In statistics, a meta-analysis combines the results of several studies that address a set of related research hypotheses. In its simplest form, this is normally by identification of a common measure of effect size, for which a weighted average might be the output of a meta-analyses. Here the weighting might be related to sample sizes within the individual studies. More generally there are other differences between the studies that need to be allowed for, but the general aim of a meta-analysis is to more powerfully estimate the true "effect size" as opposed to a smaller "effect size" derived in a single study under a given single set of assumptions and conditions.
Meta-analyses are often, but not always, important components of a systematic review procedure. Here it is convenient to follow the terminology used by the Cochrane Collaboration, and use "meta-analysis" to refer to statistical methods of combining evidence, leaving other aspects of 'research synthesis' or 'evidence synthesis', such as combining information from qualitative studies, for the more general context of systematic reviews.
The first meta-analysis was performed by Karl Pearson in 1904, in an attempt to overcome the problem of reduced statistical power in studies with small sample sizes; analyzing the results from a group of studies can allow more accurate data analysis. However, the first meta-analysis of all conceptually identical experiments concerning a particular research issue, and conducted by independent researchers, has been identified as the 1940 book-length publication Extra-sensory perception after sixty years, authored by Duke University psychologists J. G. Pratt, J. B. Rhine, and associates. This encompassed a review of 145 reports on ESP experiments published from 1882 to 1939, and included an estimate of the influence of unpublished papers on the overall effect (the file-drawer problem). Although meta-analysis is widely used in epidemiology and evidence-based medicine today, a meta-analysis of a medical treatment was not published until 1955. In the 1970s, more sophisticated analytical techniques were introduced in educational research, starting with the work of Gene V. Glass, Frank L. Schmidt and John E. Hunter. The online Oxford English Dictionary lists the first usage of the term in the statistical sense as 1976 by Glass. The statistical theory surrounding meta-analysis was greatly advanced by the work of Nambury S. Raju, Larry V. Hedges, Harris Cooper, Ingram Olkin, John E. Hunter, Jacob Cohen, Thomas C. Chalmers, Robert Rosenthal and Frank L. Schmidt.
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