On behalf of BMC and BMC Veterinary Research, I recently attended a round table discussion led by Nikki Osborne (Responsible Research in Practice) which was held during the LAVA-ESLAV-ECLAM conference on Reproducibility of Animal Studies, hosted by the Laboratory Animals Veterinary Association (LAVA), the European Society of Laboratory Animal Veterinarians (ESLAV) and the European College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ECLAM) .
The objective of the meeting was to create a signed statement which acknowledges the efforts that participant organizations have made towards improving the reporting of animal studies and reiterating a commitment to drive further improvements, calling upon both academics and laboratory animal veterinarians to help make this cultural change. You can read the signed statement here.
How do we improve animal research reporting?
Like me, you might think that this topic is becoming a bit repetitive. For almost a decade we have seen some improvement in animal research reporting, but it’s not enough, which is why we are still asking the same questions about how we can tackle this issue. So, what is preventing us from seeing any real progression? Who is responsible for enforcing greater transparency in animal research – the research institution, the funder, the editor, or the researchers themselves?
If we want to see any real progress in animal research reporting, we must all work together to create solutions that make animal research reporting easier
Of course, the answer to this problem lies firmly in all of our hands. If we want to see any real progress in animal research reporting, we must all work together to create solutions that make animal research reporting easier for not just the researcher, but also for the institution, the funding body, the editor and those that participate in peer review. We also need to provide better support and training for researchers to raise awareness of these issues more broadly.
This was the topic that was debated during the round table meeting, which heard opinions from institutions, funders, and editors alike. We agreed that all organizations need to unite so that we can help researchers plan, design and present their research in a manner that can be fully evaluated, utilized and reproduced at the start of their planning – not after. We need to create a path where one organization passes the “baton” on to the next (institute>funder>journal). What form this might take is still open to debate, but the idea of creating a universal document which the authors use throughout their research journey proved to be popular.
However, we are looking for greater consistency amongst authors, so we need to tackle differences in research culture worldwide, also taking into consideration the language used in our requests.
This would build on the work already achieved by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who have created a common set of Principles and Guidelines in Reporting Preclinical Research for both publishers and researchers, and that of Nature research journals, which have implemented a journal level checklist that focuses on experimental and analytical design elements that ensure robust reporting standards and improve the reproducibility of published results. Also, the International Committee on Laboratory Animal Sciences (ICLAS) has created Harmonised Animal Research Reporting Principles (HARRP) for those authors, institutions, and publishers throughout the world for whom setting minimum standards is a priority because current best practice standards seem such a faraway dream.
What is BMC Veterinary Research doing?
As part of our efforts, BMC Veterinary Research is committed to improving the quality of veterinary and animal research reporting, using innovative approaches to peer-review and publication that will encourage more complete reporting, and thus, greater transparency, integrity, and reproducibility of the research we publish.
We require our authors to adhere to the BMC Minimum Standards of Reporting (published in BMC Biology), in addition to relevant reporting standards, such as ARRIVE and REFLECT. The checklist is intended as an aid for authors to clearly, completely and transparently let reviewers and readers know what they did and found. Authors should upload relevant reporting checklists as supplementary material during submission (See EQUATOR network and MERIDIAN for further guidance).
In cases where information that is critical to the study may be lacking (e.g. randomization, blinding, sample size calculation, inclusion/exclusion criteria, and statistical assessment), we expect authors to acknowledge non-compliance within a limitations section of their manuscript and discuss how these factors may influence the interpretation of their research findings. We hope this level of transparency will help future researchers build on our published research more effectively.
This year, BMC Veterinary Research will also be launching a new Study Protocol article type that will enable the reader to compare the protocol to the subsequent research paper to assess possible reporting bias.
Data sharing is also essential to the promotion of transparency and reproducibility. We, therefore, strongly encourage that all datasets are made available to readers, either by deposition of the dataset in a publicly available repository or presented within the main manuscript or additional supporting files wherever possible.
This year, BMC Veterinary Research will also be launching a new Study Protocol article type. Protocols will allow greater understanding of the scientific rigor of the design and results, but more importantly, will enable the reader to compare the protocol to the subsequent research paper to assess possible reporting bias. By making veterinary protocols publicly available, we hope to improve the transparency of the research process in the veterinary field.
Finally, we want to collaborate with research institutions and their initiatives to train early career researchers on the various research reporting services available to them – including adherence to reporting standards and the recently launched PREPARE guidelines. Working alongside our BMC Veterinary Research editorial board, we hope to visit various institutions and major conferences to provide workshops. If your institution is interested in hosting such an event, please get in touch by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have more projects in the pipeline that focus on improving animal research reporting at BMC Veterinary Research, and we look forward to sharing these with you later this year.