best unbiased estimators

A question that came out on X validated today kept me busy for most of the day! It relates to an earlier question on the best unbiased nature of a maximum likelihood estimator, to which I pointed out the simple case of the Normal variance when the estimate is not unbiased (but improves the mean square error). Here, the question is whether or not the maximum likelihood estimator of a location parameter, when corrected from its bias, is the best unbiased estimator (in the sense of the minimal variance). The question is quite interesting in that it links to the mathematical statistics of the 1950’s, of Charles Stein, Erich Lehmann, Henry Scheffé, and Debabrata Basu. For instance, if there exists a complete sufficient statistic for the problem, then there exists a best unbiased estimator of the location parameter, by virtue of the Lehmann-Scheffé theorem (it is also a consequence of Basu’s theorem). And the existence is pretty limited in that outside the two exponential families with location parameter, there is no other distribution meeting this condition, I believe. However, even if there is no complete sufficient statistic, there may still exist best unbiased estimators, as shown by Bondesson. But Lehmann and Scheffé in their magisterial 1950 Sankhya paper exhibit a counter-example, namely the U(θ-1,θ-1) distribution:

since no non-constant function of θ allows for a best unbiased estimator.

Looking in particular at the location parameter of a Cauchy distribution, I realised that the Pitman best equivariant estimator is unbiased as well [for all location problems] and hence dominates the (equivariant) maximum likelihood estimator which is unbiased in this symmetric case. However, as detailed in a nice paper of Gabriela Freue on this problem, I further discovered that there is no uniformly minimal variance estimator and no uniformly minimal variance unbiased estimator! (And that the Pitman estimator enjoys a closed form expression, as opposed to the maximum likelihood estimator.) This sounds a bit paradoxical but simply means that there exists different unbiased estimators which variance functions are not ordered and hence not comparable. Between them and with the variance of the Pitman estimator.

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