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Confidence and Likelihood


Tore Schweder Department of Economics, P.B. 1095, N–0317 Oslo, Norway. E-mail:


Confidence intervals for a single parameter are spanned by quantiles of a confidence distribution, and one-sided p-values are cumulative confidences. Confidence distributions are thus a unifying format for representing frequentist inference for a single parameter. The confidence distribution, which depends on data, is exact (unbiased) when its cumulative distribution function evaluated at the true parameter is uniformly distributed over the unit interval. A new version of the Neyman–Pearson lemma is given, showing that the confidence distribution based on the natural statistic in exponential models with continuous data is less dispersed than all other confidence distributions, regardless of how dispersion is measured. Approximations are necessary for discrete data, and also in many models with nuisance parameters. Approximate pivots might then be useful. A pivot based on a scalar statistic determines a likelihood in the parameter of interest along with a confidence distribution. This proper likelihood is reduced of all nuisance parameters, and is appropriate for meta-analysis and updating of information. The reduced likelihood is generally different from the confidence density.

Confidence distributions and reduced likelihoods are rooted in Fisher–Neyman statistics. This frequentist methodology has many of the Bayesian attractions, and the two approaches are briefly compared. Concepts, methods and techniques of this brand of Fisher–Neyman statistics are presented. Asymptotics and bootstrapping are used to find pivots and their distributions, and hence reduced likelihoods and confidence distributions. A simple form of inverting bootstrap distributions to approximate pivots of the abc type is proposed. Our material is illustrated in a number of examples and in an application to multiple capture data for bowhead whales.

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