Bias Reduction for Sum Estimation

Authors Talya Eden , Jakob Bæk Tejs Houen, Shyam Narayanan, Will Rosenbaum , Jakub Tětek

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Talya Eden
  • Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel
Jakob Bæk Tejs Houen
  • BARC, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Shyam Narayanan
  • MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA
Will Rosenbaum
  • Amherst College, MA, USA
Jakub Tětek
  • BARC, University of Copenhagen, Denmark


We thank the anonymous peer reviewers, whose feedback helped improve our manuscript.

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Talya Eden, Jakob Bæk Tejs Houen, Shyam Narayanan, Will Rosenbaum, and Jakub Tětek. Bias Reduction for Sum Estimation. In Approximation, Randomization, and Combinatorial Optimization. Algorithms and Techniques (APPROX/RANDOM 2023). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 275, pp. 62:1-62:21, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2023)


In classical statistics and distribution testing, it is often assumed that elements can be sampled exactly from some distribution 𝒫, and that when an element x is sampled, the probability 𝒫(x) of sampling x is also known. In this setting, recent work in distribution testing has shown that many algorithms are robust in the sense that they still produce correct output if the elements are drawn from any distribution 𝒬 that is sufficiently close to 𝒫. This phenomenon raises interesting questions: under what conditions is a "noisy" distribution 𝒬 sufficient, and what is the algorithmic cost of coping with this noise? In this paper, we investigate these questions for the problem of estimating the sum of a multiset of N real values x_1, …, x_N. This problem is well-studied in the statistical literature in the case 𝒫 = 𝒬, where the Hansen-Hurwitz estimator [Annals of Mathematical Statistics, 1943] is frequently used. We assume that for some (known) distribution 𝒫, values are sampled from a distribution 𝒬 that is pointwise close to 𝒫. That is, there is a parameter γ < 1 such that for all x_i, (1 - γ) 𝒫(i) ≤ 𝒬(i) ≤ (1 + γ) 𝒫(i). For every positive integer k we define an estimator ζ_k for μ = ∑_i x_i whose bias is proportional to γ^k (where our ζ₁ reduces to the classical Hansen-Hurwitz estimator). As a special case, we show that if 𝒬 is pointwise γ-close to uniform and all x_i ∈ {0, 1}, for any ε > 0, we can estimate μ to within additive error ε N using m = Θ(N^{1-1/k}/ε^{2/k}) samples, where k = ⌈lg ε/lg γ⌉. We then show that this sample complexity is essentially optimal. Interestingly, our upper and lower bounds show that the sample complexity need not vary uniformly with the desired error parameter ε: for some values of ε, perturbations in its value have no asymptotic effect on the sample complexity, while for other values, any decrease in its value results in an asymptotically larger sample complexity.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Mathematics of computing → Probabilistic algorithms
  • Theory of computation → Sample complexity and generalization bounds
  • Theory of computation → Streaming, sublinear and near linear time algorithms
  • Theory of computation → Lower bounds and information complexity
  • bias reduction
  • sum estimation
  • sublinear time algorithms
  • sample complexity


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