This paper has been published. The citation is: Am. J. Epidemiol., May 2004; 159: 882 - 890.


A marker that is strongly associated with outcome (or disease) is often assumed to be effective for classifying individuals according to their current or future outcome. However, for this to be true, the associated odds ratio must be of a magnitude rarely seen in epidemiological studies. An illustration of the relationship between odds ratios and receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves shows, for example, that a marker with an odds ratio as high as 3 is in fact a very poor classification tool. If a marker identifies 10 percent of controls as positive (false positives) and has an odds ratio of 3, then it will only correctly identify 25 percent of cases as positive (true positives). Moreover, the authors illustrate that a single measure of association such as an odds ratio does not meaningfully describe a marker’s ability to classify subjects. Appropriate statistical methods for assessing and reporting the classification power of a marker are described. The serious pitfalls of using more traditional methods based on parameters in logistic regression models are illustrated.