Is meta-analysis the platinum standard of evidence?

Abstract
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.
Keywords meta-analysis  RCT  randomized controlled trial  evidence
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References found in this work BETA
Alex Broadbent (2009). Causation and Models of Disease in Epidemiology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 40 (4):302-311.
James R. Brown (2008). The Community of Science®. In Martin Carrier, Don Howard & Janet A. Kourany (eds.), The Challenge of the Social and the Pressure of Practice: Science and Values Revisited. University of Pittsburgh Press.
Nancy Cartwright & Jacob Stegenga (2011). A Theory of Evidence for Evidence-Based Policy. In Philip Dawid, William Twining & Mimi Vasilaki (eds.), Evidence, Inference and Enquiry. Oup/British Academy. 291.
David Danks (2005). Scientific Coherence and the Fusion of Experimental Results. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 56 (4):791-807.

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Citations of this work BETA
Aki Lehtinen (2013). On the Impossibility of Amalgamating Evidence. Journal for General Philosophy of Science 44 (1):101-110.
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