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Attacks on Nonhuman Animal Researchers Increase in Frequency and Severity

Recent months have seen an increase in the activities of anti-nonhuman animal research groups against laboratory animal researchers.

By Sangeeta Panicker, PhD

Recent months have seen an increase in the activities of anti-nonhuman animal research groups against laboratory animal researchers--especially within the University of California system. Since July of 2007 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been investigating a series of attempted fire bombings of residences and vehicles belonging to nonhuman animal researchers at UCLA. On February 24, 2008, a group of six masked individuals attacked the home of a UC Santa Cruz biology researcher who conducts breast cancer research using mice.

Just a few weeks earlier, on February 5, activists left an incendiary device on the porch of UCLA drug abuse researcher Edythe London. Unlike previous failed attempts on other UCLA researchers’ personal property, in this case the device ignited and caused damage to the front porch of Dr. London’s house. A group called the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) has claimed responsibility for this firebombing incident. Dr. London’s home was also attacked in October, 2007, when vandals broke a window and flooded the house causing thousands of dollars worth of damage.

“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,” says Steven J. Breckler, Executive Director, APA Science Directorate. Other scientific societies such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society for Neuroscience, as well as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have also voiced their opposition to the attacks and have risen in support of these targeted researchers and their work, highlighting the important contributions of ethically and scientifically sound research with nonhuman animals.

The FBI has noted the apparent change in activists’ tactics from targeting laboratories to targeting researchers in their homes. In an effort to protect its researchers and staff from such extremists, UCLA obtained a restraining order against five individuals and three groups, creating a buffer around the residences of UCLA nonhuman animal research personnel. The Society for Neuroscience has also developed best practices that researchers and institutions can adopt to protect themselves from anti-nonhuman animal research extremists, while facilitating science.

Authorities in the United States may be able to take lessons from experiences with similar events in the United Kingdom. Tactics being used by activists in the US today mirror those that were used by activists in the UK until about five years ago. But the passage of new legislation and stringent enforcement measures by the UK government resulted in a decrease in violence against laboratory animal researchers. Furthermore, scientists in the UK have become more willing to engage in public education about the value of research with nonhuman animals and to work actively to dispel myths about such research that is propagated by its opponents.

There has been some move toward stricter law enforcement measures in the US as well. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which authorizes the Department of Justice to pursue and prosecute, and sets penalties for, individuals who attack animal research laboratories, was signed into law in 2006. Following the model provided by UK scientists, the impact of this legislation could be magnified by researchers and their institutions making a concerted effort to educate local authorities, students, and the general public about the value of nonhuman animal research and the ethical and regulatory guidelines that are followed in conducting this work.

You may contact the APA Science Directorate for assistance in developing effective public education efforts concerning nonhuman animal research. The Directorate can also provide support and advice to individual scientists who are threatened or attacked. For more information on APA’s programs and resources in the area of nonhuman animal research, visit APA's Research page.