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Systematic reviews and meta-analyses in the climate evidence base

Jamie Males, Executive Editor of PLOS Climate– with input from PLOS Climate editorial board membersexplains why the journal is actively encouraging the submission of systematic reviews and meta-analyses

A central part of PLOS Climate‘s mission is to leverage our multidisciplinary scope and Open Science principles to help support an accessible and wide-ranging evidence base for decision-makers seeking to combat climate change and its impacts. Amongst the types of article we publish, systematic reviews and meta-analyses can play an especially important role in informing decision-making processes, as they bring together multiple strands of evidence and assess the degree of scientific consensus that might support a particular intervention or policy. Systematic reviews provide a qualitative synthesis of the available literature on a specified research question, whilst meta-analyses include a statistical analysis of quantitative data. In both cases, a clearly defined and replicable search strategy is used to identify relevant publications that will be included in the study.

Since the journal launched, PLOS Climate has provided specific guidelines to help authors prepare systematic review and meta-analysis manuscripts for peer review (including a requirement for PRISMA checklists and flow diagrams), but we are now taking the step of actively encouraging the submission of these types of studies in recognition of their special significance for decision-makers. Our editorial community aspires to making PLOS Climate a leading venue for rigorously executed and peer-reviewed systematic reviews and meta-analyses on key topics across the breadth of climate research, and to disseminating these results to the most relevant audiences.

We asked members of PLOS Climate‘s editorial board for their perspectives on why systematic reviews and meta-analyses are so important in the translation of climate research to evidence-based decision-making:

Sonja Peterson, Academic Editor in our Politics and Justice section highlighted the role of systematic reviews and meta-analyses in distilling the key messages emerging from the growing literature: “Evidence-based decision making is more important than ever to deal with the grand challenges of our times, including climate change. At the same time, the output of research and the number of scientific articles is steadily increasing, making it difficult to keep track of them all. Systematic reviews and meta-analysis help to provide condensed information about a large amount of research, compile knowledge, and enable robust conclusions.”

This was a theme picked up by Yangyang Xu, Academic Editor in our Atmospheric Science and Climatology section: “There are so many papers written these days, that even for a full-time researcher, it is hard to catch up with the literature now– this is no doubt even more of an important challenge for people who need scientific information for evidence-based decision-making. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses synthesise publications (especially those published in recent years), and are much needed by other scientists, decision-makers, and other societal stakeholders.”

Juan Añel, also an Academic Editor in PLOS Climate‘s Atmospheric Science and Climatology section mentioned the role of systematic reviews in shining a light on papers that might otherwise remain ‘invisible’: “Systematic reviews are important because they contribute to a complete and objective view of the state-of-the-art of a research topic. Systematic reviews can also help to avoid papers going ‘missing’ by making the cited literature more visible, which is important for science-based decision-making but also for equity.”

Sukumar Natarajan, Academic Editor in our Technology and Engineering section identified a role for systematic reviews in his own field: “Buildings produce around 40% of global carbon. Yet, the size and complexity of buildings often means studies on a range of issues involving mitigation, adaptation and resilience tend be limited in scope – either broad but not deep or vice versa. Systematic reviews are therefore critical in helping keep the discipline in perspective so that clear and definitive outcomes can shape future research and impact.”

Finally, Marta Olazabal, Academic Editor in our Urban Climate section, emphasised the power of systematic reviews and meta-analyses in resolving apparent ambiguities: “Uncertainties are inherent to climate change, partly as a result of the ambiguities emerging from the different inter- and trans-disciplinary understandings and approaches to resolve the questions and concerns it poses. Systematic reviews and meta-analysis of scientific literature can be of great help in order to support the scientific and policy community to gain a better understanding of timely concepts and available quantitative and qualitative evidence supporting important hypotheses or pointing out existing phenomena.”

Are you ready to submit a systematic review or meta-analysis to PLOS Climate? Find our step-by-step submission guide here!

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