According to Malcolm Macleod writing in the International Journal Nature, “We are in a golden age of medical research,” where ever more scientists around the world are “spending more money, writing more papers and building more shiny institutes,” searching for new treatments for “Condition X.”

Many animal studies of neurological disease are often biased, claiming positive results and then failing in human trials. (Photo: Novartis AG)

    The driving engine of this industry is animal research which is used to secure funding for clinical trials using humans.

    Now comes a study from researchers at Stanford University cautioning that animal studies on neurological disorders are subject to considerable bias.

    The study found that a vast number of scientists doing animal research often suppress negative findings and report only the positive, giving the study a better result. This bias helps explain why many treatments that appear to work in animals do not succeed in human patients.

    In addition to a tendency to publish only positive results, the study also found that: animal studies produce many false positives, scientists tend to chose the statistical technique that gives the best result, and that animal studies are not as well planned as clinical trials.

    Among the studies most likely to report an inflated number of significant findings were those with the smallest sample sizes and those that were unbinded (failed to incorporate randomization) which can skew results significantly.

    It was also noted that many biased studies were authored by scientists who reported a financial conflict of interest, that scientists tended to seek out high-profile journals to publish their work, and, even more insidious, was the tendency of journals to publish studies with positive results.

    Underlying the findings is the simple fact that the hugely lucrative animal research industry is running on auto-pilot, reaping such vast rewards for researchers that far too little thought is being given to the ethical implications of wantonly killing vast numbers of living creatures for no good reason.

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