Statistics of animal research: Let’s count what actually matters

Around the world, institutions, colleges, companies and whole nations report on the number of animals that are involved in scientific research each year (for an excellent summary, visit the Speaking of Research website or click here). These communications are, at least in part, a response to a social interest the scope and nature of the projects that are being undertaken.

The number of mice used in research has risen sharply over the past 15 years, driven buy scientific and technological innovation.

But these communications lack fundamentally important details that contextualize the numbers of animals involved or the number of procedures conducted. Importantly, without these details, the reported statistics hold little meaning.

What these communications of the number of animals involved in research are missing include:

1) The number of scientific advances that originate from that research and that were or will be communicated to the public, to other scientists or to physicians.

PosterHall1

Just a small fraction of poster presentations made at the Society for Neuroscience. At each year’s meeting, tens of thousands of neuroscientists present their latest findings.

 

2) The number of new medicines and treatments that derived, or will derive, from the projects.

sn-Paralyzedneuro-rex

3) The number of people and animals who suffered, or will yet suffer, a bit less because of the findings of the studies.

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It is important to remember that animals benefit from medical advances, just like humans do.

 

4) The number of additional days of life that were granted, or will yet be granted, to the infirm and ill because of the scientific progress that came from the research.

5) The number of extra smiles that were, or will in the future be, possible just because someone working in a lab conducting these counted procedures did what their scientific talent allowed them to do.

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Of course, these things are difficult to measure at present or in the future, and hence, to accurately communicate. But what does it mean to count the number of animals or procedures when you can’t count the consequences of the work? What does it mean to tell the public how many animals were involved in research when you can’t tell them how many lives were, or will yet be, enriched by the results of the work? This is an important question we should all seek an answer to. Until then, the statistics will continue to roll out and continue to fall short of conveying the real facts that drive public interest in and support for biomedical and behavioral research involving animals.

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4 comments

  1. It’s not difficult to measure – it’s impossible. All the numbers would likely be 0.

    Animal studies conducted in 2015 are unlikely to have produced human benefit within the six months it takes to publish the statistics.

    1. It is absolutely correct that – today – it is a challenge to assess the human impact of the research being reported on. This is why the statistics, being published in such short order, mean relatively little.

      Of course, your criticism would be more valid if the agencies publishing these current statistics eventually also published the statistics on consequences, which they generally do not. Thus, the critique remains that the detailed numbers lack appropriate context.

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