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Winners and Losers in the Animal Research Wars

Michael Conn, James Parker

Anti-animal-research terrorists in the United States aim to intimidate biomedical scientists into giving up their research programs, and these radicals are growing bolder. They have planted bombs, issued death threats and targeted the children of scientists who don't comply with their strong-arm tactics. And the leaders of this cabal aspire to greater crimes. Tim Daley of the Animal Liberation Front has said, "In a war you have to take up arms and people will get killed, and I can support that kind of action by petrol bombing and bombs under cars, and probably at a later stage, the shooting of vivisectors on their doorsteps."

Although ALF and other extremist groups aim their attacks at scientists, almost all of their actual victims are unseen. "When research laboratories and university researchers are targeted and attacked, the ones who lose most are those who are living with a disease or who are watching a loved one struggling with a devastating illness," said Senator Orrin Hatch in a 2004 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. People hoping for a cure suffer most acutely when scientists experience these mob tactics. But they aren't the only ones. The extremists aren't too concerned about who gets hurt as long as it attracts media attention.

Firebombed animal-nutrition laboratoryClick to Enlarge Image

The 70-year-old neighbor of scientist Lynn Fairbanks was almost one of these victims. Fairbanks is director of the Center for Primate Neuroethology at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2006, the Animal Liberation Front boasted of leaving a "Molotov Cocktail" outside Fairbanks's home. But they got the address wrong and almost immolated the porch of the septuagenarian neighbor. In 2007, the Animal Liberation Brigade placed a lighted incendiary device next to a car at the home of Arthur Rosenbaum, chief of pediatric ophthalmology at UCLA. Fortunately, the device failed to detonate, but the danger was serious enough that police evacuated the neighborhood while the bomb squad disposed of the homemade explosive. On February 5, 2008, a firebomb was detonated at the home of Edythe London, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at UCLA. It was the second attack on her in four months.

As outrageous as these incidents are, they garnered little media attention outside of California. Even a six-figure reward offered by the City of Los Angeles, UCLA and two federal agencies failed to make the national news. But if the general public remained oblivious of this nascent backyard terrorism, scientists paid close attention.

Dario Ringach is a tenured professor at UCLA who walked away from a successful, funded research program in neuroscience after constant harassment from extremists. The barrage of insulting phone calls must have been unpleasant, certainly, but the physical intimidation from people demonstrating in front of his home was on another level: The demonstrators wanted him to fear for his family's safety. When strangers began approaching and frightening his children, it became too much. <!--pagebreak-->

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