I don’t write much about the antics of animal rights activists these days, because while some of their activities have a very negative impact on the work of some scientists, they’re really just a marginal–albeit highly vocal–bloc that thrives on attention. Still, sometimes they need to be called out, and Janet of Adventures in Ethics and Science is doing just that:
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.
And [more recently–this year], 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.
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”.
To summarize, Dario Ringach gave up the his own research program to save his family from the viscous harassment of animal extremists. But, after going out of his way to engage in a dialogue with these people, he has all of a sudden become a target again. Now, I’ve said before that based on my experience with the animal rights movement, there’s little to be gained from opening up a dialogue with these extremists. And, the totally asinine reaction by them to Ringach’s conciliatory efforts just further bears that point out. Still, what Ringach and the others on that panel did was noble, and I support Janet in calling these clowns out.
Update: Orac has a post up at Respectful Insolence that provides additional background and details about this whole ordeal, and it’s worth a look. His post also reminds me that I forgot to mention that Janet herself was made a target of animal extremists after the panel–despite her only connection to animal research being as a very moderate voice offering contemplative and balanced discussions on the topic from time to time.
Update 2: Also, check out the post at Speaking of Research for a rundown on what people are saying about this across the web.