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Animal registries aim to reduce bias

Some advocates are betting that documenting experimental plans online will improve animal research, but uptake has been slow.

Millions of mice and rats are used in research each year. But one-third to one-half of animal experiments are never published, and of those that are, many are too poorly conducted to be reliable. Advocates for better animal research and reproducibility are promoting a strategy established in other fields to counter publication bias, improve investigations and increase transparency: study registries.

Registries ask researchers to detail their hypotheses, experimental strategy and analytical plans before studies begin. The intention is to prevent teams from simply cherry-picking significant or desirable findings and to supply the scientific community with a way of learning about experiments that would otherwise go unpublished.

The best-known registry,, has logged more than 300,000 human clinical trials since it launched in 2000, amid outrage over drug companies burying unfavourable clinical-trial results. Regulatory authorities around the world now require registration for drugs and devices approved for market, and medical journals require it for publication.

The Open Science Framework is an example of a voluntary registration system. Researchers, mainly psychologists and social scientists, input or ‘preregister’ research plans before starting a project, which they can keep private, or ‘embargoed’, for up to four years. More than 30,500 preregistrations have been entered since 2012, but few of these involve animals.

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