doing something about publication bias

September 15, 2014

An interesting idea came up in an article I was reading for a class, and i thought i’d post about the big idea i found in it here to see if this is a more standard approach than i’d realized. The article in question is a meta analysis of smoking cessation effects on mental health outcomes published in BMJ. In one part of the article they acknowledge the potential for publication bias to shape the results in the published literature. So they came up with a plan:

“In some studies, data on mental health were presented incidentally and the aim was to report on other data. In others, the aim of the report was to present data on change in mental health, therefore the decision to publish might have been contingent on the results. We compared effect estimates between studies in which mental health was the primary outcome and those in which it was not to assess if there was evidence of publication bias.” (Taylor et al. 2014, p. 3)

This seems a potentially intriguing way to deal with publication bias, but it’s not one I’ve seen before. So my question is a relatively simple one – is it a common approach? And one with many evaluated strengths/benefits?