Estimation in meta-analyses of response ratios

Ilyas Bakbergenuly, David C Hoaglin, Elena Kulinskaya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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BACKGROUND: For outcomes that studies report as the means in the treatment and control groups, some medical applications and nearly half of meta-analyses in ecology express the effect as the ratio of means (RoM), also called the response ratio (RR), analyzed in the logarithmic scale as the log-response-ratio, LRR.

METHODS: In random-effects meta-analysis of LRR, with normal and lognormal data, we studied the performance of estimators of the between-study variance, τ2, (measured by bias and coverage) in assessing heterogeneity of study-level effects, and also the performance of related estimators of the overall effect in the log scale, λ. We obtained additional empirical evidence from two examples.

RESULTS: The results of our extensive simulations showed several challenges in using LRR as an effect measure. Point estimators of τ2 had considerable bias or were unreliable, and interval estimators of τ2 seldom had the intended 95% coverage for small to moderate-sized samples (n<40). Results for estimating λ differed between lognormal and normal data.

CONCLUSIONS: For lognormal data, we can recommend only SSW, a weighted average in which a study's weight is proportional to its effective sample size, (when n≥40) and its companion interval (when n≥10). Normal data posed greater challenges. When the means were far enough from 0 (more than one standard deviation, 4 in our simulations), SSW was practically unbiased, and its companion interval was the only option.

Original languageEnglish
Article number263
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2020


  • Between-study variance
  • Heterogeneity
  • Log-response-ratio
  • Meta-analysis
  • Random-effects model
  • Ratio of means

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