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Mark van der Laan, Sky Qiu, Lars van der Laan

We consider the problem of estimating the average treatment effect (ATE) when both randomized control trial (RCT) data and real-world data (RWD) are available. We decompose the ATE estimand as the difference between a pooled-ATE estimand that integrates RCT and RWD and a bias estimand that captures the conditional effect of RCT enrollment on the outcome. We introduce an adaptive targeted minimum loss-based estimation (A-TMLE) framework to estimate them. We prove that the A-TMLE estimator is root-n-consistent and asymptotically normal. Moreover, in finite sample, it achieves the super-efficiency one would obtain had one known the oracle model for the conditional effect of the RCT enrollment on the outcome. Consequently, the smaller the working model of the bias induced by the RWD is, the greater our estimator's efficiency, while our estimator will always be at least as efficient as an efficient estimator that uses the RCT data only. A-TMLE outperforms existing methods in simulations by having smaller mean-squared-error and 95% confidence intervals. A-TMLE could help utilize RWD to improve the efficiency of randomized trial results without biasing the estimates of intervention effects. This approach could allow for smaller, faster trials, decreasing the time until patients can receive effective treatments.

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Toru Shirakawa, Yi Li, Yulun Wu, Sky Qiu, Yuxuan Li, Mingduo Zhao, Hiroyasu Iso, Mark van der Laan

We propose Deep Longitudinal Targeted Minimum Loss-based Estimation (Deep LTMLE), a novel approach to estimate the counterfactual mean of outcome under dynamic treatment policies in longitudinal problem settings. Our approach utilizes a transformer architecture with heterogeneous type embedding trained using temporal-difference learning. After obtaining an initial estimate using the transformer, following the targeted minimum loss-based likelihood estimation (TMLE) framework, we statistically corrected for the bias commonly associated with machine learning algorithms. Furthermore, our method also facilitates statistical inference by enabling the provision of 95% confidence intervals grounded in asymptotic statistical theory. Simulation results demonstrate our method's superior performance over existing approaches, particularly in complex, long time-horizon scenarios. It remains effective in small-sample, short-duration contexts, matching the performance of asymptotically efficient estimators. To demonstrate our method in practice, we applied our method to estimate counterfactual mean outcomes for standard versus intensive blood pressure management strategies in a real-world cardiovascular epidemiology cohort study.

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Ahmed Alaa, Zaid Ahmad, Mark van der Laan

We investigate the problem of machine learning-based (ML) predictive inference on individual treatment effects (ITEs). Previous work has focused primarily on developing ML-based meta-learners that can provide point estimates of the conditional average treatment effect (CATE); these are model-agnostic approaches for combining intermediate nuisance estimates to produce estimates of CATE. In this paper, we develop conformal meta-learners, a general framework for issuing predictive intervals for ITEs by applying the standard conformal prediction (CP) procedure on top of CATE meta-learners. We focus on a broad class of meta-learners based on two-stage pseudo-outcome regression and develop a stochastic ordering framework to study their validity. We show that inference with conformal meta-learners is marginally valid if their (pseudo outcome) conformity scores stochastically dominate oracle conformity scores evaluated on the unobserved ITEs. Additionally, we prove that commonly used CATE meta-learners, such as the doubly-robust learner, satisfy a model- and distribution-free stochastic (or convex) dominance condition, making their conformal inferences valid for practically-relevant levels of target coverage. Whereas existing procedures conduct inference on nuisance parameters (i.e., potential outcomes) via weighted CP, conformal meta-learners enable direct inference on the target parameter (ITE). Numerical experiments show that conformal meta-learners provide valid intervals with competitive efficiency while retaining the favorable point estimation properties of CATE meta-learners.

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Lars van der Laan, Marco Carone, Alex Luedtke, Mark van der Laan

Debiased machine learning estimators for nonparametric inference of smooth functionals of the data-generating distribution can suffer from excessive variability and instability. For this reason, practitioners may resort to simpler models based on parametric or semiparametric assumptions. However, such simplifying assumptions may fail to hold, and estimates may then be biased due to model misspecification. To address this problem, we propose Adaptive Debiased Machine Learning (ADML), a nonparametric framework that combines data-driven model selection and debiased machine learning techniques to construct asymptotically linear, adaptive, and superefficient estimators for pathwise differentiable functionals. By learning model structure directly from data, ADML avoids the bias introduced by model misspecification and remains free from the restrictions of parametric and semiparametric models. While they may exhibit irregular behavior for the target parameter in a nonparametric statistical model, we demonstrate that ADML estimators provides regular and locally uniformly valid inference for a projection-based oracle parameter. Importantly, this oracle parameter agrees with the original target parameter for distributions within an unknown but correctly specified oracle statistical submodel that is learned from the data. This finding implies that there is no penalty, in a local asymptotic sense, for conducting data-driven model selection compared to having prior knowledge of the oracle submodel and oracle parameter. To demonstrate the practical applicability of our theory, we provide a broad class of ADML estimators for estimating the average treatment effect in adaptive partially linear regression models.

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Alejandro Schuler, Mark van der Laan

Machine learning regression methods allow estimation of functions without unrealistic parametric assumptions. Although they can perform exceptionally in prediction error, most lack theoretical convergence rates necessary for semi-parametric efficient estimation (e.g. TMLE, AIPW) of parameters like average treatment effects. The Highly Adaptive Lasso (HAL) is the only regression method proven to converge quickly enough for a meaningfully large class of functions, independent of the dimensionality of the predictors. Unfortunately, HAL is not computationally scalable. In this paper we build upon the theory of HAL to construct the Selectively Adaptive Lasso (SAL), a new algorithm which retains HAL's dimension-free, nonparametric convergence rate but which also scales computationally to massive datasets. To accomplish this, we prove some general theoretical results pertaining to empirical loss minimization in nested Donsker classes. Our resulting algorithm is a form of gradient tree boosting with an adaptive learning rate, which makes it fast and trivial to implement with off-the-shelf software. Finally, we show that our algorithm retains the performance of standard gradient boosting on a diverse group of real-world datasets. SAL makes semi-parametric efficient estimators practically possible and theoretically justifiable in many big data settings.

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Laura B. Balzer, Mark van der Laan, James Ayieko, Moses Kamya, Gabriel Chamie, Joshua Schwab, Diane V. Havlir, Maya L. Petersen

Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) randomly assign an intervention to groups of individuals (e.g., clinics or communities), and measure outcomes on individuals in those groups. While offering many advantages, this experimental design introduces challenges that are only partially addressed by existing analytic approaches. First, outcomes are often missing for some individuals within clusters. Failing to appropriately adjust for differential outcome measurement can result in biased estimates and inference. Second, CRTs often randomize limited numbers of clusters, resulting in chance imbalances on baseline outcome predictors between arms. Failing to adaptively adjust for these imbalances and other predictive covariates can result in efficiency losses. To address these methodological gaps, we propose and evaluate a novel two-stage targeted minimum loss-based estimator (TMLE) to adjust for baseline covariates in a manner that optimizes precision, after controlling for baseline and post-baseline causes of missing outcomes. Finite sample simulations illustrate that our approach can nearly eliminate bias due to differential outcome measurement, while other common CRT estimators yield misleading results and inferences. Application to real data from the SEARCH community randomized trial demonstrates the gains in efficiency afforded through adaptive adjustment for cluster-level covariates, after controlling for missingness on individual-level outcomes.

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Aurélien Bibaut, Antoine Chambaz, Maria Dimakopoulou, Nathan Kallus, Mark van der Laan

Empirical risk minimization (ERM) is the workhorse of machine learning, whether for classification and regression or for off-policy policy learning, but its model-agnostic guarantees can fail when we use adaptively collected data, such as the result of running a contextual bandit algorithm. We study a generic importance sampling weighted ERM algorithm for using adaptively collected data to minimize the average of a loss function over a hypothesis class and provide first-of-their-kind generalization guarantees and fast convergence rates. Our results are based on a new maximal inequality that carefully leverages the importance sampling structure to obtain rates with the right dependence on the exploration rate in the data. For regression, we provide fast rates that leverage the strong convexity of squared-error loss. For policy learning, we provide rate-optimal regret guarantees that close an open gap in the existing literature whenever exploration decays to zero, as is the case for bandit-collected data. An empirical investigation validates our theory.

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Aurélien Bibaut, Antoine Chambaz, Maria Dimakopoulou, Nathan Kallus, Mark van der Laan

Contextual bandit algorithms are increasingly replacing non-adaptive A/B tests in e-commerce, healthcare, and policymaking because they can both improve outcomes for study participants and increase the chance of identifying good or even best policies. To support credible inference on novel interventions at the end of the study, nonetheless, we still want to construct valid confidence intervals on average treatment effects, subgroup effects, or value of new policies. The adaptive nature of the data collected by contextual bandit algorithms, however, makes this difficult: standard estimators are no longer asymptotically normally distributed and classic confidence intervals fail to provide correct coverage. While this has been addressed in non-contextual settings by using stabilized estimators, the contextual setting poses unique challenges that we tackle for the first time in this paper. We propose the Contextual Adaptive Doubly Robust (CADR) estimator, the first estimator for policy value that is asymptotically normal under contextual adaptive data collection. The main technical challenge in constructing CADR is designing adaptive and consistent conditional standard deviation estimators for stabilization. Extensive numerical experiments using 57 OpenML datasets demonstrate that confidence intervals based on CADR uniquely provide correct coverage.

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Yue You, Mark van der Laan, Philip Collender, Qu Cheng, Alan Hubbard, Nicholas P Jewell, Zhiyue Tom Hu, Robin Mejia, Justin Remais

We propose a modern method to estimate population size based on capture-recapture designs of K samples. The observed data is formulated as a sample of n i.i.d. K-dimensional vectors of binary indicators, where the k-th component of each vector indicates the subject being caught by the k-th sample, such that only subjects with nonzero capture vectors are observed. The target quantity is the unconditional probability of the vector being nonzero across both observed and unobserved subjects. We cover models assuming a single constraint (identification assumption) on the K-dimensional distribution such that the target quantity is identified and the statistical model is unrestricted. We present solutions for linear and non-linear constraints commonly assumed to identify capture-recapture models, including no K-way interaction in linear and log-linear models, independence or conditional independence. We demonstrate that the choice of constraint has a dramatic impact on the value of the estimand, showing that it is crucial that the constraint is known to hold by design. For the commonly assumed constraint of no K-way interaction in a log-linear model, the statistical target parameter is only defined when each of the $2^K - 1$ observable capture patterns is present, and therefore suffers from the curse of dimensionality. We propose a targeted MLE based on undersmoothed lasso model to smooth across the cells while targeting the fit towards the single valued target parameter of interest. For each identification assumption, we provide simulated inference and confidence intervals to assess the performance on the estimator under correct and incorrect identifying assumptions. We apply the proposed method, alongside existing estimators, to estimate prevalence of a parasitic infection using multi-source surveillance data from a region in southwestern China, under the four identification assumptions.

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