Meta Analysis

According to BMJ Journals, Meta-Analysis
is a research process used to systematically synthesise or merge the findings of single, independent studies, using statistical methods to calculate an overall or ‘absolute’ effect.
This is a process for coalescing data across an experience or inquiry in order to reach overall impressions or conclusions. It is somewhat lauded in the scientific community. But it is admittedly subject to limitations. The BMJ Journals notes the efficacy of evidence-based studies and the meta-analysis process. However, it also concedes that this process may include studies with differing quality, minimal size, and poor design. It stresses that the analysis process cannot "magically resolve" those shortcomings. Thus, it is a tool; one that is perhaps both informative and imperfect.
The concept was introduced recently in a Vox article regarding the ongoing and often divisive study of mask-wearing related to our recent pandemic experience. The article introduces to a "UK-based nonprofit" called Cochrane which is said to be a "major source of high-quality, reputable meta-analyses." The author notes they are often the "gold standard" for such studies.
Vox says that a recent Cochrane analysis of various studies has concluded that
Wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to the outcome of laboratory-confirmed influenza/SARS-CoV-2 compared to not wearing masks.
At last, a definitive conclusion of the overall debate regarding masking. This is not a conclusion based on a study or a singular perspective. It is a broad conclusion that comes from, essentially, studying the studies.
I have written often on masking and the many vacillations and arguments that ensued. See A Great Hamburger and a Smile (April 2021); The Science of Consensus (June 2021); Tootsie Pops Make you Think (August 2021); Breakthrough, Vacillation, and Consensus (August 2021); Violence in the Workplace (August 2021); and The (un)Masked Man (September 2021). It is perhaps fair to say that 2021 was The Year of the Mask or The Year of the Mask Debate. It is certainly fair to say that I have not been a mask fan. I recently encountered a couple grocery shopping in masks. Their glance was wary as I passed. I heard a lady behind me greet them with "you're not from around here are you?" 
The Vox author notes that the leader of that Cochrane study endorses the conclusion. But, the article proceeds to attack the author regarding other "eccentric and flatly nonsensical opinions about Covid-19." Next, the article faults the study itself based on content - "The review includes 78 studies. Only six were actually conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic." So, much of the data regards instead the transmission of influenza.
Finally, Vox is critical that only two studies were COVID-specific, and that these are perhaps more aptly described as studies of the effects when "people were encouraged or told to wear masks by researchers," not necessarily the same as actually wearing masks. In short, the Vox article leads with praise and edification for Cochrane and these Meta-analysis approaches, proceeds to assault on the outcome's author, and then criticizes that epidemiologist's approach to the question.
Vox discusses specific masking studies, and outcomes or results more amenable to the author's seemingly preferred conclusions about their efficacy. The author concludes with "Science is full of judgment calls," and the opinion that the "Cochrane review" is somewhat "a scientifically irresponsible way to represent these findings." It asserts that human scientists with individual "strength(s), weaknesses, and eccentricities" are prone to, or at least amenable to, mistakes and failures.
It is an intriguing position to advocate in a world of "follow the science" mantras and shaming. Anyone that differs with the consensus is belittled and attacked in the press or social media. They are labelled "deniers" or worse. Science is held up as the be-all and end-all, until it disagrees with someone's favored consensus outcome. Then it is derided, faulted, and belittled by the very "follow the science" echo chambers that are so adamant about the infallibility of the science on topics they love.
Perhaps I miss the mark. Maybe there is value in questioning science and its conclusions on a variety of subjects. Perhaps neither science nor scientists are perfect in any context? Maybe Giordano Bruno would have a thing or two to say about all of that? Perhaps a great many who hold unpopular but nonetheless scientific opinions might wish to comment?
By Judge David Langham


The perspectives are interesting. The strength of the science, and the analysis, are perhaps empirical, conjecture, consensus, or nonsense. That science is capable of mistakes and misconclusion is beyond doubt. Shall we judge the outcomes based on our pre-disposition? If science agrees with us shall we exalt it and attack critics of those conclusions" Shall we conversely deride science if it contradicts our beliefs? Perhaps hypocrisy is in our very human nature.
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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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