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 morning.
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
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
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 well.
"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
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
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 saying."
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
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
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 release.
"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 prosecuted."
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 said.
"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
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,"
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
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
- Andy Guess