Summary. A simple method of estimating the heterogeneity variance in a random-effects model for meta-analysis is proposed. The estimator that is presented is simple and easy to calculate and has improved bias compared with the most common estimator used in random-effects meta-analysis, particularly when the heterogeneity variance is moderate to large. In addition, it always yields a non-negative estimate of the heterogeneity variance, unlike some existing estimators. We find that random-effects inference about the overall effect based on this heterogeneity variance estimator is more reliable than inference using the common estimator, in terms of coverage probability for an interval estimate.