Sunday, August 10, 2008

CIRM-Funded Researcher Firebombed; CIRM Should Beef Up Reward

The scientist at UC Santa Cruz whose home was firebombed earlier this month is a CIRM-funded researcher, holding a $500,000 grant to study differentiation of stem cells into motor neurons.

David Feldheim(center of photo), a molecular biologist, won the grant in 2007, one of the first scientists whose research was supported by California's $3 billion agency.

Feldheim was the target Aug. 2 of animal rights activists, part of a recent upsurge in assaults on researchers. Authorities say the crime is being investigated as an attempted murder. The Los Angeles Times reported today that academics in the UC system are "angered and worried," but vow not to be intimidated.

Last week, UC Santa Cruz faculty members and others rallied to support Feldheim and protest violence against researchers. Feldheim spoke to the crowd, along with the UC Santa Cruz Chancellor and the mayor of Santa Cruz, according to the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center, which published a number of photos and comment on the event. (The Feldheim photo is from that report.)

A $50,000 reward is being offered in connection with the firebombing with funds from the FBI, UC Santa Cruz, private citizens, the City of Santa Cruz, the federal government and the Humane Society, according to San Francisco Chronicle reporter John Cote.

J.M. Brown of the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that the attack came at 5:45 a.m., burning the front door. Brown wrote:
"Feldheim, his wife and two young children fled from a second-floor fire escape. Feldheim's feet were bruised during the escape.

"Minutes later, outside a campus residence less than a mile away, a fire ripped through a station wagon belonging to a colleague. No one was injured in that incident. A third scientist received a threatening phone message at home about the same time."
Last week, Richard C. Paddock and Maria L. LaGanga of the Los Angeles Times quoted UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal as calling the attack "domestic terrorism." Their story also carried statistics from the Foundation for Biomedical Research:
"In 2000 there were 10 such episodes against biomedical research facilities alone, and in 2006 that figure had grown to 77, according to the group's website. In addition, the type of attacks has changed in recent years.

"'Prior to that, the vast majority of actions taken were against institutions -- break into the lab, steal the animals, trash the facility,' said foundation President Frankie Trull. 'More recently, however . . . they've become much more personal, attacking the researchers at their homes. California seems to be the focus of this activity right now, but not the only focus.'"
The animal rights terrorism issue is not new to this writer. While at The Sacramento Bee, I was the primary editor on Deborah Blum's 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning series, "The Monkey Wars," which explored the violence against research involving primates.

What was abundantly clear then and even more now is the need for the public – not just academics – to speak out against this terrorism. The community needs to understand that the firebombers explicitly place animal life above human life. The perpetrators should find no shelter from misguided souls who think this is minor mischief.

The California stem cell agency has not yet spoken out on Feldheim bombing, but it has given preliminary support to state legislation aimed at helping to deal with the problem. A strong statement from CIRM is called for, along with a substantial addition to the reward for apprehension of the perpetrators, something along the lines of about $50,000. CIRM Chairman Robert Klein should also direct his private lobbying group, Americans for Cures, to add another $25,000 or so.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:26 PM

    I have no sympathy for a man who's job it is to inflict torture & death onto defenseless animals every day of his working life. He put himself & his family in danger. He knows his job is controversial & that you can't hurt other non human sentient beings & not expect a backlash. I'm sick of animals sudffering for useless experiments that are devoid of an productive results. It's all about kudos, long essays & qualifying for gov. grant money. That's my understanding of it anyway. So his feet were bruised what about his whole body, that would be more in line with an eye for an eye. His feet were hurt, well cry me a river, how would he like his eyes sewn shut like that poor monkey Britches? Was there a good reason for that experiment on an infant animal no less? You people make me sick.