Consequences of common data analysis inaccuracies in CNS trauma injury basic research

J Neurotrauma. 2013 May 15;30(10):797-805. doi: 10.1089/neu.2012.2704.


The development of successful treatments for humans after traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries (TBI and SCI, respectively) requires animal research. This effort can be hampered when promising experimental results cannot be replicated because of incorrect data analysis procedures. To identify and hopefully avoid these errors in future studies, the articles in seven journals with the highest number of basic science central nervous system TBI and SCI animal research studies published in 2010 (N=125 articles) were reviewed for their data analysis procedures. After identifying the most common statistical errors, the implications of those findings were demonstrated by reanalyzing previously published data from our laboratories using the identified inappropriate statistical procedures, then comparing the two sets of results. Overall, 70% of the articles contained at least one type of inappropriate statistical procedure. The highest percentage involved incorrect post hoc t-tests (56.4%), followed by inappropriate parametric statistics (analysis of variance and t-test; 37.6%). Repeated Measures analysis was inappropriately missing in 52.0% of all articles and, among those with behavioral assessments, 58% were analyzed incorrectly. Reanalysis of our published data using the most common inappropriate statistical procedures resulted in a 14.1% average increase in significant effects compared to the original results. Specifically, an increase of 15.5% occurred with Independent t-tests and 11.1% after incorrect post hoc t-tests. Utilizing proper statistical procedures can allow more-definitive conclusions, facilitate replicability of research results, and enable more accurate translation of those results to the clinic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Injuries*
  • Publishing / standards*
  • Research / standards*
  • Research Design / standards
  • Spinal Cord Injuries*
  • Statistics as Topic / standards*