University of Exeter, July 2019

I’ll be giving a talk at the Animal Research Unbound conference at the University of Exeter on Monday July 15, 2019.

Good science and good welfare, hand in hand?: Alignments and misalignments between experimental rigor and animal care

Advocates for reform in preclinical research have argued that one reason findings from animal models often fail to translate into clinical benefits for humans is that preclinical research is not conducted with enough scientific “rigor.” The majority of animal studies, reformers claim, use inadequate sample sizes, do not properly randomize animals to treatment groups, and fail to properly blind the experimenter. This paper will examine how policies/practices aimed at enhancing reproducibility intersect with policies/practices for ensuring animal welfare, with a particular focus on blinding and animal care.

Promoting the practice of blinding in preclinical research is consistent with the principle of reduction—conducting low-quality studies that must later be repeated means that more are likely to be used in the course of answering a research question. And yet in practice, blinding techniques often sit in tension with animal care. In some settings where care practices are highly valued (eg nonhuman primate research), blinding may not be feasible because of the intimate knowledge that researchers have of individual animals. In other instances, blinding may prevent researchers from recognizing and mitigating side effects from experimental treatments. This paper will focus on how the aims of animal care might be reconciled with the aims of improving experimental rigor, and what role social scientists can play in this process.