[R-sig-ME] general GLMM questions

Ben Bolker bolker at ufl.edu
Wed May 7 17:39:55 CEST 2008

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Dear sig-mixed readers,

~  Some of my students and I are foolishly attempting to write a review
of GLMMs for an ecology/evolution audience.  Realizing that this is a
huge, gnarly, and not-completely-understood subject (even for the
experts -- see fortune("mixed")), we're trying to provide as much
non-technical background and guidance as can be squeezed into a
reasonable sized journal article ...

~  We've run into quite a few questions we have been unable to answer
... perhaps because no-one knows the answers, or because we're looking
in the wrong places.  We thought we might impose on the generosity of
the list: if this feels ridiculous, please just ignore this message.
Feedback ranging from "this is true, but I don't know of a published
source" to "this just isn't true" would be useful.  We are aware of the
deeper problems of focusing on p-values and degrees of freedom -- we
will encourage readers to focus on estimating effect sizes and
confidence limits -- but we would also like to answer some of these
questions for them, if we can.

~  Ben Bolker

1. Is there a published justification somewhere for Lynn Eberly's
( http://www.biostat.umn.edu/~lynn/ph7430/class.html ) statement that df
adjustments are largely irrelevant if number of blocks>25 ?

2. What determines the asymptotic performance of the LRT (likelihood
ratio test) for comparison of fixed effects, which is known to be poor
for "small" sample sizes?  Is it the number of random-effects levels
(as stated by Agresti 2002, p. 520), or is it the number of levels of
the fixed effect relative to the total number of data points (as
stated by Pinheiro and Bates 2000, pp. 87-89)?  (The example given by
PB2000 from Littell et al. 1996 is a test of a treatment factor with
15 levels, in a design with 60 observations and 15 blocks.  Agresti's
statement would imply that one would still be in trouble if the total
number of observations increased to 600 [because # blocks is still
small], where PB2000 would imply that the LRT would be OK in this
limit.  (A small experiment with the simulate.lme() example given on
PB2000 p. 89 suggests that increasing the sample size 10-fold with the
same number of blocks DOES make the LRT OK ... but I would need to do
this a bit more carefully to be sure.)  (Or is this a difference
between the linear and generalized linear case?)

3. For multi-level models (nested, certainly crossed), how would one
count the "number of random-effects levels" to quantify the 'sample
size' above?  With a single random effect, we can just count the
number of levels (blocks).  What would one do with e.g. a nested or
crossed design?  (Perhaps the answer is "don't use a likelihood ratio
test to evaluate the significance of fixed effects".)

4. Does anyone know of any evidence (in either direction) that the
"boundary" problems that apply to the likelihood ratio test (e.g. Self
and Liang 1987) also apply to information criteria comparisons of
models with and without random effects?  I would expect so, since the
derivations of the AIC involve Taylor expansions around the
null-hypothesis parameters ...

5. It's common sense that estimating the variance of a random effect
from a small number of levels (e.g. less than 5) should be dicey, and
that one might in this case want to treat the parameter as a fixed
effect (regardless of its philosophical/experimental design status).
For small numbers of levels I would expect (?) that the answers MIGHT
be similar -- among other things the difference between df=1 and
df=(n-1) would be small.  But ... is there a good discussion of this
in print somewhere?  (Crawley mentions this on p. 670 of "Statistical
Computing", but without justification.)

lme4-specific questions:

6. Behavior of glmer: Does glmer really use AGQ, or just Laplace?
Both?  pp. 28-32 of the "Implementation" vignette in lme4 suggest that
a Laplace approximation is used, but I can't figure out whether this
is an additional approximation on top of the AGQ/Laplace approximation
of the integral over the random effects used in "ordinary" LMM.  When
I fit a GLMM with the different methods, the fitted objects are not
identical but all the coefficients seem to be.  (I have poked at the
code a bit but been unable to answer this question for myself
... sorry ...)

(The glmmML package claims to fit via Laplace or Gauss-Hermite
quadrature (with non-adaptive, but adjustable, number of quad points
- -- so it's at least theoretically possible?)

f = factor(rep(1:10,each=10))
zb = rnorm(1:10,sd=2) ## block effects
x = runif(100)
eta = 2*x+zb[f]+rnorm(100)
y = rpois(100,exp(eta))

g1 = glmer(y~x+(1|f),family="poisson",method="Laplace")
g2 = glmer(y~x+(1|f),family="poisson",method="AGQ")
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