A modified test for small-study effects in meta-analyses of controlled trials with binary endpoints

Authors

  • Roger M. Harbord,

    Corresponding author
    1. MRC Health Services Research Collaboration, Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, U.K.
    • Department of Social Medicine, Canynge Hall, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2PR, U.K.
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  • Matthias Egger,

    1. MRC Health Services Research Collaboration, Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, U.K.
    2. Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Berne, Switzerland
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  • Jonathan A. C. Sterne

    1. MRC Health Services Research Collaboration, Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, U.K.
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Abstract

Publication bias and related bias in meta-analysis is often examined by visually checking for asymmetry in funnel plots of treatment effect against its standard error. Formal statistical tests of funnel plot asymmetry have been proposed, but when applied to binary outcome data these can give false-positive rates that are higher than the nominal level in some situations (large treatment effects, or few events per trial, or all trials of similar sizes). We develop a modified linear regression test for funnel plot asymmetry based on the efficient score and its variance, Fisher's information. The performance of this test is compared to the other proposed tests in simulation analyses based on the characteristics of published controlled trials. When there is little or no between-trial heterogeneity, this modified test has a false-positive rate close to the nominal level while maintaining similar power to the original linear regression test (‘Egger’ test). When the degree of between-trial heterogeneity is large, none of the tests that have been proposed has uniformly good properties. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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