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Multiple Local Maxima in Restricted Likelihoods and Posterior Distributions for Mixed Linear Models

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Summary

Scattered reports of multiple maxima in posterior distributions or likelihoods for mixed linear models appear throughout the literature. Less scrutinised is the restricted likelihood, which is the posterior distribution for a specific prior distribution. This paper surveys existing literature and proposes a unifying framework for understanding multiple maxima. For those problems with covariance structures that are diagonalisable in a specific sense, the restricted likelihood can be viewed as a generalised linear model with gamma errors, identity link and a prior distribution on the error variance. The generalised linear model portion of the restricted likelihood can be made to conflict with the portion of the restricted likelihood that functions like a prior distribution on the error variance, giving two local maxima in the restricted likelihood. Applying in addition an explicit conjugate prior distribution to variance parameters permits a second local maximum in the marginal posterior distribution even if the likelihood contribution has a single maximum. Moreover, reparameterisation from variance to precision can change the posterior modality; the converse also is true. Modellers should beware of these potential pitfalls when selecting prior distributions or using peak-finding algorithms to estimate parameters.

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