Activists promoting an agenda of animal rights have long protested the use of animals by major research universities and institutions.
Earle Holland, Ohio State University's assistant vice president for Research Communications, says those activists are increasingly targeting students pursuing degrees in fields known for relying on laboratory animals to conduct research.
"It is much bigger than ever before," Holland says. "The FBI has designated some animal rights groups and even some environmental activists as domestic terrorists. Given the rise in violence and property destruction over the past decade or so, it is much more serious than it was in the past."
Holland acknowledges that Ohio State is relatively fortunate, dealing with only a "handful" of serious threats of violence to university researchers in recent years. The national trend, on the other hand, concerns the university and the research community at large.
Major research institutions such as Ohio State rely on laboratory research animals for two key reasons: first, because the animals provide the best possible vehicle for conducting research in many fields of study.
"There are no alternatives to the use of animals, or we would adopt them quickly," Holland notes. "The alternatives or substitutes activists propose don't provide the same level of research certainty as animals raised for that purpose."
The second critical reason researchers utilize animals in their work is fairly straightforward: they're required to do so.
"You can't do biomedical research, or research in agriculture, or research in any number of areas without laboratory animals," Holland says. "That's a prerequisite of the National Institutes of Health or United States Department of Agriculture: If you're going to have advancements in these areas, they have to be tested on animals."
Holland, who is the university's "point man" for any area of research risk, remains concerned over one activist group's efforts to target students on research campuses.
Negotiation Is Over, a Florida-based activist group, claims discussion between citizens interested in animal welfare and professionals within research community is futile, and should stop in favor of what is known as "direct action."
"They are targeting incoming students in the sciences and related fields who, as a part of their course of study, will be dealing with animals," Holland explains. "These are young people, easily threatened, easily put in harm's way, and by threatening them, they could possibly change the students' mindset about their careers and perhaps move away from these fields."