Caveats and pitfalls of ROC analysis in clinical microarray research (and how to avoid them)

Daniel Berrar, Peter Flach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

39 Citations (Scopus)


The receiver operating characteristic (ROC) has emerged as the gold standard for assessing and comparing the performance of classifiers in a wide range of disciplines including the life sciences. ROC curves are frequently summarized in a single scalar, the area under the curve (AUC). This article discusses the caveats and pitfalls of ROC analysis in clinical microarray research, particularly in relation to (i) the interpretation of AUC (especially a value close to 0.5); (ii) model comparisons based on AUC; (iii) the differences between ranking and classification; (iv) effects due to multiple hypotheses testing; (v) the importance of confidence intervals for AUC; and (vi) the choice of the appropriate performance metric. With a discussion of illustrative examples and concrete real-world studies, this article highlights critical misconceptions that can profoundly impact the conclusions about the observed performance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberbbr008
Pages (from-to)83-97
Number of pages15
JournalBriefings in Bioinformatics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Jan 1



  • Area under the curve
  • Microarrays
  • Model evaluation
  • Multiple testing
  • Receiver operating characteristic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Molecular Biology

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