Toxicology research for precautionary decision-making and the role of Human & Experimental Toxicology

Hum Exp Toxicol. 2015 Dec;34(12):1231-7. doi: 10.1177/0960327115601762.


A key aim of toxicology is the prevention of adverse effects due to toxic hazards. Therefore, the dissemination of toxicology research findings must confront two important challenges: one being the lack of information on the vast majority of potentially toxic industrial chemicals and the other being the strict criteria for scientific proof usually required for decision-making in regard to prevention. The present study ascertains the coverage of environmental chemicals in four volumes of Human & Experimental Toxicology and the presentation and interpretation of research findings in published articles. Links in SciFinder showed that the 530 articles published in four selected volumes between 1984 and 2014 primarily dealt with metals (126 links) and other toxicants that have received substantial attention in the past. Thirteen compounds identified by US authorities in 2006 as high-priority substances, for which toxicology documentation is badly needed, were not covered in the journal issues at all. When reviewing published articles, reliance on p values was standard, and non-significant findings were often called 'negative.' This tradition may contribute to the perceived need to extend existing research on toxic hazards that have already been well characterized. Several sources of bias towards the null hypothesis can affect toxicology research, but are generally not considered, thus adding to the current inclination to avoid false positive findings. In this regard, toxicology is particularly prone to bias because of the known paucity of false positives and, in particular, the existence of a vast number of toxic hazards which by default are considered innocuous due to lack of documentation. The Precautionary Principle could inspire decision-making on the basis of incomplete documentation and should stimulate a change in toxicology traditions and in toxicology research publication.

Keywords: Precaution; public health; research; scientific inference; toxicology.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Hazardous Substances / toxicity
  • Periodicals as Topic*
  • Research
  • Risk Assessment
  • Toxicology*


  • Hazardous Substances