Inadequacies of the Fisher Information Matrix in gravitational-wave parameter estimation

Carl L. Rodriguez, Benjamin Farr, Ilya Mandel, Will M. Farr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


The Fisher Information Matrix (FIM) has been the standard approximation to the accuracy of parameter estimation on gravitational-wave signals from merging compact binaries due to its ease-of-use and rapid computation time. While the theoretical failings of this method, such as the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) limit on the validity of the lowest-order expansion and the difficulty of using non-Gaussian priors, are well understood, the practical effectiveness compared to a real parameter estimation technique (e.g., Markov-chain Monte Carlo) remains an open question. We present a direct comparison between the FIM error estimates and the Bayesian probability density functions produced by the parameter estimation code lalinference mcmc. In addition to the low- SNR issues usually considered, we find that the FIM can greatly overestimate the uncertainty in parameter estimation achievable by the MCMC. This was found to be a systematic effect for systems composed of binary black holes, with the disagreement increasing with total mass. In some cases, the MCMC search returned standard deviations on the marginalized posteriors that were smaller by several orders of magnitude than the FIM estimates. We conclude that the predictions of the FIM do not represent the capabilities of real gravitational-wave parameter estimation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalPhysical Review D
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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