How does a funnel plot measure publication bias?

A funnel plot shows the relation between a study’s effect size and its precision. It is a scatter plot of the treatment effects estimated from individual studies (horizontal axis) against sample size (vertical axis).

Asymmetry in the funnel plot, measured using regression analysis, is an indication of publication bias. In the absence of bias, results from small studies will scatter widely at the bottom of the graph, with the spread narrowing among larger studies.

The idea here is that small studies are more likely to remain unpublished if their results are nonsignificant or unfavorable, whereas larger studies get published regardless. This leads to asymmetry in the funnel plot.

funnel plots for publication bias