One of the interesting things I learned from Janet's series on overcoming obstacles to discussing animal use in research appeared in the sixth installment. She noted:
because of the fear of being a target of a big, flashy instantiation of violent tactics, a lot of people do not publicize the other ways that they or those that they know have been targeted. The news doesn't cover much in the way of "run of the mill" threats by phone or mail. That doesn't mean they don't happen, although I didn't realize that they did until I became close enough to scientists who get them (death threats, threats to rape them or their spouses or their kids, other threats of bodily violence falling short of rape and murder) that they felt safe enough to mention them in conversation.
This is fascinating, if true. It does not excuse the commenter that pops up around these sorts of debates to whinge about calling a car incineration terrorism. That is pretty clear cut. But there is a perception voiced that researchers pose of paranoia over the activities of AR sympathizers is a bit over the top, perhaps disingenuous. I do wonder if this is out of an ignorance based in the fact that only the most outrageous attacks get widely publicized?
Even within the field, we do not always know what has been happening to our peers. When you get to chatting about animal rights attacks it is a reasonably consistent event that someone you know fairly well will describe an attack that happened to them* which you had not previously heard of. Very rarely, one might hear by email from a colleague that one of us is under attack.
So how on earth would the general public be aware of this low level stuff?
Of course there are strategic reasons for treating the terrorists this way, first and foremost because what they crave above all else is attention. So it ill behooves those in the rational community to play their game by publicizing each and every attack. There's some truth to the point raised by Janet in that perhaps becoming too public will lead to even more attacks on that individual. There is some evidence from the campaigns of the 80s and 90s that this is the case.
One new point that was brought to my attention this week had to do with scientists' reluctance to do what the UCLA scientists did with Pro-Test this week. A reluctance to take time out of their work schedules to deal with the issues of animal use in research. To communicate to the public via Op-Ed, interview or megaphone rally. The thinking is that if you allow the AR activists to disrupt your ongoing work, then they have won. So the best strategy is to ignore them, devote not one iota of your time to dealing with them and to continue doing great science under well-justified animal protocols.
I can understand this point of view. I think it is short-sighted, obviously, but totally understandable. After all, the progress that stands to be made seems to be negligible. The number of individuals who are willing to admit that they previously believed ARA falsehoods and misdirections out of ignorance but became informed and fundamentally changed their minds, is not large.
I don't know that I have great arguments in response to this...yet. But I can see I need to think about deflating this line of resistance on the part of fellow scientists. I need to think about ways of convincing them that we'll all benefit, eventually, from correcting the misconceptions and factual inaccuracies about research that are communicated.
*there are many types of threats, the majority limited to email, phone messages and placement of their identifying information on an activist website. Occasionally a local campaign of distributed print literature as we saw was the preamble to the UCSC attacks last year.