Friday, February 15, 2008
We at bayblab have made the case for a distributed web of amateur scientist working together to do real science. Think of it as blogging is to the written press, podcasting to radio, or youtube to television: user-generated science. We also warned in our podcast (episode 15), that it comes with a great risk of animal cruelty, and limited access to proper equipment to get the job done safely. This couldn't have been more prescient when it comes to this story of Victoria Iness-Brown who decided to test aspartame on 108 rats for over 2 years. Any scientist looking at this experiment can clearly see the merit. The study was surprisingly well thought out. The experimenter used mixed strain and missed the point on why we use inbred for experiments such as this but otherwise the design was good. Yet a study like this could have never passed the ethics board in our university. The rats were given aspartame in their water throughout their lifetime, and allowed to carry out their lives. The problem is that there was precious little monitoring, no weighing of the rats, and more importantly, many rats developed tumours, which were left to ulcerate, with the obvious implications on the animal's well-being. The intentions were good, but the experimenter lacked the knowledge on how to reduce pain and discomfort on the animals. The other problem is that there are no results or statistical analysis. There are lots of pictures of rats with tumours, but no dissection, no measurement of tumour burden, no survival curves. How can we avoid rogue experiments like these but foster amateur science?