A reasonably frequent question (it’s come up at least a couple of times in the last few years) is how to fit models with categorical predictors that have many levels. This case is hard for two reasons:

library("lme4")
library("ggplot2"); theme_set(theme_bw())
library("reshape2")
library("plyr")

Set up data:

n <- 1.5e5 ## start a bit small ...
ncat <- 102
ngrp <- 25
set.seed(101)
dd <- data.frame(x=rnorm(n),
                y=sample(letters[1:3],replace=TRUE,size=n),
                z=factor(sample(1:ncat,replace=TRUE,size=n)),
                ID=factor(sample(1:ngrp,replace=TRUE,size=n)))
beta0 <- with(dd,rnorm(1+1+length(unique(y))-1+length(unique(z))-1))
form <- outcome ~ x + y + z + (1|ID)
dd$outcome <- suppressMessages(simulate(form[-2],
                        newdata=dd,
                        newparams=list(theta=2,beta=beta0),
                        weights=rep(1,n),
                        family=binomial)[[1]])

Now fit the model. This more or less follows the framework set out in ?modular, but it requires a few hacks along the way (a few more than I would have hoped …)

t.start <- Sys.time()
m1 <- glFormula(outcome ~ x + y + (1|z) + (1 |   ID), data = dd, 
                family = "binomial")
devfun0 <- do.call(mkGlmerDevfun,m1)
## write a wrapper:
## lme4 organizes RE terms in *decreasing* order of number
## of levels of grouping variable
devfun <- function(theta,zsd=1000) {
   devfun0(c(zsd,theta))
}
## make sure environments are set appropriately
environment(devfun) <- environment(devfun0)
## optimize stage 1
## (lower=0 might need to be adjusted for a more complex model)
opt1 <- nloptwrap(devfun,par=1,zsd=1000,lower=0,upper=Inf)
devfun2 <- updateGlmerDevfun(devfun0,m1$reTrms)
## set up a new wrapper, with appropriate environment
devfun3 <- function(p,zsd=1000) {
  devfun2(c(zsd,p))
}
environment(devfun3) <- environment(devfun2)
## fit stage 2:
nbeta <- ncol(m1$X)
ntheta <- length(opt1$par)
## testing: devfun3(c(opt1$par,rep(0,nbeta)))
opt2 <- nloptwrap(devfun3,par=c(opt1$par,rep(0,nbeta)),
                          lower=c(rep(0,ntheta),rep(-Inf,nbeta)),
                          upper=rep(Inf,ntheta+nbeta),
                   zsd=1000)
## package the results
res <- mkMerMod(environment(devfun3), opt2, m1$reTrms, fr=m1$fr)
res@beta <- opt2$par[-1] ## ugh; mkMerMod is confused about # beta params
Sys.time()-t.start
## Time difference of 50.41371 secs

50 seconds (on a reasonably new MacBook Pro) is not as fast as I’d like, but doesn’t seem totally unreasonable …

Compare to

system.time(shrink.model <- glmer(outcome ~ x + y + (1|z) + (1 |   ID),
                data = dd, 
                family = "binomial"))
##    user  system elapsed 
## 105.048  10.633 116.046
res
## Generalized linear mixed model fit by maximum likelihood (Laplace
##   Approximation) [glmerMod]
##  Family: binomial  ( logit )
##       AIC       BIC    logLik  deviance  df.resid 
##  84855.88  84915.39 -42421.94  84843.88    149994 
## Random effects:
##  Groups Name        Std.Dev.
##  z      (Intercept) 1000.000
##  ID     (Intercept)    2.763
## Number of obs: 150000, groups:  z, 102; ID, 25
## Fixed Effects:
## (Intercept)            x           yb           yc  
##     -0.1659      -2.0219      -0.3601       0.3485
str(rr <- ranef(res))
## List of 2
##  $ z :'data.frame':  102 obs. of  1 variable:
##   ..$ (Intercept): num [1:102] 2.75 1.71 3.47 3.45 1.55 ...
##  $ ID:'data.frame':  25 obs. of  1 variable:
##   ..$ (Intercept): num [1:25] 1 6.62 -1.51 3.29 -3 ...
##  - attr(*, "class")= chr "ranef.mer"
## z parameters ... (0-mean parameterization)
head(rr$z[,1])
## [1] 2.750790 1.705983 3.470289 3.451865 1.546169 3.546540

glmmTMB

The glmmTMB package should not have as many scaling restrictions (although in its current form it does still construct a dense X matrix …)

library("glmmTMB")
system.time(m2 <- glmmTMB(outcome ~ x + y + z + (1 |   ID), data = dd, 
                family = "binomial"))
##    user  system elapsed 
## 140.693   6.980 148.940
system.time(m2shrink <- glmmTMB(outcome ~ x + y + (1 | z) + (1 |   ID),
               data = dd, 
                family = "binomial"))
##    user  system elapsed 
##  51.188   2.591  54.161

Comparison: