Sensitivity analysis of individual treatment effects: A robust conformal inference approach

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Abstract:

We propose a model-free framework for sensitivity analysis of individual treatment effects (ITEs), building upon ideas from conformal inference. For any unit, our procedure reports the Γ-value, a number which quantifies the minimum strength of confounding needed to explain away the evidence for ITE. Our approach rests on the reliable predictive inference of counterfactuals and ITEs in situations where the training data is confounded. Under the marginal sensitivity model of Tan (2006), we characterize the shift between the distribution of the observations and that of the counterfactuals. We first develop a general method for predictive inference of test samples from a shifted distribution; we then leverage this to construct covariate-dependent prediction sets for counterfactuals. No matter the value of the shift, these prediction sets (resp. approximately) achieve marginal coverage if the propensity score is known exactly (resp. estimated). We describe a distinct procedure also attaining coverage, however, conditional on the training data. In the latter case, we prove a sharpness result showing that for certain classes of prediction problems, the prediction intervals cannot possibly be tightened. We verify the validity and performance of the new methods via simulation studies and apply them to analyze real datasets.

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The red dots represent individuals with positive ITEs when the confounding strength of observational data is below 2.