Who bears the costs of ALF terrorism?

Shouldn’t it be the university, rather than the individual research worker?

So the Animal Liberation Front decided to flood the house of Edythe London of the UCLA Medical School. (Disclosure: While London and I aren’t friends &#8212 I think we’ve met once since she moved to Los Angeles &#8212 she is not only a fellow faculty member at UCLA but a distinguished psychopharmacologist, which makes her more or less a professional colleague; we go to some of the same meetings.)

The attack is one of a series; ALF previously placed a bomb under a research worker’s car (the bomb failed to go off) and tried to place a Molotov cocktail outside the home of another (it, too, failed to explode, and was actually outside the wrong house).

The UCLA Chancellor issued the usual statement denouncing the ALF. Hurrah for us! No doubt the statement badly hurt the terrorists’ feelings.

A more effective move, both to discourage the terrorists and to express our solidarity with the victims in a concrete fashion, would be for the university to voluntarily bear the full financial costs of such incidents. Prof. London and her family should be sleeping tonight in a rental home or hotel room paid for by UCLA, and the university should also pick up the tab for repairing her house and, if necessary, providing personal security. Prof. London is no doubt well paid, but $40k is still a heavy hit to a family budget; to the University, it’s a negligible amount. Thus shifting the financial burden would reduce the amount of suffering the ALFers can inflict. Since inflicting suffering in order to compel compliance with their demands is what ALF is all about (insofar as their motivation isn’t purely sadistic) the policy would not only protect victims of actual attacks but also help prevent attacks by reducing the benefits ALF can obtain by attacking.

Footnote I think it’s a huge mistake to give the ALF any of the publicity they crave. The University should ask the police to say as little as possible other than that an investigation is underway, and our only response to such an attack should be “Fanatics who hate the growth of knowledge attack scientists from time to time. Such attacks are despicable. We have no further comment.”

[See post above for some thoughts on legal approaches to discouraging such attacks.]

Update A commenter on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog suggests running a barbecue to raise money to reimburse the victims of ALF attacks. At first blush, that’s the sort of nasty idea I wish I’d thought of first.

On reflection, though, I don’t actually like it. The line we want to draw is between supporters of the freedom of inquiry and obscurantist terrorists, not between carnivores and herbivores. There are lots of vegetarians we want on our side; no need to offend them gratuitously.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com