Diary of a Mad Minnie Mouse

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"But what if the mouse, in the bleak, confined circumstances of its laboratory cage, has gone quietly insane before the experiment even begins?

That is the possibility being raised by US scientists who say they have found evidence that the sheer boredom of life as a captive lab animal may be enough to incur brain damage."

-- Anonymous, September 15, 2001


Wow, that may possibly be the most misleading article I've ever read in my life--especially the studies summarised at the end (those supposed "conclusions" are not the conclusions reached by the authors). I haven't read the main study analyzed in the article, but at least one statement is dead-on wrong: the one saying that stereotypies were only discovered in 1996! They've actually been known about for at least a hundred years!

Living in a cage rather than in the wild almost certainly does affect an animal's brain, because every experience affects the brain. But the way this reporter has summarized the story seems very misleading to me. I'll have to go look up the original paper, though.

-- Anonymous, September 15, 2001

I guess that's hard reporting for you. I wasn't able to discern errors just from that report as I'm not familiar with any of the research.

Even if there's some brain alteration wouldn't a double blind experiment where mice were located in exactly the same environment, eliminate that part of the variability? Both sets would suffer some brain alteration, but the ones undergoing the direct experimentation would also show any additional differences. Of course, I don't know exactly how you guys set up a double-blind experiment with mice, but I suppose there's a way.

-- Anonymous, September 15, 2001

Yeah, good experiments are tightly controlled. Usually, in my lab, we use pairs of animals of the same gender, from the same litter, raised in the same cage, and then put one from each pair in the experimental group and one in the control group. There are also lots of ways to do a double-blind study, most of which involve recruiting someone else in your lab who doesn't know what you're doing to code your samples or carry out part of your experiment.

But if all or many lab animals were brain damaged, it could conceivably affect the results of studies, particularly those involving cognition or other mental tasks. I think a bigger concern is probably the fact that mice most people use in the lab are highly inbred strains with all the mental and physical problems that result from inbreeding. Inbred mice are useful in that they are genetically nearly identical, so you don't have to deal with random variability in the population.

It's an interesting question, and I'll be sure to pick up the original article now, but I find the newspaper article pretty unimpressive.

-- Anonymous, September 15, 2001

Perhaps a triple blind experiment (involving three blind mice) would enable you to see how they run?

-- Anonymous, September 16, 2001

It's a rat, I am quite certain it is anything the scientists want it to be. I took two statistics courses in College the name of our textbook in "statistics 1" was "How to Lie with Statistics" That is all I remember...anyone, for any reason can make up a statement, and the guys who wrote that book would be able to back it up -- with statistics!

The only statistics you can trust are betting lines on pro football games.. they are usually within a point or two!

-- Anonymous, October 18, 2002

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