This is an archived version of the Handbook. For the current version, please go to training.cochrane.org/handbook/current or search for this chapter here.

The random-effects method (DerSimonian 1986) incorporates an assumption that the different studies are estimating different, yet related, intervention effects. As described in Section 9.4.3.1, the method is based on the inverse-variance approach, making an adjustment to the study weights according to the extent of variation, or heterogeneity, among the varying intervention effects. The random-effects method and the fixed-effect method will give identical results when there is no heterogeneity among the studies. Where there is heterogeneity, confidence intervals for the average intervention effect will be wider if the random-effects method is used rather than a fixed-effect method, and corresponding claims of statistical significance will be more conservative. It is also possible that the central estimate of the intervention effect will change if there are relationships between observed intervention effects and sample sizes. See Section 9.5.4 for further discussion of these issues.

RevMan implements two random-effects methods for dichotomous data: a Mantel-Haenszel method and an inverse-variance method. The difference between the two is subtle: the former estimates the amount of between-study variation by comparing each study’s result with a Mantel-Haenszel fixed-effect meta-analysis result, whereas the latter estimates the amount of variation across studies by comparing each study’s result with an inverse-variance fixed-effect meta-analysis result. In practice, the difference is likely to be trivial. The inverse-variance method was added in RevMan version 5.