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CMAJ. 2007 Apr 10;176(8):1091-6.

The appropriateness of asymmetry tests for publication bias in meta-analyses: a large survey.

Author information

1
Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Mass, USA. jioannid@cc.uoi.gr

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Statistical tests for funnel-plot asymmetry are common in meta-analyses. Inappropriate application can generate misleading inferences about publication bias. We aimed to measure, in a survey of meta-analyses, how frequently the application of these tests would be not meaningful or inappropriate.

METHODS:

We evaluated all meta-analyses of binary outcomes with é 3 studies in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2003, issue 2). A separate, restricted analysis was confined to the largest meta-analysis in each of the review articles. In each meta-analysis, we assessed whether criteria to apply asymmetry tests were met: no significant heterogeneity, I2 < 50%, é 10 studies (with statistically significant results in at least 1) and ratio of the maximal to minimal variance across studies > 4. We performed a correlation and 2 regression asymmetry tests and evaluated their concordance. Finally, we sampled 60 meta-analyses from print journals in 2005 that cited use of the standard regression test.

RESULTS:

A total of 366 of 6873 (5%) and 98 of 846 meta-analyses (12%) in the wider and restricted Cochrane data set, respectively, would have qualified for use of asymmetry tests. Asymmetry test results were significant in 7%-18% of the meta-analyses. Concordance between the 3 tests was modest (estimated k 0.33-0.66). Of the 60 journal meta-analyses, 7 (12%) would qualify for asymmetry tests; all 11 claims for identification of publication bias were made in the face of large and significant heterogeneity.

INTERPRETATION:

Statistical conditions for employing asymmetry tests for publication bias are absent from most meta-analyses; yet, in medical journals these tests are performed often and interpreted erroneously.

PMID:
17420491
PMCID:
PMC1839799
DOI:
10.1503/cmaj.060410
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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