Expert Report

Guidance for the Description of Animal Research in Scientific Publications (2011)

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The publication of research articles involving animal studies, central to many disciplines in science and biomedicine, should include adequate and specific information to enable other researchers to interpret, evaluate, and reproduce a reported study. Considerable variation in the amount of information required by scientific publications and reported by authors undermines this basic scientific need; insufficient information does not facilitate systematic reviews of animal studies and may result in the unnecessary use of animals, funding, and other resources in failed efforts to interpret and reproduce study results.

To address these concerns, the National Research Council’s Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR) appointed a committee of experts to provide guidance for journal editors, authors, and reviewers, who have a role to play in promoting the publication of adequate descriptions. This report includes clear explanations, examples, and supporting references for the effective reporting of all major components of animal research, including aspects of animal care and use that can affect research outcomes. The report includes sections on aquatic species.

Key Messages

  • Journal editors have a role to play in promoting effective and ethical animal research by publishing sufficient information to enable readers to effectively interpret and evaluate research findings and advance scientific understanding.
  • The ability to interpret, evaluate, and reproduce laboratory animal research and testing is a reasonable minimum standard for assessing effective reporting in research articles. Journal editors can substantially contribute to the achievement of this standard by articulating clear policies and criteria for their authors and reviewers.
  • Lack of sufficient experimental procedural detail about animal studies in the research literature has both scientific and ethical implications. Inadequate information (1) limits the ability to confirm and build on research findings and to perform systematic reviews, (2) can lead to unnecessary use of animals in studies that fail to reproduce the reported result, and (3) may mask problems in the quality of the design and conduct of animal studies.
  • The foregoing impacts may give rise to questions about experimental methods and the overall quality of the studies and thus erode support for the utility—and necessity—of laboratory animal research for informing human health treatments.
  • Useful journal policies will define requirements for accurate descriptions of the research animal as an experimental test system, the critical elements of the research animal environment, and animal care and use practices that can affect research results.
  • To encourage detailed reporting of animal studies, journal editors may consider providing links on their websites to this report and/or other resources and checklists; publishing procedural details and data, after review, in an online appendix or database; accepting articles that cite previous peer-reviewed publications that convey appropriate details and provide specific descriptions only of changes relevant to the newly reported experiment.