The constant calls, the people frightening his children, and the demonstrations in front of his home apparently became a little too much.
Dario Ringach, an associate neurobiology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, decided this month to give up his research on primates because of pressure put on him, his neighborhood, and his family by the UCLA Primate Freedom Project, which seeks to stop research that harms animals.
Anti-animal research groups are trumpeting Ringach’s move as a victory, while some researchers are worried that it could embolden such groups to use more extreme tactics.
Ringach’s name and home phone number are posted on the Primate Freedom Project’s Web site, and colleagues and UCLA officials said that Ringach was harassed by phone — his office phone number is no longer active — and e-mail, as well as through demonstrations in front of his home.
In an e-mail this month to several anti-animal research groups, Ringach wrote that “you win,” and asked that the groups “please don’t bother my family anymore.” (Emphasis mine.)
I am not being critical of Dr. Ringach. Under similar circumstances, I would no doubt behave similarly, and he cannot be criticized for taking what steps he needs to take to protect himself and his family.
However, this kind of thuggery is absolutely unacceptable. Animal rights activists are entitled to their views, but when those views cross over into harassment and violence we need to bring the entire weight of the law down upon them. This type of intimidation not only chills genuinely important research, but resort to violence retards debate on the ethics of the experiments the protestors are trying to stop. We do not accept this behavior when it is perpetrated on abortion providers by pro-life protestors, and we should not accept this now.
The Society for Neuroscience has issued a petition for the passage of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a bill that would criminalize intimidation of scientists who participate in animal research. The House Bill is sponsored by Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI), and the Senate Bill is sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). Punishable offences as defined by the act are as follows:
Whoever travels in interstate or foreign commerce, or uses or causes to be used the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce
(1) for the purpose of damaging or disrupting an animal enterprise; and
(2) in connection with such purpose–
(A) intentionally damages, disrupts, or causes the loss of any property (including animals or records) used by the animal enterprise, or any property of a person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with the animal enterprise;
(B) intentionally places a person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to that person, a member of the immediate family (as defined in section 115) of that person, or a spouse or intimate partner of that person by a course of conduct involving threats, acts of vandalism, property damage, trespass, harassment, or intimidation; or
(C) conspires or attempts to do so;
For members of the Society for Neuroscience who would like to petition their Congressional representative in favor of the passage of this bill, you can do so here. I apologize to those of you not members of SfN, but I was unable to find another more general web petition. If you can find one, please post it in the comments. Otherwise, I urge you to contact your Congressional representative to support the passage of this bill. Helping people is difficult enough in science without the added complexity of fearing for your life.
Furthermore, we don’t want the US to become like Britain with respect to animal research — researchers and companies fleeing the country for places where their employees will no longer be subjected to organized intimidation. For partly the same reason that I think stem cell research should be legal — we don’t want people to just to go to foriegn shores — we need to get this taken care of before it festers.