Limitations and Misinterpretations of E-Values for Sensitivity Analyses of Observational Studies.

Ioannidis, John P A; Tan, Yuan Jin; Blum, Manuel (2019). Limitations and Misinterpretations of E-Values for Sensitivity Analyses of Observational Studies. Annals of internal medicine, 170(2), pp. 108-111. American College of Physicians 10.7326/M18-2159

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The E-value was recently introduced on the basis of earlier work as "the minimum strength of association…that an unmeasured confounder would need to have with both the treatment and the outcome to fully explain away a specific treatment-outcome association, conditional on the measured covariates." E-values have been proposed for wide application in observational studies evaluating causality. However, they have limitations and are prone to misinterpretation. E-values have a monotonic, almost linear relationship with effect estimates and thus offer no additional information beyond what effect estimates can convey. Whereas effect estimates are based on real data, E-values may make unrealistic assumptions. No general rule can exist about what is a "small enough" E-value, and users of the biomedical literature are not familiar with how to interpret a range of E-values. Problems arise for any measure dependent on effect estimates and their CIs-for example, bias due to selective reporting and dependence on choice of exposure contrast and level of confidence. The automation of E-values may give an excuse not to think seriously about confounding. Moreover, biases other than confounding may still undermine results. Instead of misused or misinterpreted E-values, the authors recommend judicious use of existing methods for sensitivity analyses with careful assumptions; systematic assessments of whether and how known confounders have been handled, along with consideration of their prevalence and magnitude; thorough discussion of the potential for unknown confounders considering the study design and field of application; and explicit caution in making causal claims from observational studies.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Department of General Internal Medicine (DAIM) > Clinic of General Internal Medicine

UniBE Contributor:

Blum, Manuel


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health




American College of Physicians




Tobias Tritschler

Date Deposited:

30 Jan 2019 17:10

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2021 17:17

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:





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