[R] problems with optim, "for"-loops and machine precision

From: Simon Ruegg <s.ruegg_at_access.unizh.ch>
Date: Wed 10 Jan 2007 - 12:18:04 GMT

Dear R experts,  

I have been encountering problems with the "optim" routine using "for" loops. I am determining the optimal parameters of several nested models by minimizing the negative Log-Likelihood (NLL) of a dataset.  

The aim is to find the model which best describes the data. To this end, I am simulating artificial data sets based on the model with the least number of parameters (6) and the parameters determined with the field data. For each artificial set I estimate the parameters of the model with 6 parameters and the next more complex model with 7 parameters (two of these parameters are equal in the 6-parameter model) by minimizing the corresponding NLL with "optim". In theory the 7-parameter model should fit the data either equally or better than the 6-parameter model. Therefore the difference of the minimal NLLs should be 0 or larger.

For 500 data sets I use the following code:  






for (s in 1:500)


assign("data",read.table(paste("populations/TE23simset_",s,".txt",sep="")),e nv=MyEnv) #reading a data set  



  if (M23$convergence==0)



























For some strange reason the results do not correspond to what I expect: about 10% of the solutions have a difference of NLL smaller than 0. I have verified the optimisation of these results manually and found that a minimal NLL was ignored and a higher NLL was returned at "convergence". To check what was happening I inserted a printing line in the NLL function to print all parameters and the NLL as the procedure goes on. To my surprise "optim" then stopped at the minimal NLL which had been ignored before. I have then reduced the machine precision to .Machine$double.digits=8 thinking, that the printing was slowing down the procedure and by reducing the machine precision to speed up the calculations. For an individual calculation this solved my problem. However if I implemented the same procedure in the loop above, the same impossible results occurred again.  

Can anyone tell me where I should be looking for the problem, or what it is and how I could solve it?  

Thanks a lot for your help    



Simon Ruegg

Dr.med.vet., PhD candidate

Institute for Parasitology

Winterthurstr. 266a

8057 Zurich


phone: +41 44 635 85 93

fax: +41 44 635 89 07

e-mail: s.ruegg@access.unizh.ch  

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