Pure Pedantry

This is completely unacceptable:

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Web site, and colleagues and UCLA officials said that Ringach was harassed by phone — his office phone number is no longer active — and e-mail, as well as through demonstrations in front of his home.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.

Comments

  1. #1 quitter
    August 28, 2006

    I can’t help thinking when I read this article about your post on depression models in mice (good post by the way). You noted yourself that the mouse models seemed somewhat cruel to the furry little buggers. But you came to the exact right conclusion. That the suffering in humans is a worse problem than the harm caused to the animals in this research.

    Being a scientist who uses animals and animal disease models I find this kind of terrorism especially disturbing, not only because the emphasis always seems to be on whether or not cute animals are used, but because it reflects a fundamental failure to understand the use of animals in biological research. Biological research is simply impossible without animal experimentation. Further the complaint that this researcher wasn’t studying life threatening disease is even more disturbing. They’re basically saying there is no benefit to basic research. Ouch. The overwhelming majority of research in this country is basic research for good reason. Just like you can’t build a pyramid from the top down, you can’t perform research on human disease by starting with human experimentation. This dismissal of basic science as unimportant because it’s not “curing cancer” reflects a more fundamental misunderstanding of how science works, beyond merely not understanding that 100% of biological science is dependent on animals, animal tissues, or reagents derived from animals. Even when not directly studying living animals, everything from the serum we use to feed our cells in culture, to the primary lines we study, to the antibodies we use to see the proteins we study, to the collagen we culture cells on comes from animals. To say that animals in research are unimportant or dispensable is just so ignorant it makes my head nearly explode.

  2. #2 Bbo
    August 28, 2006

    That the suffering in humans is a worse problem than the harm caused to the animals in this research.

    It’s this kind of attitude that really bothers me. Because the suffering I am going to cause is less than the suffering of other people, it’s ok for me to cause that suffering. I simply cannot agree with that. The ends never justify the means.

    There are much better arguements to be made in favor of animal testing. The only reason to test on animals is when there is no alternative and when the thing being researched is life saving, not merely life altering. Fortunately, every year as advances are made in computer modelling there are more and more alternatives to animal testing.

    In an otherwise lousy book, the hero has to confront the “ends justify the means” argument directly. Answer these questions truthfully and think about why you answer the way to do:

    Would you kill a worm to save a human life?

    Would you kill a fish?

    Would you kill a mouse?

    Would you kill a cat?

    Would you kill a dog?

    Would you torture and cause horrible pain to a mouse?

    Would you torture and cause horrible pain to a cat?

    Would you torture and cause horrible pain to a dog?

    Would you torture and cause horrible pain to Kanzi (the signing bonobo)?

    Would you torture and cause horrible pain to Koko the gorilla?

    Would you torture and cause horrible pain to Alex the parrot?

    Would you torture and cause horrible pain to your pet that you raised from a kit/kitten/puppy?

    Would you kill one person to save 10? 100? 1,000?

    Would you torture one person to save another? To save 10? 100? 1,000?

    At what point did you cross the line from yes to no? Why?

  3. #3 coturnix
    August 28, 2006

    It’s he Animal Rightists who like to draw lines and make strict rules. Everything from worm to human, and cabbages and bacteria as well, will get equal consideration from me in every case. I cannot predict a priori what the decision I will make, but I will think long and hard every time for every organism.

  4. #4 Julia
    August 28, 2006

    While I understand your concerns, I think this sort of law is a very bad idea. Everyone should be protected against personal intimidation that frightens children and prevents a person from living a normal life (such as the endless phone calls). It’s not a good idea, I think, to have an enormous number of individual laws giving special protections to those who work in certain areas, or who have certain affiliations, or certain beliefs. We need to be simplifying our code of laws, not adding one that protects just people who work in this particular field.

  5. #5 quitter
    August 28, 2006

    Bbo, who is talking about torture? This is just the kind of crap you always get from animal rights advocates. Everything is instantly amplified to make it seem like we spend all our time in science whacking mice with hammers. It shows complete and total ignorance of how biological science is done. If we do cause discomfort to an animal, we have to justify it in an animal protocol and explain how we looked into ways of completing the study without animals or minimizing their discomfort. The protocol is evaluated by an institutional review board of a vet, scientist and member of the community. Animals used in studies are under constant monitoring by veterinary staff to ensure they are not put through undue discomfort or neglected.

    Further in answer to your pathetic Hobson’s choice/salami-slicing dilemma (which that particular illogical argument is called), I would choose the life of any human over an animals life. Even a gorilla, a cute little dog, my pet, whatever (notice how the value is tied to cuteness). A human life is more valuable to me than any animal’s life. I do not torture animals and I do not torture humans, and those particular Hobsons choices are irrelevant to a discussion of animal rights. I do, however, kill various rodents in the course of my research. Sometimes we perform survival surgery first, which I’m sure animal rights wackos will call “torture.” I do this to study human illness in animal models of vascular disease, we minimize pain, use anesthetics and euthanize humanely. I am unapologetic.

    Here’s a question for you though Bbo, if you’re going to throw law school dilemmas at me. From where to animals’ rights come from? What document shows they have “rights.” There are various laws preventing cruelty to animals but I’m unaware of any rights that they have, nor am I comfortable about what “rights” would entail. Would animals have a right to free speech? Would they have the right to free association? Would they have the right to petition their member of congress? In what way are we going to give them rights? Is it going to be total animal liberation like PETA has advocated? Are we going to stop all biological research for the benefit of cute little rodents?

    I can tell you’re not a biological scientist too, because you clearly have no idea how impossible biology would be without animal models, animal products, animal tissues, animal cells, etc. Simply impossible. The entire study of biology, pretty much everything except really basic molecular stuff using bacteria and yeast, requires animals to die, yes, even cute little furry ones which you would equate to human life.

  6. #6 quitter
    August 28, 2006

    OMFG, I didn’t even see this sentence the first time I read Bbo’s response,

    Fortunately, every year as advances are made in computer modelling there are more and more alternatives to animal testing.

    You sir, are an idiot. Have you never heard of chaos theory? Have you ever written a computer program? Do you understand that in order to model a system in a reductionist fashion you would essentially already have to know everything about it? And even then, the models probably wouldn’t work because multivariate equations rapidly become chaotic with huge variability dependent on initial conditions? Have you ever studied biology in a lab? Do you understand that in a biological cell you’re talking about millions of variables?

    Go back to watching Star Trek, suggest the impossible to somebody else. This is just the kind of ignorance I was talking about. Computer models! Are you kidding me?

    I can’t wait to tell all my biologist friends about this one. The sound of hands collectively smacking foreheads will resound throughout the university.

  7. #7 Bob
    August 28, 2006

    Wow, did I touch a nerve there quitter?

    From where to animals’ rights come from? What document shows they have “rights.”

    Tell me, where do human “rights” come from? Mere pieces of paper that are changed at the will of humans.

    Here’s a summart of an article from New Scientist on the problems and potential of replacing animal testing with computer modeling. I don’t have my subscription number with me at work or I’d just paste in the whole thing. BTW, never said it was without problems, just that it is becoming better. http://www.newscientisttech.com/article/mg19025514.000

    Here’s one on the use of stem cells:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/upi/index.php?feed=Science&article=UPI-1-20060508-22575000-bc-germany-stemcells.xml

    Short write up in Wired (feel free to insult the source ;) ):

    http://www.wired.com/news/medtech/0,1286,67541,00.html

    I’m curious as to how you would answer the question of why a human life is more valuable than, say, a dog’s life. What is your reasoning?

  8. #8 chris
    August 29, 2006

    To begin, I am fine with animal experimentation with in limits (like the protocol described by quitter, thanks i didnt know that).
    However, The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act seems like a dangerous bit of legislation indeed. While elevating biologists (and biotech corporations) to an elite status it threatens to turn activism protected by the first amendment into terrorism. In other words the legislation criminalizes dissent. Im not condoning the harrasment described in the article but I worry about the possibility of unjustly arresting folks for political reasons. Already biotech artists are censored or even arrested as ecoterrorists and this does nothing for national security. Rather, it serves to stiffle critique against biotech firms. On that note, most animal advocate types arent against experimentation in and of itself but experimentation for corporate profit. If legislation is needed to protect biological researchers, such legislation should also protect the results of that research from becoming a corporate owned commodity. The research should be used for the greatest public good.

  9. #9 Shadowdancer
    August 31, 2006

    In response to Chris: I fail to see how this requires a new law at all; harrassment is harrassment; and if I am not mistaken, harrassment is a crime, or at least a felony, and punishable under the law.

    It does not matter that the harrassment has a ‘claim’ to higher ideals or purpose; be it rights for animals or religious conversion. It imposes another person’s belief upon another to the detriment of the latter.

    And the “would I kill my pet” argument is one I easily answer. Will it eventually save a human life? Sure. Take my dog and cat and cute little pet bird. Will the testing produce a cure for bird flu, or cancer or even the common bloody cold? Then I will remember the sacrifice of my pets and honor them.

    But then, I also like horsemeat (delicious, better than kangaroo!), and I like horses (alive). I know people who find dog delicious; and think that sparing animals from being used in test research (or food) based on how cute they are stupid. PETA would hate me – I raise pet chickens and eat them!


    If legislation is needed to protect biological researchers, such legislation should also protect the results of that research from becoming a corporate owned commodity. The research should be used for the greatest public good.

    I agree with you there.

  10. #10 Thomas
    September 2, 2006

    Those who claim they would kill their pet to save a human life are hypocrites. Feeding and caring for a pet costs lots of money and if you are serious you ought to get rid of it and give all that money to research or humanitarian aid. Many human lives can be saved for the money it takes to feed a cat or dog.

    And those who claim that it is OK to sacrifice an animal to save humans because “a human life is more valuable to me than any animal’s life” really should think carefully if not 100 human lives then are also worth more than one human life, and that way you can justify experimenting on humans as well. Starting with prisoners, perhaps.

    If you think lethal experiments on humans are wrong no matter what benefit then you believe in a rule based ethics, and shouldn’t be too upset if others believe in somewhat different rules that prohibits lethal experiments on (some) animals as well even if it may benefit humans in the long run.

    Using violence to advance your ideology is another matter, and here the militant animal rights activists are rather similar to anti-abortion militants: both see society involved in what they see as large scale murder and are wiling to use any means to stop it. But even here the lines aren’t so easy to draw, in the history book such ‘terrorists can very well become heroes if their ideology becomes dominant.

  11. #11 JN
    September 2, 2006

    “You sir, are an idiot.”

    You might want to keep this sort of thing to a minimum.

    Some of us who tend to think a little differently than you on this question wouldn’t think of addressing you this way, and despite our apparent differences of opinion, we would probably find ourselves allied on many other scientific and political issues.

    Thanks.

  12. #12 Ruth
    September 2, 2006

    I don’t like special laws for each case. I don’t like hate crime laws-killing a person should be wrong, whether you did it for racial or other reasons.

    I am a student in toxicology, and we are learning alternatives to animal testing, as well as the means to minimize trauma to the animal. I suggest those who object to animal testing wear a med-alert band telling ER staff not to use drugs or techniques developed using animals to save your life.

  13. #13 Moz
    September 2, 2006

    I don’t see why scientists are special in this regard. Don’t the rest of us deserve protections from stalking and harassment too?

    As far as the ethics go, I question those who are happy to do animal research but not apply the same standards to humans. Why is it not ok to do fatal testing on consenting humans the same way you do it on other animals?

    I think any attempt to apply ethical standards to people doing animal research has to start by looking at the benefits as well as the costs. Who benefits, and how? It’s not “would you kill a cute furry animal to save a human”, far too often it’s “would you kill a cute furry animal to increase the profits of a corporation?” Many people are happy with that (just look at the queues at McDonald’s), but I’m not convinced. I think the existing research standards are too lax, but I’d love to see those standards applied to everyone – I don’t see why crass materialism should be privileged over scientific research.

  14. #14 Thomas
    September 3, 2006

    “I suggest those who object to animal testing wear a med-alert band telling ER staff not to use drugs or techniques developed using animals to save your life.”

    I’d understand if you said that those who are against using animals for medical purposes should avoid using medicines created from animals, such as snake serum. However, any damage done while doing research on animals is a sunk cost. No animals will be hurt by you using the results of that science.

    Do you, Ruth, check all medicines you eat to see that no unethical research on humans have been used while developing them? The most famous cases would be results from research in nazi Germany on humans, and those results have been used later on. Is using any medicine or procedure that has benefited from that research supporting the holocaust? I don’t think so, do you?

  15. #15 Ruth
    September 3, 2006

    Thomas-

    Most research done by Nazi ‘scientists’ were of such low quality that they have been of little value. Some data the Japanese obtained by testing germ weapons on humans during WW II were kept secret by the CIA for decades-that is morally unacceptable. I have never seen anyone use the Nazi data-most researchers I know would object to using data obtained under such conditions.

    Another way to look at this-my disease has a cure, those animals are sunk cost, but we won’t do anymore testing for your incurable disease, so you must suffer. If you object to animal testing, you should minimize your use of products developed using animals. You can certainly use nonviolent means to convince others of your views. Civil society cannot tolerate violence by one group to convert the majority. I don’t approve of abortion, but I don’t bomb Panned Parenthood, and would protect them from others who would.

  16. #16 Ruth
    September 3, 2006

    Thomas-

    Most research done by Nazi ‘scientists’ were of such low quality that they have been of little value. Some data the Japanese obtained by testing germ weapons on humans were kept secret by the CIA for decades-that is morally unacceptable.

    Another way to look at this-my disease has a cure, those animals are sunk cost, but we won’t do anymore testing for your incurable disease, so you must suffer. If you object to animal testing, you should minimize your use of products developed using animals. You can certainly use nonviolent means to convince others of your views. Civil society cannot tolerate violence by one group to convert the majority. I don’t approve of abortion, but I don’t bomb Planned Parenthood, and would protect them from others who would.

  17. #17 quitter
    September 4, 2006

    JN said

    “You sir, are an idiot.”

    You might want to keep this sort of thing to a minimum.

    Some of us who tend to think a little differently than you on this question wouldn’t think of addressing you this way, and despite our apparent differences of opinion, we would probably find ourselves allied on many other scientific and political issues.

    Sorry I can not agree. When someone tells me that we can replace animal models with computers, there is simply no other way to put it. They are clearly hopelessly stupid, and completely ignorant of computers, biology, math and physics. I find it amazing they can operate the internet without getting their hands stuck in the tubes.

    Unapologetically, yours.
    -q

  18. #18 Tom
    September 7, 2006

    quitter spake thusly:

    Sorry I can not agree. When someone tells me that we can replace animal models with computers, there is simply no other way to put it. They are clearly hopelessly stupid, and completely ignorant of computers, biology, math and physics. I find it amazing they can operate the internet without getting their hands stuck in the tubes.

    The alternative approach that I see involves honest discussion and education, rather than insults. I would find it more helpful, in the long term, to clear up the original commenter’s misunderstandings or lack of knowledge. Of course, if he follows your own behavior, he’ll simply dismiss you — I’m sure you see where that gets us.

  19. #19 Corinne Titus
    August 18, 2007

    UCLA vivisector Dario Ringach quit on the SAME DAY I told UCLA I finally had a lawyer (who later changed his mind about taking my case). I represented myself in a lawsuit against UCLA vivisectors, The Regents of the University of California.

    On August 4, 2006, Ringach sends a email announcing that he was quitting vivisection at UCLA.

    On August 4, 2006, I took a deposition from UCLA’s medical witness, the doctor who examned me. I was injured at a demonstration at UCLA against vivisection. I told UCLA that I finally had a lawyer. UCLA was shocked and fearful because they knew I could win with an attorney. They had Ringach quit “immediately” like the email reads.

    Vvivisection is just as much of a human rights issue as it is an animal rights issue. As long as people believe it saves human lives the ethical argument is a waste of tme. However, I think both should be addressed anyway. Yeah, I carry the poster of the monkey in the torture device with the horrdi lok on his face. But I got injured asking why UCLA won’t debate vivisection, not yelling any threats or screaming out any ethical arguments.

    UCLA has not debated in 20 years.

    Corinne Titus
    CoryCatLady@aol.com

  20. #20 Tina Cubberley
    January 30, 2010

    I am utterly disgusted by this article ! animal rights activists are not violent !!! we are branded like this becuase guilty people are afraid to confront the truth ! i hope the sadistic Nazi in this article was frightened – i hope he was haunted every night by the thinking of the animals he tortured . There is NO EXCUSE for causing pain and suffering to other living creatures – animals feel just the same as we do . Is torture right, when the victims cannt say how much they hurt ? no violence occured in this case anyway ! cannt people even say what they think any more ? and before u say it, i have never been violent in any protest, even when i am very tempted . To the idiot who wrote this :_ – if u call me a terrorist, go into one of those labs and look into the animals eyes .

  21. #21 kerry
    April 18, 2011

    Men are always killing animals, raping women and molesting children. They always talk about their own rights but they don’t care about anyone else. Only a man would cry just because he got phone calls and emails. Men are pathetic.

  22. #22 Barbara Gislason
    October 7, 2011

    It occurs to me that the nature of this discussion is two sided. One side advocates that animal research is essential to scientific progress and represents that steps are taken to promote humane practices under the 3Rs including euthanasia. The other side shows respect, compassion and concern about what happens to nonhuman animals and seeks adequate justification for using them. Offense is taken when either side’s veiw is not respected.

    Notwithstanding the two sided debate about scientific practices, it seems that worldwide the two sides have disappeared and their is more of a continuum of opinion on the subject of nonhuman primates. This is because as genomes are sequenced and the social nature of other primates understood, the fruits of science are causing all to reevaluate what we can, as moral human beings,
    do to them. Part of the problem we face may be that bioethics to date is not comprehensive,
    across species, and that a frank discussion on an important topic of our times gets derailed by labels.

  23. #23 tina cubberley
    January 22, 2012

    There is no other side to this “discussion” becaue there can be no discussion when innocent lives are taken .
    We do not have the right to take anothers freedom or anothers life . There can be no excuses and no exseptions .
    Torturing animals in the name of science is sick .