Medicine Politics Science

Animal “rights” terrorism, revisited

I’ve written before about how animal rights cranks have started resorting to terroristic tactics in order to intimidate or frighten researchers into ceasing to do animal research. As you may guess, I have little but contempt for the Animal Liberation Front (is that anything like the People’s Front of Judea or the Judean People’s Front?) and their ilk, who routinely use lies such as the claim that no good has ever come of animal research or the utterly risible claim that we can now somehow replace the use of animals with computer or cell culture models, coupled with vandalism and intimidation tactics, to push their pseudoscientific agenda. Unfortunately, from fellow ScienceBlogger Mark Hoofnagle and other sources, I learn that these pinheads are at it again:

An animal rights group has claimed responsibility for flooding the Westside home of a UCLA professor who uses lab monkeys in research on nicotine addiction.

An FBI spokeswoman said Monday that the agency is investigating the claim that the Animal Liberation Front used a garden hose to flood the house of professor Edythe London on Oct. 20 in an attempt to stop her animal experiments.

The FBI, along with UCLA and Los Angeles police, are treating the vandalism as a case of domestic terrorism and are probing possible ties to a June incident in which an incendiary device was lighted, but did not explode, next to a car at the home of a UCLA eye disease researcher, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

In a press release distributed to the media Monday, an underground entity identifying itself as the Animal Liberation Front said it broke a window at London’s house and flooded the residence with a hose. The announcement said the group considered starting a fire there, but did not want to risk igniting brush fires that might have harmed animals “human and non-human.”

UCLA officials said the flooding caused between $20,000 and $40,000 in damage. London could not be reached for comment.

Let me get one thing straight here. Yes, this was “mere” vandalism. However, it was clearly meant to send a message to Dr. Edythe London, as the ALF “communique”, which ends with a further threat, shows:

One more thing Edythe, water was our second choice, fire was our first. We compromised because we in the ALF don’t risk harming animals human and non human and we don’t risk starting brush fires.It would have been just as easy to burn your house down Edythe. As you slosh around your flooded house consider yourself fortunate this time.

We will not stop until UCLA discontinues its primate vivisection programe.

We are the ALF

The fact that the ALF “thought” about setting fires but didn’t should give you a look into their mindset. Note that they said that they didn’t do it because it might have harmed animals. The qualification of “human and non-human” is obviously an afterthought, and it also shows that they make no distinction between humans and animals. In addition, last year, the ALF put tried to set a the house of researcher on fire with a Molotov cocktail, but bungled the job, placing the firebomb on the porch of an elderly neighbor. Fortunately, they further bungled it to the point where the Molotov cocktail didn’t ignite. However, they achieved at least part of their aim in that one UCLA primate researcher decided to stop doing animal research. Another example that achieved its goal occurred three or four years ago, when a group in the U.K. called the Animal Rights Militia desecrated a grave, stealing the remains of a woman named Gladys Hammond, all in order to intimidate her surviving relatives who ran a farm that breeds guinea pigs for research. In this case, intimidation also ultimately worked.

Not surprisingly, once again, the mouthpiece for ALF, Dr. Jerry “I see nothing, nothing!” Vlasak, a man who has brought shame and dishonor to the profession of surgery in a measure many orders of magnitude greater than even Dr. Michael Egnor ever could, was trotted out to give a disingenuous “defense” of this action:

Jerry Vlasak, a trauma surgeon who is an activist in that press office and who protests against animal euthanasia at animal shelters, declined to say how he received the information about the vandalism and said he did not know the responsible parties.

But Vlasak said Monday that he sent the communique to the media so the incident would “not be dismissed as a random act of violence.” He said he condones the flooding at London’s house “if it is helpful to get her to stop torturing innocent animals.”

About a year ago, Santa Monica police and federal agents raided Vlasak’s Agoura Hills house as part of an investigation into the Animal Liberation Front, which law enforcement officials described as a shadowy network that has sabotaged animal research labs, firebombed properties and made numerous death threats.

Just to refresh everyone’s memory, ol’ Jerry came out of the woodwork to justify the attempted firebombing last year, too:

Jerry Vlasak, a practicing physician, a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Press Office, and a former animal researcher, said that “obviously the roughly 30 non-human primates [Ringach] was killing every year would be ecstatic” with his decision to halt his work. Vlasak said that when he was an animal researcher, he published papers on his work, but didn’t feel that he contributed anything important to society. As to the Molotov cocktail, Vlasak said that “force is a poor second choice, but if that’s the only thing that will work … there’s certainly moral justification for that.”

Let’s not forget here that this is the same Jerry Vlasak who openly advocated the assassination of animal researchers, saying that he would advocate taking the lives of “five guilty vivisectors” to save “hundreds of millions of innocent animals,” likening the tactic to antiabortion activists killing doctors who perform abortion, about which he said, “I think they [antiabortionists who kill doctors] had a great strategy going.” Vlasak’s also stated outright explicitly that there is a “use for violence in our movement,” which he characterized as “morally acceptable” and an “effective strategy.” Inspired by Jerry, predictably, ALF sympathizers are coming out of the woodwork to attack London as only doing animal research for money because her home was listed for $2.6 million.

I do some, although not a lot, of animal research in my laboratory, mostly using mouse tumor models of cancer. The reason is that the sort of research I do can’t be done any other way. In fact, an example of a new target for cancer therapy that would never have been discovered without animal research is tumor angiogenesis. In fact, any sorts of interactions between tumor cells and the surrounding normal stromal cells can’t be studied well any other way. Personally, I don’t like doing animal research that much, but if it brings us closer to a cure for cancer, I will do it. I will also do my utmost to minimize pain and suffering (although the model we use doesn’t really do much that could reasonably be predicted to cause pain and suffering). It may have been true in the past that scientists took a too cavalier attitude towards the suffering of animals in research, but that has changed markedly in the last 20 years. Unfortunately, minimizing suffering during important research is not what the ALF is about. Banning all animal research is, along with banning the use of animals for meat or even keeping them as pets. Just peruse the Americans for Medical Progress website or the sadly now defunct Animal Crackers blog if you want to see what’s at stake and what tactics groups like the ALF use. If they want to believe that humans should never use animals for their benefit, that’s fine. They are perfectly free to try to convince us with their arguments. But when they turn to thuggish tactics, they should expect nothing more than shunning and prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.

Fortunately, Dr. London is not going to allow herself to be intimidated. She’s written a compelling defense about why she needs to use animals to do her research.

Good for her.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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