Where Have All the Rodents Gone? The Effects of Attrition in Experimental Research on Cancer and Stroke


source: journals.plos.org/plosbiology

We published a new article just in PLOS Biology today, with the title:

“Where Have All the Rodents Gone? The Effects of Attrition in Experimental Research on Cancer and Stroke”

This is a wonderful collaboration between three fields: stats, epi and lab researchers. Combined we took a look at what is called attrition in the preclinical labs, that is the loss of data in animal experiments. This could be because the animal died before the needed data could be obtained, or just because a measurement failed. This loss of data can be translated to the concept of loss to follow-up in epidemiological cohort studies, and from this field we know that this could lead to substantial loss of statistical power and perhaps even bias.

But it was unknown to what extent this also was a problem in preclinical research, so we did two things. We looked at how often papers indicated there was attrition (with an alarming number of papers that did not provide the data for us to establish whether there was attrition), and we did some simulation what happens if there is attrition in various scenarios. The results paint a clear picture: the loss of power but also the bias is substantial. The degree of these is of course dependent on the scenario of attrition, but the message of the paper is clear: we should be aware of the problems that come with attrition and that reporting on attrition is the first step in minimising this problem.

A nice thing about this paper is that coincides with the start of a new research section in the PLOS galaxy, being “meta-research”, a collection of papers that all focus on how science works, behaves, and can or even should be improved. I can only welcome this, as more projects on this topic are in our pipeline!

The article can be found on pubmed and my mendeley profile.

Update 6.1.16: WOW what a media attention for this one. Interviews with outlets from UK, US, Germany, Switzerland, Argentina, France, Australia etc, German Radio, the dutch Volkskrant, and a video on focus.de. More via the corresponding altmetrics page . Also interesting is the post by UD, the lead in this project and chief of the CSB,  on his own blog “To infinity, and beyond!”