Three UCLA researchers honored for bravery in face of threats from extremists
Three UCLA professors have been recognized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for their "strong defense of the importance of the use of animals in research and their refusal to remain silent in the face of intimidation" by anti–animal research extremists.
Each will be presented with this year's AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award during a ceremony on Friday, Feb. 17, at the organization's annual conference in Vancouver, Canada.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block expressed his admiration for the three faculty members and his appreciation of AAAS, the world's largest general scientific society and the publisher of the journal Science.
"David Jentsch, Edythe London and Dario Ringach have demonstrated exemplary courage in the face of reprehensible behavior by extremists, who have resorted to criminal acts in an attempt to intimidate our researchers," Block said. "UCLA will not be deterred from our mission as a public university to continue research that can help improve and save lives. We are very proud of David, Edythe and Dario, and their recognition by the American Association for the Advancement of Science is well deserved."
In recent years, all three have received death threats from extremist groups.
Jentsch, a professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, and London, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and of medical and molecular pharmacology, have both used monkeys and rats in studies on addiction and brain chemistry aimed at treating the disorder.
In 2009, extremists set fire to Jentsch's car in his driveway while he slept and later threatened online to "do a lot more damage." In 2008, an incendiary device extremists left on London's doorstep charred her front door. The previous year, her home suffered significant flood damage when someone broke a window and inserted a garden hose.
Ringach, a neurobiology and psychology professor who studies how the brain processes visual information, and his family were confronted by extremists who banged on his door and windows in the middle of the night.
In the wake of these incidents, Jentsch and Ringach formed Pro-Test for Science, a grassroots organization of faculty, staff and students modeled after a group formed by Oxford University students in England. All three professors also have spoken out publicly about the importance of using animals in research. In an article for the Journal of Neuroscience, Jentsch and Ringach called on other scientists to condemn extremists and help explain the importance of their work — and the strict ethical guidelines that govern it — to the public. Similarly, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, London described how potentially lifesaving treatments can be tested effectively on monkeys, giving insight into how brain chemistry alters the way the brain works and leading to the development of effective medications.
No arrests have been made in connection with the criminal acts targeting Jentsch, London and Ringach. In May 2009, UCLA obtained a permanent injunction that prohibits the harassment of personnel involved in animal research, and the university has vigorously enforced the court order ever since. In December 2011, a federal judge upheld the constitutionality of a Los Angeles city ordinance that has been important to UCLA's efforts to protect its researchers from extremists.
The Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award is given annually to honor scientists and engineers who work to defend the professional freedom of researchers and establish new precedents in carrying out social responsibilities, according to the AAAS.
Past recipients have included a researcher who was falsely accused of misconduct after reporting potentially life-threatening side-effects of a medication under development by a pharmaceutical company and a group of high school science teachers who challenged efforts to include intelligent design theories in their curriculum.