Assume a linear regression problem where I want to force sparsity of some parameters. However, due to some physics, I know that one of my parameters is always positive. For instance, I have that

$$ y=\sum \beta_ix_i+\epsilon $$ where $\beta_5\geq0$

Is it safe to find the parameter estimates through maximizing the penalized likelihood below while just adding the constraint $\beta_5\geq0$

$$l_p=l(\boldsymbol\beta)+\lambda \sum |\beta_i|$$

By safe I mean, can we still interpret the sparsity results the same way we do in the lasso and if yes why, is there another way to do it using an $l_1$ norm, or does this minimization retain the lasso properties at the MLE.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ What are the "lasso properties at the MLE"? $\endgroup$
    – AdamO
    Apr 9, 2018 at 2:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AdamO consistency in estimation and selection, under some regularity conditions first introduced by Tibshirani and then expanded by Hui Zou in 2006. $\endgroup$
    – Wis
    Apr 9, 2018 at 2:25
  • $\begingroup$ Wis, There was a related question recently, but I cannot find it anymore. Did you delete it? $\endgroup$ Apr 9, 2018 at 5:24
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    $\begingroup$ @RichardHardy yes I did, it was put on hold as it was unclear. $\endgroup$
    – Wis
    Apr 9, 2018 at 5:25

1 Answer 1


The MLE estimate that you get for your parameters will not include the prior you have of B5 being positive. However unless your model has a hard time fitting and you end up having negative estimates for B5, it's unlikely that not introducing that prior will change your interpretation in any meaningful way - it might just mean that your confidence intervals would have been slightly different if the prior had been there.

  • $\begingroup$ Could you please clarify this answer so that I can accept it. $\endgroup$
    – Wis
    Apr 19, 2018 at 3:37
  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "clarify" ? $\endgroup$
    – f.g.
    Apr 22, 2018 at 13:54

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