Brief Report: Negative Controls to Detect Selection Bias and Measurement Bias in Epidemiologic Studies

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Abstract

Biomedical laboratory experiments routinely use negative controls to identify possible sources of bias, but epidemiologic studies have infrequently used this type of control in their design or measurement approach. Recently, epidemiologists proposed the routine use of negative controls in observational studies and defined the structure of negative controls to detect bias due to unmeasured confounding. We extend this previous study and define the structure of negative controls to detect selection bias and measurement bias in both observational studies and randomized trials. We illustrate the strengths and limitations of negative controls in this context using examples from the epidemiologic literature. Given their demonstrated utility and broad generalizability, the routine use of prespecified negative controls will strengthen the evidence from epidemiologic studies.

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