Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 26, Issue 5, pp 945–958 | Cite as

Publication Bias in Animal Welfare Scientific Literature



Animal welfare scientific literature has accumulated rapidly in recent years, but bias may exist which influences understanding of progress in the field. We conducted a survey of articles related to animal welfare or well being from an electronic database. From 8,541 articles on this topic, we randomly selected 115 articles for detailed review in four funding categories: government; charity and/or scientific association; industry; and educational organization. Ninety articles were evaluated after unsuitable articles were rejected. The welfare states of animals in new treatments, conventional treatments or control groups with no treatment were classified as high, medium or low according to one or more. More articles were published in which the welfare of animals in new treatments was better than that of animals in the conventional or no treatment groups, demonstrating a positive result bias. Failure to publish studies with negative or inconclusive results may lead to other scientists unnecessarily repeating the research. The authors’ assessments of the welfare state of the groups were similarly rated high, medium or low, and it was found that new treatments were rated lower if the research was funded by industry, and higher when funded by charities, with government funding agencies intermediate. These differences were not evident in the Five Freedoms assessment, demonstrating an authors’ assessment bias that appeared to support the funding agencies’ interests. North American funded publications rated the welfare of animals in New treatments higher and those in a Conventional or No Treatment lower, compared with European-funded publications. It is concluded that preliminary evidence was provided of several forms of publication bias in animal welfare science.


Animal welfare Five Freedoms Industry Publication bias Research funding 



AA van der Schot and CJC Phillips were employees, unpaid and paid respectively, of the University of Queensland. No external funding was provided for this study. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers of an earlier version of this paper for their helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics, School of Veterinary ScienceUniversity of QueenslandGattonAustralia

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