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  1. Good Science Digest

  2. Jun 20, 2024

How to Address Animal Methods Bias

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A new paper led by Physicians Committee’s Dr. Catharine Krebs discusses ways that medical research stakeholders can help mitigate animal methods bias—the bias within research that favors animal experimentation.

The immense pressures that medical researchers are under to publish their work can lead them to capitulate to unjustified expectations or requests, including requests to add animal experiments to studies that are otherwise animal-free. These requests can come from an unconscious bias characterized by unfounded preferences for animal-based research methods or simply from a lack of awareness of the advantages of animal-free methods over animal experiments.

Altogether, this phenomenon, called animal methods bias, presents a formidable barrier to researchers pursuing nonanimal research and thus stands in the way of ethical and effective science. Dr. Krebs leads the Coalition to Illuminate and Address Animal Methods Bias (COLAAB), an international, cross-sector collaboration of researchers and advocates aimed at tackling this important issue.

The first step in addressing animal methods bias is gathering evidence to make a strong case to decision-makers. The COLAAB is working to revealthe prevalence of these unjustified requests for animal experiments, as well as to determine whether the use of animal- or nonanimal-based methods is related to the prominence of scientific journals, or to different areas of research, like neuroscience or cancer. Dr. Krebs and the COLAAB are also exploring whether incidences of animal methods bias occur outside the context of scientific publishing, in other areas where research is evaluated, such as the review of grant applications or when decisions are made on hiring and tenure.

Researchers who use animal-free biomedical approaches can do their part to prevent incidences of animal methods bias. The COLAAB’s “Author Guide for Addressing Animal Methods Bias in Publishing” can be used by researchers to help ensure the fair evaluation of their work and to prevent unnecessary experiments on animals at the behest of reviewers and editors.

Publishers of scientific journals must also play an important role. Journals that require studies to include animal experiments should remove this outdated stipulation. Opening review reports can help keep reviewers accountable and enable more comprehensive evidence gathering. Implementing bias mitigation trainings can ensure that reviewers are equipped to identify and avoid their own potential biases. Finally, reviewer guidelines and experimental reporting standards can help promote the most rigorous science.

Ultimately, the COLAAB aims to raise awareness about animal methods bias such that independent medical research stakeholders, especially publishers and funders, conduct their own investigations and implement their own solutions. We are well on our way toward this goal, particularly after winning the Lush Prize, a prestigious international award in animal-free science.

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