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BMC Syst Biol. 2014 Apr 17;8:46. doi: 10.1186/1752-0509-8-46.

Combining test statistics and models in bootstrapped model rejection: it is a balancing act.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering (IMT), Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden.



Model rejections lie at the heart of systems biology, since they provide conclusive statements: that the corresponding mechanistic assumptions do not serve as valid explanations for the experimental data. Rejections are usually done using e.g. the chi-square test (χ2) or the Durbin-Watson test (DW). Analytical formulas for the corresponding distributions rely on assumptions that typically are not fulfilled. This problem is partly alleviated by the usage of bootstrapping, a computationally heavy approach to calculate an empirical distribution. Bootstrapping also allows for a natural extension to estimation of joint distributions, but this feature has so far been little exploited.


We herein show that simplistic combinations of bootstrapped tests, like the max or min of the individual p-values, give inconsistent, i.e. overly conservative or liberal, results. A new two-dimensional (2D) approach based on parametric bootstrapping, on the other hand, is found both consistent and with a higher power than the individual tests, when tested on static and dynamic examples where the truth is known. In the same examples, the most superior test is a 2D χ2vsχ2, where the second χ2-value comes from an additional help model, and its ability to describe bootstraps from the tested model. This superiority is lost if the help model is too simple, or too flexible. If a useful help model is found, the most powerful approach is the bootstrapped log-likelihood ratio (LHR). We show that this is because the LHR is one-dimensional, because the second dimension comes at a cost, and because LHR has retained most of the crucial information in the 2D distribution. These approaches statistically resolve a previously published rejection example for the first time.


We have shown how to, and how not to, combine tests in a bootstrap setting, when the combination is advantageous, and when it is advantageous to include a second model. These results also provide a deeper insight into the original motivation for formulating the LHR, for the more general setting of nonlinear and non-nested models. These insights are valuable in cases when accuracy and power, rather than computational speed, are prioritized.

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