Context-dependent representation of within- and between-model uncertainty: Aggregating probabilistic predictions in infectious disease epidemiology

Emily Howerton, Michael C. Runge, Tiffany L. Bogich, Rebecca K. Borchering, Hidetoshi Inamine, Justin Lessler, Luke C. Mullany, William J.M. Probert, Claire P. Smith, Shaun Truelove, Cécile Viboud, Katriona Shea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Probabilistic predictions support public health planning and decision making, especially in infectious disease emergencies. Aggregating outputs from multiple models yields more robust predictions of outcomes and associated uncertainty. While the selection of an aggregation method can be guided by retrospective performance evaluations, this is not always possible. For example, if predictions are conditional on assumptions about how the future will unfold (e.g. possible interventions), these assumptions may never materialize, precluding any direct comparison between predictions and observations. Here, we summarize literature on aggregating probabilistic predictions, illustrate various methods for infectious disease predictions via simulation, and present a strategy for choosing an aggregation method when empirical validation cannot be used. We focus on the linear opinion pool (LOP) and Vincent average, common methods that make different assumptions about between-prediction uncertainty. We contend that assumptions of the aggregation method should align with a hypothesis about how uncertainty is expressed within and between predictions from different sources. The LOP assumes that between-prediction uncertainty is meaningful and should be retained, while the Vincent average assumes that between-prediction uncertainty is akin to sampling error and should not be preserved. We provide an R package for implementation. Given the rising importance of multi-model infectious disease hubs, our work provides useful guidance on aggregation and a deeper understanding of the benefits and risks of different approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20220659
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number198
StatePublished - Jan 25 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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