Research Synthesis Methods

Empirical evidence about inconsistency among studies in a pair‐wise meta‐analysis

Journal Article

This paper investigates how inconsistency (as measured by the I2 statistic) among studies in a meta‐analysis may differ, according to the type of outcome data and effect measure. We used hierarchical models to analyse data from 3873 binary, 5132 continuous and 880 mixed outcome meta‐analyses within the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Predictive distributions for inconsistency expected in future meta‐analyses were obtained, which can inform priors for between‐study variance. Inconsistency estimates were highest on average for binary outcome meta‐analyses of risk differences and continuous outcome meta‐analyses. For a planned binary outcome meta‐analysis in a general research setting, the predictive distribution for inconsistency among log odds ratios had median 22% and 95% CI: 12% to 39%. For a continuous outcome meta‐analysis, the predictive distribution for inconsistency among standardized mean differences had median 40% and 95% CI: 15% to 73%. Levels of inconsistency were similar for binary data measured by log odds ratios and log relative risks. Fitted distributions for inconsistency expected in continuous outcome meta‐analyses using mean differences were almost identical to those using standardized mean differences. The empirical evidence on inconsistency gives guidance on which outcome measures are most likely to be consistent in particular circumstances and facilitates Bayesian meta‐analysis with an informative prior for heterogeneity. © 2015 The Authors. Research Synthesis Methods published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. © 2015 The Authors. Research Synthesis Methods published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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