International Journal of Health Geographics 2009, 8:60
Geoffrey M Jacquez, Robert Rommel
Although sources of positional error in geographic locations (e.g. geocoding error) used for describing and modeling spatial patterns are widely acknowledged, research on how such error impacts the statistical results has been limited. In this paper we explore techniques for quantifying the perturbability of spatial weights to different specifications of positional error.
We find that a family of curves describes the relationship between perturbability and positional error, and use these curves to evaluate sensitivity of alternative spatial weight specifications to positional error both globally (when all locations are considered simultaneously) and locally (to identify those locations that would benefit most from increased geocoding accuracy). We evaluate the approach in simulation studies, and demonstrate it using a case-control study of bladder cancer in south-eastern Michigan.
Three results are significant. First, the shape of the probability distributions of positional error (e.g. circular, elliptical, cross) has little impact on the perturbability of spatial weights, which instead depends on the mean positional error. Second, our methodology allows researchers to evaluate the sensitivity of spatial statistics to positional accuracy for specific geographies. This has substantial practical implications since it makes possible routine sensitivity analysis of spatial statistics to positional error arising in geocoded street addresses, global positioning systems, LIDAR and other geographic data. Third, those locations with high perturbability (most sensitive to positional error) and high leverage (that contribute the most to the spatial weight being considered) will benefit the most from increased positional accuracy. These are rapidly identified using a new visualization tool we call the LIGA scatterplot. Herein lies a paradox for spatial analysis: For a given level of positional error increasing sample density to more accurately follow the underlying population distribution increases perturbability and introduces error into the spatial weights matrix. In some studies positional error may not impact the statistical results, and in others it might invalidate the results. We therefore must understand the relationships between positional accuracy and the perturbability of the spatial weights in order to have confidence in a study’s results.
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