The choice of procedures

Michael Balls

The scientifically-justifiable choice of procedure
is a crucial issue in animal experimentation,
in the interests of both humanity and efficiency

In the opening of their chapter on Reduction and Strategy in Research in The Principles of  Humane Experimental Technique,1 Russell and Burch pointed out that “one general way in which great reduction can occur is by the right choice of strategies in the planning and performance of whole lines of research”.

They referred to the way Charles Hume had put it “in a searching essay”,2 that is, that “the central problem is that of choosing between trial and error on a grand scale and deductively inspired research”. The second type of choice can “take the form of testing deductions from well and consciously formulated hypotheses, or it may involve working from hunches — really the same thing, for where hunches are of any value, they are found to be based on equally precise hypotheses”. They said that the essence of the strategy “is that particular experiments are selected on some basis … from a larger set of experiments that  could have been performed”, and, as Hume had pointed out, “insighted” research “must be vastly less wasteful of animals”, where animals are to be used in the experiments.

I discussed this in an earlier comment on the Wisdom of Russell and Burch in relation to Reduction,3 with particular reference to experimental design and statistical analysis, but I now want to consider their discussion on The Choice of Procedures, in their chapter on Refinement.

Russell and Burch said that almost any research question “can always be answered in principle by a number of different procedures”, and the mark of distinction of “the great experimenter is the knack of choosing the most rapid, elegant and simple one”. But they then ask whether there are any simple rules in this context. One “general principle, important for both humanity and efficiency, is that of avoiding elaborate and roundabout methods”. Another rule is “the very careful formulation of questions”. One approach is to “first ask the question, then draw up, at least mentally, a list of procedures by which it could be answered”. If the list is long enough, consideration can be given to choosing the best procedure. If the list is too short, the question may need to be reformulated, to permit a wider range of procedural choice.

The greater the experimenter, in terms of ability and quality, the easier and better will be the choice of procedure. In addition, the humane experimenter will be careful to take account of Hume’s point about the wastage of animals, and Russell and Burch’s emphasis on the need for humanity and efficiency. This should be obvious, in terms of the use of resources, even if it were not a requirement of the laws under which animal experimentation is now permitted. It is a vital aspect of the education and training which must be regarded as essential for all those who are to undertake research, particularly if there is any risk of causing animal suffering, but also in the interests of the humans for whose benefit the research is being conducted.

It is encouraging that, in its response to the European Citizens’ Stop Vivisection Initiative,4,5 the European Commission has proposed four actions, one of which is to “analyse technologies, information sources and networks from all relevant sectors with potential impact on the advancement of the Three Rs”, in order to “present by end 2016, an assessment of options to enhance knowledge sharing among all relevant parties. The assessment will consider how  systematically to accelerate knowledge exchange through communication, dissemination, education and training.”

In order to aid researchers in their thought process when designing any project that could involve experimental animals, the FRAME Reduction Steering Committee designed a Strategic Planning Poster.6 The poster, which is available in several languages, guides the scientist through the decision points and steps needed when designing a whole programme of work, including the individual experiments within it. This resource, and the FRAME Training Schools in  Experimental Design and Statistical Analysis,7 encourage researchers to think about how to design their sequence of experiments, in order to minimise the number of animals that are exposed to the most severe procedures and to contemplate whether animals are needed at all.

Professor Michael Balls
Russell & Burch House
96–98 North Sherwood Street
Nottingham NG1 4EE

1 Russell, W.M.S. & Burch, R.L. (1959). The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, xiv + 238pp. London, UK: Methuen.
2 Hume, C.W. (1957). The strategy and tactics of experimentation. The Lancet, 23 November, 1049–1052.
3 Balls, M. (2013). The Wisdom of Russell and Burch. 4. Reduction. ATLA 41, P24–P25.
4 Anon. (2015). Commission Response to the European Citizens’ Initiative “Stop Vivisection”. Brussels, Belgium: Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation
of Animals. Available at: http://www.animalwelfare go-far-enough-to-meet-citizens-demands-toimprove-
animal-welfare/ (Accessed 08.07.15).
5 Balls, M. (2015). The European Citizens’ Stop Vivisection Initiative. ATLA 43, 147–150.
6 Gaines Das, R., Fry, D., Preziosi, R. & Hudson, M. (2009). Planning for reduction. ATLA 37, 27–32.
7 Fry, D., Gaines Das, R., Preziosi, R. & Hudson, M. (2010). Planning for refinement and reduction. ALTEX 27, Special Issue, 293–298.


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