Weighing evidence ‘steampunk’ style via the Meta-Analyser

Jack Bowden, Chris Jackson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
298 Downloads (Pure)


The funnel plot is a graphical visualisation of summary data estimates from a meta-analysis, and is a useful tool for detecting departures from the standard modelling assumptions. Although perhaps not widely appreciated, a simple extension of the funnel plot can help to facilitate an intuitive interpretation of the mathematics underlying a meta-analysis at a more fundamental level, by equating it to determining the centre of mass of a physical system. We used this analogy to explain the concepts of weighing evidence and of biased evidence to a young audience at the Cambridge Science Festival, without recourse to precise definitions or statistical formulae and with a little help from Sherlock Holmes! Following on from the science fair, we have developed an interactive web application (named the Meta-Analyser) to bring these ideas to a wider audience. We envisage that our application will be a useful tool for researchers when interpreting their data. Firstly, to facilitate a simple understanding of fixed and random effects modelling approaches; secondly, to assess the importance of outliers; and thirdly, to show the impact of adjusting for small study bias. This final aim is realised by introducing a novel graphical interpretation of the well known method of Egger regression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-394
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Statistician
Issue number4
Early online date21 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


  • Meta-analysis
  • Funnel plot
  • bias adjustment
  • Egger regression

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