Author Topic: Animal welfare research: the funding dilemma. By Professor Clive Phillips.  (Read 1110 times)

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 Objective improvement of animal welfare relies heavily on research to substantiate claims regarding the effects of various practices on animal welfare status. Scientists may be attracted to work in this area for a number of reasons. There are opportunities  to improve the welfare of animals, to further an interest in animal science, in its broadest sense, to conduct research with relevance to the animal industries and to utilise the sometimes significant funding available. Funding is provided by governments,  the animal industries, universities and the charitable organisations concerned with animals, all of whom recognise the importance of research to some degree. Animal welfare scientific literature has therefore accumulated rapidly in recent years, but the i mpact of various potential biases is worthy of study in this field as it has been found in the medical field to influence publications significantly. If proven to exist, publication bias could affect people’s understanding of progress in the field and hence animal welfare improvement. Such bias could exist in forms that are well recognised in other disciplines, favouring significant or positive results, for example. Pharmaceutical publications are reported to be affected by a bias that arises from the type of funding agency, with a more positive assessment of the benefits of treatments or products if the research was funded by industry.  
 
We therefore conducted a meta-analysis to examine the effects of funding agency on the actual and authors’ assessment of  welfare status in animal welfare research publications. A total of 8541 articles were found which included animal welfare or wellbeing in their topic, from which we selected a random sample of 115 articles, divided into four funding categories:

government;  
charity and/or scientific association;
industry; and
educational organization.

These included comparisons of new treatments with conventional treatments or with a control group (no treatment). We classified, blind to funding source, the welfare state of a nimals in the new and conventional treatments and those in control groups as Low, Medium or High using the Five Freedoms.  
 
More articles were published in which the welfare state of animals in new treatments was higher than that of animals in the conventional or no treatment groups, demonstrating a positive result bias. There were no differences in welfare state caused by type of funding agency. The opinion of the articles’ authors about the welfare state of the groups was similarly blind classified as Low, Medium or High. The welfare state of animals in new treatments was rated as lower when the research was funded by industry, and higher when funded by charities, compared with government funding agencies. This showed that it was a bias from authors’ assessments. Both our assessment by the Five Freedoms and that by the authors showed that North American funded publications rated the welfare of animals in New treatments higher and those in a Conventional or No treatment lower, compared with European-funded publications.
 
We conclude that bias in animal welfare publications does exist in several forms, which may influence standards and guidelines for animal management, people’s attitudes towards scientific developments in animal welfare and ultimately the welfare of animals.  
 
Animal welfare research: the funding dilemma  
Clive Phillips, Professor, School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland ,  c.phillips@uq.edu.au  

http://www.rspca.org.au/assets/files/Science/SciSem2012-Proceedings.pdf
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