randombio.com | political commentary
Sunday, February 25, 2018

Laboratory mice get better security than schoolchildren

Evidence has surfaced showing that government's priorities are in giving the appearance of solving problems, not solving them.

S chools are soft targets for people who wish, in some twisted way, not just to become famous, but to influence public policy and bring attention to some imagined grievance. Although the incidents appear unorganized, they are still a form of terrorism.

To gain some perspective on this, let's look at how a similar crime, once fairly common, was solved. During the 1980s, animal rights activists would enter research laboratories and release the animals. The animals would, of course, quickly die, but this did not matter to the activists. They wanted to create a dramatic act that would gain publicity for their cause. This too was terrorism, and it was treated as such.

When a research project is destroyed, the knowledge we would have gained is lost. The researcher loses six months of work. In science, that can mean the end of a career. We will never know what knowledge was lost because of those antics. Perhaps one of those projects held the cure for cancer that would have saved millions of lives.

The solution was not to put armed guards on the facility or in the animal room. The solution was to harden the security in research buildings. I was involved in the planning for our animal care facility, and it was clear that security was the number one concern.

Animal room and quarantine room
View through door window of animal cage room (top); warning signs on door of animal quarantine room (bottom). Door windows are covered with red plastic to maintain the light-dark cycle inside.

Animal facilities have no windows. To get to our mice, you have to go through three different security systems. First is a chip card that lets you into the restricted area. Next a combination fingerprint ID/chip card gets you into the animal area. Finally a mechanical eight- or nine-pin keylock opens the heavy steel door where the mice are. (Mice aren't in cages anymore; they're kept in big transparent plastic boxes.) Video cameras with infrared LEDs are everywhere.

All this is to protect a room full of mice who aren't doing much besides playing with their crepe paper and toys. Yes, you heard that right, we have to make sure mice have toys. It's called environmental enrichment, and you need special dispensation to get a cage without them.

Of course it doesn't protect against all threats. One of our researchers at our previous location had his experiment destroyed when some lady drove her car through the brick wall of the animal room, killing all the transgenic mice he had created. It turned out not to be an act of terrorism, but confusion between forward and reverse gears in a car.

Lab mice cost about twenty to thirty bucks apiece. Transgenic mice, the designer handbags of the research world, can cost upwards of $600 and represent months of work. Losing a hundred of them is a big deal. We kidded that researcher about his mice dying in an auto accident, but his experiment never recovered.

Contrast this with the security at our schools. School children are priceless, yet we're hearing there was no effective security: doors were unlocked, video surveillance was rendered ineffectual by a 20-minute delay, and there was no security guard, only a School Resource Officer. An unauthorized person simply walked in, unchallenged, carrying a large firearm.

This all seems very odd. The furore about firearms all seems orchestrated, like the hysteria triggered by a small demonstration in Charlottesville. This time the issue is turning on gun control versus armed guards and teachers. But the focus on weapons is misplaced.

Animal care facilities don't have metal detectors because the threat was not someone getting in to shoot the mice. Since appropriate security measures were implemented, terrorist incidents against lab animals have virtually ceased. That's the key word: appropriate.

Where there is a threat, the best solution is to prevent the criminal from reaching the victim. Much blame has been placed on the school resource officer, or SRO, who inexplicably hid instead of engaging the shooter. Now a blogger is reporting that the job of an SRO is not to protect the kids after all. The blogger writes:

The School Officers are the primary foot soldiers carrying out political policy. Engaging an active shooter is the furthest thing from their skill-set you could imagine. . . . The Broward County SRO is in place to protect the School system “policy.” The failure of law enforcement to act on all the warnings that poured in is part of that policy.

He concludes that the purpose of these policies is improve the statistics of the school districts to get more state and federal funds. In a society as corrupt and political as ours, it shouldn't be surprising that most of the solutions being floated, like gun control, are themselves political. As Clarice Feldman puts it, it points out the rot in our system.

Our mice have a pristine HEPA-filtered atmosphere, rigidly controlled temperatures, and computer-controlled day/night lighting. If we want to visit them, we have to wear a sterile gown, cap, rubber gloves, and shoe covers.

Their life isn't exactly paradise, of course. Unlike schoolchildren, mice from different litters have an unfortunate habit of eating one another. So their genealogy has to be carefully recorded and animals from different families kept in separate trays.

Saying that nothing can be done to prevent these events is mistaken. Why are our government-run schools so insecure? These bloggers, who are doing the job that our news media are supposed to do, have uncovered evidence suggesting that the government's priority is to give the appearance of solving problems, not to solve them.

In the past week, countless articles have appeared advocating stronger police protection, stronger background checks for firearms, and even arming teachers or banning firearms altogether. A better solution would be to install some basic security to keep the animals out.

feb 25 2018, 6:53 am

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