Animal Experiments And Publishing Bias
The use of animals in scientific research has long been a focus of ethical debate. In the U.S., the most common animals used in experiments are rats and mice — some authors estimate that around 111.5 million rats and mice are tested on annually. While there have been some advances toward animal-free research over time, including the existence of non-animal methods like organ-on-a-chip technology and legislative proposals to reduce animal testing in the E.U., the fact remains that many animals around the world continue to be experimented on — even when it’s not necessary.
Part of the reason is because of a research publishing bias for animal-based methods. In other words, many scientific research journals require or show preference for animal studies even when they aren’t needed, or when animal-free methods can be used instead. To understand the causes, impacts, and solutions for animal methods bias, this paper summarizes the findings from a two-day workshop featuring academics, publishers, government representatives, and other stakeholders.
Causes And Consequences
Participants felt there were multiple causes of animal methods bias. One suggestion was that reviewers may lack deep knowledge of non-animal research methods and so may be more skeptical of them. A speaker pointed out that animal methods have traditionally been regarded as one of the best forms of scientific testing (the “gold standard”), evidenced by the fact that many influential journals prefer or require them. Another attendee shared that many researchers would prefer to work directly with humans, but that ethical and legal requirements in certain locations make this difficult.
One key outcome of animal methods bias, according to the workshop attendees, is that animals are used in research when it isn’t necessary. Other potential consequences include delaying the publication of important scientific research, preventing animal-free research from being published in influential journals, and making early-career scholars (and the general public) think that animal experiments are more necessary than they are. Indeed, attendees shared that new scholars may use animal methods simply to get published.
Addressing Animal Methods Bias
Participants shared various ideas for mitigating this type of bias in scientific research. One suggestion was that reviewers and editors should always consider the ethics of an adopted method when evaluating research and request more information about a particular animal-free method rather than flat-out rejecting studies that don’t test on animals. At the same time, authors should be more assertive by pushing back on reviewers and editors who demonstrate the animal methods bias.
Another important solution is increasing awareness of the bias itself. Attendees expressed that editors aren’t always aware of it — the general conclusion was that more data and evidence are needed to prove it exists. Finally, it was agreed that more funding and legislative changes are needed to encourage the use of non-animal methods.
Overall, participants felt the barriers preventing science from overcoming animal methods bias include a resistance to change among academics, the competitive nature of research (in other words, researchers will do whatever it takes to get into influential journals), and the fact that there are many stakeholders with conflicting priorities involved in animal research.
Toward An Animal-Free Future
Overall, the workshop brought to light the issue of animal methods bias and gathered a variety of opinions on its causes, consequences, and solutions. At least one speaker noted that animal-free research is increasing over time, and some fields are becoming more accepting of non-animal methods than others. However, 60% of attendees felt that animal methods bias has a large to very large impact on scientific publishing.
Scholars interested in removing animals from the research process can follow the suggestions made by workshop attendees to overcome this form of bias. For animal advocates who aren’t in the science field, there may still be opportunities to get involved. For example, attendees noted that it’s important to educate the public about the benefits of using animal-free research methods. Advocates can also work with like-minded researchers to design campaigns and training materials targeting journal reviewers, editors, and researchers. Ultimately, moving past animal methods bias will require a comprehensive approach targeting many different stakeholders.