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Battle of the sexes: analysis of sex bias in host use and reporting practices in parasitological experiments.

Experimental approaches are among the most powerful tools available to biologists, yet in many disciplines their results have been questioned due to an underrepresentation of female animal subjects. In parasitology, experiments are crucial to understand host-parasite interactions, parasite development, host immune responses, as well as the efficacy of different control methods. However, distinguishing between species-wide and sex-specific effects requires the balanced inclusion of both male and female hosts in experiments and the reporting of results for each sex separately. Here, using data from over 3600 parasitological experiments on helminth-mammal interactions published in the past four decades, we investigate patterns of male versus female subject use and result reporting practices in experimental parasitology. We uncover multiple effects of the parasite taxon used, the type of host used (rats and mice for which subject selection is fully under researcher control versus farm animals), the research subject area and the year of publication, on whether host sex is even specified, whether one or both host sexes have been used (and if only one then which one), and whether the results are presented separately for each host sex. We discuss possible reasons for biases and unjustifiable selection of host subjects, and for poor experimental design and reporting of results. Finally, we make some simple recommendations for increased rigour in experimental design and to reset experimental approaches as a cornerstone of parasitological research.

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