Reproducibility and Meta-Analyses: Two Great Concepts That Apparently Don’t Mix

[Excerpts taken from the report “Examining the Reproducibility of Meta-Analyses in Psychology: A Preliminary Report” by Daniel Lakens et al., posted at MetaArXiv Preprints ]
“…given the broad array of problems that make it difficult to evaluate the evidential value of single studies, it seems more imperative than ever to use meta-analytic techniques…”
“…some researchers have doubted whether meta-analyses can actually produce objective knowledge when the selection, inclusion, coding, and interpretation of studies leaves as least as much room for flexibility in the analysis and conclusions …as is present in single studies…”
“Our goals were to…assess the similarity between published and reproduced meta-analyses and identifying specific challenges that thwart reproducibility…”
“We collected all (54) meta-analyses that were published in Psychological Bulletin, Perspectives on Psychological Science, and Psychonomic Bulletin & Review in 2013 and 2014.”
“From these 54 meta-analyses, only…67% or the meta-analyses (36) included a table where each individual effect size, and the study it was calculated from, was listed.”
“Twenty out of the 54 meta-analyses were randomly selected to be reproduced. Teams attempted to reproduce these meta-analyses as completely as possible based on the specifications in the original articles.”
“Five meta-analyses proved so difficult to reproduce that is was not deemed worthwhile to continue with the attempt.”
“For these five meta-analyses, two did not contain a table with all effect sizes, making it impossible to know which effects were coded, and to check whether effects were coded correctly. Two other meta-analyses could not be reproduced from articles in the published literature because the relevant information was missing, and thus needed access to raw data, and in another meta-analysis not enough details were provided on how effect sizes were selected and calculated.”
“Coding for 9 meta-analyses was completed, and coding for 6 metaanalyses is completed to some extent, but still ongoing.”
“All reproduced meta-analyses can be found on the Open Science Framework: https://osf.io/q23ye/files/.”
“Overall, there was unanimous agreement across all seven teams involved in extracting data from the literature that reproducing published meta-analyses was much more difficult than we expected.”
“Many effect sizes in meta-analyses proved impossible to reproduce due to a combination of a lack of available raw data, difficulty locating the relevant effect size from the article, unclear rules about how multiple effect sizes were combined or averaged, and lack of specification of the effect size formula used to convert effect sizes.”
“A frequent source of disagreement between the meta-analysis and the recoded effect sizes concerned the sample size in the study, or the sample sizes in each group…sample sizes are used to calculate the variance for effect sizes…due to the fact that sample sizes for specific analyses are often not clearly provided in original articles, this information turned out to be surprisingly difficult to code.”
“Doing a meta-analysis is a great way to learn which information one needs to report to make sure the article can be included in a future meta-analysis.”
“Similarly, reproducing a meta-analysis is a great way to learn which information one needs to report in a meta-analysis to make sure a meta-analysis can be reproduced.”
“We can highly recommend researchers interested in performing a meta-analysis to start out by (in part) reproducing a published meta-analysis.”
“Because meta-analyses play an important role in cumulative science, they should be performed with great transparency, and be reproducible. With this project we hope to have provided some important preliminary observations that stress the need for improvement, and provided some practical suggestions to make meta-analyses more reproducible in the future.”
To read the report, click here.

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