Amazing Mice

Description of the Project.

This short story is fiction, written to illustrate a very difficult problem that has occurred in the past, and may occur in the future.  Don't let this happen at your Regional Science Fair.

Bobby decided to study if diet had any effect on the performance on mice in a maze.  He built a maze, and then investigated possible diets for white mice.  Visits to the local vet gave him the information he needed  to plan a diet that would not harm the mice in any way, but had enough variation to allow him to test its effect on learning the maze.  He decided to feed them various types of grain.

He sought and obtained approval for this project from the Ethics Committee of his Regional Science Fair.

He obtained his mice by buying a pair at the pet store, and breeding them.  A month later they had twelve babies.  Following this, he separated the adults so that he would not get overwhelmed with young ones.

Four weeks after the birth, the mice were ready for their adventures in the maze.  He divided the mice into four groups, and gave each group a different diet.  Each day, he had the mice run the maze three times, and he also timed the total time, and the number of wrong turns taken.  He was able to show that one particular diet did seem to lead to slightly shorter times, and two fewer wrong turns.  Much to his delight, Bobby was selected for the Canada Wide Science Fair (CWSF).


After registration was closed at the Canada Wide Science Fair, his five page report was read by a very experienced judge to ensure the project was in compliance with the safety and ethics rules, and was being judged by the right team of judges.  In this case, there was a big surprise.  The reviewer read:

"Sadly, just before the end of the study, three of the four mice in group two died.  The Vet thought that a subtle interaction between the very rich diet given to these mice, coupled with running the maze several times in succession on a hot, humid and hazy day in a southern Ontario summer, probably contributed to their death."

Policy 4.1.2 on the Use of Animals states in section 8.1.iv that:

"Student researchers may not pursue a project that leads directly to the death of a vertebrate animal."

This case was referred to the Youth Science Canada Ethics Committee, which ruled that, because of the death of the animals, this project was not eligible for presentation at the CWSF.

The moral of this saddest of tales is that each regional science fair needs to:

1. - Check more than once that each candidate for the CWSF meets all safety and ethical policies.
2. - Review every five page report before it is uploaded to the CWSF registration web site.

Addressing problems afterwards is painful.