Where are the animals?

Lab Rat Cropped 580

Over the last several years, NAVS has shared various issues pertaining to the lack of transparency surrounding animal experiments.

This week, we’d like to focus on another of these issues: the fact that most animals subjected to experimentation are not mentioned in subsequent scientific publications. A recent study examining animal use at a university in the Netherlands found that only about a quarter of animals used in research studies were accounted for in published papers.

In this study, researchers reviewed study protocols that had been filed with an animal ethics committee in 2008 and 2009. The study looked back more than a decade to ensure that scientists had enough time to do the research and report their findings. Less than half of the approved studies were published as a scientific paper, although this value increased to 60% when including conference abstracts or poster presentations at scientific meetings.

When the researchers dug deeper, they found that only about 26% of animals experimented on were mentioned in the published papers and abstracts. The numbers varied depending on which animals were used, in that only 23% of small animals (including mice, rats and rabbits), which accounted for 90% of animals used, were mentioned afterwards, whereas 52% of larger animals (including dogs, pigs and sheep) were included in the publications or abstracts.

Although this study focused on one university in one country, the researchers are of the opinion that the results are not anomalous and are applicable throughout the world—and that this may result in millions of animals not being reported on in scientific articles.

The most common reason researchers gave for not reporting on animal studies was that the findings weren’t statistically significant. Other reasons cited were that the experiments were part of a pilot project or that there were technical issues with the models used.

But many feel that these excuses for not publishing findings are not valid.

Michael Schlussel, a University of Oxford medical statistician, noted, “I think it’s just outrageous that we have such a low rate of results published for the number of animals used. If we only look for groundbreaking research, the evidence base won’t be solid. And that could impact studies that may confirm or refute the benefits of certain drugs or medical interventions.”

Kimberley Wever, co-author of the study and a metascientist at Radboud University Medical Center, said, “All animal studies should be published, and all studies are valuable for the research community.” Her reasoning is that if studies are not published, other researchers may duplicate the studies and waste time, resources and animal lives.

The authors note that animal study registries, which maintain details of past and present animal research, may help overcome this issue by holding researchers more accountable. Researchers may design and report on their studies more carefully, knowing that others in the scientific community can compare details from the registry to what is actually published, potentially addressing issues of publication bias.

While we do not wish to discourage efforts to hold researchers accountable for their work, it is NAVS’ view that the research community needs to stop wasting time and resources fixing the problems associated with animal experiments, and should instead focus its efforts on moving toward modern, human-relevant, non-animal approaches that can advance science without harming animals.

Help NAVS continue to support smarter science that advances discovery, innovation and human-relevant solutions without the use of harmful, flawed and costly animal experiments by making a donation today.


Source: Chawla, D.S. “Millions of animals may be missing from scientific studies,” Science, October 14, 2020