Authors: Wang L, Lewis-Beck C, Fritschel E, Baser E, Baser O.

Background: Meta-analysis is an approach that combines findings from similar studies. The aggregation of study level data can provide precise estimates for outcomes of interest, allow for unique treatment comparisons, and explain the differences arising from conflicting study results. Proper meta-analysis includes five basic steps: identify relevant studies; extract summary data from each paper; compute study effect sizes, perform statistical analysis; and interpret and report the results.

Objectives: This study aims to review meta-analysis methods and their assumptions, apply various meta-techniques to empirical data, and compare the results from each method.

Methods: Three different meta-analysis techniques were applied to a dataset looking at the effects of the bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine on tuberculosis (TB). First, a fixed-effects model was applied; then a random-effects model; and third meta-regression with study-level covariates were added to the model. Overall and stratified results, by geographic latitude were reported.

Results: All three techniques showed a statistically significant effects from the vaccination. However, once covariates were added, efficacy diminished. Independent variables, such as the latitude of the location in which the study was performed, appeared to be partially driving the results.

Conclusions: Meta-analysis is useful for drawing general conclusions from a variety of studies. However, proper study and model selection are important to ensure the correct interpretation of results. Basic meta-analysis models are fixed-effects, random-effects, and meta-regression.

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