What does the padj really mean? I believe it's a BH method, where it attempts to quantify the likelihood of a "false positive" but I am not sure. Also, what does it mean if the resulting calculations nearly all have the same padj values despite having different p-values?

  • $\begingroup$ It would help to see the data themselves (p-values and adjusted p-values), or at least a general idea of how many hypotheses and the part of the p-value spectrum. For high p-values FDRs ("adjusted p-values", en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_discovery_rate) will be very similar as they will mostly indicate support for the null hypothesis, i.e. very high false discovery rates. I would suggest reading about DESeq2 stats (section "Multiple test correction"): hbctraining.github.io/DGE_workshop/lessons/… $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2021 at 3:45

1 Answer 1


If we look at documentation of DESEQ2 and search "adjusted p-value", we find the section "Multiple test correction". In this section they discuss Benjamini-Hochberg ("BH") false discovery rate (FDR) correction procedures:

FDR/Benjamini-Hochberg: Benjamini and Hochberg (1995) defined the concept of FDR and created an algorithm to control the expected FDR below a specified level given a list of independent p-values. An interpretation of the BH method for controlling the FDR is implemented in DESeq2 in which we rank the genes by p-value, then multiply each ranked p-value by m/rank.

Earlier, they write:

m = total number of tests

They further add:

So what does FDR < 0.05 mean? By setting the FDR cutoff to < 0.05, we’re saying that the proportion of false positives we expect amongst our differentially expressed genes is 5%. For example, if you call 500 genes as differentially expressed with an FDR cutoff of 0.05, you expect 25 of them to be false positives.

I would suggest reading Benjamini and Hochberg (1995) to learn more details if desired.


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