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First Online: 22 July 2017Received: 27 January 2017


Meta-analysis has developed to be a most important tool in evaluation research. Heterogeneity is an issue that is present in almost any meta-analysis. However, the magnitude of heterogeneity differs across meta-analyses. In this respect, Higgins’ \I^2\ has emerged to be one of the most used and, potentially, one of the most useful measures as it provides quantification of the amount of heterogeneity involved in a given meta-analysis. Higgins’ \I^2\ is conventionally interpreted, in the sense of a variance component analysis, as the proportion of total variance due to heterogeneity. However, this interpretation is not entirely justified as the second part involved in defining the total variation, usually denoted as \s^2\, is not an average of the study-specific variances, but in fact some other function of the study-specific variances. We show that \s^2\ is asymptotically identical to the harmonic mean of the study-specific variances and, for any number of studies, is at least as large as the harmonic mean with the inequality being sharp if all study-specific variances agree. This justifies, from our point of view, the interpretation of explained variance, at least for meta-analyses with larger number of component studies or small variation in study-specific variances. These points are illustrated by a number of empirical meta-analyses as well as simulation work.

KeywordsHiggins \I^2\ Explained variation due to heterogeneity Meta-analysis Harmonic mean  Download fulltext PDF

Autor: Dankmar Böhning - Rattana Lerdsuwansri - Heinz Holling


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