The ethics and value of responsible animal research

The NY Times recently published an opinion piece from a retired Professor who states his belief that research with non-human primates is unethical. This former scientist, whose contributions to the study of primate behavior and neuroscience were never very significant, now turns – in the twilight of his slowly fading career – to cast aspersions on the work of others.

His position, better published in a newspaper than in a scientific journal because of its free and easy treatment of the truth, is a set of distortions & extreme views that must not be allowed on linger on pages of our media or go unanswered. Why? Because this is how lies become truth.

It is essential the the scientific counterpoint gets wide dissemination. Points of view like Gluck’s are not jokes. They are very serious threats to public understanding of science, and we scientists must set the record straight.

Speaking of Research

This post, signed by over 90 scientists, is in response to an article published 09/04/16 in the New York Times titled: “Second thoughts of an animal researcher.” 

The ethics and value of responsible animal research

Last week we learned that in the first decade since its introduction the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine has cut the rate of cervical cancer by half. Experts estimate that the vaccine could eradicate cancer caused by the virus within the next 40 years. This is indeed good news, as today cervical cancer kills about 250,000 women every year.

Such breakthroughs are the result of decades of research that typically begin with the study of basic mechanisms of cancer in-vitro, the development of disease models and therapies in animals, and their translation to humans. In the particular case of the HPV vaccine rabbits, mice, cattle and human volunteers were used in the research dating…

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Set aside your silence: Share the story of research and those that live because of it

In my view, the biggest factors working against public support for science are the short attention span of people and the tendency to discount the accomplishments of the past, no matter how much we, ourselves, actually benefit from them. People do not die of tuberculosis or leprosy or during child birth the way they once commonly did. That’s the past. These are successes in the bag that we take for granted today.

Even I have a hard time remembering that HIV surged in the world in my lifetime and that, when I was younger, being diagnosed was more or less a sentence of stigma and death. Only a short 30 yrs later, HIV+ people are living long, healthy lives complete with love, joy and comparative normalcy. Only thirty bloody years have made the difference between death and life. Science made the difference between death and life. Animal research made the difference between death and life.

Science has transformed our lives in ways we can barely appreciate because many of us no longer know what it means to fear polio, type-1 diabetes or a cut on the foot.

We have a way to go yet on our journey – that is surely true. But the distance left to cover is only now visible to us because of the thousands of miles already traversed.

Be we should be no less thankful for this progress. As for me, I am thankful. But also wistful. Wistful that so many died of complications of AIDS before we made “the machines and the drugs and everything else” that people do when mounting a colossal effort to save the lives of people in need. If more research had been done, earlier, maybe thousands (or more) could have been spared. Maybe someone you loved could have been spared.

As a young gay man coming of age in the era of HIV/AIDS, I remember being told by HIV activists that “silence would not protect” us. Now, as a researcher who is trying to advance the human condition through biomedical research on animals, I realize that the only way to overcome the understandably short attention span that leads to apathy about science is to set silence to the side and remind people how much science has done – not just for us and our loved ones, but for people everywhere.

So, I ask you tonight to just stop for a second and remember how much progress has been made. I ask you to imagine how many lives were lengthened, and how many seconds of joy were added to the lives of people around the world only because science happened. And if you feel grateful for that, let other people know. Share it. Because if we are silent, apathy will win. And apathy is the foot in the door that hateful animal rights fanatics are looking for. Let’s displace that apathy with thankfulness and love.

Statistics of animal research: Let’s count what actually matters

Around the world, institutions, colleges, companies and whole nations report on the number of animals that are involved in scientific research each year (for an excellent summary, visit the Speaking of Research website or click here). These communications are, at least in part, a response to a social interest the scope and nature of the projects that are being undertaken.

The number of mice used in research has risen sharply over the past 15 years, driven buy scientific and technological innovation.

But these communications lack fundamentally important details that contextualize the numbers of animals involved or the number of procedures conducted. Importantly, without these details, the reported statistics hold little meaning.

What these communications of the number of animals involved in research are missing include:

1) The number of scientific advances that originate from that research and that were or will be communicated to the public, to other scientists or to physicians.

PosterHall1

Just a small fraction of poster presentations made at the Society for Neuroscience. At each year’s meeting, tens of thousands of neuroscientists present their latest findings.

 

2) The number of new medicines and treatments that derived, or will derive, from the projects.

sn-Paralyzedneuro-rex

3) The number of people and animals who suffered, or will yet suffer, a bit less because of the findings of the studies.

Lopez_dog_knee_xray03_12172

It is important to remember that animals benefit from medical advances, just like humans do.

 

4) The number of additional days of life that were granted, or will yet be granted, to the infirm and ill because of the scientific progress that came from the research.

5) The number of extra smiles that were, or will in the future be, possible just because someone working in a lab conducting these counted procedures did what their scientific talent allowed them to do.

image

 

Of course, these things are difficult to measure at present or in the future, and hence, to accurately communicate. But what does it mean to count the number of animals or procedures when you can’t count the consequences of the work? What does it mean to tell the public how many animals were involved in research when you can’t tell them how many lives were, or will yet be, enriched by the results of the work? This is an important question we should all seek an answer to. Until then, the statistics will continue to roll out and continue to fall short of conveying the real facts that drive public interest in and support for biomedical and behavioral research involving animals.

On the benefits of sharing yourself and your work with the public

There are those in the scientific community who are still fearful that an open and public discussion of animal research will lead to more bad than good… that the risks associated with attracting attention to yourself or your University outweigh the potential for reward. I disagree, in the strongest possible terms. My experience tells me that the opposite is, in fact, true.

I’ve been a target of a hateful and misguided campaign by animal rights activists. And in response, I’ve done by best to openly describe who I am, what I do and why. It’s easy to focus on the negative backlash to those efforts made by extremists, but the voices of support are equally important. In an earlier post, I shared one such solemn voice. Fortunately, there have been other moments when the voices of fanatics were overwhelmed by those of supportive and appreciative.

Five years ago, today, I was standing outside the gate of my Los Angeles home. An old car slowed down and pulled over. As the window rolled down, I saw a genteel old face. The passenger in the car introduced himself – his name was Sherm. He lived about a half mile down the road, and he had heard about me and my research. He also had seen the ugly protests made by animal rights extremists outside of my home, while driving by.

He thanked me for my work and for standing up against the people who marched in the street in front of my house. He said he knew how important research was and that he was grateful that good people like me were doing it. And he asked to shake my hand (I was grateful to accept).

After he pulled away, I walked down to my house, thankful for that one brief moment. And I was reminded that, if we do not step forwards and invite the public to understand us and what we do, how can we ever expect them to support us?

Can animal research be applied to humans?

The evidence is clear: biological research involving non-human animals has unlocked many of the mysteries of human biology and spurred the development of countless treatments for human and animal disease.

Speaking of Research

Animal rights proponents defend the idea the we do not have the right to use animals for anything, including food, clothing, entertainment and scientific research. However, they seem to be having a hard time convincing people to stop eating meat, wearing leather and having pets, so they have disproportionately targeted animal research, where the link between animal use and the benefit that we derive from it seems less obvious [1]. Still, once they start thinking about it, people soon realize that using animals to find new cures is far more ethically justifiable than eating a steak or wearing a leather jacket [2]. For that reason, animal rights proponents have found it necessary to put forward an additional argument: that in fact animal research does not accomplish its stated goals. Lately, we have seen this idea repeated over and over again as a key argument against animal research. In this…

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When does animal rights activism become extremism?

Federal authorities recently announced a new criminal prosecution of animal rights “activists” whose alleged illegal activities include, but are not limited to, various forms of vandalism that targeted farmers who raised animals for food or for the fur industry. Californians Joseph Buddenberg and Nicole Kissane are consequently being prosecuted under the auspices of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a law passed in 2006 which was intended specifically to address the escalating criminal attacks against individuals and organizations involved in “animal enterprise” by radical animal rights groups. This law sought to protect humane, responsible and legal animal use in scientific research, biomedical development, zoological and exhibition parks, food and clothes production, etc., from increasingly damaging and violent attacks.

Joseph Buddenberg is a 31-year-old animal rights fanatic with a long history of alleged criminal activities

Joseph Buddenberg is a 31-year-old animal rights fanatic with a long history of alleged criminal activities

Buddenberg is not a name that is new to biomedical researchers, as he was previously indicted (but not convicted) of harassing and intimidating UC-Berkeley researchers during nasty and hateful demonstrations at the researchers homes in 2006 and 2007. Thus, Buddenberg’s activities run the gamut of contemporary forms of animal rights fanaticism and illegally target a broad range of animal enterprises.

In response to this case, as well as the on-going prosecution of Tyler Lang and Kevin Oliff for similar illegal activities, radical animal rights groups around the country, are crying “foul”. Their disjointed claims include: 1) animal rights groups are the target of unfair political prosecution by the government and 2) that their actions can not reasonably be construed as terrorism. Neither of these two claims withstand scrutiny.

The AETA does not make it illegal to hold an animal rights philosophy, nor to speak about it openly. If it did, prisons would be full of animal rights fanatics. It also does not make it illegal to harm others or their property (other laws already do that). What is does do is escalate the penalties and consequences for already illegal behaviors that target certain animal enterprises. This type of escalation is not unique – for example, we escalate violent crimes that target a person for their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc., under so-called hate crimes statutes. These laws recognize that there are certain types of behavior that are so insidious, so threatening and so hateful that an escalated penalty is called for. Under AETA, targeting researchers who study animals to cure disease and attacking farmers who raise animals to feed the hungry is deserving of said escalation.

Animal rights radicals have been fighting a battle to turn the American public’s attitude about human-animal relationships for decades, and these efforts have largely failed. The American public still believes that it’s humane and appropriate to consume animals and their products for food and clothing, to keep them as pets and work companions and to involve them in responsible and regulated scientific research. As a result, these same radical groups have decided to use intimidation and violence, in addition to speech, to achieve their goals. The fact that they remain a minority opinion and that the majority demands that their illegal acts are punished is not political persecution.

Worse still, these same radical animal rights activists also decry the use of the word “terrorism” to describe their behavior. In a recent article, Will Hazlitt, a purported press officer for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office (NAALPO), says:

“To free animals from enslavement you have to break minor laws. Calling this terrorism is ridiculous. Is cutting a fence terrorism?”

Further:

Hazlitt is quick to point out that the organizations he’s affiliated with forbid harming humans. “And you can’t commit violence against an inanimate object.”

This not a new argument. Criminal attacks against UCLA researchers, including the fire bombing of my car, the sending of razor blades and graphic death threats to me in the mail and the flooding of my colleagues’ home, have been defended in similar ways. A KCET (public television) report on animal rights activities in Los Angeles prompted this statement from Nicoal Sheen, a former NAALPO press officer (from about 3’55” in the piece):

Reporter: Let’s be clear about this, they are fire-bombing cars…

Sheen: Ummhmm… which have no sentience.

Reporter: They are sending razor blades to professors’ offices and homes.

Sheen: Ummhmm.

Reporter: Um, they are harassing them in the middle of the night, if you listen to what the researchers say.

Sheen: If you call it harassment, yes.

They commonly claim that they don’t harm people. They harm property and inanimate objects, and they believe that means their actions are not terrorism.

They want you to believe that blowing up a car at 4 AM, mere feet from your home, is not terrorism. Not even when they later describe how much they wished you had been in it when it burned.

Car arson at Professor Jentsch's house. The Animal Liberation Brigade would claim responsibility for the attack 2 days later.

Car arson at Professor Jentsch’s house. The Animal Liberation Brigade would claim responsibility for the attack 2 days later.

They want you to believe that getting razor blades and a letter that describes cutting your throat is not terrorism.

Nor is flooding your home or ransacking your office or pouring paint thinner on your cars.

It’s not terrorism if they march in front of your child’s school or your home, calling you a murderer.

One imagines that they don’t believe it’s terrorism if a burning effigy was placed in the front yard of a black family or if a kid is cyberbullied on Facebook for being gay.

But here’s a more important question: does it even matter?

Even if we conceded that it wasn’t terrorism, we’d still conclude that radical animal rights fanatics are systematically engaged in activities that are:

Illegal

Hateful

Violent

And – yes – extremist

The title of this post, referencing a recent SF Weekly article of the same name, asks “When does animal rights activism become extremism?”

I think the answer is clear enough. It became fanatical extremism a long time ago, and it’s long past time we all recognized that. Animal rights groups are happy to engage in semantic debates about the use of the words “terrorism” and “extremism” in the media so that no one is paying attention to the fact that they are engaged in a systematic pattern of extremist behaviors whose goal is to inflict fear and terror on others.

Huge court victory! Kevin Johnson pleads guilty to Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act charges

A significant victory in social and legal battles against criminal animal rights activists happened very quietly in a courtroom this past Friday (6/26/2015). Kevin Johnson (“Olliff”) pled guilty to federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) charges relating to the criminal sabotage of a mink farm that occurred in Illinois in 2013. Kevin and his fellow animal right fanatic, Tyler Lang, were arrested while traveling in Illinois, not long after the release occurred. I discussed the circumstances of their arrest here.

Radical animal rights fanatics Kevin Johson and Tyler Lang

Radical animal rights fanatics Kevin Johson and Tyler Lang

Police reports indicate that the two young men in the car were traveling with:

bolt cutters, wire cutters, muriatic acid, ski masks, and cammo (sic) clothing

Apparently, extensive amounts of physical evidence tied them directly to the break in, which included vandalism of cars and property and led to the death of many of the animals that were “liberated”. According to sources cited by the Chicago Sun-Times here:

Though some of the farm’s animals were recovered, many died, according to neighbor Darren Caley.

“A lot of them got hit by cars, and a lot we found in a cornfield dead,”‘ Caley said. ”They were hand-reared and didn’t know how to hunt, so many of them starved to death.”

According to Friday’s plea agreement: “Of the 2,000 released minks, approximately 600 died or were never recovered. The remaining minks lost their resale value because the breeding cards were removed and destroyed.”

After months of fighting a losing battle to challenge the Constitutionality of the AETA and years of claims that they would never stop challenging their arrests (*WARNING: Animal rights website: SupportKevinandTyler.com *), Kevin has now plead guilty, and Tyler appears poised to do the same in the forthcoming days or weeks.

For years, these two individuals were participating in neighborhood protests focused on UCLA researchers, including me (here, here and here). As I mentioned in an earlier post, this directly demonstrates the blurred lines between the people who propagate above-ground harassment and underground, criminal actions in the name of animal “rights”. Indeed, Kevin has already spent considerable amounts of time in jail for criminal harassment of UCLA researchers, including threats to burn down their homes and the intentional terrorism of their children.

Tyler Lang engaged in a focused picket within 100 ft of my home, in violation of Los Angeles Municipal Code 56.45 E

Tyler Lang engaged in a criminal, focused picket within 100 ft of my home, in violation of Los Angeles Municipal Code 56.45 E

Some people continue to believe that many animal rights activists are merely disillusioned young people who will grow out of their problem behaviors. But cases like this show that the animal “rights” movement is made up a non-trivial number of recidivistic criminals who are determined to harm others in order to achieve their ends.

So, while this first successful prosecution of animal “rights” terrorism under the enhanced penalties offered by the AETA is cause for victory (as will be Tyler’s presumably impending plea), it’s also a cautionary note. The fanatical animal “rights” movement undoubtedly contains many more people willing to commit heinous crimes to earn publicity and celebrity for themselves and their cause, and we must be ready, as a society, to take action against them whenever and wherever they do.