10 November 2009

Poorly Designed Experiments: Shiv a Pig or the Terrorists Win

I have decided to highlight some of the bad as well as the good, in a new segment called Poorly Designed Experiments. I want to shame some of the bad practices out there, and point out some alternatives that would have avoided any animal suffering.

Our first inelegant experiment comes via NCBI ROFL, showing that I'm not the only one finding this paper to be laughable. Though I don't think the pigs involved were smiling:

Byard RW, Cains GE, Gilbert JD. (March 2007) Use of a pig model to demonstrate vulnerability of major neck vessels to inflicted trauma from common household items. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. 28(1):31-4.

Basically they stabbed "previously euthanized" pigs with pens and other objects to show that no matter what we ban from planes, we will never be 100% safe. Ignoring for the moment the whole charade that these pigs were wallowing happy under rainbows before they passed on painlessly before being used in this study, I have to say I agree with the basic purpose of this study: That security theater is not security.

But the fact that you can stab someone to death with innocuous objects has been proven time and time again, and no place with stricter security than the prison system. One only has to go to the San Quentin Prison Museum to see any number of weapons improvised from the scant items allowed to inmates. Need I mention that that list is a lot more restrictive than what is allowed on commercial planes (and yet they are allowed liquids), and even involves strip-searching. But there are still more than 50 homicides in prisons in the U.S. each year, and a greater number of injuries caused by improvised weapons. Sure, it's a small percentage of the population, but probably a lot larger than the amount of pilots and flight attendants who have been injured similarly. You may argue that those human deaths in out abyssmal prison system outweigh the culling of a few pigs, but then I was able to pull up that website without killing anything. I bet the researchers could have easily obtained photos and castings of wounds from these homicides, and had just as good, if not better, data for their study.

Basically it's the laziness of this study that bugs me. They drove to the hog farm and stabbed some pigs as opposed to contacting hundreds of prison hospitals and collating all the data.

Returning to the pig sourcing issue: I spent some time digging to find swine dead of natural causes. I can't find any information. I hear of this practice a lot in the literature, and on shows like Mythbusters, but it seems be be a black box. Whether this is some informal process where one can just call any old factory farm and they will just happen to have any number of offed pigs for you, or of there are some organized distributors out there I don't know. Either way, it supports the meat industry, either by saving a farm the disposal costs or by purchasing an otherwise unprofitable carcass.

Here are some studies that show similar information without killing pigs:

And here is something to make you laugh after reading about horrible eye trauma. It's more relevant than a unicorn chaser.

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