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BMJ. 1994 November 19; 309(6965): 1351–1355.
PMCID: PMC2541868

Why sources of heterogeneity in meta-analysis should be investigated.

Abstract

Although meta-analysis is now well established as a method of reviewing evidence, an uncritical use of the technique can be very misleading. One common problem is the failure to investigate appropriately the sources of heterogeneity, in particular the clinical differences between the studies included. This paper distinguishes between the concepts of clinical and statistical heterogeneity and exemplifies the importance of investigating heterogeneity by using published meta-analyses of epidemiological studies of serum cholesterol concentration and clinical trials of its reduction. Although not without some dangers of speculative conclusions, prompted by overzealous inspection of the data to hand, a sensible investigation of sources of heterogeneity should increase both the scientific and the clinical relevance of the results of meta-analyses.

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