Preface to first edition

We are surrounded by missing data. Problems created by missing data in statistical analysis have long been swept under the carpet. These times are now slowly coming to an end. The array of techniques for dealing with missing data has expanded considerably during the last decades. This book is about one such method: multiple imputation.

Multiple imputation is one of the great ideas in statistical science. The technique is simple, elegant and powerful. It is simple because it fills the holes in the data with plausible values. It is elegant because the uncertainty about the unknown data is coded in the data itself. And it is powerful because it can solve “other” problems that are actually missing data problems in disguise.

Over the last 20 years, I have applied multiple imputation in a wide variety of projects. I believe the time is ripe for multiple imputation to enter mainstream statistics. Computers and software are now potent enough to do the required calculations with little effort. What is still missing is a book that explains the basic ideas and that shows how these ideas can be put into practice. My hope is that this book can fill this gap.

The text assumes familiarity with basic statistical concepts and multivariate methods. The book is intended for two audiences:

  • (bio)statisticians, epidemiologists and methodologists in the social and health sciences;

  • substantive researchers who do not call themselves statisticians, but who possess the necessary skills to understand the principles and to follow the recipes.

In writing this text, I have tried to avoid mathematical and technical details as much as possible. Formulas are accompanied by a verbal statement that explains the formula in layperson terms. I hope that readers less concerned with the theoretical underpinnings will be able to pick up the general idea. The more technical material is marked by a club sign \(^\spadesuit\), and can be skipped on first reading.

I used various parts of the book to teach a graduate course on imputation techniques at the University of Utrecht. The basics are in Chapters 1–4. Lecturing this material takes about 10 hours. The lectures were interspersed with sessions in which the students worked out the exercises from the book.

This book owes much to the ideas of Donald Rubin, the originator of multiple imputation. I had the privilege of being able to talk, meet and work with him on many occasions. His clear vision and deceptively simple ideas have been a tremendous source of inspiration. I am also indebted to Jan van Rijckevorsel for bringing me into contact with Donald Rubin, and for establishing the scientific climate at TNO in which our work on missing data techniques could prosper.

Many people have helped realize this project. I thank Nico van Meeteren and Michael Holewijn of TNO for their trust and support. I thank Peter van der Heijden of Utrecht University for his support. I thank Rob Calver and the staff at Chapman & Hall/CRC for their help and advice. Many colleagues have commented on part or all of the manuscript: Hendriek Boshuizen, Elise Dusseldorp, Karin Groothuis-Oudshoorn, Michael Hermanussen, Martijn Heymans, Nicholas Horton, Shahab Jolani, Gerko Vink, Ian White and the research master students of the Spring 2011 class. Their comments have been very valuable for detecting and eliminating quite a few glitches. I happily take the blame for the remaining errors and vagaries.

The major part of the manuscript was written during a six-month sabbatical leave. I spent four months in Krukö, Sweden, a small village of just eight houses. I thank Frank van den Nieuwenhuijzen and Ynske de Koning for making their wonderful green house available to me. It was the perfect tranquil environment that, apart from snowplowing, provided a minimum of distractions. I also spent two months at the residence of Michael Hermanussen and Beate Lohse-Hermanussen in Altenhof, Germany. I thank them for their hospitality, creativity and wit. It was a wonderful time.

Finally, I thank my family, in particular my beloved wife Eveline, for their warm and ongoing support, and for allowing me to devote time, often nights and weekends, to work on this book. Eveline liked to tease me by telling people that I was writing “a book that no one understands.” I fear that her statement is accurate, at least for 99% of the people. My hope is that you, my dear reader, will belong to the remaining 1%.