n-1,n,n+1, who [should] care?!
Terry Speed wrote a column in the latest IMS Bulletin (the one I received a week ago) about the choice of the denominator in the variance estimator. That is, should s² involve n (number of observations), n-1 (degrees of freedom), n+1 or anything else in its denominator? I find the question more interesting than the answer (sorry, Terry!) as it demonstrates quite forcibly that there is not a single possible choice for this estimator of the variance but that instead the “optimal” estimator is determined by the choice of the optimality criterion: this makes for a wonderful (if rather formal) playground for a class on decision theoretic statistics. And I often use it on my students. Non-Bayesian mathematical statistics courses often give the impression that there is a natural (single) estimator, when this estimator is based on an implicit choice of an optimality criterion. (This issue is illustrated in the books of Chang and of Vasishth and Broe I discussed earlier. As well as by the Stein effect, of course.) I thus deem it worthwhile to impress upon all users of statistics that there is no such single optimal choice, that unbiasedness is not a compulsory property—just as well since most parameters cannot be estimated in an unbiased manner!—, and that there is room for a subjective choice of a “best” estimator, as paradoxical as it may sound to non-statisticians.