Just can't let it go. SSRI Meta-analysis meta-addiction
Caveat Lector II
The Simplest Meta-Analysis Problem
That Hideous Strength
Prozac Fan Talks Back
Personal chat with pj
In particular, in response to my confusion about where they got an effect size of 1.8 from:
"Actually I think I understand how Kirsch et al got their results. I get a weighted average difference of change of 1.
notation: changeij is the average change in HRSD of patients in study i who got the SSRI (j=1) or the placebo (j=0). Nij is the sample size of patients in trial i who get j pills.
In one calculation I used changeij/dij as the standard deviation of the change and thus (changeij/dij)^2/Nij as the estimated variance of the average change. The *separately* for drug and placebo data, I calculated the precision weighted average over i of changeij. This gave me an average change of 7.809 for the placebo and 9.592 for the SSRI treated for a difference of 1.78.
I guess this is what they did. I the confidence intervals are screwy and d is as described in the paper."
He also finds that it looks like Kirsch et al did indeed divide the change score by the standard deviation of the change score to obtain their 'd' measure - the wide confidence intervals that I thought argued against this seem to be a particular idiosyncrasy of their study. Fortunately this makes very little difference to my previous analyses (I've updated the effect sizes in this study, but the only real impact is on calculating proper SMD effect measures where these are larger, because the estimated SD is smaller).
I'll repeat one of my comments here:
I'll expand on that last bit - basically if Robert is right, and it is the best explanation I've found (looking back at the paper there are tantalising suggestions that it is correct because they report model statistics separately), then they have assumed that there are two entirely separate populations, the drug group and the placebo group, and that each trial is simply an attempt to estimate the size of the improvement in HRSD score within each group, ignoring any information about which placebo group went with which drug group in any particular trial (this is an approach that chimes with their regression analysis approach looking at each group separately).
"Hmm, that would be very annoying if someone had based their analyses on the confidence intervals being, you know, normal confidence intervals.
Looking back at the data it seems you're right that it is by essentially carrying out the meta-analysis on two entirely separate populations, the drug changes, and the placebo changes, and then subtracting one from the other, that they get their very low estimate of HRSD change.
That is a very odd way of doing things indeed, it is basically assuming that each study is really two separate and entirely unrelated studies, one on how people improve with drugs, and one on how they improve with placebo, so the way to analyse them is to ignore the study design and just try and estimate the pooled effect size for each group (drug and placebo) as if they were unrelated. It partly has an effect because the SDs depend on response, and because sample sizes are skewed towards drug groups in some studies (so the placebo group is much smaller than the drug group).
Taking your SD = change/d approach, and just plugging it into a meta-analysis program (SE weighting, fixed effects) giving an overall effect size of 1.9, it is interesting to note that the fluoxetine trials contribute half as much to the drug analysis (in terms of weighting) compared to the placebo analysis!
But as before, it is also interesting to see that segregating by drug gives effect sizes from 3.6 to .6 (or, given the silly form of this analysis, comparing individual drug groups to pooled placebo subjects 3.8 to -.2)."
When I attempted to replicate this sort of analysis as I mention above I find that the effect sizes are 9.6 and 7.7 (difference of 1.9) with the drug groups paroxetine, fluoxetine, nefazadone, and venlafaxine 9.6, 7.5, 10.6, and 11.5 respectively, making differences (to overall placebo) of 2.0, -.2, 3.0, and 3.8, although compared to their relevant placebo groups these differences are 3.0, .6, 1.8, and 3.6, giving you an idea of how the placebo groups vary by the drug study they are in.
Robert also finds a particularly telling aspect of the study:
"In my view in passing from the publication biased 3.23 to the final 1.78 only 0.6 of the change is due to removing the publication bias and 0.85 is due to inefficient and biased meta analysis.if the subsample of studies with references (I guess published studies) is analyzed with the method of Kirsch et al the weighted average improvement with SSRI is 9.63 and the weighted average improvement with placebo is 7.37 so the added improvement with SSRI is 2.26.If I have correctly inferred which studies were publicly available before Kirsch et al's FOIA request, I conclude that they would have argued that the effect of SSRI's is not clinically significant based on meta analysis of only published studies."UPDATE
As mentioned in the comments, here's a pretty graph showing the effect size adjusted by regression on the baseline HRSD scores (to a baseline severity of 26 points) giving an overall effect of 3.0 (the grey line, as we'd expect from the regression lines which reach 'clinical significance' at baseline = 26) we get 2.4, 2.9, 3.2, and 3.7 for the effect sizes in nefazadone, flouxetine, paroxetine, and venlafaxine respectively, although the differences between drugs doesn't seem to be stastically significant (the closest is nefazadone versus venlafaxine).