A new report from the Physicians Committee and other members of the Animal Methods Bias Taskforce explores the causes and consequences of peer-reviewed journals’ preferences for animal experiments and details recommendations for mitigating this harmful bias.
Animal methods bias is the phenomenon describing a preference for animal-based research methods. In the context of scientific publishing, this bias can affect the duties and responsibilities of journal reviewers and editors who are charged with evaluating a study’s quality and recommending it (or not) for publication. Sometimes reviewers or editors provide a biased assessment of nonanimal studies and may even request or require animal experiments to be performed as a condition of publication.
This presents a major problem—not only for the animals who are used in such experiments but also for the researchers who attempt to use more ethical and effective research methods. New evidence suggests that animal methods bias may prevent or delay the publication of studies that use nonanimal methods. Because of the important role that publishing plays in advancing researchers’ careers, animal methods bias may give researchers, especially those early in their careers, the impression that they must use animals in order to publish their research.
The consequences of animal methods bias may reach even further—to the patients awaiting medical breakthroughs. Because of the important role that publishing plays in advancing research and in the development of new, effective medical interventions, animal methods bias may contribute to the poor translation of preclinical research findings to human clinical trial outcomes. In conjunction with other aspects of the current research and testing landscape, this demonstrates an outdated and inefficient reliance on animals.
The Physicians Committee and others are working to understand what causes animal methods bias and are actively developing strategies to address it. Recommendations that stemmed from the report serve as a foundation for these strategies and include measures such as: (1) providing the scientific community with educational materials to build awareness and empower authors to effectively respond to biased reviews, (2) encouraging journals to improve transparency in editorial decision making and peer review processes, and (3) advocating for funding agencies to invest in nonanimal method projects, training, and infrastructure. In addition, the Animal Methods Bias Taskforce is building more evidence of bias through surveys and by engaging with the scientific community and existing published literature.
More ethical and effective research that doesn’t rely on animals is not only possible but well within reach. Making nonanimal methods the new gold standard will require a major cultural shift involving the acknowledgement of and reckoning with animal methods bias in publishing and beyond.
The Animal Methods Bias Taskforce is a collaboration between the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Humane Society International, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Animal Free Research UK, Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments, the European Committee Joint Research Centre, and more. The objectives of the Taskforce are to build evidence of animal methods bias and to mitigate it by developing and implementing anti-bias tools and tactics targeting researchers, journals, funders, and other stakeholders.