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Meta-analysis

A meta-analysis is a statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple scientific studies.

The basic tenet behind meta-analyses is that there is a common truth behind all conceptually similar scientific studies, but which has been measured with a certain error within individual studies. 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. In essence, all existing methods 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. Meta-analysis can be thought of as "conducting research about previous research." Meta-analysis can only proceed if we are able to identify a common statistical measure that is shared among studies, called the effect size, which has a standard error so that we can proceed with computing a weighted average of that common measure. Such weighting usually takes into consideration the sample sizes of the individual studies, although it can also include other factors, such as study quality.

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 many of which can affect its 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.

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.

Wiktionary

meta-analysis

n. 1 (context statistics English) Any systematic procedure for statistically combining the results of many different studies. 2 (context statistics English) An analysis resulting from combining the results of diverse statistical studies. 3 An analysis performed at a higher level of abstraction than that of basic analysis.

Usage examples of "meta-analysis".

However, another meta-analysis by Clum and Gould of 34 published self-help books and videos confirmed that popular material also seemed to be about as helpful as therapy by professionals.