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SAFFRON: an Adaptive Algorithm for Online Control of the False Discovery Rate
Aaditya Ramdas · Tijana Zrnic · Martin Wainwright · Michael Jordan

Thu Jul 12 09:15 AM -- 12:00 PM (PDT) @ Hall B #142
In the online false discovery rate (FDR) problem, one observes a possibly infinite sequence of $p$-values $P_1,P_2,\dots$, each testing a different null hypothesis, and an algorithm must pick a sequence of rejection thresholds $\alpha_1,\alpha_2,\dots$ in an online fashion, effectively rejecting the $k$-th null hypothesis whenever $P_k \leq \alpha_k$. Importantly, $\alpha_k$ must be a function of the past, and cannot depend on $P_k$ or any of the later unseen $p$-values, and must be chosen to guarantee that for any time $t$, the FDR up to time $t$ is less than some pre-determined quantity $\alpha \in (0,1)$. In this work, we present a powerful new framework for online FDR control that we refer to as ``SAFFRON''. Like older alpha-investing algorithms, SAFFRON starts off with an error budget (called alpha-wealth) that it intelligently allocates to different tests over time, earning back some alpha-wealth whenever it makes a new discovery. However, unlike older methods, SAFFRON's threshold sequence is based on a novel estimate of the alpha fraction that it allocates to true null hypotheses. In the offline setting, algorithms that employ an estimate of the proportion of true nulls are called ``adaptive'', hence SAFFRON can be seen as an online analogue of the offline Storey-BH adaptive procedure. Just as Storey-BH is typically more powerful than the Benjamini-Hochberg (BH) procedure under independence, we demonstrate that SAFFRON is also more powerful than its non-adaptive counterparts such as LORD.

Author Information

Aaditya Ramdas (UC Berkeley)
Tijana Zrnic (University of California, Berkeley)
Martin Wainwright (University of California at Berkeley)
Michael Jordan (UC Berkeley)

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