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Stat Med. 2011 Nov 20;30(26):3082-94. doi: 10.1002/sim.4326. Epub 2011 Aug 25.

An informed reference prior for between-study heterogeneity in meta-analyses of binary outcomes.

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Department of Clinical Epidemiologyand Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada.


It is well known that when a Bayesian meta-analysis includes a small number of studies, inference can be sensitive to the choice of prior for the between-study variance. Choosing a vague prior does not solve the problem, as inferences can be substantially different depending on the degree of vagueness. Moreover, because the data provide little information on between-study heterogeneity, posterior inferences for the between-study variance based on vague priors will tend to be unrealistic. It is thus preferable to adopt a reasonable, informed prior for the between-study variance. However, relatively little is known about what constitutes a realistic distribution. On the basis of data from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, this paper describes the distribution of between-study variance in published meta-analyses, and proposes some realistic, informed priors for use in meta-analyses of binary outcomes. It is hoped that these priors will improve the calibration of inferences from Bayesian meta-analyses.

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