Mathematics and Applied Statistics Lesson of the Day – The Harmonic Mean

The harmonic mean, H, for n positive real numbers x_1, x_2, ..., x_n is defined as

H = n \div (1/x_1 + 1/x_2 + .. + 1/x_n) = n \div \sum_{i = 1}^{n}x_i^{-1}.

This type of mean is useful for measuring the average of rates.  For example, consider a car travelling for 240 kilometres at 2 different speeds:

  1. 60 km/hr for 120 km
  2. 40 km/hr for another 120 km

Then its average speed for this trip is

S_{avg} = 2 \div (1/60 + 1/40) = 48 \text{ km/hr}

Notice that the speed for the 2 trips have equal weight in the calculation of the harmonic mean – this is valid because of the equal distance travelled at the 2 speeds.  If the distances were not equal, then use a weighted harmonic mean instead – I will cover this in a later lesson.

To confirm the formulaic calculation above, let’s use the definition of average speed from physics.  The average speed is defined as

S_{avg} = \Delta \text{distance} \div \Delta \text{time}

We already have the elapsed distance – it’s 240 km.  Let’s find the time elapsed for this trip.

\Delta \text{ time} = 120 \text{ km} \times (1 \text{ hr}/60 \text{ km}) + 120 \text{ km} \times (1 \text{ hr}/40 \text{ km})

\Delta \text{time} = 5 \text{ hours}


S_{avg} = 240 \text{ km} \div 5 \text{ hours} = 48 \text { km/hr}

Notice that this explicit calculation of the average speed by the definition from kinematics is the same as the average speed that we calculated from the harmonic mean!



Video Tutorial – Useful Relationships Between Any Pair of h(t), f(t) and S(t)

I first started my video tutorial series on survival analysis by defining the hazard function.  I then explained how this definition leads to the elegant relationship of

h(t) = f(t) \div S(t).

In my new video, I derive 6 useful mathematical relationships that exist between any 2 of the 3 quantities in the above equation.  Each relationship allows one quantity to be written as a function of the other.

I am excited to continue adding to my Youtube channel‘s collection of video tutorials.  Please stay tuned for more!

Video Tutorial – The Hazard Function is the Probability Density Function Divided by the Survival Function

In an earlier video, I introduced the definition of the hazard function and broke it down into its mathematical components.  Recall that the definition of the hazard function for events defined on a continuous time scale is

h(t) = \lim_{\Delta t \rightarrow 0} [P(t < X \leq t + \Delta t \ | \ X > t) \ \div \ \Delta t].

Did you know that the hazard function can be expressed as the probability density function (PDF) divided by the survival function?

h(t) = f(t) \div S(t)

In my new Youtube video, I prove how this relationship can be obtained from the definition of the hazard function!  I am very excited to post this second video in my new Youtube channel.

Video Tutorial: Breaking Down the Definition of the Hazard Function

The hazard function is a fundamental quantity in survival analysis.  For an event occurring at some time on a continuous time scale, the hazard function, h(t), for that event is defined as

h(t) = \lim_{\Delta t \rightarrow 0} [P(t < X \leq t + \Delta t \ | \ X > t) \ \div \ \Delta t],


  • t is the time,
  • X is the time of the occurrence of the event.

However, what does this actually mean?  In this Youtube video, I break down the mathematics of this definition into its individual components and explain the intuition behind each component.

I am very excited about the release of this first video in my new Youtube channel!  This is yet another mode of expansion of The Chemical Statistician since the beginning of 2014.  As always, your comments are most appreciated!


Trapezoidal Integration – Conceptual Foundations and a Statistical Application in R


Today, I will begin a series of posts on numerical integration, which has a wide range of applications in many fields, including statistics.  I will introduce trapezoidal integration by discussing its conceptual foundations, write my own R function to implement trapezoidal integration, and use it to check that the Beta(2, 5) probability density function actually integrates to 1 over its support set.  Fully commented and readily usable R code will be provided at the end.

beta pdf

Given a probability density function (PDF) and its support set as vectors in an array programming language like R, how do you integrate the PDF over its support set to ensure that it equals to 1?  Read the rest of this post to view my own R function to implement trapezoidal integration and learn how to use it to numerically approximate integrals.

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Using the Golden Section Search Method to Minimize the Sum of Absolute Deviations


Recently, I introduced the golden search method – a special way to save computation time by modifying the bisection method with the golden ratio – and I illustrated how to minimize a cusped function with this script.  I also wrote an R function to implement this method and an R script to apply this method with an example.  Today, I will use apply this method to a statistical topic: minimizing the sum of absolute deviations with the median.

While reading Page 148 (Section 6.3) in Michael Trosset’s “An Introduction to Statistical Inference and Its Applications”, I learned 2 basic, simple, yet interesting theorems.

If X is a random variable with a population mean \mu and a population median q_2, then

a) \mu minimizes the function f(c) = E[(X - c)^2]

b) q_2 minimizes the function h(c) = E(|X - c|)

I won’t prove these theorems in this blog post (perhaps later), but I want to use the golden section search method to show a result similar to b):

c) The sample median, \tilde{m} , minimizes the function

g(c) = \sum_{i=1}^{n} |X_i - c|.

This is not surprising, of course, since

|X - c| is just a function of the random variable X

– by the law of large numbers,

\lim_{n\to \infty}\sum_{i=1}^{n} |X_i - c| = E(|X - c|)

Thus, if the median minimizes E(|X - c|), then, intuitively, it minimizes \lim_{n\to \infty}\sum_{i=1}^{n} |X_i - c|.  Let’s show this with the golden section search method, and let’s explore any differences that may arise between odd-numbered and even-numbered data sets.

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