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Stat Methods Med Res. 2019 Jan;28(1):196-210. doi: 10.1177/0962280217718867. Epub 2017 Jul 6.

Meta-analysis without study-specific variance information: Heterogeneity case.

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1 Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Thammasat University, Thailand.
2 Mathematical Sciences and Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute, University of Southampton, UK.
3 Department of Applied Statistics, King Mongkut's University of Technology North Bangkok, Thailand.
4 Department of Paediatric Surgery, Southampton General Hospital, UK.
5 Statistics and Quantitative Methods, Faculty of Psychology and Sports Science, University of Münster, Germany.


The random effects model in meta-analysis is a standard statistical tool often used to analyze the effect sizes of the quantity of interest if there is heterogeneity between studies. In the special case considered here, meta-analytic data contain only the sample means in two treatment arms and the sample sizes, but no sample standard deviation. The statistical comparison between two arms for this case is not possible within the existing meta-analytic inference framework. Therefore, the main objective of this paper is to estimate the overall mean difference and associated variances, the between-study variance and the within-study variance, as specified as the important elements in the random effects model. These estimators are obtained using maximum likelihood estimation. The standard errors of the estimators and a quantification of the degree of heterogeneity are also investigated. A measure of heterogeneity is suggested which adjusts the original suggested measure of Higgins' I2 for within study sample size. The performance of the proposed estimators is evaluated using simulations. It can be concluded that all estimated means converged to their associated true parameter values, and its standard errors tended to be small if the number of the studies involved in the meta-analysis was large. The proposed estimators could be favorably applied in a meta-analysis on comparing two surgeries for asymptomatic congenital lung malformations in young children.


Mean difference; meta-analysis; random effects model; simulation study


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