Defending Animal Research
A recent spate of fire-bombings and other criminal activity in the United States aimed at scientists who rely on vivisection as integral to their work received a full-throated rebuttal from American scientists this week. David Jentsch, a UCLA neuroscientist and the victim of a firebombing this spring, organized the march and rally of several hundred supporters of animal research; it took place April 22 and followed an anti-vivisection confab earlier that day. Also present was Tom Holder, the 22-year-old founder of the British group Speaking of Research and a founding member of the group Pro-Test.
It would be flatly false to accuse anti-vivisection activists as a whole of violent and criminal behavior, or even of condoning it, but even the methods of those who act within the law are not always above question. Anti-vivisection propaganda — typified by websites such as World Week for Animals in Laboratories 2009 — disingenuously treat animal research as though its methods are unnecessarily cruel, its goals trite, and its potential limited. These tactics — of purposefully obscuring the goals of research, or highlighting issues such as the use of animals in cosmetic testing — do nothing to elucidate the truth about the purpose of animal science. In the end, much of it sounds as uninformed or disingenuous as Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin wondering why the US government would pay for research on fruit flies or grizzly bears.
Respected scientists, like Jane Goodall, are involved in anti-vivisection groups. And clearly, the testing of cosmetics should not be a prioritized use of animal life. But many of the great scientific mysteries of our time — how the brain works, how to defeat HIV and other infectious diseases, and much more — are not likely to be answered in vitro anytime soon. One might argue that we ought not to solve them if the cost is animal life but that is a philosophical question, not a scientific one. Messrs. Jentsch, Holder, and all the participants at the rally are commended for taking this stand for science.