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The War on Scientists in America

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Imagine if a group of rabid creationists started firebombing the homes of University of California professors to prevent them from teaching evolution. Area politicians would be holding competing press conferences to assure the public that they would take on the violent zealots, who have declared war, not only on good academics and their families, but on science itself.

No need to imagine. Across California, a different group of zealots has done just that. True believers have distributed personal information on scientists and their families. They've placed firebombs in medical researchers' homes and cars. They've donned hoods on their heads and marched to the homes of professors, then banged on their doors. They've told children that their parents are evil murderers and chalked anonymous charges on sidewalks for the neighbors to see.

The difference is these zealots aren't fighting for religious fundamentalism. Extremist animal rights groups have organized anonymously to intimidate and terrorize medical researchers until they abandon their studies out of fear for their children's safety and their own peace of mind.

They perfected the art of intimidation in the United Kingdom. First, extremists vandalized research labs. Then, they targeted companies that did business with researchers. In 2004, activists finally went too far when they dug up the remains of the mother-in-law of a guinea-pig breeder.

Now animal rights extremists are targeting University of California researchers. First, they placed bombs that did not go off. When that didn't shut down labs, they ratcheted up the violence. Wanted posters warned UC Santa Cruz researchers: "Animal abusers everywhere beware; we know where you live; we know where you work; we will never back down until you end your abuse."

Early Saturday morning, a firebomb destroyed a car belonging to a UCSC scientist. Shortly afterward, a firebomb erupted in the nearby townhouse of assistant biology professor David Feldheim. As smoke and flames filled the first floor, Feldheim, his wife, their 7-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter were forced to use a drop ladder to escape from a second-floor bedroom.

Jerry Vlasak, who, as a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Press Office, serves as an apologist for animal rights zealots, issued this statement: "This is historically what happens whenever revolutionaries begin to take the oppression and suffering of their fellow beings seriously, whether human or nonhuman. It's regrettable that certain scientists are willing to put their families at risk by choosing to do wasteful animal experiments in this day and age."

Tom Holder, of the group Speaking of Research, a student outreach organization, saw what happened in the United Kingdom, and he sees the same escalation of violence and harassment in the United States. Holder also saw the tide of public opinion turn against animal rights nuts in Great Britain when students and professors, who had been cowed into silence, began to speak out in favor of a proposed biomedical research laboratory at Oxford University. The majority prevailed, and the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre was built.

"We must not allow a violent minority to dictate the future of medicine," Holder noted, when cures and knowledge can save so many lives. Too often American universities have tried to downplay animal rights terrorism. Researchers clam up, lest they be next. The harassment campaigns "tend to isolate individuals," Holder noted. But the terrorists cannot prevail when scientists stand together for their work.

UCSC professor Marty Chemers already had called a rally for 5 p.m. Monday to express outrage at these attacks. "These are people who want to do violence and they cloak themselves in this kind of moral stance," Chemers told me. Though unfamiliar with the animal rights movement, Chemers, a social psychologist, nailed it. This is not a movement interested in the welfare and humane treatment of laboratory animals. It is an anarchistic, misanthropic cult.

To bring home that point, the Humane Society of the United States has offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible for Saturday's firebombings. HSUS President Wayne Pacelle told me, "This behavior is at odds with the core values of respect and compassion that we espouse in our work at the Humane Society."

We wouldn't let these zealots burn the university's books. But if they prevail, these extremists will have cowed scientists, destroyed research labs, and with them any cures they might invent.

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