Animal research successes spur growth in science…but PeTA can only complain

PeTA complains that the scope of animal research is growing. It’s the success of our research that spurs this growth, and society benefits enormously. Here, in a blog post featured on the Speaking of Research website, I argue why we should all be thankful for this expansion.

Speaking of Research

What do multiple myeloma, influenza, advanced breast cancer, atrial fibrillation, thyroid cancer, ear infection, advanced ovarian cancer and obesity all have in common? One commonality is obvious – they cause suffering, sickness and sometimes death in people around the world. Another commonality is less obvious – these are each conditions that are now being treated with new drugs just approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the past three months alone. That’s right… in the period from Thanksgiving 2014 until now, new drugs that treat each of these conditions have become available, and these agents will be used to treat the illnesses that may affect millions of Americans. Eventually, they will likely have enormous worldwide impacts on these diseases. That’s something to be thankful for.

While some are thankful that the scientific progress is successfully tackling human suffering and disease, others cast doubt on the way that…

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It’s long past time for you to take a stand against animal rights thugs…

It has been more than 5 years since my car was bombed by radical animal rights fanatics who knew nothing meaningful about my research but were opposed to it anyway. Sometimes, it feels like just yesterday. Sometimes, it feels like a story from another, distant life.

Fighting non-stop against the lying thugs who have targeted me has, at times, taken every bit of strength I had. The fight has threatened to compromise my scientific research by draining my time, my motivation and my passion. Fortunately, I stayed as strong as I could and pushed through. I look back on the most recent 5 years and feel that I have accomplished more scientific progress than I ever expected of myself and know that animal rights bullies have not had the effect that they wanted. In short, they have failed.

But my battle is not unique, and today, the animal rights scourge is not backing down. Indeed, they are determined to have an irreversible impact: one investigator at a time.

PeTA, the Humane Society of the United States and garden variety animal rights thugs across this nation are working hard to ensure that their influence is strong and effective. At this very time, neuroscientists in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Maryland are the targets of sustained and withering campaigns, ranging from false allegations in the media, to illegal home demonstrations, to despicable online campaigns of hate and vitriol.

Picketers demonstrating in the street in front of a researcher's home.

Picketers demonstrating in the street in front of a researcher’s home.

Each of the investigators is a world-renowned scientist whose work has fundamentally transformed the way we think about the relationships between brain and behavior, in both health and disease. In each case, their research necessarily involves non-human primates and addresses addictions, alcoholism, anxiety disorders and depression. In essence, their collective effort – which involves a relatively small number of animals – addresses the life-changing disabilities faced by more than 2 billion people alive today. This is not niche research – it is work that touches the lives of virtually everyone. Mental illness is a matter of personal concern for everyone: whether it affects us directly or afflicts someone we love.


A vervet monkey living in a social enclosure at my laboratory at UCLA.


These scientists have given their professional lives over to addressing some of the most disabling illnesses that face humanity. Their work requires animal models and is conducted in a responsible and humane way.

When animal rights thugs have demanded that their research be investigated, the results have been the same – these costly and time-wasting “investigations” have revealed nothing but that the researchers have followed all the ethical standards that society expects of scientists.

And in return for taking on the most critical problems imaginable in a responsible way – they are being treated in an ugly and reprehensible fashion by animal rights fanatics who label the work useless and evil.

Surprisingly, there has been a limited response from the scientific community. The American Psychological Association, whose membership is made up of many of the nation’s top psychologists who study and treat mental illness, came out in strong support of one affected investigator. The leadership at the NIH, including some of the most influential scientists alive today, have as well (here and here). But other scientific societies and individual scientists have been largely silent.

It is long past time for scientists to stand up in public and open defense of their colleagues. It is long past time to act in the interest of a community that has made scientific progress possible. It is long past time to do more than privately support our colleagues and then move on with our lives.

I therefore charge everyone reading this post to do at least one of the following right now:

Use social media to let the University of Minnesota’s President Kaler (@PrezKaler), University of Wisconsin’s Chancellor Blank (@BeckyBlank) and NIH’s director (@NIHDirector) know that you support the life-saving research that is going on in their animal research labs.
Click here to tweet your support to President Kaler
Click here to tweet your support to Chancellor Blank
Click here to tweet your support to NIH Director Collins

Let Congresspersons Lucille Roybal-Allard (@RepRoybalAllard), Dina Titus (@repdinatitus), Sam Farr (@RepSamFarr) and Eliot Engel (@RepEliotEngel) know that they should retract their calls for an investigation of non-human primate researchers and instead support this vital research.

Click here to tweet your support to Representative Royabal-Allard
Click here to tweet your support to Representative Titus
Click here to tweet your support to Representative Farr
Click here to tweet your support to Representative Engel

Ask the scientific societies to which you subscribe to make public, forceful statements in support of non-human primate research and those that conduct it. Of particular importance are the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for Neuroscience and the Federation for American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Respond to comments from animal rights extremists on websites and news stories by noting that the research is humane and responsible and of the highest scientific caliber.

And express your support directly and earnestly to the affected scientists and find out what they think you can do to aid the cause of ending the harassment they are receiving from animal rights groups.


Beagle Freedom Project Uses Former Research Dogs to Spotlight its Anti-Research Campaign

Important words from Cindy Buckmaster on the retirement of dogs from medical research…

Speaking of Research

Today’s guest post  is by Dr. Cindy Buckmaster, chair of Americans for Medical Progress.

Activists at the Beagle Freedom Project (BFP) continue to gather support for their agenda to end animal-based research – and some in the research community are unknowingly helping them.

Many of you have seen recent TV news items or read news articles that feature beagles said to have been saved from laboratories where they never had a toy, played with other dogs, or experienced kindness and love from people in research settings. The Beagle Freedom Project uses the limitations of the news media to create this one-sided and false impression of the lives of research dogs.

Individuals at research institutions interested in rehoming post-study animals are approached by adopters representing themselves as private citizens, eager to adopt dogs retired from research. These applicants don’t indicate that they are working with the Beagle Freedom Project. We know of several…

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Defending student researchers: our most valuable scientific resource

The following is a repost of an OpEd piece that I wrote and that was published in the Daily Bruin on October 28, 2014.


At UCLA, we endeavor to teach you – our students – the knowledge and skills that you will need to contribute to a better world. For many of you, the experience on campus is not complete without playing a deep role in transformational research. But in addition to your contributions to scientific exploration, we encourage you to take on the heavy duty of participating in public life to help society make important decisions based on facts and rational judgment: Should we vaccinate children? Is the Earth really warming up? Is it necessary to explore our solar system and outer space? Should we use animals in medical research? These are just a few examples.

But some people are working hard to ensure that your voice is never heard.

A recent Daily Bruin article, “Animal rights activist groups target student vivisectionists,” which was published on Oct. 23, indicates that animal rights groups are trying to target students who participate in life science and medical research at universities in the U.S. and the U.K. that involves experimentation on animals. They are opposed to this research, despite the fact that it is crucial to medical progress, well regulated and ethically justifiable. Having failed to use reason and civil debate to adequately advance their ideas with the broader public, they now quite cynically opt to offer rewards to those who expose student researchers, thereby enabling the intimidation and harassment of those identified.

Their obvious goal is to harass you out of your studies and research and to prevent the future that will lead to new therapies and cures of tomorrow.

I know their tactics well, because for more than five years, animal rights activists have worked day and night to suppress my voice and my research that deals with the causes and treatments for addictions. They firebombed my car. They sent me razor blades in the mail. They have harassed me and my loved ones with endless home demonstrations, where they scream their threats and obscenities. They want to ensure that I am unable to express my humanity, my ideas and my work. They believe their right to speak stands above those of others.

All Bruins should unanimously reject such hateful behavior. You should feel proud to be contributing to science and understand that you never need to fear exposure for selflessly engaging in essential scientific research. Like me, I am sure your friends, your family and your peers understand that you have made personal sacrifices to make sure that scientific research improves the future for all mankind. You are a good person who chooses to improve the world through science and knowledge, rather than through hatred and anger. Destruction is easy. Creation, discovery and progress can be hard.

But creation cannot be stopped.

As the famed poet Pablo Neruda once wrote:

“Podrán cortar todas las flores, pero no podrán detener la primavera.”

“You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.”

Animal rights groups may be able to prune the flowers, but they’ll never stop the surge of the spring that comes from our tireless and noble work.

Be a proud scientist.

Embrace it. Live it.

I stand with you.

Nobel Prize 2014: Fortune favours the prepared mind

What animal rights extremists call “curiosity-based science” with no relevance to humans and “torture”, the Nobel committee calls paradigm shifting basic science that has changed our very understanding of the brain itself. Once again, the Nobel Comittee has recognized responsible and humane basic and translational animal research that is fundamentally necessary for the evolution of our comprehension of how the brain supports our mental functions and how its dysfunction contributes to mental illness and neurologial diseases.

Speaking of Research

Speaking of Research congratulates John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser on being awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine“for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain”.


By recording the activity of individual nerve cells within the brains of rats that were moving freely through their environment, they have shown how specialised nerve cells work together to execute higher cognitive processes.

In 1971 John O’Keefe identified the first component of the system, by identifying cells in the hippocampus that were only activated when a rat was in a certain position in its environment. These cells were activated when the rat visited the same location, but different nerve cells were activated when the rat visited a new location, these “place cells” were not merely registering visual input, but were building up an inner map of the environment. John O’Keefe is now…

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Unscripted ignorance in the animal rights community

As many of you are aware, opposition to biomedical research involving animals comes in many forms. Increasingly common is opposition to the scientific value of the work. From pseudoscientists, like Dr. Ray Greek, to opposition groups that specifically target academic research universities, like Progress for Science, many extremist elements make the claim that the study of animal genetics, cellular biology, physiology and behavior simply can’t reveal meaningful insights about human genetics, cellular biology, physiology and behavior.

It’s reasonable to puzzle over the kind of reasoning that could lead to their fundamentally flawed conclusions, and every once in a while, they get “off script” and show you that it is scientific illiteracy that is responsible. The following clip features an recorded statement by Cory Mac, a member of the Los Angeles extremist group, Progress for Science. This is the same group that has revealed its fundamentally hypocritical anti-science, anti-vaccination, anti-medicine beliefs on more than one occasion. The video is short, so follow it to the very end, paying close attention around 1:20 in.

If you listened to the nonsense all the way through, you heard this “esteemed” member of Progress for Science say:

Well, of course, primates aren’t the same as humans.

Well, of course, we humans are primates. We belong to a specific family within the Primate order, and we are no doubt primates.

I am sure animal rights defenders will argue that she simply misspoke, rather than being mistaken. This is a pretty basic fact of science to be wrong about, though, and the fact of the matter is that there is a deep uncurrent of serious science illiteracy in the animal rights movement: a fact often concealed by their practiced ability to spout off scripted challenges. It should be clear that their scientific challenges rest on a huge foundation of misunderstanding and ignorance about the facts of science itself, and it’s our job at scientifically literate persons to point this out to the broader public.

It’s time for animal rights fanatics to realize that they are NOT above the law…

As I reported earlier, animal rights extremists in Los Angeles mounted an eleven day stunt to show their mis-guided opposition to the humane and responsible biomedical research involving animals on-going at UCLA and around the world. Their campaign showed their willingness to deprive themselves – but more importantly, people like you and your children – of the much needed medical progress afforded by scientific research.

On one of the first Friday evenings, they showed up outside my home and mounted a “vigil” for the animals they believe are involved in research at UCLA. A tiny group of 6 individuals showed up with glo-sticks and stood in the street reciting poems. The only real indication that this motley group (a strong word for such a paltry few individuals) were even on site was the repetitive flash of the camera – they had brought along a professional photographer to document their vigil. As I said earlier, it was a “stunt” after all.

A Progress for Science vigil outside of my home.

A Progress for Science vigil at my home.

Later in the week, they mounted demonstrations at other colleagues’ homes and undertook phone/email harassment campaigns. These other demos were more consistent with their usual behavior: chanting threats, cursing and screaming for UCLA researchers to “burn in hell”.

This is an example of what one can usually expect when they turn up to threaten a researcher and his/her neighborhood…

For these reasons, it’s particularly ironic that Los Angeles-area activists plan to show up in Westwood this Saturday in engage in a “Day of Action against the AETA”. AETA is an acronym that refers to a federal law called the “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act”. It’s a law that, essentially, makes the penalties worse if terroristic acts are used to target scientists involved in legal animal research or other animal-related activities like raising animals for food, breeding animals to make loving pets or even training dogs to be service helpers for paralyzed persons. Yes, animal rights extremists (emphasis on EXTREMIST) target people in each of these categories, and the AETA is designed to end that harassment.

But extremists now fear that they can no longer get away with hurling threats and harassment, and after a decades long campaign to end the free speech of scientists, dog breeders and the like, they are now claiming that it is they who are being persecuted. It is truly amazing to me how bullies can run for cover and beg for protection the minute there is any chance they’ll get in trouble for pushing other people around. What this Saturday march really proves is that animal rights fantatics believe that their First Amendment rights trump ours. They believe that the law should protect them above all others.

But what kind of speech is it that they are afraid of losing?

The AETA does not infringe Constitutionally-protected activities. What it does is ensure that people that are thinking about crossing the line into criminal actions know the law is ready to stop them. Two Los Angeles activists are feeling the weight of the AETA now because they are being prosecuted by the US government for their criminal attack on a mink farm in the midwest. Their prosecution has nothing to do with speech – it was their CRIMINAL ACTIONS that are being targeted. These are the same two individuals who have marched in front of the homes of UCLA researchers for years, once again showing that the line between First Amendment-protected protest and criminal actions is blurred by many animal rights extremists. It also shows that the speech that they so desperately wish to protect is actually their own hate speech.

So, when activists show up to march this Saturday, I hope people will let them know a few simple facts: the speech and thoughts of animal rights fanatics is NOT more valuable than that of others. They are NOT immune from being responsible for the consequences of their words and actions. They are NOT above the law.

Why Animal Research-based Criticisms of the Ice Bucket Challenge are Misguided

If every graduate student stood up to criticize backwards, misguided attempts to malign science, the voices of animal rights extremists would be quickly drown out…

Speaking of Research

The following is a guest post by Caitlin Aamodt, a neuroscience graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a debilitating motor neuron disease that progressively destroys the neurons required for voluntary movement, speech, and eventually breathing and swallowing, killing patients in just three to five years.  Through the Ice Bucket Challenge the ALS Foundation has raised over $100 million in funding while simultaneously providing a platform for over three million people to voice their support for scientific research.  But the wildly successful social media campaign was not without its critics.  Some were hesitant about the idea of wasting clean water, a luxury that isn’t afforded to many parts of the world and one that is growing more and more precious as the drought in the West worsens.  Others, particularly religious leaders, were unhappy with researchers’ use of embryonic stem cells, citing a conflict with…

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Urge the U. S. Surgeon General to Voice Support for Animal Research

Advocating for humane animal research is the medically and scientifically sensible thing to do. Urge our leading medical advocate to do so….

Speaking of Research

Your scientific activism is only a click away.

A new petition in Change.org urges the U. S. Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak, to voice support for the humane, and regulated use of animals in medical research.  It reads:

There is a growing pressure from animal rights organizations that would deny Americans the health benefits derived from the use of animals in medical research.

Opponents of animal research represent a small minority of the population, but they engage in misleading, visible and vocal campaigns that can impact the ability of scientists to conduct medical research with animals.

The scientific consensus is clear — recent polls by Nature Magazine and the Pew Research Center show that 92% of scientists believe that animal research remains essential to the advancement of biomedical sciences.

We call on the U. S. Surgeon General to publicly recognize the past contributions of the humane…

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Animal rights fanatics offer stunts, not real solutions

Fanatical animal rights groups in the US love attention-getting stunts. PeTA creates video games extolling violence and propagates advertisements that exude adolescent sexuality. White Coat Waste uses Tea party rhetoric to insist federal investment in research is tantamount to borrowing money from China. And the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS] reels endless videos of sad animals on the television to raise money for their lobbying efforts, while tricking people into thinking their donations actually help animals in shelters.

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

These are stunts, nothing more – nothing less.

In Los Angeles, local animal rights zealots are trying hard to carve out their own niche in the “stunt” art form. They light candles during vigils on the beach, hand out post cards decrying UCLA researchers at art events and recite chants in eerie synchrony, while standing in front of our homes. In truth, the occasional bizarre chanting during these stunts is slightly less demented than their usual shrieks, threats and harassment.

Later this month, the ironically named anti-science group – Progress for Science – will mount an 11-day campaign to “honor” the 11 monkeys they believe are involved in scientific research projects at UCLA. They will probably once again come to my home and threaten my neighbors, while trying to make my life miserable.

But if Progress for Science truly has the respect for life than they claim they do, perhaps they should consider a different strategy. Perhaps before mounting their 11 day campaign for 11 hypothetical monkeys, they should find it in their hearts to lead initiatives for real people affected by real disease. For example, they could:

Lead a 930 day campaign for the number of Africans that have died from Ebola so far this year.

Initiate a 4,600 day campaign for the young people in our country who took their own lives last year, often due to mental illness.

Kick off a 1.1 million day campaign for the number of people living with HIV in the US.

Support a 2.2 million day campaign for the people suffering from or disabled by schizophrenia in this country.

Demand an 8.2 million day campaign for the number of people that will die from cancer in one single year, worldwide.

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

It is, of course, true that multi-million day campaigns are impossible, but biomedical researchers in many cases dedicate their entire working lives to addressing the harm in these diseases: our own life-long campaigns. Animal rights fanatics could contribute positively to these efforts, rather than standing in the way of progress, but they won’t do that because they are not actually interested in preserving life. They are interested in stunts.

If you are interested in preserving life, then please support biomedical research, including that which involves animals. This year alone, two Americans received a treatment for Ebola that was developed based upon animal research and that likely saved their lives. This is the promise of science. Stunts, on the other hand, contribute nothing, save no lives and end no suffering.