Tag Archives: harassment

Dangerous and Irresponsible: PETA attempts to intimidate NIH Director Francis Collins

PETA campaigns are rarely benign, from misrepresenting science to glorifying violence against women and scientists. Their latest campaign, reported yesterday by Science Insider, is no different. PETA have sent hundreds of letters to the neighbors of both NIH Director, Francis Collins, and world renowned researcher, Dr. Stephen J. Suomi, as part of a long running campaign against Dr Suomi’s NIH-funded research into the behavioral and biological development of non-human primates.

PetaLetter_Collins

These letters, condemning Dr Suomi’s research, are full of inaccuracies. His work has been defended by several large scientific organisations. When PETA first launched their campaign against Dr Suomi earlier this year the American Psychological Association wrote:

We believe that the facts do not support PETA’s public statements about this research. Over the past three decades, Dr. Suomi and his collaborators have made significant contributions to the understanding of human and nonhuman animal health and behavior. Dr. Suomi’s work has been critical in understanding how the interactions between genes and the physical and social environments affect individual development, which in turn has enhanced our understanding of and treatments for mental illnesses such as depression, addiction, and autism.

The American Society of Primatologists statement noted:

The American Society of Primatologists supports research on non-human primates that is carefully designed and employs rigorous research protocols. Dr. Suomi’s research and consistent funding by the NIH attests to his adherence to prescribed protocols and regulations.

While the NIH’s own very robust statement, which it issued this January following a review of Dr Suomi’s research programme sparked by PETA’s complaint, concluded that it:

has achieved world class, enduring contributions to our understanding of the developmental, genetic, and environmental origins of risk and vulnerability in early life,” and “could be a truly remarkable point of departure for a unified theory describing the biological embedding of early social conditions and their developmental consequences.

Yet the letters are more than just another incident of misrepresented research. They are irresponsible and dangerous. By posting Dr Collins’ and Dr Suomi’s addresses, alongside a misleading picture of the NIH research, they have potentially given animal rights extremists the necessary information to carry out extremist actions. We have seen similar address releases in past result in terrifying home demonstrations as well as acts of vandalism and worse.

PETA have been involved in animal rights activism for decades and should be well aware of the potential risks – this whole strategy comes down to the harassment of scientists and their families to scare them from conducting important biomedical research. Indeed, a statement by PETA’s Alka Chandna to Science Insider that “If I had a neighbor who was doing this, I would want to know about it…It’s similar to having a sexual predator in your neighborhood.” suggests that harassment and intimidation is exactly what PETA have in mind. It becomes all the more sinister when you remember PETA’s record in glorifying and encouraging violence, and supporting violent animal rights extremists.

As Speaking of Research member Prof. David Jentsch noted in his comments to Science Insider:

PETA’s arguments about the value of the science fails on its merits, so they resort to these deeply personal attacks. We’re seeing more of these types of tactics across the animal rights movement. They’re essentially saying to scientists, ‘We know where you live.’

Is this what PETA want?

Is this what PETA want?

So will PETA’s approach succeed? The fact is that very few of the scientists targeted by PETA or other animal rights extremists have ever given up their research, and for some – and David Jentsch himself is a good example – being targeted has prompted them to become vocal advocates for animal research, which one suspects is not the result the animal rights groups intended.

It’s also worth noting that on previous occasions where animal rights extremists have targeted the neighbors of scientists on this way, they have responded with displays of support for the scientist and their family. We expect that this time will be no different (especially as PETA are hardly the most trusted of organizations).

It seems unlikely that Collins will be cowed by PETA’s tactics, after all as a researcher who has spoken up in favour of human embryonic stem cell research when it was under threat, and who as NIH Director frequently has to deal the demands of wilfully ignorant and frequently obnoxious politicians, he has probably developed quite a thick skin.

Indeed, during a discussion of the NIH’s flagship BRAIN Initiative at the Society for Neuroscience meeting last month Collins was asked directly about non-human primate research, and responded by acknowledging the need for non-human primate research in the BRAIN Initiative and the need for continued outreach to the public on the importance of animals in advancing biomedical research.

Some commentators have suggested a connection between the PETA campaign and yesterday’s announcement by the NIH that it has decided to retire all its remaining research chimpanzees. While some may be tempted to think this, it seems unlikely to be the case. As several researchers noted in the Nature News article reporting the NIH decision, there are still some question marks over the NIH’s decision. In particular how the NIH will ensure that the conditions in which the chimps are retired to meet the high welfare standards of current NIH facilities, and how it will affect valuable non-invasive neurocognitive, genomic, and behavioural research that most sanctuaries do not have the facilities to support, is still far from clear.

However, it is also readily apparent that this decision was driven by the fast decreasing use of chimps in biomedical research over the past 5 years, and in particular the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to give research chimps endangered species protection, which prevents any invasive biomedical research that doesn’t benefit wild chimpanzee populations, a ruling that arguably made supporting even a small research chimp colony unviable for the NIH. PETA’s most recent harassment campaign is unlikely to have had much – if any – affect on the NIH’s decision making.

Francis Collins

The situation is very different for other non-human primate species, which continue to play a crucial role in many areas of NIH-funded research. Francis Collins himself noted this  in the official statement on the decision to no longer support chimpanzee research, when he concluded by writing:

These decisions are specific to chimpanzees. Research with other non-human primates will continue to be valued, supported, and conducted by the NIH.

Speaking of Research applauds Francis Collins’ continued support for non-human primate research, and his refusal to concede to PETA’s attempts to bully him into a decision that would do serious damage to the NIH’s status a world leader in biomedical research, and indeed to progress against a wide range of devastating diseases.

Speaking of Research condemns the efforts of PETA to stand in the way of medical research that can change lives. Almost 20% of the US suffered from mental health illnesses in the past year. The research community is morally obligated to do what it can to help understand and treat these devastating conditions. We also condemn a PETA tactic that risks exposing researchers to acts of violent extremism that PETA claim not to support.

We hope Francis Collins and the NIH will not bow to pressure, but will continue to stand up in defense of the research community and the importance of biomedical research.

Speaking of Research

Stop Harassing Scientists!

Harassment is the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands. The purposes may vary, but in the case of animal extremists it consists of personal malice, their attempt to force scientists engaged in legal, regulated research to quit their job, and to merely gain sadistic pleasure from making others feel fearful of or anxious.  That pretty much encapsulates the legal definition of harassment.

Anyone familiar with the tactic of animal rights groups, documented in videos, pictures, their own “demo wrap up” reports, and anonymous communiqués of criminal acts, can recognize that the goal of their “home visits” has no other purpose but to intimidate and threaten others to comply with their views.  (You can learn more here, here, here, here, here and here, just to mention a handful of incidents.)  

The truth is that there is no public to be reached at a scientist’s front door, there is no public to “educate” about their views — which is what they claim to be doing.  Neighbors and their families who do not want to listen to their shrieks, screams and insults have nowhere to take refuge, but must see their peace and privacy disturbed as well.  Everyone is entitled to express their views on the use of animals in research, but they are not entitled to mount campaigns of harassment, which celebrate blatant criminal acts such as fire-bombings, against individuals they simply disagree with.

One of the reasons scientists  work with animals to advance medical research is because they were so charged by our society.  The mission of the National Institutes of Health is “[…] to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.”

Those who disagree with this societal goal (for example, because they hold that disease is merely the result of personal life choices, because they believe animals ought to have the same basic rights to humans, or because they believe the same work can be achieved without the use of animals) are free and welcome to make their points to the public, to lobby their representatives, to form their own political parties, to make their voice heard at the ballot box, and to advocate for a change in the law as they see fit.  We will certainly offer our viewpoint in return, but we do not oppose animal activists airing their views in public.  In the end, it is for society as a whole to decide if we consider the work ethically permissible and worth of scientific pursuit.

Harassment, threats, coercion  and emotional blackmail, on the other hand, will no longer be tolerated.

Stop it!

Now!

Please join us in a counter-demonstration.

When: February 15, 10:15am sharp!
Where: Franz Hall Lobby @ UCLA (near Hilgard and Westholme)  http://maps.ucla.edu/campus/

Other relevant articles:

https://speakingofresearch.com/2014/02/03/join-pro-test-for-science-to-end-the-age-of-terror/

https://speakingofresearch.com/2014/01/31/reflections-of-an-animal-rights-arsonist/

http://unlikelyactivist.com/2014/02/04/why-give-your-time-to-stand-up-for-science/

http://unlikelyactivist.com/2014/02/04/insecure-bullies-never-like-resistance/

‘Progress for Science’ finds itself on the receiving end

Harassment and intimidation are not forms of progressive, social activism.

Regrettably, it is common for animal right activists, who consistently fail to articulate a cogent argument to the public, to recruit such tactics with the goal of imposing their views on those they disagree with.

This past weekend, the animal rights group ‘Progress for Science,’  descended once again on the neighborhood of a UCLA professor with the only intention of harassing her, her family and neighbors, by brandishing their spiteful language, libelous chants, and false imagery.

Such is the treatment some UCLA faculty, their families and neighbors, have endured for many years now. Everyone’s patience has limits and, on this occasion, a group of ~45 members of the UCLA community, including scientists, students, staff, and supporters, welcomed the group with a simple message —

Your harassment, threats and lies are not going to be tolerated any more.

The UCLA community gathering for a counter-demonstration.

The UCLA community gathering for a counter-demonstration.

This time around Progress for Science was placed in the unusual position of having to be on the receiving end. It was a refreshing change, and they did not appear to be very comfortable listening to what others had to say. Their members had been promised the opportunity to scream to the four winds their ignorance and hate. Instead, they were confronted with reason, facts and challenges to their anti-social behavior.

We wondered if the group would make use of this opportunity to engage in public debate. Perhaps they would try to learn the reasons that society has to charge its scientists with advancing medical knowledge and human health?  Or maybe they would simply put forward their own challenges in front of us?

None of that happened. They already know that neither science nor ethics are on their side. Instead, the bullies decided to play the role of the victim — a fabrication that will likely be used to justify future abuses.  They all stood in a line at the curb, quietly, opting not to engage in any shape or form, stopping only to pray (for the animals in laboratories, never for sick humans in hospitals) and to occasionally flash back a peace sign at us.

Members of “Progress for Science” standing in line. Missing from the picture is Tyler Lang, who was rather busy videotaping close-ups of faces of the UCLA group. Mr Lang was recently released from 3 months in prison after a plea deal. He left behind in jail his companion Kevin Olliff, another animal rights extremist who previously served time for his harassment of UCLA faculty.

A peace sign?!  Nobody will be fooled. These are not pacifists exercising their non-violent activism. Such egregious attempt at evoking any comparison with Gandhi is nothing but an additional insult to anyone who has ever participated in serious social activism. Experts who are familiar with animal right extremism find their language and behavior more closely aligned with those of self-righteous, religious fanatics rather than those of progressive, social activists.

So make no mistake — Progress for Science and its members embrace the violence directed towards scientists from within the animal rights movement. The group knows very well that scientists across UC schools have been the subject of animal right extremism that included the firebombing of our homes and threats to our children. Their leader and founder of the group, Carol Glasser, has expressed nothing short of admiration for such criminals.

In the above YouTube video you can see what Carol Glasser had to say about violence from within the animal rights movement [Note: a previously edited version of this video has been removed as filmmaker Denis Hennelly claimed copyright of the video]:

Whatever we are doing as a movement is not working, it is not saving animal lives. I think it is a waste of our time to demonize people who put their own life, their own  safety, their own health, and their own freedom at risk, because they can’t imagine another way to help the animals.  It is total bullshit of us, to point a finger and demonize them.

In other words, if you cannot be creative enough about your activism go ahead and firebomb a house — she approves.  She laters adds:

Nothing we do works.  We are losing.  The animals are losing.  I don’t think anyone of us should be demonizing anyone else who is actually trying to save a life. 

It is only the ignorance of their minds and the hate of their hearts that shields them from the truth: it is science and those that support it who save both human and animal lives. Not a coward in a ski mask blowing up cars and homes in the middle of the night.  It is people like Jonas Salk who are the true heroes of our society.  Only those armed with a corrupt moral theory could equate the work of a scientist who eradicated Polio form the face of the Earth to a Nazi doctor. In the opinion of these zealots, Jonas Salk, who used monkeys in his research, would have been a legitimate target of fire-bombing if he had been alive today.

So don’t be fooled by the misnomer.

Progress for Science is against Science… for only then one can explain their denial of overwhelming scientific consensus (92%) that the use of animals remains a vital part of medical research. Rejecting such strong consensus would be equivalent to rejecting similar ones on evolution or climate change.

Progress for Science is against Progress… for only then one can explain their refusal to acknowledge the clear medical benefits that have resulted from animal research for humans and animals alike, and the millions of lives saved.

Progress for Science is against compassion… for only then one can explain the lack of any moral concern for sick, fellow human beings, opting instead to blame these same patients for what they wrongly argue are mere lifestyle choices.

Progress for Science is entitled to its scientific ignorance and ethical bankruptcy.  They have the right to embarrass themselves in public by publicizing their views. But they will no longer be allowed to harass and intimidate the UCLA community and our neighbors without a proper response from our community.

Today, we walk hand in hand.
Today, we are not alone.
Today, we are not afraid.
We shall overcome their hate and threats.

___________
Note: My colleague David Jentsch offers his perspective on these events here.

Addendum:

A family portrait of animal right extremists:

Activists pictures include Carol Glasser (Progress for Science), Jerry Vlasak (ALPO), Peter Young, Nicoal Sheen (ALPO), Pamelyn Ferdin (SHAC), Shannon Keith (SHAC), Greg Kelly (Band of Mercy) and Steve Best.

Activists pictures include Carol Glasser (Progress for Science), Jerry Vlasak (ALPO), Peter Young, Nicoal Sheen (ALPO), Pamelyn Ferdin (SHAC), Shannon Keith (SHAC), Greg Kelly (Band of Mercy) and Steve Best (University of Texas, El Paso).

Safeguarding medical progress means supporting animal transport

The following guest post is from Eric Raemdonck, who has a background in the aviation transport industry. Eric recently launched the Advancing Animal Research blog, whose purpose is to ” establish bridges between the aviation world, the life sciences, health care, pharmaceutical, animal research industries,  educational institutions and their  affiliate or representative associations as well as Governmental organisations”.

Facing a virulent campaign by animal rights activists, a growing number of airlines around the world now refuse to transport certain species of research animals, chiefly non-human primates (NHPs).  This worrisome development not only threatens medical progress, but also puts the health and welfare of those animals at risk.

Animal rights extremists are trying to put a chokehold on the airline industry’s service to biomedical research via social media write-in campaigns, demonstrations at airline offices around the world, and even protests at the homes of airline executives.

Everyone concerned with the future of biomedical research must actively reject these tactics of intimidation and harassment, and stand in support of those airlines that continue to transport animals safely, comfortably and quickly to where they are needed to advance the quest for treatments and cures.

As a former secretary of the International Air Transportation Association’s Live Animals and Perishables Board, I can attest that airlines that transport animals employ highly skilled specialists and focus on finding the quickest routes possible to ensure the health of the animals en route to research institutions.

Animal research remains a small but vital component of the research and development process for new medicines.  Without the ability to move research models from one country to another, or from breeder to research institution, crucial scientific research seeking new treatments for heart disease, cancer, spinal cord injuries, epilepsy and numerous other ills could come to a halt.

As things stand, almost every commercial airline in the world, save but a handful, now refuses to transport non-human primates for research, even though many have policies in place allowing for the transport of NHPs for other purposes.

The United Kingdom has perhaps the most stringent laws and oversight on the use of animals in research, yet no U.K.-based air carrier is willing to transport NHPs destined for research into the country.  In the United States,  very few commercial carriers remain to do the job.  Airlines of other nations, upon which research institutions are increasingly relying for their animal transportation needs, are also feeling the pressure from activists and some have already given way to demands that they no longer carry laboratory animals.

Why is this happening?  Why are airlines targets?

As research institutions themselves become increasingly adept at blunting the impact of activists’ campaigns, leaders in the animal rights movement are now looking toward those companies with whom the research community works or relies upon for services.  ‘Stop research animal transportation and you stop animal research’ is the thinking behind the actions of animal rights extremists in targeting airlines.

Animal extremist campaigns against the airlines, such as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection’s Primate Cargo Cruelty and various Internet petitions attract thousands of signatures.   PETA also has an action alert on its web site, calling on readers to “Ask Airlines to Stop Shipping Monkeys to Be Tortured.”

Social media tools such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are used extensively in these campaigns to solicit support, donations, and calls for immediate action to change airline policy to include a ‘no-fly’ regulation for research animals.

The message to their followers is clear: only a few airlines remain, and by working together activists can put a stop to this practice.  The message to the airlines is equally clear: change your transportation policy or we will tell the public to no longer fly with you.  Through email campaigns alone,  some lasting only a few hours, several airlines have made the decision to stop transporting research animals.  This was done without any consultation with the companies involved and without  any notice.  This has occurred while airlines continue to transport animals for other industries and passengers.

Straightforward security steps taken by airlines and research institutions alike can blunt the impact of many of the activists’ campaign tactics, and protect the airlines and others involved in the global supply chain. Additionally, there are steps that concerned individuals may take to help ensure that safe and humane transport of laboratory animals will continue.

1/Stand by the airline industry and voice your support through associations such as AALAS – American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (www.aalas.org),   CALAS—Canadian Association for Laboratory Animal Science (www.calas-acsal.org) ICLAS – International Council for Laboratory Animal Science (www.iclas.org) and other scientific and professional organizations that advocate for both biomedical research and laboratory animal welfare.  Ensure that the issue of protecting humane research animal transportation is on their agendas.

2/Ensure that your elected officials appreciate the importance of animal research, and ask them to look into the problem of the declining pool of available airlines for the continued transport of research animals.

3/Inform others as to the humane and judicious nature of animal research, and why it is still needed.  Underscore its achievements and the medical progress to which it has contributed.  Information and links to resources to get you started are here on the Speaking of Research site, and on my Advancing Animal Research blog at http://research4drugdiscovery.blogspot.ca/

Eric Raemdonck

Best of Friends: University of Texas Professor helps to fund Extremism

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the activities of Dr. Steve Best, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at El Paso and long time supporter of animal rights extremism. Indeed, only last month we discussed his support for campaigns of harassment and intimidation against students and scientists, prompted by a recent post on the Southern Poverty Law Center Hatewatch blog which reported on the hate campaign being waged against students by the animal rights extremist Camille Marino.

While Best has been open in his enthusiasm for Marino’s campaigns of harassment and intimidation, and Marino has in turn peppered her “Negotiation is Over (NIO)”website with his videos and essays, he has appeared to limit his involvement to moral support.

Until now…

In a fine report on the online newspaper “Death and Taxes” entitled “Why Is a UT Professor Collecting Donations for an Animal Rights Group that Targets College Professors?” , journalist Carlton Purvis has uncovered evidence that Best’s support for Marino’s campaigns goes well beyond moral support, writing that:

The NIO membership section directs members to a small PayPal button on the right column of the page if they wish to donate. The group also sells annual memberships for $20 and lifetime memberships for $50.  Since that appeal for money, the site has been rapidly pushing out content.”

Why do they need money? Other than website upkeep let us remember that NIO has been offering $100 to anyone who can provide information on biomed undergraduates. See the poster below.

Nonetheless, the article continues:

Click on NIO’s donation button and it takes you to a donation page set up to send money to an account managed by someone using a Road Runner provided email address – the kind that you get for free when you sign up for Internet service.

A quick Google search of the email address reveals the owner of the address, none other than Steven Best, isn’t shy about putting his contact information on everything he touches.”

Oops…providing practical support for a campaign against fellow academics clearly isn’t a good career move for Best, and Marino’s next move proved that they realized this, as Carlton Purvis picks up the story:

Within hours of my email contact with Best on Friday night, the PayPal donation button had been removed from the Negotiation is Over website. Unfortunately, if someone was trying to cover Best’s tracks, they forgot to remove text on the membership page that says, “Please use the Paypal link in the right sidebar of this site or send your enrollment fees through PayPal to sbest1@elp.rr.com.””

DOH!!

The question is now what disciplinary action the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) will take against Best for actions, for although Universities are traditionally – and correctly – very keen to protect their staff’s freedom of expression, it is difficult to argue with the view that:

…despite the university’s policy to not get involved with what faculty do on their personal time, it seems like it would be problematic for a university to employ someone who is affiliated with a bounty program that funds harassment targeting university students and faculty.”

We will be watching this developing story with interest, and welcome Carlton Purvis’ tweet that “Rogue animal rights group stops selling memberships after I uncover a #UTEP professor behind the curtain w/this story”.  While we have our doubts about the popularity of NIO memberships, it is always good to see an extremist funding stream closed down.

UTEP President Diana Natalicio will need to think hard about whether her administration can afford to turn a blind eye to behavior directed against other students and staff at other universities that they would never tolerate if it was targeting their own staff and students.

We were also pleased to learn over the weekend that a federal judge has upheld an ordinance that has been critical to UCLA’s efforts to protect its researchers, their families, and their neighbors from harassment by anti–animal research extremists. This ruling makes it clear that there is a difference between legitimate protest and harassment, and shows that society will not stand by and allow citizens to be intimidated and threatened by those who disagree with their work.

All in all a bad week for those who favor harassment and intimidation over dialog and democracy!

Speaking of Research