12 common misconceptions about systematic reviews

NEWS | 2015-09-24

Systematic reviews are becoming more widely produced and used in environmental management, but misconceptions regarding their applicability and reliability still exist. In a recent paper published in the journal Environment International, Neal Haddaway at EviEM discusses these misconceptions with Dr Gary Bilotta.

An increasing number of environmental practitioners, policy-makers and researchers are aware of systematic review methodology. However, misconceptions exist that are acting as barriers to the uptake and undertaking of systematic reviews. EviEM project leader Neal Haddaway recently teamed up with Dr Gary Bilotta to bust 12 of the most common myths. These misconceptions include:

1.  A review is systematic if articles are identified through a systematic search, or a stepwise approach to inclusion.

2.  Systematic reviews can only be used to answer questions that relate to the efficacy of interventions.

3.  Systematic reviews can only be used to answer narrow questions.

4.  Systematic reviews can only include quantitative data from randomised controlled trials.

5.  Systematic reviews must include a meta-analysis.

6.  Systematic reviews cannot capture socio-political-, economic-, or health- context.

7.  Systematic reviews take long periods of time to complete and require considerable funding.

8.  Systematic reviews fail to provide decision-makers with easily digestible summaries of the evidence and its synthesis.

9.  Systematic reviews take money away from primary research/SRs are a substitute for primary research.

10.  Systematic reviews must be registered with a ‘collaboration’.

11.  Systematic reviews provide the definitive answer to questions.

12.  Systematic reviews are undertaken by outside researchers detached from the realities of practitioners.

In their article in Environment International, Neal and Gary discuss each of these misconceptions in turn, separating the fact from the fiction in an attempt to demystify systematic reviews and demonstrate that they are often much more applicable than many people believe.