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Publication Bias in Animal Research

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticSep 23, 2012 1:57 PM

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Publication bias has historically been thought of mostly in the context of clinical trials. But I have been banging on for the past 4 years about how it's a problem for more 'basic' science as well.

I'm not alone in my concerns as an interesting new paper reveals: Publication Bias in Laboratory Animal Research. The authors surveyed the approximately 3,000 Dutch scientists involved in research on laboratory animals. The response rate was about 20%.

When asked how much animal research ends up being published, university researchers estimated about half, but industrial scientists put it at only about 10% - which, if true, suggests that publication bias in Pharma animal work is extremely serious.

In terms of solutions, the survey considered two ideas which Neuroskeptic readers will befamiliarwith - public pre-registration of studies:

Mandatory anonymous publication of research protocols of all ethics-approved animal research experiments in a publicly available database

and also open access to all data:

Mandatory anonymous publication of a brief structured form in a publicly available database, that gave main results or explained why an experiment could not be completed

On average the surveyed researchers felt that these measures would aid scientific progress; improve the validity of the literature; and prevent wasteful duplication of effort - but they also worried that it would increase bureaucracy.

Now, bureaucracy is second only to bias on my list of Things I Hate About Science, so I share their concern - but I really think registration wouldn't have to involve any extra paperwork. In many cases, it could be implemented simply by making existing data public.

For instance, grant applications, and requests for ethical approval, already contain detailed a priori protocols in most cases. They could so easily be published (perhaps with certain details removed for confidentiality reasons) and turned into a powerful weapon against publication bias.

Having said that though - it easily could end up being needlessly complicated and obstructive, as so much of the scientific process unfortunately is today. It will all depend on how it's implemented.

This is why I think it's so important that, as scientists, we reform science ourselves, and get it right, rather than leaving it to the bureaucrats, who won't.

Ter Riet G, Korevaar DA, Leenaars M, Sterk PJ, Van Noorden CJ, Bouter LM, Lutter R, Elferink RP, and Hooft L (2012). Publication bias in laboratory animal research: a survey on magnitude, drivers, consequences and potential solutions. PloS one, 7 (9) PMID: 22957028

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