A Cautionary Case Study of Approaches to the Treatment of Missing Data

Published In: Statistical Methods and Applications, v. 17, no. 3, July 2008, p. 351-372

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2008

by Christopher Paul, William M. Mason, Daniel F. McCaffrey, Sarah Fox

This article presents findings from a case study of different approaches to the treatment of missing data. Simulations based on data from the Los Angeles Mammography Promotion in Churches Program (LAMP) led the authors to the following cautionary conclusions about the treatment of missing data: (1) Automated selection of the imputation model in the use of full Bayesian multiple imputation can lead to unexpected bias in coefficients of substantive models. (2) Under conditions that occur in actual data, casewise deletion can perform less well than we were led to expect by the existing literature. (3) Relatively unsophisticated imputations, such as mean imputation and conditional mean imputation, performed better than the technical literature led us to expect. (4) To underscore points (1), (2), and (3), the article concludes that imputation models are substantive models, and require the same caution with respect to specificity and calculability.

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