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.
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.
In dogs, we found that activity in the caudate increased in response to hand signals indicating food. The caudate also activated to the smells of familiar humans. And in preliminary tests, it activated to the return of an owner who had momentarily stepped out of view. Do these findings prove that dogs love us? Not quite. But many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.
The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child. And this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.„
From Dogs Are People, Too in NYT. I’ve seen this article circling around on FB and I have to say it’s quite intriguing. Of course I know Figgy loves me (growling is just how he shows he cares) but I will wait until scientists catch up.
Who’s gonna die of heart disease? People who eat lots of meaty meat meat full of carnitine, the wickedest amino acid that goes crazy in your intestines and hardens your arteries. “[T]he more you eat red meat … the more you develop this bacteria, which then develops this harmful metabolite, so it really is sort of a snowballing effect.” This study compared red meat-eaters to vegetarians and vegans, and the non-meat-eaters came out with “very little of this bacteria, and very little of this effect.”
You want nice useful arteries? Stop eating meat. Duh.
(Source: The Wall Street Journal)
"Cruelty thrives on abstraction." Josh Tetrick, CEO of Hampton Creek Foods, makers of Beyond Eggs, spoke with the Animal Legal Defense Fund about what makes global mass egg production so horrible, and what we can do to stop it. For example, stop eating eggs. Read more at ALDF’s site. Egg-free living through science, you guys; we can do it.
Welcome to the world, endangered limosa harlequin frog! You are the product of the very first scientific program to breed your species, because we selfish-jerk humans can’t stop wrecking your habitat and making you extinct.
To get the small amphibians to mate, researchers went to great lengths. They built a rock platform to mimic the underground caves in which the frogs breed, and piped in oxygen-rich water between 72 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (22 and 24 degrees Celsius), according to a release from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.
Young frogs only feed on algal mats coating rocks. So scientists with the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, which bred the frogs, also painted the rock platforms with spirulina algae and then let it dry. When placed inside the enclosure, the algae grew and fed the animals.
Gosh they’re tiny, aren’t they? They must lay the tiniest eggs. Ultimately the scientists breeding these itty-bitty amphibians plan to release them into the wild, though if we don’t work on repairing the places they live, the limosa harlequin frog may only survive in captivity.
[photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute via Live Science]
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?
Dogs can recognize other dogs! Thanks, science! »
The researchers found that despite the huge diversity of dog breeds and non-dog species shown to these nine dogs, each one managed to successfully recognise which faces belonged to dogs and which faces didn’t. Whether it was the face of a big, shaggy dog or a tiny, sleek one, the dogs managed over a number of different trials to lump them all into the same category, away from any of the other species.
Following up on two studies on dogs’ ability to recognize pictures of other dogs, and humans (your dog totally knows your face!), researchers in France did a big experiment to see “whether dogs can recognise each other as a separate group, away from other animals, despite their incredible physical diversity.” Answer, per Becky Crew at Running Ponies blog: yes! They can tell other dogs are other dogs, no matter how different two breeds are.
"What’s left to do now is to figure out what physical characteristics the dogs were using to distinguish the pictured dogs from the other species."
Animals are amazing! Are dogs secret geniuses, or have we just been arrogantly underestimating them for millennia? Probably both.
[Photo by saturday_flowers via Flickr]