The AstroStat Slog » Frequentist Weaving together Astronomy+Statistics+Computer Science+Engineering+Intrumentation, far beyond the growing borders Fri, 09 Sep 2011 17:05:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 From Terence’s stuff: You want proof? Mon, 21 Dec 2009 00:27:30 +0000 hlee Please, IMS Bulletin, v.38 (10) check p.11 of this pdf file for the whole article.

It is widely believed that under some fairly general conditions, MLEs are consistent, asymptotically normal, and efficient. Stephen Stigler has elegantly documented some of Fisher’s troubles when he wanted a proof. You want proof? Of course you can pile on assumptions so that the proof is easy. If checking your assumptions in any particular case is harder than checking the conclusion in that case, you will have joined a great tradition.
I used to think that efficiency was a thing for the theorists (I can live with inefficiency), that normality was a thing of the past (we can simulate), but that—in spite of Ralph Waldo Emerson—consistency is a thing we should demand of any statistical procedure. Not any more. These days we can simulate in and around the conditions of our data, and learn whether a novel procedure behaves as it should in that context. If it does, we might just believe the results of its application to our data. Other people’s data? That’s their simulation, their part of the parameter space, their problem. Maybe some theorist will take up the challenge, and study the procedure, and produce something useful. But if we’re still waiting for that with MLEs in general (canonical exponential families are in good shape), I wouldn’t hold my breath for this novel procedure. By the time a few people have tried the new procedure, each time checking its suitability by simulation in their context, we will have built up a proof by simulation. Shocking? Of course.
Some time into my career as a statistician, I noticed that I don’t check the conditions of a theorem before I use some model or method with a set of data. I think in statistics we need derivations, not proofs. That is, lines of reasoning from some assumptions to a formula, or a procedure, which may or may not have certain properties in a given context, but which, all going well, might provide some insight. The evidence that this might be the case can be mathematical, not necessarily with epsilon-delta rigour, simulation, or just verbal. Call this “a statistician’s proof ”. This is what I do these days. Should I be kicked out of the IMS?

After reading many astronomy literature, I develop a notion that astronomers like to use the maximum likelihood as a robust alternative to the chi-square minimization for fitting astrophysical models with parameters. I’m not sure it is truly robust because not many astronomy paper list assumptions and conditions for their MLEs.

Often I got confused with their target parameters. They are not parameters in statistical models. They are not necessarily satisfy the properties of probability theory. I often fail to find statistical properties of these parameters for the estimation. It is rare checking statistical modeling procedures with assumptions described by Prof. Speed. Even derivation is a bit short to be called “rigorous statistical analysis.” (At least I wish to see a sentence that “It is trivial to derive the estimator with this and that properties”).

Common phrases I confronted from astronomical literature is that authors’ strategy is statistically rigorous, superior, or powerful without showing why and how it is rigorous, superior, or powerful. I tried to convey these pitfalls and general restrictions in their employed statistical methods. Their strategy is not “statistically robust” nor “statistically powerful” nor “statistically rigorous.” Statisticians have own measures of “superiority” to discuss the improvement in their statistics, analysis strategies, and methodology.

It has not been easy since I never intend to case specific fault picking every time I see these statements. A method believed to be robust can be proven as not a robust method with your data and models. By simulations and derivations with the sufficient description of conditions, your excellent method can be presented with statistical rigors.

Within similar circumstances for statistical modeling and data analysis, there’s a trade off between robustness and conditions among statistical methodologies. Before stating a particular method adopted is robust or rigid, powerful or insensitive, efficient or inefficient, and so on; derivation, proof, or simulation studies are anticipated to be named the analysis and procedure is statistically excellent.

Before it gets too long, I’d like say that statistics have traditions for declaring working methods via proofs, simulations, or derivations. Each has their foundations: assumptions and conditions to be stated as “robust”, “efficient”, “powerful”, or “consistent.” When new statistics are introduced in astronomical literature, I hope to see some additional effort of matching statistical conditions to the properties of target data and some statistical rigor (derivations or simulations) prior to saying they are “robust”, “powerful”, or “superior.”

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From Quantile Probability and Statistical Data Modeling Sat, 21 Nov 2009 10:06:24 +0000 hlee by Emanuel Parzen in Statistical Science 2004, Vol 19(4), pp.652-662 JSTOR

I teach that statistics (done the quantile way) can be simultaneously frequentist and Bayesian, confidence intervals and credible intervals, parametric and nonparametric, continuous and discrete data. My first step in data modeling is identification of parametric models; if they do not fit, we provide nonparametric models for fitting and simulating the data. The practice of statistics, and the modeling (mining) of data, can be elegant and provide intellectual and sensual pleasure. Fitting distributions to data is an important industry in which statisticians are not yet vendors. We believe that unifications of statistical methods can enable us to advertise, “What is your question? Statisticians have answers!”

I couldn’t help liking this paragraph because of its bitter-sweetness. I hope you appreciate it as much as I did.

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The chance that A has nukes is p% Fri, 23 Oct 2009 17:26:07 +0000 hlee I watched a movie in which one of the characters said, “country A has nukes with 80% chance” (perhaps, not 80% but it was a high percentage). One of the statements in that episode is that people will not eat lettuce only if the 1% chance of e coli is reported, even lower. Therefore, with such a high percentage of having nukes, it is right to send troops to A. This episode immediately brought me a thought about astronomers’ null hypothesis probability and their ways of concluding chi-square goodness of fit tests, likelihood ratio tests, or F-tests.

First of all, I’d like to ask how you would like to estimate the chance of having nukes in a country? What this 80% implies here? But, before getting to the question, I’d like to discuss computing the chance of e coli infection, first.

From the frequentists perspective, computing the chance of e coli infection is investigating sample of lettuce and counts species that are infected: n is the number of infected species and N is the total sample size. 1% means one among 100. Such percentage reports and their uncertainties are very familiar scene during any election periods for everyone. From Bayesian perspective, Pr(p|D) ~ L(D|p) pi(p), properly choosing likelihoods and priors, one can estimate the chance of e coli infection and uncertainty. Understanding of sample species and a prior knowledge helps to determine likelihoods and priors.

How about the chance that country A has nukes? Do we have replicates of country A so that a committee investigate each country and count ones with nukes to compute the chance? We cannot do that. Traditional frequentist approach, based on counting, does not work here to compute the chance. Either using fiducial likelihood approach or Bayesian approach, i.e. carefully choosing a likelihood function adequately (priors are only for Bayesian) allows one to compuate such probability of interest. In other words, those computed chances highly depend on the choice of model and are very subjective.

So, here’s my concern. It seems like that astronomers want to know the chance of their spectral data being described by a model (A*B+C)*D (each letter stands for one of models such as listed in Sherpa Models). This is more like computing the chance of having nukes in country A, not counting frequencies of the event occurrence. On the other hand, p-value from goodness of fit tests, LRTs, or F-tests is a number from the traditional frequentists’ counting approach. In other words, p-value accounts for, under the null hypothesis (the (A*B+C)*D model is the right choice so that residuals are Gaussian), how many times one will observe the event (say, reduced chi^2 >1.2) if the experiments are done N times. The problem is that we only have one time experiment and that one spectrum to verify the (A*B+C)*D is true. Goodness of fit or LRT only tells the goodness or the badness of the model, not the statistically and objectively quantified chance.

In order to know the chance of the model (A*B+C)*D, like A has nuke with p%, one should not rely on p-values. If you have multiple models, one could compute pairwise relative chances i.e. odds ratios, or Bayes factors. However this does not provide the uncertainty of the chance (astronomers have the tendency of reporting uncertainties of any point estimates even if the procedure is statistically meaningless and that quantified uncertainty is not statistical uncertainty, as in using delta chi^2=1 to report 68% confidence intervals). There are various model selection criteria that cater various conditions embedded in data to make a right model choice among other candidate models. In addition, post-inference for astronomical models is yet a very difficult problem.

In order to report the righteous chance of (A*B+C)*D requires more elaborated statistical modeling, always brings some fierce discussions between frequentists and Bayesian because of priors and likelihoods. Although it can be very boring process, I want astronomers to leave the problem to statisticians instead of using inappropriate test statistics and making creative interpretation of statistics.

Please, keep this question in your mind when you report probability: what kind of chance are you computing? The chance of e coli infection? Or the chance that A has nukes? Make sure to understand that p-values from data analysis packages does not tell you that the chance the model (A*B+C)*D is (one minus p-value)%. You don’t want to report one minus p-value from a chi-square test statistic as the chance that A has nukes.

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Goodness-of-fit tests Tue, 06 Oct 2009 18:49:39 +0000 hlee When it comes to applying statistics for measuring goodness-of-fit, the Pearson χ2 test is the dominant player in a race and the Kolmogorov-Smirnoff test statistic trails far behind. Although it seems almost invisible in this race, there are more various non-parametric statistics for testing goodness-of-fit and for comparing the sampling distribution to a reference distribution as legitimate race participants trained by many statisticians. Listing their names probably useful to some astronomers when they find the underlying assumptions for the χ2 test do not match the data. Perhaps, some astronomers want to try other nonparametric test statistics other than the K-S test. I’ve seen other test statistics in astronomical journals from time to time. Depending on data and statistical properties, one test statistic could work better than the other; therefore, it’s worthwhile to keep the variety in one’s mind that there are other tests beyond the χ2 test goodness-of-fit test statistic.

This is the list I can think of at the moment and each test is linked to wikipedia for more stories.

Before my updates, I welcome your comments that can grow this list. Also, I’d appreciate if your comment includes an explanation when the nonparametric test of your recommendation works better and a little description of your data characteristics. And don’t forget to get the qq-plot prior to discussing implications of p-values from these test statistics.

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[ArXiv] Cross Validation Wed, 12 Aug 2009 23:03:43 +0000 hlee Statistical Resampling Methods are rather unfamiliar among astronomers. Bootstrapping can be an exception but I felt like it’s still unrepresented. Seeing an recent review paper on cross validation from [arXiv] which describes basic notions in theoretical statistics, I couldn’t resist mentioning it here. Cross validation has been used in various statistical fields such as classification, density estimation, model selection, regression, to name a few.

A survey of cross validation procedures for model selection by Sylvain Arlot

Nonetheless, I’ll not review the paper itself except some quotes:

-CV is a popular strategy for model selection, and algorithm selection.
-Compared to the resubstitution error, CV avoids overfitting because the training sample is independent from the validation sample.
-A noticed in the early 30s by Larson (1931), training an algorithm and evaluating its statistical performance on the same data yields an overoptimistic results.

There are books on statistical resampling methods covering more general topics, not limited to model selection. Instead, I decide to do a little search how CV is used in astronomy. These are the ADS search results. More publications than I expected.

One can easily grasp that many adopted CV under the machine learning context. The application of CV, and bootstrapping is not limited to machine learning. As Arlot’s title, CV is used for model selection. When it come to model selection in high energy astrophysics, not CV but reduced chi^2 measures and fitted curve eye balling are the standard procedure. Hopefully, a renovated model selection procedure via CV or other statistically robust strategy soon challenge the reduced chi^2 and eye balling. On the other hand, I doubt that it’ll come soon. Remember, eyes are the best classifier so it won’t be a easy task.

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Robust Statistics Mon, 18 May 2009 17:18:09 +0000 hlee My understandings of “robustness” from the education in statistics and from communicating with astronomers are hard to find a mutual interest. Can anyone help me to build a robust bridge to get over this abyss?

First, since it’s short, let’s quote a comment from an astronomer that might reflect the notion of robust statistics in astronomy.

Bayesian is robust.

Is every Bayesian method robust and its counter part from classical statistics is not robust? I know that popular statistics in astronomy are not, generally speaking, robust and those popular statistics were borne before the notion of robustness in statistics were recognized and discussed.

I do understand why such partisan comment was produced. Astronomers always reports their data analysis results by best fits, error bars, probability, or some significance levels (they don’t say explicitly, p-values, powers, type I or type II errors, unbiased estimates, and other statistical jargon in inference problems) and those classical methods of frequent use have caused frustrations due to their lack of robustness. On the contrary, MCMC algorithms for estimating posterior distributions produce easy interpretable results to report best fit (mode) and error bar (HPD).

My understanding of robustness as a statistician does not draw a line between Bayesian and frequenstists. The following is quoted from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven website of which mathematics department has a focus group for robust statistics.

Robust statistical methods and applications.
The goal of robust statistics is to develop data analytical methods which are resistant to outlying observations in the data, and hence which are also able to detect these outliers. Pioneering work in this area has been done by Huber (1981), Hampel et al. (1986) and Rousseeuw and Leroy (1987). In their work, estimators for location, scale, scatter and regression play a central role. They assume that the majority of the data follow a parametric model, whereas a minority (the contamination) can take arbitrary values. This approach leads to the concept of the influence function of an estimator which measures the influence of a small amount of contamination in one point. Other measures of robustness are the finite-sample and the asymptotic breakdown value of an estimator. They tell what the smallest amount of contamination is which can carry the estimates beyond all bounds.

Nowadays, robust estimators are being developed for many statistical models. Our research group is very active in investigating estimators of covariance and regression for high-dimensional data, with applications in chemometrics and bio-informatics. Recently, robust estimators have been developed for PCA (principal component analysis), PCR (principal component regression), PLS (partial least squares), classification, ICA (independent component analysis) and multi-way analysis. Also robust measures of skewness and tail weight have been introduced. We study robustness of kernel methods, and regression quantiles for censored data.

My understanding of “robustness” from statistics education is pandemic, covers both Bayesian and frequentist. Any methods and models that are insensitive or immune to outliers, are robust methods and statistics. For example, median is more robust than mean since the breakpoint of median is 1/2 and that of mean is 0, asymptotically. Both mean and median are estimable from Bayesian and frequentist methods. Instead of standard deviation, tactics like lower and upper quartiles to indicate error bars or Winsorization (or trim) to obtain a standard deviation for the error bar, are adopted regardless of Bayesian or frequenstist. Instead of the chi square goodness-of-fit tests, which assume Gaussian residuals, nonparametrics tests or distribution free tests can be utilized.

The notion that frequentist methods are not robust might have been developed from the frustration that those chi-square related methods in astronomy do not show robust characteristics. The reason is that data are prone to the breaks of the normality (Gaussianity) assumption. Also, the limited library of nonparametric methods in data analysis packages and softwares envisions that frequentist methods are not robust. An additional unattractive aspect about frequentist methods is that the description seems too mathematical, too abstract, and too difficult to be codified with full of unfriendly jargon whereas the Bayesian methods provide step by step modeling procedures with explanation why they chose such likelihood and such priors based on external knowledge from physics and observations (MCMC algorithms in the astronomical papers are adaptation of already proven algorithms from statistics and algorithm journals).

John Tukey said:

Robustness refers to the property of a procedure remaining effective even in the absence of usual assumptions such as normality and no incorrect data values. In simplest terms the idea is to improve upon the use of the simple arithmetic average in estimating the center of a distribution. As a simple case one can ask: Is it ever better to use the sample median than the samle mean, and if so, when?

I don’t think the whole set of frequentist methods is the complement set of Bayesians. Personally I feel quite embarrassed whenever I am told that frequentist methods are not robust compared to Bayesian methods. Bayesian methods become robust when a priori knowledge (subjective priors) allows the results to be unaffected by outliers with a general class of likelihood. Regardless of being frequentist or Bayesian, statistics have been developed to be less sensitive to outliers and to do optimal inferences, i.e. to achieve the goal, robustness.

Ah…there are other various accounts for robustness methods/statistics in astronomy not limited to “bayesian is robust.” As often I got confused whenever I see statistically rigorous while the method is a simple chi-square minimization in literature, I believe astronomers can educate me the notion of robustness and the definition of robust statistics in various ways. I hope for some sequels from astronomers about robustness and robust statistics to this post of limited view.

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systematic errors Fri, 06 Mar 2009 19:42:18 +0000 hlee Ah ha~ Once I questioned, “what is systematic error?” (see [Q] systematic error.) Thanks to L. Lyons’ work discussed in [ArXiv] Particle Physics, I found this paper, titled Systematic Errors describing the concept and statistical inference related to systematic errors in the field of particle physics. It, gladly, shares lots of similarity with high energy astrophysics.

Systematic Errors by J. Heinrich and L.Lyons
in Annu. Rev. Nucl. Part. Sci. (2007) Vol. 57 pp.145-169 []

The characterization of two error types, systematic and statistical error is illustrated with an simple physics experiment, the pendulum. They described two distinct sources of systematic errors.

…the reliable assessment of systematics requires much more thought and work than for the corresponding statistical error.
Some errors are clearly statistical (e.g. those associated with the reading errors on T and l), and others are clearly systematic (e.g., the correction of the measured g to its sea level value). Others could be regarded as either statistical or systematic (e.g., the uncertainty in the recalibration of the ruler). Our attitude is that the type assigned to a particular error is not crucial. What is important is that possible correlations with other measurements are clearly understood.

Section 2 contains a very nice review in english, not in mathematical symbols, about the basics of Bayesian and frequentist statistics for inference in particle physics with practical accounts. Comparison of Bayes and Frequentist approaches is provided. (I was happy to see that χ2 is said to not belong to frequentist methods. It is just a popular method in references about data analysis in astronomy, not in modern statistics. If someone insists, statisticians could study the χ2 statistic under some assumptions and conditions that suit properties of astronomical data, investigate the efficiency and completeness of grouped Poission counts for Gaussian approximation within the χ2 minimization process, check degrees of information loss, and so forth)

To a Bayesian, probability is interpreted as the degree of belief in a statement. …
In contast, frequentists define probability via a repeated series of almost identical trials;…

Section 3 clarifies the notion of p-values as such:

It is vital to remember that a p-value is not the probability that the relevant hypothesis is true. Thus, statements such as “our data show that the probability that the standard model is true is below 1%” are incorrect interpretations of p-values.

This reminds me of the null hypothesis probability that I often encounter in astronomical literature or discussions to report the X-ray spectral fitting results. I believe astronomers using the null hypothesis probability are confused between Bayesian and frequentist concepts. The computation is based on the frequentist idea, p-value but the interpretation is given via Bayesian. A separate posting on the null hypothesis probability will come shortly.

Section 4 describes both Bayesian and frequentist ways to include systematics. Through its parameterization (for Gaussian, parameterization is achieved with additive error terms, or none zero elements in full covariance matrix), systematic uncertainty is treated as nuisance parameters in the likelihood for both Bayesian and frequentist alike although the term “nuisance” appears in frequentist’s likelihood principles. Obtaining the posterior distribution of a parameter(s) of interest requires marginalization over uninteresting parameters which are seen as nuisance parameters in frequentist methods.

The miscellaneous section (Sec. 6) is the most useful part for understanding the nature and strategies for handling systematic errors. Instead of copying the whole section, here are two interesting quotes:

When the model under which the p-value is calculated has nuisance parameters (i.e. systematic uncertainties) the proper computation of the p-value is more complicated.

The contribution form a possible systematic can be estimated by seeing the change in the answer a when the nuisance parameter is varied by its uncertainty.

As warned, it is not recommended to combine calibrated systematic error and estimated statistical error in quadrature, since we cannot assume those errors are uncorrelated all the time. Except the disputes about setting a prior distribution, Bayesian strategy works better since the posterior distribution is the distribution of the parameter of interest, directly from which one gets the uncertainty in the parameter. Remember, in Bayesian statistics, parameters are random whereas in frequentist statistics, observations are random. The χ2 method only approximates uncertainty as Gaussian (equivalent to the posterior with a gaussian likelihood centered at the best fit and with a flat prior) with respect to the best fit and combines different uncertainties in quadrature. Neither of strategies is superior almost always than the other in a general term of performing statistical inference; however, case-specifically, we can say that one functions better than the other. The issue is how to define a model (distribution, distribution family, or class of functionals) prior to deploying various methodologies and therefore, understanding systematic errors in terms of model, or parametrization, or estimating equation, or robustness became important. Unfortunately, systematic descriptions about systematic errors from the statistical inference perspective are not present in astronomical publications. Strategies of handling systematic errors with statistical care are really hard to come by.

Still I think that their inclusion of systematic errors is limited to parametric methods, in other words, without parametrization of systematic errors, one cannot assess/quantify systematic errors properly. So, what if such parametrization of systematics is not available? I thought that some general semi-parametric methodology possibly assists developing methods of incorporating systematic errors in spectral model fitting. Our group has developed a simple semi-parametric way to incorporate systematic errors in X-ray spectral fitting. If you like to know how it works, please check out my poster in pdf. It may be viewed too conservative as if projection since instead of parameterizing systemtatics, the posterior was empirically marginalized over the systematics, the hypothetical space formed by simulated sample of calibration products.

I believe publications about handling systematic errors will enjoy prosperity in astronomy and statistics as long as complex instruments collect data. Beyond combining in quadrature or Gaussian approximation, systematic errors can be incorporated in a more sophisticated fashion, parametrically or nonparametrically. Particularly for the latter, statisticians knowledge and contributions are in great demand.

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[ArXiv] Particle Physics Fri, 20 Feb 2009 23:48:39 +0000 hlee

Open Statistical Issues in Particle Physics by Louis Lyons

My recollection of meeting Prof. L. Lyons was that he is very kind and listening. I was delighted to see his introductory article about particle physics and its statistical challenges from an [arxiv:stat] email subscription.

Descriptions of various particles from modern particle physics are briefly given (I like such brevity, conciseness, but delivering necessaries. If you want more on physics, find those famous bestselling books like The first three minutes, A brief history of time, The elegant universe, or Feynman’s and undergraduate textbooks of modern physics and of particle physics). Large Hardron Collider (LHC, hereafter. LHC related slog postings: LHC first beam, The Banff challenge, Quote of the week, Phystat – LHC 2008) is introduced on top of its statistical challenges from the data collecting/processing perspectives since it is expected to collect 1010 events. Visit LHC website to find more about LHC.

My one line summary of the article is solving particle physics problems from the hypothesis testing or rather broadly classical statistical inference approaches. I enjoyed the most reading section 5 and 6, particularly the subsection titled Why 5σ? Here are some excerpts I like to share with you from the article:

It is hoped that the approaches mentioned in this article will be interesting or outrageous enough to provoke some Statisticians either to collaborate with Particle Physicists, or to provide them with suggestions for improving their analyses. It is to be noted that the techniques described are simply those used by Particle Physicists; no claim is made that they are necessarily optimal (Personally, I like such openness and candidness.).

… because we really do consider that our data are representative as samples drawn according to the model we are using (decay time distributions often are exponential; the counts in repeated time intervals do follow a Poisson distribution, etc.), and hence we want to use a statistical approach that allows the data “to speak for themselves,” rather than our analysis being dominated by our assumptions and beliefs, as embodied in Bayesian priors.

Because experimental detectors are so expensive to construct, the time-scale over which they are built and operated is so long, and they have to operate under harsh radiation conditions, great care is devoted to their design and construction. This differs from the traditional statistical approach for the design of agricultural tests of different fertilisers, but instead starts with a list of physics issues which the experiment hopes to address. The idea is to design a detector which will proved answers to the physics questions, subject to the constraints imposed by the cost of the planned detectors, their physical and mechanical limitations, and perhaps also the limited available space. (Personal belief is that what segregates physical science from other science requiring statistical thinking is that uncontrolled circumstances are quite common in physics and astronomy whereas various statistical methodologies are developed under assumptions of controllable circumstances, traceable subjects, and collectible additional sample.)

…that nothing was found, it is more useful to quote an upper limit on the sought-for effect, as this could be useful in ruling out some theories.

… the nuisance parameters arise from the uncertainties in the background rate b and the acceptance ε. These uncertainties are usually quoted as σb and σε, and the question arises of what these errors mean. … they would express the width of the Bayesian posterior or of the frequentist interval obtained for the nuisance parameter. … they may involve Monte Carlo simulations, which have systematic uncertainties as well as statistical errors …

Particle physicists usually convert p into the number of standard deviation σ of a Gaussian distribution, beyond which the one-sided tail area corresponds to p. Thus, 5σ corresponds to a p-value of 3e-7. This is done simple because it provides a number which is easier to remember, and not because Guassians are relevant for every situation.
Unfortunately, p-values are often misinterpreted as the probability of the theory being true, given the data. It sometimes helps colleagues clarify the difference between p(A|B) and p(B|A) by reminding them that the probability of being pregnant, given the fact that you are female, is considerable smaller than the probability of being female, given the fact that you are pregnant.

… the situation is much less clear for nuisance parameters, where error estimates may be less rigorous, and their distribution is often assumed to be Gaussian (or truncated Gaussain) by default. The effect of these uncertainties on very small p-values needs to be investigated case-by-case.
We also have to remember that p-values merely test the null hypothesis. A more sensitive way to look for new physics is via the likelihood ratio or the differences in χ2 for the two hypotheses, that is, with and without the new effect. Thus, a very small p-value on its own is usually not enough to make a convincing case for discovery.

If we are in the asymptotic regime, and if the hypotheses are nested, and if the extra parameters of the larger hypothesis are defined under the samller one, and in that case do not lie on the boundary of their allowed region, then the difference in χ2 should itself be distributed as a χ2, with the number of degrees of freedom equal to the number of extra parameters (I’ve seen many papers in astronomy not minding (ignoring) these warnings for the likelihood ratio tests)

The standard method loved by Particle Physicists (astronomers alike) is χ2. This, however, is only applicable to binned data (i.e., in a one or more dimensional histogram). Furthermore, it loses its attractive feature that its distribution is model independent when there are not enough data, which is likely to be so in the multi-dimensional case. (High energy astrophysicists deal low count data on multi-dimensional parameter space; the total number of bins are larger than the number of parameters but to me, binning/grouping seems to be done aggressively to meet the good S/N so that the detail information about the parameters from the data gets lost. ).

…, the σi are supposed to be the true accuracies of the measurements. Often, all that we have available are estimates of their values (I also noticed astronomers confuse between true σ and estimated σ). Problems arise in situations where the error estimate depends on the measured value a (parameter of interest). For example, in counting experiments with Poisson statistics, it is typical to set the error as the square root of the observd number. Then a downward fluctuation in the observation results in an overestimated weight, and abest-fit is biased downward. If instead the error is estimated as the square root of the expected number a, the combined result is biased upward – the increased error reduces S at large a. (I think astronomers are aware of this problem but haven’t taken actions yet to rectify the issue. Unfortunately not all astronomers take the problem seriously and some blindly apply 3*sqrt(N) as a threshold for the 99.7 % (two sided) or 99.9% (one sided) coverage.)

Background estimation, particularly when observed n is less tan the expected background b is discussed in the context of upper limits derived from both statistical streams – Bayesian and frequentist. The statistical focus from particle physicists’ concern is classical statistical inference problems like hypothesis testing or estimating confidence intervals (it is not necessary that these intervals are closed) under extreme physical circumstances. The author discusses various approaches with modern touches of both statistical disciplines to tackle how to obtain upper limits with statistically meaningful and allocatable quantification.

As described, many physicists endeavor on a grand challenge of finding a new particle but this challenge is put concisely from the statistically perspectives like p-values, upper limits, null hypothesis, test statistics, confidence intervals with peculiar nuisance parameters or rather lack of straightforwardness priors, which lead to lengthy discussions among scientists and produce various research papers. In contrast, the challenges that astronomers have are not just finding the existence of new particles but going beyond or juxtaposing. Astronomers like to parameterize them by selecting suitable source models, from which collected photons are the results of modification caused by their journey and obstacles in their path. Such parameterization allows them to explain the driving sources of photon emission/absorption. It enables to predict other important features, temperature to luminosity, magnitudes to metalicity, and many rules of conversions.

Due to different objectives, one is finding a hay look alike needle in a haystack and the other is defining photon generating mechanisms (it may lead to find a new kind celestial object), this article may not interest astronomers. Yet, having the common ground, physics and statistics, it is a dash of enlightenment of knowing various statistical methods applied to physical data analysis for achieving a goal, refining physics. I recall my posts on coverages and references therein might be helpful:interval estimation in exponential families and [arxiv] classical confidence interval.

I felt that from papers some astronomers do not aware of problems with χ2 minimization nor the underline assumptions about the method. This paper convey some dangers about the χ2 with the real examples from physics, more convincing for astronomers than statisticians’ hypothetical examples via controlled Monte Carlo simulations.

And there are more reasons to check this paper out!

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Guinness, Gosset, Fisher, and Small Samples Thu, 12 Feb 2009 18:03:01 +0000 hlee Student’s t-distribution is somewhat underrepresented in the astronomical community. Having an article with nice stories, it looks to me the best way to introduce the t distribution. This article describing historic anecdotes about monumental statistical developments occurred about 100 years ago.

Guinness, Gosset, Fisher, and Small Samples by Joan Fisher Box
Source: Statist. Sci. Volume 2, Number 1 (1987), 45-52.

No time for reading the whole article? I hope you have a few minutes to read following quotes, which are quite enchanting to me.

[p.45] One of the first things you learn in statistics is to distinguish between the true parameter value of the standard deviation σ and the sample standard deviation s. But at the turn of the century statisticians did not. They called both σ and s the standard deviation. They always used such large samples that their estimate really did approximate the parameter value, so it did not make much difference to their results. But their methods would not do for experimental work. You cannot get samples of thousands of experimental points. …

[p.49] …, the main question was exactly how much wider should the error limits be to make allowance for the error introduced by using the estimates m and s instead of the parameters μ and σ. Pearson could not answer that question for Gosset in 1905, nor the one that followed, which was: what level of probability should be called significant?

[p.49] …, Gosset worked out the exact answer to his question about the probable error of the mean and tabulated the probability values of his criterion z=(m-μ)/s for samples of N=2,3,…,10. He tried also to calculate the distribution of the correlation coefficient by the same method but managed to get the answer only for the case when the true correlation is zero. …

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Circumspect frequentist Mon, 02 Feb 2009 02:45:14 +0000 hlee The first issue of this year’s IMS bulletin has an obituary, from which the following is quoted.
Obituary: David A. Freedman (Click here for a direct view of this obituary)

He started his professional life as a probabilist and mathematical statistician with Bayesian leanings but became one of the world’s leading applied statisticians and a circumspect frequentist. In his words:

My own experience suggests that neither decision-makers nor their statisticians do in fact have prior probabilities. A large part of Bayesian statistics is about what you would do if you had a prior. For the rest, statisticians make up priors that are mathematically convenient or attractive. Once used, priors become familiar; therefore, they come to be accepted as ‘natural’ and are liable to be used again; such priors may eventually generate their own technical literature… Similarly, a large part of [frequentist] statistics is about what you would do if you had a model; and all of us spend enormous amounts of energy finding out what would happen if the data kept pouring in.

I have draft posts: one is about his book titled as Statistical Models: Theory and Practice and the other is about his article appeared in arXiv:stat not many months ago and now published in the American Statistician (TAS). In my opinion, both would help astronomers lowering the barrier of theoretical statistics, Bayesian and frequentist methods alike. I blame myself for delaying these posts. Carrying on one’s legacy, I believe, is easier while the person is alive.

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