language-icon Old Web
Sign In


A meta-analysis is a statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple scientific studies. Meta-analysis can be performed when there are multiple scientific studies addressing the same question, with each individual study reporting measurements that are expected to have some degree of error. The aim then is to use approaches from statistics to derive a pooled estimate closest to the unknown common truth based on how this error is perceived. Existing methods for meta-analysis yield a weighted average from the results of the individual studies, and what differs is the manner in which these weights are allocated and also the manner in which the uncertainty is computed around the point estimate thus generated. In addition to providing an estimate of the unknown common truth, meta-analysis has the capacity to contrast results from different studies and identify patterns among study results, sources of disagreement among those results, or other interesting relationships that may come to light in the context of multiple studies. A key benefit of this approach is the aggregation of information leading to a higher statistical power and more robust point estimate than is possible from the measure derived from any individual study. However, in performing a meta-analysis, an investigator must make choices which can affect the results, including deciding how to search for studies, selecting studies based on a set of objective criteria, dealing with incomplete data, analyzing the data, and accounting for or choosing not to account for publication bias. Judgment calls made in completing a meta-analysis may affect the results. For example, Wanous and colleagues examined four pairs of meta-analyses on the four topics of (a) job performance and satisfaction relationship, (b) realistic job previews, (c) correlates of role conflict and ambiguity, and (d) the job satisfaction and absenteeism relationship, and illustrated how various judgement calls made by the researchers produced different results. Meta-analyses are often, but not always, important components of a systematic review procedure. For instance, a meta-analysis may be conducted on several clinical trials of a medical treatment, in an effort to obtain a better understanding of how well the treatment works. Here it is convenient to follow the terminology used by the Cochrane Collaboration, and use 'meta-analysis' to refer to statistical methods of combining evidence, leaving other aspects of 'research synthesis' or 'evidence synthesis', such as combining information from qualitative studies, for the more general context of systematic reviews. A meta-analysis is a secondary source. The historical roots of meta-analysis can be traced back to 17th century studies of astronomy, while a paper published in 1904 by the statistician Karl Pearson in the British Medical Journal which collated data from several studies of typhoid inoculation is seen as the first time a meta-analytic approach was used to aggregate the outcomes of multiple clinical studies. The first meta-analysis of all conceptually identical experiments concerning a particular research issue, and conducted by independent researchers, has been identified as the 1940 book-length publication Extrasensory Perception After Sixty Years, authored by Duke University psychologists J. G. Pratt, J. B. Rhine, and associates. This encompassed a review of 145 reports on ESP experiments published from 1882 to 1939, and included an estimate of the influence of unpublished papers on the overall effect (the file-drawer problem). Although meta-analysis is widely used in epidemiology and evidence-based medicine today, a meta-analysis of a medical treatment was not published until 1955. In the 1970s, more sophisticated analytical techniques were introduced in educational research, starting with the work of Gene V. Glass, Frank L. Schmidt and John E. Hunter. The term 'meta-analysis' was coined in 1976 by the statistician Gene V. Glass, who stated 'my major interest currently is in what we have come to call ...the meta-analysis of research. The term is a bit grand, but it is precise and apt ... Meta-analysis refers to the analysis of analyses'. Although this led to him being widely recognized as the modern founder of the method, the methodology behind what he termed 'meta-analysis' predates his work by several decades. The statistical theory surrounding meta-analysis was greatly advanced by the work of Nambury S. Raju, Larry V. Hedges, Harris Cooper, Ingram Olkin, John E. Hunter, Jacob Cohen, Thomas C. Chalmers, Robert Rosenthal, Frank L. Schmidt, and Douglas G. Bonett.

[ "Internal medicine", "Surgery", "Pathology", "Alternative medicine", "Forest plot", "Meta-regression", "Q-statistic", "variance method", "Study Eligibility Criteria" ]
Parent Topic
Child Topic
    No Parent Topic