Public attention to the use of animals in research is on the rise, and with good reason. As scientists, we have a responsibility to avoid using animals in our work whenever possible. Not only does this prevent needless suffering and waste of resources, it also leads to better science, because findings from animal experiments often fail to hold up in humans. If studies can be conducted ethically with human subjects, tissues, or organs, they should not use animals.
Animal ethics in research is generally founded on the principle that we should refine, reduce and replace the use of animals in research whenever possible. Arguably, the degree of public support for such research owes much to our adherence to this principle. Many journals in this space mouth belief and support for this fundamental principle for the ethical conduct of animal research. This Retraction Watch piece looks at circumstances when research journals fail to live up to their stated beliefs. Such behaviour runs the risk of undermining public support.
For example, a recent study fed monkeys Western- and Mediterranean-style diets to produce information about the diets’ effects on human mood and behavior. Another experiment used pigs to evaluate how diets rich in fruits and vegetables can improve human microbiome health.
This should give pause to the National Library of Medicine (NLM). When deciding if a journal merits inclusion in MEDLINE, the leading bibliographic database for life sciences, NLM may look at whether the journal’s ethical policies align with best practices and how well individual articles adhere to those policies.
Consider the journal Nutrients, which published the studies cited above. In our view, it has a particularly bad record of accepting studies with egregious violations of ethical norms when it comes to experiments on animals. Nutrients’ own guidelines require the “replacement of animals by alternatives wherever possible.” However, the journal, and others like it, continuously publishes research using animals to study human nutrition when alternatives exist – and better ones at that.