More than 1,100 experts have joined the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in boycotting the medical journal Nutrients until it stops publishing egregious animal experiments that could have been ethically conducted in humans.
The boycott, which also applies to Nutrients' publisher, MDPI, comes after repeated requests to the journal's editors asking them to institute sound editorial practices.
A letter sent to those editors today, Nov. 20, 2023, says "As a community of scientists and health care professionals, we have lost confidence in Nutrients and MDPI. We will not publish in Nutrients or other MDPI journals nor serve as reviewers until Nutrients implements a policy of publishing only studies using human participants or human data for nutrition research."
Last year, more than 800 medical professionals and scientists contacted Nutrients saying they'd lost confidence in the journal because its animal experiments violate its own ethical guidelines, which require the "replacement of animals by alternatives wherever possible."
A review by the Physicians Committee showed the rule is routinely ignored.
As an example, this recent Nutrients study used 50 preterm piglets to research necrotizing enterocolitis in infants. Pigs were fed different infant formulas and human milk with and without an added probiotic and had their gut microbiota analyzed. All of them were killed at the end of the experiment.
Numerous clinical trials in humans have already shown that probiotic supplements can significantly decrease this condition in infants, said Janine McCarthy, MPH, science policy program manager for the Physicians Committee. "Therefore, the experiment clearly violated the 3Rs principle of replacement, as well as Nutrients' own ethical guidelines."
Dr. Elizabeth Dean, a professor emeritus in the department of physical therapy at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and former reviewer for Nutrients, signed the boycott letter.
When I became aware of the extensive animal use, especially where the objectives could have been achieved using human-based approaches, I decided to investigate further because I couldn't compromise my own ethics."
Dr. Elizabeth Dean, professor emeritus, department of physical therapy, University of British Columbia
Ultimately, Dean told Nutrients editors the research they publish is "sadistic, cruel, and unnecessary, and that there are superior means to conducting research, not just alternatives to using animals." With this, she resigned. "I expressed my regrets to the editor-in-chief," she said.
Nutrients charges authors some $3,200 to get published, which means it makes more than $16 million annually in authors' fees. In 2018, the journals' senior leadership quit, citing a lack of commitment to scientific integrity.
Richard Schmidt, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist who specializes in fertility problems in Mountainview, Calif., is among those who are boycotting the journal.
"When it comes to the system Nutrients uses for increasing the flow of articles without discrimination for the types of studies it's publishing, there is a clear lack of adherence to the journal's own guidelines. This is morally wrong," Dr. Schmidt said. "I absolutely think it's setting a scary precedent for a business model that has real potential to corrupt the whole research arena."