Waking up the Neighbors: A Neighborhood Response to Animal Rights Extremism

In previous posts, we’ve highlighted revolting new tactics by AR extremists, including the targeting of students and young scientists. Some animal rights extremists envision a future where the nation’s brightest students and talented scientists must live in fear for the safety of themselves and their families.  As for what such war would look like, some of SR’s members have first-hand experience. Now, thanks to some outstanding reporting by Public Television in Southern California (KCET), the public has a chance to see how some scientists who seek to cure disease and end suffering are now the targets arson, assault, vandalism, death threats and stalking.

The KCET segment exposes the elements of hate and violence in a movement that, paradoxically, believes itself to be based on compassion and kindness.  It makes the main goal of such activism clear: to intimidate, threaten and harass the victim.   As one of the neighbors justifiably asked these activists — “Why don’t you demonstrate at UCLA instead?”   Of course, the answer is obvious; it is easier for these terrorists to threaten families at their homes.   They are not attempting to “educate” anyone about their position.  They are simply trying to force their views on society by violence and threats.

Here’s that report:

Testing the Limits.

Despite their repetitive claims online that their message is welcomed by neighbors, the opposite is actually true. Those who live in proximity of researchers being targeted support their neighbors even though they are, themselves, negatively affected by the focused pickets. This was noted in a report on an animal rights demonstration on a LA activist website which described animal rights extremists being “met with irate neighbors at every visit”.

Recently, near the home of UCLA researcher Edythe London, signs appeared on lawns throughout the neighborhood, with residents trying to give the picketers a strong message. If the petty vandalism and theft of the signs by animal rights protesters is any cue, that message was received.

It isn’t surprising that the animal rights extremists are put out by the clear display of support for scientists by their neighbors, after all, a major objective of “home demonstrations” – aside from harassment and intimidation of targeted individuals and their families mentioned above – is to isolate scientists from their neighbors and turn their neighbors against them. The demonstrations against the UCLA scientists have clearly had the opposite effect, prompting neighbors to rally around the scientists and their families.

SR would like to thank KCET for its balanced look at this issue as the report highlights three important questions that we feel must be answered:

1. How can the topic of animals in research be rationally discussed in the current environment of hate, threats and violence?   How can anyone expect scientists to participate in such discussion if they stand to be targeted at their homes simply for speaking up their minds?

2. How can such a discussion take place when many of those opposed to the research are blind to the countless human and animal lives saved through highly-regulated animal studies?

3. Most importantly, in this toxic environment, how can we ensure continued health advancement when the scientists of tomorrow may become the targets of today?

We believe that the scientific community cannot wait for extremism to end before scientists can start to discuss animal research. We believe that it is no longer acceptable for the scientific community to leave the task of speaking up for science to a handful of brave individuals, we must do more to support and protect those who are targeted by extremists. The answer lies in a community response to extremism that fosters a culture of proactive public education and engagement. Waiting to be targeted before responding is no longer an option, and there are many ways in which students and scientists can discuss the vital role played by animal research in advancing medicine without taking risks, as our friend Scicurious points out in an excellent post on the Experimental Biology 2011 conference:

Many animal researchers are worried about becoming targets for threats and violence, but you don’t necessarily have to stand up and make yourself seen. You can work through your professional societies to talk to people in government. You can write letters to your own government representatives. You can INVITE those representatives into your labs, to see what you do and what it all means. You can go into classrooms and talk about your work, or bring the classrooms to you and show them. You could even write a blog post on the internet. By reposting, retweeting, and passing it on, you can spread the word about funding and the necessity of careful animal research. And if all that still seems too much, you can always start with your family and friends. Tell them about what you do. Many of them may not even know. And tell them what it’s all for, and what we’re going through because of it. Because in this case, when the data speaks in a language only experts can understand, scientists have to stand up and do the talking.”

These are great suggestions, though as the experience of scientists at UCLA shows, in addition to talking to family and friends, talking to your neighbors can yield great results.

Speaking of Research

24 thoughts on “Waking up the Neighbors: A Neighborhood Response to Animal Rights Extremism

  1. I also ask what is your source for the numbers of animals killed in laboratories. What is the number and what is your source for the number?

    I already made it clear that as individuals we have little control over the transportation system or other structural issues of human society. We do, however, generally have control over what we personally eat. Eating animals causes unnecessary suffering and death. We can choose not to cause this unnecessary suffering and death.

    I also made it clear that it’s more important to live and work in society for justice rather than do nothing living outside of society in an effort to stay “pure.” If this necessitates driving (and I think it does in our sprawled out car culture with little public transportation) then so be it.

    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roadkill

      And again, we know our human activities kill animals. It is not unintentional. We know it.
      We do them because we consider our interest in having a civilized society trump those of animals.

      We have control over these activities. Should we decide to stop then they would not be killed.

      So I guess you drive after all…. eh?

      1. Yes, I’ve already seen your numbers and source for animals killed on roads, but what are your numbers and source for animals killed in laboratories? I keep asking but you keep giving the road death statistic instead.

        We have control over what we do and even walking may unintentionally harm animals (such as insects we cannot see in the grass), but that’s life. I think we only have an obligation to avoid intentional harm. And as I’ve stated before, if we don’t take intentional harm seriously, it’s ridiculous to believe that unintentional harm can be reduced.

    2. You don’t seem interested in letting people “choose” whether to eat animals or not. You seem more interested in forcing your own beliefs on others. You’re right, everyone that disagrees is wrong and therefore they should all be forced to agree with you. What kind of society is that to live in? Nothing necessitates driving, there are other modes of transportation you could use to adhere to your beliefs. But those are inconvenient so you choose otherwise.

      On the plus side however, current regulations and laws already ensure that research laboratories don’t carry out needless research or that animals suffer needlessly. So we can move on right?

    3. Also, so far all we have is your claim that research on animals causes needless suffering and death. Please provide specific examples of animal research projects where the experiment caused such needless suffering and pain. Personally I’ve never seen a protocol from an investigator stating that all they wanted to do was watch animals suffer for no reason and then kill them. Obviously though you must have examples so please share.

  2. I’ll ask again – what is your source for death toll of animals killed on roads versus those killed in vivisection laboratories?

    The displacement of habitat and unintentional deaths matter, but as I stated, I will continue to focus on the needless suffering and death inflicted on other animals by humans. If we cannot stop the intentional harms we surely have no hope of stopping the unintentional harms. I hope all animal defenders will also consider to the costs/benefits of different types of activism and work most efficient and effectively towards animal liberation.

  3. We could live an ascetic life making sure we never unintentionally harm anyone, but this would do nothing to stop all the other humans from inflicting needless suffering and death on other animals. I’d rather live in society and help win animal liberation on a social and political scale.

    On your point of animals killed unintentionally on roads versus those killed intentionally in vivisection laboratories, what are your sources for the respective death tolls? Further, considering the intentional versus unintentional and the suffering continually inflicted over years on those held captive in the laboratories, I’ll stay focused on abolishing vivisection and other forms of speciesist exploitation.

    1. Roadkill may be unintentional, but it surely is preventable. If you stop driving and you will stop killing animals. Period.

      If you can convince society to stop driving then we would save more animals than those used in Labs.

      Our cities displace many species, our transportation kills many more.

      It seems to me you don’t want to live in a society that balances our interests with those of animals, you simply want to abolish society as we know it.

  4. Tom Regan on drawing the line:
    4. Where do you draw the line? If primates and rodents have rights, then so do slugs and amoebas, which is absurd.

    Reply: It often is not easy to know exactly where to “draw the line.” For example, we cannot say exactly how old someone must be to be old, or how tall someone must be to be tall. However, we can say, with certainty, that someone who is eighty-eight is old, and that another person who is 7’1″ is tall. Similarly, we cannot say exactly where to draw the line when it comes to those animals who have a psychology. But we can say with absolute certainty that, wherever one draws the line on scientific grounds, primates and rodents are on one side of it (the psychological side), whereas slugs and amoebas are on the other — which does not mean that we may destroy them unthinkingly.

    “In the relations of humans with the animals, with the flowers, with all the objects of creation, there is a whole great ethic scarcely seen as yet.”
    — Victor Hugo

    1. I also must add that Regan gives the benefit of the doubt to all animals in his personal life and that is why he is vegan.

      1. @Brandon, Tom Regan has control over his own driving. Of course he does. So I asked if he drives or not? Does he fly or not?

        You probably cannot answer for Prof. Regan. So what about you?

        I will venture to guess that you do drive and fly among other activities that harm animals. So why do you do it?

        You do it because it is in your interest to do so and, somewhere, you decided that your interests trump those the animals that might be killed.

        Interestingly, the number of animals that end up as roadkill is higher than those used in research.

    2. Exactly. That’s the problem.

      Regan looks where to draw a hard line. If the mouse and chimps are to the same side, then they have, in his view, the same basic rights. Exactly the same.

      I see this as highly problematic. Don’t you?

      1. Tom Regan does not have control over the transportation system. If the interests of animals other than humans were considered when organizing human society, unintentional deaths would be drastically reduced. We can all withdraw our support for intentional harm right now by not eating, wearing, other otherwise exploiting other animals.

        I don’t see it as problematic to protect equal interests equally with basic rights. Justice demands this to be the case.

  5. @Matt,

    My issue with Regan is that he insists on a binary concept of moral status.

    I think his subject-of-a-life criterion groups together morally relevant properties, but I don’t think one can devise an all-or-none test that will tell us if a living being is a subject-of-a-life or not.

    All of the properties that define being a subject-of-al-life are not binary, but are graded in nature. So, to me, these properties make good sense to posit them as the basis for graded moral status as well. This is, in fact, the basis for animal welfarism.

    Animal rights theories reject graded moral status. Instead, they pick a somewhat arbitrary threshold (either being a subject-of-a-life or minimum level of sentience) and, by some magic, everyone to one side has exactly the same rights, everyone on the other has none whatsoever.

    This never made sense to me. I think graded moral status makes much more sense — we should consider the interests of a dolphin more seriously than that of a mouse.

    To the animal rights activist, accepting graded moral status is equivalent to joining the welfarism movement. That, of course, they can’t tolerate.

  6. To expand on my point, even Tom Regan does not think *all* animals are subjects of a life. See page xvi of the preface of the 2004 version of ‘The Case for Animal Rights’ (should be available on the preview if you search using Google books).

    He states that “Some nonhuman animals resemble normal humans in morally relevant ways…the line I draw is ‘mentally normal mammals of a year or more’…unless otherwise indicated, the word ‘animal’ will refer to mentally normal mammals of a year or more…I go to some length to explain that other sorts of animals might be subjects-of-a-life…I argue we have abundant reason to believe that birds are and fish may be.”

    Obviously, ‘mammals of a year or more’ is fairly arbitrary, but the point is that he doesn’t think *all* animals are subjects of a life, and hence, not all animals have a right to life.

    I wonder how many animal rights activists have actually read Regan…or how many of his critics, for that matter.

  7. “2. How can such a discussion take place when those opposed to the research are blind to the countless human and animal lives saved through highly-regulated animal studies?”

    Whilst this is certainly true of some (or even many) animal rights extremists, it is certainly not the case that everyone who opposes animal research ignores the benefits it has brought. It is quite possible to acknowledge the benefits yet argue that the ends do not justify the means. It is also possible to be accepting of the use of certain species of animals, but be strongly opposed to the use of others.

    By asking a question about “those opposed to the research” in the middle of an article about violent extremists, you’re trying to link the two in people’s minds. But the overwhelming majority of people who challenge or are opposed to animal research are not violent extremists.

    1. Actually that’s a fair point about attitudes towards the benefits of animal research, I’ve changed the line.

    2. “It is quite possible to acknowledge the benefits yet argue that the ends do not justify the means.”

      It is possible, but rare… In my experience most animal rights activists would start the discussion by denying the benefits.

      “It is also possible to be accepting of the use of certain species of animals, but be strongly opposed to the use of others.”

      But animal rights activists would not fall within this category. Instead, it would be populated by those that consider themselves animal welfarist (including most scientists).

      1. I disagree with your second point. For example, if someone were to take Regan’s “subject of a life” criteria as being what grants a right to life, then you can state that any animals that are not “subjects of a life” do not have a right to life.

        Consider the interpretation of “subject of a life” from this animal rights encyclopedia

        “An animal who is a subject of a life is a singular individual, has interests, learns from experience, has expectations that certain things will happen, has emotions like fear and pleasure, has painful and pleasurable experiences, and has a good or bad life.”,

        If each of those points is necessary for an animal to be considered a subject of a life, then it does not seem unreasonable to exclude insects and other less complex animals from having a right to life.

        This has overlap with welfarism in the sense that something that does not have subjective experiences can’t have any welfare to be concerned about. But whereas a supporter of animal rights would advocate abolitionism for all animals that are capable of being a ‘subject of a life’, welfarists would not fundamentally oppose their use.

        I suspect most animal rights supporters simply assume that anything that is defined as an animal must be a subject of a life and will give the benefit of the doubt to those even where the evidence is weak. But again, it’s not necessarily the case. I guess from a campaigning or political perspective, as soon as they concede some animals are ok to use, then their position would appear less consistent and more confusing.

  8. Hi! I was looking for LCA blogs and came across a post you did a few years ago about RPE65 LCA and Dr. Bennett at the Univ. of Penn.

    My 4 year old daughter has LCA – RDH12 gene affected. We just donated $70,000 to Dr. Bennett’s team to get RDH12 research started for our daughter – Dr. Bennett is very hopeful she can cure it. We have our own non-profit, and have been successful in raising funds for research.

    So – I just wanted to say hello and introduce our family – we are very pro-research. My husband is a geneticist.


    1. Thank you Jennifer,

      RPE65 genetic therapy looks indeed like one of the medical breakthroughs of the last 50 years. Thank you for supporting science and the responsible and regulated use of animals in medical research.

      We need more members of the public and patient advocacy groups to speak up as well!

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