Conclusions

The major conclusion for investigators planning counts is that there is no one best method. The method has to be suited to the nature of the material and to the nature of the problem. It may also need to be suited to the equipment available. There is often significant tension between highly accurate, often labor-intensive counts, which are likely to produce small samples, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, more rapid, possibly less accurate counts, that can, however, produce relatively large samples. The more that is known about the variability of the populations, and this includes the populations of the objects in terms of their sizes, shapes and distributions, as well as the populations of organisms, people, cats, mice etc. being studied, the clearer will be the choice as to methods and necessary sample sizes. No counting method is entirely free of assumptions in all of its applications. Given the danger that the term 'assumption-free', when applied to a quantitative method, will lead to a false sense of security about the reliability of the results and their interpretation, it may be best for the term to be avoided altogether and replaced by a thoughtful and complete account of the tissues that have been used, and the methods employed to avoid a biased result.

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