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Statistical and measurement pitfalls in the use of meta-regression in meta-analysis

Frank L. Schmidt (Department of Management and Organizations, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 11 September 2017

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Abstract

Purpose

Meta-regression is widely used and misused today in meta-analyses in psychology, organizational behavior, marketing, management, and other social sciences, as an approach to the identification and calibration of moderators, with most users being unaware of serious problems in its use. The purpose of this paper is to describe nine serious methodological problems that plague applications of meta-regression.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper is methodological in nature and is based on well-established principles of measurement and statistics. These principles are used to illuminate the potential pitfalls in typical applications of meta-regression.

Findings

The analysis in this paper demonstrates that many of the nine statistical and measurement pitfalls in the use of meta-regression are nearly universal in applications in the literature, leading to the conclusion that few meta-regressions in the literature today are trustworthy. A second conclusion is that in almost all cases, hierarchical subgrouping of studies is superior to meta-regression as a method of identifying and calibrating moderators. Finally, a third conclusion is that, contrary to popular belief among researchers, the process of accurately identifying and calibrating moderators, even with the best available methods, is complex, difficult, and data demanding.

Practical implications

This paper provides useful guidance to meta-analytic researchers that will improve the practice of moderator identification and calibration in social science research literatures.

Social implications

Today, many important decisions are made on the basis of the results of meta-analyses. These include decisions in medicine, pharmacology, applied psychology, management, marketing, social policy, and other social sciences. The guidance provided in this paper will improve the quality of such decisions by improving the accuracy and trustworthiness of meta-analytic results.

Originality/value

This paper is original and valuable in that there is no similar listing and discussion of the pitfalls in the use of meta-regression in the literature, and there is currently a widespread lack of knowledge of these problems among meta-analytic researchers in all disciplines.

Keywords

Citation

Schmidt, F.L. (2017), "Statistical and measurement pitfalls in the use of meta-regression in meta-analysis", Career Development International, Vol. 22 No. 5, pp. 469-476. https://doi.org/10.1108/CDI-08-2017-0136

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited