"Nature" reports on pig study of avalanche survival
"Nature" reports on pig study of avalanche survival

Team of researchers given voice in leading international scientific journal


More than 200 newspapers world-wide, and national as well as international TV and radio stations reported on the avalanche project which was started at the beginning of the year in the Ötztal, but abandoned prematurely after just four days. The editorial team of "Nature", the leading scientific magazine, approached the team of researchers at the time when the experiment was still running, to request further information about the background to this project which had, in the meantime, gained world-wide notoriety despite being reported in a sensational and for the most part distorted manner. As a result, Project leader Hermann Brugger from the Institute of Mountain Emergency Medicine at EURAC, Peter Paal from the Department of Anaesthetics and Resuscitation at the University Hospital Innsbruck and Biostatistician Markus Falk, are able to give their side of the argument in the current edition of "Nature", February 18th.


The three experts explain in their article that they wanted to use sedated pigs to obtain realistic benchmark criteria for the survival chances of avalanche victims. In their opinion, the results might have contributed decisively to saving lives. The allegations that ‘animals were being tortured to death in the snow', spread through sensational reporting, led to the scientists being put under pressure by the animal-rights organisations even to the extent of receiving death threats, so that in the end they were forced to abandon the project and this, according to team leader Brugger, amounted to an incalculable loss for Alpine Emergency Medicine. The scientists confirmed that the project had been submitted in accordance with all the rules, and had been approved by the Austrian Animal Testing Commission as well as the Federal Ministry for Science and Research.


In the light of this bitter blow to the research project as well as to scientific freedom, Brugger calls in his article in "Nature" for a far-reaching public discussion on animal testing. He says that there is a great deal of uncertainty and a lack of firm information about the subject. "Not enough people are aware of the fact that animal testing, which is carried out according to strict ethical and legal guidelines, is essential for medical research and consequently for our own standard of living," he explains. He calls for the general public to be made aware of the need for freedom of research, so that a small radical minority is no longer able to sabotage an important scientific study which is of benefit to the whole of mankind.


To be published in the world-renowned British journal "Nature" is of inestimable value for any scientist. Scientists fight long and hard to gain access to the journal. Each published article is subjected to the strictest peer review scrutiny. It therefore evidence of the highest distinction that the editors of "Nature", of their own accord and from their appreciation of the controversial avalanche project and aware of the first-rate composition of the team of researchers, should have personally contacted the team.


The article: 

Brugger H, Paal P, Falk M.: Outcry stopped approved pig study of avalanche survival. Nature 2010;463:877, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7283/full/463877a.html

Further information:

Hermann Brugger, Tel. 0471 055 541

Drususallee 1/Viale Druso 1
Tel. +39 0471 055 055
Fax. +39 0471 055 059