This is a similar question to this one (which has unfortunately no answer yet), although I believe my question is more specific.

Let $X$ and $Y$ be two discrete random variables with outcome space, respectively, $\mathcal X$ and $\mathcal Y$. Then, the mutual information between $X$ and $Y$ is

$$I(X,Y) = -\sum_{x\in \mathcal X, y\in \mathcal Y}p_{X,Y}(x,y)\log \left(\frac{p_{X}(x)p_Y(y)}{p_{X,Y}(x,y)}\right),$$

where $p_X$ is the marginal pmf of $X$ and $p_{X,Y}$ is the joint distribution of $X$ and $Y$. The lower bound of the mutual information is zero, which occurs if and only if $X$ and $Y$ are independent. The upper bound of $I(X,Y)$, on the other hand, cannot exceed the entropies of either $X$ nor $Y$. So,

$$I(X,Y)\le \min\{H(X),H(Y)\},$$

where $H(X) = - \sum_{x\in \mathcal X} p_X(x)\log p_X(x)$.

Because of the variable upper bound of $I(X,Y)$, a normalized version of the mutual information is often used in research on, say, clustering comparisons. The most often used normalied versions that I've encountered are

$$ I_{AM}(X,Y) = \frac{I(X,Y)}{\frac{1}{2}[H(X)+H(Y)]} \quad \text{and}\quad I_{GM}(X,Y) = \frac{I(X,Y)}{\sqrt{H(X)H(Y)}}.$$


$$\min\{H(X),H(Y)\}\le HM(H(X),H(Y)) \le GM(H(X),H(Y)) \le AM(H(X),H(Y)) \le \max\{H(X),H(Y)\}$$

with equality if and only if $H(X)=H(Y)$, where $HM, GM$, and $AM$, respectively, stand for the harmonic, geometric, and arithmetic mean. So, the harnomic mean between the entropies would give us a tighter upper bound on the mutual information. I was wondering whether there is a specific reason why the geometric and arithmetic means are preferred for normalizing the mutual information.

Any suggestions would help. Thanks!


1 Answer 1


The reason the Harmonic Mean is never mentioned as a normalization for MI is that it renders the measure equivalent to another commonly used clustering comparison method, the normalized Variation of Information (VI), where the regular VI is defined as:

\begin{equation} VI(X,Y) = H(X|Y) + H(Y|X) \end{equation}

and the normalized VI is defined as (see Appendix B from Lancichinetti et al; 2009):

\begin{equation} VI_{\text{norm}}(X,Y) = \frac{1}{2}\left(\frac{H(X|Y)}{H(X)} + \frac{H(Y|X)}{H(Y)}\right) \end{equation}

To see this, we use the relationship for condition entropy: $H(Y|X) = H(X,Y) - H(X)$

\begin{array} aI_{HM}(X,Y) &= \frac{H(X) + H(Y)-H(X,Y)}{\frac{2}{\frac{1}{H(X)}+\frac{1}{H(Y)}}} \\ &= \frac{H(X) + H(Y)-H(X,Y)}{2H(X)}+\frac{H(X) + H(Y)-H(X,Y)}{2H(Y)} \\ &= \frac{1}{2} - \frac{ H(X,Y) - H(Y)}{2H(X)}+\frac{1}{2} - \frac{ H(X,Y) - H(X)}{2H(Y)}\\ &= 1 - \frac{1}{2}\left(\frac{H(X|Y)}{H(X)} + \frac{H(Y|X)}{H(Y)}\right) \\ &= 1 - VI_{\text{norm}}(X,Y) \end{array}

  • $\begingroup$ Great answer. Thanks! One additional question from a newbie: It seems that the variation of information has some desirable properties for clustering comparisons. If the mutual information normalized by the harmonic mean coincides with $1 - VI_{norm}$, would this not be a good reason to use $I_{HM}$ instead of other normalizations? $\endgroup$
    – baruuum
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 21:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Without sounding trite, a full answer to that question is beyond the character limits of this comment space ; ). If you want to ask it as a regular question, I would be happy to elaborate. This arXiv paper also touches on the drawbacks of information theoretic measures. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 0:08

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