Bias–Variance and Breadth–Depth Tradeoffs in Respondent-Driven Sampling

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Bias–Variance and Breadth–Depth Tradeoffs in Respondent-Driven Sampling

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Title: Bias–Variance and Breadth–Depth Tradeoffs in Respondent-Driven Sampling
Author: Nesterko, Sergiy O; Blitzstein, Joseph K.

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Citation: Nesterko, Sergiy, and Joseph Blitzstein. 2013. “Bias–variance and Breadth–depth Tradeoffs in Respondent-Driven Sampling.” Journal of Statistical Computation and Simulation (May 29): 1–14.
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Abstract: Respondent-driven sampling (RDS) is a link-tracing network sampling strategy for collecting data from hard-to-reach populations, such as injection drug users or individuals at high risk of being infected with HIV. The mechanism is to find initial participants (seeds), and give each of them a fixed number of coupons allowing them to recruit people they know from the population of interest, with a mutual financial incentive. The new participants are again given coupons and the process repeats. Currently, the standard RDS estimator used in practice is known as the Volz–Heckathorn (VH) estimator. It relies on strong assumptions about the underlying social network and the RDS process. Via simulation, we study the relative performance of the plain mean and VH estimators when assumptions of the latter are not satisfied, under different network types (including homophily and rich-get-richer networks), participant referral patterns, and varying number of coupons. The analysis demonstrates that the plain mean outperforms the VH estimator in many but not all of the simulated settings, including homophily networks. Also, we highlight the implications of multiple recruitment and varying referral patterns on the depth of RDS process. We develop interactive visualizations of the findings and RDS process to further build insight into the various factors contributing to the performance of current RDS estimation techniques.
Published Version: doi:10.1080/00949655.2013.804078
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