The Annals of Statistics

Global testing under sparse alternatives: ANOVA, multiple comparisons and the higher criticism

Ery Arias-Castro, Emmanuel J. Candès, and Yaniv Plan

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Testing for the significance of a subset of regression coefficients in a linear model, a staple of statistical analysis, goes back at least to the work of Fisher who introduced the analysis of variance (ANOVA). We study this problem under the assumption that the coefficient vector is sparse, a common situation in modern high-dimensional settings. Suppose we have p covariates and that under the alternative, the response only depends upon the order of p1−α of those, 0 ≤ α ≤ 1. Under moderate sparsity levels, that is, 0 ≤ α ≤ 1/2, we show that ANOVA is essentially optimal under some conditions on the design. This is no longer the case under strong sparsity constraints, that is, α > 1/2. In such settings, a multiple comparison procedure is often preferred and we establish its optimality when α ≥ 3/4. However, these two very popular methods are suboptimal, and sometimes powerless, under moderately strong sparsity where 1/2 < α < 3/4. We suggest a method based on the higher criticism that is powerful in the whole range α > 1/2. This optimality property is true for a variety of designs, including the classical (balanced) multi-way designs and more modern “p > n” designs arising in genetics and signal processing. In addition to the standard fixed effects model, we establish similar results for a random effects model where the nonzero coefficients of the regression vector are normally distributed.

Article information

Ann. Statist., Volume 39, Number 5 (2011), 2533-2556.

First available in Project Euclid: 30 November 2011

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Mathematical Reviews number (MathSciNet)

Zentralblatt MATH identifier

Primary: 62G10: Hypothesis testing 94A13: Detection theory
Secondary: 62G20: Asymptotic properties

Detecting a sparse signal analysis of variance higher criticism minimax detection incoherence random matrices suprema of Gaussian processes compressive sensing


Arias-Castro, Ery; Candès, Emmanuel J.; Plan, Yaniv. Global testing under sparse alternatives: ANOVA, multiple comparisons and the higher criticism. Ann. Statist. 39 (2011), no. 5, 2533--2556. doi:10.1214/11-AOS910.

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Supplemental materials

  • Supplementary material: Supplement to “Global testing under sparse alternatives: ANOVA, multiple comparisons and the higher criticism”. In the supplement, we prove the results stated in the paper. Though the method of proof has the same structure as the corresponding situation in the classical setting with identity design matrix, extra care is required to deal with dependencies.