On a cold spring morning in 2009, someone stole into my front yard at 4 a.m. and placed a sophisticated incendiary device under my car; the explosion occurred fewer than 10 feet from where members of my household were sleeping. Before the flash of the initial detonation was even over, my car was engulfed in flames, and the fire had begun to spread into the surrounding brush — placing hundreds of West LA homes at potential risk; I watched the sun rise from the front room of a home that had become the site of a domestic terrorism investigation.
By now, many people in our community are aware of the reasons that this happened. I — like hundreds of other faculty, students and staff at UCLA — am a scientist who studies the biology and behavior of mice, rats or monkeys in my quest to better understand how the brain works. Because of this, I have been targeted by animal rights activists who likely followed me home from campus, stalked me and my loved ones in the dead of night, and then bombed my car.
The human brain is arguably the most complex mechanism — artificial or natural — known to us; we marvel at its remarkable functions and are perplexed by the profound disabilities that can occur when it fails. We now know, in part because of my own research, that there are circuits in the brain that must function properly for people to inhibit socially-inappropriate behaviors such as taking a drug of abuse, harming others and failing to comply with teacher’s instructions in class. Notably, these circuits are compromised in persons with behavior addictions or other problems we call “impulse control disorders.” My goal is to understand why this neural deficit occurs in order to propose new treatments that will allow people to better resist engaging in harmful behaviors. Because of animal research, I think the future holds great promise.
Though my choice to become a scientist was driven by empathy for those that are affected by these conditions, I — like many other biomedical researchers — have been accused of undertaking the work that we do because of a violent lust for blood or money or both. We are labeled as “abusers” because we involve animals in our scientific studies. Beyond referring to our work as violent (a gross distortion of the truth), they claim that it is futile — with no real improvements in human health emerging from animal research (despite decades of evidence to the contrary). Individuals with little knowledge of our work make characterizations that are profoundly false; they are either poorly informed or are attempting to intentionally mislead others.
I know that they are wrong because I walk the hallways and sidewalks of UCLA almost every day. I am witness to literally thousands of undergraduate and graduate students, staff members and faculty who have given their lives over to scientific inquiry in order to enhance the knowledge and welfare of the human race. They search for cures to cancer and HIV/AIDS; they investigate the basic building blocks of life so that others can use that information to build treatments for emerging diseases; sometimes, they even study animals for the sake of the animal itself. These scientists are good people, struggling to improve the world the best way that they can. They are your sons and daughters, your husbands and wives, your friends and lovers, your teachers and colleagues; they are also sometimes strangers to you.
Please join us in support of science and scientists at 10:15 a.m. Saturday, February 15, 2014, outside Franz Hall on the UCLA campus (near the intersection of Hilgard and Westholme Blvds). We will gather to show the broader community, as well as the activists that would do us harm, that attempts by animal rights activists to evoke terror will only breed solidarity, resilience and commitment to our duties as researchers. We will stand up for science and against the anti-animal research voices that would seek to forestall advancements in health and welfare of humans and animals alike.
Standing up for what is right in a civil way is the privilege of everyone in our society. We invite members of the Southern California communities who support humane, life-saving and effective biomedical research involving animals to Pro-test for Science and for the scientists who have contributed positively to the lives of everyone.