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.
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.