After 30 years in the sunny but one-note climate of San Diego,
I am delighting in my first Georgia springpollen, rain showers
and all. And Im looking forward to summer as well, but perhaps
not for the reasons you might expect.
Last August, I moved from San Diego to Atlanta to take the position
of director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory.
As many of you know from experience, moving cross-country is stressful
and difficult, but this move was spectacularly lousy. In San Diego,
it was hot. In Atlanta, it was hot and humid. In San Diego, the
animal-rights activists were happy to see me leave. And in Atlanta,
they were poised to pounce before I even arrived.
A local animal-rights activist group managed to obtain the address
of my newly purchased home in Decatur before Id even left
San Diego, and it distributed leaflets throughout my new neighborhood
condemning me and my research.
Read what your neighbor, Stuart Zola
does to animals
in the laboratory, the leaflet read.
The leaflet wasnt pretty. It was pretty vicious. It showed
photographsnot from my laboratoryof a monkey in an apparatus
and selectively quoted from Deborah Blums excellent book The
Monkey Wars, which devotes a chapter to my research. Naturally,
the excerpt focused exclusively on the most graphic aspects of brain
surgery on a monkey, completely ignoring Blums eloquent, well-balanced
exploration of the nature of my research and its implications for
the treatment of amnesia and other memory problems in human patients.
The leaflet also bore my home address in large, boldface type and
implied to my neighbors that, as members of the taxpaying public,
they had been snookered into supporting my ill-gotten living. Do
you like the home located at [my address]? the leaflet read.
You should, your taxes paid for itbut Stuart Zola lives
Well, that took care of introducing myself to the neighbors. So
much for making a favorable first impression on the community. I
am a fairly extroverted person, and, having performed magic tricks
for groups of young children, I am accustomed to confronting intense
skepticism and disdain, but even Zig Zigler would have been nervous
under such circumstances.
To my surprise and enormous gratification, the whole episode ended
up in my favor. My neighbors, a few of whom Id met during
a house-hunting visit, turned out to be incredibly, heartwarmingly
supportive. Some kindly called me in California to share their indignation
and outrage that these things were being said about me and my research.
One especially courageous neighbor even contacted the group and
told the activists not to come back.
The leafleting incident drew local media attention, which I found
embarrassingnot because this was how I was introduced to the
Emory and Atlanta communities, but because several other Emory scientists
had been targeted in precisely the same manner without exciting
the same level of public interest.
I have heard the argument that the leafleting in my neighborhood
seemed particularly outrageous to some because I hadnt even
moved in yet. The truth is this incident probably aroused special
attention because of my position at Yerkes, which long has served
as the lightning rod for animal-rights issues in Atlanta.
However, the list of scientists singled out for the particular
attentions of the animal rightists by no means is limited to those
with Yerkes appointments. Research with animals plays such an integral
and critical role in biomedical science that it is conducted throughout
the Woodruff Health Sciences Center at Emoryand animal-rights
groups have recognized this by broadening their attack.
What has happened to scientists like physiologist Richard Nichols
and neurologist Jerrold Vitek, just to name two, is offensive and
outrageous. Animal-rights activists have come into their neighborhoods
late at night (often around 11 p.m.) to distribute leaflets. Some
researchers also have received ominously worded e-mails and letters,
some booby-trapped with razor blades. Activists have attempted to
turn the researchers own neighbors against them by accusing
them of cheating the federal government in order to fund pointless
research on animals, rather than by voicing dispassionate philosophical
opposition to animal-based research.
I dont challenge the right of the activists to voice their
opinions. On the contrary, I firmly believe in the rightin
fact, the vital needfor healthy discussion of dissenting views
on the subject of research with animals. I do not believe it necessarily
would be a good thing if everyone unquestioningly supported animal-based
research. Science is about seeking answers to questions, and that
process of discovery contributes to the evolution of our beliefs
and practices. We need to constantly question what we do and how
we do it to ensure we are devoting our energies and resources appropriately.
But the methods by which animal rightists have chosen to express
their views are unacceptable. While Emory has endured its share
of protests, other research institutions have experienced vandalism
and arson, crimes for which animal-rights activists proudly claimed
Leafleting is not a crime, but the recent leafleting campaign waged
against Emory scientists is disingenuous.
Fortunately, just as in my case, these scientists neighbors
have responded with staunch support and loyaltyright down
to the last mailbox on the street. Even people who acknowledged
they werent entirely comfortable with the idea of research
with animals have expressed disgust with the activists tactics.
More importantly, they have listened readily and with open minds
to the researchers explanations of their work, why its
important, why animals must be used, and how they treat the animals
in their care.
Every Emory scientist whose neighborhood has been leafleted, whose
name, address and photograph have been posted on animal-rights websites,
whose research has been attacked for no other reason than its use
of animals, deserves our attention and our support.
Some of these researchers are basic scientists, whose work provides
the foundation upon which subsequent studies are constructed; others
are clinicians whose animal-based research translates immediately
into human applications. In all cases, however, we share the aim
of contributing to the improved health of humankindof making
people healthy, to use the motto of the Woodruff Health Sciences
Center. We are your neighbors.
What makes a good neighbor, besides good fences and the willingness
to lend you gas for the lawn mower? Someone who takes the time to
get to know you and who gives you support based on that personal
acquaintance. Someone who refuses to judge you based on a sheet
of paper bearing ugly images and uglier words designed to invoke
emotional rather than rational responses.
Im looking forward to enjoying my first summer in my new
hometown, and to spending some quality time with my neighbors. I
recommend you do the same. You never know when you might need themor
when they might need you.