John Fox

(Department of Sociology, McMaster University, Canada)


ESRC Oxford Spring School

May 2005

Nonparametric regression analysis is regression without an assumption of linearity. The scope of nonparametric regression is very broad, ranging from "smoothing" the relationship between two variables in a scatterplot to multiple-regression analysis and generalized regression models (for example, logistic nonparametric regression for a binary response variable). Unthinkable only a few years ago, methods of nonparametric-regression analysis have been rendered practical by advances in statistics and computing, and are now a serious alternative to more traditional parametric-regression modelling.

This short course aims to provide a broad introduction to nonparametric regression, covering the following topics (as time permits): introduction to nonparametric regression; binning, local averaging, and kernel estimators; local-polynomial regression ("loess"); robust nonparametric regression; regression and smoothing splines; statistical inference for nonparametric regression; the role of nonparametric regression in data analysis; nonparametric multiple regression, including additive regression models; generalized nonparametric regression, including generalized additive models.


Topic Materials
"Crash" Course in R R script file, Tom Short's R reference card, exercises (R script for answers), Duncan.txt, Long.txt, Powers.txt
Nonparametric Regression Lecture notes (corrected), R script file, exercises (R scripts for answers: part 1, part2), R resources in nonparametric regression, loessPlot.R


Sources on Nonparametric Regression

J. M. Chambers and T.J. Hastie, eds., Statistical Models in S. Pacific Grove, CA: Wadsworth, 1992. This volume includes excellent introductions to three aspects of nonparametric regression, which are of value independent of interest in S (i.e, R and S-PLUS): A chapter on additive regression models (generalized additive models) by Hastie; another on local polynomial regression (lowess or loess) models by Cleveland, Grosse, and Shyu; and a third on regression and classification trees by Clark and Pregibon.

A.W. Bowman and A. Azzalini. Applied Smoothing Techniques for Data Analysis: The Kernel Approach with S-Plus Illustrations. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997. An accessible treatment of nonparametric regression and related methods, with a useful library of S programs and worked-out S examples.

J. Fan and I. Gijbels. Local Polynomial Modelling and Its Applications. London: Chapman and Hall, 1996. A technical presentation of the theoretical underpinnings of local polynomial regression estimators (such as lowess/loess). Includes an extensive set of references to the journal literature.

J. Fox. Nonparametric Simple Regression: Smoothing Scatterplots, and J. Fox, Multiple and Generalized Nonparametric Regression. Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage (2000). These two monographs provide the material for my lectures on nonparametric regression.

P.J. Green and B.W. Silverman. Nonparametric Regression and Generalized Linear Models: A Roughness Penalty Approach. London, Chapman and Hall, 1994. Describes smoothing splines, the major alternative to local polynomial regression. A relatively difficult, but very high quality text.

F. E. Harrell, Jr. Regression Modeling Strategies: With Applications to Linear Models, Logistic Regression, and Survival Analysis. New York: Springer, 2001. Although Harrell deals very little with nonparametric regression per se, he does show how much the same effect can be achieved in a linear (or generalized-linear) model through the use of regression splines.

T. J. Hastie and R. J. Tibshirani. Generalized Additive Models. London: Chapman and Hall, 1990. This is - for the most part - a very readable book. Generalized additive models include additive regression models, but extend additive nonparametric regression to other 'link' functions -- such as logistic regression, probit regression, and Poisson regression. The book provides a fine general introduction to nonparametric regression.

T. Hastie, R. Tibshirani, and J. Friedman. The Elements of Statistical Learning: Data Mining, Inference, and Prediction. New York: Springer, 2001. The focus of this book is much broader than nonparametric regression, as it is usually conceived, but the authors include excellent treatments of both spline- and kernel-based smoothing methods, among others.

C. Loader. Local Regression and Likelihood. New York: Springer, 1999. This is a wide-ranging and reasonably accessible treatment of local polynomial estimation for a variety of statistical problems, including density estimation, regression models, generalized regression models, and survival models. Loader's book is associated with an excellent library of S functions.

B. W. Silverman. Density Estimation for Statistics and Data Analysis. London: Chapman and Hall, 1986. Kernel density estimation - smoothing the distribution of a variable or variables - is a relatively narrow topic in graphical data analysis, but it is valuable in its own right and provides a basis for methods of nonparametric regression. Silverman's short book is a paragon of clarity.

J. S. Simonoff. Smoothing Methods in Statistics. New York: Springer, 1996. This book covers a variety of applications of smoothing, including - but not limited to - nonparametric density estimation and nonparametric regression. Simonoff develops a number of illustrative applications and provides good references to the journal literature and to computer programs. Some of the theoretical material is relatively difficult, but of the several texts devoted to general ideas in smoothing with which I am familiar, this and Bowman and Azzalini are the most accessible.

W.N. Venables and B.D. Ripley. Modern Applied Statistics with S, Fouth Edition. New York: Springer, 2002. As the title implies, this book has a broad focus, but it has good coverage of a wide variety of nonparametric regression methods, and demonstrates their implementation in S.

S.N. Wood, Modelling and smoothing parameter estimation with multiple quadratic penalties. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series B, 62: 413-428, 2000.

S.N. Wood. mgcv: GAMs and generalized ridge regression for R. R News 1(2):20-25, 2001.

S. N. Wood. Stable and efficient multiple smoothing parameter estimation for generalized additive models. Journal of the American Statistical Association 99:673-686, 2004.

These papers the mgcv package in R, which contains a gam function for fitting generalized additive models. The initials "mgcv" stand for multiple generalized cross validation, the method by which Wood selects GAM smoothing parameters.

Sources on R and S

Obtaining R

R can be downloaded from Comprehensive R Archive Network (CRAN) web site; further information is available on the R home page.


R is distributed with a set of manuals, which are also available at the CRAN web site.

A manual for S-PLUS Trellis Graphics (also useful for the lattice package in R) is available on the web.

Programming in S

R. A. Becker, J. M. Chambers, and A .R. Wilks, The New S Language: A Programming Environment for Data Analysis and Statistics. Pacific Grove, CA: Wadsworth, 1988. Defines S Version 2, which forms the basis of the currently used S Versions 3 and 4, as well as R. (Sometimes called the "Blue Book.")

J. M. Chambers, Programming with Data: A Guide to the S Language. New York: Springer, 1998. Describes the new features in S Version 4, including the newer formal object-oriented programming system (also incorporated in R), by the principal designer of the S language. Not an easy read. (The "Green Book.")

J. M. Chambers and T.J. Hastie, eds., Statistical Models in S. Pacific Grove, CA: Wadsworth, 1992. An edited volume describing the statistical modeling language in S, Versions 3 and 4, and R, and the object-oriented programming system used in S Version 3 and R (and available, for "backwards compatibility," in S Version 4). In addition, the text covers S software for particular kinds of statistical models, including linear models, nonlinear models, generalized linear models, local-polynomial regression models, and generalized additive models. (The "White Book.")

R. Ihaka and R. Gentleman, R: A language for data analysis and graphics. Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics, 5:299-314, 1996. The original published description of the R project, now dated but still worth looking at.

W. N. Venables and B. D. Ripley, S Programming. New York: Springer, 2000. The definitive treatment of writing software in the various versions S-PLUS and R, now slightly dated, particularly with respect to R.

Selected Statistical Methods Programmed in S (beyond nonparametric regression)

C. Davison and D. V. Hinkley, Bootstrap Methods and their Application. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. A comprehensive introduction to bootstrap resampling, associated with the boot package (for S-PLUS and R, written by A. J. Canty). Somewhat more difficult than Efron and Tibshirani.

J. Fox, An R and S-PLUS Companion to Applied Regression, Sage, 2002. Provides a general introduction to S, with a focus on applied regression analysis and generalized linear models. Appendices available on the book's web site cover a variety of methods -- nonparametric regression, nonlinear regression, etc.

B. Efron and R. J. Tibshirani, An Introduction to the Bootstrap. London: Chapman and Hall, 1993. Another extensive treatment of bootstrapping by its originator (Efron), also accompanied by an S package, bootstrap (for both S-PLUS and R, but somewhat less usable than boot).

J. L. Schafer, Analysis of Incomplete Multivariate Data. London: Chapman and Hall, 1997. This text presents a broadly applicable Bayesian treatment of missing-data problems, including methods for multiple imputation. The most extensive implementation of the methods in the book is in the missing library in S-PLUS version 6. Schafer's norm, cat, mix, and pan packages are available for earlier versions of S-PLUS and for R.

T. M. Therneau and P. M. Grambsch, Modeling Survival Data: Extending the Cox Model. New York, Springer: 2000. An overview of both basic and advanced methods of survival analysis (event-history analysis), with reference to S and SAS software. There are both S-PLUS and R versions of Therneau's state-of-the-art survival package.

W. N. Venables and B. D. Ripley. Modern Applied Statistics with S, Fourth Edition. New York: Springer, 2002. An influential and wide-ranging treatment of data analysis using S. Many of the facilities described in the book are programmed in the associated (and indispensable) MASS, nnet, and spatial packages, available both for S-PLUS and R. This text is more advanced and has a broader focus than my R and S-PLUS Companion.

Other Sources (Some Free)

The R News newsletter is an excellent source of information on R.

See the R web site for a list of publications.


Last Modified: 25 January 2007 by J. Fox <jfox AT>