Assessing the potential for bias in meta-analysis due to selective reporting of subgroup analyses within studies

Stat Med. 2000 Dec 30;19(24):3325-36. doi: 10.1002/1097-0258(20001230)19:24<3325::aid-sim827>;2-d.


Subgroup analysis is frequently used to investigate heterogeneity in meta-analysis. Subgroup data are not always available, and researchers should record what data were available for each trial. If data were not available, and it is known that the subgroup data were collected, the potential for selective reporting should be considered. Bias due to selective publishing of reports is widely recognized in meta-analysis. In contrast, selective reporting within studies is little discussed but potentially important. We explored this problem by evaluating the effect of potential bias in subgroup analysis due to within-study selective reporting with an existing meta-analysis. The review addressed malaria chemoprophylaxis in pregnancy. The conclusion in the original review, that benefit is limited to primigravidae, was based on subgroup analysis using the three trials out of five which reported on subgroups. We developed a method of sensitivity analysis that imputes data for the missing subgroups to assess the robustness of the results and the conclusions drawn. In this particular example, our analysis indicates that the estimate of effect reported in the review is most likely to overestimate the true effect and the conclusion that benefit is limited to primigravidae may be false.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Malaria / prevention & control
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Parasitic / prevention & control
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Statistics as Topic