Confidently comparing estimators with the c-value

Abstract : Modern statistics provides an ever-expanding toolkit for estimating unknown parameters. Consequently, applied statisticians frequently face a difficult decision: retain a parameter estimate from a familiar method or replace it with an estimate from a newer or complex one. While it is traditional to compare estimators using risk, such comparisons are rarely conclusive in realistic settings. In response, we propose the “c-value” as a measure of confidence that a new estimate achieves smaller loss than an old estimate on a given dataset. We show that it is unlikely that a computed c-value is large and that the new estimate has larger loss than the old. Therefore, just as a small p-value provides evidence to reject a null hypothesis, a large c-value provides evidence to use a new estimate in place of the old. For a wide class of problems and estimators, we show how to compute a c-value by first constructing a data-dependent high-probability lower bound on the difference in loss. The c-value is frequentist in nature, but we show that it can provide a validation of Bayesian estimates in real data applications involving hierarchical models and Gaussian processes.

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Recommended citation: Trippe, B.L., Deshpande, S.K., and Broderick, T. (2022). "Confidentally comparing estimators with the c-value." Journal of the American Statistical Association .