Publication bias in laboratory animal research: a survey on magnitude, drivers, consequences and potential solutions

PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e43404. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043404. Epub 2012 Sep 5.

Abstract

Context: Publication bias jeopardizes evidence-based medicine, mainly through biased literature syntheses. Publication bias may also affect laboratory animal research, but evidence is scarce.

Objectives: To assess the opinion of laboratory animal researchers on the magnitude, drivers, consequences and potential solutions for publication bias. And to explore the impact of size of the animals used, seniority of the respondent, working in a for-profit organization and type of research (fundamental, pre-clinical, or both) on those opinions.

Design: Internet-based survey.

Setting: All animal laboratories in The Netherlands.

Participants: Laboratory animal researchers.

Main outcome measure(s): Median (interquartile ranges) strengths of beliefs on 5 and 10-point scales (1: totally unimportant to 5 or 10: extremely important).

Results: Overall, 454 researchers participated. They considered publication bias a problem in animal research (7 (5 to 8)) and thought that about 50% (32-70) of animal experiments are published. Employees (n = 21) of for-profit organizations estimated that 10% (5 to 50) are published. Lack of statistical significance (4 (4 to 5)), technical problems (4 (3 to 4)), supervisors (4 (3 to 5)) and peer reviewers (4 (3 to 5)) were considered important reasons for non-publication (all on 5-point scales). Respondents thought that mandatory publication of study protocols and results, or the reasons why no results were obtained, may increase scientific progress but expected increased bureaucracy. These opinions did not depend on size of the animal used, seniority of the respondent or type of research.

Conclusions: Non-publication of "negative" results appears to be prevalent in laboratory animal research. If statistical significance is indeed a main driver of publication, the collective literature on animal experimentation will be biased. This will impede the performance of valid literature syntheses. Effective, yet efficient systems should be explored to counteract selective reporting of laboratory animal research.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Experimentation / ethics*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Laboratory*
  • Data Collection
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Netherlands
  • Peer Review
  • Publication Bias*
  • Publications / ethics
  • Publications / trends*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design

Grant support

The authors have no support or funding to report.