 Research Article
 Open Access
The Kolmogorov Distance between the Binomial and Poisson Laws: Efficient Algorithms and Sharp Estimates
 José A. Adell^{1}Email author,
 José M. Anoz^{1} and
 Alberto Lekuona^{1}
https://doi.org/10.1155/2009/965712
© José A. Adell et al. 2009
 Received: 21 May 2009
 Accepted: 9 October 2009
 Published: 30 December 2009
Abstract
We give efficient algorithms, as well as sharp estimates, to compute the Kolmogorov distance between the binomial and Poisson laws with the same mean . Such a distance is eventually attained at the integer part of . The exact Kolmogorov distance for is also provided. The preceding results are obtained as a concrete application of a general method involving a differential calculus for linear operators represented by stochastic processes.
Keywords
 Central Limit Theorem
 Orthogonal Polynomial
 Efficient Algorithm
 Sharp Estimate
 Triangular Inequality
1. Introduction and Main Results
There is a huge amount of literature on estimates of different probability metrics between random variables, measuring the rates of convergence in various limit theorems, such as Poisson approximation and the central limit theorem. However, as far as we know, there are only a few papers devoted to obtain exact values for such probability metrics, even in the most simple and paradigmatic examples. In this regard, we mention the results by Kennedy and Quine [1] giving the exact total variation distance between binomial and Poisson distributions, when their common mean is smaller than , approximately, as well as the efficient algorihm provided in the work of Adell et al. [2] to compute this distance for arbitrary values of . On the other hand, closedform expressions for the Kolmogorov and total variation distances between some familiar discrete distributions with different parameters can be found in Adell and Jodrá [3]. Finally, Hipp and Mattner [4] have recently computed the exact Kolmogorov distance in the central limit theorem for symmetric binomial distributions.
The aim of this paper is to obtain efficient algorithms and sharp estimates in the highly classical problem of evaluating the Kolmogorov distance between binomial and Poisson laws having the same mean. The techniques used here are analogous to those in [2] dealing with the total variation distance between the aforementioned laws.
To state our main results, let us introduce some notation. Denote by the set of nonnegative integers, and , . If is a set of real numbers, stands for the indicator function of . For any , we set and . For any , the th forward differences of a function are recursively defined by , , , and .
Throughout this note, it will be assumed that , , and . Let be a sequence of independent identically distributed random variables having the uniform distribution on . The random variable
has the binomial distribution with parameters and . Let be a random variable having the Poisson distribution with mean . Recall that the Kolmogorov distance between and is defined by
where
An efficient algorithm to compute is based on the zeroes of the second Krawtchouk and Charlier polynomials, which are the orthogonal polynomials with respect to the binomial and Poisson distributions, respectively. Interesting references for general orthogonal polynomials are the monographs by Chihara [5] and Schoutens [6].
The two zeroes of this polynomial are
As , , and , converges to the second Charlier polynomial with respect to defined by
the two zeroes of which are
Finally, we denote by
and by
Our first main result is the following.
Theorem 1.1.
Looking at Figure 1 and taking into account (1.8), (1.9), and (1.12) we see the following. The number of computations needed to evaluate is approximately , that is, , approximately. This last quantity is relatively small, since approximates if and only if is close to zero. Moreover, the set has two points at most, whenever , and this happens if
As follows from (1.2), the natural way to compute the Kolmogorov distance is to look at the maximum absolute value of the function
From a computational point of view, the main question is to ask how many evaluations of the probability differences are required to exactly compute . According to Theorem 1.1 and (1.8), the number of such evaluations is at least, and at most, approximately.
On the other hand, and converge, respectively, to and , as . Thus, Theorem 1.1 leads us to the following asymptotic result.
Corollary 1.2.
Unfortunately, is not uniformly bounded when varies in an arbitrary compact set. In fact, since , , and , , it can be verified that , when from the left, , or when from the right, This explains why and in Theorem 1.1 have no simple form in general.
Finally, it may be of interest to compare Theorem 1.1 and Corollary 1.2 with the exact value of the Kolmogorov distance in the central limit theorem for symmetric binomial distributions obtained by Hipp and Mattner [4]. These authors have shown that (cf. [4, Corollary ])
where is a standard normal random variable. Roughly speaking, (1.17) tells us that the Kolmogorov distance in this version of the central limit theorem is attained at the mean of the respective distributions; whereas according to Theorem 1.1 and Corollary 1.2, the Kolmogorov distance in our Poisson approximation setting is attained at the mean the standard deviation of the corresponding distributions.
For small values of , we are able to give the following closedform expression.
Corollary 1.3.
Corollary 1.3 can be seen as a counterpart of the total variation result established by Kennedy and Quine [1, Theorem ], stating that
for any and , where stands for the total variation distance.
For any , , and , we denote by
where
Sharp estimates for the Kolmogorov distance are given in the following.
Theorem 1.4.
Upper bounds for the Kolmogorov distance in Poisson approximation for sums of independent random indicators have been obtained by many authors using different techniques. We mention the following estimates in the case at hand:
(Serfling [7]),
(Hipp [8]),
(Deheuvels et al. [9]),
and the constant in the last estimate is best possible (cf. Roos [10]). It is readily seen from (1.23) that
On the other hand, it follows from Roos [10] and Lemma 2.1 below that
Upper bounds for : Serfling (S), Hipp (H), Deheuvels et al. (D), Roos (R), and Adell et al. (A).

 S  H  D  R  A 

100  0.01  0.0050  0.007854  0.003091  0.003173  0.001916 
200  0.0100  0.007854  0.002605  0.003173  0.001416  
500  0.0250  0.007854  0.002656  0.003173  0.001454  
1000  0.0500  0.007854  0.002603  0.003173  0.001396  
200  0.005  0.0025  0.003927  0.001348  0.001376  0.000938 
400  0.0050  0.003927  0.001105  0.001376  0.000692  
1000  0.0125  0.003927  0.001131  0.001376  0.000714  
2000  0.0250  0.003927  0.001104  0.001376  0.000687 
On the other hand, the referee has drawn our attention to a recent paper by Vaggelatou [11], where the author obtains upper bounds for the Kolmogorov distance between sums of independent integervalued random variables. Specializing Corollary in [11] to the case at hand, Vaggelatou gives the upper bound
Upper bounds for : Vaggelatou (V) and Adell et al. (A).

 V  A 

0.6  20  0.0054116  0.0059268 
50  0.0020499  0.0021122  
100  0.0010063  0.0010199  
200  0.0004985  0.0005017  
500  0.0001983  0.0001988  
1000  0.0000990  0.0000991  
0.9  20  0.0098476  0.0103392 
50  0.0035463  0.0035676  
100  0.0017095  0.0017106  
200  0.0008390  0.0008388  
500  0.0003318  0.0003317  
1000  0.0001653  0.0001653  
1  20  0.0114410  0.0117428 
50  0.0040305  0.0040086  
100  0.0019267  0.0019162  
200  0.0009415  0.0009382  
500  0.0003714  0.0003708  
1000  0.0001848  0.0001847  
2  20  0.0367148  0.0228808 
50  0.0090741  0.0065533  
100  0.0036183  0.0029671  
200  0.0015808  0.0014156  
500  0.0005777  0.0005510  
1000  0.0002798  0.0002731 
We finally establish that, for small values of , the Kolmogorov distance is attained at , that is, at , approximately. This completes the statement in Corollary 1.3.
Corollary 1.5.
Remark 1.6.
As far as upper bounds are concerned, the methods used in this paper can be adapted to cover more general cases referring to Poisson approximation (see, e.g., the Introduction in [2] and the references therein). However, the obtention of efficient algorithms leading to exact values is a more delicate question. As we will see in Section 2, specially in formula (2.1), such a problem is based on two main facts: first, the explicit form of the orthogonal polynomials associated to the random variables to be approximated, and, second, the relation between expectations involving forward differences and expectations involving these orthogonal polynomials. For instance, an explicit expression for the orthogonal polynomials associated to general sums of independent random indicators seems to be unknown.
2. The Proofs
The key tool to prove the previous results is the following formula established in [2, formula ( )]. For any function for which the expectations below exist, we have
and and are independent identically distributed random variables having the uniform distribution on , also independent of the sequence in (1.1).
Proof of Theorem 1.1.
To show (1.12) and (1.13), we apply the second equality in (2.1) to the function , thus obtaining by virtue of (1.3)
Again by (1.9) and (1.10), this means that , for any . This fact, in conjunction with (2.2) and (2.5), shows (2.6).
To prove (2.7), we distinguish the following two cases.
Case 1 ( ).
which implies that , for any . As before, this property shows (2.7).
Case 2 ( ).
In this occasion, we have . Since and the remaining inequalities in (2.9) are satisfied, we conclude as in the previous case that (2.7) holds. The proof is complete.
Proof of Corollary 1.3.
where is the convex function given by , . Since , the first inequality in (2.1) proves that the righthand side in (2.11) is nonnegative. This, together with (2.10), shows that and completes the proof.
Let , , and . For any function , we have
where is defined in (1.20). Formula (2.12) can be found in Barbour et al. [12, Lemma ]; whereas estimate (2.13) is established in Adell et al. [2, formula ( )]. Choosing , in (2.12), we consider the function
where and are defined in (1.23) and (1.28), respectively.
for and .
Lemma 2.1.
For any , one has . In addition, for any , one has .
Proof.
This completes the proof.
Proof of Theorem 1.4.
Thus, the conclusion follows from (2.16) and Lemma 2.1.
We have been aware that Boutsikas and Vaggelatou have recently provided in [13] an independent proof of Lemma 2.1.
Proof of Corollary 1.5.
Therefore, applying (2.13) to the function , as well as Theorem 1.4, we obtain the desired conclusion.
Declarations
Acknowledgments
The authors thank the referees for their careful reading of the manuscript and for their remarks and suggestions, which greatly improved the final outcome. This work has been supported by Research Grants MTM200806281C0201/MTM and DGA E64, and by FEDER funds.
Authors’ Affiliations
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