Background. Despite the widespread use of antibodies as a research tool, problems with specificity, lot-to-lot consistency and sensitivity commonly occur and may be important contributing factors to the 'replication crisis' in biomedical research. This makes the validation of antibodies and accurate reporting of this validation in the scientific literature extremely important. Therefore, some journals now require authors to comply with antibody reporting guidelines. Methods. We used a quasi-experimental approach to assess the effectiveness of such journal guidelines in improving antibody reporting in the scientific literature. In a sample of 120 publications, we compared the reporting of antibody validation and identification information in two journals with guidelines (Nature and the Journal of Comparative Neurology) with two journals without guidelines (Science and Neuroscience), before and after the introduction of these guidelines. Results. Our results suggest that the implementation of antibody reporting guidelines might have some influence on the reporting of antibody validation information. The percentage of validated antibodies per article slightly increased from 39% to 57% in journals with guidelines, whereas this percentage decreased from 23% to 14% in journals without guidelines. Furthermore, the reporting of validation information of all primary antibodies increased by 23 percentage points in the journals with guidelines (OR = 2.80, 95% CI = 0.96-INF; adjusted p = 1, one-tailed), compared to a decrease of 13 percentage points in journals without guidelines. Fortunately, the guidelines seem to be more effective in improving the reporting of antibody identification information. The reporting of identification information of all primary antibodies used in a study increased by 58 percentage points (OR = 17.8, 95% CI = 4.8-INF; adjusted p = 0.0003, one-tailed) in journals with guidelines. This percentage also slightly increased in journals without guidelines (by 18 percentage points), suggesting an overall increased awareness of the importance of antibody identifiability. Moreover, this suggests that reporting guidelines mostly have an influence on the reporting of information that is relatively easy to provide. A small increase in the reporting of validation by referencing the scientific literature or the manufacturer's data also indicates this. Conclusion. Combined with the results of previous studies on journal guidelines, our study suggests that the effect of journal antibody guidelines on validation practices by themselves may be limited, since they mostly seem to improve antibody identification instead of actual experimental validation. These guidelines, therefore, may require additional measures to ensure effective implementation. However, due to the explorative nature of our study and our small sample size, we must remain cautious towards other factors that might have played a role in the observed change in antibody reporting behaviour.
- Journal guidelines
- Replication crisis