Why news about animal research requires BIG qualifiers

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Every week on HealthNewsReview.org, we criticize stories for failing to emphasize that a given piece of research was in animals – and for failing to discuss the limitations of such research. Here’s more evidence about why that’s important. The journal PLoS Biology has published an analysis, “Publication Bias in Reports of Animal Stroke Studies Leads to Major Overstatement of Efficacy,” which, for those of us not accustomed to reading biology journals, is summarized by Nature.com. Excerpts:

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“Published animal trials overestimate by about 30% the likelihood that a treatment works because negative results often go unpublished, a study suggests.

A little more than a third of highly cited animal research is reproduced later in human trials, and although about 500 treatments have been reported as effective in animal models of stroke, only aspirin and early thrombolysis with tissue plasminogen activator work in humans. The lack of negative results in the literature may explain why so few drugs tested in animals are effective in humans.

The prevalence of publication bias illustrates the tendency of journals to report positive results, which are often viewed as more interesting and citable than negative findings. “If a result is negative, the investigator doesn’t want to go through the work of writing it up and publishing it, because they know it won’t get into a good journal and it won’t really enhance their career,” says S. Tom Carmichael, a stroke researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles.”

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April 5, 2010 at 9:12 am

Having followed type 1 diabetes research for 21 years, I am tired of seeing rodent studies. Often the headlines are so promising and then upon further examination the reader discovers the rodent model used is not even spontaneously autoimmune. What a waste.
Dr. Norma Kenyon gives wonderful and realistic presentations of her work at the Diabetes Research Institute (www.diabetesresearch.org ) and the audience is appreciative of the reality check slide that follows the rodent results that states “My daughter is not a mouse”.