Manuscript being submitted to JASA


In environmental epidemiology, exposure X and health outcome Y vary in space and time. We present a method to diagnose the possible influence of unmeasured confounders U on the estimated effect of X on Y and to propose several approaches to robust estimation. The idea is to use space and time as proxy measures for the unmeasured factors U. We start with the time series case where X and Y are continuous variables at equally-spaced times and assume a linear model. We define matching estimator b(u)s that correspond to pairs of observations with specific lag u. Controlling for a smooth function of time, St, using a kernel estimator is roughly equivalent to estimating the association with a linear combination of the b(u)s with weights that involve two components: the assumptions about the smoothness of St and the normalized variogram of the X process. When an unmeasured confounder U exists, but the model otherwise correctly controls for measured confounders, the excess variation in b(u)s is evidence of confounding by U. We use the plot of b(u)s versus lag u, lagged-estimator-plot (LEP), to diagnose the influence of U on the effect of X on Y. We use appropriate linear combination of b(u)s or extrapolate to b(0) to obtain novel estimators that are more robust to the influence of smooth U. The methods are extended to time series log-linear models and to spatial analyses. The LEP plot gives us a direct view of the magnitude of the estimators for each lag u and provides evidence when models did not adequately describe the data.


Longitudinal Data Analysis and Time Series