Research Synthesis Methods

Neither fixed nor random: weighted least squares meta‐regression

Journal Article

Our study revisits and challenges two core conventional meta‐regression estimators: the prevalent use of ‘mixed‐effects’ or random‐effects meta‐regression analysis and the correction of standard errors that defines fixed‐effects meta‐regression analysis (FE‐MRA). We show how and explain why an unrestricted weighted least squares MRA (WLS‐MRA) estimator is superior to conventional random‐effects (or mixed‐effects) meta‐regression when there is publication (or small‐sample) bias that is as good as FE‐MRA in all cases and better than fixed effects in most practical applications. Simulations and statistical theory show that WLS‐MRA provides satisfactory estimates of meta‐regression coefficients that are practically equivalent to mixed effects or random effects when there is no publication bias. When there is publication selection bias, WLS‐MRA always has smaller bias than mixed effects or random effects. In practical applications, an unrestricted WLS meta‐regression is likely to give practically equivalent or superior estimates to fixed‐effects, random‐effects, and mixed‐effects meta‐regression approaches. However, random‐effects meta‐regression remains viable and perhaps somewhat preferable if selection for statistical significance (publication bias) can be ruled out and when random, additive normal heterogeneity is known to directly affect the ‘true’ regression coefficient. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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