Male scientists stress out otherwise super-chill lab rats, or Why animal testing is the wackness »
From Flickr user Feistea.
New findings show that male scientists may cause stress to rats and mice, resulting in different test results than female scientists achieve (warning: I don’t know the full extent of shiz they are doing to these poor animals but they seem to know a lot about their pain threshold):
In research published online April 28 in Nature Methods, the scientists report that the presence of male experimenters produced a stress response in mice and rats equivalent to that caused by restraining the rodents for 15 minutes in a tube or forcing them to swim for three minutes. This stress-induced reaction made mice and rats of both sexes less sensitive to pain. Female experimenters produced no such effects.
And it’s not just pain (shudder! Ugh, why do they know so much about what causes them pain!), “the researchers found that other behavioural assays sensitive to stress were affected by male but not female experimenters or T-shirts.”
There’s “good news” though!
The problem is easily solved by simple changes to experimental procedures. For example, since the effect of males’ presence diminishes over time, the male experimenter can stay in the room with the animals before starting testing. At the very least, published papers should state the gender of the experimenter who performed the behavioral testing.
Hmm. I can think of a better solution. How about we not test on animals at all?! Yay!
From flickr user Halfabear.
But seriously, animal testing is so flawed. First of all, I doubt these mice and rats aren’t generally stressed. So maybe they are going through these tests with super pain-resilience all the time. But that’s just one of a plethora of issues. Take a look at what one writer for the Guardian had to say:
I analysed in detail 27 systematic reviews examining the contributions of animal experiments to human healthcare. Their outcomes are remarkably consistent. Animal studies rarely contribute to the development of clinical interventions effective in human patients.
It’s not hard to fathom why. Animals have a plethora of genetic, biochemical and physiological differences that alter disease progression, drug uptake, distribution and effect. Stressful environments and experiments are common, and distort outcomes. Additionally, numerous studies have revealed scientific flaws in the design of many animal experiments.
The moral of the story: ANIMALS AREN’T PEOPLE. They respond to treatments and experiments differently! And while some studies may save human lives, check this out:
Modern drugs are more carefully studied than ever before. After lengthy tests on animals, those considered safe, and potentially effective, enter very limited human trials. About 92% are then weeded out and deemed unsafe or ineffective.
The remaining 8% are some of the most closely scrutinised compounds on the planet. You might be forgiven, therefore, for assuming they are safe. But at least 39 studies over three decades have ranked adverse drug reactions as an important cause of hospital deaths. Only heart disease, cancer and stroke are more reliably lethal.
Slate chimes in too:
just how often do animal tests predict side effects in humans? Surprisingly, although it is central to the legitimacy of animal testing, only a dozen or so scholars over the past 30 years have explored this question. The results, such as they are, have been somewhat discouraging. One of the scientists, Ralph Heywood, stated in 1989 that “there is no reliable way of predicting what type of toxicity will develop in different species to the same compound.” The concordance between man and animal toxicity tests, he said, assessing three decades of studies on the subject, was somewhere below 25 percent. “Toxicology,” concluded Heywood, “is a science without a scientific underpinning.”
Dude. If the main argument is that animal testing saves human lives, I say we have a problem. I can go on—or rather PCRM can—but the point is, animal testing is not the great life-saving necessary evil it’s painted to be.
Fun with false dichotomies.
But whether it saves human lives or not, the bottom line is it’s just not ethical. To be honest, I do care more about people than animals. If I could only save a human baby or a puppy—in some bizarre world where I ever actually have to make this choice—I would pick the baby. I’m not totally sure why but I think I would. BUT just because I value humans more than animals, I don’t think that means we can just do whatever we want to animals. Feel free to correct my reasoning but the way I think about it is like how I, without a doubt, care more about my sister than your sister. If one of them had to die, I would rather it was your sister. Truthbomb. But I don’t think that means we should go doing experiments on your sister because it might save my sister’s life!
Thinking that another being is lesser and therefore you can do with them what you will is exactly why people did horrible experiments on jewish captives in nazi Germany or people of color in America. It’s just wrong.
Meat, eggs, and dairy could be as harmful to your health as smoking, new study suggests »
"People need to switch to a diet where only around nine or ten percent of their calories come from protein, and the ideal sources are plant-based."
-Valter Longo, director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California. (via the Guardian)
A study published in Cell Metabolism (my new favorite scholarly journal) is making waves today!* After studying 6,000+ people, their data suggests that (at least for people under 65), a diet high in animal-derived protein can be as harmful as smoking, in terms of mortality. I’m sure you can see why that statement would make waves! People do not like when you speak ill of their precious meat and dairy. And we could say comparing it to smoking is a ploy for attention. But, we could alternatively say that the comparison makes the data easily digestible for people (ew, pun!). Plus, it totally deserves attention, so ploy away!
Check out these two “highlights” from the study abstract:
- High protein intake is linked to increased cancer, diabetes, and overall mortality
- Plant-derived proteins are associated with lower mortality than animal-derived proteins
Some critics are saying it’s harmful to compare smoking to dairy and meat because it will make smoking seem less detrimental than it is. I say those people are completely unclear on just how detrimental meat and dairy are.
My favorite thing about this study coming out is that hopefully it’ll shake up the blind faith in protein. I mean, we already knew meat and dairy are bad for you (“we” as in us vegans), there are plenty of studies that have suggested that long ago. But this is a hard attack on the ever-venerated animal protein! The next time you see an omni, you should totally be like: "Where do YOU get your protein?" Booyah!
*Warning! Besides the data they have from studying people, they use data from studies done on mice as well. We don’t have to condone it to learn from it though.
Backyard Brains: The newest d-bags in science let you control a live cockroach with your iphone! »
Good god, people are unbelievable. Backyard Brains, some sort of think tank that does “neuroscience for everyone!” has come up with a super way to torture cockroaches. Enter the RoboRoach! A “fun” kit that allows you to turn a living cockroach into a cyborg you can control with your iPhone. I’m not kidding. Ecorazzi breaks down the delightful process for you:
The instructions for the procedure including “anesthetizing” the roaches by placing them in ice water for 2-5 minutes or “until they stop moving,” then using sandpaper to remove waxy coating on the pronotoum or the shell of their head. An electrode connector and electrodes are then superglued on. It gets worse…their instructions continue with placing the roach back into ice water, then sanding the shell on their head with sandpaper to allow electrodes to be superglued on, and then using a needle to poke a hole in their thorax and inserting a wire. Their antennae are then cut, and electrodes are inserted. A circuit is attached to their backs, and signals are received via an app, allowing users to control the roaches’ left and right movements.
Who in their right mind would ever think this was acceptable? But don’t worry guys, Backyard Brains totally recognizes that this might upset people. Let’s travel to a wonderful world of non-answers and scientific tap dancing known as their ethics page:
The use of animals for human benefit is a complex philosophical field, with some feeling we can do whatever we will with animals and others feeling that even having animals as pets is inhumane. While biology demonstrations “for fun” should obviously not be done, given that our demonstrations are to teach science/physiology in an interactive way, we believe the animal experiment is of benefit. We acknowledge this is a controversial claim.
Thanks scientists, I’m so glad you have condescended to acknowledge that this is a controversial claim. What a superfluous non-statement. It’s like the classic “I’m sorry if you’re upset because you don’t understand.” And they aren’t actually making much of an ethical argument. Here, let me try!:
Some people think women should be subservient slaves and some amazon warriors think we should keep all the men in breeding pens. We also have an opinion. You might not like it.
I’m so good at science!
To be clear: I dislike cockroaches. They scare the heck out of me. But I also dislike republicans and they also scare the heck out of me. So can we make RoboRepublicans?! RoboRepublicans would be way more beneficial to society than cyborg cockroaches! It’s ok, I totally acknowledge that this is a controversial claim.
How to find the rarest dog in the world: On the trail of the New Guinea Singing Dog »
Why is the New Guinea Singing Dog so special? Why should we be trying to save its dwindling wild population?
The Highland Wild Dog of the Island of Papua is considered by many to be the rarest dog on the planet. NGSDs exhibit many unique behaviors found nowhere else in any other breeds of dogs. NGSDs are considered [to be the] link between the first dog—wolf—and today’s domestic breeds. Isolation has kept them pure, but encroaching villagers, accompanied by their domestic village dogs, threatens their continued genetic purity. Little is known about the captive needs and behaviors of NGSDs, but nothing is known about their natural history in the wild. No scientific estimates of the wild population can legitimately be made. Education, scientific captive management, and habitat and species protection are just some of the measures that need to be taken if the NGSD is to survive.
Becky Crew of Running Ponies continues the story of “the rarest dog in the world" with an interview with field zoologist James McIntyre of the Southwest Pacific Research Foundation, who is leading an expedition to find and study the dogs in the wild.
[photo of captive New Guinea Singing Dogs by Nathan Rupert via Flickr]
The Brain Scoop
Episode 17: PANGOLINS
I’ve been fascinated by pangolins (Order: Pholidota) ever since I first learned about them, and moreso after I realized they are basically real-life Pokémon. I am asked frequently about my favorite specimen in the museum so when I opened up the option to decide between a few other animals - without any additional context - I was thrilled that the masses chose ‘pangolins’. As a side note, if you’d like to get involved with crowd-inspired shows in the future be sure to stay tuned to my Twitter or our Facebook page!
Speaking of pangolins, let’s learn all about them (a single animal can eat up to 70 million ants every year! their tongues are so long they have muscles in their pelvis!) from science queen Emily Graslie and The Brain Scoop!
Yes, your dogs is smiling: Humans can recognize emotions in other animals »
"Classifying dogs’ (Canis familiaris) facial expressions from photographs," a study by Tina Bloom and Harris Friedman published in February in scientific journal Behavioural Processes, has shown that people can correctly identify emotions in dogs’ faces. It used a series of photographs of one dog’s face (meet Mal the Belgian shepherd!) and involved 50 human volunteers of varying degrees of experience with dogs, who were asked to identify the dog’s emotional state in each photo. The results?
Both groups [“people experienced and inexperienced with dogs”] were able to read the dog’s emotions. Paradoxically, experienced people were less accurate reading aggressiveness. Experienced people were better identifying behaviorally defined situations.
With only one dog and 50 volunteers, it wasn’t exactly a rigorous study, but … you totally know when your dog is happy or ashamed or surprised, right? And now science totally supports your claims.
[Photo from Casa-Rodríguez Collection via Flickr]
The Brain Scoop
Episode 16: Horns vs. Antlers
We get a lot of requests to fulfill common queries about the odd animal world - differentiating between horns and alters is one of them. Certainly there is a lot more that can be said on this subject, but here’s your basic bite-sized rundown of similarities and differences. Someday soon we’ll be discussing the freakshow exceptions to the rules: rhinoceroses, the American pronghorn, the common raccoon.
Get down and educational with Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum and Comparative Skeletal Collection! I love some light science, don’t you?
Cosmetic animal testing banned in the European Union! »
That’s right! As of March 11, “the marketing, import, and sale of animal-tested cosmetics and their ingredients will no longer be legal in the EU.” Congratulations to PCRM, who did a lot of work lobbying for the ban, and here’s to passing a similar ban in the U.S. Cosmetics don’t need to be tested on animals any longer. Science has moved beyond it; here’s hoping we can move society beyond it, too.
[Photo by Ahmad Hashim via Flickr]
What, we’ve wrecked wild bees now, too? »
Two fun studies show that bees are having more troubles thriving in the age of modern agriculture than we thought.
First, honeybees aren’t the best crop pollinators; per a study published in Science, they get a lot of help from bumblebees and carpenter bees.
Second, wild bees hate monocultures, and don’t like to pollinate in single-crop areas.
Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who’s a co-author of the first study in Science, says one of the biggest problems for wild bees is the agricultural specialization that has produced huge fields of just one crop.
The almond groves of California, for example, are a sea of blossoms in February. It’s a feast, as far as the eye can see, for honeybees that come here from all over the country.
"But for the rest of the year, there’s nothing blooming," she says.
That means there are no bees. “In fact, in places where we have very large monocultures of almond, we don’t find any native bees anymore,” Kremen says.
So what does that mean for us? Will the fact that large-scale monoculture is bad for bees force us to change the way we farm? Is smaller-scale, more diverse farming financially feasible for modern farmers?
Home gardeners, at least, could learn to plant a variety of flowers and food plants together. As for commercial agriculture, we’ll see.
[Photo by Jimmy Smith via Flickr]
Tons of mice die needlessly for health testing. Thanks, science »
It’s no secret that loads of mice (literally hundreds of thousands) have been sacrificed to science for “research” purposes to help cure all kinds of human ailments. This has always been a tricky subject for vegans, because, you know, it’s medical ethics, duh. But it turns out that a new study recently reported in the New York Times suggests that all those mice very likely died in vain.
The bottom line of the study is that billions of dollars have been wasted and, like, mice cancer and heart disease is different from people cancer and heart disease. I know the precautionary principle is a moot point when it comes to mice when you’re a big fancy scientist being backed by a big fancy drug company, but I strongly believe that we shouldn’t just kill mice before we’re, you know, sure about this stuff. And it turns out people weren’t. At all. And now those mice are looking down on us from mouse heaven except there is no mouse heaven and oh I’m crying now so just excuse me while I leave out some peanut butter for the neighbors’ mice.
[Photo by Andrew via Flickr]