The Illusion of Knowledge and Expertise in the Field of Evidence Synthesis and Systematic Reviewing

5 min readMay 25, 2022

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. Stephen Hawking

Yesterday, a colleague approached me with a few questions. He also asked if I knew how to run meta-analyses. I said, yes, I know; however, I will speak to our statistician to see her availability and fees. He found my suggestion very strange, considering that I had the knowledge and availability and he was paying handsomely, but I refused to run the analysis. After two decades of working in the field, I know that staying ethical and professional is extremely hard for greedy ones, especially when there is good money waiting right at the corner. I mean, entering/importing numbers into SPSS, Stata, Review Manager, or R and running analysis by watching YouTube training is not complicated; think about the money :D

Ethically, it is right to refer the work to its professional where and when possible. As an information scientist, I have seen so many people who have claimed to know how to search — a claim that I dream to make after two decades of practice in information retrieval. Such claimers usually even don’t know the difference between two buttons of Google Search, and I’m Feeling Lucky on Google’s homepage, leave alone the search in bibliographic databases with proper controlled vocabularies and many features:

Google Search vs. I’m Feeling Lucky
Many who claim to know systematic searching don’t even know the difference between the two buttons of Google Search, and I’m Feeling Lucky buttons on Google’s homepage.

Interestingly, about 30% of the time I get involved in a systematic review is not to design the search strategies for a systematic review protocol:

  • It is to clean the review team’s mess after rejection from a journal;
  • or to reply to a peer-review comment that asks the reason for missing half of the studies;
  • or because the editor cannot reproduce the search results;
  • or the search strategy is not there and the librarian’s retired, and we cannot find the searches!

I don’t mind giving my students the knowledge of search in a session; however, when it comes to a search to update a WHO guideline that the world will follow, I wouldn’t put global health in my search-trained students’ hands.

I am sure you are familiar with Golden Rule regardless of your background:


An Evidence Scientist with a Pinch of Career and Life Lessons