Yesterday I retweeted a link on “academic prostitution”, which I picked up from @phylogenomics.
The article discusses the “publish or perish” mentality of academic research and notes that scientists are still heavily judged on the length of their publications list. Where Darwin sat on his theory of natural selection for 20-some-odd years, the modern lab insists on regular publications from its grad students and post-docs. Indeed, it’s common to “flush out” a study into multiple smaller papers so as to increase the total count.
And for what purpose? The article reminded me of a similar commentary I read in May’s issue of Lab Animal, where a grad student had the “audacity” to question the relevance of (yet another) study using 200 animals to examine the effects of cigarette smoke. The grad student had the wisdom to ask, “What is the point of doing yet another study on the negative effects of cigarettes? Is it really worth using 200 animals to put another nail in the coffin?” Of course, the commentators routed the British student, suggesting, among other things, that he did not yet understand the American system. Ouch.
Similar, I’d ask more generally – what is the point of any research? Is it actually novel or interesting? The majority of grant money comes from tax dollars, after all. As a taxpayer, am I happy that my money is going to fund this research? Can I be confident that this research will yield noteworthy results or will minor efforts be fluffed up and published to bolster someone’s career?
As the original poster noted, we need better ways of evaluating our scientists and our scientific institutions. That can’t happen until researchers, universities and journals want to work together to produce better science. Until then, as readers, we need to be wary and always ask for quality over quantity.
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I’ve been a bad blogger and have been seriously lacking in posts… 😦
I was recently sent an article in New Scientist about lab animal waste in research. I was very happy to see that other people are passionate about reducing unnecessary animal usage in research.
Simon makes a number of good points, such as enforcing the use of statistically sound numbers for justifying animal usage and designing experiments which use the minimum numbers of animals most effectively.
Other points I’d suggest:
- Penalties for labs and researchers who keep excess animals around “just in case”, only to sacrifice them when they become too old for any useful experiments. I’ve see mice over 2 years old, languishing as “breeders” in animal facilities by labs who have plainly forgotten about them. Inevitably, once someone finally notices them, these mice are euthanized – wasteful.
- Restrictions on excess breeding. Right now, a lab can get away with “justifying” ridiculously high numbers of mice on animal ethics protocols by claiming loss of animals during breeding due to cannibalism or lack of care by the mother. Why not develop better breeding protocols which nurture mothers and their young rather than having more sub-par breeders?
- Develop a strategy for dealing with excess animals. On the flip side of bad breeding is the production of excess animals. Often this occurs when breeding transgenic animals because not all of the animals produced will carry the transgene. Usually, these “extra” animals are euthanized. I’d like to see a comprehensive strategy which would funnel these animals into a purpose – As controls in an experiment? In teaching? Pet food for snakes, etc?
Good article, and great to see an important issue addressed.
Small rant: Little bothers me more about animal research than seeing animals purposely bred and then discarded. It’s the one aspect of animal research that I have never found moral justification for – How can you justify bringing a living thing into the world, only to throw it away because it does not suit your specifications?
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