UCLA Professor's House Is Firebombed

February 06, 2008

The house of a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles was damaged by a firebomb left at the front door early Tuesday in an attack apparently orchestrated by animal-rights extremists, the university said in a news release. No one was at home when the device ignited, charring the door.

The incident was the second attack in four months against Edythe D. London, a professor of psychiatry and of molecular and medical pharmacology who uses primates in her research on nicotine addiction.

A statement issued today by the North American Animal Liberation Press Office said “animal liberationists” were responsible for placing the incendiary device. The press office relays messages from the underground Animal Liberation Front, but is not officially related to the group.

Gene Block, chancellor of UCLA, said in the university’s release that “these kinds of deplorable tactics have no place in a civilized society.” He added: “We will not stop beneficial research activities because of the illegal, violent acts of a handful of extremists.”

The incident happened on the same day that the Utah Senate, responding to concerns among animal researchers in that state, passed a bill that would allow a range of personal information about them, such as telephone numbers, to remain secret. Animal-rights activists have used the data, which would otherwise be a public record, to harass the researchers.

The Animal Liberation Front had previously claimed responsibility for vandalism last October in which someone broke a window and used a garden hose to flood Ms. London’s home, causing more than $20,000 in damage. At the time, a news release by the group said: “Edythe, water was our second choice, fire was our first.”

According to the university, the Animal Liberation Front also targeted two other UCLA researchers in the past two years, but the incendiary devices used in those attacks failed to ignite.

In a commentary that ran in the Los Angeles Times last year, Ms. London said she uses research animals to study “how nicotine, methamphetamine, and other drugs can hijack brain chemistry and leave the affected individual at the mercy of his or her addiction.” She described a personal connection to the work, in that her father suffered an untimely death from complications of nicotine dependence.

She said that threats of violence had caused one researcher at UCLA to abandon his studies of the visual system. “We must not allow these extremists to stop important research that advances the human condition,” she said at the time.

After the attack on Ms. London’s house last fall, the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a statement condemning attempts to intimidate scientists who use animals in research. “If intimidation drives scientists from their valuable efforts and discourages young scientists from pursuing fields of inquiry that require the use of animals, medical progress will be seriously impeded,” it said. —Richard Monastersky