “extremists.”

We could be seeing something more like an overall shift away from indifference to the use of animals in research, which goes along with a shift towards preference for better treatment at the abattoir, and conservation of endangered species, and so on. Indeed, Ringach conflates these numerous efforts in the interview when he says “A lot of organizations at different levels have had a tremendous impact — from work that the Humane Society of the United States … has been doing in exposing failures in the food industry, to work that PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, based in London] is doing in trying to reach out to children very early.”

He suggests that one way to improve the situation is through better communication between scientists and the public. Funny how scientists often say that but then when someone suggests that this be done in some way other than the occasional pop sci book read only be geeks they get mad.. Anyway, he further suggests inviting people into the labs to see what is going on.

That is a great idea. A couple of months ago, I went with a group of high school students to a lab set up for this exact purpose at the University of Minnesota. Well, let me be clear: The lab is set up for research on hearts. It is in fact the exact space where many of the procedures used for open heart surgery and where the pacemaker itself, were developed. (I heard this story while I was there.) I am certain that some of the students walked into that lab as potential candidates for recruitment by PETA and ALF/ELF, but left with a much more enlightened view.

I am as concerned with the young folks who get involved wiht ALF/ELF and thus totally mess up their lives as I am with the scientists. An approach that powerfully and widely disseminates information about what scientific research involving animals is really about would probably work better than anything else that is going on now.

At the conclusion of the interview, Ringach states:

I thought I had to start speaking up in the hope that first, these attacks will stop, and second, that the public will understand we are open to dialogue but we can only do so in an environment where we know that we will not be attacked when we go back home.

Comments

  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    September 22, 2009

    While I appreciate the sentiment of the close, it just ain’t so. You can’t wait to be safe before you start talking. You just have to talk, and to talk about how talking makes you unsafe. Jentsch, at least, is doing just that.

  2. #2 inverse_agonist
    September 22, 2009

    I wouldn’t be so sanguine about public support for animal research. First, animals are cute. The fact that arguments in favor of animal research are correct doesn’t mean that they’ll convince the public more than pictures of sad little bunny rabbits. Second, it seems that the public doesn’t really have a problem holding self-contradictory beliefs. Undergraduates have asked what I do, and I’ve explained (brain lesions and local infusions in rats, mostly). I’ve heard that this research is “so sad” from people that eat meat every day. It’s not hard to imagine such a person voting for a ballot initiative to restrict research in some way. I’ve discussed the Jentsch firebombing with my mother, and her first reaction to hearing about it was “Oh, so he was torturing animals.”

    The public doesn’t need to accept or even understand the implications of “extremist” positions for extremists to have a negative effect. It wasn’t that long ago that a House representative tried to de-fund someone’s grant for pigeon research, on the grounds that it was “wasteful” and had nothing to do with the mission of NIMH. Sarah Palin thinks research on fruit flies is ridiculous, and she was almost Vice President.

    Apparently less than half of the population accepts evolution, so it’s not hard to imagine that people could be convinced that animals are just “too different” from people to justify such “wasteful spending.” Animal researchers are just greedy for grants, like those dubious atmospheric scientists trying to scare everybody. It’s easy to demagogue with these sorts of arguments, especially since America’s finances are…really bad. What happens when the dollar is replaced by something else as the world reserve currency and things get even worse?

  3. #3 MadScientist
    September 23, 2009

    The last thing the terrorists want is dialog. You cannot negotiate with terrorists.