Daily Archives: March 29, 2012

To robust, or not to robust? … that is the question

From time to time it is suggested that ordinary least squares, a.k.a. “OLS,” is inappropriate for some particular trend analysis. Sometimes this is a “word to the wise” because OLS actually is inappropriate (or at least, inferior to other choices). Sometimes (in tamino’s humble opinion) this is because an individual has seen situations in which OLS performs poorly, and is sufficiently impressed by robust regression as a substitute, to form the faulty opinion that it’s superior to OLS generally. For the record, this comment is not one of those cases.

In reality, OLS is the workhorse of trend analysis and there are very good reasons for that. It’s founded on some very simple, and very common, assumptions about the data, and if those assumptions hold true, OLS is the best method for linear trend detection and estimation. It can be dangerous to use the word “best” in a statistical analysis, but in this case I feel justified in doing so.

Of course that raises some nontrivial questions. What are those assumptions? When might they not hold true? How could we tell? What should we do if we can establish that the OLS assumptions aren’t valid?

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