Western scientists rely largely on deductive reasoning to explore a complex world: a constellation consisting of many elements and relationships that build a phenomenon. Since Descartes, each phenomenon is approached by means of a decomposition of the complex constellation into smaller modules to allow research to be manageable. Only with the use of the ceteris paribus clause can this systematic breakdown-called scientific analysis-be completed. Several shortcomings of this type of approach exist. A number of ways are open to circumvent these problems. Meta-analysis is one such approach. Economists have recently been employing meta-analysis more widely. This paper considers the ceteris paribus clause in light of the meta-analysis approach. While of general relevance, it draws upon environmental economics for illustrations. It concludes that meta-analysis is a research tool that can go beyond its traditional role of synthesizing so as to impact on theorizing and thus improve the way new individual studies are conducted. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.