The Scientific Activist

Animal Rights Extremists Strike Again

On October 20th, animal rights extremists acting under the banner of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) flooded the home of UCLA professor Edythe London. I don’t have too much to say about this latest incident, as it’s just one of a series of destructive actions associated with a movement that seems more interested in intimidation than real dialogue. Since animal rights should be and are a paramount concern to the research community, this is quite an unfortunate situation.

Below, you can compare statements from London and the ALF. Briefly, though, I wanted to point out that I’ve written quite a bit previously about animal research and animal rights here and on the old site (because dealing with the intimidation tactics and property destruction of animal rights extremists is a daily reality at the University of Oxford), so I’d encourage you to take a look at some of those posts. In particular, I’d recommend my account of the time I attended a major animal rights rally in Oxford. Also, check out these two posts about Pro-Test, an organization started by Oxford students and faculty to take a proactive stance against this intimidation. In regards to the current incident, Janet at Adventures in Ethics and Science has more, and Mark at Denialism Blog calls for scientists to blog about their own animal research.

Also, I would like to quickly reemphasize a few key points about animal research:

  1. Animal research is important and timely, and it can’t be replaced for by other methods.
  2. Animal rights activists–at least the ones I have talked to in Oxford–are not particularly interested in animal research per se. Rather, they focus on it because it’s an easy and visible target. Their goal is not to make animal research even more humane, but to eliminate it completely. This comes from a deep-seated ideology that humans have no right to use (i.e. enslave) animals for personal (or societal) gain.
  3. Animal researchers are not sadists. Period. Talk to a few, and you’ll likely find that they approach their work quite reluctantly.
  4. Scientists are concerned with animal welfare–as they should be. We have made great strides in animal welfare over the past decades, but this is certainly an area in which we should be eternally vigilant. We need to be able to maintain an open dialogue on this issue, but these actions by animal rights extremists only hinder this.

Now, here’s an excerpt from what London had to say about her own work in an Op-Ed published in the LA Times:

I have devoted my career to understanding how nicotine, methamphetamine and other drugs can hijack brain chemistry and leave the affected individual at the mercy of his or her addiction. My personal connection to addiction is rooted in the untimely death of my father, who died of complications of nicotine dependence. My work on the neurobiology of addiction has spanned three decades of my life — most of this time as a senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health. To me, nothing could be more important than solving the mysteries of addiction and learning how we can restore a person’s control over his or her own life. Addiction robs young people of their futures, destroys families and places a tremendous burden on society.

Animal studies allow us to test potential treatments without confounding factors, such as prior drug use and other experiences that complicate human studies. Even more important, they allow us to test possibly life-saving treatments before they are considered safe to test in humans. Our animal studies address the effects of chronic drug use on brain functions, such as decision-making and self-control, that are impaired in human addicts. We are also testing potential treatments, and all of our studies comply with federal laws designed to ensure humane care.

Contrast her message with the following communiqué published by ALF activists:

Edythe London, your job as administrator of the UCLA center that addicts primates to methamphetamines is dispicable. You appear to make all of the sick perverted vivisectors who addict primates to meth possible. Have you ever even witnessed the innocent monkeys that your mad scientists have addicted to methamphetamines as they convulse throughtout excrutiating withdrawl symptoms?

You may have the privilege of coordinating all of this pain and suffering from a slight distance, but as people who act out of conscience we will not allow you to simply lurk in the shawdows of UCLA’s labs of torture.

You are now in the spotlight of justice. Your address at [address removed] in Beverly Hills is now publicized for all to see. Until we see the end of primate vivisection at UCLA we will remind you of our presence. Push them to stop Edythe or we keep pushing. We never back down. We always win.

Here’s how we get started. We found your million dollar house in Beverly Hills on the windy night of Saturday October 20, we discovered you weren’t home so we snuck around to your backyard. First we effectively clogged the intake drain of your pool pump. It probably ran dry for a couple of hours and burned itself out. If it didn’t happen, wait for it. It will. Next we smashed a window and inserted your garden hose, turned on to full blast of course. Bet you were surprized when you came home. Edythe do you have flood insurance?

One more thing Edythe, water was our second choice, fire was our first. We compromised because we in the ALF don’t risk harming animals human and non human and we don’t risk starting brush fires.It would have been just as easy to burn your house down Edythe. As you slosh around your flooded house consider yourself fortunate this time.

We will not stop until UCLA discontinues its primate vivisection programe.

We are the ALF

(“We are the ALF… and we do not use spell-check.”)

The official press release from the ALF isn’t much better, and it includes the following wild and unfounded statements:

Primate Vivisector Edythe London was added to the roster of animal abusers at UCLA targeted by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) for her role in torturing non-human animals to death in outdated and unnecessary experiments. In an anonymous communique received by the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, the ALF claimed to target London for her sadistic procedures addicting non-human primates to methamphetamine; she has also published data on primate addiction to nicotine, and addicting baby lambs to cocaine.


Press Officer Jerry Vlasak, MD states: “London’s research is a colossal waste of taxpayer money, and soliciting money from industry groups to study their retail products is considered unethical by most physicians interested in research that might help their patients. Of course, not being a clinician, London appears to have no interest in helping people, but instead derives pleasure in killing animals to further her own personal goals of academic and monetary enrichment. Why the people of California allow this abuse to continue at their expense is truly a mystery to me.”

By resorting to destruction and lies (particularly these repeated charges of sadism) and not offering any alternative, the ALF certainly cannot claim the moral high ground, and it is likely just accelerating its further decline into irrelevancy.


  1. #1 coathangrrr
    November 3, 2007

    I don’t have too much to say about this latest incident, as it’s just one of a series of destructive actions associated with a movement that seems more interested in intimidation than real dialogue.

    As if there were no attempts at dialogue previous to this? I’m so tired of this absurd insinuation. There has been loads of talk prior to people taking action, the point, for the people taking these actions, is that dialogue has not and will not lead to any treatment of animals which they consider acceptable.

  2. #2 coathangrrr
    November 3, 2007

    the ALF certainly cannot claim the moral high ground

    Sorry to double post but I wanted to address this. I disagree, they can claim the moral high ground* because they performed their action without harming animals human or otherwise.

    *One can contest this claim, but they make it none the less.

  3. #3 kevin
    November 4, 2007

    Nick –

    Can you spell out a little better what the point of this article is (and perhaps others like it I have seen here on SB before)?

    The story seems to be: fairly extreme, fringe environmental activists do something alarming; moderate scientists don’t.

    I can’t figure out what I should learn from this, though. Is it that environmentalists are bad? Or that extremists are bad? Or only extreme environmentalists? Or maybe you think people aren’t aware that there are such things as extreme, fringe elements on the environmental activist side of things? Or that people aren’t aware that there are moderate scientists? Or perhaps you are worried that people will (or already have) started thinking that these fringe groups are correct, i.e. that they are going mainstream?

    Really, not being a troll here…

    I consider myself an environmentalist and a scientist, and both a rational and a caring, ethical person. And from your description it is hard for me to tell what the situation is, because you seem to presume that everyone will just take the scientists at their word that they are ethical and humane. But there are certainly fringe scientists who are very inhumane, too (and, arguably, such inhumane behavior has been typical for most of science’s history, rather than atypical). At the same time, the environmentalists are clearly fringe in their methods and behavior, but not clear if their ethics are all that fringe or not (i.e. if the scientists involved here truly are as bad as they portray). And in any case, you didn’t argue that these environmentalists are at all representative or not.

    Which makes me come back to my main question. Story so far: fringe environmentalists act against scientist in alarming way; there exists moderate scientists; the end. Moral of the story: ?

  4. #4 Ron
    November 4, 2007

    Terrorists! That is what these “protesters” are and damn cowardly ones too. They are unwilling to function within the legal confines of our society and they are unwilling to put their personal and financial freedom on the line.

    Oh Nick! To help you understand; the issue is not what is happening to the animals, it is only about the actions of these terrorists. There is a huge percentage of our population that love and care for animals – but they do not terrorize other people. Think of it in pure and simple terms, people that do bad things deserve to be punished – no exceptions! People that abuse animals must be punished, legally! Terrorists must be punished, legally! We know what the terrorists have done is illegal, but the acts of animal abuse they claim have not been proven illegal except in their twisted minds.

  5. #5 Nick Anthis
    November 4, 2007

    Kevin, the point of this post is to give people context for thinking about recent events. Animal rights extremism is in the news again, so since I’ve written quite a few posts about it in the past, I thought I would point them out to interested readers. In the interest of not sounding like a broken record, though, I didn’t rehash everything I’ve said before here.

    Coathangrrr (and Kevin), my personal experience with animal rights activists is that they tend to hold a very extreme ideology. An uninformed bystander might think that they’ve seen poor lab conditions and want to press the science community to improve them. That, of course, is not the case. These activists, and particularly the extremists, not only want to end all animal research but to end all subjugation of animals to human needs in general. Whether or not you feel that is justified, that is your own opinion, but I think it’s important for people to understand that to fully comprehend the meaning of the current events and to see why these actions do not encourage productive dialogue and why they are not likely to improve the welfare of laboratory animals.

  6. #6 coathangrrr
    November 4, 2007

    I am pretty familiar with animal rights ideology and I think that it is extreme in some ways, but the propaganda is normally what is extreme. The ideology is pretty simple, humans have no right to inflict pain or imprison animals simply because it will help humans. I think it is clear that a dialogue will not lead to this outcome, by any stretch of the imagination, so these groups see a necessity of taking action.

    To be fair, I haven’t seen many attacks on animal rights beliefs that don’t consist of much more than “But, we’re human and they’re just animals.” Which doesn’t cut it as a defense in my book. You have the problem of human society saying that animals have no value, none, except for what we humans allow them. I have seen no justification for this, outside of bible quotes which I certainly don’t accept as an authority.

  7. #7 Nick Anthis
    November 4, 2007

    “The ideology is pretty simple, humans have no right to inflict pain or imprison animals simply because it will help humans. I think it is clear that a dialogue will not lead to this outcome, by any stretch of the imagination, so these groups see a necessity of taking action.”

    I think that’s basically my point.

    As far as critiques of animal rights beliefs go, here’s one from me:

  8. #8 KevinC
    November 4, 2007


    ARA are not environmentalists. I think that most of the bloggers on this site are environmentalists as I am, please do not equate ARA’s with environmentalists. I imagine that most of the ARA’s are also environmentalists and we probably share some beliefs with them on these issues. I also suspect that ARA’s that are also environmentalists would have environmental views that are more extreme then mine that I might disagree with.

  9. #9 coathangrrr
    November 4, 2007

    That’s an good piece. I definitely agree that Singer’s approach has it’s problems, mainly because I’m not a fan of utilitarianism. I approach it from more of a social contract point of view in a Rawlsian framework.

    You can read some here

    but if you aren’t familiar with Rawls it won’t make much sense. I’m working on another version that’s more clear and understandable to those who haven’t waded through Rawls.

  10. #10 Paul Crowley
    November 5, 2007

    Does anyone know if the damage is covered by London’s insurance, or if the University will be covering the costs?

  11. #11 Peter
    November 6, 2007

    I agree with some of the other posters here. While I take a fairly utilitarian perspective on ths, especially regarding great apes, the use of violence shouldn’t come into this equation.
    That said, I find the use of great apes totally unacceptable in the testing for a host of reasons best stated at The Great Ape Project. Once again, I don’t condone violence or threats, but I don’t find London’s statement to particularly justify her cathartic use of great apes as a means to understanding her father’s addiction.

  12. #12 Paul
    November 6, 2007

    Peter, Prof. London doesn’t use great apes in her research, unless you count the humans who form the bulk of her research subjects. She does use monkeys in some of her research.

    I have to say one aspect of her statement that wasn’t particularly helpful was her failure to mention that most of her work involves human subjects, if you don’t believe me loom up “London ED” on PubMed.

  13. #13 Mr. Gunn
    November 6, 2007

    So the ALF spreads misinformation out to activists, who act on that misinformation to go destroy some poor old lady’s house.

    How is this supposed to help anything?

    It’s not, any more than radical Imams expect to get converts to Islam through their kind of terrorism. It’s about mindshare and rallying people to a cause. The particular cause they picked seems secondary to the rallying of people, but the servant becomes the master when you attempt to get attention this way. You have to keep becoming more and more radical because there’s always someone in your group who’s willing to out-radical you in exchange for some of your followers. It’s self-limiting and a lose-lose situation.

  14. #14 Monado
    November 15, 2007

    Terrorists. And the unrealistic abuse (you are a sadist, you are only in it for the money) echo very closely the anti-abortionist diatribes – 180 degrees from the truth, which is generally a motivation to stop suffering.

  15. #15 Abel Pharmboy
    November 20, 2007

    FYI, the Foundation for Biomedical Research sent out a link yesterday to this story in Der Spiegel on “Britain’s Other War on Terror.”

  16. #16 Mike
    December 8, 2007

    After reading over the blogger’s concerns and Dr. Anthis’ responses revolving around the issue of animal right activism it is clear both camps remain certain and entrenched. Nick you say that the activist’s actions show an unproductive method towards attaining their goals by not promoting discussion, dialogue, and so forth. Ok, sure they are not getting through to scientists, who like you, want rational discussion, dialogue between themselves and activists? Is that what you are suggesting, by not suggesting it, and deeming their actions opposed to discourse? Or are you saying that they by their nature are opposed to discourse, have trying it, and found it does not work?
    It seems that while their actions are solving little of the problems they wish to address, your detached arrogance would only embolden their resolve. Who would like to open discourse with a community of scientists, who firmly proclaim ideals of progress, empiricism, and materialism—as your blog does—if one cringes at mere mention of these attributes, as “mean greens” typologies do. For all of the brains crammed into those ivory towers why not self-reflexively view things from their side of the street so as to self-mediate your disgust before reacting. You do not feel their concerns and they do not feel yours. It is not an issue of understanding; it is an issue of felt experience, which is emotional as well as mental. If you don’t like these word choices simply implant your own. Basically you both are operating at different memes, each opposed to the other, and therefore see each other’s actions in a black vs. white binary. Ahhhh!
    I feel that food fights that wage in the world today are symptoms of in which encampment limits perspective of the whole picture. The success of science as well as animal rights needs to be handled by people un-encamped, seemingly detached observers, and who more accurate frame and weigh these discussions. See you over Christmas, hope all is well, mike

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