Recognizing Structural Nonidentifiability: When Experiments Do Not Provide Information About Important Parameters and Misleading Models Can Still Have Great Fit
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In the quest to model various phenomena, the foundational importance of parameter identifiability to sound statistical modeling may be less well appreciated than goodness of fit. Identifiability concerns the quality of objective information in data to facilitate estimation of a parameter, while nonidentifiability means there are parameters in a model about which the data provide little or no information. In purely empirical models where parsimonious good fit is the chief concern, nonidentifiability (or parameter redundancy) implies overparameterization of the model. In contrast, nonidentifiability implies underinformativeness of available data in mechanistically derived models where parameters are interpreted as having strong practical meaning. This study explores illustrative examples of structural nonidentifiability and its implications using mechanistically derived models (for repeated presence/absence analyses and dose–response of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and norovirus) drawn from quantitative microbial risk assessment. Following algebraic proof of nonidentifiability in these examples, profile likelihood analysis and Bayesian Markov Chain Monte Carlo with uniform priors are illustrated as tools to help detect model parameters that are not strongly identifiable. It is shown that identifiability should be considered during experimental design and ethics approval to ensure generated data can yield strong objective information about all mechanistic parameters of interest. When Bayesian methods are applied to a nonidentifiable model, the subjective prior effectively fabricates information about any parameters about which the data carry no objective information. Finally, structural nonidentifiability can lead to spurious models that fit data well but can yield severely flawed inferences and predictions when they are interpreted or used inappropriately.
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Philip J. Schmidt, Monica B. Emelko, Mary E. Thompson (2020). Recognizing Structural Nonidentifiability: When Experiments Do Not Provide Information About Important Parameters and Misleading Models Can Still Have Great Fit. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/18104