Animal rights terrorists endanger science-based medicine

I’m a bit ticked off right now, enough that I thought I’d break with tradition and do an extra post today. Don’t worry; it’ll be brief. It will also be angry, more so than you are perhaps used to hearing on this blog. However, I think my anger is justified, and I hope that Steve Novella–and you–will understand. I view the problem that I am about to discuss to be at least as serious a threat to science-based medicine as any infiltration of woo into medical schools or residency programs.

Remember back in February, when I discussed how animal rights terrorists had been harassing a researcher at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC)? At the time, protesters attempted a home invasion of a researcher, leading to a police response where a home was searched by the police. This time around, however, these animal rights thugs have turned violent–again:

SANTA CRUZ — The FBI today is expected to take over the investigation of the Saturday morning firebombings of a car and of a Westside home belonging to two UC Santa Cruz biomedical researchers who conduct experiments on animals.

Santa Cruz police officials said Sunday the case will be handed to the FBI to investigate as domestic terrorism while local authorities explore additional security measures for the 13 UCSC researchers listed in a threatening animal-rights pamphlet found in a downtown coffee shop last week.

“The FBI has additional resources and intelligence into groups and individuals that might have the proclivity to carry out this kind of activity,” police Capt. Steve Clark said. “The FBI has a whole other toolbox of tools for this kind of investigation.”

The front porch of a faculty member’s home on Village Circle off High Street was hit with a firebomb about 5:40 a.m. Saturday, police said. The bomb ignited the front door of the home and filled the house with smoke, police said. About the same time, a Volvo station wagon parked in a faculty member’s on-campus driveway on Dickens Way was destroyed by a firebomb, police said.

Clark described the bombs as devices, which he said investigators have seen used by animals rights activists in the past, as “Molotov cocktail on steroids.”

That no one was seriously injured or died, especially the researcher’s children, is incredibly fortunate. As in previous cases, these two firebombing attacks were the culmination of a campaign of intimidation:

This appears to be the latest in a string of incidents targeting UCSC researchers and others in Santa Cruz.

Fliers identifying 13 UCSC scientists, some of whom use mice, fruit flies and other nonprimate creatures in their research, were discovered at a downtown coffee shop Tuesday. The fliers say, “Animal abusers everywhere beware; we know where you live; we know where you work; we will never back down until you end your abuse.” The names, home addresses, home phone numbers and photos of researchers were published on the fliers.

Fruit flies? Drosophila? How messed up do you have to be to threaten violence over Drosophila experiments? Why aren’t they threatening violence over the trillions upon trillions of E. coli or yeast that die in the name of science in molecular biology labs every day?

Right on cue, that disgrace to surgeons everywhere, that disingenuous spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Front whom I call “Sgt. Schulz” for his amazing ability to be always somehow around or associated with acts of animal rights violence but at the same time to always find a way to claim that “I know nothing” about who was responsible for said acts of violence, Dr. Jerry Vlasak, popped up to spew his usual venom:

While a spokesman said he didn’t know who committed the act, the Woodland Hills-based Animal Liberation Front called the attacks a “necessary” act, just like those who fought against civil rights injustices. Spokesman Dr. Jerry Vlasak showed no remorse for the family or children who were targeted.

“If their father is willing to continue risking his livelihood in order to continue chopping up animals in a laboratory than his children are old enough to recognize the consequences,” said Vlasak, a former animal researcher who is now a trauma surgeon. “This guy knows what he is doing. He knows that every day that he goes into the laboratory and hurts animals that it is unreasonable not to expect consequences.”

To Dr. Vlasak, if a researcher’s children happen to die in one of his fellow travelers’ attacks, well, to him it’s regrettable but all just collateral damage in the service of his cause. Indeed, here’s an old quote from him:

I think there is a use for violence in our movement. And I think it can be an effective strategy. Not only is it morally acceptable, I think that there are places where it could be used quite effectively from a pragmatic standpoint.

For instance, if vivisectors were routinely being killed, I think it would give other vivisectors pause in what they were doing in their work – and if these vivisectors were being targeted for assassination, and call it political assassination or what have you, I think if — and I wouldn’t pick some guy way down the totem pole, but if there were prominent vivisectors being assassinated, I think that there would be a trickle-down effect and many, many people who are lower on that totem pole would say, “I’m not going to get into this business because it’s a very dangerous business and there’s other things I can do with my life that don’t involve getting into a dangerous business.” And I think that the — strictly from a fear and intimidation factor, that would be an effective tactic.

And I don’t think you’d have to kill — assassinate — too many vivisectors before you would see a marked decrease in the amount of vivisection going on. And I think for 5 lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million non-human animals.

And I — you know – people get all excited about, “Oh what’s going to happen when – the ALF accidentally kills somebody in an arson?” Well, you know I mean — I think we need to get used to this idea. It’s going to happen, okay? It’s going to happen.

Early Saturday morning at UCSC, it almost did.

Finally, comparing animal rights terrorists with civil rights advocates in the 1950s and 1960s is an insult to the memory of those nonviolent protesters who, not infrequently at great personal risk, spoke out against injustice. Vlasak’s cowardly little band of animal rights terrorists are far more akin to the criminals who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 and the other thugs who tried to stop the civil rights movement through violence than they are to the civil rights marchers.

Here’s hoping that whoever is responsible for these attacks is found, arrested, and locked up for a long, long time. Make no mistake, the goal of these terrorists is not to improve the lot of animals used in research. The goal of these terrorists is to stop all animal research. If you want to grind progress in science-based medicine to a halt, I can’t think of a better way to do it than to make scientists too afraid to carry out research into potentially life-saving measures.

Thus endeth the rant.

I apologize if it was not as sedate and scholarly as the usual fare here at SBM. However, this is an issue that is of great concern to anyone who does translational cancer research–or translational research of any kind, for that matter. it is also of great importance to any patient who relies on the fruits of medical research; in other words, virtually all of us. There is one little way, however, that you and I can fight back against these thugs. Please donate generously to Americans for Medical Progress or other pro-research groups to help them combat the misinformation promulgated by groups like the Animal Liberation Front.

Posted in: Basic Science, Medical Academia, Politics and Regulation, Science and Medicine

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