Phases of methodological research in biostatistics - building the evidence base for new methods

by   Georg Heinze, et al.

Although the biostatistical scientific literature publishes new methods at a very high rate, many of these developments are not trustworthy enough to be adopted by the scientific community. We propose a framework to think about how a piece of methodological work contributes to the evidence base for a method. Similarly to the well-known phases of clinical research in drug development, we define four phases of methodological research. These four phases cover (I) providing logical reasoning and proofs, (II) providing empirical evidence, first in a narrow target setting, then (III) in an extended range of settings and for various outcomes, accompanied by appropriate application examples, and (IV) investigations that establish a method as sufficiently well-understood to know when it is preferred over others and when it is not. We provide basic definitions of the four phases but acknowledge that more work is needed to facilitate unambiguous classification of studies into phases. Methodological developments that have undergone all four proposed phases are still rare, but we give two examples with references. Our concept rebalances the emphasis to studies in phase III and IV, i.e., carefully planned methods comparison studies and studies that explore the empirical properties of existing methods in a wider range of problems.


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