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MICE: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R


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Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations (MICE) is the name of software for imputing incomplete multivariate data by Fully Conditional Speci cation (FCS). MICE V1.0 appeared in the year 2000 as an S-PLUS library, and in 2001 as an R package. MICE V1.0 introduced predictor selection, passive imputation and automatic pooling. This article presents MICE V2.0, which extends the functionality of MICE V1.0 in several ways. In MICE V2.0, the analysis of imputed data is made completely general, whereas the range of models under which pooling works is substantially extended. MICE V2.0 adds new functionality for imputing multilevel data, automatic predictor selection, data handling, post-processing imputed values, specialized pooling and model selection. Imputation of categorical data is improved in order to bypass problems caused by perfect prediction. Special attention to transformations, sum scores, indices and interactions using passive imputation, and to the proper setup of the predictor matrix. MICE V2.0 is freely available from CRAN as an R package mice. This article provides a hands-on, stepwise approach to using mice for solving incomplete data problems in real data.
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JSS Journal of Statistical Software
December 2011, Volume 45, Issue 3.
mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained
Equations in R
Stef van Buuren
Karin Groothuis-Oudshoorn
University of Twente
The Rpackage mice imputes incomplete multivariate data by chained equations. The
software mice 1.0 appeared in the year 2000 as an S-PLUS library, and in 2001 as an
Rpackage. mice 1.0 introduced predictor selection, passive imputation and automatic
pooling. This article documents mice 2.9, which extends the functionality of mice 1.0
in several ways. In mice 2.9, the analysis of imputed data is made completely general,
whereas the range of models under which pooling works is substantially extended. mice 2.9
adds new functionality for imputing multilevel data, automatic predictor selection, data
handling, post-processing imputed values, specialized pooling routines, model selection
tools, and diagnostic graphs. Imputation of categorical data is improved in order to bypass
problems caused by perfect prediction. Special attention is paid to transformations, sum
scores, indices and interactions using passive imputation, and to the proper setup of
the predictor matrix. mice 2.9 can be downloaded from the Comprehensive RArchive
Network. This article provides a hands-on, stepwise approach to solve applied incomplete
data problems.
Keywords: MICE, multiple imputation, chained equations, fully conditional specification,
Gibbs sampler, predictor selection, passive imputation, R.
1. Introduction
Multiple imputation (Rubin 1987,1996) is the method of choice for complex incomplete data
problems. Missing data that occur in more than one variable presents a special challenge.
Two general approaches for imputing multivariate data have emerged: joint modeling (JM)
and fully conditional specification (FCS), also known as multivariate imputation by chained
equations (MICE). Schafer (1997) developed various JM techniques for imputation under the
multivariate normal, the log-linear, and the general location model. JM involves specifying a
multivariate distribution for the missing data, and drawing imputation from their conditional
2mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
distributions by Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) techniques. This methodology is attrac-
tive if the multivariate distribution is a reasonable description of the data. FCS specifies the
multivariate imputation model on a variable-by-variable basis by a set of conditional densities,
one for each incomplete variable. Starting from an initial imputation, FCS draws imputations
by iterating over the conditional densities. A low number of iterations (say 10–20) is often
sufficient. FCS is attractive as an alternative to JM in cases where no suitable multivariate
distribution can be found. The basic idea of FCS is already quite old, and has been proposed
using a variety of names: stochastic relaxation (Kennickell 1991), variable-by-variable im-
putation (Brand 1999), regression switching (van Buuren et al. 1999), sequential regressions
(Raghunathan et al. 2001), ordered pseudo-Gibbs sampler (Heckerman et al. 2001), partially
incompatible MCMC (Rubin 2003), iterated univariate imputation (Gelman 2004), MICE
(van Buuren and Oudshoorn 2000;van Buuren and Groothuis-Oudshoorn 2011) and FCS
(van Buuren 2007).
Software implementations
Several authors have implemented fully conditionally specified models for imputation. mice 1.0
(van Buuren and Oudshoorn 2000) was released as an S-PLUS library in 2000, and was con-
verted by several users into R(RDevelopment Core Team 2011). IVEware (Raghunathan
et al. 2001) is a SAS-based procedure that was independently developed by Raghunathan and
colleagues. The function aRegImpute in Rand S-PLUS is part of the Hmisc package (Harrell
2001). The ice software (Royston 2004,2005;Royston and White 2011) is a widely used
implementation in Stata.SOLAS 3.0 (Statistical Solutions 2001) is also based on conditional
specification, but does not iterate. WinMICE (Jacobusse 2005) is a Windows stand-alone
program for generating imputations under the hierarchical linear model. A recent addition
is the Rpackage mi (Su et al. 2011). Furthermore, FCS is now widely available through
the multiple imputation procedure part of the SPSS 17 Missing Values Analysis add-on
module. See for an overview.
Applications of chained equations
Applications of imputation by chained equations have now appeared in quite diverse fields:
addiction (Schnoll et al. 2006;MacLeod et al. 2008;Adamczyk and Palmer 2008;Caria et al.
2009;Morgenstern et al. 2009), arthritis and rheumatology (Wolfe et al. 2006;Rahman et al.
2008;van den Hout et al. 2009), atherosclerosis (Tiemeier et al. 2004;van Oijen et al. 2007;
McClelland et al. 2008), cardiovascular system (Ambler et al. 2005;van Buuren et al. 2006a;
Chase et al. 2008;Byrne et al. 2009;Klein et al. 2009), cancer (Clark et al. 2001,2003;Clark
and Altman 2003;Royston et al. 2004;Barosi et al. 2007;Fernandes et al. 2008;Sharma et al.
2008;McCaul et al. 2008;Huo et al. 2008;Gerestein et al. 2009), epidemiology (Cummings
et al. 2006;Hindorff et al. 2008;Mueller et al. 2008;Ton et al. 2009), endocrinology (Rouxel
et al. 2004;Prompers et al. 2008), infectious diseases (Cottrell et al. 2005;Walker et al.
2006;Cottrell et al. 2007;Kekitiinwa et al. 2008;Nash et al. 2008;Sabin et al. 2008;Thein
et al. 2008;Garabed et al. 2008;Michel et al. 2009), genetics (Souverein et al. 2006), health
economics (Briggs et al. 2003;Burton et al. 2007;Klein et al. 2008;Marshall et al. 2009),
obesity and physical activity (Orsini et al. 2008a;Wiles et al. 2008;Orsini et al. 2008b;van
Vlierberghe et al. 2009), pediatrics and child development (Hill et al. 2004;Mumtaz et al.
2007;Deave et al. 2008;Samant et al. 2008;Butler and Heron 2008;Ramchandani et al.
2008;van Wouwe et al. 2009), rehabilitation (van der Hulst et al. 2008), behavior (Veenstra
Journal of Statistical Software 3
et al. 2005;Melhem et al. 2007;Horwood et al. 2008;Rubin et al. 2008), quality of care (Sisk
et al. 2006;Roudsari et al. 2007;Ward and Franks 2007;Grote et al. 2007;Roudsari et al.
2008;Grote et al. 2008;Sommer et al. 2009), human reproduction (Smith et al. 2004a,b;
Hille et al. 2005;Alati et al. 2006;O’Callaghan et al. 2006;Hille et al. 2007;Hartog et al.
2008), management sciences (Jensen and Roy 2008), occupational health (Heymans et al.
2007;Brunner et al. 2007;Chamberlain et al. 2008), politics (Tanasoiu and Colonescu 2008),
psychology (Sundell et al. 2008) and sociology (Finke and Adamczyk 2008). All authors use
some form of chained equations to handle the missing data, but the details vary considerably.
The interested reader could check out articles from a familiar application area to see how
multiple imputation is done and reported.
This paper describes the Rpackage mice 2.9 for multiple imputation: generating multiple
imputation, analyzing imputed data, and for pooling analysis results. Specific features of the
software are:
Columnwise specification of the imputation model (Section 3.2).
Arbitrary patterns of missing data (Section 6.2).
Passive imputation (Section 3.4).
Subset selection of predictors (Section 3.3).
Support of arbitrary complete-data methods (Section 5.1).
Support pooling various types of statistics (Section 5.3).
Diagnostics of imputations (Section 4.5).
Callable user-written imputation functions (Section 6.1).
Package mice 2.9 replaces version mice 1.21, but is compatible with previous versions. This
document replaces the original manual (van Buuren and Oudshoorn 2000). The mice 2.9
package extends mice 1.0 in several ways. New features in mice 2.9 include:
quickpred() for automatic generation of the predictor matrix (Section 3.3).
mice.impute.2L.norm() for imputing multilevel data (Section 3.3).
Stable imputation of categorical data (Section 4.4).
Post-processing imputations through the post argument (Section 3.5).
with.mids() for general data analysis on imputed data (Section 5.1).
pool.scalar() and pool.r.squared() for specialized pooling (Section 5.3). for model testing on imputed data (Section 5.3).
cbind.mids(),rbind.mids() and ibind() for combining imputed data (see help file
of these functions).
4mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
Furthermore, this document introduces a new strategy to specify the predictor matrix in
conjunction with passive imputation. The amount and scope of example code has been
expanded considerably. All programming code used in this paper is available in the file
v45i03.R along with the manuscript and as doc/JSScode.R in the mice package.
The intended audience of this paper consists of applied researchers who want to address prob-
lems caused by missing data by multiple imputation. The text assumes basic familiarity with
R. The document contains hands-on analysis using the mice package. We do not discuss prob-
lems of incomplete data in general. We refer to the excellent books by Little and Rubin (2002)
and Schafer (1997). Theory and applications of multiple imputation have been developed in
Rubin (1987) and Rubin (1996). van Buuren (2012) introduces multiple imputation from an
applied perspective.
Package mice 2.9 was written in pure Rusing old-style S3 classes and methods. mice 2.9 was
written and tested in R2.12.2. The package has a simple architecture, is highly modular, and
allows easy access to all program code from within the Renvironment.
2. General framework
To the uninitiated, multiple imputation is a bewildering technique that differs substantially
from conventional statistical approaches. As a result, the first-time user may get lost in
a labyrinth of imputation models, missing data mechanisms, multiple versions of the data,
pooling, and so on. This section describes a modular approach to multiple imputation that
forms the basis of the architecture of mice. The philosophy behind the MICE methodology is
that multiple imputation is best done as a sequence of small steps, each of which may require
diagnostic checking. Our hope is that the framework will aid the user to map out the steps
needed in practical applications.
2.1. Notation
Let Yjwith (j= 1, . . . , p) be one of pincomplete variables, where Y= (Y1, . . . , Yp). The
observed and missing parts of Yjare denoted by Yobs
jand Ymis
j, respectively, so Yobs =
1, . . . , Y obs
p) and Ymis = (Ymis
1, . . . , Y mis
p) stand for the observed and missing data in Y.
The number of imputation is equal to m1. The hth imputed data sets is denoted as Y(h)
where h= 1, . . . , m. Let Yj= (Y1, . . . , Yj1, Yj+1, . . . , Yp) denote the collection of the p1
variables in Yexcept Yj. Let Qdenote the quantity of scientific interest (e.g., a regression
coefficient). In practice, Qis often a multivariate vector. More generally, Qencompasses any
model of scientific interest.
2.2. Modular approach to multiple imputation
Figure 1 illustrates the three main steps in multiple imputation: imputation, analysis and
pooling. The software stores the results of each step in a specific class: mids,mira and mipo.
We now explain each of these in more detail.
The leftmost side of the picture indicates that the analysis starts with an observed, incom-
plete data set Yobs. In general, the problem is that we cannot estimate Qfrom Yobs without
making unrealistic assumptions about the unobserved data. Multiple imputation is a general
framework that several imputed versions of the data by replacing the missing values by plau-
Journal of Statistical Software 5
incomplete data imputed data analysis results pooled results
data frame mids mira mipo
mice() with() pool()
Figure 1: Main steps used in multiple imputation.
sible data values. These plausible values are drawn from a distribution specifically modeled
for each missing entry. In mice this task is being done by the function mice(). Figure 1
portrays m= 3 imputed data sets Y(1), . . . , Y (3). The three imputed sets are identical for the
non-missing data entries, but differ in the imputed values. The magnitude of these difference
reflects our uncertainty about what value to impute. The package has a special class for
storing the imputed data: a multiply imputed dataset of class mids.
The second step is to estimate Qon each imputed data set, typically by the method we
would have used if the data had been complete. This is easy since all data are now com-
plete. The model applied to Y(1), . . . , Y (m)is the generally identical. mice 2.9 contains a
function with.mids() that perform this analysis. This function supersedes the lm.mids()
and glm.mids(). The estimates ˆ
Q(1),..., ˆ
Q(m)will differ from each other because their input
data differ. It is important to realize that these differences are caused because of our uncer-
tainty about what value to impute. In mice the analysis results are collectively stored as a
multiply imputed repeated analysis within an Robject of class mira.
The last step is to pool the mestimates ˆ
Q(1),..., ˆ
Q(m)into one estimate ¯
Qand estimate its
variance. For quantities Qthat are approximately normally distributed, we can calculate the
mean over ˆ
Q(1),..., ˆ
Q(m)and sum the within- and between-imputation variance according
to the method outlined in Rubin (1987, pp. 76–77). The function pool() contains methods
for pooling quantities by Rubin’s rules. The results of the function is stored as a multiple
imputed pooled outcomes object of class mipo.
2.3. MICE algorithm
The imputation model should
Account for the process that created the missing data.
Preserve the relations in the data.
Preserve the uncertainty about these relations.
The hope is that adherence to these principles will yield imputations that are statistically
6mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
correct as in Rubin (1987, Chapter 4) for a wide range in Q. Typical problems that may
surface while imputing multivariate missing data are
For a given Yj, predictors Yjused in the imputation model may themselves be incom-
Circular dependence can occur, where Y1depends on Y2and Y2depends on Y1because
in general Y1and Y2are correlated, even given other variables.
Especially with large pand small n, collinearity and empty cells may occur.
Rows or columns can be ordered, e.g., as with longitudinal data.
Variables can be of different types (e.g., binary, unordered, ordered, continuous), thereby
making the application of theoretically convenient models, such as the multivariate
normal, theoretically inappropriate.
The relation between Yjand Yjcould be complex, e.g., nonlinear, or subject to cen-
soring processes.
Imputation can create impossible combinations (e.g., pregnant fathers), or destroy de-
terministic relations in the data (e.g., sum scores).
Imputations can be nonsensical (e.g., body temperature of the dead).
Models for Qthat will be applied to the imputed data may not (yet) be known.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and other complexities may appear for particular data.
In order to address the issues posed by the real-life complexities of the data, it is convenient
to specify the imputation model separately for each column in the data. This has led by to
the development of the technique of chained equations. Specification occurs on at a level that
is well understood by the user, i.e., at the variable level. Moreover, techniques for creating
univariate imputations have been well developed.
Let the hypothetically complete data Ybe a partially observed random sample from the p-
variate multivariate distribution P(Y|θ). We assume that the multivariate distribution of Y
is completely specified by θ, a vector of unknown parameters. The problem is how to get the
multivariate distribution of θ, either explicitly or implicitly. The MICE algorithm obtains the
posterior distribution of θby sampling iteratively from conditional distributions of the form
P(Y1|Y1, θ1)
P(Yp|Yp, θp).
The parameters θ1, . . . , θpare specific to the respective conditional densities and are not
necessarily the product of a factorization of the ‘true’ joint distribution P(Y|θ). Starting from
a simple draw from observed marginal distributions, the tth iteration of chained equations is
a Gibbs sampler that successively draws
1, Y (t1)
2, . . . , Y (t1)
Journal of Statistical Software 7
1, Y (t1)
2, . . . , Y (t1)
p, θ(t)
p, Y (t)
1, . . . , Y (t)
p, Y (t)
1, . . . , Y (t)
p, θ(t)
where Y(t)
j= (Yobs
j, Y (t)
j) is the jth imputed variable at iteration t. Observe that previous
imputations Y(t1)
jonly enter Y(t)
jthrough its relation with other variables, and not directly.
Convergence can therefore be quite fast, unlike many other MCMC methods. It is important
to monitor convergence, but in our experience the number of iterations can often be a small
number, say 10–20. The name chained equations refers to the fact that the MICE algorithm
can be easily implemented as a concatenation of univariate procedures to fill out the missing
data. The mice() function executes mstreams in parallel, each of which generates one
imputed data set.
The MICE algorithm possesses a touch of magic. The method has been found to work well
in a variety of simulation studies (Brand 1999;Horton and Lipsitz 2001;Moons et al. 2006;
van Buuren et al. 2006b;Horton and Kleinman 2007;Yu et al. 2007;Schunk 2008;Drechsler
and Rassler 2008;Giorgi et al. 2008). Note that it is possible to specify models for which
no known joint distribution exits. Two linear regressions specify a joint multivariate normal
given specific regularity condition (Arnold and Press 1989). However, the joint distribution
of one linear and, say, one proportional odds regression model is unknown, yet very easy to
specify with the MICE framework. The conditionally specified model may be incompatible
in the sense that the joint distribution cannot exist. It is not yet clear what the consequences
of incompatibility are on the quality of the imputations. The little simulation work that is
available suggests that the problem is probably not serious in practice (van Buuren et al.
2006b;Drechsler and Rassler 2008). Compatible multivariate imputation models (Schafer
1997) have been found to work in a large variety of cases, but may lack flexibility to ad-
dress specific features of the data. Gelman and Raghunathan (2001) remark that “separate
regressions often make more sense than joint models”. In order to bypass the limitations
of joint models, Gelman (2004, pp. 541) concludes: “Thus we are suggesting the use of a
new class of models—inconsistent conditional distributions—that were initially motivated by
computational and analytical convenience.” As a safeguard to evade potential problems by
incompatibility, we suggest that the order in which variable are imputed should be sensible.
This ordering can be specified in mice (cf. Section 3.6). Existence and uniqueness theorems
for conditionally specified models have been derived (Arnold and Press 1989;Arnold et al.
1999;Ip and Wang 2009). More work along these lines would be useful in order to identify
the boundaries at which the MICE algorithm breaks down. Barring this, the method seems
to work well in many examples, is of great importance in practice, and is easily applied.
2.4. Simple example
The section presents a simple example incorporating all three steps. After installing the
Rpackage mice from the Comprehensive RArchive Network (CRAN), load the package.
R> library("mice")
This paper uses the features of mice 2.9. The data frame nhanes contains data from Schafer
8mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
(1997, p. 237). The data contains four variables: age (age group), bmi (body mass index),
hyp (hypertension status) and chl (cholesterol level). The data are stored as a data frame.
Missing values are represented as NA.
R> nhanes
age bmi hyp chl
1 1 NA NA NA
2 2 22.7 1 187
3 1 NA 1 187
4 3 NA NA NA
5 1 20.4 1 113
Inspecting the missing data
The number of the missing values can be counted and visualized as follows:
R> md.pattern(nhanes)
age hyp bmi chl
0 8 9 10 27
There are 13 (out of 25) rows that are complete. There is one row for which only bmi is
missing, and there are seven rows for which only age is known. The total number of missing
values is equal to (7 ×3) + (1 ×2) + (3 ×1) + (1 ×1) = 27. Most missing values (10) occur
in chl.
Another way to study the pattern involves calculating the number of observations per patterns
for all pairs of variables. A pair of variables can have exactly four missingness patterns: both
variables are observed (pattern rr), the first variable is observed and the second variable is
missing (pattern rm), the first variable is missing and the second variable is observed (pattern
mr), and both are missing (pattern mm). We can use the md.pairs() function to calculate the
frequency in each pattern for all variable pairs as
R> p <- md.pairs(nhanes)
R> p
age bmi hyp chl
age 25 16 17 15
bmi 16 16 16 13
Journal of Statistical Software 9
hyp 17 16 17 14
chl 15 13 14 15
age bmi hyp chl
age 0 9 8 10
age bmi hyp chl
chl 10 3 3 0
age bmi hyp chl
chl 0 7 7 10
Thus, for pair (bmi,chl) there are 13 completely observed pairs, 3 pairs for which bmi is
observed but hyp not, 2 pairs for which bmi is missing but with hyp observed, and 7 pairs
with both missing bmi and hyp. Note that these numbers add up to the total sample size.
The Rpackage VIM (Templ et al. 2011) contains functions for plotting incomplete data. The
margin plot of the pair (bmi,chl) can be plotted by
R> library("VIM")
R> marginplot(nhanes[, c("chl", "bmi")], col = mdc(1:2), cex = 1.2,
+ cex.lab = 1.2, cex.numbers = 1.3, pch = 19)
Figure 2displays the result. The data area holds 13 blue points for which both bmi and chl
were observed. The plot in Figure 2requires a graphic device that supports transparent
colors, e.g., pdf(). To create the plot in other devices, change the col = mdc(1:2) argument
to col = mdc(1:2, trans = FALSE). The three red dots in the left margin correspond to
the records for which bmi is observed and chl is missing. The points are drawn at the known
values of bmi at 24.9, 25.5 and 29.6. Likewise, the bottom margin contain two red points with
observed chl and missing bmi. The red dot at the intersection of the bottom and left margin
indicates that there are records for which both bmi and chl are missing. The three numbers
at the lower left corner indicate the number of incomplete records for various combinations.
There are 9 records in which bmi is missing, 10 records in which chl is missing, and 7 records
in which both are missing. Furthermore, the left margin contain two box plots, a blue and
a red one. The blue box plot in the left margin summarizes the marginal distribution of bmi
of the 13 blue points. The red box plot summarizes the distribution of the three bmi values
10 mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
150 200 250
20 25 30 35
Figure 2: Margin plot of bmi versus chl as drawn by the marginplot() function in the VIM
package. Observed data in blue, missing data in red.
with missing chl. Under MCAR, these distribution are expected to be identical. Likewise,
the two colored box plots in the bottom margin summarize the respective distributions for
Creating imputations
Creating imputations can be done with a call to mice() as follows:
R> imp <- mice(nhanes, seed = 23109)
iter imp variable
1 1 bmi hyp chl
1 2 bmi hyp chl
1 3 bmi hyp chl
1 4 bmi hyp chl
1 5 bmi hyp chl
2 1 bmi hyp chl
2 2 bmi hyp chl
where the multiply imputed data set is stored in the object imp of class mids. Inspect what
the result looks like
R> print(imp)
Journal of Statistical Software 11
Multiply imputed data set
mice(data = nhanes, seed = 23109)
Number of multiple imputations: 5
Missing cells per column:
age bmi hyp chl
0 9 8 10
Imputation methods:
age bmi hyp chl
"" "pmm" "pmm" "pmm"
bmi hyp chl
age bmi hyp chl
Random generator seed value: 23109
Imputations are generated according to the default method, which is, for numerical data, pre-
dictive mean matching (pmm). The entries imp$VisitSequence and imp$PredictorMatrix
are algorithmic options that will be discusses later. The default number of multiple imputa-
tions is equal to m= 5.
Diagnostic checking
An important step in multiple imputation is to assess whether imputations are plausible.
Imputations should be values that could have been obtained had they not been missing.
Imputations should be close to the data. Data values that are clearly impossible (e.g., negative
counts, pregnant fathers) should not occur in the imputed data. Imputations should respect
relations between variables, and reflect the appropriate amount of uncertainty about their
‘true’ values. Diagnostic checks on the imputed data provide a way to check the plausibility
of the imputations. The imputations for bmi are stored as
R> imp$imp$bmi
1 29.6 27.2 29.6 27.5 29.6
3 29.6 26.3 29.6 30.1 28.7
4 20.4 29.6 27.2 24.9 21.7
6 21.7 25.5 27.4 21.7 21.7
10 20.4 22.0 28.7 29.6 22.5
11 22.0 35.3 35.3 30.1 29.6
12 20.4 28.7 27.2 27.5 25.5
16 22.0 35.3 30.1 29.6 28.7
21 27.5 33.2 22.0 35.3 22.0
12 mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
Each row corresponds to a missing entry in bmi. The columns contain the multiple impu-
tations. The completed data set combines the observed and imputed values. The (first)
completed data set can be obtained as
R> complete(imp)
age bmi hyp chl
1 1 29.6 1 238
2 2 22.7 1 187
3 1 29.6 1 187
4 3 20.4 1 186
5 1 20.4 1 113
The complete() function extracts the five imputed data sets from the imp object as a long
(row-stacked) matrix with 125 records. The missing entries in nhanes have now been filled by
the values from the first (of five) imputation. The second completed data set can be obtained
by complete(imp, 2). For the observed data, it is identical to the first completed data set,
but it may differ in the imputed data.
It is often useful to inspect the distributions of original and the imputed data. One way of
doing this is to use the function stripplot() in mice 2.9, an adapted version of the same
function in the package lattice (Sarkar 2008). The stripplot in Figure 3is created as
R> stripplot(imp, pch = 20, cex = 1.2)
The figure shows the distributions of the four variables as individual points. Blue points are
observed, the red points are imputed. The panel for age contains blue points only because
age is complete. Furthermore, note that the red points follow the blue points reasonably well,
including the gaps in the distribution, e.g., for chl.
The scatterplot of chl and bmi for each imputed data set in Figure 4is created by
R> xyplot(imp, bmi ~ chl | .imp, pch = 20, cex = 1.4)
The figure redraws figure 2, but now for the observed and imputed data. Imputations are
plotted in red. The blue points are the same across different panels, but the red point vary.
The red points have more or less the same shape as blue data, which indicates that they could
have been plausible measurements if they had not been missing. The differences between the
red points represents our uncertainty about the true (but unknown) values.
Under MCAR, univariate distributions of the observed and imputed data are expected to
be identical. Under MAR, they can be different, both in location and spread, but their
multivariate distribution is assumed to be identical. There are many other ways to look at
the completed data, but we defer of a discussion of those to Section 4.5.
Analysis of imputed data
Suppose that the complete-data analysis of interest is a linear regression of chl on age and
bmi. For this purpose, we can use the function with.mids(), a wrapper function that applies
the complete data model to each of the imputed data sets:
Journal of Statistical Software 13
Imputation number
1.0 1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0
0 1 2 3 4 5
20 25 30 35
0 1 2 3 4 5
1.0 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 2.0
0 1 2 3 4 5
150 200 250
0 1 2 3 4 5
Figure 3: Stripplot of four variables in the original data and in the five imputed data sets.
Points are slightly jittered. Observed data in blue, imputed data in red.
R> fit <- with(imp, lm(chl ~ age + bmi))
The fit object has class mira and contains the results of five complete-data analyses. These
can be pooled as follows:
R> print(pool(fit))
Call: pool(object = fit)
Pooled coefficients:
(Intercept) age bmi
-34.158914 34.330666 6.212025
Fraction of information about the coefficients missing due to nonresponse:
(Intercept) age bmi
0.5747265 0.7501284 0.4795427
More detailed output can be obtained, as usual, with the summary() function, i.e.,
R> round(summary(pool(fit)), 2)
14 mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
150 200 250
150 200 250
150 200 250
Figure 4: Scatterplot of cholesterol (chl) and body mass index (bmi) in the original data
(panel 0), and five imputed data sets. Observed data in blue, imputed data in red.
est se t df Pr(>|t|) lo 95 hi 95 nmis fmi
(Intercept) -34.16 76.07 -0.45 6.81 0.67 -215.05 146.73 NA 0.57
age 34.33 14.86 2.31 4.04 0.08 -6.76 75.42 0 0.75
bmi 6.21 2.21 2.81 8.80 0.02 1.20 11.23 9 0.48
(Intercept) 0.47
age 0.65
bmi 0.37
After multiple imputation, we find a significant effect bmi. The column fmi contains the
fraction of missing information as defined in Rubin (1987), and the column lambda is the
proportion of the total variance that is attributable to the missing data (λ= (B+B/m)/T ).
The pooled results are subject to simulation error and therefore depend on the seed argument
of the mice() function. In order to minimize simulation error, we can use a higher number
of imputations, for example m=50. It is easy to do this as
R> imp50 <- mice(nhanes, m = 50, seed = 23109)
R> fit <- with(imp50, lm(chl ~ age + bmi))
R> round(summary(pool(fit)), 2)
est se t df Pr(>|t|) lo 95 hi 95 nmis
(Intercept) -35.53 63.61 -0.56 14.46 0.58 -171.55 100.49 NA
age 35.90 10.48 3.42 12.76 0.00 13.21 58.58 0
bmi 6.15 1.97 3.13 15.13 0.01 1.96 10.35 9
Journal of Statistical Software 15
fmi lambda
(Intercept) 0.35 0.27
age 0.43 0.35
bmi 0.32 0.24
We find that actually both age and chl are significant effects. This is the result that can be
3. Imputation models
3.1. Seven choices
The specification of the imputation model is the most challenging step in multiple imputation.
What are the choices that we need to make, and in what order? There are seven main choices:
1. First, we should decide whether the missing at random (MAR) assumption (Rubin 1976)
is plausible. The MAR assumption is a suitable starting point in many practical cases,
but there are also cases where the assumption is suspect. Schafer (1997, pp. 20–23)
provides a good set of practical examples. MICE can handle both MAR and missing not
at random (MNAR). Multiple imputation under MNAR requires additional modeling
assumptions that influence the generated imputations. There are many ways to do this.
We refer to Section 6.2 for an example of how that could be realized.
2. The second choice refers to the form of the imputation model. The form encompasses
both the structural part and the assumed error distribution. Within MICE the form
needs to be specified for each incomplete column in the data. The choice will be steered
by the scale of the dependent variable (i.e., the variable to be imputed), and preferably
incorporates knowledge about the relation between the variables. Section 3.2 describes
the possibilities within mice 2.9.
3. Our third choice concerns the set of variables to include as predictors into the imputation
model. The general advice is to include as many relevant variables as possible including
their interactions (Collins et al. 2001). This may however lead to unwieldy model
specifications that could easily get out of hand. Section 3.3 describes the facilities
within mice 2.9 for selecting the predictor set.
4. The fourth choice is whether we should impute variables that are functions of other
(incomplete) variables. Many data sets contain transformed variables, sum scores, in-
teraction variables, ratio’s, and so on. It can be useful to incorporate the transformed
variables into the multiple imputation algorithm. Section 3.4 describes how mice 2.9
deals with this situation using passive imputation.
5. The fifth choice concerns the order in which variables should be imputed. Several
strategies are possible, each with their respective pro’s and cons. Section 3.6 shows how
the visitation scheme of the MICE algorithm within mice 2.9 is under control of the
16 mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
Method Description Scale type Default
pmm Predictive mean matching numeric Y
norm Bayesian linear regression numeric
norm.nob Linear regression, non-Bayesian numeric
mean Unconditional mean imputation numeric
2L.norm Two-level linear model numeric
logreg Logistic regression factor, 2 levels Y
polyreg Multinomial logit model factor, >2 levels Y
polr Ordered logit model ordered, >2 levels Y
lda Linear discriminant analysis factor
sample Random sample from the observed data any
Table 1: Built-in univariate imputation techniques. The techniques are coded as functions
named mice.impute.pmm(), and so on.
6. The sixth choice concerns the setup of the starting imputations and the number of
iterations. The convergence of the MICE algorithm can be monitored in many ways.
Section 4.3 outlines some techniques in mice 2.9 that assist in this task.
7. The seventh choice is m, the number of multiply imputed data sets. Setting mtoo low
may result in large simulation error, especially if the fraction of missing information is
Please realize that these choices are always needed. The analysis in Section 2.4 imputed the
nhanes data using just a minimum of specifications and relied on mice defaults. However,
these default choices are not necessarily the best for your data. There is no magical setting
that produces appropriate imputations in every problem. Real problems need tailoring. It is
our hope that the software will invite you to go beyond the default settings.
3.2. Univariate imputation methods
In MICE one specifies a univariate imputation model of each incomplete variable. Both
the structural part of the imputation model and the error distribution need to be specified.
The choice will depend on, amongst others, the scale of the variable to be imputed. The
univariate imputation method takes a set of (at that moment) complete predictors, and returns
a single imputation for each missing entry in the incomplete target column. The mice 2.9
package supplies a number of built-in univariate imputation models. These all have names, where name identifies the univariate imputation method.
Table 1contains the list of built-in imputation functions. The default methods are indicated.
The method argument of mice() specifies the imputation method per column and overrides
the default. If method is specified as one string, then all visited data columns (cf. Section 3.6)
will be imputed by the univariate function indicated by this string. So
R> imp <- mice(nhanes, method = "norm")
specifies that the function mice.impute.norm() is called for all columns. Alternatively,
method can be a vector of strings of length ncol(data) specifying the function that is applied
to each column. Columns that need not be imputed have method "". For example,
Journal of Statistical Software 17
R> imp <- mice(nhanes, meth = c("", "norm", "pmm", "mean"))
applies different methods for different columns. The nhanes2 data frame contains one poly-
tomous, one binary and two numeric variables.
R> str(nhanes2)
: 25 obs. of 4 variables:
$ age: Factor w/ 3 levels "20-39","40-59",..: 1 2 1 3 1 3 1 1 2 2 ...
$ bmi: num NA 22.7 NA NA 20.4 NA 22.5 30.1 22 NA ...
$ hyp: Factor w/ 2 levels "no","yes": NA 1 1 NA 1 NA 1 1 1 NA ...
$ chl: num NA 187 187 NA 113 184 118 187 238 NA ...
Imputations can be created as
R> imp <- mice(nhanes2, me = c("polyreg", "pmm", "logreg", "norm"))
where function mice.impute.polyreg() is used to impute the first (categorical) variable age,
mice.impute.ppm() for the second numeric variable bmi, function mice.impute.logreg()
for the third binary variable hyp and function mice.impute.norm() for the numeric variable
chl. The me parameter is a legal abbreviation of the method argument.
Empty imputation method
The mice() function will automatically skip imputation of variables that are complete. One
of the problems in previous versions this function was that all incomplete data needed to
be imputed. In mice 2.9 it is possible to skip imputation of selected incomplete variables by
specifying the empty method "". This works as long as the incomplete variable that is skipped
is not being used as a predictor for imputing other variables. The mice() function will detect
this case, and automatically remove the variable from the predictor list. For example, suppose
that we do not want to impute bmi, but still want to retain in it the imputed data. We can
run the following
R> imp <- mice(nhanes2, meth = c("", "", "logreg", "norm"))
This statement runs because bmi is removed from the predictor list. When removal is not
possible, the program aborts with an error message like
Error in check.predictorMatrix(predictorMatrix, method, varnames,
nmis, : Variable bmi is used, has missing values, but is not imputed
Section 3.3 explains how to solve this problem.
Perfect prediction
Previous versions produced warnings like fitted probabilities numerically 0 or 1
occurred and algorithm did not converge on these data. These warnings are caused by
the sample size of 25 relative to the number of parameters. mice 2.9 implements more stable
18 mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
algorithms into mice.impute.logreg() and mice.impute.polyreg() based on augmenting
the rows prior to imputation (White et al. 2010).
Default imputation method
The mice package distinguishes between four types of variables: numeric, binary (factor with
2 levels), and unordered (factor with more than 2 levels) and ordered (ordered factor with
more than 2 levels). Each type has a default imputation method, which are indicated in
Table 1. These defaults can be changed by the defaultMethod argument to the mice()
function. For example
R> mice(nhanes2, defaultMethod = c("norm", "logreg", "polyreg", "polr"))
applies the function mice.impute.norm() to each numeric variable in nhanes instead of
mice.impute.pmm(). It leaves the defaults for binary and categorical data unchanged. The
mice() function checks the type of the variable against the specified imputation method, and
produces a warning if a type mismatch is found.
Overview of imputation methods
The function mice.impute.pmm() implements predictive mean matching (Little 1988), a gen-
eral purpose semi-parametric imputation method. Its main virtues are that imputations are
restricted to the observed values and that it can preserve non-linear relations even if the
structural part of the imputation model is wrong. It is a good overall imputation method.
The functions mice.impute.norm() and mice.impute.norm.nob() impute according to a
linear imputation model, and are fast and efficient if the model residuals are close to normal.
The second model ignores any sampling uncertainty of the imputation model, so it is only
appropriate for very large samples. The method mice.impute.mean() simply imputes the
mean of the observed data. Mean imputation is known to be a bad strategy, and the user
should be aware of the implications.
The function mice.impute.2L.norm() imputes according to the heteroscedastic linear two-
level model by a Gibbs sampler (Note: Interpret ‘2L’ as ‘two levels’, not as ‘twenty-one’). It
is new in mice 2.9. The method considerably improves upon standard methods that ignore
the clustering structure, or that model the clustering as fixed effects (van Buuren 2010). See
multilevel imputation in Section 3.3 for an example.
The function mice.impute.polyreg() imputes factor with two or more levels by the multi-
nomial model using the multinom() function in nnet (Venables and Ripley 2002) for the hard
work. The function mice.impute.polr() implements the ordered logit model, also known
as the proportional odds model. It calls polr from MASS (Venables and Ripley 2002). The
function mice.impute.lda() uses the MASS function lda() for linear discriminant analysis
to compute posterior probabilities for each incomplete case, and subsequently draws impu-
tations from these posteriors. This statistical properties of this method are not as good as
mice.impute.polyreg()(Brand 1999), but it is a bit faster and uses fewer resources. The
maximum number of categories these function handle is set to 50. Finally, the function
mice.impute.sample() just takes a random draw from the observed data, and imputes these
into missing cells. This function does not condition on any other variable. mice() calls
mice.impute.sample() for initialization.
Journal of Statistical Software 19
The univariate imputation functions are designed to be called from the main function mice(),
and this is by far the easiest way to invoke them. It is however possible to call them directly,
assuming that the arguments are all properly specified. See the documentation for more
3.3. Predictor selection
One of the most useful features of the MICE algorithm is the ability to specify the set of
predictors to be used for each incomplete variable. The basic specification is made through
the predictorMatrix argument, which is a square matrix of size ncol(data) containing 0/1
data. Each row in predictorMatrix identifies which predictors are to be used for the variable
in the row name. If diagnostics = TRUE (the default), then mice() returns a mids object
containing a predictorMatrix entry. For example, type
R> imp <- mice(nhanes, print = FALSE)
R> imp$predictorMatrix
age bmi hyp chl
The row correspond to incomplete target variables, in the sequence as they appear in data.
Row and column names of the predictorMatrix are ignored on input, and overwritten by
mice() on output. A value of 1indicates that the column variable is used as a predictor
to impute the target (row) variable, and a 0means that it is not used. Thus, in the above
example, bmi is predicted from age,hyp and chl. Note that the diagonal is 0since a variable
cannot predict itself. Since age contains no missing data, mice() silently sets all values in
the row to 0. The default setting of the predictorMatrix specifies that all variables predict
all others.
Removing a predictor
The user can specify a custom predictorMatrix, thereby effectively regulating the number of
predictors per variable. For example, suppose that bmi is considered irrelevant as a predictor.
Setting all entries within the bmi column to zero effectively removes it from the predictor set,
R> pred <- imp$predictorMatrix
R> pred[, "bmi"] <- 0
R> pred
age bmi hyp chl
20 mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
will not use bmi as a predictor, but still impute it. Using this new specification, we create
imputations as
R> imp <- mice(nhanes, pred = pred, pri = FALSE)
This imputes the incomplete variables hyp and chl without using bmi as a predictor.
Skipping imputation
Suppose that we want to skip imputation of bmi, and leave it as it is. This can be achieved
by 1) eliminating bmi from the predictor set, and 2) setting the imputation method to "".
More specifically
R> ini <- mice(nhanes2, maxit = 0, pri = FALSE)
R> pred <- ini$pred
R> pred[, "bmi"] <- 0
R> meth <- ini$meth
R> meth["bmi"] <- ""
R> imp <- mice(nhanes2, meth = meth, pred = pred, pri = FALSE)
R> imp$imp$bmi
The first statement calls mice() with the maximum number of iterations maxit set to zero.
This is a fast way to create the mids object called ini containing the default settings. It
is then easy to copy and edit the predictorMatrix and method arguments of the mice()
function. Now mice() will impute NA into the missing values of bmi. In effect, the original
bmi (with the missing values included) is copied into the multiply imputed data set. This
technique is not only useful for ‘keeping all the data together’, but also opens up ways to
performs imputation by nested blocks of variables. For examples where this could be useful,
see Shen (2000) and Rubin (2003).
Intercept imputation
Eliminating all predictors for bmi can be done by
R> pred <- ini$pred
R> pred["bmi", ] <- 0
R> imp <- mice(nhanes2, pred = pred, pri = FALSE, seed = 51162)
R> imp$imp$bmi
Journal of Statistical Software 21
1 20.4 27.2 22.0 25.5 27.4
3 27.4 22.5 24.9 22.7 33.2
4 20.4 20.4 24.9 27.2 27.5
6 22.5 27.5 26.3 20.4 24.9
10 27.2 20.4 27.2 26.3 22.7
11 22.7 22.5 22.7 29.6 25.5
12 29.6 28.7 22.5 33.2 27.4
16 27.4 22.5 35.3 22.7 20.4
21 30.1 27.4 24.9 20.4 27.2
Imputations for bmi are now sampled (by mice.impute.pmm()) under the intercept-only
model. Note that these imputations are appropriate only under the MCAR assumption.
Multilevel imputation
Imputation of multilevel data poses special problems. Most techniques have been developed
under the joint modeling perspective (Schafer and Yucel 2002;Yucel 2008;Goldstein et al.
2009). Some work within the context of FCS has been done (Jacobusse 2005), but this is still
an open research area. The mice 2.9 package include the mice.impute.2L.norm() function,
which can be used to impute missing data under a linear multilevel model. The function
was contributed by Roel de Jong, and implements the Gibbs sampler for the linear multilevel
model where the within-class error variance is allowed to vary (Kasim and Raudenbush 1998).
Heterogeneity in the variances is essential for getting good imputations in multilevel data.
The method is an improvement over simpler methods like flat-file imputation or per-group
imputation (van Buuren 2010).
Using mice.impute.2L.norm() (or equivalently mice.impute.2l.norm()) deviates from other
univariate imputation functions in mice 2.9 in two respects. It requires the specification of
the fixed effects, the random effects and the class variable. Furthermore, it assumes that the
predictors contain a column of ones representing the intercept. Random effects are coded
in the predictor matrix as a ‘2’. The class variable (only one is allowed) is coded by a ‘-2’.
The example below uses the popularity data of (Hox 2002). The dependent variable is pupil
popularity, which contains 848 missing values. There are two random effects: const (in-
tercept) and sex (slope), one fixed effect, teacher experience (texp), and one class variable
(school). Imputations can be generated as
R> popmis[1:3, ]
pupil school popular sex texp const teachpop
1 1 1 NA 1 24 1 7
2 2 1 NA 0 24 1 7
3 3 1 7 1 24 1 6
R> ini <- mice(popmis, maxit = 0)
R> pred <- ini$pred
R> pred["popular", ] <- c(0, -2, 0, 2, 1, 2, 0)
R> imp <- mice(popmis, meth = c("", "", "2l.norm", "", "",
+ "", ""), pred = pred, maxit = 1, seed = 71152)
22 mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
iter imp variable
1 1 popular
1 2 popular
1 3 popular
1 4 popular
1 5 popular
The extension to the multivariate case will be obvious, but relatively little is known about
the statistical properties.
Advice on predictor selection
The predictorMatrix argument is especially useful when dealing with data sets with a large
number of variables. We now provide some advice regarding the selection of predictors for
large data, especially with many incomplete data.
As a general rule, using every bit of available information yields multiple imputations that
have minimal bias and maximal certainty (Meng 1995;Collins et al. 2001). This principle
implies that the number of predictors should be chosen as large as possible. Including as many
predictors as possible tends to make the MAR assumption more plausible, thus reducing the
need to make special adjustments for NMAR mechanisms (Schafer 1997).
However, data sets often contain several hundreds of variables, all of which can potentially
be used to generate imputations. It is not feasible (because of multicollinearity and computa-
tional problems) to include all these variables. It is also not necessary. In our experience, the
increase in explained variance in linear regression is typically negligible after the best, say,
15 variables have been included. For imputation purposes, it is expedient to select a suitable
subset of data that contains no more than 15 to 25 variables. van Buuren et al. (1999) provide
the following strategy for selecting predictor variables from a large data base:
1. Include all variables that appear in the complete-data model, i.e., the model that will
be applied to the data after imputation. Failure to do so may bias the complete-
data analysis, especially if the complete-data model contains strong predictive relations.
Note that this step is somewhat counter-intuitive, as it may seem that imputation
would artificially strengthen the relations of the complete-data model, which is clearly
undesirable. If done properly however, this is not the case. On the contrary, not
including the complete-data model variables will tend to bias the results towards zero.
Note that interactions of scientific interest also need to be included into the imputation
2. In addition, include the variables that are related to the nonresponse. Factors that
are known to have influenced the occurrence of missing data (stratification, reasons for
nonresponse) are to be included on substantive grounds. Others variables of interest are
those for which the distributions differ between the response and nonresponse groups.
These can be found by inspecting their correlations with the response indicator of the
variable to be imputed. If the magnitude of this correlation exceeds a certain level, then
the variable is included.
3. In addition, include variables that explain a considerable amount of variance. Such
Journal of Statistical Software 23
predictors help to reduce the uncertainty of the imputations. They are crudely identified
by their correlation with the target variable.
4. Remove from the variables selected in steps 2 and 3 those variables that have too
many missing values within the subgroup of incomplete cases. A simple indicator is the
percentage of observed cases within this subgroup, the percentage of usable cases.
Most predictors used for imputation are incomplete themselves. In principle, one could apply
the above modeling steps for each incomplete predictor in turn, but this may lead to a cascade
of auxiliary imputation problems. In doing so, one runs the risk that every variable needs to be
included after all. In practice, there is often a small set of key variables, for which imputations
are needed, which suggests that steps 1 through 4 are to be performed for key variables only.
This was the approach taken in van Buuren et al. (1999), but it may miss important predictors
of predictors. A safer and more efficient, though more laborious, strategy is to perform the
modeling steps also for the predictors of predictors of key variables. This is done in Oudshoorn
et al. (1999). We expect that it is rarely necessary to go beyond predictors of predictors. At
the terminal node, we can apply a simply method like mice.impute.sample() that does not
need any predictors for itself.
Quick predictor selection
Correlations for the strategy outlined above can be calculated with the standard function
cor(). For example,
R> round(cor(nhanes, use = "pair"), 3)
age bmi hyp chl
age 1.000 -0.372 0.506 0.507
bmi -0.372 1.000 0.051 0.373
hyp 0.506 0.051 1.000 0.429
chl 0.507 0.373 0.429 1.000
calculates Pearson correlations using all available cases in each pair of variables. Similarly,
R> round(cor(y = nhanes, x = !, use = "pair"),
+ 3)
age bmi hyp chl
bmi 0.086 NA 0.139 0.053
hyp 0.008 NA NA 0.045
chl -0.040 -0.012 -0.107 NA
calculates the mutual correlations between the data and the response indicators. The warning
can be safely ignored and is caused by the fact that age contains no missing data.
The proportion of usable cases measures how many cases with missing data on the target
variable actually have observed values on the predictor. The proportion will be low if both
24 mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
target and predictor are missing on the same cases. If so, the predictor contains only little
information to impute the target variable, and could be dropped from the model, especially
if the bivariate relation is not primary scientific interest. The proportion of usable cases can
be calculated as
R> p <- md.pairs(nhanes)
R> round(p$mr/(p$mr + p$mm), 3)
age bmi hyp chl
age NaN NaN NaN NaN
bmi 1 0.0 0.111 0.222
hyp 1 0.0 0.000 0.125
chl 1 0.3 0.300 0.000
For imputing hyp only 1 out of 8 cases was observed in predictor chl. Thus, predictor chl
does not contain much information to impute hyp, despite the substantial correlation of 0.42.
If the relation is of no further scientific interest, omitting predictor chl from the model to
impute hyp will only have a small effect. Note that proportion of usable cases is asymmetric.
mice 2.9 contains a new function quickpred() that calculates these quantities, and combines
them automatically in a predictorMatrix that can be used to call mice(). The quickpred()
function assumes that the correlation is a sensible measure for the data at hand (e.g., order
of factor levels should be reasonable). For example,
R> quickpred(nhanes)
age bmi hyp chl
yields a predictorMatrix for a model that includes all predictors with an absolute correlation
with the target or with the response indicator of at least 0.1 (the default value of the mincor
argument). Observe that the predictor matrix need not always be symmetric. In particular,
bmi is not a predictor of hyp, but hyp is a predictor of bmi here. This can occur because the
correlation of hyp with the response indicator of bmi (0.139) exceeds the threshold.
The quickpred() function has arguments that change the minimum correlation, that allow
to select predictor based on their proportion of usable cases, and that can specify variables
that should always be included or excluded. It is also possible to specify thresholds per target
variable, or even per target-predictor combination. See the help files for more details.
It is easy to use the function in conjunction with mice(). For example,
R> imp <- mice(nhanes, pred = quickpred(nhanes, minpuc = 0.25,
+ include = "age"))
imputes the data from a model where the minimum proportion of usable cases is at least 0.25
and that always includes age as a predictor.
Journal of Statistical Software 25
Any interactions of interest need to be appended to the data before using quickpred(). For
large data, the user can experiment with the mincor,minpuc,include and exclude argu-
ments to trim the imputation problem to a reasonable size. The application of quickpred()
can substantially cut down the time needed to specify the imputation model for data with
many variables.
3.4. Passive imputation
There is often a need for transformed, combined or recoded versions of the data. In the
case of incomplete data, one could impute the original, and transform the completed original
afterwards, or transform the incomplete original and impute the transformed version. If,
however, both the original and the transform are needed within the imputation algorithm,
neither of these approaches work because one cannot be sure that the transformation holds
between the imputed values of the original and transformed versions.
mice implements a special mechanism, called passive imputation, to deal with such situ-
ations. Passive imputation maintains the consistency among different transformations of
the same data. The method can be used to ensure that the transform always depends
on the most recently generated imputations in the original untransformed data. Passive
imputation is invoked by specifying a ~(tilde) as the first character of the imputation
method. The entire string, including the ~is interpreted as the formula argument in a
call to model.frame(formula, data[!r[,j],]). This provides a simple method for spec-
ifying a large variety of dependencies among the variables, such as transformed variables,
recodes, interactions, sum scores, and so on, that may themselves be needed in other parts of
the algorithm.
Preserving a transformation
As an example, suppose that previous research suggested that bmi is better imputed from
log(chl) than from chl. We may thus want to add an extra column to the data with
log(chl), and impute bmi from log(chl). Any missing values in chl will also be present
in log(chl). The problem is to keep imputations in chl and log(chl) consistent with each
other, i.e., the imputations should respect their relationship. The following code will take
care of this:
R> nhanes2.ext <- cbind(nhanes2, lchl = log(nhanes2$chl))
R> ini <- mice(nhanes2.ext, max = 0, print = FALSE)
R> meth <- ini$meth
R> meth["lchl"] <- "~log(chl)"
R> pred <- ini$pred
R> pred[c("hyp", "chl"), "lchl"] <- 0
R> pred["bmi", "chl"] <- 0
R> pred
age bmi hyp chl lchl
age 0 0 0 0 0
bmi 1 0 1 0 1
hyp 1 1 0 1 0
26 mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
chl 1 1 1 0 0
lchl 1 1 1 1 0
R> imp <- mice(nhanes2.ext, meth = meth, pred = pred, seed = 38788,
+ print = FALSE)
R> head(complete(imp))
age bmi hyp chl lchl
1 20-39 35.3 no 218 5.384495
2 40-59 22.7 no 187 5.231109
3 20-39 30.1 no 187 5.231109
4 60-99 22.5 yes 218 5.384495
5 20-39 20.4 no 113 4.727388
6 60-99 22.7 no 184 5.214936
We defined the predictor matrix such that either chl or log(chl) is a predictor, but not both
at the same time, primarily to avoid collinearity. Moreover, we do not want to predict chl
from lchl. Doing so would immobilize the MICE algorithm at the starting imputation. It
is thus important to set the entry pred["chl", "lchl"] equal to zero to avoid this. After
running mice() we find imputations for both chl and lchl that respect the relation.
Note: A slightly easier way to create nhanes2.ext is to specify
R> nhanes2.ext <- cbind(nhanes2, lchl = NA)
followed by the same commands. This has the advantage that the transform needs to be
specified only once. Since all values in lchl are now treated as missing, the size of imp will
generally become (much) larger however. The first method is generally more efficient, but the
second is easier.
Index of two variables
The idea can be extended to two or more columns. This is useful to create derived variables
that should remain synchronized. As an example, we consider imputation of body mass index
(bmi), which is defined as weight divided by height*height. It is impossible to calculate bmi
if either weight or height is missing. Consider the data boys in mice.
R> md.pattern(boys[, c("hgt", "wgt", "bmi")])
wgt hgt bmi
727 1 1 1 0
17 1 0 0 2
4 20 21 45
Data on weight and height are missing for 4 and 20 cases, respectively, resulting in 21 cases
for which bmi could not be calculated. Using passive imputation, we can impute bmi from
height and weight by means of the I() operator.
Journal of Statistical Software 27
R> ini <- mice(boys, max = 0, print = FALSE)
R> meth <- ini$meth
R> meth["bmi"] <- "~I(wgt/(hgt/100)^2)"
R> pred <- ini$pred
R> pred[c("wgt", "hgt", "hc", "reg"), "bmi"] <- 0
R> pred[c("gen", "phb", "tv"), c("hgt", "wgt", "hc")] <- 0
R> pred
age hgt wgt bmi hc gen phb tv reg
hc 111001111
tv 100101101
The predictor matrix prevents that hgt or wgt are imputed from bmi, and takes care that
there are no cases where hgt,wgt and bmi are simultaneous predictors. Passive imputation
overrules the selection of variables specified in the predictorMatrix argument. Thus, in
the above case, we might have well set pred["bmi",] <- 0 and obtain identical results.
Imputations can now be created by
R> imp.idx <- mice(boys, pred = pred, meth = meth, maxit = 20,
+ seed = 9212, print = FALSE)
R> head(complete(imp.idx)[$bmi), ], 3)
age hgt wgt bmi hc gen phb tv reg
103 0.087 60.0 4.54 12.61111 39.0 G1 P1 3 west
366 0.177 57.5 4.20 12.70321 40.4 G1 P1 1 west
1617 1.481 85.5 12.04 16.47002 47.5 G1 P1 1 north
Observe than the imputed values for bmi are consistent with (imputed) values of hgt and wgt.
Note: The values of bmi in the original data have been rounded to two decimals. If desired,
one can get that also in the imputed values by setting
R> meth["bmi"] <- "~round(wgt/(hgt/100)^2,dig=2)"
Sum scores
The sum score is undefined if one of the variables to be added is missing. We can use
sum scores of imputed variables within the MICE algorithm to economize on the number
of predictors. For example, suppose we create a summary maturation score of the pubertal
measurements gen,phb and tv, and use that score to impute the other variables instead of
the three original pubertal measurements. We can achieve that by
28 mice: Multivariate Imputation by Chained Equations in R
R> ini <- mice(cbind(boys, mat = NA), max = 0, print = FALSE)
R> meth <- ini$meth
R> meth["mat"] <- "~I(as.integer(gen) + as.integer(phb) +\n
+ + as.integer(cut(tv,breaks=c(0,3,6,10,15,20,25))))"
R> meth["bmi"] <- "~I(wgt/(hgt/100)^2)"
R> pred <- ini$pred
R> pred[c("bmi", "gen", "phb", "tv"), "mat"] <- 0
R> pred[c("hgt", "wgt", "hc", "reg"), "mat"] <- 1
R> pred[c("hgt", "wgt", "hc", "reg"), c("gen", "phb", "tv")] <- 0
R> pred[c("wgt", "hgt", "hc", "reg"), "bmi"] <- 0
R> pred[c("gen", "phb", "tv"), c("hgt", "wgt", "hc")] <- 0
R> pred
age hgt wgt bmi hc gen phb tv reg mat
hc 1110000011
tv 1001011010
The maturation score mat is composed of the sum of gen,phb and tv. Since the first two are
factors, we need the as.integer() function to get the internal numerical codes. Furthermore,
we recoded tv into 6 ordered categories by calling the cut() function, and use the category
number to calculate the sum score. The predictor matrix is set up so that either the set of
(gen,phb,tv) or mat are predictors, but never at the same time. The number of predictors
for say, hgt, has now dropped from 8 to 5, but imputation still incorporates the main relations
of interest. Imputations can now be generated and plotted by
R> imp.sum <- mice(cbind(boys, mat = NA), pred = pred, meth = meth,
+ maxit = 20, seed = 10948, print = FALSE)
R> xyplot(imp.sum, mat ~ age | .imp, na = gen | phb | tv,
+ subset = .imp == 1, ylab = "Maturation score", xlab = "Age (years)")
Figure 5plots the derived maturation scores against age. Since no measurements were made
before the age of 8 years, all scores on the left side are sums of three imputed values for
gen,phb and tv. Note that imputation relies on extreme extrapolation outside the range of
the data. Though quite a few anomalies are present (many babies score a ‘4’ or higher), the
overall pattern is as expected. Section 3.5 discusses ways to improve the imputations.
Interaction terms
In some cases scientific interest focusses on interactions terms. For example, in experimental
studies we may be interested in assessing whether the rate of change differs between two
Journal of Statistical Software 29
Age (years)
Maturation score
0 5 10 15 20
Figure 5: Observed (blue) and (partially) imputed (red) maturation scores plotted against
treatment groups. In such cases, the primary goal is to get an unbiased estimate of the time
by group interaction. In general imputations should be </