Library and information science (LIS) in aid of meta-analysis

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  • Letter to the Editor

    Library and Information Science (LIS) in Aid ofMeta-Analysis


    In his letter Birger Hjrland (2001) claims that meta-analysisis totally neglected by mainstream information science, sincenothing on it has appeared in this journal or Information Process-ing and Management or the Journal of Documention. He writesthat LIS has not been able to contribute to meta analysis or utilizethis subject to expand our professional activities, adding that,because document searching and information retrieval are corecompetencies in LIS, We should be able to prescribe optimalsearch strategies . . . or at least we should be able to illuminate theconsequences of different kinds of search strategies to meta-analysts in other fields.

    The fourth item in his bibliography is The Handbook of Re-search Synthesis (Cooper & Hedges, 1994). This volume is one ofthe bibles of the meta-analytic movement (citations to it inScisearch and Social Scisearch currently exceed 800). Opened, itwill be found to contain a chapter by me (White, 1994) that doesexactly what Hjrland asks for, with attention to psychological aswell as technical aspects of searching. In it, I cite about 25 namesthat are familiar to readers of this journal, bringing mainstreaminformation scientists, from Marcia Bates to Ron Rice, into acommon context with writers on research synthesis from outsideLIS. For example, Patrick Wilsons intuitive account of modes ofliterature searching turns out to fit nicely with Harris Coopersempirical account (Wilson, 1992; Cooper, 1985); I use both toorganize the chapter around the consequences of the modes.

    Among other things, I address the file-drawer problemtheproblem Hjrland mentions of finding studies that lie unpublishedin drawers because they do not report statistically significantresults. If the full set of treatment effects is to be available to themeta-analyst, such studies should be retrieved. Finding them isessentially a problem in recall, and I discuss matters of both recalland precision as they bear on meta-analytic goals. My chapter,moreover, is complemented by three others on information anddocument retrieval (Reed & Baxter, 1994; Dickersin, 1994;Rosenthal, 1994) including one on the fugitive literature bylibrarian Marylu Rosenthal, wife of Robert Rosenthal, the psychol-ogist-statistician who first formulated the file-drawer problem.

    Hjrland implies that LIS has been remiss because its leadingjournals have not published articles on meta-analysis for export.On the contrary, if we want to be useful to statistical researchsynthesists in other fields, it is better to publish outside LIS. I wasfortunate to be recruited as a Handbook contributor, because itallowed me to discuss aspects of my field in a prominent non-LISforum. The chapter is now my chief source of extradisciplinary

    citation. It has been referenced in literature-reviewers guidelineson the Web and in journals of psychology, education, nutrition,epidemiology, and plant science (topically, the ca. 30 citing arti-cles range from breast-feeding in cognitive development to leafgas-exchange and nitrogen in trees grown under elevated carbondioxide.) A companion piece that seems to me at least as useful,since it shows anyone how to do the kinds of things that Hjrlandand I do to assess the interdisciplinary impact of publications, is anarticle I published in Library Trends (White, 1996). It has hardlybeen cited at all and is unknown outside LIS. I do not think thatpublishing it in one of the journals Hjrland names would havehelped. A permanent lesson of behavioral information science isthat people rarely search the literature outside their own fields andprefer to get their methodological information from one-stop cen-ters like the Handbook. We must go to them if we are to be noticedat all.

    Howard D. WhiteCollege of Information Science and TechnologyDrexel UniversityPhiladelphia, PA 19104whitehd@drexel.eduPublished online 25 January 2002DOI: 10.1002/asi.10069


    Cooper, H.M. (1985). Literature searching strategies of integrative researchreviewers. American Psychologist, 40, 12671269.

    Cooper, H., & Hedges, L.V. (Eds.). (1994). The Handbook of ResearchSynthesis. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Dickersin, K. (1994). Research registers. In Cooper, H., & Hedges, L.V.(Eds.), The Handbook of Research Synthesis (pp. 7183), New York:Russell Sage Foundation.

    Hjrland, B. (2001). Why is meta analysis neglected by informationscientists? Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 52,11931194.

    Reed, J.G., & Baxter, P.M. (1994). Using reference databases. In Cooper,H., & Hedges, L.V. (Eds.), The Handbook of Research Synthesis (pp.5770). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Rosenthal, M.C. (1994). The fugitive literature. In Cooper, H., & Hedges,L.V. (Eds.), The Handbook of Research Synthesis (pp. 8594), NewYork: Russell Sage Foundation.

    White, H.D. (1994). Scientific communication and literature retrieval. InCooper, H., & Hedges, L.V. (Eds.), The Handbook of Research Syn-thesis (pp. 4155), New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    White, H.D. (1996). Literature retrieval for interdisciplinary syntheses.Library Trends, 45, 239264.

    Wilson, P. (1992). Searching: Strategies and evaluation. In White, H.D.,Bates, M.J., & Wilson, P. For Information Specialists: Interpretations ofReference and Bibliographic Work (pp. 153181), Norwood, NJ: Ablex. 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.



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