Thoughts on the low-grade, annoyance level of ARA assault

Jul 30 2009 Published by under Animals in Research

Isis the Scientist has just described receiving a hate email for her recent post on educating junior scientists about ARA extremism. As it turns out, her anecdote,

moments beforehand I had received this email:

I hope someone does to your baby what you do to your mice.

was in and of itself highly educational.

If you read the comments after that post, you will see a great deal of horror and outrage from Isis' readership that their beloved Goddess is subject to such a missive.
This is another teaching moment, apparently. Because this should not be news to anyone...and yet unfortunately it is.
So, my dear friends of Isis- yes, animal researchers receive this sort of thing quite frequently. All of us? No, of course not. So many scientists who use animals themselves are unaware of what can and does happen. First and foremost it is the PI of the laboratory at which such attacks are generally directed and your PI may simply delete them without comment to the rest of the staff. For sure s/he is not going to tell each and every member who joins the laboratory about the flurry of emails received in a hate campaign ten years ago. Likewise, the individual PI is not necessarily motivated to instantly inform all and sundry within the field (i.e., her colleagues) about the low level stuff. "What's to be gained?" is the thought.
Another important point is the perception of model-specificity. Without doubt people that use the USDA regulated species come under fire more frequently than do those that use the Helms Amendment species or invertebrates. This attention is in inverse proportion to the number of investigators working with a given species, which is obviously not good for awareness either.
Well, I've been thinking (and discussing with some people in another venue) about what has been lost, because of this tendency not to publicize the low- to mid-level annoyance/threat events directed at individual scientists. What has been lost is concern, support and urgency for dealing with ARA extremist attacks on scientists. As occasional commenter Cleveland observed on a prior post:

First they came for the nonhuman primate researchers and I didn't speak up, because I do not work with monkeys.
Then they came for the electrophysiologists and medical school physiology labs, and I didn't speak up, because I do not work with "pet" species.
Then they came for the rodent researchers and I didn't speak up, because I do not work with mammals.
Then they came for the fruit-fly researchers, but by that time there was nobody left to speak up for me.
(with apologies to Pastor Martin Niemoeller)

Of course, this comment was in the context of discussing the UCSC attacks which were directed against researchers using mice and fruit flies, IIRC. From what I can tell this was somewhat positive since it made scientists who do not work with USDA species pause a bit and think that maybe the ARA extremist threat was closer to them then they previously thought.
So Isis posting that letter (which was pretty tame stuff within the genre) was a very good thing if some of her fans are finally realizing how pervasive this sort of low-level antagonism really is.

9 responses so far

  • Thank you, Brother Drug. I think the fact that some individuals (especially the pro-test folks) are speaking about this is positive for many of us. Your post brings me back to the otiginal point of my original post which is that I was never taught about how to deal with these things as a graduate student and am now finding myself making things up as I go along. Also, your point that people are not simply attacking people usimg USDA species is very valid. I think sometimes people using rodent species think that their work is common enough that it is generally accepted. Not so much....

  • becca says:

    Well, it's a good thing I like pie.

  • Are PIs not required to inform the institute of these emails? During my PhD training (in the UK) we had extensive training on protection against the animal rights people, and we were told to report each and every incident, no matter how small, to our PIs, who would report it to the higher-ups. I believe it was part of some tracking scheme, but I have no idea if this was institutional or national.

  • Anon says:

    Unfortunately, these kind of messages are more common that people imagine. Perhaps, having a central repository where such emails could be posted for everyone to see will help expose the nature and prevalence of the problem. It will also help illuminate the debate on the appropriateness of using the term “terrorist” for those that aim at stopping research by any means possible.

  • Allyson says:

    Thank you for the post DM - it is sure to resonate with a great many of us who have been targeted, as well as to let others know that it is not an uncommon thing to receive anonymous and threatening messages. Good research institutions are increasingly aware of these issues and are supportive of their scientists, including providing all members of the research team with education about dealing with harassment and threats from animal activists. If someone is at an institution that doesn't provide this, it may be worthwhile to contact the appropriate offices to help work on raising awareness and promoting education. There are some very good online sources of information - including those by the Society for Neuroscience.

  • Kathryn says:

    I've gotten nasty comments to my face about working with C. elegans. Yes, a teeny tiny soil-dwelling nematode that gets smooshed if we till the soil or even walk across a lawn. We don't do much animal research at my school, so the student ARA club doesn't have much to protest... but we're careful not to leave the lab doors open after they have a rally. (Yes, my student aid money goes to sponsoring an ARA group that not only allies with domestic terrorists but writes pro-ARA graffiti on the bridge to campus.)
    Our school specializes in ecology, and the ecologists claim some sort of moral high ground because they don't use model organisms--somehow it's better to go out in nature and harass endangered species to get data. Anyone understand this?

  • Scicurious says:

    An excellent post, DM. I don't think it's just the responsibility of the PI to educate future scientists on this issue. I went through years of animal handling and animal care modules and everything else, but nothing was ever mentioned about how other people could potentially hurt me and my animals. Hopefully Pro-test and other organizations can help promote the education of future scientists in what could happen to them.

  • Allyson says:

    Hate to propose more modules...but these discussions highlight a gap and suggest that education on this point should be a standard part of the already extensive initial IACUC and animal training everyone who participates in animal research is required to complete.

  • David Jentsch says:

    Allyson and Scicurious raise excellent points that relate to a "tension" between breeding hysteria amongst young people and instilling a sense of reality about animal rights activism/extremism. In my University, there is no doubt that our students and post-docs know what sort of mis-deeds animal rights extremists can get up to, but I am also keenly aware that individuals at many at other institutions are not. I think what we need is public discussion - within the Universities - but also at large meetings - that provide a realistic sense of what can happen, but also present solutions and mechanisms for prevention so that the possibilities of what might come don't flow into hysteria or excessive fear.
    Americans for Medical Progress and Pro-Test will have a booth at the 2009 Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago. I encourage anyone interested in this topic to come meet with me or my colleagues there.

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