Bayesian Hypothesis Testing and Estimation under the Marginalized Random-Effects Meta-Analysis Model

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Description: Meta-analysis methods are used to synthesize results of multiple studies on the same topic. The most frequently used statistical model in meta-analysis is the random-effects model containing parameters for the average effect, between-study variance in primary study's true effect size, and random effects for the study specific effects. We propose Bayesian hypothesis testing and estimation methods using the marginalized random-effects meta-analysis (MAREMA) model where the study specific true effects are regarded as nuisance parameters which are integrated out of the model. A flat prior distribution is placed on the overall effect size in case of estimation and a proper unit information prior for the overall effect size is proposed in case of hypothesis testing. For the between-study variance in true effect size, a proper uniform prior is placed on the proportion of total variance that can be attributed to between-study variability. Bayes factors are used for hypothesis testing that allow testing point and one-sided hypotheses. The proposed methodology has several attractive properties. First, the proposed MAREMA model encompasses models with a zero, negative, and positive between-study variance, which enables testing a zero between-study variance as it is not a boundary problem. Second, the methodology is suitable for default Bayesian meta-analyses as it requires no prior information about the unknown parameters. Third, the methodology can even be used in the extreme case when only two studies are available, because Bayes factors are not based on large sample theory. We illustrate the developed methods by applying it to two meta-analyses and introduce easy-to-use software in the R package BFpack to compute the proposed Bayes factors.

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