The harm of class imbalance corrections for risk prediction models: illustration and simulation using logistic regression

February, 2022


Methods to correct class imbalance, i.e. imbalance between the frequency of outcome events and non-events, are receiving increasing interest for developing prediction models. We examined the effect of imbalance correction on the performance of standard and penalized (ridge) logistic regression models in terms of discrimination, calibration, and classification. We examined random undersampling, random oversampling and SMOTE using Monte Carlo simulations and a case study on ovarian cancer diagnosis. The results indicated that all imbalance correction methods led to poor calibration (strong overestimation of the probability to belong to the minority class), but not to better discrimination in terms of the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve. Imbalance correction improved classification in terms of sensitivity and specificity, but similar results were obtained by shifting the probability threshold instead. Our study shows that outcome imbalance is not a problem in itself, and that imbalance correction may even worsen model performance.

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