This post is off-topic for this blog, but there are some things that
I just can’t keep quiet about.
Via my friend and fellow ScienceBlogger Janet over at Adventures in
Ethics and Science, I’ve heard about some absolutely disgraceful
antics by an animal rights group. To be clear, in what follows, I’m not saying that all animal rights folks are scumbags: I’m pointing out that there’s a specific group of animal rights folks who are sickening monsters for what they’re doing.
The background: There’s a neurobiologist named Dario Ringach. Professor
Ringach used to do research using primates. Back in 2006, when he did
that, animal rights targeted him, and his children. The did things
like vandalize his house, put on masks and bang on his childrens windows, and
protest at his children’s schools. Professor Ringach disappointingly but
understandably gave in, and abandoned his research in order to protect his
Fast forward a couple of years. Last week, Dr. Ringach, along with Janet and
several other people, participated in a public dialogue about animal
research at UCLA. Dr. Ringach spoke about why animal research is important. That’s
all that he did: present an explanation of why animal research is
For that, for being willing to participate in a discussion, for saying
something the animals right people didn’t like, the animal rights thugs
have decided to protest. That’s bad enough: to stage disruptions against a
professor simply because he said something that you didn’t like. No, that’s
not enough for these rat bastard assholes. They’re going to stage protests at
his children’s school. They’re going to harass his children
to punish him for speaking when they want him to shut up.
I don’t care what you think of animal rights. I don’t care what you think
about any topic. Harassment isn’t an acceptable response to speech.
And no matter what, children should be off limits. Even if their father were
everything that the AR people claim that he is: if he really were a person who
tortured and murdered people for fun, going after his children would be
a disgusting, disgraceful, evil thing to do. To do it just because
he dared to talk about something they don’t like? These people deserve
to be publicly condemned, and criminally prosecuted. Threats and harassment
have no place in public discourse.
Personally, I’m a strong supporter of animal research. Of course it’s
important to minimize any pain and suffering that is inflicted on the animals
used in research – but people who do the research, and the organizations that
oversee them, are extremely careful about ensuring that. And animal research
shouldn’t be done for trivial purposes: the work must be important enough to
justify subjecting living creatures to it. But the results are worth the cost.
I can say for certain that I wouldn’t be alive today without the
results of animal research: I had life-saving surgery using a technique that
was developed using animals. I rely on medications that were originally
developed using animal models. My mother is alive today because of animal
research: she’s diabetic, and relies on both insulin and medications which
were developed using animal research. My father survived cancer for 15 years
because of animal research: his cancer was treated using a radiation therapy
technique that was generated using animal research. My sister isn’t a cripple
today, because of animal research. She had severe scoliosis which would have
crippled her, but which was corrected using a surgical technique developed
using animals. My wife would be terribly ill without animal research: she’s
got an autoimmune disorder that damages the thyroid; people with it need to
take thyroid hormone replacements, developed – all together now – using animal
research. I could easily go on: there’s probably barely a person alive today
who hasn’t benefited dramatically from animal research. It’s an essential
tool of science.
While I’m ranting: one of the common responses from the animal rights
people is that we don’t need animals for experimentation: we can use computer
simulation, which will (supposedly) be more accurate, because we can use human
biology in the simulation, whereas animals used as models are often
significantly different from humans, so that the results of tests on animals
don’t translate well to humans.
Everyone must, by now, have heard of the programmers mantra: GIGO: garbage
in, garbage out. A simulation is only as good as the knowledge of the person
who wrote it. You can only simulate what you understand. The problem
with computer models for medical tests is that most of the time, we don’t
know how things work. The research is being done on animals precisely
because we don’t know enough about it to simulate it. For one simple example,
consider cancer. There’s a lot of animal research done where we basically
deliberately give cancer to an animal. We can’t simulate that, because the way
that cancers grow and spread is still a mystery. We don’t understand exactly
what triggers a cancer; we don’t completely understand the biological
processes going on in cancer cells, or exactly what the difference between a
cancer cell and a normal cell is. We can’t simulate that. Or, rather,
we can, but only as an experiment with a real-world counterpart to verify it.
In any case, getting back to the original point: it really doesn’t matter
whether you agree with animal research or not. The important point here is
that using intimidation, threats, and harassment the way these AR groups are
doing is absolutely, unequivocably wrong. And to extend it from the
scientist to his children is beyond wrong. It’s downright evil. And
to harass both the scientist and his children not for doing the
research that they object to, but for talking about why that research
is important? I simply do not have the words to express how repugnant it is.