I analyzed a random sample of 1,957 meta-analysis full-text research papers, uploaded to PubMed Central between the years 2016 and 2021, in order to check the popularity packages of meta-analysis software among medical researchers. (I used the BioC API to download the articles — see the References section below).

Out of these 1,957 meta-analysis papers, only 1,321 mentioned the use of at least 1 meta-analysis software.

## Here’s a summary of the key findings

1- **Stata was the most used meta-analysis software over the past 6 years**, mentioned in 40.27% of papers, **followed by RevMan** (35.5%) **and R** (21.88%).

2-** The 6-year trend showed that, since 2020, RevMan became the most popular software**, beating Stata by having the largest increase in popularity over that period (+1.21%) and taking advantage of Stata’s big drop in popularity (-3.34%).

3- The data also suggest that **both Stata and RevMan are more popular among beginners**. This is in contrast to R and SPSS, which were mentioned more commonly in papers published in high-impact journals.

## Top meta-analysis software over the years

Here are the top 6 meta-analysis software rankings over the past 6 years:

The graph shows that RevMan became the most popular meta-analysis software since 2020 by replacing Stata. Another noticeable trend is the increase of popularity of Microsoft Excel and the decline of SPSS since 2019.

## Most popular meta-analysis software overall

The table below ranks the popularity of 24 meta-analysis software packages according to the number of mentions in our sample:

Rank | Software | Number of Mentions (Total: 1,321 articles) | Mentions (In percent) | 6-Year Trend |
---|---|---|---|---|

1 | Stata | 532 | 40.27% | -3.34% |

2 | RevMan | 469 | 35.5% | 1.21% |

3 | R | 289 | 21.88% | 1.13% |

4 | Excel | 97 | 7.34% | 0.95% |

5 | SPSS | 96 | 7.27% | -0.22% |

6 | Comprehensive Meta-Analysis | 92 | 6.96% | 0.27% |

7 | SAS | 79 | 5.98% | – |

8 | Meta-Analyst | 16 | 1.21% | – |

9 | Meta-DiSc | 15 | 1.14% | – |

10 | MedCalc | 12 | 0.91% | – |

11 | MetaWin | 3 | 0.23% | – |

12 | OpenMeta[Analyst] | 3 | 0.23% | – |

13 | JBI SUMARI | 3 | 0.23% | – |

14 | JASP | 1 | 0.08% | – |

15 | Forest Plot Generator | 1 | 0.08% | – |

16 | Meta-Analysis | 0 | 0.0% | – |

17 | EasyMA | 0 | 0.0% | – |

18 | MetaGenyo | 0 | 0.0% | – |

19 | Meta-Stat | 0 | 0.0% | – |

20 | OpenMEE | 0 | 0.0% | – |

21 | Jamovi | 0 | 0.0% | – |

22 | HEpiMA | 0 | 0.0% | – |

23 | EpiMeta | 0 | 0.0% | – |

24 | WEasyMA | 0 | 0.0% | – |

**⚠ How was the trend calculated?**

The 6-year trend is the linear regression coefficient (reported in percent) obtained by regressing “the percent of articles that mention a particular software package each year” onto the “years” variable. This trend was calculated only for meta-analysis software packages with more than 90 mentions over the past 6 years, because otherwise, this number will be reflecting the noise more than the trend.

The data show that Stata was the most popular meta-analysis software over the past 6 years, used in 532 out of 1,321 meta-analysis papers (= 40.27%). However, its popularity is declining, losing 3.34% of mentions each year.

## Do beginners and professional scientists use the same meta-analysis software packages?

In order to answer this question, I compared software packages used in articles published in low versus high impact journals.

I collected the journal impact factor for 1,108 of articles in the sample, and divided the dataset into 2 parts:

- Meta-analyses published in low-impact journals (impact factor ≤ 3): This subset consisted of 684 articles.
- Meta-analyses published in high-impact journals (impact factor > 3): This subset consisted of 424 articles.

I chose the threshold of 3 for no particular reason other than it seamed a reasonable limit, and also separates the dataset into 2 large subsets of articles.

The results were as follows:

Looking at this bar chart, we can conclude that Stata, RevMan and Excel tend to be more popular among beginners and the inverse is true for R and SPSS.

## Meta-analysis software packages frequently used together

Out of a total of 1,321 articles in our dataset, only 433 (32.8%) reported the use of more than 1 meta-analysis software.

Here’s a table that shows the top 10 pairs of meta-analysis software packages frequently used together:

Pairs | Number of Mentions (Total: 1,321 articles) | Mentions (in percent) |
---|---|---|

Stata + RevMan | 124 | 9.39% |

Stata + R | 44 | 3.33% |

Stata + Excel | 44 | 3.33% |

Stata + SPSS | 26 | 1.97% |

R + RevMan | 21 | 1.59% |

Stata + SAS | 18 | 1.36% |

RevMan + Excel | 18 | 1.36% |

R + SAS | 17 | 1.29% |

R + SPSS | 15 | 1.14% |

R + Excel | 14 | 1.06% |

I don’t think there is much to interpret here, as the top 3 most used meta-analysis software packages are also the ones frequently used together.

An important thing to note is that Microsoft Excel was the least used software on its own; it tends to be used with other packages in 66% of cases, compared to only 32% for R — which was the most software package used on its own.

## References

- Comeau DC, Wei CH, Islamaj Doğan R, and Lu Z. PMC text mining subset in BioC: about 3 million full text articles and growing,
*Bioinformatics*, btz070, 2019.