Linear regression models are fundamental in statistics and data science. When seeking to understand how covariates are associated with outcomes, linear models are among the first, best options. Although other regression approaches are possible, the flexibility and interpretability and of linear models make them essential.

This content assumes some familiarity with linear models, and focuses on the implementation of models in R rather than on the theory or interpretation of the models themselves.

This is the first module in the Linear Models topic.


Learning Objectives

Review fundamentals of linear and generalized linear models, fit models in R, and tidy results for further analysis.

Slide Deck

Video Lecture


I’ll write code for today’s content in a new R Markdown document called linear_models.Rmd in a linear_models directory / repo. The code chunk below loads some usual packages and sets a seed for reproducibility.



Model fitting

The code below loads and cleans the Airbnb data, which we’ll use as a primary example for fitting linear models.


nyc_airbnb = 
  nyc_airbnb %>% 
  mutate(stars = review_scores_location / 2) %>% 
    borough = neighbourhood_group,
    neighborhood = neighbourhood) %>% 
  filter(borough != "Staten Island") %>% 
  select(price, stars, borough, neighborhood, room_type)

An good place to start is to consider price as an outcome that may depend on rating and borough. We fit that initial model in the following code.

fit = lm(price ~ stars + borough, data = nyc_airbnb)

The lm function begins with the formula specification – outcome on the left of the ~ and predictors separated by + on the right. As we’ll see shortly, interactions between variables can be specified using *. You can also specify an intercept-only model (outcome ~ 1), a model with no intercept (outcome ~ 0 + ...), and a model using all available predictors (outcome ~ .).

R will treat categorical (factor) covariates appropriately and predictably: indicator variables are created for each non-reference category and included in your model, and the factor level is treated as the reference. As with ggplot, being careful with factors is therefore critical!

nyc_airbnb = 
  nyc_airbnb %>% 
    borough = fct_infreq(borough),
    room_type = fct_infreq(room_type))

fit = lm(price ~ stars + borough, data = nyc_airbnb)

It’s important to note that changing reference categories won’t change “fit” or statistical sigificance, but can affect ease of interpretation.

Tidying output

The output of a lm is an object of class lm – a very specific list that isn’t a dataframe but that can be manipulated using other functions. Some common functions for interacting with lm fits are below, although we omit the output.


The reason that we omit the output is that it’s a huge pain to deal with. summary produces an object of class summary.lm, which is also a list – that’s how we extracted the coefficients using summary(fit)$coef. coef produces a vector of coefficient values, and fitted.values is a vector of fitted values. None of this is tidy.

It’s helpful to know about the products of lm and to know there are a range of ways to interact with models in base R. That said, for the most part it’s easiest to use tidy tools.

The broom package has functions for obtaining a quick summary of the model and for cleaning up the coefficient table.

fit %>% 
## # A tibble: 1 × 12
##   r.squared adj.r.squared sigma statistic   p.value    df   logLik    AIC    BIC
##       <dbl>         <dbl> <dbl>     <dbl>     <dbl> <dbl>    <dbl>  <dbl>  <dbl>
## 1    0.0342        0.0341  182.      271. 6.73e-229     4 -202113. 4.04e5 4.04e5
## # ℹ 3 more variables: deviance <dbl>, df.residual <int>, nobs <int>
fit %>% 
## # A tibble: 5 × 5
##   term            estimate std.error statistic   p.value
##   <chr>              <dbl>     <dbl>     <dbl>     <dbl>
## 1 (Intercept)         19.8     12.2       1.63 1.04e-  1
## 2 stars               32.0      2.53     12.7  1.27e- 36
## 3 boroughBrooklyn    -49.8      2.23    -22.3  6.32e-109
## 4 boroughQueens      -77.0      3.73    -20.7  2.58e- 94
## 5 boroughBronx       -90.3      8.57    -10.5  6.64e- 26

Both of these functions produce data frames, which makes it straightforward to include the results in subsequent steps.

fit %>% 
  broom::tidy() %>% 
  select(term, estimate, p.value) %>% 
  mutate(term = str_replace(term, "^borough", "Borough: ")) %>% 
  knitr::kable(digits = 3)
term estimate p.value
(Intercept) 19.839 0.104
stars 31.990 0.000
Borough: Brooklyn -49.754 0.000
Borough: Queens -77.048 0.000
Borough: Bronx -90.254 0.000

As an aside, broom::tidy works with lots of things, including most of the functions for model fitting you’re likely to run into (survival, mixed models, additive models, …).


Regression diagnostics can identify issues in model fit, especially related to certain failures in model assumptions. Examining residuals and fitted values are therefore an imporant component of any modeling exercise.

The modelr package can be used to add residuals and fitted values to a dataframe.

modelr::add_residuals(nyc_airbnb, fit)
## # A tibble: 40,492 × 6
##   price stars borough neighborhood room_type        resid
##   <dbl> <dbl> <fct>   <chr>        <fct>            <dbl>
## 1    99     5 Bronx   City Island  Private room      9.47
## 2   200    NA Bronx   City Island  Private room     NA   
## 3   300    NA Bronx   City Island  Entire home/apt  NA   
## 4   125     5 Bronx   City Island  Entire home/apt  35.5 
## 5    69     5 Bronx   City Island  Private room    -20.5 
## 6   125     5 Bronx   City Island  Entire home/apt  35.5 
## # ℹ 40,486 more rows
modelr::add_predictions(nyc_airbnb, fit)
## # A tibble: 40,492 × 6
##   price stars borough neighborhood room_type        pred
##   <dbl> <dbl> <fct>   <chr>        <fct>           <dbl>
## 1    99     5 Bronx   City Island  Private room     89.5
## 2   200    NA Bronx   City Island  Private room     NA  
## 3   300    NA Bronx   City Island  Entire home/apt  NA  
## 4   125     5 Bronx   City Island  Entire home/apt  89.5
## 5    69     5 Bronx   City Island  Private room     89.5
## 6   125     5 Bronx   City Island  Entire home/apt  89.5
## # ℹ 40,486 more rows

Like many things in the tidyverse, the first argument is a dataframe. That makes it easy to included steps adding residuals or predictions in pipeline of commands to conduct inspections and perform diagnostics.

nyc_airbnb %>% 
  modelr::add_residuals(fit) %>% 
  ggplot(aes(x = borough, y = resid)) + geom_violin()

nyc_airbnb %>% 
  modelr::add_residuals(fit) %>% 
  ggplot(aes(x = stars, y = resid)) + geom_point()

This example has some obvious issues, most notably the presence of extremely large outliers in price and a generally skewed residual distribution. There are a few things we might try to do here – including creating a formal rule for the exclusion of outliers, transforming the price variable (e.g. using a log transformation), or fitting a model that is robust to outliers. Dealing with these issues isn’t really the purpose of this class, though, so we’ll note the issues and move on; shortly we’ll look at using the bootstrap for inference in cases like this, where standard approaches to inference may fail.

(For what it’s worth, I’d probably use a combination of median regression, which is less sensitive to outliers than OLS, and maybe bootstrapping for inference. If that’s not feasible, I’d omit rentals with price over $1000 (< 0.5% of the sample) from the primary analysis and examine these separately. I usually avoid transforming the outcome, because the results model is difficult to interpret.)

Hypothesis testing

We’ll comment briefly on hypothesis testing. Model summaries include results of t-tests for single coefficients, and are the standard way of assessing statistical significance.

Testing multiple coefficients is somewhat more complicated. A useful approach is to use nested models, meaning that the terms in a simple “null” model are a subset of the terms in a more complex “alternative” model. The are formal tests for comparing the null and alternative models, even when several coefficients are added in the alternative model. Tests of this kind are required to assess the significance of a categorical predictor with more than two levels, as in the example below.

fit_null = lm(price ~ stars + borough, data = nyc_airbnb)
fit_alt = lm(price ~ stars + borough + room_type, data = nyc_airbnb)

The test of interest is implemented in the anova function which, of course, can be summarized using broom::tidy.

anova(fit_null, fit_alt) %>% 
## # A tibble: 2 × 7
##   term                        df.residual    rss    df   sumsq statistic p.value
##   <chr>                             <dbl>  <dbl> <dbl>   <dbl>     <dbl>   <dbl>
## 1 price ~ stars + borough           30525 1.01e9    NA NA            NA       NA
## 2 price ~ stars + borough + …       30523 9.21e8     2  8.42e7     1394.       0

Note that this works for nested models only. Comparing non-nested models is a common problem that requires other methods; we’ll see one approach in cross validation.

Nesting data

We’ll now turn our attention to fitting models to datasets nested within variables – meaning, essentially, that we’ll use nest to create a list column containing datasets and fit separate models to each. This is very different from fitting nested models, even though the terminology is similar.

In the airbnb data, we might think that star ratings and room type affects price differently in each borough. One way to allow this kind of effect modification is through interaction terms:

nyc_airbnb %>% 
  lm(price ~ stars * borough + room_type * borough, data = .) %>% 
  broom::tidy() %>% 
  knitr::kable(digits = 3)
term estimate std.error statistic p.value
(Intercept) 95.694 19.184 4.988 0.000
stars 27.110 3.965 6.838 0.000
boroughBrooklyn -26.066 25.080 -1.039 0.299
boroughQueens -4.118 40.674 -0.101 0.919
boroughBronx -5.627 77.808 -0.072 0.942
room_typePrivate room -124.188 2.996 -41.457 0.000
room_typeShared room -153.635 8.692 -17.676 0.000
stars:boroughBrooklyn -6.139 5.237 -1.172 0.241
stars:boroughQueens -17.455 8.539 -2.044 0.041
stars:boroughBronx -22.664 17.099 -1.325 0.185
boroughBrooklyn:room_typePrivate room 31.965 4.328 7.386 0.000
boroughQueens:room_typePrivate room 54.933 7.459 7.365 0.000
boroughBronx:room_typePrivate room 71.273 18.002 3.959 0.000
boroughBrooklyn:room_typeShared room 47.797 13.895 3.440 0.001
boroughQueens:room_typeShared room 58.662 17.897 3.278 0.001
boroughBronx:room_typeShared room 83.089 42.451 1.957 0.050

This works, but the output takes time to think through – the expected change in price comparing an entire apartment to a private room in Queens, for example, involves the main effect of room type and the Queens / private room interaction.

Alternatively, we can nest within boroughs and fit borough-specific models associating price with rating and room type:

nest_lm_res =
  nyc_airbnb %>% 
  nest(data = -borough) %>% 
    models = map(data, ~lm(price ~ stars + room_type, data = .x)),
    results = map(models, broom::tidy)) %>% 
  select(-data, -models) %>% 

The results of this approach are given in the table below.

nest_lm_res %>% 
  select(borough, term, estimate) %>% 
  mutate(term = fct_inorder(term)) %>% 
    names_from = term, values_from = estimate) %>% 
  knitr::kable(digits = 3)
borough (Intercept) stars room_typePrivate room room_typeShared room
Bronx 90.067 4.446 -52.915 -70.547
Queens 91.575 9.654 -69.255 -94.973
Brooklyn 69.627 20.971 -92.223 -105.839
Manhattan 95.694 27.110 -124.188 -153.635

The estimates here are the same as those in the model containing interactions, but are easier to extract from the output.

Fitting models to nested datasets is a way of performing stratified analyses. These have a tradeoff: stratified models make it easy to interpret covariate effects in each stratum, but don’t provide a mechanism for assessing the significance of differences across strata.

An even more extreme example is the assessment of neighborhood effects in Manhattan. The code chunk below fits neighborhood-specific models:

manhattan_airbnb =
  nyc_airbnb %>% 
  filter(borough == "Manhattan")

manhattan_nest_lm_res =
  manhattan_airbnb %>% 
  nest(data = -neighborhood) %>% 
    models = map(data, ~lm(price ~ stars + room_type, data = .x)),
    results = map(models, broom::tidy)) %>% 
  select(-data, -models) %>% 

And the chunk below shows neighborhood-specific estimates for the coefficients related to room type.

manhattan_nest_lm_res %>% 
  filter(str_detect(term, "room_type")) %>% 
  ggplot(aes(x = neighborhood, y = estimate)) + 
  geom_point() + 
  facet_wrap(~term) + 
  theme(axis.text.x = element_text(angle = 80, hjust = 1))

There is, generally speaking, a reduction in room price for a private room or a shared room compared to an entire apartment, but this varies quite a bit across neighborhoods.

With this many factor levels, it really isn’t a good idea to fit models with main effects or interactions for each. Instead, you’d be best-off using a mixed model, with random intercepts and slopes for each neighborhood. Although it’s well beyond the scope of this class, code to fit a mixed model with neighborhood-level random intercepts and random slopes for room type is below. And, of course, we can tidy the results using a mixed-model spinoff of the broom package.

manhattan_airbnb %>% 
  lme4::lmer(price ~ stars + room_type + (1 + room_type | neighborhood), data = .) %>% 
## boundary (singular) fit: see help('isSingular')
## # A tibble: 11 × 6
##    effect   group        term                       estimate std.error statistic
##    <chr>    <chr>        <chr>                         <dbl>     <dbl>     <dbl>
##  1 fixed    <NA>         (Intercept)                 250.        26.6      9.41 
##  2 fixed    <NA>         stars                        -3.16       5.00    -0.631
##  3 fixed    <NA>         room_typePrivate room      -124.         7.80   -15.9  
##  4 fixed    <NA>         room_typeShared room       -157.        12.9    -12.2  
##  5 ran_pars neighborhood sd__(Intercept)              59.3       NA       NA    
##  6 ran_pars neighborhood cor__(Intercept).room_typ…   -0.987     NA       NA    
##  7 ran_pars neighborhood cor__(Intercept).room_typ…   -1.00      NA       NA    
##  8 ran_pars neighborhood sd__room_typePrivate room    36.7       NA       NA    
##  9 ran_pars neighborhood cor__room_typePrivate roo…    0.992     NA       NA    
## 10 ran_pars neighborhood sd__room_typeShared room     43.6       NA       NA    
## 11 ran_pars Residual     sd__Observation             198.        NA       NA

Mixed models are pretty great!

Binary outcomes

Linear models are appropriate for outcomes that follow a continuous distribution, but binary outcomes are common. In these cases, logistic regression is a useful analytic framework.

The Washington Post has gathered data on homicides in 50 large U.S. cities and made the data available through a GitHub repository; the final CSV is here. You can read their accompanying article here. We’ll use data on unresolved murders in Baltimore, MD to illustrate logistic regression in R. The code below imports, cleans, and generally wrangles the data for analysis.

baltimore_df = 
  read_csv("data/homicide-data.csv") %>% 
  filter(city == "Baltimore") %>% 
    resolved = as.numeric(disposition == "Closed by arrest"),
    victim_age = as.numeric(victim_age),
    victim_race = fct_relevel(victim_race, "White")) %>% 
  select(resolved, victim_age, victim_race, victim_sex)
## Rows: 52179 Columns: 12
## ── Column specification ────────────────────────────────────────────────────────
## Delimiter: ","
## chr (9): uid, victim_last, victim_first, victim_race, victim_age, victim_sex...
## dbl (3): reported_date, lat, lon
## ℹ Use `spec()` to retrieve the full column specification for this data.
## ℹ Specify the column types or set `show_col_types = FALSE` to quiet this message.

Using these data, we can fit a logistic regression for the binary “resolved” outcome and victim demographics as predictors. This uses the glm function with the family specified to account for the non-Gaussian outcome distribution.

fit_logistic = 
  baltimore_df %>% 
  glm(resolved ~ victim_age + victim_race + victim_sex, data = ., family = binomial()) 

Many of the same tools we used to work with lm fits can be used for glm fits. The table below summaries the coefficients from the model fit; because logistic model estimates are log odds ratios, we include a step to compute odds ratios as well.

fit_logistic %>% 
  broom::tidy() %>% 
  mutate(OR = exp(estimate)) %>%
  select(term, log_OR = estimate, OR, p.value) %>% 
  knitr::kable(digits = 3)
term log_OR OR p.value
(Intercept) 1.190 3.287 0.000
victim_age -0.007 0.993 0.027
victim_raceAsian 0.296 1.345 0.653
victim_raceBlack -0.842 0.431 0.000
victim_raceHispanic -0.265 0.767 0.402
victim_raceOther -0.768 0.464 0.385
victim_sexMale -0.880 0.415 0.000

Homicides in which the victim is Black are substantially less likely to be resolved that those in which the victim is white; for other races the effects are not significant, possible due to small sample sizes. Homicides in which the victim is male are significantly less like to be resolved than those in which the victim is female. The effect of age is statistically significant, but careful data inspections should be conducted before interpreting too deeply.

We can also compute fitted values; similarly to the estimates in the model summary, these are expressed as log odds and can be transformed to produce probabilities for each subject.

baltimore_df %>% 
  modelr::add_predictions(fit_logistic) %>% 
  mutate(fitted_prob = boot::inv.logit(pred))
## # A tibble: 2,827 × 6
##   resolved victim_age victim_race victim_sex   pred fitted_prob
##      <dbl>      <dbl> <fct>       <chr>       <dbl>       <dbl>
## 1        0         17 Black       Male       -0.654       0.342
## 2        0         26 Black       Male       -0.720       0.327
## 3        0         21 Black       Male       -0.683       0.335
## 4        1         61 White       Male       -0.131       0.467
## 5        1         46 Black       Male       -0.864       0.296
## 6        1         27 Black       Male       -0.727       0.326
## # ℹ 2,821 more rows

Other materials

  • This page touches on ideas that arise in several chapters on modeling in R for Data Science. These tend to assume that this is your first exposure to linear models but good reading:
  • The modelr package also has a website

The code that I produced working examples in lecture is here.