Evaluation of Excess Significance Bias in Animal Studies of Neurological Diseases

Konstantinos K Tsilidis, Orestis A Panagiotou, Emily S Sena, Eleni Aretouli, Evangelos Evangelou, David W Howells, Rustam Al-Shahi Salman, Malcolm R Macleod, John P A Ioannidis

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Abstract

Animal studies generate valuable hypotheses that lead to the conduct of preventive or therapeutic clinical trials. We assessed whether there is evidence for excess statistical significance in results of animal studies on neurological disorders, suggesting biases. We used data from meta-analyses of interventions deposited in Collaborative Approach to Meta-Analysis and Review of Animal Data in Experimental Studies (CAMARADES). The number of observed studies with statistically significant results (O) was compared with the expected number (E), based on the statistical power of each study under different assumptions for the plausible effect size. We assessed 4,445 datasets synthesized in 160 meta-analyses on Alzheimer disease (n= 2), experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (n = 34), focal ischemia (n = 16), intracerebral hemorrhage (n = 61), Parkinson disease (n = 45), and spinal cord injury (n = 2). 112 meta-analyses (70%) found nominally (p≤0.05) statistically significant summary fixed effects. Assuming the effect size in the most precise study to be a plausible effect, 919 out of 4,445 nominally significant results were expected versus 1,719 observed (p<10−9). Excess significance was present across all neurological disorders, in all subgroups defined by methodological characteristics, and also according to alternative plausible effects. Asymmetry tests also showed evidence of small-study effects in 74 (46%) meta-analyses. Significantly effective interventions with more than 500 animals, and no hints of bias were seen in eight (5%) meta-analyses. Overall, there are too many animal studies with statistically significant results in the literature of neurological disorders. This observation suggests strong biases, with selective analysis and outcome reporting biases being plausible explanations, and provides novel evidence on how these biases might influence the whole research domain of neurological animal literature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e1001609
JournalPLoS Biology
Volume11
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013

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