In March, the Daily Iowan published an op-ed by Linda Maxson, dean of the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The op-ed was in response to an earlier piece by animal rights activist Leana Stormont, president of the Iowa Law Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, which complained that University of Iowa officials were unwilling to debate animal rights activists.
Entitled “Setting the record straight on animal research,” Maxson writes,
In her March 23 Daily Iowan guest opinion, Leana Stormont expresses her disappointment that no UI representative has been willing to debate her or others who oppose animal research. Her insistence on debate rather than inquiry is emblematic of the intellectual failure of those who oppose animal research.
Debates are highly stylized performances aimed at scoring “points” for one side or the other of a contentious issue. Debates are not forums for communicating information or achieving understanding. Skilled debaters can “demonstrate” that the Earth is flat by suppressing factual evidence to the contrary.
The UI is dedicated to education, inquiry, and discovery free from demagoguery and intimidation. University administrators, including President David Skorton and Provost Michael Hogan, have attempted to educate and inform the university community about the realities of animal research. Stormont single-mindedly refuses to acknowledge the information readily available to her and anyone else with questions about animal research at this university and other centers of research.
. . .
Concerns for animal welfare are legitimate and are taken seriously by the scientific community, as many protocols and regulations concerning use of research animals testify. Those who wage an illegal and unethical campaign of intimidation and destruction do not advance the cause of animal safety or welfare. On the contrary, they marginalize concerned individuals and trivialize the issues surrounding our relation to animals.
Bravo. Following last Fall’s attack by the Animal Liberation Front, the University of Iowa has really been a model of how institutions need to react to animal rights extremists by taking the rhetorical fight to them rather than cowering behind bland statements and hoping the extremists will go away.
One thing that I would add is that no one should be expected to have to debate those who believe that violence and intimidation are appropriate tactics. Stormont, like many other animal rights activists, is unwilling to condemn violence and intimidation and, as such, is rightly ignored.
As she wrote in a January 2 op-ed in the Iowa City Press Citizen,
As a matter of ethical coherence, I do not believe anyone can condemn the actions at Spence [the laboratory that was attacked by the ALF] without likewise condemning the fact that thousands of animals have been intentionally subject to psychological terror and have lost their lives within the confines of that laboratory. . . .
Stormont then descends in the sort of demagoguery which Maxson notes characterizes her arguments,
As an example that illustrates this inquiry. I do not think there are many who would find fault with the Jewish resistance fighters who destroyed the gas ovens that Nazis used to slaughter so many of their brethren.
I say this is not because I believe scientists who conduct research are Nazis . . . but a genuine attempt to understand the motivation for these actions is necessary for anyone who desires to understand why they happened. It is not difficult to imagine instances where violence might be justified, which is not to say that it is always justified.
Right, she doesn’t intend to suggest researchers are Nazis, she just happened to pull that example out of thin air. Stormont does a good job of talking out of both sides of her mouth, clearly laying down an argument in defense of animal rights violence and intimidation while transparently pretending otherwise.
Setting the record straight on animal research. Linda Maxson, Daily Iowan, March 28, 2005.
Home of the caged. Leana Stormont, The Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 2, 2005.