In the post [here], the user asked the question

$\{X_i\}_1^n$ is random sample from $N(\mu, \sigma^2)$ with unknown parameters. Find an unbiased estimator of $\sigma^4$.

The solution uses a property of Normal Distribution, that of the fourth central moment is proportional to $\sigma^4$

$$\operatorname{E}[{(X-\mu)}^4] = 3 \sigma^4$$

to derive

$$\theta_1 = \frac{n-1}{n+1} s^4 = \frac{1}{n^2-1} \left(\sum_{i=1}^n \left(X_i - \overline X\right)^2\right)^2$$

where $s^2 = \frac{1}{n-1}\sum_{i=1}^n \left(X_i - \bar{X}\right)^2 $, with $\mathbb E\left[ \theta_1 \right] = \sigma^4$. This can be re-expressed in terms of power sums, $S_k= \sum_{i=1}^n X_i^k$ as

$$\theta_1 = \frac{{\left(n S_2 - S_1^2\right)}^2}{(n^2-1)n}$$

This is also seen in multiple reference books as well.

Comparing to h-statistics, unbiased estimators of central moments, [ref 1], $\theta_1$ is also equal to

$$\theta_1 = \left( \frac{n-1}{n+1} \right) h_2^2 $$

However, as the Normal Distribution has the property $\operatorname{E}[{(X-\mu)}^4] = 3 \sigma^4$, we can also take one-third of $h_4$ as an estimator

$$\theta_2 = \left( \frac{1}{3} \right) h_4 $$

which according to ref 1 should also be minimum variance unbiased estimator. Although $\theta_2$ is an estimator for $\sigma^4$ for Normal Distribution, due to property of central moment, it is not the general estimator of $\sigma^4$ for any distribution, as $\sigma^4 = {\left( \sigma_2 \right)}^2 = \sigma_2\, \sigma_2$ , the product of two central moments. This is the polyache statistic [ref 2], and in particular

$$\theta_3 = h_{2,2} $$

Formula for $h_{2,2}$ given in ref 2. (Although not stated, do polyaches also have the minimum variance property as h-statistics?)

While it is true that $\operatorname{E}(h_2) = \sigma_2$ that does not imply that $\operatorname{E}(h_2^2) = {\left( \sigma_2 \right)}^2$. The unbiased estimator to $\sigma^4 = {\left( \sigma_2 \right)}^2$ is the polyache $h_{2,2}$


(From simulation)

$$\operatorname{Var}(\theta_1) < \operatorname{Var}(\theta_3) < \operatorname{Var}(\theta_2) $$

This I found interesting, especially $\theta_2$ as the fourth central moment is just proportional to $\sigma^4$ and $h_4$ is the minimum variance unbiased estimator to the fourth central moment; yet had the highest variance.

Q1 : Is the order because $\theta_1$ was specific to Normal Distribution whereas $\theta_2$ and $\theta_3$ were applicable to any distribution?

Q2 : $\sigma^4$ for the Normal Distribution can be expressed in at least two different ways: First is one-third of fourth central moment; second is square of the variance. The first is specific to the distribution whereas the latter is more general, but both algebraically equal to $\sigma^4$; how do we know a priori which estimator to use for minimum variance? Both use direct definitions of h-statistic and polyache.

As a side note, interestingly,

$$n\,(n+1)\,\theta_1 = [ 3(n-1) ] \, \theta_2 + [3+(n-2)n] \, \theta_3 $$


Thank you to the comments, they reminded me of Lehmann–Scheffé theorem which explains why $\theta_1$ performs the best.

I guess now the question becomes why $\operatorname{Var}(\theta_1) < \operatorname{Var}(\theta_2) $, and not equality?

My thinking: $\theta_2$ was derived from the fourth central moment, which should not - in general - equal $\sigma^4$, but does for the Normal Distribution up to a constant of proportionality. The h-statistics are minimum variance. (ref 1). We used a minimum variance unbiased estimator to estimate $\sigma^4$ from an identity of the Normal Distribution, yet in simulation it had the worst variance.

$\theta_3$ is most general, as uses the definition of $\sigma^4$ directly; yet the variance is in the middle. I suspected that should be worse variance, as is the most general and no Normal Distribution properties or identities were used or implied.

  • $\begingroup$ You should have $\theta_1$ as the MVUE because of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lehmann%E2%80%93Scheff%C3%A9_theorem . $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2023 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ ... and that makes it specific to the sufficient statistics of a normal distribution $\endgroup$
    – Henry
    Nov 30, 2023 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, yes, forgot about Lehmann-Scheff theorem. That does explain $\theta_1$ and its properties. Thank you. Now just confused about $\theta_2$ and $\theta_3$; both relate directly to $\sigma^4$ in two different ways. $\endgroup$
    – sheppa28
    Nov 30, 2023 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ it's not hard to show that $\operatorname{E}(h_2^2) \geq {\left( \sigma_2 \right)}^2$ -- note that $\text{Var}(h_2) = E(h_2^{2})-E(h_2)^{2} \geq 0$, now sub in that $E(h_2)=\sigma_2$ and add $\sigma_2^2$ to both sides. Note that they're only equal when $\text{Var}(h_2)=0$ (consider: when does that happen?). Outside that, positively biased $\endgroup$
    – Glen_b
    Dec 1, 2023 at 1:41

1 Answer 1


For the normal distribution we should have $\theta_1$ as the MVUE because of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lehmann%E2%80%93Scheff%C3%A9_theorem

But note that $\theta_1 = $ is not in general an unbiased estimator of the fourth moment. It is for a normal distribution, but not in general. So that may be why it is not compared with $\theta_2$ when it is stated to be the minimum variance unbiased estimator.


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