Introducing Therioepistemology: the study of how knowledge is gained from animal research

Lab Anim (NY). 2017 Mar 22;46(4):103-113. doi: 10.1038/laban.1224.


This focus issue of Lab Animal coincides with a tipping point in biomedical research. For the first time, the scale of the reproducibility and translatability crisis is widely understood beyond the small cadre of researchers who have been studying it and the pharmaceutical and biotech companies who have been living it. Here we argue that an emerging literature, including the papers in this focus issue, has begun to congeal around a set of recurring themes, which themselves represent a paradigm shift. This paradigm shift can be characterized at the micro level as a shift from asking "what have we controlled for in this model?" to asking "what have we chosen to ignore in this model, and at what cost?" At the macro level, it is a shift from viewing animals as tools (the furry test tube), to viewing them as patients in an equivalent human medical study. We feel that we are witnessing the birth of a new discipline, which we term Therioepistemology, or the study of how knowledge is gained from animal research. In this paper, we outline six questions that serve as a heuristic for critically evaluating animal-based biomedical research from a therioepistemological perspective. These six questions sketch out the broad reaches of this new discipline, though they may change or be added to as this field evolves. Ultimately, by formalizing therioepistemology as a discipline, we can begin to discuss best practices that will improve the reproducibility and translatability of animal-based research, with concomitant benefits in terms of human health and animal well-being.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Experimentation*
  • Biomedical Research*
  • Knowledge*
  • Models, Animal*
  • Reproducibility of Results