Chapter 10 Meta-analyses

Learning outcomes

  1. Examine scientific findings from a strength or evidence, big picture viewpoint.
  2. Practice critical thinkings in evidence reuse in the sciences.
  3. Be able to read evaluate published meta-analyses.


As described in the ‘scientific synthesis’ section in this course, there are at least three contemporary tools available to a synthesis scientist in the environmental sciences. Narrative reviews are most effective when they briefly highlight key findings for a small field of research or identify critical gaps. Systematic reviews are more significant contribution to knowledge engineering because they provide the blueprint for replication, i.e. they describe how they selected the studies they summarized, and also because they provide more specific evidence. Finally, meta-analyses are the gold standard. For the purposes of this course of study, biology for environmental management, any of these three options are within reach. Nonetheless, metas can be demanding in time, and if you elect to tackle your environmental challenge with this tool, I recommend a very limited and restrictive set of studies. This can be done using very precise terms in The Web of Science or Google Scholar and/or limiting returns of papers to only the top 10-15 most cited or more recent 2-5 years. The capacity to critically examine a published meta is an invaluable asset to becoming a more literate citizen. The paper ‘How to critically read ecological meta-analyses’(Shrier 2015) is a resource developed for that purpose.

Steps for this component

  1. Read the suggested how-to paper.
  2. Compare and contrast the evidence you compiled for your synthesis and used for the comic or infographic and that you will use again for the final synthesis paper with the ‘how to critically evaluate meta’ ideas proposed.
  3. Decide what is most appropriate based on the evidence and reporting provided in those peer-reviewed studies.
  4. Skip ahead to the ‘paper writing’ section of this course and the ‘paper’ section too for rubric and instructions to facilaite the best decision for what category of paper you select to write. All the very, very short, but each differs slightly in they handle and present evidence.