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Dealing with TMI in Statistics

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Dealing with TMI in Statistics

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A common idea in statistics is that if we don't know something, and we use an estimator of that something (instead of the true value) then there will be some additional uncertainty.

For instance, consider a random sample, i.i.d., from a Gaussian distribution. Then, a confidence interval for the mean is
where http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/inc-out-8.gif is the quantile of probability level http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/IC-cout-05.gif of the standard normal distribution http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/inc-out-09.gif. But usually, standard deviation http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/inc-cout-10.gif (the something is was talking about earlier) is usually unknown. So we substitute an estimation of the standard deviation, e.g.
and the cost we have to pay is that the new confidence interval is
where now http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/IC-cout-03.gif is the quantile of the Student distribution, of probability level http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/IC-cout-05.gif, with http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/IC-cout-04.gif degrees of freedom.
We call it a cost since the new confidence interval is now larger (the Student distribution has higher upper-quantiles than the Gaussian distribution).
So usually, if we substitute an estimation to the true value, there is a price to pay.
A few years ago, with Jean David Fermanian and Olivier Scaillet, we were writing a survey on copula density estimation (using kernels,  here). At the end, we wanted to add a small paragraph on the fact that we assumed that we wanted to fit a copula on a sample http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/ic-cout_11.gif i.i.d. with distribution http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/ic-cout_13.gif, a copula, but in practice, we start from a sample http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/ic-cout_12.gif with joint distribution http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/ic-cour_14.gif (assumed to have continuous margins, and - unique - copula http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/ic-cout_13.gif). But since margins are usually unknown, there should be a price for not observing them.
To be more formal, in a perfect wold, we would consider
but in the real world, we have to consider
where it is standard to consider ranks, i.e. http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/ic-cout_109.gif are empirical cumulative distribution functions.
My point is that when I ran simulations for the survey (the idea was more to give illustrations of several techniques of estimation, rather than proofs of technical theorems) we observed that the price to pay... was negative ! I.e. the variance of the estimator of the density (wherever on the unit square) was smaller on the pseudo sample http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/ic-cout-17.gif than on perfect sample http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/ic-cout_18.gif.
By that time, we could not understand why we got that counter-intuitive result: even if we do know the true distribution, it is better not to use it, and to use instead a nonparametric estimator. Our interpretation was based on the discrepancy concept and was related to the latin hypercube construction:

With ranks, the data are more regular, and marginal distributions are exactly uniform on the unit interval. So there is less variance.
This was our heuristic interpretation.
A couple of weeks ago, Christian Genest and Johan Segers proved that intuition in an article published in JMVA,

Well, we observed something for finite http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/maths/mariage01.png, but Christian and Johan obtained an analytical result. Hence, if we denote
the empirical copula in the perfect world (with known margins) and
the one constructed from the pseudo sample, they obtained that, everywhere
with nice graphs of http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso2/JSCG-7.gif,

So I was very happy last week, when Christian showed me their results, to learn that our intuition was correct. Nevertheless, it is still a very counter-intuitive result...If anyone has seen similar things, I'd be glad to hear about it!

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