Fearing Clashes, WJH Ups Security

April is the cruelest month—at least for researchers who run experiments with animals.

The warmer weather of spring has these Harvard researchers sweating over the tactics of animal rights activists who believe their experimental practices are unethical.

“The animal protests occur each year, but there has been rumor that they may be more violent this year,” Harvard College Professor Marc D. Hauser, director of the Primate Cognitive Neuroscience Lab in William James Hall, writes in an e-mail. “Some groups have broken into [other] labs and released animals. This doesn’t give them freedom, as they soon die.”

But Building Manager William J. Santoro says that there have not been any attacks, or even threats, made against William James Hall—and he wants to keep it that way.

“This is the time of the year that they traditionally come around, so we take extra precautions,” he says. “It’s just that they come around and they tend to attract groups that may be intent on doing something besides peaceful.”

This month, in an effort to curb the threat of activist groups, a guard now patrols the premises 24 hours a day, entrance is restricted to key card access on Saturdays, and research assistants are urging lab workers to back up records and store data in new locations.

How exactly a threat to the building could present itself, Hauser isn’t sure.

“We have no idea what to expect,” he writes.

THE FIGHT FOR ANIMAL RIGHTS

Baking in the hot sun, Helen M. Rayshick, along with about 50 others, stood opposite Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square on April 16—less than a mile from the towering William James Hall—to protest animal experimentation in Harvard labs.

Members of the non-profit Massachusetts Animal Rights Coalition (MARC) took to the streets, challenging Square pedestrians to join the crusade against alleged animal cruelty. Pictures showing primates strapped to a bevy of machinery and bleeding from the head adorned protestors’ signs, which read, “You pay for this” and “Her pain, their gain.”

Rayshick, who is a co-founder of MARC, says the group targeted Harvard in order to distribute literature and recruit budding activists.

“Harvard is second in the nation in receiving federal funding for animal experiments,” Rayshick writes in an e-mail. “Our goal was to make public the horrific treatment of lab animals. If people did to their pets what researchers do to lab animals, they would be prosecuted for animal cruelty.”

Rayschick claims animal cruelty is prevalent at Harvard-based labs, alleging that the College received over $294 million of federal funding in 2003 to engage in animal research.

She says her information on lab practices comes from “researchers’ own published articles and public documents.”

“The results are that animals are restrained by clamping their heads for up to 23 hours a day,” she writes. “They are denied food and water. They have implants surgically implanted in their brains and eyes. They are forcibly addicted to drugs and alcohol and given fatal diseases. Animals have had their eyes sewn shut, their heads smashed in, and been burned, blinded, maimed, and starved.”

Prime among these labs using allegedly invasive experiments, says Rayshick, is Hauser’s primate lab at William James Hall.

But Hauser insists that no such backroom, unethical procedures exist at his lab.

“We are very open about what we do in the lab, which is non-invasive behavioral work,” Hauser says. “Our website makes clear what we do and where we are and so there are no secrets.”

According to the lab’s website, several cotton-top tamarins are kept in homeroom cages.

The animals are taken in transport cages to testing rooms—both of which they enter “by their own free will”— where “non-invasive behavioral research” is performed, the website says.

An example of an experiment performed in a testing room is one that investigates vocal communication. Out of seven total testing rooms, two are designated for this research, and those rooms are “used for recording naturally produced vocalizations.”

Though he defends his lab’s research, Hauser says that some protesters raise issues worth discussing.

“I share some of their concerns,” he says. “On the other hand, I don’t support violent approaches to these issues.”

Rayshick agrees that extreme actions—like breaking into labs and trying to free animals—are not her cup of tea.

“Our group is a...federal non-profit,” she says. “Our by-laws specifically state that all of our actions are legal and peaceful.”

ACTIVISTS AND AMBIVALENCE

For Katharine B. Dixon, president of the Law School’s Animal Legal Defense Fund, the line between rightful protest and acts of extremism often blurs.

“My personal position is that there may be a place for [extremist activity] in extreme circumstances,” says Dixon. “On the whole, [it] doesn’t serve the movement. It does grab an audience and it does bring attention to the issue but I don’t think it’s the type of attention that will bring changes.”

Although the aspiring attorney staunchly opposes any sort of property destruction, she finds herself still undecided as to the merit of milder tactics, such as attempting to free animals from labs.

“I’m really conflicted myself on that—so I don’t know,” she says.

The undergraduate group advocating animal rights, The People for Animal Welfare, adopts an even rarer position—they do not participate in protests, even peaceable ones.

“We saw how PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] functions, and they’ve done great things for animal welfare, but not all their tactics are approved by the general public,” said Jeffrey A. Barnet ’06, president emeritus of the group. “As opposed to making a joke of it, we felt that education and volunteer work would be a much better forum for an undergraduate group.”

As April draws to a close, so too, it seems, will the threat of protesters.

The increased security at William James Hall will come to a close when the 24-hour watch guard is relieved from around-the-clock duty on May 2.

—Staff writer Robin M. Peguero can be reached at peguero@fas.harvard.edu.