By: Rose Eveleth
As most of the bloggers here are future scientists, I thought it might be interesting to bring up an issue making headlines recently. Dr. Janet D. Stemwedel explains in a short (albeit quite biased) blog post what Dr. Dario Ringach – formerly at UCLA – has had to endure recently as a researcher working on experiments that use animals. In short, activists have come to his house, beat on his doors and windows, and intimidated his family and friends. Dr. Ringach resigned from UCLA when they provided neither support, nor protection. In the past few weeks, activists have adopted a new plan to attack Ringach’s family.
The LAist confirms that the animal rights activists plan to go to Dr. Ringach’s children’s school to protest and “educate fellow students what their classmate’s father does for a living.” They have protested at his home before, and now they are going to his children’s school. One activist writes, “we’ll just tally up the kids as collateral damage, a small price to pay for all the attention it’s getting now.”
Scientific research has long been viewed from afar by “everyday citizens” as suspicious, fraudulent, and perhaps immoral. What those people in lab coats do is mysterious, confusing and sometimes scary. This is the same sentiment that causes doubt of every scientific finding, from relativity, to climate change.
Citizens have the right to ask questions and demand transparency in science. It has become increasingly clear that good science cannot be done without some kind of accountability and reporting mechanism to the people. Animal rights activists have the right to demand structures in the scientific world that defend animals from misguided research, and yes, such research certainly does happen. Does that mean they should terrorize a child’s school? No. But it does bring up some interesting questions, very salient to the writers here on this blog.
How much responsibility do scientists have to explain themselves to the public? Is that what science journalists, public information officers, the Discovery Channel, or this blog is for, or is there more. Many of the arguments that doctors and PhD’s are citing in response to Animal Rights groups is that if they knew how much good animal testing did for medicine they would surely think twice. If they understood the science behind the experiments, the long term goals and the current success stories. It is so easy for scientists to say “if only they understood the science, then they would understand.” Yet none of these scientists appears ready to explain that science to the activists. Is that not part of the scientist’s job description?
There are certainly bright spots. At UCLA, they recently had a panel to discuss, civilly, the issue of Animal Research. The sponsoring group, Bruins for Animals, is saddened to hear that some activists are harassing children and researchers, saying on their website “Some appear determined to continue with their attempts at interfering with this fresh direction the debate is taking. In a move that defies logic, these activists are now suggesting that children are legitimate targets of their protests.”
It is my hope that the new generation of activists is more like Bruins for Animals, willing and ready to sit down and talk about what the problems are and how to fix them, and perhaps, in the end, realizing that differences of opinion are not just healthy, but important. If no one questioned science, no good science would get done. But please, stay away from the children.