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I am curve fitting a model to data sets in order to determine a coefficient for each curve fit/data set. I then calculate an average coefficient and the 95% confidence interval for this average. However, each curve fit involves the use of a parameter (in the model equation) which itself has a 95% confidence interval. How do I propagate the 95% confidence interval for this parameter into the 95% confidence interval for the coefficient calculated from curve fits?

Here is an example version of the model that I am curve fitting to data: $$y=\text{erfc}\left(\frac{x}{A+B}\right)$$ $A$ is the curve fit variable and $B$ is the pre-determined parameter with a 95% confidence interval. Changing the value of $B$ changes the calculated value of $A$, so unless I'm mistaken, the confidence interval of $B$ should propagate into that of $A$. How is this done mathematically?

Edit: I found the answer to my question. It's included below.

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  • $\begingroup$ Could I calculate $x$ with the upper and lower bounds of $K$, based on its confidence interval, and then state that the confidence interval of $x$ is between the far extremes of the confidence intervals of $x$ calculated for the upper and lower bounds of $K$? For example, calculating $x=10\pm10$ for the lower bound of $K$, $x=20\pm10$ for the upper bound of $K$, $x=15\pm10$ for the average value of $K$, and stating that $x=15\pm15$. $\endgroup$ – Cedric Eveleigh Nov 9 '18 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ Just using intervals is problematic -- extremes of x are not necessarily found at the extremes of K (you would need to verify that x is a monotonic function of K), and usually x is nonuniformly distributed, but an interval can't express anything about that. My advice for a relatively simple approximation to the full Bayesian taco is to generate a random sample from a distribution over K, and see what resulting distribution of x you get. $\endgroup$ – Robert Dodier Nov 11 '18 at 6:22
  • $\begingroup$ FYI I updated the question with different variable names. $\endgroup$ – Cedric Eveleigh Nov 24 '18 at 19:52
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Your question is a bit confusing -- if x is the adjustable parameter to be optimised, and K is an input (from a disribution), what is the independent variable? Nevertheless, if I assume for the sake of argument that it's there somewhere, conceptually you should fit by optimisation of a single parameter

$y = \text{erfc}(\theta)$,

then rearrange the basic error propagation (eq 3.20 from Bevington) to extract the uncertainty in $x$ (i.e. solve for $\sigma_x$ from the following):

$\sigma_\theta^2 = \sigma_x^2 + \sigma_K^2 \pm 2\sigma_{xK}^2$

where the correlation coefficient of the covariance term would be 1.

This assumes a normal distribution for all quantities, of course, which may not be the case. Monte Carlo sampling would be the more robust way of solving this, if you've got any computational nous.

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This is a good question, and unfortunately there is no easy answer. The right way to go about problems like this is via Bayesian inference. In this context, that amounts to assuming that every uncertain variable has a distribution, conditional or unconditional, and then deriving the distribution over what you consider interesting, given any data at hand, and marginalizing (i.e. integrating) over the other variables you consider uninteresting. My advice is to try to state the whole Bayesian model, and then make simplifying assumptions (possibly drastic) to arrive at something tractable.

There are probably many non-Bayesian methods, which amount to specific simplifications of the Bayesian approach, making use of particular assumptions, possibly unstated. My advice is, don't resort immediately to simplifications, instead work out the whole model and consider what are reasonable and workable assumptions for your problem.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm curious what you think about what I suggested in a comment to the question. $\endgroup$ – Cedric Eveleigh Nov 11 '18 at 1:13
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I found a way to accomplish the propagation of uncertainty: Combine $A$ and $B$ into a single term—say, $C$—and curve fit to determine $C$. Then, solve $C = A + B$ for $A$ and calculate the uncertainty of $A$ with the uncertainties of $C$ and $B$.

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