UC Davis Wins Lawsuit Protecting Academic Freedom and Scientific Process

UC Davis has prevailed in a civil lawsuit brought by activists under the California Public Records Act. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, had filed the suit in January 2019, seeking access to unpublished research data, in the form of video recordings, from work by two researchers at the California National Primate Research Center. The Superior Court of California, County of Yolo, ruled that releasing the material did not serve the public interest and would undermine academic freedom and the scientific process while increasing the risk that researchers could face physical harm and harassment from activists.

The court issued its ruling on Jan. 11, 2022. PETA had the opportunity to appeal the decision but has declined to do so.

“We’re pleased with the court’s decision enabling UC Davis researchers to pursue their work, which ultimately benefits our community,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. The Office of Research oversees animal care programs on campus.

The videos come from research by Professor Karen Bales and Professor John Capitanio, both at the UC Davis Department of Psychology and California National Primate Research Center. The researchers assess animal behavior by recording the monkeys as the animals are shown videos, pictures and other visual stimuli, or as they engage in natural behavior.

The court based its decision on four factors. It ruled that releasing the videos would undermine academic freedom and the scientific process and would put researchers at risk of physical harm and inhibit future research. The court also ruled that PETA’s demand imposed an unreasonable burden on the researchers to segregate the videos for public disclosure. And finally, the court ruled that the public was better served by not disclosing the videos because there was minimal value to the public in seeing the videos, and to the contrary, great risk that the videos could cause the public to misunderstand the purpose and methodology of the research at the California National Primate Research Center.

PETA and other activist groups have repeatedly made use of state and federal public records laws to obtain materials related to animal research. In some cases, academic researchers have subsequently had to close their scientific labs or leave the field due to harassment and threats of harm from activists. UC Davis is one of the few institutions to have stood by its decision to protect its researchers from such tactics and is thought to be the only entity to have achieved a complete legal victory to date.

Media Resources

Animals in Research and Teaching at UC Davis

Media Contact:

  • Andy Fell, News and Media Relations, 530-304-8888, ahfell@ucdavis.edu

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