IPT Book Reviews

Title: Meta-analysis For Explanation: A Casebook  Positive Review
Authors: Thomas D. Cook, Harris Cooper, David S. Cordray, Heidi Hartman, Larry V. Hedges, Richard J. Light, Thomas A. Louis, and Fredrick Mosteller
Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation 1992

Russell Sage Foundation
112 East 64th Street
New York, NY 1OO21
$42.50
 

Description:

The first two chapters in this book of 378 pages and eight chapters are introductory and explanatory.  They describe the perspective of meta-analysis and define what explanatory meta-analysis is.  Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 are examples of meta-analytic reviews of specific bodies of research.  These chapters demonstrate the method of meta-analysis and illustrate the kinds of explanatory concepts the procedure produces.  The final two chapters sum up the problems, the strengths, and the potential of meta-analysis in the social sciences.
 

Discussion:

This book is potentially very important for mental health professionals and justice system professionals trying to bring the knowledge of the social sciences into the courtroom in a responsible and effective manner.  Unfortunately, many mental health professionals and almost all justice system professionals fail to understand the nature of scientific research.  The most common misconception is that there is research on both sides of all issues and it is either a matter of adding up the box scores to see which side has the most runs, or throwing the whole mess out as useless because each side cancels out the other.  This is the model that guides almost all cross examinations of expert witnesses who rely upon research data to support their opinions.  Given this simplistic but erroneous model it is easy to see how many judges get frustrated with the use, or rather misuse, of science in the courtroom and throw it all out.

Science is cumulative.  At the beginning of understanding and explaining any phenomenon using the scientific method, the information may appear weak, disorganized, and even contradictory.  As research efforts continue, however, information with higher validity and reliability emerges.  This better and more helpful information is what can be brought into the courtroom and can serve the purpose of increasing the accuracy of the decision-making process.

Meta-analysis is a clear set of guidelines for reviewing results of previous studies.  It uses statistical procedures to summarize the knowledge available in a given body of research literature.  This means the process is replicated and standardized as any other scientific procedure.  It removes the element of subjectivity and the possibility of simply differing opinions of equal merit.  When a meta-analytic review produces effects, they can be presented with more confidence and strength as valid and meaningful.

Further, meta-analysis offers explanatory concepts to account for the differences found in the research literature.  There is an effect and the meta-analytic review can give indication as to why the observed effect is there.  It goes beyond simple description and begins to answer the question of why something works the way it does.

This book is clearly written.  The four examples are cogent and powerful meta-analytic reviews in their own right.  The authors provide a running commentary on their own decision-making process as they conduct the analysis.  This makes these chapters invaluable for mental health professionals who want to learn more about meta-analysis and how to understand it and do it.  Any expert who goes into the witness box to give an opinion which is claimed to be based on scientific research must understand meta-analysis.

Any expert who does not understand it and continues to use the box score approach is vulnerable not only to impeachment but also to potential charges of unethical behavior.  Any attorney who takes the trouble to study this book, understand meta-analysis, and use scientific research properly can confidently expect to soundly impeach any mental health professional who does not know at least that much.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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