Is meta-analysis the platinum standard of evidence?

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An astonishing volume and diversity of evidence is available for many hypotheses in the biomedical and social sciences. Some of this evidence—usually from randomized controlled trials (RCTs)—is amalgamated by meta-analysis. Despite the ongoing debate regarding whether or not RCTs are the ‘gold-standard’ of evidence, it is usually meta-analysis which is considered the best source of evidence: meta-analysis is thought by many to be the platinum standard of evidence. However, I argue that meta-analysis falls far short of that standard. Different meta-analyses of the same evidence can reach contradictory conclusions. Meta-analysis fails to provide objective grounds for intersubjective assessments of hypotheses because numerous decisions must be made when performing a meta-analysis which allow wide latitude for subjective idiosyncrasies to influence its outcome. I end by suggesting that an older tradition of evidence in medicine—the plurality of reasoning strategies appealed to by the epidemiologist Sir Bradford Hill—is a superior strategy for assessing a large volume and diversity of evidence.
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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Objectivity.Daston, Lorraine J. & Galison, Peter

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Mechanisms and the Evidence Hierarchy.Clarke, Brendan; Gillies, Donald; Illari, Phyllis; Russo, Federica & Williamson, Jon

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