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  1. News Release

  2. Sep 12, 2022

Hundreds of Physicians, Other Health Professionals, and Scientists Cite Medical Journal for Ethical Failures

Publishing Articles Encourages Faulty Research, Animal Deaths, Group Says

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 800 physicians, scientists, and health professionals have joined the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to call on the medical journal Nutrients to stop publishing animal studies that violate the publication’s own ethical guidelines.

In a letter sent Sept. 12 to the journal’s editors in chief, the group also accuses Nutrients of violating the rules for being listed on MEDLINE, the National Library of Medicine’s bibliographic database. A separate letter was sent to MEDLINE asking it to limit or suspend Nutrients’ participation until the problem is rectified.

The moves come after repeated requests over the past year to the journal and MEDLINE by the Physicians Committee to enforce its own ethics policies and institute sound editorial practices. 

Nutrients’ guidelines for authors require the “replacement of animals by alternatives wherever possible.” However, a review by Physicians Committee showed the rule is routinely ignored.

“We have found articles in nearly every issue of Nutrients where commercial supplement manufacturers, students, junior faculty members, or others have side-stepped ethical research methods that would have avoided animal testing,” said Janine McCarthy, MPH, of the Physicians Committee. Instead, McCarthy said, those researchers purchased and experimented on small animals, particularly those exempt from welfare requirements, then submitted results to Nutrients for publication.

For example, a March 2021 article published in Nutrients focused on the research of antidepressant-like properties and behavioral effects of saffron. The study used 50 mice, who were force-fed saffron extract by gavage and then thrown into a tank of water. “The forced swim test is used as an indicator of the animal’s will to live,” McCarthy said, “as if those who struggle longer are less depressed and those who give up more easily are more depressed.”

The test has been denounced by leaders in the scientific community, such as Bayer, Johnson & Johnson, and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and numerous studies have concluded that it’s not a valid model for depression. Furthermore, McCarthy said, there is little similarity between the clinical symptoms of depression in humans and the behaviors measured in the test. The researcher would have been better off feeding saffron to humans, she said, and having them report their depression. 

Nutrients charges authors approximately $2,600 to publish their articles, which means the publication makes more than $13 million annually in authors’ fees. In 2018, the journals’ senior editors quit, citing a lack of commitment to scientific integrity. 

“It is vital,” McCarthy said, “that journals uphold their ethical policies. Publishing research of mediocre quality that isn’t contributing to the advancement of public health is detrimental to the scientific community.”

To speak with Ms. McCarthy, please contact Kim Kilbride at 202-686-3737 or kkilbride [at] pcrm.org

Media Contact

Kim Kilbride

202-717-8665

kkilbride[at]pcrm.org

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.

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