Profile Likelihood

Consider some simulated data

> set.seed(1)
> x=exp(rnorm(100))

Assume that those data are observed random variables with distribution, with . The natural idea is to consider the maximum likelihood estimator

For instance, consider some maximum likelihood estimator,

> library(MASS)
> (F=fitdistr(x,"gamma"))
     shape       rate   
  1.4214497   0.8619969 
 (0.1822570) (0.1320717)
> F$estimate[1]+c(-1,1)*1.96*F$sd[1]
[1] 1.064226 1.778673

Here, we have an approximated (since the maximum likelihood has an asymptotic Gaussian distribution) confidence interval for . We can use numerical optimization routine to get the maximum of the log-likelihood function

> log_lik=function(theta){
+   a=theta[1]
+   b=theta[2]
+   logL=sum(log(dgamma(x,a,b)))
+   return(-logL)
+ }

> optim(c(1,1),log_lik)
[1] 1.4214116 0.8620311
[1] 146.5909

And we have the same value.

Now, what if we care only about , and not . The we can use profile likelihood. The idea is to solve


or, equivalently,

> prof_log_lik=function(a){
+   b=(optim(1,function(z) -sum(log(dgamma(x,a,z)))))$par
+   return(-sum(log(dgamma(x,a,b))))
+ }

> vx=seq(.5,3,length=101)
> vl=-Vectorize(prof_log_lik)(vx)
> plot(vx,vl,type="l")
> optim(1,prof_log_lik)
[1] 1.421094
[1] 146.5909

A few weeks ago, we have mentioned the likelihood ratio test, i.e.

The analogous can be obtained here, since

(the 1 comes from the fact that  is a one-dimensional coefficient). The (technical) proof can be found in Suhasini Subba Rao’s notes (see also Section 4.5.2 in Antony Davison’s Statistical Models). From that property, we can easily obtain a confidence interval for 

Hence, from our sample, we get the following 95% confidence interval,

> abline(v=optim(1,prof_log_lik)$par,lty=2)
> abline(h=-optim(1,prof_log_lik)$value)
> abline(h=-optim(1,prof_log_lik)$value-qchisq(.95,1)/2)
> segments(F$estimate[1]-1.96*F$sd[1],
> borne=-optim(1,prof_log_lik)$value-qchisq(.95,1)/2
> (b1=uniroot(function(z) Vectorize(prof_log_lik)(z)+borne,c(.5,1.5))$root)
[1] 1.095726
> (b2=uniroot(function(z) Vectorize(prof_log_lik)(z)+borne,c(1.25,2.5))$root)
[1] 1.811809

that can be visualized below,

> segments(b1,-168,b2,-168,lwd=3,col="red")

In blue the obtained obtained using the asymptotic Gaussian property of the maximum likelihood estimator, and in red, the obtained obtained using the asymptotic chi-square distribution of the log (profile) likelihood ratio.

Cite this article as: Arthur Charpentier, "Profile Likelihood," in Freakonometrics, 16/11/2015,

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