A tough but rarely invoked US law intended to protect researchers from violent and threatening animal-rights activists has stumbled out of the starting gate: last week, a judge dismissed the first prosecution under the law. The decision comes on top of evidence that the legislation has done little to deter illegal incidents, and concerns that it risks restricting free speech.
Yet researchers who have been targeted by activists mostly support the law — and wish that it would be enforced more often and more aggressively. "You could present this as a setback," says John Ngai, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the university's spokesman on animal research issues. "But this is one step in a lengthy process. The wheels of justice grind really slowly."
The 2008 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which replaces a less powerful statute, is designed to help end campaigns of harassment against academic scientists. It outlaws property damages at universities and threats that produce a 'reasonable fear' of death or injury for researchers or their relatives.