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I discovered some strange behaviour of the PolyLog[] Function in Mathematica which seems to me like a bug in the function implementation.

It looks like PolyLog is breaking down for big arguments and non-integer orders

In[1]:=  -PolyLog[5/2, -E^500] // N
Out[1]:= 2.691151407447062*10^8626 + 9.87331945684138*10^8623 I

which is for sure incorrect. For such big arguments the PolyLog function has nice asymptotic approximations (which are e.g. used for complete Fermi-Dirac Integrals which are related to PolyLog's) through $F_n(x)=-\mathrm{Li}_{n+1}(-e^x)$.

This can be demonstrated by using even orders for the PolyLog[] with similar big arguments

In[2]:=  -PolyLog[4, -E^500] // N
Out[2]:= 2.60437*10^9

if compared to the asymptotic approximation $\frac{u^n}{\Gamma(n+1)}$ of $-\mathrm{Li}_n(-e^u)$

In[3]:=  u^4/Gamma[5] /. u->500 //N
Out[3]:= 2.60417*10^9

the results look o.k.

The expected result of above given argument E^500 and order 5/2 should be

In[4]:=  u^(5/2)/Gamma[5/2 + 1] /. u -> 500 // N
Out[4]:= 1.68209*10^6

I assume that the function algorithm somehow gets troubles with internal accuracy. Any ideas to "tell" Mathematica to increase the accuracy for the numerical calculation?

share|improve this question
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Is the following a better result? (I'm not an expert.)

Block[{$MaxExtraPrecision = 100},
  N[-PolyLog[5/2, -E^500], 20]

(* Out: 1.6821298518320559359*10^6 + 0.*10^-14 I *)
share|improve this answer
Yes this is a better result - see update of question above. Thanks for the proposal. This leaves the question why Mathematica is not able to calculate the correct result in first place with the default accuracy. – Rainer Mar 29 '13 at 23:24
@Rainer Again, I'm not an expert on PolyLogs specifically, but this is a common issue in special function evaluation. I certainly wouldn't trust the result of N[Sin[E^500]], I would be more comfortable with N[Sin[E^500], 20], after increasing $MaxExtraPrecision to 400 or so. – Mark McClure Mar 29 '13 at 23:32

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