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A community of neuroscientists stands together

As we face the prospect of living longer and developing age-related diseases including Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and long COVID, it is an especially critical time to be a neuroscientist. At the Simian Collective (SimCo) meeting in Chicago we heard exciting new findings from neuroscientists across the country who are unraveling the mysteries of the brain in health and in disorders including autism, stroke, schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The stars of the meeting were the young investigators who are taking our knowledge to the next level by developing and implementing state of the art technologies and answering questions about the brain that many of us only dreamed about 15-20 years ago.

The meeting was also emotional for all of us all as we celebrated the lives, legacies, and scientific accomplishments of two of our esteemed colleagues – Drs. Sliman Bensmaia and Krishna Shenoy – two brilliant scientists whose work with both human and nonhuman primates alike, made a difference in the everyday lives of people struggling with movement disability from spinal cord injury and stroke. Sliman and Krishna were remarkable people; fun-loving, mischievous, and deeply committed husbands and fathers. We are all better people for knowing them.

Though not expected at a professional, scientific event, SimCo attendees experienced another set of emotions – terror and fear. During a keynote presentation from an internationally renowned neuroscientist, Dr. Betsy Murray, two people from PETA entered the room and one jumped on the stage carrying a sign and screaming horrible untruths about Dr. Murray and her work as he quickly and aggressively walked toward her. The other was taking a video of the scene while shouting “Do not touch me” throughout. It was scary – it was terrorism – and it is unacceptable. At least one of these disruptors was identified as engaging in similar terrorizing behavior against another one of our colleagues Dr. Agnes Lacreuse – notably also a woman.

This very frightening event that occurred at SimCo is not an isolated incident. It is part of a campaign of harassment and intimidation against scientists who are working hard every day to end suffering for all living beings. The animal enterprise terrorism act (AETA) passed into law in 2006, expressly forbids the kind of harassment and intimidation in which PETA engages. AETA needs enforcement and PETA actors need to be prosecuted.