Inference with Multinomial Data: Why to Weaken the Prior Strength

Cassio P. de Campos, Alessio Benavoli

This paper considers inference from multinomial data and addresses the problem of choosing the strength of the Dirichlet prior under a mean-squared error criterion. We compare the Maximum Likelihood Estimator (MLE) and the most commonly used Bayesian estimators obtained by assuming a prior Dirichlet distribution with non-informative prior parameters, that is, the parameters of the Dirichlet are equal and altogether sum up to the so called strength of the prior. Under this criterion, MLE becomes more preferable than the Bayesian estimators at the increase of the number of categories k of the multinomial, because non-informative Bayesian estimators induce a region where they are dominant that quickly shrinks with the increase of k. This can be avoided if the strength of the prior is not kept constant but decreased with the number of categories. We argue that the strength should decrease at least k times faster than usual estimators do.