To have value, comparisons of high-throughput phenotyping methods need statistical tests of bias and variance

Justin M. McGrath, Matthew H. Siebers, Peng Fu, Stephen P. Long, Carl J. Bernacchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The gap between genomics and phenomics is narrowing. The rate at which it is narrowing, however, is being slowed by improper statistical comparison of methods. Quantification using Pearson’s correlation coefficient (r) is commonly used to assess method quality, but it is an often misleading statistic for this purpose as it is unable to provide information about the relative quality of two methods. Using r can both erroneously discount methods that are inherently more precise and validate methods that are less accurate. These errors occur because of logical flaws inherent in the use of r when comparing methods, not as a problem of limited sample size or the unavoidable possibility of a type I error. A popular alternative to using r is to measure the limits of agreement (LOA). However both r and LOA fail to identify which instrument is more or less variable than the other and can lead to incorrect conclusions about method quality. An alternative approach, comparing variances of methods, requires repeated measurements of the same subject, but avoids incorrect conclusions. Variance comparison is arguably the most important component of method validation and, thus, when repeated measurements are possible, variance comparison provides considerable value to these studies. Statistical tests to compare variances presented here are well established, easy to interpret and ubiquitously available. The widespread use of r has potentially led to numerous incorrect conclusions about method quality, hampering development, and the approach described here would be useful to advance high throughput phenotyping methods but can also extend into any branch of science. The adoption of the statistical techniques outlined in this paper will help speed the adoption of new high throughput phenotyping techniques by indicating when one should reject a new method, outright replace an old method or conditionally use a new method.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1325221
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
StatePublished - 2023


  • Bland and Altman
  • bias
  • limits of agreement
  • physical sciences
  • statistics method comparison
  • variance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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