Computation of exact confidence intervals from discrete data using studentized test statistics

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A new area of research interest is the computation of exact confidence limits or intervals for a scalar parameter of interest θ from discrete data by inverting a hypothesis test based on a studentized test statistic. See, for example, Chan and Zhang (1999), Agresti and Min (2001) and Agresti (2003) who deal with θ a difference of binomial probabilities and Agresti and Min (2002) who deal with θ an odds ratio. However, neither (1) a detailed analysis of the computational issues involved nor (2) a reliable method of computation that deals effectively with these issues is currently available. In this paper we solve these two problems for a very broad class of discrete data models. We suppose that the distribution of the data is determined by (θ,ψ) where ψ is a nuisance parameter vector. We also consider six different studentized test statistics. Our contributions to (1) are as follows. We show that the P-value resulting from the hypothesis test, considered as a function of the null-hypothesized value of θ, has both “jump” and “drop” discontinuities. Numerical examples are used to demonstrate that these discontinuities lead to the failure of simple-minded approaches to the computation of the confidence limit or interval. We also provide a new method for efficiently computing the set of all possible locations of these discontinuities. Our contribution to (2) is to provide a new and reliable method of computing the confidence limit or interval, based on the knowledge of this set.

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