Doctors Frankenstein, Moreau Not Employed Here

    Illustration by Adam Peltier/Guardian

    The mad scientist archetype seemed to die off with Dr.
    Moreau. But the image is still very much alive and well in the minds of
    animal-rights proponents, the most extreme of whom have subverted it to make a
    Dr. Frankenstein of university researchers. As such, the activists have
    dangerously taken researchers to task in a movement that sounds like an absurd
    cross between slapstick comedy and action thriller. The problems have bubbled
    enough to attract legislative action, which last week took a wise step in a long
    road to curb violence against the university’s researching workforce.

    The aggressive flurry against researchers began in October
    2007, when the Animal Liberation Front flooded a UCLA researcher’s home, only
    to return again in February 2008 with an incendiary device. No one was injured
    by the incidents. But in Santa Cruz,
    the action turned violent when masked perpetrators tried to break into a
    researcher’s home, confronting and attacking her husband before finally
    fleeing. A month later, UC Berkeley researchers saw their lawns occupied weekly
    by protesters. The specter of animal-rights hecklers hangs so heavy that a
    December bomb threat at UCSD was initially pegged as the work of ALF or similar
    groups — it was later found to be a hoax.

    Research suffers if researchers and administrators are
    anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop. The basic building blocks of the University
    of California
    are researchers
    themselves; they bring in grants, publish work and ultimately brand the UC name
    across the academic world. But if a researcher fears the prospect of going home
    to a faceoff with a violent zookeeper, the university suffers as a whole. As
    such, the state Legislature has moved for a wise consolidation with its Animal
    Enterprise Protection Act: The university, as “the employer of an alleged
    victim,” would possess the power to sue as a whole even if the victim chooses
    to drop the charges. This portion disables activists’ bottom-up method, as they
    try to weaken animal-related research by picking off the university’s
    researchers one by one. Now, similar action will bring the entirety of the
    university to the forefront, a strong deterrent for anyone trying to avoid
    years of courtroom wrangling.

    But perhaps the most logical and impacting solution brought
    by the bill is its coverage of privacy rights. The bill allows the university
    to withhold public information it considers to be possible tools for
    harassment. Blatant plastering of home addresses, phone numbers and the like on
    Web sites allowed activists the chance to bring the fight to researchers’
    doorstep. The state and university has rightly planted its “Keep Off” and
    animal-rights extremists would do right to take heed.

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