# FindDistributionParameters fails with custom distribution?

Context

I would like to find the MaximumLikelihood solution of a customized PDF

dat = RandomVariate[LaplaceDistribution[2, 1], 1000];
param=FindDistributionParameters[dat, LaplaceDistribution[μ, σ],
ParameterEstimator -> {"MaximumLikelihood", Method -> "NMaximize"}]


(* {μ->2.27258,σ->0.521354} *)

Show[Plot[
PDF[LaplaceDistribution[μ, σ] /. param, x], {x, -5, 5}],
Histogram[dat, Automatic, "PDF"]] works as expected. It finds a good estimator of $\mu$ and $\sigma$.

The problem

Now let me do the same with a customized PDF. Here I just impose that my custom PDF cannot be evaluated before it is given numerical values.

Clear[myLaplaceDistribution];
myLaplaceDistribution[μ_?NumberQ, σ_?NumberQ] :=
LaplaceDistribution[μ, σ]


Then

dat = RandomVariate[LaplaceDistribution[2, 1], 10];
FindDistributionParameters[dat, myLaplaceDistribution[μ, σ],
ParameterEstimator -> {"MaximumLikelihood", Method -> "NMaximize"}]


does not return a maximum likelihood estimate.

I am using 10.3.0 for Mac OS X x86 (64-bit) (October 9, 2015)

Question:

Any suggestions on how to make FindDistributionParameters work with unevaluated PDFs?

PS: I am aware of this https://mathematica.stackexchange.com/a/107914/1089 but here this question is a bit more general than simply a transformed distribution? And I have tried

dat = RandomVariate[LaplaceDistribution[2, 1], 10];
FindDistributionParameters[dat,
myLaplaceDistribution[μ, σ], {{μ,
Mean[dat]}, {σ, Mean[dat]}},
ParameterEstimator -> {"MaximumLikelihood", Method -> "NMaximize"}]


it does not seems to help.

Update

This related answer https://mathematica.stackexchange.com/a/61426/1089 does not seem to help.

If I define explicitly the domain for the PDF

  Clear[myLaplaceDistribution2];
myLaplaceDistribution2[μ_?NumberQ, σ_?NumberQ] :=
ProbabilityDistribution[
PDF[LaplaceDistribution[μ, σ], x], {x, -Infinity,
Infinity}, Assumptions -> (μ ∈ Reals && σ > 0)]


It still fails

dat = RandomVariate[LaplaceDistribution[2, 1], 10];
FindDistributionParameters[dat,
myLaplaceDistribution2[μ, σ], {{μ,
Mean[dat]}, {σ, Mean[dat]}},
ParameterEstimator -> {"MaximumLikelihood", Method -> "NMaximize"}]


As @J.M. points out one can use the fact that Mathematica can cope with the fact the PDF need not be normalized. As follows

Clear[myLaplaceDistribution3];
myLaplaceDistribution3[μ_, σ_] =
ProbabilityDistribution[
2 PDF[LaplaceDistribution[μ, σ],
x], {x, -∞, ∞},
Assumptions -> (μ ∈ Reals && σ > 0),
Method -> "Normalize"]


(Note the factor of 2 in front of PDF to make the PDF not normalized.)

Then

dat = RandomVariate[LaplaceDistribution[2, 1], 10];
FindDistributionParameters[dat, myLaplaceDistribution3[μ, σ],
ParameterEstimator -> {"MaximumLikelihood"}]


works.

I still think there must be situations where the PDF cannot be known before its arguments are known, and where Maximum likelihood analysis would make sense?

Note that I can always make my own:

MyFindDistributionParameters[data_, distrib_, var_] :=
NMaximize[{Total[Log@ PDF[distrib, #] & /@ data],
DistributionParameterAssumptions[distrib]}, var][];

MyFindDistributionParameters[dat,LaplaceDistribution[μ, σ], {μ, σ}]


but I was hoping Mathematica would provide me with a more efficient algorithm? (this seems to be 10 times slower than the built in function).

• Have you tried using ProbabilityDistribution[] instead to express your custom distribution? – J. M.'s technical difficulties Dec 13 '16 at 7:16
• @J.M. just tried while you commented. Seem to produce the same. The reason I want to have a delayed definition is that in real life my PDF is not normalized so I need to normalize it via numerical integration. – chris Dec 13 '16 at 7:18
• Well, ProbabilityDistribution[] supports the setting Method -> "Normalize" so that the normalization is done on your behalf. – J. M.'s technical difficulties Dec 13 '16 at 7:19
• Ah! That might be a lead then. The question remains of interest? – chris Dec 13 '16 at 7:21
• Clearly I don't understand your purpose. Giving mu and sigma to FindDistributionParameters without giving them numbers is essential. What is it about having your second example work when removing ?NumberQ doesn't work for you? (I'm not trying to be sarcastic. I'm just clearly missing something.) – JimB Dec 13 '16 at 21:57

If you follow @J.M. 's advice removing ?NumberQ from the definition of the probability distribution makes everything work fine:

Clear[myLaplaceDistribution];
SeedRandom;
myLaplaceDistribution[μ_, σ_] := LaplaceDistribution[μ, σ]
dat = RandomVariate[LaplaceDistribution[2, 1], 10];
FindDistributionParameters[dat, myLaplaceDistribution[μ, σ],
ParameterEstimator -> {"MaximumLikelihood", Method -> "NMaximize"}]
(* {μ -> 1.8804870321227085,σ -> 0.7153183538699862} *)


I don't know what you mean by "Here I just impose that my custom PDF cannot be evaluated before it is given numerical values." Your first example doesn't have the two parameters evaluated as numbers and it works fine:

param=FindDistributionParameters[dat, LaplaceDistribution[μ, σ],
ParameterEstimator -> {"MaximumLikelihood", Method -> "NMaximize"}]

• Thanks for this answer. I guess I have simplified too much the original problem. In my case the model PDF is the result of a convolved calculation which requires that mu and sigma are numerical. I tried to mimic this by stating that myLaplaceDistribution requires numerical values before it can be evaluated. So your answer solves the posed problem but not my problem. – chris Dec 13 '16 at 21:59
• I look forward to the new question. – JimB Dec 13 '16 at 22:00