# Estimation of population size based on capture recapture designs and evaluation of the estimation reliability

We propose a modern method to estimate population size based on capture-recapture designs of K samples. The observed data is formulated as a sample of n i.i.d. K-dimensional vectors of binary indicators, where the k-th component of each vector indicates the subject being caught by the k-th sample, such that only subjects with nonzero capture vectors are observed. The target quantity is the unconditional probability of the vector being nonzero across both observed and unobserved subjects. We cover models assuming a single constraint (identification assumption) on the K-dimensional distribution such that the target quantity is identified and the statistical model is unrestricted. We present solutions for linear and non-linear constraints commonly assumed to identify capture-recapture models, including no K-way interaction in linear and log-linear models, independence or conditional independence. We demonstrate that the choice of constraint has a dramatic impact on the value of the estimand, showing that it is crucial that the constraint is known to hold by design. For the commonly assumed constraint of no K-way interaction in a log-linear model, the statistical target parameter is only defined when each of the 2^K - 1 observable capture patterns is present, and therefore suffers from the curse of dimensionality. We propose a targeted MLE based on undersmoothed lasso model to smooth across the cells while targeting the fit towards the single valued target parameter of interest. For each identification assumption, we provide simulated inference and confidence intervals to assess the performance on the estimator under correct and incorrect identifying assumptions. We apply the proposed method, alongside existing estimators, to estimate prevalence of a parasitic infection using multi-source surveillance data from a region in southwestern China, under the four identification assumptions.

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