Science and Politics: Terrorism

Do as we say, or we'll kill your family: Some animal activists are attacking researchers' homes.
Do as we say, or we'll kill your family: Some animal activists are attacking researchers' homes.Courtesy charmingly_busy

(With the Republican National Convention literally across the street, the Science Museum of Minnesota will be closed starting Friday, August 29. But Science Buzz marches on! To honor our convention guests, I’ll be posting entries focusing on issues where science and politics overlap. Hopefully this will spur some discussion. Or at least tick some people off. Previous entries here, here and here.)

5:30 Saturday morning. The pre-dawn quiet is shattered by firebombs exploding almost simultaneously in different parts of the town. One is set under a car in a driveway, apparently trying to ignite the fuel tank. The others ignite on the porch of a family home, setting it on fire, forcing a husband, wife and their two children to climb out of a second-floor window to escape. All this follows a pattern of death threats, break-ins, harassment and intimidation.

A movie, perhaps? A war-torn foreign country beset by extremists?

Nope. Santa Cruz, California. The target: scientists.

Some groups of activist have long protested the use of animals in experiments. Most of these protests have been peaceful social and political action, and they’ve had results—the care of lab animals has improved, and many cosmetic companies no longer test their products on animals.

But some activists crossed the line into crime and violence, breaking into labs and destroying equipment. And now they have escalated to attacking researchers and their families in their homes. In one instance, masked intruders broke into a professor’s home and disrupted his daughter’s birthday party. Classy.

The scientists being targeted are biomedical researchers, trying to find cures for diseases like cancer and AIDS. If they are successful in shutting down medical research, then as a result millions upon millions of people will die slow, painful, and preventable deaths, thanks to their efforts.

(And it’s not just medical research—in one instance, activists wanted to stop a university from testing the safety of…pet food. That’s right—these lunatics who claim to be advocating on behalf of animals, want to make it harder for companies to ensure the safety of pet food. Brilliant.)

While some groups focus their activity on labs that conduct tests on happy little monkeys or cute fluffy bunnies, others draw no such distinctions. Some have targeted researchers using fruit flies.

Worried that this terrorism might persuade researchers to leave the field, or dissuade young scientists from entering it, the US Congress in 2006 passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act to protect researchers. However, there have not yet been any prosecutions under this legislation.

(Meanwhile, in response to the recent attacks, the California state legislature is pushing through its own ordinance. UCLA has gone on the offensive and is suing people involved in intimidating researchers,)

This is not how we do things in this country. If you think an activity should be limited or outlawed, speak up. Petition the government. Elect officials who agree with you. But do not take the law into your own hands, resort to terrorism, or try to blow up little children.

When I was a kid, I used to do stupid kid things. And my saintly Mother in frustration would cry out, “What’s the matter with you? Do you sit on your brains?” I would ask the same question of these losers—except that would imply they had brains to begin with. And that would seem to give them entirely too much credit.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

DO's picture
DO says:

If you're going to get into politics take Polsoc 101 first. Legislatures pass laws, municipalities pass ordinances.

posted on Fri, 09/12/2008 - 2:17pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Antics with semantics.

posted on Fri, 09/12/2008 - 5:43pm

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