Aug. 6

After Attacks on Researchers, Caution and Steadfastness

In many ways, the University of California at 
Santa Cruz was already prepared when firebombs 
ignited the house of one researcher and the car 
of another at nearly the same time early Saturday 

After all, it wasn't the first attack against a 
Santa Cruz faculty member whose research involves 
experimentation on animals. Since that last 
incident in February, and more broadly over the 
past year, research universities, including the 
University of California system, have made more 
concerted efforts to coordinate their responses 
to threats, harassment and vandalism from 
self-styled animal liberation activists who many 
agree may be escalating their campaign.

And this time, there was at least some cause for 
vigilance: A "Wanted"-style flyer, found at a 
local coffee shop last week, listed the names, 
addresses and photographs of 13 UC Santa Cruz 

Within the UC system, the bulk of biomedical 
research that involves animals takes place at the 
Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses. Both have been 
recent targets for intimidation, with the home of 
one UCLA researcher singled out on two separate 
occasions - flooded with a garden hose last 
October, followed by a firebombing attempt in 
February. The latest incidents in Santa Cruz, 
during which one scientist who experiments on 
mice was forced to help his two children down a 
ladder from a second-story window, follow a 
February break-in by masked intruders who 
interrupted the birthday celebration of a 
professor's daughter.

Sometimes, attacks are preceded by warnings or 
followed by announcements claiming 
responsibility. Last Friday, according to The San 
Jose Mercury News, a group called Stop Animal 
Exploitation Now! sent out a message calling 
attention to what it called "mounting violations 
of the animal welfare act." Police are reportedly 
investigating SAEN along with other animal 
liberation groups. So far, there has been "no 
communiqué claiming the action," according to 
Jerry Vlasak, press officer at the North American 
Animal Liberation Press Office, which supports 
the animal liberation movement and posts 
anonymous messages from various groups. But a 
local TV station reported that the Animal 
Liberation Front had done just that.

Already, the city of Santa Cruz is offering 
$30,000 - half of which came from the university 
- to anyone with information that leads to 
arrests of the perpetrators.

This latest round of attacks is causing 
universities across the country to redouble their 
efforts to protect scientists, but in many cases 
they are limited in what they can achieve through 
prevention efforts, educational efforts and 
vigilance. In addition to concerns about safety, 
advocates for biomedical research also worry that 
continued threats and attacks could create a sort 
of chilling effect as young researchers decide 
not to pursue investigations that could invite 
unwanted harassment or as funding dries up for 
experiments seen as attracting negative publicity.

The evidence is anecdotal and inconclusive, but 
Frankie L. Trull, founder and president of the 
Foundation for Biomedical Research, which 
promotes the humane use of animals in scientific 
experiments, said the possibility that 
up-and-coming scientists might opt for other 
lines of inquiry could "potentially be a huge 
loss to all of our futures."

Initial Response

After the attacks early Saturday, the response 
from UC Santa Cruz and research organizations was 
swift. Calling the firebombings "criminal acts of 
anti-science violence," Santa Cruz Chancellor 
George Blumenthal issued a statement on Saturday. 
"These are odious assaults on individuals and on 
the principles of free inquiry by which we live," 
he said.

On Monday, University of California President 
Mark G. Yudof followed up with a statement of his 
own. "The attacks on members of the academic 
community that occurred this past weekend in 
Santa Cruz are outrageous and abhorrent," he 
said. "Acts of violence and intimidation such as 
these are unacceptable, and they continue a 
troubling pattern, seen at UCLA and other UC 
campuses, that should be repugnant to us all. 
These acts threaten not only our academic 
researchers and their families, but the safety 
and security of neighbors in our communities as 

"A few months ago, the chancellors of all 10 
University of California campuses issued a joint 
statement expressing their condemnation of such 
attacks and reiterating their commitment to 
upholding the highest standards in the care and 
ethical treatment of animals. I join the 
chancellors in their statement. As we remain 
steadfast in our support of the free, civil and 
lawful expression of views, we are equally 
unwavering in our commitment to protect our 
faculty, staff and students and to hold the 
perpetrators of these acts accountable."

Yudof also renewed a call to support state 
legislation that would clarify that intimidation 
of researchers is not free speech and add a 
trespass misdemeanor that would specifically bar 
people from entering an academic researcher's 
home "for the purpose of chilling or interfering 
with the researcher's academic freedom." (The 
UCLA campus took the step earlier this year of 
suing several animal liberation groups and 
seeking an immediate restraining order against 
the defendants.)

Guy Lasnier, a spokesman for UC Santa Cruz, 
agreed that "there has been an escalation ... and 
this is probably the most egregious case of this 
kind of thing even nationally, is what the FBI is 

The university is offering support to those 
affected and their families, as well as security 
for their homes and offices - "a place to stay, 
counseling, whatever, those offers are out 
there," Lasnier said. At the same time, UC Santa 
Cruz is working with local law enforcement 
officials. For example, he noted, not all of the 
information on the coffee shop flyer was 
accurate: "some don't do any kind of work with 
animals, some of the addresses were wrong," and 
police are working to protect those listed.

On Monday, students and professors organized an 
ad-hoc rally at the campus's main entrance 
holding signs such as "Violence Is Not the 
Answer," "Challenge Disease Not Medical Research" 
and "Humans Are Animals Too!" The rally's 
announcement stated, "The demonstration is not 
about whether or not research on animals is good, 
bad, etc. This demonstration is about fundamental 
aspects of society, about peaceful tactics 
towards things/situations we do not like."

Beyond Santa Cruz, institutions have teamed up on 
their own or through larger groups. Patrick 
White, vice president of federal relations for 
the Association of American Universities, said 
the organization drafted a statement last October 
in response to concerns from directors of 
research at its member institutions. The group 
has also worked to help coordinate two issues, he 
said. At some research universities, competing 
law enforcement jurisdictions can complicate how 
administrators react to incidents off campus. And 
there is also a need seen for a 24-hour hotline 
for anyone to call with information or in case of 
an incident.

"One of the things that we have done at UCLA is 
that the campus police is now authorized to go 
off campus to respond to some of these incidents, 
so researchers that are perhaps in danger because 
they receive threats, they all have a direct 
number to UCLA dispatch," said Roberto Peccei, 
UCLA's vice chancellor for research. "So you can 
build in some help in certain areas. But it's 
hard. Mostly it's a matter of education."

The October 2007 statement from the AAU (of which 
Santa Cruz is not a member) states: "The research 
community and AAU are committed to ensuring that 
such research not only conforms with ethical, 
legal, and safety regulations but also maintains 
the highest standards of animal care and health. 
This obligation requires effective training and 
education of investigators and service personnel, 
as well as rigorous regulation and oversight of 
animal research.... Universities should continue 
to provide a forum for civil discourse and the 
open exchange of ideas about this or any other 
topic. But just as they protect the right of 
those who wish to express particular points of 
view through campus policies on free expression, 
universities must always ensure a safe 
environment for conducting their activities, 
including research involving the use of animals, 
free of intimidation or violence."

The Foundation for Biomedical Research also 
responded to the firebombings on Saturday. "These 
attacks, which are considered acts of domestic 
terrorism and attempted homicide, are the 
culmination of the mounting threats and home 
attacks made by animal rights extremists over the 
past two years," the organization said in a 

"Home harassments have increased in recent years, 
as animal rights extremists have shifted their 
focus from attacking laboratories to attacking 
individual homes. Such attacks pose a significant 
threat to researchers' safety which is why 
Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism 
Act in 2006, expanding the protections for 
researchers and companies targeted by animal 
rights extremists. While there have been many 
attacks and threats against researchers since the 
passing of the law, no one has yet been 

Indeed, there are limits to the tools available 
to law enforcement - the Federal Bureau of 
Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, 
Firearms and Explosives and the Joint Terrorism 
Task Force are all involved - and those tasked 
with keeping campus environments safe. As Peccei 
noted, even the 24-hour security details placed 
on some UCLA researchers in the wake of recent 
attacks couldn't be kept up indefinitely for 
pragmatic and financial reasons. Some suggest 
that the most important role for universities is 
to keep the public's attention on the issue, 
facilitate communication between different 
institutions and organize a coordinated response.

"In general the university community has had a 
pretty uniform strong response to these kinds of 
attacks," Peccei said. "And that's very welcome 
by everybody."

Effect on Research

For many, the "$64,000 question," as Trull put 
it, will be whether the attacks and threats have 
a lasting effect on biomedical research itself, 
whether through declining numbers of researchers 
entering the field, shifts in research emphasis 
and experimental methods, or a general chilling 
effect. She said it's too early to tell whether 
that's the case, but that there will be "a lot of 
dynamic discussion about that going forward."

P. Michael Conn, associate director of the Oregon 
National Primate Research Center and the author 
of The Animal Research War, said he's been 
"rather impressed" so far with many scientists 
not backing off their research. "It's not 
happening in huge numbers, but you have to 
believe that young people" would be affected by 
the climate facing biomedical researchers, he 

"A lot of people don't want to talk about this 
publicly because of this climate of fear.... This 
is no kind of an environment to pursue scientific 
inquiry if you're afraid to talk about it," Trull 
said. "So that needs to be addressed by all of 
those in biomedical research who feel strongly 
about this, have a stake in it, care about the 
future of discovery."

Some of the issues that will probably be 
discussed include measures taken by both 
individuals and institutions in an effort to 
protect themselves.

Peccei, for example, said that some scientists 
were restricting what information they make 
available on their faculty Web sites. "[A] lot of 
the people that feel under threat basically, 
essentially try to be invisible. And that's 
really counterproductive for them scientifically 
but it probably is a reasonable defense 
mechanism," he said.

UCLA has also declined certain Freedom of 
Information Act requests, he continued, if the 
information could place a researcher in danger. 
"So we have not complied with certain public 
records requests on that basis and have urged the 
NIH not to respond to certain FOIA requests 
because we feel that responding to some of these 
requests puts people in jeopardy."

Elsewhere, a court in Mississippi found late last 
month that records of pet food research done at a 
state university were not open to the public, 
ruling against People for the Ethical Treatment 
of Animals, which sought the data. And in Utah, 
universities can refuse to release the names of 
researchers working on animals. In Salt Lake 
City, ordinances also strictly limit "targeted 
residential demonstrations."

- Andy Guess