Tag Archives: tradeoff

Unbiased Estimators vs. Minimizing a Quadratic Loss Function

Unbiased estimators are important in statistics. I guess because of Cramér Rao bound, for the variance. In the sense that if  , then  https://latex.codecogs.com/gif.latex?\text{Var}[\widehat{\theta}]\geq%20I_\theta^{-1}, where   denotes Fisher information (the proof was writen in an old post).

But what could we be the variance if   is not unbiased ?

Consider the following simple case, with a Gaussian i.id. sample   from a  . We know that the estimator of the Method of Moments is the same as the Maximum Likelihood estimator, i.e.  . And this estimator is efficient, in the sense that its variance is equal to Cramér-Rao lower bound,  .

But what if we consider another estimator? For instance  , with   not necessarily equal to 1. In that case, this estimator is (usually) biased since


And its variance is


We can visualise those two functions (the bias and the variance) using


Observe that if is small (smaller than 1), the variance is smaller than the Cramér-Rao lower bound. And here, the mean squared error, defined as

which is, here,

The optimal value is obtained when the first order condition is satisfied


So biased estimators can be more interesting than unbiased estimators, if the goal is the minimize the mean square error.

Heuristics on bias and variance for kernel density estimators

Consider the simple case of a moving histogram (which is a very simple kernel). The idea is to recall that


is the slope close to point .

Then we use the empirical cumulative density to approximate the slope, i.e.

which can also be writen

Consider now the density seen as a random variable

where the‘s are i.i.d. where , with

Thus, observe that , but that’s not what we’re looking for… From Taylor’s expansion,


where the bias comes from the approximation of the density by some string. About the variance,

thus, since ,


We can observe that

is decreasing as , while the variance is increasing as . This is the standard bias-variance tradeoff in statistics.