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Open AccessArticle

Estimating the Mutual Information between Two Discrete, Asymmetric Variables with Limited Samples

Department of Medical Physics, Centro Atómico Bariloche and Instituto Balseiro, 8400 San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Entropy 2019, 21(6), 623;
Received: 3 May 2019 / Revised: 11 June 2019 / Accepted: 13 June 2019 / Published: 25 June 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Bayesian Inference and Information Theory)
Determining the strength of nonlinear, statistical dependencies between two variables is a crucial matter in many research fields. The established measure for quantifying such relations is the mutual information. However, estimating mutual information from limited samples is a challenging task. Since the mutual information is the difference of two entropies, the existing Bayesian estimators of entropy may be used to estimate information. This procedure, however, is still biased in the severely under-sampled regime. Here, we propose an alternative estimator that is applicable to those cases in which the marginal distribution of one of the two variables—the one with minimal entropy—is well sampled. The other variable, as well as the joint and conditional distributions, can be severely undersampled. We obtain a consistent estimator that presents very low bias, outperforming previous methods even when the sampled data contain few coincidences. As with other Bayesian estimators, our proposal focuses on the strength of the interaction between the two variables, without seeking to model the specific way in which they are related. A distinctive property of our method is that the main data statistics determining the amount of mutual information is the inhomogeneity of the conditional distribution of the low-entropy variable in those states in which the large-entropy variable registers coincidences. View Full-Text
Keywords: Bayesian estimation; mutual information; bias; sampling Bayesian estimation; mutual information; bias; sampling
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Hernández, D.G.; Samengo, I. Estimating the Mutual Information between Two Discrete, Asymmetric Variables with Limited Samples. Entropy 2019, 21, 623.

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