Kun HE, Meng-jie LI, Yan FU, Fu-zhou GONG, Xiao-ming SUN
The traditional approaches to false discovery rate (FDR) control in multiple hypothesis testing are usually based on the null distribution of a test statistic. However, all types of null distributions, including the theoretical, permutation-based and empirical ones, have some inherent drawbacks. For example, the theoretical null might fail because of improper assumptions on the sample distribution. Here, we propose a null distribution-free approach to FDR control for multiple hypothesis testing in the case-control study. This approach, named target-decoy procedure, simply builds on the ordering of tests by some statistic or score, the null distribution of which is not required to be known. Competitive decoy tests are constructed from permutations of original samples and are used to estimate the false target discoveries. We prove that this approach controls the FDR when the score function is symmetric and the scores are independent between different tests. Simulation demonstrates that it is more stable and powerful than two popular traditional approaches, even in the existence of dependency. Evaluation is also made on two real datasets, including an arabidopsis genomics dataset and a COVID-19 proteomics dataset.