Posterior analysis of n in the binomial (n,p) problem with both parameters unknown — with applications to quantitative nanoscopy


Schmidt-Hieber J, Schneider LF, Staudt T, Krajina A, Aspelmeier T, Munk A


The Annals of Statistics


Ann. Statist. 49(6): 3534-3558 (December 2021).


Estimation of the population size n from k i.i.d. binomial observations with unknown success probability p is relevant to a multitude of applications and has a long history. Without additional prior information this is a notoriously difficult task when p becomes small, and the Bayesian approach becomes particularly useful. For a large class of priors, we establish posterior contraction and a Bernstein-von Mises type theorem in a setting where p→0 and n→∞ as k→∞. Furthermore, we suggest a new class of Bayesian estimators for n and provide a comprehensive simulation study in which we investigate their performance. To showcase the advantages of a Bayesian approach on real data, we also benchmark our estimators in a novel application from super-resolution microscopy.