Working to address Animal Method Bias in Scientific Publishing
Published on November 4, 2022
Transparency in scientific publishing is crucial to ensure fair dissemination of research findings to other researchers, policymakers, and the public.
The current publication system works with a peer-reviewing process to allow only reliable and rigorous research to be published. This includes the assessment of the quality of the results and the relevance of the approach, and the hard-to-avoid bias that goes with it.
In 1993, Dickersin & Min defined publication bias as journal’s preference to publish the results of a study based on the direction or strength of the findings itself. One example of unfortunate consequence of this bias is that of researchers who do not publish their study because they did not find meaningful or significant results for their hypothesis.
Sometimes the likelihood of a study being published is affected not by the results, but by the approach of the study. Animal Method Bias falls into this category: it is described as a preference for animal-based methods, which affects the likelihood of a study being accepted for publication.
A large majority of biomedical researchers still consider animal experiments the “gold standard,” even though human relevant methods like organ-on-chip and artificial intelligence can better replicate human diseases and are more predictive of drug efficacy. The hallmark of animal methods bias is when journal editors or peer reviewers request that research on animals is conducted as a misguided attempt to confirm existing findings from human-based methods. Sometimes journals even suggest that animal studies are a prerequisite for publication.
To gather preliminary evidence for the occurrence of this bias, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) partnered with Humane Society International to conduct a survey to understand the experiences of scientists in the context of peer review related to animal and non-animal methods (pre-print available here). 46% of respondents had been asked at least once by a reviewer to provide animal experimental data to a study that used non-animal methods. Of these respondents, 35% did not think the request was justified.
While publication bias is nothing new, bias toward animal research methods remains largely ignored by the scientific community.
Animal Method Bias was the subject of an April 20-21 workshop co-organized by the PCRM in collaboration with Animal Free Research UK and many other groups (listed below). The intent of the workshop was to exchange perspectives on the prevalence, causes, and impact of animal methods bias in scientific publishing, as well as to explore mitigation strategies.
Workshop participants joined from all over the world, including the US, Brazil, Italy, Spain, the UK, and India. A wide array of experts in non-animal methods were invited to speak, including Dr. Don Ingber, the winner of our 2021 Pioneer Award.
The workshop was a huge success, generating proceedings published in the ALTEX journal and an ongoing taskforce of different experts, including our Science Manager Dr Lilas Courtot, that are committed to addressing animal methods bias.
“Addressing this bias is an essential step to accelerate the transition toward animal free research. There is still a lot of work to do. Our ongoing taskforce is putting a lot of effort to bring more evidence and mitigate this bias, educating editors and reviewers about the relevance of non-animal methods and putting together recommendations. I am so glad to be part of it, and have no doubt that it will have a strong impact not only on the publication system but also on biomedical research practice.” – says Dr Lilas Courtot.
This bias may affect many other aspects of medical research, like the review of grant application, hiring decisions, even the very infrastructure that supports medical research, therefore the work of charities like Animal Free Research UK is so important.
Other groups :
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