When is complete case/records logistic regression unbiased?

It’s sometimes thought that when data are missing, complete case analysis or complete records analysis, where those with missing values on the variables involved in the analysis are dropped, is biased unless data are missing completely at random (MCAR). In a previous post I explored the fact that complete case/records analysis can in fact be unbiased so long as missingness is unrelated to the outcome variable, conditional on the covariates. Depending on which variable(s) suffer from missingness, this can correspond to data being missing at random (MAR) or even missing not at random (MNAR).

Yesterday I gave a seminar at LSHTM discussing some recent work which brings together earlier results which have perhaps been somewhat neglected, looking at the specific case of logistic regression models. It turns out that because of the special symmetry property of the odds ratio measure which lies at the heart of logistic regression, a logistic regression complete case/records analysis can be unbiased for the association of a variable of interest (e.g. exposure) adjusted for a number of other covariates (e.g. confounders) in a perhaps surprising range of situations. The slides can be downloaded here, and an audio recording version is available here.

As described in the slides, missingness can depend on the outcome and confounders, or exposure and confounders, and the complete records estimate of the exposure association is unbiased. Depending on which variables have missing values, these conditions sometimes correspond to the MAR assumption and other times to an MNAR assumption. In general if missingness depends jointly on exposure and outcome, estimates of the exposure association are biased. However, as described in the slides, there are even special cases here where estimates for the exposure association remain unbiased.

October 2015: This work has now been published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, and is available open-access here.

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