Bioethics Medicine Skepticism/critical thinking Surgery

UCLA fights back against animal “rights” terrorists

Earlier this month, I was remiss in not noting an update to a story about which I had written before, a story of domestic terrorism carried out by so-called “animal rights” advocates who are utterly opposed to the use of animals in research. The series of attacks began with an intimidation campaign against a UCLA researcher named Dario Ringach that succeeded in frightening him to the point where he gave up doing primate research. Against Ringach himself, the campaign consisted primarily of harassment by phone and other means. However, Ringach was spooked by a botched attack on another UCLA researcher named Lynn Fairbanks. In a classic example of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, the animal rights terrorists put a Molotov cocktail on the doorstep of the wrong house, that of an elderly neighbor. Fortunately, the device didn’t detonate, but the intent was clear. The incident would have been a hysterically funny example of the incompetence of these clowns were it not for the very real danger of injury or death to an innocent bystander.

The next incident I wrote about was that of Edythe London. The Animal Liberation Front flooded the home of primate researcher Edythe London and issued a risibly self-righteous and hypocritical “communique” justifying their actions in which they claimed their first choice was fire but that they didn’t want to risk starting any brushfires that might kill animals. As is common after such attacks, ALF mouthpiece, whom I like to refer to as Dr. Jerry “Sgt. Schultz” Vlasak (“I see nothing. I hear nothing. I know nothing.”) for his ability to spout justifications for the ALF actions while denying any knowledge of who carried out the attacks or any foreknowledge that they were going to occur, popped up dutifully to spout the ALF party line. Earlier this month, animal rights terrorists struck again, setting a fire at London’s house. So serious has the threat become that the Director of the NIH spoke out about it.

It’s time to cue the Twisted Sister CD, because Edythe London wrote a passionate defense of her research, which studies the mechanisms behind nicotine addiction, and UCLA’s not going to take it anymore, and it’s about time:

UCLA is suing extremists to stop a campaign of terrorism, vandalism and menacing threats directed at faculty and administrators who conduct or support research involving laboratory animals.

A hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Feb. 21 in Department A of Los Angeles County Superior Court in Santa Monica, when a judge will formally receive the complaint and hear arguments on a temporary restraining order. A hearing on a preliminary injunction is expected in two to three weeks. The lawsuit names three groups and five individuals as defendants and seeks a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction prohibiting them from harassing UCLA personnel or facilitating their harassment. The University of California Regents, which oversees all 10 UC campuses, is serving as the plaintiff of record on behalf of UCLA.

These are the defendants:

The defendants are groups known as the UCLA Primate Freedom Project, the Animal Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Brigade, as well as several individuals believed to affiliate with these groups. The suit alleges that these groups and individuals have promoted and facilitated unlawful activities directed against UCLA faculty and administrators. The Animal Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Brigade have in some cases claimed responsibility for unlawful activities directed against UCLA personnel and their homes.

The UCLA Primate Freedom Project maintains a Web site displaying the photographs, home addresses and phone numbers of targeted UCLA personnel, and the Animal Liberation Front press office regularly posts anonymous communiqués about the Animal Liberation Brigade’s unlawful activities. The FBI has identified the Animal Liberation Front, which publicly advocates violence to advance its aim of discontinuing the use of lab animals in research, as a top domestic terrorism threat.

Several of the individual defendants named in the lawsuit have recently been the subjects of temporary restraining orders and injunctions prohibiting them from harassing employees affiliated with the City of Los Angeles and private institutions.

Personally, I hope UCLA goes after Dr. Vlasak big time. That sleazy little slimeball clearly qualifies as someone who’s more than believed to associate with these groups and is a disgrace to surgeons everywhere. He’s also gotten away far too long with his little game of being a spokesman for the ALF but playing all innocent and claiming no knowledge of any of its operations and no responsibility for its actions, even though his over-the-top rhetoric is inspirational to acts of violence. After all, this is a man who has in the past openly advocated the assassination of animal researchers and stated that there is a “use for violence in our movement,” which he characterized as “morally acceptable” and an “effective strategy.” Given Vlasak’s long history and association with ALF, his disavowals strain credulity to the breaking point, and the litany of intimidation and threats with which his group has been linked is long:

On three occasions since June 2006, Molotov cocktail-type devices have been left near the homes of UCLA faculty who conduct or oversee research involving animals. In addition, their homes have been vandalized and they have received threatening phone calls, e-mails and, on at least one occasion, a package rigged with razor blades. Extremists have appeared at residences in the middle of the night, worn ski masks to conceal their identity and used megaphones to shout threats, obscenities and epithets.

Let’s get one thing straight here and make no mistake about this: Animal rights extremists like the ALF are not just against research that they consider cruel. They are not just against research on primates. They are against all animal research. Make no mistake about this, too: Biomedical research would grind to a halt if animal research were to cease. Contrary to the lies (and, yes, I do consider them lies because I don’t believe that animal rights activists are ignorant enough to believe these falsehoods when they say them) claiming that animal research is unnecessary, that computer models and tissue culture eliminate the need for it. Although it is true that various models have reduced the need for animals, it is not possible using current technology to model the incredibly complex physiology and molecular interactions that occur in a living vertebrate animal accurately enough to dispense with animals, and animal research has led to huge advances in surgery, transplantation, cancer treatment, and far, far more. In fact, my area of interest in research is a great example of why animal research is necessary. A new target for cancer therapy that would never have been discovered without animal research is tumor angiogenesis, or how tumors stimulate the ingrowth of new blood vessels to provide themselves with nutrients and oxygen.

Moreover, animal rights activists like to paint scientists who use medical research as though they were “little Mengeles,” only with animals. Although there probably was a time in the past where concern for alleviating suffering was inadequate and experimental animals may have been abused, but that was before I entered the biomedical research field. Since I’ve been in the field, I’ve seen only increasingly strict regulation. Indeed, the pendulum in some cases may have swung too far in the other direction to the point where the regulations have become excessively burdensome. I’ll give you an example from my own personal experience. Last year, I was renewing an animal protocol, because our institution requires us to rewrite and resubmit our animal protocols every three years. Part of the protocol required giving a medication to mice bearing human tumors by “gavage,” or gastric lavage, which is just a fancy way of saying sticking a small tube into the mouse’s mouth and squirting the drug into the back of the throat so that the mouse swallows it. It’s really no different than how liquid medication is given to dogs and cats, only on a much smaller animal. Guess what? The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) at our institution complained, saying that giving a medication by gavage would be too painful. I kid you not. It had to be explained to IACUC that the drug is an oral drug and that that’s the way humans would be taking it, not to mention the fact that the only other alternative would be to give the drug by daily intraperitoneal injection. So am I saying that we should loosen our regulations on animal research? No, although a little common sense would be in order (I suspect this was just an example of an overzealous IACUC misinterpreting the regulations). My point in telling you this anecdote is that animal research is highly regulated, far above what it was before, and that IACUCs have become almost as strict in regulating animal research as Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) have become in regulating human research. The stereotype of the cruel “vivisectionist” that ALF and its fellow radicals like to promote just isn’t true.

Perhaps someday we will achieve the ideal world where animals are not needed for research, but that day is not today. In considering the need for animal research, you should ask yourself this: Would you want treatments and drugs only tested in cell culture and by computer modeling to be used on you? Or your children? Or your parents?

I suspect that even animal rights activists, if they’re being honest with themselves, would answer that question with a resounding “No!” If they wouldn’t answer “no,” then I would propose putting that answer to the test by proposing that they volunteer their children to have new drugs tested in them that haven’t been tested even in animals.

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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