Beyond Frogs and Formaldehyde
By Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., and Allison George
Every week, PCRM receives inquiries about alternatives to dissection from students, teachers, and concerned parents. Some need help phasing out dissection at their schools; others want information about the best alternatives. One Baltimore mother even purchased and donated $3,000 worth of dissection alternatives to her children’s school.
The signs are clear: Dissection is on the decline. In 2006, New Jersey became the 13th state to recognize a student’s right to choose humane alternatives to dissection. With a quarter of all states now protecting student choice, a robust market for high-quality alternatives has emerged.
In addition to being humane, alternatives to dissection have science on their side. Since 1968, when two schoolteachers conducted a study showing that high school students who watched films of animal dissections demonstrated greater factual knowledge than students who performed dissections,1 at least 30 studies have compared the performance of dissection as a teaching tool with various alternative methods. Collectively, these studies have shown that alternatives ranging from CD-ROMs to 3-D models foster equal or better learning, compared with dissection.2
Many students are concerned about the ecological cost of dissection. Well-chosen alternatives do not entail the environmental disruptions caused by collecting animals (e.g., frogs and snakes) from their natural habitats, nor do they introduce toxic substances like formaldehyde into the classroom.
Below are some of the great humane CD-ROM dissection alternatives available today. Each company offers many more programs than we can highlight here. Costs vary, but are generally low compared with the costs of obtaining animals. For users of any of several alternatives loan programs available, the only cost is postage. For more information about alternative loan programs, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Digital Frog 2, by Digital Frog International, is an interactive CD-ROM program that teaches frog dissection, anatomy, and ecology. With individual sections focusing on advanced concepts, such as synaptic physiology, Digital Frog 2 also allows students to study neurological, digestive, endocrine, and immune systems in far more detail than dissections could offer, and learning proceeds at the student’s own pace. Though suitable for middle school audiences,Digital Frog 2 also contains information to challenge high school seniors. Prices range from $80 to $899, depending on the number of users and other options.Curriculum guides are also available. For more details, visit www.DigitalFrog.com. For a free, single-user copy of Digital Frog 2, please send your name and address to email@example.com (one per individual/school only).
Froguts, a company founded initially on its frog dissection program, now offers frog, squid, cow eyeball, and fetal pig programs through its “Virtual Dissection CD Subscription Service.” For $300 a year, schools can access all of these programs, which are renowned for their graphics, to every student. More information is available at www.Froguts.com.
ScienceWorks offers “Dissection Works Delux,” a CD-ROM compilation of frog, fetal pig, earthworm, crayfish, and perch dissections appropriate for grades 6-12. The Delux kit comes with 10 copies of each program for $175. More information is available at www.ScienceClass.com.
Neotek’s revolutionary virtual reality education system allows students to feel like they could actually reach out and touch the specimen—without sacrificing multiple animals. Neotek’s “Dissection Package” includes their CatLab, FrogLab, Cellular Structure, and DryLab series, including fetal pig, crayfish, perch, rat, frog, and worm programs, which are also available individually. All images are based on actual dissections. The base system required for virtual reality effects starts at $295, with additional liquid crystal glasses sold separately. For more information, visit www.Neotek.com.
Middle School Alternatives
Younger students may enjoy Ventura Educational Systems’ software alternatives to frog, pig, and earthworm dissection. By focusing on hand-drawn images of the subjects, rather than photographs, Ventura (www.VenturaES.com) clearly emphasizes the systems under scrutiny—without any gory images. The few pictures of actual dissections that are available can be blocked by teachers or students. Single-user copies start at $59.95, and multiuser options can exceed $400.
1. Fowler HS, Brosius EJ. A research study on the values gained from dissection of animals in secondary school biology. Science Educ.1968;52: 55-57.
2. Balcombe JP. The Use of Animals in Higher Education: Problems, Alternatives, and Recommendations. Washington, D.C.: Humane Society Press; 2000.