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dr. haworth of morris animal foundation: what makes good science?



In science, we sometimes forget that we have one formidable enemy: ignorance. For this reason, many of us have devoted our careers, and so many others have donated their precious dollars, to fill critical gaps in our current knowledge.  For some, the most interesting gaps are in chemistry, mathematics or geology.  For me and my colleagues at Morris Animal Foundation, the gaps in knowledge we care most about are those in veterinary medicine.  

Medical knowledge for our pets has come a very long way in the last few decades, but the gaps are still significant – and those gaps lead to pain, suffering and heartbreak.  This is the driver that keeps us going every day.  Science is inherently hopeful (because we’re finding those solutions), but we need to work hard to get there.

There is such a thing as bad science.  And it is even worse than ignorance.  Bad science is everywhere:

  • marketing claims (“3 out of 4 dentists use it”)
  • anecdotes (“my sister drank green tea and never took a sick day”)
  • nonsensical associations (“sharks don’t get cancer so eating their cartilage will stop me from getting cancer”)

For the record, sharks do get cancer.

The problem with bad science is it can, at best, waste time and energy on things with a low chance of working.  At worst, it can make us do things that actually harm the animals we love.  

The basis of everything Morris Animal Foundation does is good science.  I am definitely not saying that “if we can’t explain it, then it must not work” – that is the kind of arrogance that led physicians in the 19th century into believing that they knew everything about the brain.  They did not then, and we do not know everything now.  But the important thing is that when making decisions about the health of those two-legged and four-legged ones we love, we need to choose therapies that we can prove work.  This means that they were tested against appropriate controls and found to work better than nothing.  

That’s it – no magic, nothing complicated.  Just answering the question “does it work?” in a way that can be measured and reproduced.

There is a huge amount left for us to learn, and too few resources devoted to our animals’ health.  Let’s not waste our time and energy listening to “bad science.”

Morris Animal Foundation is a global leader in supporting scientific research that advances veterinary medicine.  To receive their latest newsletters, updates and information about ways to help support animal health, sign up today!

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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
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