PT - JOURNAL ARTICLE
AU - Kinney, Justin B.
AU - Atwal, Gurinder S.
TI - Equitability, mutual information, and the maximal information coefficient
DP - 2014 Feb 18
TA - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
4099 - http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/02/14/1309933111.short
4100 - http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/02/14/1309933111.full
AB - Attention has recently focused on a basic yet unresolved problem in statistics: How can one quantify the strength of a statistical association between two variables without bias for relationships of a specific form? Here we propose a way of mathematically formalizing this “equitability” criterion, using core concepts from information theory. This criterion is naturally satisfied by a fundamental information-theoretic measure of dependence called “mutual information.” By contrast, a recently introduced dependence measure called the “maximal information coefficient” is seen to violate equitability. We conclude that estimating mutual information provides a natural and practical method for equitably quantifying associations in large datasets.How should one quantify the strength of association between two random variables without bias for relationships of a specific form? Despite its conceptual simplicity, this notion of statistical “equitability” has yet to receive a definitive mathematical formalization. Here we argue that equitability is properly formalized by a self-consistency condition closely related to Data Processing Inequality. Mutual information, a fundamental quantity in information theory, is shown to satisfy this equitability criterion. These findings are at odds with the recent work of Reshef et al. [Reshef DN, et al. (2011) Science 334(6062):1518–1524], which proposed an alternative definition of equitability and introduced a new statistic, the “maximal information coefficient” (MIC), said to satisfy equitability in contradistinction to mutual information. These conclusions, however, were supported only with limited simulation evidence, not with mathematical arguments. Upon revisiting these claims, we prove that the mathematical definition of equitability proposed by Reshef et al. cannot be satisfied by any (nontrivial) dependence measure. We also identify artifacts in the reported simulation evidence. When these artifacts are removed, estimates of mutual information are found to be more equitable than estimates of MIC. Mutual information is also observed to have consistently higher statistical power than MIC. We conclude that estimating mutual information provides a natural (and often practical) way to equitably quantify statistical associations in large datasets.