# 21 Multiple comparisons

People get confused about multiple comparisons and worry about ‘doing things right’.

There are many different tests and procedures, and thousands of pages of tutorials and guides each of which recommends a slightly different approach. Textbooks typically describe the tests themselves in detail, and list the assumptions they make, but it sometimes feels like nobody will give a straight answer.

The inconsistency arises because different researchers have different
priorities. It might help to re-address what a *p* value is, and what it is
*for*.

*p* values and ‘false discoveries’

In frequentist statistics, *p* values are defined as *the probability of
obtaining a test statistic at least as large as that observed, if the null
hypothesis is true. That is, it’s the chance that the data we have collected are
atypical and will mislead us into thinking there is a difference, when the true
effect is zero.

Let’s pretend we are creative researchers and, over the course of our career, we will develop 100 hypotheses, each of which we test in an experiment, represented by squares in the plot below:

We are concientious and use sample size calculations for our studies,
setting our desired power = .8, and use *p* = .05 as our criterion for rejecting
the null hypotheses. As is common, we report tests which reject the null
hypothesis *as if our predictions had been supported, and the alternative
hypotheses were true* (this is a bad idea, but run with it for the moment).

Let’s be generous and say that, in reality, 50% of our hypotheses are true (the other 50% are nice ideas, but are not correct). Because we set our power to be .8 in our sample size calculation, this means that over the course of our career we will detect around 40 ‘true’ effects, and publish them. These are shown in blue in the figure below:

Because we set our alpha level to 0.05, we will also have some false positives, shown in red:

But what that means is that *for the effects we publish as supporting our
hypotheses* (i.e. the blue and red squares) then we will be making false claims
5/40 = 12.5% of the time. This is obviously much higher than the nominal alpha
level implies. What’s more, if we’re not hotshot theorists (or work in an area
where theories are less rigorously developed) and only 20% of our hypotheses are
in fact true then we will make even more false claims: 5/20 = 25%.

### Multiple tests on the same data

Another problem arises when we run multiple statistical tests on the same data.

The most common case is that we have multiple experimental conditions and want
to test whether any of the differences between them are significant. If we had
experimental 3 groups, then there are 3 possible comparisons between them, for
example (A-B, A-C, B-C). This can be compounded if we have multiple outcome
measurements (for example, measuring depression *and* anxiety in a clincal
trial; see @feise2002multiple).

This works like a lucky dip or lottery: if you buy more tickets you have a larger change of winning a prize. In this case, with three comparisons between the groups (tickets) we have a 15% chance of winning a prize, rather than the 5% we intended.

Assuming each of our 100 experiments allows for 3 tests, any of which would be ‘interesting’ if significant (and we would therefore publish them), then our plot looks like this:

And our ‘false discovery rate’ (at the level of our published papers) is now over one third: 15/40 = 37.5%.

##### False discovery rates for single experiments

We can also think about a false discovery rate for findings presented within a particular paper, or set of analyses. Imagine we have a 2x4 factorial design, and so we have 8 experimental groups, and 28 possible pairwise combinations:

Cell.No | A | B |
---|---|---|

1 | 1 | 0 |

2 | 2 | 0 |

3 | 3 | 0 |

4 | 4 | 0 |

5 | 1 | 1 |

6 | 2 | 1 |

7 | 3 | 1 |

8 | 4 | 1 |

```
Warning: `as_data_frame()` is deprecated, use `as_tibble()` (but mind the new semantics).
This warning is displayed once per session.
Warning: funs() is soft deprecated as of dplyr 0.8.0
please use list() instead
# Before:
funs(name = f(.))
# After:
list(name = ~ f(.))
This warning is displayed once per session.
```

Comparison | Cells | ||
---|---|---|---|

1 | 1 | vs. | 2 |

2 | 1 | vs. | 3 |

3 | 1 | vs. | 4 |

… | … | … | … |

26 | 6 | vs. | 7 |

27 | 6 | vs. | 8 |

28 | 7 | vs. | 8 |

Assuming there are ‘real’ differences between only one-third of these pairings,
then we have the same problem as we did when considering all the experiments in
a researchers’ career: Using *p* < .05 as our criterion, and power of .8 then we
will report around 9 significant differences, but 1 or 2 of these will false
discoveries (16%).

### What to do about it?

There are two decisions you need to make: First, which technique do you want to use to mitigate the risks of multiple comparisons? Second, what is the ‘family’ of tests you are going to apply this to?

If you find the whole language around null hypothesis testing and p values unhelpful, and the detail of multiple comparison adjustment confusing, there is another way: Multiple comparison problems are largely a non-issue for Bayesian analyses [@gelman2012we], and recent developments in the software make simple models like Anova and regression easy to implement in a Bayesian framework in R.

#### Which technique?

Inevitably, it depends!

If your worry is ever making a type 1 error then you need to

*control the familywise error rate*. The Bonferroni or Tukey correction are likely the best solutions (see details below). Both have the disadvantage of increasing the type 2 error rate: you will falsely accept the null more frequently, and so neglect findings which are ‘true’ and might be theoretically or clinically relevant.If your main concern is about the number of ‘false discoveries’ you make, and you think it’s import to you to avoid rejecting ‘good’ hypotheses, then you need a technique to control the

*false discovery rate*. The Benjamini and Hochberg method, often abbreviated as BH or FDR correction, is what you need.

Principled arguments can be made for both approaches; there is no ‘correct choice’. Which you pick will depend on which concerns are most pressing to you, and also (inevitably) what is conventional in your field.

It’s worth noting that in specific fields (for example neuroscience, where huge numbers of comparisons must be made between voxels or regions in brain imaging studies) more sophisticated methods to control for multiple comparisons are often commonplace and expected [@nichols2003controlling]. This guide only deals with some of the simpler but common cases.

#### How big is the family?

Whichever technique we employ we do need to determine how many tests we want to correct for having run; i.e. what size the ‘family’ of tests is. Unfortuntately, deciding which set of tests constitutes a ‘family’ is an unresolved problem, and reasonable people will come up with different solutions. As @feise2002multiple put it:

It is unclear how wide the operative term “family” should be […] Does “family” include tests that were performed, but not published? Does it include a meta-analysis upon those tests? Should future papers on the same data set be accounted for in the first publication? Should each researcher have a career-wise adjusted p-value, or should there be a discipline-wise adjusted p-value? Should we publish an issue-wise adjusted p-value and a year-end-journal-wise adjusted p-value? Should our studies examine only one association at a time, thereby wasting valuable resources? No statistical theory provides answers for these practical issues, because it is impossible to formally account for an infinite number of potential inferences.

The ‘right’ answer, then, will vary from case to case, and local conventions in particular disciplines will dictate what is normal and expected by supervisors and reviewers. However, there are a few common cases for which we can make some recommendations on what might constitue ‘good practice’. We do not claim that these are the ‘correct’ answers, but if you deviate from these recommendations it would be worth having a reasonable justification to hand!

##### Multiple outcome variables

In a clinical trial or other applied study you might want to measure more than one variable to detect changes across a variety of domains (e.g. both depression and anxiety).

Although no firm consensus exists, it is common practice to:

- Analyse multiple outcomes without correction (and indicate this in the text)
- Designate one outcome from the study to be ‘primary’, and report this both in pre-trial protocols and reports of the results.

See @feise2002multiple for more details.

##### Multiple ‘timepoints’ for the outcome

Another common case is where the same outcome variable is measured on multiple occasions to track progress over time. For example, an RCT might measure outcome at baseline, at the end of treatment, and again 12 months later.

In the cases where there are only a few measurements of outcome made then you could choose between:

- Bonferroni correction of
*p*values for the between-group difference at each timepoint or - Designating one of the timepoints as the ‘primary’ outcome.

In practice option 2 is more common, and probably makes more sense in applied settings where it is the longer-term prognosis of participants wich matters most.

##### Pairwise comparisons in factorial designs

Let’s say you have a complex complex factorial design and so multiple pairwise comparisons and other contrasts are possible.

If you are only interested in a small number of the possible pairwise comparisons or specific contrasts then specify this up front. Either report the comparisons without correction (noting this in the text) or use FDR/Bonferroni correction for this small family of tests.

If you are only interested in specific main effects or interactions from the full factorial model, then you should specify this in advance and report these F-tests or t-tests and associated

*p*values without correction.It is perfectly reasonable to be interested only in specific pairwise comparisons contained within an Anova F-test. It is normal to report the F from the Anova, but it is

*not*necessary for the F test to be significant before reporting the pairwise comparison of interest (with or without FDR/Bonferroni correction).If you have not specified the comparisons of interest in advance, then use FDR or Tukey correction for the complete set of pairwise tests. If you feel able to claim that some of these pairwise comparisons would

*never*have been of interest then you could reduce the family size for this correction accordingly, but you should make this justification in your report.

### Practical examples

#### Factorial Anova and pairwise comparisons

In the Anova cookbook, we used a dataset from
Howell’s textbook which recorded `Recall`

among young v.s. older adults (`Age`

)
for each of 5 conditions:

In an ideal world we would have published a trial protocol before collecting data, or at the least specified which comparisons were of interest to us. However for the purposes of this example I’ll assume you didn’t do this, and need to address the potential for mutliple comparisons accordingly.

The design of the study suggests that we were interested in the effect of the experimental conditions on recall, and we might have predicted that these experimental manipulations would affect older and younder adults differently. Because we didn’t pre-specify our analyses, we should acknowledge that we would likly report any differences between any of the 5 experimental conditions (10 possible comparisons) and any differences between younger and older adults in any of those conditions (45 possible pairwise comparisons).

Because replicating this experiment is relatively cheap (testing might only take 30 minutes per participant), and we are confident that other labs would want to replicate any significant findings we report, we are less concerned with the absolute rate of type 1 errors, but would like to limit our ‘false discovery rate’ (we have a repututation to maintain). We set our acceptable false discovery rate to 5%.

We run an Anova model, including main effects for `Age`

and `Condition`

and
their interaction:

```
eysenck.model <- lm(Recall ~ Age * Condition,
data=eysenck)
car::Anova(eysenck.model, type=3) %>%
pander()
Registered S3 methods overwritten by 'car':
method from
influence.merMod lme4
cooks.distance.influence.merMod lme4
dfbeta.influence.merMod lme4
dfbetas.influence.merMod lme4
```

Sum Sq | Df | F value | Pr(>F) | |
---|---|---|---|---|

(Intercept) |
490 | 1 | 61.05 | 9.85e-12 |

Age |
1.25 | 1 | 0.1558 | 0.694 |

Condition |
351.5 | 4 | 10.95 | 2.8e-07 |

Age:Condition |
190.3 | 4 | 5.928 | 0.0002793 |

Residuals |
722.3 | 90 | NA | NA |

We report that there is are significant main effects for Age, Condition, and a
significant interaction for `Age:Condition`

. At this point, if we hadn’t already
plotted the raw data, we would certainly want to do that, or to
make predictions for each cell in the design and plot them.

Because the plot of the raw data (see above) suggested that the counting and
rhyming conditions produced lower recall rates than the other conditions, we
might want to report the relevant pairwise tests. We can use the the `lsmeans()`

function from the `lsmeans::`

package to compute these:

```
# use the lsmeans function which returns an lsm.list object.
eysenck.lsm <- lsmeans::lsmeans(eysenck.model, pairwise~Condition)
NOTE: Results may be misleading due to involvement in interactions
# the `contrasts` element in this list is what we want for now
eysenck.lsm$contrasts
contrast estimate SE df t.ratio p.value
Counting - Rhyming -0.50 0.896 90 -0.558 0.9807
Counting - Adjective -6.15 0.896 90 -6.865 <.0001
Counting - Imagery -8.75 0.896 90 -9.767 <.0001
Counting - Intention -8.90 0.896 90 -9.935 <.0001
Rhyming - Adjective -5.65 0.896 90 -6.307 <.0001
Rhyming - Imagery -8.25 0.896 90 -9.209 <.0001
Rhyming - Intention -8.40 0.896 90 -9.377 <.0001
Adjective - Imagery -2.60 0.896 90 -2.902 0.0367
Adjective - Intention -2.75 0.896 90 -3.070 0.0231
Imagery - Intention -0.15 0.896 90 -0.167 0.9998
Results are averaged over the levels of: Age
P value adjustment: tukey method for comparing a family of 5 estimates
```

By default Tukey correction is applied for multiple comparisons, which is a
reasonable choice. If you wanted to adjust for the false discovery rate instead,
you can use the `adjust`

argument:

```
# not run, just shown as an example
lsmeans::lsmeans(eysenck.model, pairwise~Condition, adjust="fdr")
```

The plot also suggested that older and younger adults appeared to differ for the
‘adjective’, ‘imagery’, and ‘intention’ conditions. We can compute these
detailed pairwise comparisons by including the interaction term, `Age:Condition`

in the call to `lsmeans()`

:

```
eysenck.age.condition.lsm <-
lsmeans::lsmeans(eysenck.model,
pairwise~Age:Condition,
adjust="fdr")
eysenck.age.condition.lsm$contrasts %>%
broom::tidy() %>%
snip.middle(., 4) %>%
pander(missing="...", caption="8 of the 45 possible contrasts, FDR corrected", split.tables=Inf)
```

level1 | level2 | estimate | std.error | df | statistic | p.value |
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

Young,Counting | Older,Counting | 0.5 | 1.267 | 90 | 0.3947 | 0.7263 |

Young,Counting | Young,Rhyming | 0.1 | 1.267 | 90 | 0.07893 | 0.9373 |

Young,Counting | Older,Rhyming | -0.6 | 1.267 | 90 | -0.4736 | 0.6824 |

Young,Counting | Young,Adjective | -4 | 1.267 | 90 | -3.157 | 0.003251 |

… | … | … | … | … | … | … |

Young,Imagery | Older,Intention | -5.9 | 1.267 | 90 | -4.657 | 2.612e-05 |

Older,Imagery | Young,Intention | 5.6 | 1.267 | 90 | 4.42 | 5.888e-05 |

Older,Imagery | Older,Intention | -1.7 | 1.267 | 90 | -1.342 | 0.2288 |

Young,Intention | Older,Intention | -7.3 | 1.267 | 90 | -5.762 | 3.972e-07 |

You should note that the FDR adjusted p values do not represent probabilities in
the normal sense. Instead, the p value now indicates the *false discovery rate
at which the p value should be considered statistically significant*. So, for
example, if the adjusted p value = 0.09, then this indicates the contrast
*would* be significant if the acceptable false discovery rate is 10%.
Researchers often set their acceptable false discovery rate to be 5% out of
habit or confusion with conventional levels for alpha, but it would be
reasonable to set it to 10% or even higher in some circumstances. Whatever level
you set, you need to be able to satisfy both yourself and a reviewer that the
result is of interest: the particular values for alpha and FDR you agree on are
arbitrary conventions, provided you both agree the finding is worthy of
consideration!

###### Extracting pairwise comparisons to display in your report

In the code above we request FDR-adjusted p values, and then use the
`broom::tidy()`

function to convert the table into a dataframe, and then use
`pander`

to display the results as a table. For more information on extracting
results from models and other R objects and displaying them properly see the
section: models are data too.

##### Adjusting for the FDR by hand

If you have a set of tests for which you want to adjust for the FDR it’s easy to
use R’s `p.adjust()`

to do this for you.

```
set.seed(5)
p.examples <-
data_frame(p = runif(4, min=.001, max=.07)) %>%
mutate(p.fdr = p.adjust(p, method="fdr"),
p.sig = ifelse(p < .05, "*", ""),
p.fdr.sig = ifelse(p.fdr < .05, "*", ""))
Warning: `data_frame()` is deprecated, use `tibble()`.
This warning is displayed once per session.
p.examples %>%
arrange(p) %>%
pander(caption="Randomly generated 'p values', with and without FDR correction applied.")
```

p | p.fdr | p.sig | p.fdr.sig |
---|---|---|---|

0.01481 | 0.04125 | * | * |

0.02062 | 0.04125 | * | * |

0.04828 | 0.06426 | * | |

0.06426 | 0.06426 |

We can plot these values to see the effect the adjustment has:

#### Other contrasts

The `lsmeans::`

package provides tools to compute contrasts for Anova and other
linear models:

`library(lsmeans)`

We can see a number of these different contrasts below. First, we run a model model including the factor Days:

```
slope.model <- lmer(Reaction ~ factor(Days) + (1|Subject),
data=lme4::sleepstudy)
```

And then we create the `lsmeans`

object:

`slope.model.lsm <- lsmeans::lsmeans(slope.model, ~Days)`

We can use this `lsm`

object to calculate various contrasts we might want to
see. First, consecutive contrasts where each level is compared with the next:

```
lsmeans::contrast(slope.model.lsm, "consec")
contrast estimate SE df t.ratio p.value
1 - 0 7.844 10.5 153 0.749 0.9887
2 - 1 0.866 10.5 153 0.083 1.0000
3 - 2 17.630 10.5 153 1.683 0.5276
4 - 3 5.657 10.5 153 0.540 0.9988
5 - 4 19.869 10.5 153 1.897 0.3777
6 - 5 3.660 10.5 153 0.349 1.0000
7 - 6 6.572 10.5 153 0.627 0.9965
8 - 7 17.879 10.5 153 1.707 0.5102
9 - 8 14.222 10.5 153 1.358 0.7628
P value adjustment: mvt method for 9 tests
```

Polynomial contrasts allow us to test whether the increase in RT’s over the days is linear or curved:

```
lsmeans::contrast(slope.model.lsm, "poly", adjust="fdr", max.degree=3)
contrast estimate SE df t.ratio p.value
linear 1727.1 134.6 153 12.835 <.0001
quadratic 89.0 85.1 153 1.046 0.4462
cubic -65.3 686.1 153 -0.095 0.9243
P value adjustment: fdr method for 3 tests
```

If we don’t specify a contrasts argument, or a type of correction, we will get Tukey contrasts for every pairwise comparison:

```
# 45 tests - results not shown because similar to those shown above
lsmeans::contrast(slope.model.lsm, "tukey")
```

If we want to compare particular levels of `Days`

with a specific reference
level we can use the `trt.vs.ctrl`

contrast type. In this example we are
comparing each day with day 0, because day 0 is the first in the list of days
and we specified `ref=1`

(try running the comparisons against day 5).

```
lsmeans::contrast(slope.model.lsm, "trt.vs.ctrl", ref=1, adjust="fdr")
contrast estimate SE df t.ratio p.value
1 - 0 7.84 10.5 153 0.749 0.4551
2 - 0 8.71 10.5 153 0.831 0.4551
3 - 0 26.34 10.5 153 2.515 0.0167
4 - 0 32.00 10.5 153 3.055 0.0040
5 - 0 51.87 10.5 153 4.951 <.0001
6 - 0 55.53 10.5 153 5.301 <.0001
7 - 0 62.10 10.5 153 5.928 <.0001
8 - 0 79.98 10.5 153 7.635 <.0001
9 - 0 94.20 10.5 153 8.993 <.0001
P value adjustment: fdr method for 9 tests
```

And if we want to compare each level against the grand mean of the sample, the
`eff`

contrast type is short for `effect`

. A way of thinking of this (in
English) is that we are asking ‘what is the effect of being on a particular day,
relative the other average of all days’.

```
lsmeans::contrast(slope.model.lsm, "eff", adjust="fdr")
contrast estimate SE df t.ratio p.value
0 effect -41.86 7.03 153 -5.956 <.0001
1 effect -34.01 7.03 153 -4.840 <.0001
2 effect -33.15 7.03 153 -4.717 <.0001
3 effect -15.52 7.03 153 -2.208 0.0410
4 effect -9.86 7.03 153 -1.403 0.1627
5 effect 10.01 7.03 153 1.425 0.1627
6 effect 13.67 7.03 153 1.945 0.0670
7 effect 20.24 7.03 153 2.881 0.0076
8 effect 38.12 7.03 153 5.425 <.0001
9 effect 52.34 7.03 153 7.449 <.0001
P value adjustment: fdr method for 10 tests
```

To list all the availble contrast types, or see the relevant help files, you can type:

```
# help file describing all the contrasts families
help(pairwise.lsmc)
```

#### Contrasts for interactions

Let’s recall our example of factorial Anova:

```
car::Anova(eysenck.model, type=3) %>%
pander
```

Sum Sq | Df | F value | Pr(>F) | |
---|---|---|---|---|

(Intercept) |
490 | 1 | 61.05 | 9.85e-12 |

Age |
1.25 | 1 | 0.1558 | 0.694 |

Condition |
351.5 | 4 | 10.95 | 2.8e-07 |

Age:Condition |
190.3 | 4 | 5.928 | 0.0002793 |

Residuals |
722.3 | 90 | NA | NA |

We can compute pairwise comparisons within the interaction as follows:

`eysenck.lsm <- lsmeans::lsmeans(eysenck.model, ~Age:Condition)`

And the various contrasts, here comparing each cell agains the grand mean:

```
lsmeans::contrast(eysenck.lsm, "eff", adjust="fdr")
contrast estimate SE df t.ratio p.value
Young,Counting effect -4.61 0.85 90 -5.424 <.0001
Older,Counting effect -5.11 0.85 90 -6.013 <.0001
Young,Rhyming effect -4.71 0.85 90 -5.542 <.0001
Older,Rhyming effect -4.01 0.85 90 -4.718 <.0001
Young,Adjective effect -0.61 0.85 90 -0.718 0.5275
Older,Adjective effect 3.19 0.85 90 3.753 0.0004
Young,Imagery effect 1.79 0.85 90 2.106 0.0475
Older,Imagery effect 5.99 0.85 90 7.048 <.0001
Young,Intention effect 0.39 0.85 90 0.459 0.6474
Older,Intention effect 7.69 0.85 90 9.048 <.0001
P value adjustment: fdr method for 10 tests
```

Or all of the pairwise tests with Tukey adjustment:

```
lsmeans::contrast(eysenck.lsm, "tukey") %>%
broom::tidy() %>%
snip.middle(4) %>%
pander(missing="...", caption="Some of the Tukey corrected pairwise contrasts (table abbreviated)")
```

level1 | level2 | estimate | std.error | df | statistic | p.value |
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

Young,Counting | Older,Counting | 0.5 | 1.267 | 90 | 0.3947 | 1 |

Young,Counting | Young,Rhyming | 0.1 | 1.267 | 90 | 0.07893 | 1 |

Young,Counting | Older,Rhyming | -0.6 | 1.267 | 90 | -0.4736 | 1 |

Young,Counting | Young,Adjective | -4 | 1.267 | 90 | -3.157 | 0.06328 |

… | … | … | … | … | … | … |

Young,Imagery | Older,Intention | -5.9 | 1.267 | 90 | -4.657 | 0.0004513 |

Older,Imagery | Young,Intention | 5.6 | 1.267 | 90 | 4.42 | 0.001095 |

Older,Imagery | Older,Intention | -1.7 | 1.267 | 90 | -1.342 | 0.9409 |

Young,Intention | Older,Intention | -7.3 | 1.267 | 90 | -5.762 | 5.006e-06 |