We get plenty of emails from people supporting the use of animals in research. We sometimes get an email from those against. Yesterday we got an email from Prof. Steve Best. Indeed, in the last few days it appears that a number of scientists have also been receiving emails and voicemails from him. Among his comments he states that “[we] are violating [his] academic free speech rights with these false unproven claims, and [he] will take the most aggressive legal action against all of [us]“. Let’s take a closer look.
Best, an associate professor in philosophy at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) (though he now only runs online courses), hasn’t been very happy with Speaking of Research in the last few days – not since we wrote an article exposing him for the hypocritical animal rights extremist he is.
In the comment section of that post, several people posted personal information about Prof. Best, his girlfriend and her child, making allegations about his conduct. The text of these comments had been copied from a post by Camille Marino (another animal rights extremist whom Steve Best is currently taking legal action against) on the Negotiation Is Over website (These allegations have been up several times for hours at a time on the NIO website). Because at Speaking of Research we condemn such personal attacks and the publishing of personal information the comment was removed and the thread blocked from further comments.
However, Best’s outrage does appear to smell of double standards when you consider that:
In April 2010, he posted on NIO a video of himself attempting to confront a man rumored to trap and poison cats that wandered into his yard. The man wasn’t home, but his wife and small daughter were. “If I hear he’s hurting cats, I’m going to be all over his office,” Best told them. “You tell him I’ll have a thousand people all over this place. You tell him Steve Best dropped by. You remember that name.”
Best posted the man’s phone numbers and addresses, along with pictures of his wife and children, beneath the video. In an update the next day, he thanked “all who called and expressed concern” for letting the alleged cat-poisoner know “he is being watched.”
Prof. Best feels some tactics are perfectly fine when directed at others but not himself and his loved ones.
But this is not all. Prof. Best now takes issue with a statement made by Speaking of Research saying that Steve Best helped to fund Marino’s campaign against students at UF. This campaign, starting in early June, involved putting up flyers offering students money to provide details on fellow students who were carrying out animal research. He is now threatening to take legal action against Profs. Dario Ringach and David Jentsch (who, incidentally, is no longer writing for Speaking of Research as he focuses on his own blog “The Unlikely Activist“)
As a reminder, this campaign, starting in early June, involved putting up flyers offering students money to provide details on fellow students who were carrying out animal research.
Some of the facts on this campaign, including Best apparent financial assistance to NIO, were first reported in Carlton Purvis’ article, “Why is a UT professor collecting donations for an animal rights groups that target college professors” which we followed up in our post. Sadly, the scientific community also blogged about one instance where a student, Alena Rodriguez at FAU, was successfully driven away from a life of research by such campaign by NIO and its associates:
Steve Best’s answer in his email:
I was not involved in Marino’s student campaign in any way except to give her a dormant account I was not using
So it is perfectly clear, by his own admission, that Prof. Best did help Marino fund Negotiation is Over and its campaigns by providing Marino with his PayPal account. And let’s not forget that such support comes from a man who has implicitly called for the death of scientists (“Let every motherfucking vivisector be vivisected and thrown away like the shit they are“) and posted the address and pictures of those he wanted targeted by his followers (see above), and a man that co-founded the North American Animal Liberation Press Office.
Best now claims that after the campaign he withdrew the PayPal account from Marino and “began to distance [himself] more and more from NIO“. However, he was still co-authoring articles with Marino several months later and left Marino in charge of the PayPal account for almost 6 months after her original campaign. Furthermore, NIO and Best’s blog were also simulposting for most of early 2012.
According to Best’s email his opinion on Marino’s campaign was “I disagreed with [it] and when I got wind of it, it [sic] told her to find another PayPal account“. As previously mentioned, it took him six months to get wind of it! Indeed in November 2011 Best’s email address was still linked to NIO campaigns.
“and yet you have not one shred of proof beyond my my dormant email account” – Best writes.
Let’s see what used to be on NIO then:
“Please use the Paypal link in the right sidebar of this site or send your enrollment fees through PayPal to email@example.com.”
and the email sent to us at SR…
Very dormant email account Steve. But maybe he just revived it for us – however it seems in May 2011 he was also actively using this account in his own blog (middle content removed):
Despite the weight of evidence, Best hammers home his threat when he says:
you are violating my academic free speech rights with these false unproven claims, and I will take the most aggressive legal action against all of you, just as I have against Marino, who is soon to go down on federal charges for further violations of my PPO.
Absolutely not. We are not acting against his academic freedom. If anything we are merely defending the academic freedom of those of his academic colleagues at UTEP and elsewhere that Prof. Best wants “to be vivisected and thrown away like the shit they are.” Most universities have an ethical code of conduct that make such speech unacceptable academic behavior. One must wonder if UTEP has one or not.
Prof. Best is free to speak up his mind and support animal rights extremists and their actions, but he must understand that such freedom does not entail freedom from the consequences of such speech or acts. Here and elsewhere, we have simply explained and documented the connection between Negotiation is Over, their campaigns to harass and intimidate students, the PayPal account they used to accept donations, and its link to Prof. Best email account.
Speaking of Research
Update: Janet Stemwedel has blogged about this story in Adventures in Ethics and Science. PalMD has added his perspective in White Coat Underground. Orac bring all these points together in Respectful Insolence. Popehat has commented as well.