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A tale of lab mice and men

Pain researchers published a study this week in the journal Nature Methods indicating that mice have different responses to men and women. Put simply: Mice get stressed out from being around male researchers. The presence of women doesn’t have this effect.

This is huge. The researchers were able to determine this by testing the pain threshold of the mice on something called the Mouse Grimace Scale. In the grip of terror in the presence of large males, the mice experienced low levels of pain, similar to the way you don’t notice you have stubbed your toe as you flee in panic from a pursuing yeti. In response to female researchers, the mice felt no such stress.

The big takeaway: “Experimenter sex can thus affect apparent baseline responses in behavioral testing.”

And we haven’t been accounting for this at all. Jeffrey Mogil, the head author of the study, told the Verge, “I think that it may have confounded, to whatever degree, some very large subset of existing research.”

Decades of science are going to be perhaps not voided but certainly called into question. “Did you in fact have a negative reaction to that makeup,” scientists must now ask their cosmetics-testing mouse subjects, “or were you so terrified by the giant testosterone monster in the lab with you that you weren’t able to form an opinion about it at all?”

And it wasn’t just human males. Dogs, cats and guinea pigs were among other stressful male presences, the scientists found.

Women in science: They’re not just a good idea. They’re preferred by mice everywhere.