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Biometrics. 2000 Sep;56(3):915-21.

When should epidemiologic regressions use random coefficients?

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Department of Epidemiology, UCLA School of Public Health 90095-1772, USA.


Regression models with random coefficients arise naturally in both frequentist and Bayesian approaches to estimation problems. They are becoming widely available in standard computer packages under the headings of generalized linear mixed models, hierarchical models, and multilevel models. I here argue that such models offer a more scientifically defensible framework for epidemiologic analysis than the fixed-effects models now prevalent in epidemiology. The argument invokes an antiparsimony principle attributed to L. J. Savage, which is that models should be rich enough to reflect the complexity of the relations under study. It also invokes the countervailing principle that you cannot estimate anything if you try to estimate everything (often used to justify parsimony). Regression with random coefficients offers a rational compromise between these principles as well as an alternative to analyses based on standard variable-selection algorithms and their attendant distortion of uncertainty assessments. These points are illustrated with an analysis of data on diet, nutrition, and breast cancer.

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