Orac's blog yesterday told us how animal rights fanatics view young scientists as the "soft underbelly" of animal research -- people who might be easier to turn away from their research when presented with enough "reeducation" (and, when that fails: insults, harassment, and threats).
It was, quite frankly, an extremely depressing story. Girl is into science. Girl excels. Girl makes the mistake of admitting to the wrong person that her work involves animal research. Girl is abusively hounded by a bunch of faceless creeps until she recants her pro-animal research position.
I'm holding out hope that she simply told them what they wanted to hear in order to buy time while she changes email/phone/Facebook settings (and the locks on her doors for good measure), but who knows. Dealing with a horde of anonymous, vicious attackers would take a psychological toll on just about anybody. If the harassment did indeed end this young woman's career before it even began, it's a tragic loss.
But it's not always like this. Take the story of Oxford life sciences student Laurie Pycroff. As a 16 year-old, he witnessed an animal-rights protest over the construction of a biomedical science building, and instead chose to meet his opponents head on. He held his own counter-protest (no word on if he was the only one protesting or not), and launched a pro-testing website to "dispel the irrational myths promoted by anti-vivisectionists and to encourage people to stand up for science and human progress."
The scientists banded together, stood their ground against vicious verbal attacks (including death threats), and made their case -- rationally describing their work and its benefits to humanity and the world. And in the end, Oxford's Biomedical Sciences Building opened its doors as planned.
Stick together, stand your ground, and be unafraid to speak out for what you know is right?
In a world where debate on animal issues has long been dominated -- entirely framed, really -- by the extremists, I think there's an important lesson to be found in there. Not just for scientists, but anybody who works with animals.