Data-Adaptive Selection of the Propensity Score Truncation Level for Inverse-Probability-Weighted and Targeted Maximum Likelihood Estimators of Marginal Point Treatment Effects

Am J Epidemiol. 2022 Aug 22;191(9):1640-1651. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwac087.


Inverse probability weighting (IPW) and targeted maximum likelihood estimation (TMLE) are methodologies that can adjust for confounding and selection bias and are often used for causal inference. Both estimators rely on the positivity assumption that within strata of confounders there is a positive probability of receiving treatment at all levels under consideration. Practical applications of IPW require finite inverse probability (IP) weights. TMLE requires that propensity scores (PS) be bounded away from 0 and 1. Although truncation can improve variance and finite sample bias, this artificial distortion of the IP weights and PS distribution introduces asymptotic bias. As sample size grows, truncation-induced bias eventually swamps variance, rendering nominal confidence interval coverage and hypothesis tests invalid. We present a simple truncation strategy based on the sample size, n, that sets the upper bound on IP weights at $\sqrt{\textit{n}}$ ln n/5. For TMLE, the lower bound on the PS should be set to 5/($\sqrt{\textit{n}}$ ln n/5). Our strategy was designed to optimize the mean squared error of the parameter estimate. It naturally extends to data structures with missing outcomes. Simulation studies and a data analysis demonstrate our strategy's ability to minimize both bias and mean squared error in comparison with other common strategies, including the popular but flawed quantile-based heuristic.

Keywords: bounds; inverse probability of treatment weighting; propensity score truncation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Causality
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Propensity Score*

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.1v8v6