Studies of scientific papers reporting animal experiments have revealed many flaws in their design, which are generating considerable concern, not least among funders of research (1). These include, but are not limited to:

  • Poor experimental design and risk of bias, even in high-impact journals (2, 3), in particular lack of statistical power (4) and lack of blinding (5)
  • Artefacts caused by extraneous environmental factors, such as effects of animal age (6), cage conditions (7, 8, 9), concomitant subclinical infections (10), food/water restriction (1112) or the sex of the experimenter (13) or animal (14)
  • Poor compliance (15, 16) with guidelines for reporting animal experiments (17), including lack of details about anaesthesia and analgesia (18, 19)
  • Poor reproducibility of animal studies (20, 21, 22) when a model is moved from, for example, academic environments to pharmaceutic industry. This was the subject of a seminar organised by funders in the UK in 2015 (23)
  • Lack of translatability from animals to humans (24, 25)
  • p-value hacking (also called data dredging, data fishing, data snooping, data butchery)
  • HARKING (Hypothesising After the Results are Known)
  • Publication bias

See also the section in the PREPARE guidelines on statistical power and significance levels

Anthony Rowe (2022) has written an excellent set of recommendations for improving the use and reporting of statistics in animal experiments.
The REWARD Alliance website was created to promote a series of papers on this topic in 2014 in The Lancet, to help increase the value of research and reduce waste.

It has been estimated that 85% of research is wasted, usually because it asks the wrong questions, is badly designed, not published or poorly reported. While this primarily diminishes the value of research, it also represents a significant financial loss: an estimated US$ 240,000,000,000 were wasted in Life Sciences research in 2010. However, many causes of this waste are simple problems that could easily be fixed.

Other references

This page was updated on 30 April 2024

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