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Animals on Treadmills

Critical Thinking and Public Perception of Science

Co Authors:

Kylee Grenis

Tri-County Health Department

Whitley R. Lehto
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Denver

Shannon M. Murphy
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Denver

Mayra C. Vidal
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Denver

Robin M. Tinghitella
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Denver


This group-based, interrupted case study challenges students' perceptions of "useful" scientific research. We present student groups with the methods used in two scientific studies that have been heavily scrutinized in the popular media. Both research programs gained notoriety for their seemingly ridiculous methods that each included running animals on treadmills. Students are first asked to develop potential scientific questions and hypotheses that may have been addressed by the studies. Next, we share the real hypotheses tested, and ask students to interpret data presented in the resulting publications. Finally, students are led through a discussion that challenges their initial perceptions of the research, considers whether the science was presented in an unbiased manner by the media, and cultivates mindfulness about how critical thinking can change one's initial perceptions. We developed this case study for a lower-division biology undergraduate course in ecology. However, it can be adapted for introductory-biology or upper-division biology major courses, and/or undergraduate students majoring outside of the sciences.

  • Distinguish between basic and applied research.
  • Develop questions and testable hypotheses.
  • Practice critical thinking skills.
  • Critically evaluate news sources.
  • Interpret figures and analyze statistical reports.
  • Evaluate the value of basic research.
Keywords: Basic research; applied research; useful research; science and the media; puma; mountain lion; cougar; shrimp; misrepresentation; treadmill; media bias
Topical Area: Scientific method, Science and the media
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, General public & informal education
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: Directed, Discussion, Interrupted, Mini-Case
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biology (General)   Science (General)   Science Education  
Date Posted: 8/28/2017
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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Answer Key

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Supplemental Materials

There are several supplemental materials associated with this case for instructors to use. They include (1) an optional PowerPoint presentation, which reviews concepts relevant to this case, including the distinction of applied vs. basic research, proximate vs. ultimate causes, and the testability of hypotheses and (2) two Science Friday podcasts.

  treadmill.pptx (~101KB)
  Scientists Speak Out About Attacks on Science “Science
Podcast created by Science Friday. Running time: 23:12 min. Date: December 19, 2014.
  Undiscovered - The Wastebook “Science
After a senator calls her research a waste of taxpayer dollars, biologist Sheila Patek heads to Capitol Hill to prove what her science is worth. Podcast created by Science Friday. Running time: 31:00 min. Date: June 13, 2017.


The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  Mountain Lion Training and Treadmills
Video showing puma (mountain lion) running on a treadmill, produced for the research of Williams et al., 2014, “Instantaneous energetics of puma kills reveal advantage of felid sneak attacks,” Science 346:81–85. Running time: 0:53 min. Produced by T.M. Williams et al., 2014.

  The Original Shrimp on Treadmill
Video showing shrimp on treadmill produced by David Scholnick, of Pacific University Oregon and his colleague, College of Charleston Lou Burnett. Running time: 1:39 min. Produced by David Scholnick and Lou Burnett, 2009.

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