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Animals on Treadmills

Critical Thinking and Public Perception of Science


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.


Basic research; applied research; useful research; science and the media; puma; mountain lion; cougar; shrimp; misrepresentation; treadmill; media bias

Topical Areas

Scientific method, Science and the media

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division, General public & informal education


PDF, PowerPoint

Type / Methods

Directed, Discussion, Interrupted, Mini-Case



Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Science (General)  |   Science Education  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

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
  Undiscovered - The Wastebook “Science

Answer Key

Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.


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.