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In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

We propose a general method for constructing confidence sets and hypothesis tests that have finite-sample guarantees without regularity conditions. We refer to such procedures as "universal." The method is very simple and is based on a modified version of the usual likelihood-ratio statistic that we call "the split likelihood-ratio test" (split LRT) statistic. The (limiting) null distribution of the classical likelihood-ratio statistic is often intractable when used to test composite null hypotheses in irregular statistical models. Our method is especially appealing for statistical inference in these complex setups. The method we suggest works for any parametric model and also for some nonparametric models, as long as computing a maximum-likelihood estimator (MLE) is feasible under the null. Canonical examples arise in mixture modeling and shape-constrained inference, for which constructing tests and confidence sets has been notoriously difficult. We also develop various extensions of our basic methods. We show that in settings when computing the MLE is hard, for the purpose of constructing valid tests and intervals, it is sufficient to upper bound the maximum likelihood. We investigate some conditions under which our methods yield valid inferences under model misspecification. Further, the split LRT can be used with profile likelihoods to deal with nuisance parameters, and it can also be run sequentially to yield anytime-valid P values and confidence sequences. Finally, when combined with the method of sieves, it can be used to perform model selection with nested model classes.

Wasserman Larry, Ramdas Aaditya, Balakrishnan Sivaraman


confidence sequence, irregular models, likelihood, testing