On the High Accuracy Limitation of Adaptive Property Estimation

08/27/2020
by   Yanjun Han, et al.
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Recent years have witnessed the success of adaptive (or unified) approaches in estimating symmetric properties of discrete distributions, where one first obtains a distribution estimator independent of the target property, and then plugs the estimator into the target property as the final estimator. Several such approaches have been proposed and proved to be adaptively optimal, i.e. they achieve the optimal sample complexity for a large class of properties within a low accuracy, especially for a large estimation error ε≫ n^-1/3 where n is the sample size. In this paper, we characterize the high accuracy limitation, or the penalty for adaptation, for all such approaches. Specifically, we show that under a mild assumption that the distribution estimator is close to the true sorted distribution in expectation, any adaptive approach cannot achieve the optimal sample complexity for every 1-Lipschitz property within accuracy ε≪ n^-1/3. In particular, this result disproves a conjecture in [Acharya et al. 2017] that the profile maximum likelihood (PML) plug-in approach is optimal in property estimation for all ranges of ε, and confirms a conjecture in [Han and Shiragur, 2020] that their competitive analysis of the PML is tight.

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