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I help a colleague to bootstrap a meta-analysis mixed-effects model using the metafor R package framework authored by @Wolfgang.

Interestingly and worryingly, for one of the model's coefficients I get a bimodal distribution when bootstrapping (see the bottom-right panel of the figure below).

I guess one of the main causes could be the fact that when bootstrapping, say half of the models converge in a local solution and the other half in another one. I tried to tune the convergence algorithm as suggested in this metafor documentation - Convergence Problems with the rma() function. Also, I tried other convergence algorithms like bobyqa and newuoa as suggested in the help documentation of rma.mv function, but got the same bimodal response.

I also tried to eliminate some of the potential outliers from the problematic group as suggested in How to interpret multimodal distribution of bootstrapped correlation, but to no avail.

I couldn't find a way to reproduce this so I uploaded data on a GitHub repository (also the links in the code section below should load in your environment all that is needed to test the case). I run the bootstrapping on a Linux cluster as an array job (just in case, the shell script is job.sh, which executes on each CPU the R script bootstrap.r that runs the model described below). A single run takes 2-3 minutes. Note that bootstrapping 100 times is also enough to detect the bimodal response. Below is an example for 1000 iterations. I am familiar with R and other methods but not that much with meta-analysis.

I would appreciate help with understanding if the bimodal distribution is ok (though might be due to convergence issues) and if not, then what can one do about it? (besides what I tried already)

Below - comparing coefficients from bootstrapping (red lines) and from a single full model run (blue lines). The histograms depict the bootstrapped distributions for each coefficient. Sampling the data for bootstrapping was done as selecting with replacement from each group/combination formed by the two fixed effects. Their raw sample sizes are:

table(dt$f1, dt$f2)
#>       
#>        f2_1 f2_2 f2_3
#>   f1_1  177  174   41
#>   f1_2  359  363  107
library(data.table)
library(ggplot2)
library(metafor)
#> Loading required package: Matrix
#> Loading 'metafor' package (version 2.0-0). For an overview 
#> and introduction to the package please type: help(metafor).

load(url("https://github.com/valentinitnelav/test/raw/master/bimodal_distrib_boot/coef_boot_dt_1010.rda"))
load(url("https://github.com/valentinitnelav/test/raw/master/bimodal_distrib_boot/rmamv_model.rda"))
load(url("https://github.com/valentinitnelav/test/raw/master/bimodal_distrib_boot/data.rda"))

coef_dt <- data.frame(estim = rmamv_model[["beta"]])
coef_dt$coef_name <- rownames(coef_dt)
coef_dt <- rbind(coef_dt,
                 coef_boot_dt[, .(estim = mean(coef)), by = coef_name])
coef_dt[, gr := rep(c("estim_model", "estim_boot"), each = 6)]

ggplot(data = coef_boot_dt,
       aes(x = coef,
           group = coef_name)) +
  geom_histogram(bins = 100) +
  geom_vline(aes(xintercept = estim,
                 group = gr,
                 color = gr),
             lwd = 1,
             data = coef_dt) +
  facet_wrap(vars(coef_name), ncol = 2)

Created on 2019-05-02 by the reprex package (v0.2.1)

The model goes like this:

rmamv_model <- rma.mv(y ~ f2:f1 - 1,
                  V = var_y,
                  random = list(~ 1|r1,
                                ~ 1|r2),
                  R = list(r2 = cor_mat),
                  data = dt,
                  method = "REML",
                  # Tune the convergence algorithm / optimizer
                  control = list(optimizer = "nlminb",
                                 iter.max = 1000,
                                 step.min = 0.4,
                                 step.max = 0.5))

R session info:

devtools::session_info()
#> - Session info ----------------------------------------------------------
#>  setting  value                       
#>  version  R version 3.5.2 (2018-12-20)
#>  os       Windows 7 x64 SP 1          
#>  system   x86_64, mingw32             
#>  ui       RTerm                       
#>  language (EN)                        
#>  collate  English_United States.1252  
#>  ctype    English_United States.1252               
#>  date     2019-05-02                  
#> 
#> - Packages --------------------------------------------------------------
#>  package     * version date       lib source        
#>  assertthat    0.2.1   2019-03-21 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  backports     1.1.3   2018-12-14 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  callr         3.2.0   2019-03-15 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.3)
#>  cli           1.1.0   2019-03-19 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.3)
#>  colorspace    1.4-1   2019-03-18 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.3)
#>  crayon        1.3.4   2017-09-16 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  curl          3.3     2019-01-10 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  data.table  * 1.12.0  2019-01-13 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  desc          1.2.0   2018-05-01 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  devtools      2.0.1   2018-10-26 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  digest        0.6.18  2018-10-10 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  dplyr         0.8.0.1 2019-02-15 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  evaluate      0.13    2019-02-12 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  fs            1.2.7   2019-03-19 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.3)
#>  ggplot2     * 3.1.0   2018-10-25 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  glue          1.3.1   2019-03-12 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  gtable        0.2.0   2016-02-26 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  highr         0.8     2019-03-20 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.3)
#>  htmltools     0.3.6   2017-04-28 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  httr          1.4.0   2018-12-11 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  knitr         1.22    2019-03-08 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  labeling      0.3     2014-08-23 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.0)
#>  lattice       0.20-38 2018-11-04 [2] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  lazyeval      0.2.2   2019-03-15 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.3)
#>  magrittr      1.5     2014-11-22 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  Matrix      * 1.2-15  2018-11-01 [2] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  memoise       1.1.0   2017-04-21 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  metafor     * 2.0-0   2017-06-22 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  mime          0.6     2018-10-05 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  munsell       0.5.0   2018-06-12 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  nlme          3.1-137 2018-04-07 [2] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  pillar        1.3.1   2018-12-15 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  pkgbuild      1.0.3   2019-03-20 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.3)
#>  pkgconfig     2.0.2   2018-08-16 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  pkgload       1.0.2   2018-10-29 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  plyr          1.8.4   2016-06-08 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  prettyunits   1.0.2   2015-07-13 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  processx      3.3.0   2019-03-10 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.3)
#>  ps            1.3.0   2018-12-21 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  purrr         0.3.2   2019-03-15 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.3)
#>  R6            2.4.0   2019-02-14 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  Rcpp          1.0.1   2019-03-17 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.3)
#>  remotes       2.0.2   2018-10-30 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  rlang         0.3.4   2019-04-07 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.3)
#>  rmarkdown     1.12    2019-03-14 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.3)
#>  rprojroot     1.3-2   2018-01-03 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  scales        1.0.0   2018-08-09 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  sessioninfo   1.1.1   2018-11-05 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  stringi       1.4.3   2019-03-12 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  stringr       1.4.0   2019-02-10 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  tibble        2.1.1   2019-03-16 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.3)
#>  tidyselect    0.2.5   2018-10-11 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  usethis       1.4.0   2018-08-14 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  withr         2.1.2   2018-03-15 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  xfun          0.5     2019-02-20 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.2)
#>  xml2          1.2.0   2018-01-24 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
#>  yaml          2.2.0   2018-07-25 [1] CRAN (R 3.5.1)
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2 Answers 2

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Thanks for providing the data and code. I re-fitted the model you are working with and the second variance component (for which cor_mat is specified) drifts off to a really large value, which is strange. However, profiling this variance component (with profile(rmamv_model, sigma2=2)) indicates no problems, so I don't think this is a convergence issue. Instead, I think the problem arises because the model does not include an estimate-level random effect (which basically every meta-analytic model should include). So, I would suggest to fit:

dt$id <- 1:nrow(dt)

res <- rma.mv(y ~ f2:f1 - 1,
              V = var_y,
              random = list(~ 1|r1,
                            ~ 1|r2, 
                            ~ 1|id),
              R = list(r2 = cor_mat),
              data = dt,
              method = "REML")

The results look much more reasonable. I suspect this might also solve the problem with the bimodal bootstrap distribution of that last coefficient.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks @Wolfgang ! It fixed the issue! The coefficients look now much more reasonable (they fit the expectations/theory) and it also solved the bimodal distribution issue. Since you are super familiar with such issues and if you have them at hand, would be wonderful if you can also provide some peer-reviewed references that back-up the idea of incorporating an observation-level random effect. I found Harrison, 2014, but seems particular for count data. Thanks so much again! $\endgroup$ May 3, 2019 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know a reference that literally says so, but you might want to take a look at: metafor-project.org/doku.php/… $\endgroup$
    – Wolfgang
    May 3, 2019 at 21:54
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Without having access to a reproducible example is extremely difficult to give a definite answer to this bootstrapping behaviour. Assuming that there are indeed no outliers, I suspect that we observe a mild case of Stein's phenomenon especially as a mixed-effect methodology suggests we some clustering in our data.

Having said the above, I would suggests going ahead and looking at some of the runs from the "unusual" values of f2f2_3:f1f1_2 interaction, where there are very different values, and investigate the marginal distribution of these two random subsamples. For example in some cases, f2f2_3:f1f1_2 is well under $1$ while the estimated model suggest a values close to $2.4$. Are the marginal distribution similar? Is there a case of having insufficient overlap? Maybe "simple" bootstrap is inappropriate and we need to stratify the sample at hand in respect to some of the factors.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your input, the data was available and ready to load at the provided links. The code and data should still be reproducible. $\endgroup$ Jan 22, 2020 at 14:00

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