Multivariate meta-analysis: potential and promise

Stat Med. 2011 Sep 10;30(20):2481-98. doi: 10.1002/sim.4172. Epub 2011 Jan 26.


The multivariate random effects model is a generalization of the standard univariate model. Multivariate meta-analysis is becoming more commonly used and the techniques and related computer software, although continually under development, are now in place. In order to raise awareness of the multivariate methods, and discuss their advantages and disadvantages, we organized a one day 'Multivariate meta-analysis' event at the Royal Statistical Society. In addition to disseminating the most recent developments, we also received an abundance of comments, concerns, insights, critiques and encouragement. This article provides a balanced account of the day's discourse. By giving others the opportunity to respond to our assessment, we hope to ensure that the various view points and opinions are aired before multivariate meta-analysis simply becomes another widely used de facto method without any proper consideration of it by the medical statistics community. We describe the areas of application that multivariate meta-analysis has found, the methods available, the difficulties typically encountered and the arguments for and against the multivariate methods, using four representative but contrasting examples. We conclude that the multivariate methods can be useful, and in particular can provide estimates with better statistical properties, but also that these benefits come at the price of making more assumptions which do not result in better inference in every case. Although there is evidence that multivariate meta-analysis has considerable potential, it must be even more carefully applied than its univariate counterpart in practice.

Keywords: multivariate meta-analysis; random effects models; statistical software.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / blood
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / diagnosis
  • Chromosome Deletion
  • Chromosome Disorders / blood
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 1
  • Computer Simulation
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Electrocardiography
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic*
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Multivariate Analysis*
  • N-Myc Proto-Oncogene Protein
  • Neuroblastoma / pathology
  • Nuclear Proteins / blood
  • Oncogene Proteins / blood
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / blood


  • MYCN protein, human
  • N-Myc Proto-Oncogene Protein
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Oncogene Proteins

Supplementary concepts

  • Chromosome 1p36 Deletion Syndrome