The robust beauty of improper linear models in decision making

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Abstract

Proper linear models are those in which predictor variables are given weights such that the resulting linear composite optimally predicts some criterion of interest; examples of proper linear models are standard regression analysis, discriminant function analysis, and ridge regression analysis. Research summarized in P. Meehl's (1954) book on clinical vs statistical prediction and research stimulated in part by that book indicate that when a numerical criterion variable (e.g., graduate GPA) is to be predicted from numerical predictor variables, proper linear models outperform clinical intuition. Improper linear models are those in which the weights of the predictor variables are obtained by some nonoptimal method. The present article presents evidence that even such improper linear models are superior to clinical intuition when predicting a numerical criterion from numerical predictors. In fact, unit (i.e., equal) weighting is quite robust for making such predictions. The application of unit weights to decide what bullet the Denver Police Department should use is described; some technical, psychological, and ethical resistances to using linear models in making social decisions are considered; and arguments that could weaken these resistances are presented. (50 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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