It looks like we now know what job that pigeon was interviewing for, and hospitals may soon be flocking to sign up the grubby little birds to medical positions after researchers confirmed they can actually diagnose breast cancer as reliably as human experts.
In what could prove to be one of the strangest cost cutting schemes ever, scientists found the birds can be taught to recognise evidence of benign or malignant tissue in mammogram scans and biopsy slides.
All the pigeons needed was the promise of food and a fortnight’s worth of training before they were reading the scans accurately in 85 per cent of cases. It usually takes doctors years of training to do the same.
Outdone by a pigeon and its tiny brain. That’s got to sting a bit.
Eight birds took part in the experiment, pecking a blue or yellow button for a benign or malignant image, respectively – and they received a food reward whenever they got the answer correct.
Professor Richard Levenson said:
With training and food reinforcement, pigeons do just as well as humans. The birds were remarkably adept at discriminating between benign and malignant breast cancer slides at all magnifications. Accuracy from day one at low magnification rose from 50% correct to 85% days 13 to 15.
Whether this means we’ll soon be seeing pigeons walking round hospital wards wearing little white coats remains to be seen, although some experts do believe this could be a real medical coo and that pigeons should play a role in the development of new diagnostic procedures. So, watch this space, we guess…