Over the past year, animal rights activists seem to have increased the frequency and severity of their attacks on scientists who conduct research with nonhuman animals. Scientific societies, government agencies and research institutions have condemned these attacks and the extremists who perpetuate them.
Although the latest wave of attacks has been aimed primarily at biomedical researchers, psychologists are also targeted. When any one scientist becomes the victim of illegal and aggressive acts, we all become victims. The immediate threat is to individuals, but the longer-term threat is to science, society and humanity.
One thing is clear: Nonhuman animal research contributes to the welfare of both people and other animals. It is reprehensible for attacks to be directed at researchers who have dedicated their lives to seeking knowledge aimed at enhancing the quality of life. Edythe London, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, is the latest victim. Too many others have suffered similar fates. They all need to know that the entire scientific community stands with them and supports them.
What is the appropriate response to illegal and aggressive actions of extremists? One response is to encourage stronger enforcement of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act of 2006. Under this act, the U.S. Department of Justice is authorized to prosecute those who attack animal research laboratories. Similar legislation in the United Kingdom, accompanied by strong enforcement, has helped to curb violence against researchers there.
Understandably, researchers often respond by keeping a low profile. By staying out of the limelight, scientists can avoid the attention and the attacks of animal rights extremists.
This may be an effective strategy for individuals. However, it is not a productive response for the larger scientific community. The U.K. experience shows that effective law enforcement depends on better public understanding of the value and importance of ethical and responsible research with nonhuman animals.
People depend on science and biomedical research to improve the quality of their lives. They expect diseases to be cured and demand interventions that work. Rarely do people stop to ponder the research it takes to deliver such results.
The truth is that nonhuman animal research is often the only ethical and responsible approach. It is not difficult to understand this, and most people get it. Responding to aggression with education may be the most effective response of all.
Rather than hiding our heads in the sand, American psychologists should join our colleagues in other disciplines and throughout the world in educating others about the importance of research with nonhuman animals.
For its part, APA has long been a strong advocate for the ethical and humane care and use of nonhuman animals in research. We work hard to support policies and regulations that both maintain the integrity of scientific research and sustain the welfare of animals used in research.
For example, APA's Committee on Animal Research and Ethics has developed a series of short videos as an educational resource. One focuses on the importance of research with laboratory animals in the field of psychopharmacology. Another focuses on the study of similarities and differences between people and other animals in their sensation and perception of the world, and how this research advances our understanding of sensory processes, perception and action. (For more information on the videos, go to www.apa.org/science/rcr/carevideo.html.)
As a professional society, APA is committed to supporting the work of scientists whose research depends on nonhuman animals. As psychologists, we should all support the work of those scientists. After all, we share a common purpose--to promote health, education and human welfare. And we share a common responsibility to spread the word.