ROC Analysis Tool Based on DeLong's Method


Originated from problems of radar and sonar detection in early 1950s, receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis has become an indispensable tool to tackle the so-called two-sample problems in many scientific and engineering fields, such as describing the performances of diagnostic systems in clinical medicine, characterizing the overall accuracies of classifiers in machine learning, quantifying the extent of signal detectability in signal processing, and so forth.

In essence, ROC analysis is a supervised research framework that requires prior knowledge of both the sample membership and underlying cumulative distribution functions (cdfs) generating the two samples. Given such knowledge, the procedure of ROC analysis might be initiated from plotting a two-dimensional ROC curve, which is traced out by pairs of false-positive rate and true-positive rate according to various decision threshold settings. With the ROC curve, the area under the curve (AUC) can then be computed, either analytically or empirically, as a figure of merit that might be better than accuracy when characterizing a classifier’s performance.

As revealed by Bamber, AUC can be estimated by the Mann-Whitney U statistic (MWUS). Based on such relationship, a plenty of nonparametric methods have been proposed in the literature. Among algorithms for comparing the areas under two or more correlated receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves, DeLong’s algorithm is perhaps the most widely used one due to its simplicity of implementation in practice. Recently, we have reduced the time complexity of DeLong’s algorithm from quadratic down to linearithmic order, based on an equivalent relationship between the Heaviside function and mid-ranks of samples.

In this post, I will release the sourse codes of the two algorithms that mentioned in our paper, and then give a brief introduction of a ROC analysis tool that published in my github page.

Soure codes

Algorithm 1: Procedure of Calculating Mid-ranks

Since our method is based on the relationship between Heaviside function and mid-ranks of samples, the first step is to calculate the mid-ranks. Below is a MATLAB function to acheive that. The input of this function, x, is a one by N vector, and the output, T, is the corresponding mid-ranks.

function T = midrank(x)
[Z J] = sort(x);
Z = [Z Z(end) + 1];
N = length(x);
T = zeros(1, N);
i = 1;
while i <= N
    a = i;
    j = a;
    while Z(j) == Z(a)
        j = j + 1;
        b = j - 1;
    for k = a : b
        T(k) = (a + b) / 2;
    i = b + 1;
T(J) = T;

Algorithm 2: Improved DeLong’s Algorithm

With the midrank function, now we are ready to implement the fast version of DeLong’s algorithm, which is shown below. In this function, the input argument, namely, samples, is a struct in MATLAB consisted of two elements:

There are two outputs, aucs denotes the AUCs corresponding to each row of the ratings, while delongcov is the covariance matrix.

function [aucs, delongcov] = fastDeLong(samples)
%The fast version of DeLong's method for computing the covariance of 
%unadjusted AUC.
%% [aucs, delongcov] = fastDeLong(samples)

if sum(samples.spsizes) ~= size(samples.ratings, 2) || numel(samples.spsizes) ~= 2
    error('Argument mismatch error');

z = samples.ratings;
m = samples.spsizes(1);
n = samples.spsizes(2);
x = z(:, 1 : m);
y = z(:, m + 1 : end);
k = size(z, 1);

tx = zeros(k, m);
ty = zeros(k, n);
tz = zeros(k, m + n);

for r = 1 : k
    tx(r, :) = midrank(x(r, :));
    ty(r, :) = midrank(y(r, :));
    tz(r, :) = midrank(z(r, :));

aucs = sum(tz(:, 1 : m), 2) / m / n - (m + 1) / 2 / n;

v01 = (tz(:, 1 : m) - tx(:, :)) / n;
v10 = 1 - (tz(:, m + 1 : end) - ty(:, :)) / m;

sx = cov(v01')';
sy = cov(v10')';

delongcov = sx / m + sy / n;


Introduction of the ROC analysis tool

Furthur more, I have published a UI tool for ROC analysis in my github page, you can download the sourse codes here.

To analysis your own data, you should firstly move your experiment results, saved as a .mat file in certain format, into the same dirrectory of the source codes of this tool. Then run the DeLongUserInterface function, and you will see you file is listed in the “Selected File” pop-up menu. Next, select your file and click the “Update Data” button below, several ROC curves will then be drawn according to you data. Now chose the two ratings that you would like to analysis in “Rating 1” and “Rating 2” and push the “Analysis” button, you will finally gain the statistical results. Note that all these results are calculated by DeLong’s formulas with the fast implementation given by Sun and Xu.

If the color of the text in the push button is red, that means the results shown in the interface is not consistent with the options you chose in the pop-up menu. To fix this problem, all you need to do is just to click the correponding button.

The variables saved in the .mat file are spsizes and ratings, whose meanings have been mentioned in the subsection Algorithm 2.

plot of chunk image_1

plot of chunk image_2

Citation Request

Anyway, I hope that this tool could be helpful for researchers who using AUC in their work.

If you publish material based on these codes, then, please refer to our paper:

X. Sun, W. Xu, Fast implementation of DeLong's algorithm for comparing the areas under correlated receiver operating characteristic curves, IEEE Signal Processing Letters 21 (11) (2014) 1389-1393.

Here is a BiBTeX citation as well:

  title={Fast Implementation of DeLong's Algorithm for Comparing the Areas Under Correlated Receiver Operating Characteristic Curves},
  author={Xu Sun and Weichao Xu},
  journal={IEEE Signal Processing Letters},