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“Islands in Search of Contents”

“Islands in Search of Continents” is the subtitle of an article by Michael Clarke and Iain Chalmers in the Journal of the American Medical Association (1998; 280: 280-282).  It refers to the fact that many studies are conducted and reported in isolation from other studies on the same subject.  A good review of the subject can be found in a set of slides that accompany a famous talk that Chalmers gave, “The scandalous failure of scientists to cumulate scientifically.”  Chalmers reviewed 26 medical journal papers from May of 1997, and found that only six of them discussed prior studies on the subject, and only two of those six integrated the prior results into the current work.

Chalmers’ slides, “The scandalous failure of scientists to cumulate scientifically,” are a quick read, and make a compelling case that scientists need to go the extra mile  for the use of meta-analysis.