Development and validation of MIX: comprehensive free software for meta-analysis of causal research data
Bax L., Yu LM., Ikeda N., Tsuruta H., Moons KG.
BACKGROUND: Meta-analysis has become a well-known method for synthesis of quantitative data from previously conducted research in applied health sciences. So far, meta-analysis has been particularly useful in evaluating and comparing therapies and in assessing causes of disease. Consequently, the number of software packages that can perform meta-analysis has increased over the years. Unfortunately, it can take a substantial amount of time to get acquainted with some of these programs and most contain little or no interactive educational material. We set out to create and validate an easy-to-use and comprehensive meta-analysis package that would be simple enough programming-wise to remain available as a free download. We specifically aimed at students and researchers who are new to meta-analysis, with important parts of the development oriented towards creating internal interactive tutoring tools and designing features that would facilitate usage of the software as a companion to existing books on meta-analysis. RESULTS: We took an unconventional approach and created a program that uses Excel as a calculation and programming platform. The main programming language was Visual Basic, as implemented in Visual Basic 6 and Visual Basic for Applications in Excel 2000 and higher. The development took approximately two years and resulted in the 'MIX' program, which can be downloaded from the program's website free of charge. Next, we set out to validate the MIX output with two major software packages as reference standards, namely STATA (metan, metabias, and metatrim) and Comprehensive Meta-Analysis Version 2. Eight meta-analyses that had been published in major journals were used as data sources. All numerical and graphical results from analyses with MIX were identical to their counterparts in STATA and CMA. The MIX program distinguishes itself from most other programs by the extensive graphical output, the click-and-go (Excel) interface, and the educational features. CONCLUSION: The MIX program is a valid tool for performing meta-analysis and may be particularly useful in educational environments. It can be downloaded free of charge via http://www.mix-for-meta-analysis.info or http://sourceforge.net/projects/meta-analysis.